Friends, this is a lovely day! I am so happy to bring to you this interview with Matthew Quick! Let me tell you, you are absolutely going to love this man. He’s the author of Sorta Like a Rock Star (the book that blew my mind a week ago), The Silver Linings Playbook, and (here’s the best part!) his new book, Boy21 drops in late autumn.
He was kind enough to let me interview him over email. Here is the transcript!
“S: Amber Appleton is such an engaging character. Did you have any real-life inspiration when you created her?
Q: After I had completed SLARS, during the pre-pub period when people were asking me what the book was about, I was telling everyone that Amber was the best of my former students, the best of my friends and family, the best of everything I had experienced thus far in life, the best of me. Sound dramatic? It was a dramatic time, but I meant it, and I still do. Writing the story was quite an emotional journey. I think I created Amber to keep me believing in the good stuff.
Since SLARS has been published, I’ve been contacted by many Amber-like people. Sometimes they just want to tell me they enjoyed the book, which is always much appreciated. Others have been inspired and moved. A few feel as though Amber is a reflection of who they strive to be. And I can relate to that. Receiving those e-mails makes me feel less alone in the world.
When you put yourself out there and make yourself emotionally vulnerable, the way Amber does in the novel and the way I did while writing it, you have to believe that there will be people who will understand and replenish your energy. It’s a hard concept to embrace over the long haul. But I have met many Amber Appletons in my life. The hope spreaders are out there. They really are. And they often show up at just the right times, if you have the right sort of eyes to see them.
S: In Sorta Like a Rock Star, Amber focuses on the marginalized people in society: the elderly, veterans, immigrants, and young people with disabilities. She seeks them out and “digs” lighting up their faces, but never in a patronizing way. Would you like to see more of this in young people today, or do you feel that her behavior is actually a reflection of how young adults behave?
Q: When given the right opportunity, most young people will do the right thing. When I was teaching, I saw this over and over again. The problem isn’t teen apathy, but failure to provide teens with appropriate outlets and environments that nurture compassion and empathy. Most of the activities high schools offer students–SATs, GPAs, sports, spirit week competitions, prom-king-and-queen contests–pit teens against each other and stress competition. Competition has its place. But my experience working with young people taught me that some teens flourish and shine best when given the opportunity to be part of something larger, not because they earned it necessarily, but because they are human beings. Caring for others is human nature. Little kids have remarkable abilities to empathize and feel sympathy. We need to help those abilities survive and thrive well into adulthood. We need to provide positive opportunities for teenagers to give.
S: I love the story of how you came to writing: how you encouraged everyone to follow their own dreams, but the idea of quitting everything to write was a frightening step for you. What can you recommend to readers who are trying to make a scary change in their own lives?
Q: One of my former students is teaching English in Thailand right now and working on some fiction too. He’s fond of this saying: ‘Leap and the net will appear.’ I was raised by conservative Protestant bankers. Risk-taking was not always encouraged, especially when it came to the arts. But we need art. Art saves, every day. It sure saves me over and over again. And if you are reading a blog about books, I bet art has saved you too. We need to encourage people to pursue the arts, even when it’s not necessarily financially advantageous. That having been said, on the road to becoming writers, my wife and I made many sacrifices and humbly lived within our means. My former student can live on a lesser salary in Thailand, where the cost of living is much lower than in America, and this affords him the ability to live the way he wants while writing fiction. In order to write full-time, I lived with my in-laws for almost four years and wrote in their unfinished basement. You have to be willing to sacrifice. You have to pay the price. I guess the best advice is to surround yourself with positive people, aim high but have realistic goals, and work smart/hard. My grandfather always says, ‘People do what they want to do.’ If you really want to do it, at some point in your life you’ll make a serious commitment toward change. If you don’t, then maybe change is not what you really want.
S: After reading this book, I actually started volunteering as a senior companion. Have any of your readers ever written with stories of how the book has changed them?
Q: My favorite post-reading SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR comment is this: ‘Amber makes me want to be a better person.’ She makes ME want to be a better person too. And I think that’s the purpose of storytelling in general. When I was teaching high school English, I used to tell my students that I was a member of the humanities department, and therefore we would be promoting humanity in my classroom. I think the study of literature is the study of people, and I’ve always believed that we examine the thoughts and actions of heroes and heroines to glean the knowledge and courage needed to become better people ourselves. I’m glad that you are volunteering as a senior companion. I’m sure you are enriching the lives of the people with whom you work. Amber Appleton would be proud.”
Well, dear readers, that just proves it: Matthew Quick is someone the world is lucky to have.
Please look for his books, and read them and love them and share them!