College junior Michael Schein headed out on the highway for a cross-country road trip with his father a few years back and a novel idea was born -- well, not a novel, but an instruction manual, with a twist.
"Teenage Roadhogs," published this year, is Schein's take on the dry read that is the Department of Motor Vehicles' how-to manual for new drivers. Plugged as "written by a teen for teens," the alpha books release offers Schein's common-sense tips, humorous anecdotes and sample driving test questions.
Its structured format came later. At first, Schein, now 20, said he meant to approach the subject matter purely from a humorous angle, playing up the "mishaps" he endured learning to drive and other tales from teenage roadhogs.
"When I started out, I was a terrible driver," Schein said. "I'm a fine driver now. I've been through the war and back. My dad and I almost had a falling out after I almost killed us, though."
His idea for a smart-aleck approach subsided when he met Jean Fils Aimee at a school for handicapped children. An uninsured driver hit Aimee, who was riding his bike and, as a result of the crash, lost both his legs.
"Jean has one of the most creative minds and warmest hearts I've ever encountered, but because of a careless driver, he will never walk on his own legs again," Schein wrote in his introduction. "Jean's story made me realize the terribly real dangers that can strike at any time on the road."
A nobler cause, indeed -- and a lot more work, Schein said. "To really sell it, it needed more research," something he learned after hawking sample chapters to a few publishers, before hitting the "right combination."
He wrote the first draft in the summer of 1994, found himself an agent, and went about the business of attending high school. Then came the revisions, and more research.
"Revisions were a real pain," Schein said. "After hours of looking over driver's manuals, it was hard to be witty and funny."
Nonetheless, he managed to pen a chatty and informed discussion of driving with his peers. He even begins his first "driving lesson" with a childhood memoir of "Dukes of Hazard-learned driving skills on neighborhood Big Wheels," before telling his fellow drivers that "There's no room for fun and games on the road."
Schein's work paid off when he returned from an exchange program in Spain last summer and a shiny, hot-from-the-presses copy of "Teenage Roadhogs" greeted him. Jet lag prevented Schein from getting too excited, but he now is very pleased to be published. In December, he did a reading at the opening night of the Writers House.
"It's something I'd always hoped for," Schein said. "Thinking about graduation makes me worry a little about my future. I've always been interested in writing, and I'm working on a screenplay now, which is a totally new form for me. I just hope I do well in something that interests me. I can't imagine sitting and doing something I didn't like."
Schein, an English major, hasn't been sitting around much so far in his very young career. Unhappy with the marketing tactics of his publishers, he's looking into ways to get his book marketed to schools and drivers education programs. And, for fun, he's been playing disc jockey on WQHS and writing for the "Red and Blue."
Despite the options and other interests, Schein sounds like a writer in for the long haul. "If I can't be a rock star, I'll be a writer," he said.
Originally published on January 14, 1998