F: Hi, Matthew, and welcome to Fictionistas. Your young adult novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, is coming out in May. Congratulations!
F: Your friends call you "Q." Are you a Trek nerd like me, or is that just some crazy-cool top secret?
Q: My students began calling me Q ten years ago. I believe I was christened ‘Q’ by the first freshman girls soccer team I coached. I wasn’t sure about Q at first, but one doesn’t get to choose one’s own nickname. Over the years I began to feel as though I grew into the moniker—and that Q was like my super teacher name. Mr. Quick was the person students met on the first day of school and Q was the person they knew when they officially passed my class. Somehow the nickname found its way into my personal life and now even my agent and editors in NYC call me Q.
F: You took a really big, scary step when you decided to quit your job, sell your house, and write full time. Regrets?
Q: Giving up tenure at one of the best high schools in South Jersey—let alone health insurance and a pension—to write full-time didn’t initially win me many fans. Most people thought I had gone insane. Some told me so. But there was something deep inside of me that knew I was doing what I had to do. I have absolutely no regrets. But I will say that when you move in a certain direction, you move away from things and people too. Pursuing my dream was often lonely, and sometimes I still feel lonely. While most of my friends were advancing in their careers, having children, and buying bigger houses, I was in my in-laws’ basement working on a manuscript in which few people believed. Even now, I’m often surprised by who supports me and who doesn’t.
F: Cautionary tales? Best move you ever made?
Q: Cautionary tale: If you write about something personal, something that has the potential to upset friends or family members, be prepared for the consequences.
Q: Best move made: When my in-laws offered us free room and board so that Alicia and I could pursue our dream of becoming full-time fiction writers, my pride almost kept me from accepting. I talked to my Uncle Pete about it and he told me this: you have to take advantage of whatever comes your way. Humbly living with my in-laws while I completed my MFA in Creative Writing and wrote The Silver Linings Playbook was definitely my best move, and I almost didn’t make it. So take what comes your way. I’ve also heard people say, go where you are wanted, or, shake the hand that is extended. Not every opportunity is wrapped in a pretty bow. (Although living with my in-laws turned out to be a sweet experience.)
F: Your wife is a writer, as well. Any tips on living with another writer that don't involve homicide?
Q: Sleep with one eye open! Just kidding. Alicia and I have a very healthy relationship. We both understand that success for one of us can definitely help the other. It’s good to have two sets of contacts in the writing world, and it can be great fun to share the same passion. Alicia is my first reader always because she is the only person able to answer these two questions: Is this (meaning my latest manuscript) me? And should I put it into the world? Alicia knows me better than anyone else. She knows all of my most intimate truths. And I trust her to be both nurturing and honest with me. Having Alicia in the next room at all times is a beautiful thing.
F: What prompted the switch to young adult?
Q: Publishing is really slow. More than a year before The Silver Linings Playbook was released, I had already finished my follow-up. Sarah Crichton, my adult-market editor, was swamped and therefore couldn’t read it right away. During this period, I asked my agent what I should write while we waited. He said YA, especially since I had taught high school English. I hadn’t read much current YA. (I’ve read a lot since.) When I expressed reluctance, Doug said, “Just do exactly what you do, but this time write from the point of view of a teenager.” I thought, I can do that. And I did.
F: Tell us about Sorta Like A Rock Star.
Q: SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR is about a teenager named Amber Appleton. She’s been kicked in the teeth by life again and again, but she tries to stay hopeful. Amber spends most of her time doing very interesting (and often hilarious) community service projects, even though she is homeless and therefore needs help herself. When a fatal tragedy strikes, Amber falls into a depression and must learn to accept help as her community rallies in a beautiful and life-altering way. I’ll also say that if I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like Amber Appleton. She’s the best of my friends and family, the best of all my former students, and the best of all I have experienced thus far.
F: Your protagonist, Amber, deals with some very heavy issues. Is the tone dark?
Q: The book does deal with some weighty issues, but, ironically, the tone is mostly upbeat. It’s first person and extremely voice-driven. Since Amber is such a quirky and hopeful character, she manages to buoy the reader. Fellow YA writer Dana Reinhardt describes Amber Appleton as “a teen heroine who makes you laugh when you want to cry and cry when you want to laugh.” Justina Chen said, “Amber Appleton … is the ambassador of sassy optimism. This is a must-read, must-quote, must-hug kind of book, the best kind of book there is.” Sara Zarr called Amber her “hero.” Early readers have told me that they laughed and cried all the way through Sorta Like A Rock Star. So I’d say, it’s sort of a simultaneously light and heavy read.
F: How was writing YA different for you? Or was it?
Q: My first published novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, was written from the point of view of a man who has suffered brain trauma. At the end of the book he wonders if the blow knocked him back into the mindset of a teenager. Throughout the novel he reads the books on his English-teacher ex-wife’s syllabus—novels all teenagers read in high school—and Pat writes hilarious reviews bemoaning the fact that American literature is so depressing. Pat Peoples’ voice is unfiltered, honest, and therefore teen-like. So finding Amber’s voice wasn’t such a stretch for me.
F: You taught high school English after college, and I also noted on your website that one of your first mentors was a teacher. We have a few English teachers here at Fictionistas, too! How do you think the job informed your work?
Q: First, teachers are some of the hardest working people on the planet. And the good ones are worth ten times what they are paid. Whenever I speak to high school students I always tell them that they have no idea how hard their teachers are working. Only after I had taught a full school year did I realize what saints my best teachers were and are. I love teachers. They are my sort of people.
Q: Of course, having worked closely with teenagers for many years informs my work. Also, as an English teacher, I listened endlessly to teenagers complain about the books they didn’t like. I remember their complaints and those inform my writing. I will always remain true to my stories and my vision, but I definitely want teenagers to read and love my books. I’m not afraid to entertain my readers.
F: OK, this is the scary bit... a few standard questions... it shouldn't hurt a bit.
We ask all our guests to provide us with a prom picture from their high school days. Feel free to attach. No really, I'm serious. If you don't have one, that's fine, but if you do... fork it over.
Q: Delivering my senior photo required a trip to my mother’s. (She thanks you!) As you can see, I used to have a lot more hair. Why am I wearing a tuxedo? I do not know. We did not wear tuxedos to school in 1992.
F: If you went back in time to visit your teen self, what random piece of advice would you give to that young Q?
Q: I’d tell the eighteen-year-old Q this: You know in your heart that you want to be a writer and that bit of beating info will be your one constant truth. But you will have to grow up and do a bunch of other stuff before you will be able to write anything good. These things take time. If you keep working hard and moving toward your goal, you will be okay. But, in the meantime, try to enjoy the ride.
F: What's always in your pockets/wallet/book-bag?
Q: Droid phone. Swanky money clip slash credit card holder. Keys.
F: If you were stranded on a deserted island and your iPod had only three songs on it, which would you hope they were?
This is an extremely hard question. Today I will say: Stretch Out And Wait by The Smiths, If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out by Cat Stevens, and Us by Regina Spektor. Tomorrow could be a different story. (Tomorrow by Morrissey is also a good song.)
Thanks for interviewing me.
Thanks for reading along.
Please visit me @ www.matthewquickwriter.com.
Matthew's head-shot was provided by Dave Tavani. Learn morea bout Dave @ www.davetavani.com.