Monday, February 25, 2013
Author Interview: Patrick Matthews
Patrick Matthews is author of Dragon Run, a middle grade fantasy adventure that will hit bookstores on March 1. His stories have appeared previously in Of Dice and Pen, Six Words about Work, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings. In addition to writing, Pat develops software, is president of Live Oak Games, an award-winning game design company, and writes DaddyTales, the story of his real-life adventures in fatherhood, both online and as a weekly column for the Seminole Chronicle. Dragon Run, published by Scholastic, is his first novel.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Growing up, I had three things that I love to do more than anything else: reading, playing, and adventuring. In fact, when I wasn't doing one of those things, it was a safe bet I was thinking about them. I loved the idea of being a part of that, of helping other people enjoy the things that I loved. So, after about two decades of being a software developer, I decided to get back to my first loves. I started a game company (Live Oak Games), and got back to my writing. Four books later, I managed to get one published! The adventuring I do as a hobby - and write into all my books.
What is your writing process? Do you prefer to plan carefully before writing, or just jump right in?
Kind of both. When I get an idea, I do what I call "the first 50." These are the first 50(ish) pages of the book, and they're written completely off the cuff. I throw myself into the story and just go. Once the first 50 are done, I go back and look to see what I've got. Is the story going anywhere? Are there enough thematic elements for the reader to chew on? Are the characters interesting and/or surprising? More importantly, am I energized to continue the story? Do I want to write the rest of the book? If the answers to all of those are yes, then I get serious. I flesh out the characters, decide on key plot points, and start looking at possible subplots. Often the book changes a lot during this period. At the end of it, I have a very rough outline that I write to, one that helps guide me, but which I'm still willing to change.
How did you come up with the ideas behind Dragon Run?
There are lots of ideas in there. Rather than tackle them all, I'll focus on the idea of being powerless. In my opinion, that's the key to the story. It's all about power: who has it, who doesn't, what they do with it, and what they do to get it.
My first 50 on Dragon Run were written from the point of view of a dragon (Lord Archovar). I couldn't get them to go anywhere, so I walked away from it. I came back about a year later, and wrote another first 50 from the point of view of Magister Lundi (a powerful mage). Once again, I couldn't go anywhere. I shelved the whole thing. Then, while I was working on another book, I found myself thinking about being powerless. Dragon Run immediately popped into my mind. What about writing the story of Dragon Run from the point of view of a boy who has absolutely no power at all? He has no magic. He has no stature. All he has is a sword that he doesn't fully know how to use. I dove back in, and the book practically wrote itself.
How long did you spend writing Dragon Run?
If you just count my last attempt, three months. If you count the two failed attempts prior to that, three years. The truth is somewhere between those two numbers. I never could have done it in three months if I hadn't spent three years thinking about it.
Tell us about your journey to get your book published.
When I first started writing children's books, I went to an SCBWI conference and had a publisher pick up my very first book. It was a chapter book about a giant wolf, and he absolutely loved the concept. I was thrilled and excited and couldn't wait to hear back from him. I didn't. After months of trying, I finally tracked him down and asked what the story was. He told me that while he liked the concept, I'd written a book that was so ridiculously scary that he could not publish it. Whoops.
After that initial bump, I settled into years of process. I focused on my craft. I worked with writing groups. I wrote and revised and wrote and revised and submitted and revised. Finally, I reached the point where Dragon Run was picked up. If there's one takeaway that I'd share from that experience, it's this: don't be discouraged by rejection. Instead, learn from it. I had a friend once tell me that if five agents don't want your book, there's probably a reason. It really flipped a switch for me. We all hear stories of authors who had hundreds of rejections. What we don't hear is that they probably went back and edited and learned and honed their craft after each rejection. At least, that's what I do.
In fact, I'm still doing it. During each pass of the editing process with Scholastic, I went back through each of my unpublished novels and applied the same edits and concepts.
What kinds of help have you gotten from others while writing and publishing your book?
Every kind of help imaginable, from voice to structure to character to encouragement. I'm a huge fan of the right kind of writing groups. By right kind, I mean those that manage to be both supportive and critical. Everyone is different. For me, having an immediate audience, one that is informed enough to point out my missteps and question my decisions, is invaluable. I'm currently in three different groups, each with their own specialty. One is a group of published children's book authors. Another focuses on science fiction and fantasy. The third is an eclectic collection of authors and poets who write everything from mysteries to poetry to literary fiction.
What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
"Stay Excited." I don't know where I read it, or who told it to me, but I think it's absolutely vital. You need to be excited about the piece you're working on. Even when you're ripping it apart, even when other people are ripping it apart, you need to keep your passion for the story.
You write a regular column called DaddyTales for the Seminole Chronicle and online, you design games for Live Oak Games, you develop software, and you write books and stories, all in addition to raising two kids. How do you find time to do it all? And what are your favorite parts about each?
My professional life is threefold: writing, game design, and software development. I love all three, and you're right: time management is my biggest challenge. I work out of my home, though, which saves a lot of time and gives me flexibility. I often work after the kids go to bed, for example, or steal time on the weekend if they're busy with something that doesn't involve me.
Favorite parts of each? For software, writing, and parenting, it's all the same: being in the moment. I love losing myself in what I'm doing, whether it's crafting a story, solving a knotty software problem, or laughing with the kids. For game design, it's a little more complicated. The payoff there comes during playtesting, when other people lose themselves in what I've created.
Do you have any more books in the works?
Absolutely! I'm almost always working on multiple books. That's one of the ways that I keep my own fires burning. If I get stumped on one book, I work on another one and give my self some breathing space on the first one.
To learn more about Pat Matthews, you can find him online at www.pat-matthews.com, or check out his book at www.dragon-run.com.