David Russell

Teacher debuts novel set in school
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Coquitlam Now - February 16, 2007
by Brendan Batchelor
David Mushens has worn a lot of hats, including successful actor, freelance journalist and high school social studies teacher.

Most recently, he donned the cap of author, publishing his first book, Deadly Lessons, on Nov. 30, 2006 under the pen name of David Russell.

But the inspiration for the crime novel came from an unexpected source.

"The story had been percolating for some time but the decision to actually write it as a novel actually came from a screenwriting agent friend of mine in Los Angeles, who was trying to get me a pitch meeting with a producer of a TV series there," says Mushens.

"At one point she rather off-handedly asked if I had ever thought of writing a book. When I asked why, she noted that as a 'baby writer,' a screenwriter who had no produced scripts under his belt, it would probably be easier to get me in the door if I had published a book."

Mushens began writing the book while on an educational leave to complete his masters degree in 2001 and finished the book by early 2002.

The story's protagonist is Winston Patrick, an ex-criminal defence lawyer turned high school law teacher at John A. MacDonald Secondary School -- a fictitious school which Mushens verifies is based on John Oliver Secondary School in East Vancouver. The school is thrown into the midst of a scandal that results in the death of a student and both the prosecution and persecution of a fellow teacher.

Parallels between Mushens and his protagonist are immediately noticeable as they have both worked outside of teaching in different occupations.

However, Mushens assures his readers that Patrick is not necessarily based on him.

"Many who know me have said they hear me in Winston, who narrates the story, and I suppose there's some of me in him. Of course you draw on some of your own experiences and they find their way into the story in a very general sense. Winston certainly isn't 'based' on me -- but he's definitely coloured by who I am."

Mushens has dabbled in several careers. He has worked with Vancouver Theatre Sports doing improv comedy for over 15 years, acted in numerous television commercials, written a number of articles for the Vancouver Sun, The Province and several other news sources, and hosted a local television talk show in the mid-1990s called "Complaint Department."

"Basically people called us up, told us what was wrong with their lives and we'd make fun of them. It ran on Channel 4 and for reasons that still escape me, people loved it. Just this week, I had someone come up to me and ask me if I was that guy from 'Complaint Department,' and we retired the show in 1998."

Now a teacher at Dr. Charles Best Secondary, Mushens lives in Coquitlam with his wife and daughter, and despite all his achievements, he still sees the novel as one of his major accomplishments.

"Geez, I guess it's right up there. I actually sat down and read it over Christmas and you know, I quite liked it. I'm pretty pleased with how well it came out."

The public seems to agree, as the book has sold well locally.

Fans will also be pleased to hear that a sequel, based around Winston Patrick, is already in the works -- although Mushens notes that progress on the second novel is significantly slower as he is no longer on educational leave.

- Mushens will be doing a reading and signing copies of his book at the Chapters bookstore in Pinetree Village in Coquitlam on March 3 at 1 p.m.