Please join me in welcoming Matt Posner!
1. What genre are your books?
I’m here to talk about the School of the Ages series, which are urban fantasy books with a coming-of-age theme. New York City, where I live, has a magic school, America’s greatest magic school, on an island in New York Harbor that no one can see except magicians. Simon, my central character, enrolls there at thirteen and is haunted by the ghost of a heretic from ancient Alexandria. The magic system is mental and believable — no broomsticks or fireballs, but lots of meditation and visualization. A distinct feature of this school is that all the teachers are good guys. I’m a teacher myself, so I can’t help writing them that way.
Please enter into reading my fiction with the new second edition of The Ghost in the Crystal, available in the U.S. here. http://www.amazon.com/School-Ages-The-Ghost-Crystal-ebook/dp/B0047GMH5E
2. What draws you to this genre?
My books are multicultural, with characters from many backgrounds and traditions, and respect for all real-world religions. I can’t really write any other way than that. I write the books because they are the books I want to read, and that’s the main reason I’m drawn to the genre, but there are other reasons. As a pluralistic person myself, I get ideas all the time which aren’t bound to any one mythology, ethnicity, or faith, and I like mashing them up and finding the common ground. Also, as a public school teacher, I spend a lot of time with young people, and I like to help them grow up and realize their potential. (… but I wish they’d put their phones away!!)
3. What project are you working on at the moment? What’s it about?
I usually write four or five projects at a time, and I have some very active pseudonymous work that I will only promote under my pseudonym. In the realm of School of the Ages specifically, I am working on the fifth and final novel of the series, The Wonderful Carol, which has been delayed from its original announce date but is now slowly creeping forward. I also have a novella going with the same characters, and I want to put it into a lengthy short fiction book containing the other novellas and short stories I’ve written about the kids and their teachers, a lot of new ones, and some deleted chapters and guest blog novelty pieces as well.
The Wonderful Carol is about the kids’ senior year, at age seventeen, when they team up for a global quest to find the Simurgh, the all-knowing magical bird from Persian mythology, which can teach them a song that will enable earth-bound ghosts to pass on.
4. Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is special?
Simon starts out the series very innocent, noble, and brave and suffers terrible loss because of his innocence. This makes him emo for a book and a half. By the third book, he becomes more powerful than he realizes, messes up, and has to redeem himself. Simon is a “high sorcerer,” which means that he can feel the flow of events moving through him and gets hints or instincts about what he should do. He’s good at improvising new spells on the fly, but he’s completely clueless about girls, whom he can’t read properly no matter how much time he spends with them.
5. Have you written anything else?
Besides School of the Ages books, I’ve authored a manual for writers called How to Write Dialogue, which has the distinct feature that a group of friendly indies I know gave me some of their dialogue to analyze for examples and exercises. I also co-authored a book whose title is self-explanatory: Teen Guide to Sex and Relationships. My partner for that book was Jess C. Scott, who has left the writing business but still remains a good friend.
6. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
When I created my self-publishing business in 2010, my ambition was to sell well, have a lot of readers, and get a good secondary income as a result. Selling Kindle books was a more wide-open thing at that time. Now, with Amazon having refined their methodology to maximize their profit, it isn’t so much of a wild west atmosphere in indie publishing, and I’ve focused on my teaching job and on new writing instead of trying to keep up. My ambition at this point for my Matt Posner author name (my real name) is just to write the books I want to write and hope that eventually I can find an audience for them. I’m also doing some more commercial work under a pseudonym.
7. Which writers inspire you? What are some of your favorite books/authors?
I’m inspired by too many writers to name them all. Here’s the short list. J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Colin Wilson, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin, and George R.R. Martin. Ask me tomorrow, and some different names may creep in.
As a fantasy writer, which is I guess what I’m here to talk about, I was highly influenced by Tolkien growing up, as many of my generation were. I don’t see as many younger people citing him as an influence lately. I can still write somewhat like Tolkien, and I find bits of his phrasing popping up, whenever I want the epic style. Let me include an example.
In my fourth School of the Ages novel, Simon Myth, protagonist Simon meets a character from Indian mythology, who talks about the dreadful war in which he has been laid low. Because he is a mythological being, he needs to talk at a higher level than the ordinary characters do. He says:
Not only these men, whom I felt as sons though wayward, but generations of men I have seen fall to ruin. And many men I have slain myself, some who deserved it, and many more who only died because it was their duty, small footmen caught up in the acts of the great.
