Reading Stephen Florida

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash, our first virtual book club pick generated engaged and interesting discussion. A dark and conflicted character, college wrestler Stephen Florida is a fascinating study in idiosyncrasy and obsession.

As part of our online book discussion, author Gabe Habash joined us for a live Twitter chat. Here are some of the questions and answers from that conversation.

Q: It can’t be true that you never wrestled. I mean the scenes are so vivid. Tell me how you knew….

A: I never wrestled before. In addition to reading, I researched mainly with countless hours of YouTube videos of wrestling matches. I’d first visualize the progression of a match, then translate it through Stephen’s warped POV.

Q: Did you also talk to wrestlers and coaches. Or just YouTube?

A: My friend Ian McCutcheon, who’s been involved in the wrestling world his whole life, was also instrumental in making the wrestling aspects of the novel accurate. He’s thanked in the acknowledgements for a reason!

I reworked the wrestling scenes as much as possible through a personal (i.e. Stephen’s) lens, so that a reader with no familiarity with the sport would hopefully be able to identify with them. There are a lot of personal details Stephen divulges during matches.

Q: The choice to highlight a character with such interiority as Stephen at book length is an interesting one. What motivated such a bold narrative choice?

A: I always knew it’d be narrated in first person. In a way it’s like the iceberg idea: so much of Stephen is interior; if the novel wasn’t close to his POV (or if you imagined the story as a movie just seeing Stephen from afar), he’d be nearly silent.

Q: What do I think of Stephen as a character? I want to know every detail. I want to know how his mind works. I can’t stop reading because I have to know.

A: Calibrating Stephen’s “likability” was something I worked on from the first draft. He only once did something I thought went too far. I initially took it out in an early draft, but then it ultimately went back in. I’ve heard a wide range of reactions to his behavior.

Q: Why does Stephen give up his original name over an admin error?

A: Stephen creates his own mythology throughout the story, right down to his name. In part, it’s a way for him to dissociate from the things in his past he’s had trouble with. He severs himself from the outside world at college & becomes someone new.

Q: The names of the classes Stephen took were hilarious. Was it fun to come up with the names and was the random nature of the classes Stephen chose a reflection of him not seeing a future beyond that last meet or something else?

A: It was fun to come up with them. It was fun to take passages from, say, Wittgenstein, and have Stephen try to figure them out, because I certainly will never figure them out! Stephen does seek out “easy” classes but still gets into trouble!

Q: ‏[Can I] ask about the ending?

A: I’ve been asked about the ending more than anything, and I will say that what you think is just as valid as what I think!

Thanks, again to Gabe Habash for headlining our first-ever live Twitter chat. And thanks to everyone who joined us for our first virtual book club pick.