Matthew Dicks interview with David Alan Binder

posted Jul 21, 2016, 7:08 PM by David Alan Binder

Matthew Dicks interview with David Alan Binder

 Short Bio from his website:  Matthew Dicks is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, and the upcoming The Other Mother. His novels have been translated into more than 25 languages worldwide.

He is also the author of the rock opera The Clowns and the musicals Caught in the MiddleSticks & Stones, and Summertime. He has written comic books for Double Take comics. He is a columnist for Seasons magazine and has published work in Reader's Digest, The Hartford Courant, The Huffington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor.

When not hunched over a computer screen, Matthew fills his days as an elementary school teacher, a storyteller, a blogger, a wedding DJ, a minister, a life coach, and a Lord of Sealand. He has been teaching for 18 years and is a former West Hartford Teacher of the Year and a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

Matthew is a 23-time Moth StorySLAM champion and four-time GrandSLAM champion whosestories have been featured on their nationally syndicated Moth Radio Hour and their weekly podcast. He has also told stories for This American Life, TED, The Colin McEnroe Show, The Story Collider, The Liar Show, Literary Death Match, The Mouth, and many others. He has performed in such venues as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Wilbur Theater, The Academy of Music in North Hampton, CT, The Bynam Theater of Pittsburgh, The Bell House in NYC, The Lebanon Opera House, Boston University, and Infinity Hall in Hartford, CT.

He is a regular guest on several Slate podcasts, including The Gist, where he teaches storytelling.

Matthew is also the co-founder and creative director of Speak Up, a Hartford-based storytelling organization that produces shows throughout New England. He teaches storytelling and public speaking to individuals, corporations, and school districts around the world. He has most recently taught at Yale, The University of Connecticut Law School, Purdue University, The Connecticut Historical Society, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil.    

Matthew is the creator and co-host of Boy vs. Girl, a podcast about gender and gender stereotypes.  

Website:      matthewdicks.com

 

1.     How do you pronounce your name? 

Matthew Dicks. [A funny was inserted here but because of my association with Google I had to delete it]

 2.     Where are you currently living (at least the state or if outside US then Country)?

Newington, CT

 

3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

I can’t stand the thought of not writing for even a single day. If you don’t feel the same, you’re probably not going to make it as a writer. As a writer, I am constantly biding my time until the next moment that I can get in front of my laptop.

 

I’ve also learned that writers can’t afford to be precious about their writing. If you require a four hour block of uninterrupted time in a specific coffee shop with a specific beverage in order to write, you’re probably not going to make it as a writer. I write in three-minute blocks. Three-hour blocks. On a rare occasion I might get a full day. A writer will take whatever he or she can get.

 

4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I like to write in McDonald’s. Starbucks is nice if you like to be surrounded by affluent, jobless, white people with lots of Apple products. I like sitting on hardened plastic benches beside a janitor who just finished his overnight shift, the divorced father eating breakfast with his angsty teenage daughter, the businessman swallowing a sausage biscuit in two bites, and the woman whispering in Spanish to her elderly mother. A little diversity is good for a writer.

 

5.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

 

a.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

My first two novels were published by Doubleday in NYC. My last two and the next two will be published by St. Martin’s Press in NYC.

 

6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

 

I think it’s fantastic that writers can self publish today, but I always advise them to try to land a conventional publisher first. When a publisher like St. Martin’s publishes your books, you have a team of experts working for you, supporting you, and allowing you more time to write.

 

7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?      

Find an agent who loves your work. You are not looking for any agent. You are looking for a fan of the stuff that comes out of your head.

 

8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

Treat the agent search like a fulltime job. Give it the same effort you gave to your manuscript. I spent an entire summer trying to find my agent. It was a 40 hour a week, eight week process which included researching every possible agent online and writing a specific query letter tailored to each one based upon what I had gleaned through my research. I wrote and mailed 100 query letters plus samples of my manuscript (in 2007, most agents required snail mail queries), costing me almost $700 in postage. I was writing my second batch of 100 query letters when I finally found my agent, who remains my agent today.

 

9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

When I finished my first book, I took a deep breath, stared at that final sentence on the screen for a satisfied moment, celebrated with a Diet Coke and a cookie, and then opened a new Word document and began writing my next book (which became my second book published). I knew that my first manuscript might never be published, so I started my next one, knowing that the more books I wrote, the greater my chances of one day seeing one of my books on the shelf in a library or bookstore. Don’t stop writing. Don’t rest on your laurels. Writers don’t take vacations or sabbaticals. I was fortunate that my first and second manuscript became my first and second novels, but I was prepared to keep writing until I hit gold. And when my third manuscript failed to sell, my agent told me not to worry. “You just need to write the best book you’ve ever written, and you’ll be fine.” So I did. I never stopped writing.

10.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

I don’t know the end of my stories. I don’t even know the middle. I start with a character and a question and begin writing, oblivious to what the next sentence might be. I find the story. Uncover it. Discover it. It took me a long time to realize that this is the way I was meant to write. It’s the way many writers write.

11.                        How many books have you written?

I’ve written six. Four are published. One will publish in January of 2018. One remains in the drawer, awaiting my attention.

 

12.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

Write outside your chosen genre. I am primarily a fiction writer, but I write a blog daily. I write poetry. I write memoir. I write old fashioned letters to family members regularly. All of these kinds of writing informs the fiction writing that I do tremendously.

 

13.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Not much. Since I rarely know what is about to happen in my stories, the twists are almost never preplanned or orchestrated in any way. I suspect that my subconscious is doing work that I will never know, but when you stumble upon a clever twist in one of my books, it was likely as surprising to me as it was to my readers.

The one suggestion I will make is to always be raising the stakes for your characters. Don’t let anyone get too comfortable in a novel. We are not writing about everyday life. We are writing about extraordinary days in the lives of characters. Make them difficult days. Tough times. No easy solutions allowed. It’s in these moments of struggle that twists are more likely to emerge.

14.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

Good stories stand out. Stories filled with unique, relatable characters and a story that moves. A story that forces you to read the next page. My goal is never to write a novel that explores a theme or seeks to illustrate a particular aspect of society or make a political or philosophical statement. If my novels achieve any of these things, great, but first and foremost, I want to tell a page turning story that will make the reader occasionally laugh, constantly wonder, and perhaps cry.

 

15.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?

 

I engage with my audience. I reply to every email, tweet, or Facebook post promptly. I blog daily so that my readers can get a sense of who I am and remain engaged between books. I send a monthly newsletter to readers. I visit about 25 book clubs every year and speak regularly at libraries, bookstores, literary festivals, college campuses, schools, and more. I’m also a storyteller, performing regularly for The Moth and many other storytelling productions, including my own. I stand in front of hundred and thousands of people regularly, telling stories from my life. When people get to know you as a person and like you, they become invested in all that you do.

 

16.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

When your agent calls you and says that your book has been optioned for film (as three of my four books have), pretend that you didn’t hear her and just keep writing. Hollywood makes glaciers look like roadrunners.

 

17.                        What saying or mantra do you live by?

Death is hardest on the dead.

It’s my reminder to write fast, write often, and write like there is a monster on my doorstep, because there is. As someone who has been brought back to life via CPR twice and had a gun pressed against my head and the trigger pulled, I know better than most. There is a monster at all your doorsteps. You just haven’t seen it yet. 

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