After I had some time to thought about that, I realized I was channeling Tolkien’s sentence construction and diction. My character talks like King Théoden at Helm’s Deep, basically. So Tolkien is my default for sounding epic.
8. When did you decide to become a writer? Why do you write?
I decided it was a career goal when I was twelve. I devoted my entire college education to preparing for it — including getting the credentials to be a creative writing professor, which didn’t work out, but I’d be the BEST CREATIVE WRITING PROFESSOR EVER, promise. Now I’m a public school teacher, and my role is to take care of young people, who need a lot of help and often don’t particularly want mine (sigh!). I still write because I have to. I can’t not write. I am awash with ideas, and I want to read the books I’m writing, and I want to share my creativity with other people. I’m like, “This is so cool! Here, read this.” That’s about all the ambition that makes sense in this relatively unfriendly marketplace. Whatever else happens, I’ll eventually have one hell of a backlist.
9. Do you have a special time or place to write? What is the hardest thing for you about writing? Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
I’ve written on subways and buses, in the bathtub, on the toilet, in classrooms while proctoring, in public parks. However, I prefer to have a large block of undisturbed time to do it. I find it hard to write fiction without lots of headspace, especially in the last few years. What I wind up doing is writing little bits and pieces in notebooks, then reassembling them in my word-processor and writing links. Scrivener is very helpful for that, and I’m glad to have started using it circa 2013.
My problem is time and ability to focus. If I have those, I can work. I don’t get writer’s block. If I’m stuck, I switch to another project. I have a half dozen projects going at once, and I can always work on one of them.
10. Where do you get your inspiration?
From everything. I share with the late Ray Bradbury the quality that I can get story ideas just by going for a walk or a drive. I read a lot, and keep my eyes open, and ideas come to me. I’m fairly imitative, so it’s common for me to see what someone else is doing and imagine blending it with something new. For example, now I’m watching the YouTuber Crazy Russian Hacker, so in time, I’ll have a character who is a life hacker and a magician at the same time, or something like that.
11. Do you work on an outline or do you prefer to see where the idea takes you?
I’m not a pantser. I write outlines, but I leave lots of gaps in them and I change them whenever I feel like it. My outlines are pretty shaky sometimes. It’s more fun to have room to blend in new ideas. Also, if I plan something to write, and when it comes time to write it, I can’t progress or the concept is exposed as weak, I just change it.
12. How do you market your books? Why did you choose this route?
A few years ago, marketing was a matter of social media. I ran an interview series to get blog traffic, did a lot of guest blogs, and had an automated twitter feed. Now, essentially, none of that is in place, and none of it would work anyway. Marketing is now about trying to figure out what Amazon wants and crossing your fingers. Marketing is now also about genre choice, I think, by which I mean that some genres have followings, and some don’t. It’s very tough, right now, to sell books, and I don’t have any powerful ideas about it.
13. How much research do you do?
I research for every project. If I’m working with a notebook, I put brackets and fill in what I want to detail, something like <French phrase here> or <find out the name of a suitable building>. Otherwise, when I’m writing new content or typing notebook content on the computer, I go to the Internet. I spend more time on language translators and baby name sites than other places, but I look up all sorts of stuff. Good thing I’m not a crime writer — the stuff they have to look for might best be filtered through a proxy server.
14. Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I write longhand in notebooks and type them up, or I just write directly into Scrivener, or occasionally into Word. I wrote on a typewriter in my teens, in the 1980s, for hours at a time, but haven’t used a typewriter since 1987, when they started to become obsolete.
15. Are you currently reading any books?
I don’t usually mention my comics reading, so I’ll start with that just to make this interview different. I just finished an Astro City anthology — comics by Busiek, Anderson, and Ross — and before that I read the hardback compilation of Spider-Verse. I also read the nine issues of Secret Wars, which I’m not sure I liked. As for novels, I usually read several books at a time, with different ones in different school bags and so on. The next one I expect to finish is Impossible Intern, by J.A. Beard, who is a colleague of whom I am also a fan. I have some books I was asked to review, and will take a crack at some of them, and of course, I just bought one of yours, which is literally next.
16. How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Matt-Posner/e/B005HA0J0E
Goodreads: under the name Matt Posner