Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Matt "Mad Genius" Posner Talks About Writing...For Readers and Writers

On Amazon
I recently interviewed author Matt Posner, whom I like to refer to as "The Mad Genius," about his School of the Ages Series, and about a book of his that I contributed to called How to Write Dialogue. I believe you'll find he's in no way mad, but you may come to agree he's a genius when you do read his books. Writers, stayed tuned 'til the end of the interview. I think you'll find his discussion of How to Write Dialogue very interesting.

Georgina: Matt, you are an incredibly prolific writer with a four book young adult series, School of the Ages, under your belt, as well as How to Write Dialogue, other non-fiction credits, and shorter works. I know you are also a full time high school teacher! Tell us about your writing schedule. Where do you find the time and discipline?
Matt: Thanks for asking, but being productive is no longer my strong suit. I used to write when commuting to and from my college job, but I don't work at the college anymore; I wrote during down-time at work, but I don't have too much of that anymore; and I wrote in the bathtub some mornings, but now that's the only time I read. My schedule has gotten a lot more hectic in the last year or so, making it difficult to find time and energy. I squeeze in writing where I can, but I am somewhat less prolific than I would like to be. I learned my lesson in 2012, when I scheduled myself to publish four books and only got out two of them, the other two appearing in 2013 instead. I have three projects to work on this year, too, and I will be lucky to finish just one, I think…
Stress and fatigue are serious enemies to creativity, unfortunately. School of the Ages is four novels, with one to go, and two shorter books, which should be more than two by now given all the unfinished short stories I have about the kids.

On Amazon
Georgina: Where did you get the idea for the School of the Ages series?
Matt: I've been writing about magic and wizards since my teen years, trying to find the right way to approach the topic. I had a near-miss in 1993 when seeking traditional publication for a novel about an aging necromancer and his teen apprentice. Around 2002, after some years of trying to write literary fiction, I resolved to return to fantasy. I was originally going to write about a magician and two or three apprentices. (The scene in The Ghost in the Crystal about Ogopogo is the only vestige of my original notes, which had the legends of cryptozoology appearing as elemental spirits.) However, I was then working at a mesivta -- a private Jewish high school -- and the culture of my students and their parents was relatively new to me, and very interesting. I thought it would be nice to incorporate that into a fantasy book, and so I conceived of School of the Ages as a place where Orthodox Jewish kids would study Jewish magic alongside other kids studying more traditional European magic, which is called Hermetic magic after legendary founder Hermes Trismegistus. I mixed in some of my knowledge of Asian traditions of meditation, and my love of elementals, and got started. I wanted to have a truly American magic school book, which at that time had not been written:  I wanted to reflect the melting-pot multicultural environment that New York City is. Readers can judge whether I managed it.

Georgina: I really enjoyed book one, The Ghost in the Crystal, and have the others on my to-read list. Your books are certainly as intriguing for adults as they must be for teens. Tell us a little about your mental process as you write. Are you thinking specifically of a young-adult audience?
Matt: That's a good question. Actually, the only things I do to specifically suit the young adult audience are to minimize profanity and sexual references and to avoid expressions that are better known to my own generation. Otherwise, I think I am writing ABOUT young adults rather than writing FOR them. I write what I want to read. I write stuff that I think is cool that no one else has come up with. I don't know how many teens read my books, but I would like to hear from those who do.

Georgina: Did being a teacher influence your writing for young people? If so, what in particular inspired you?
Matt: Surprisingly, I'll say no to this question in general. I think my characters, while millennials, are more like the kids I grew up among than they are like my own students.
There is an exception:  when I was planning the second novel in the series, Level Three's Dream, I was working with learning-disabled students (as I still do daily) and I wanted to include a learning-disabled magician.  I felt like even the magical community should reflect the presence of learning disability, which from my perspective is an inevitable feature of American education. Thus I created Level Three, who has Asperger's syndrome.

Georgina: I know you love to travel. How do your travels influence your writing?
Matt: Julie, my wife, and I travel overseas whenever we can, and this definitely influences my writing, since I use the places we have travelled to as settings for adventures. As an example, School of the Ages 3:  The War Against Love moves from New York to Paris, Prague, and Hamburg, while School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth is set substantially in India.

Georgina: You teach English, is that correct? What is your biggest grammar pet peeve?
Matt: I do teach English -- in a Brooklyn high school. Here's a shout-out to my students:  STOP GOOGLING ME! (cough cough, pardon me.)
As for which grammar errors annoy me, there are too many to count, but I suppose comma splice run-ons are the worst. This happens when a comma alone is used to join two complete sentences. This sentence is a comma splice, people don't seem to know it's an error. They think certain words can follow a comma to make a good sentence, however these words don't help. (That was a comma splice also.)

Georgina: You strike me as a mysterious figure. Tell us something no one, except perhaps your immediate family, knows about Matt Posner.
Matt: Would you believe that I've been asked that before? But I already gave up my darkest dark secrets… Okay, I'll reveal another. I don't like vegetables. I am an extreme meat-and-potatoes eater, also devoted very much to sharp cheeses, and certainly no stranger to large quantities of bread. If you put a salad in front of me, I have only five to ten bites, but later I will eat the entire white of the baked potato and long for another. If I have milk and cereal, I need some cheese afterwards because it has a salty aftertaste that is better than the milk aftertaste. The ideal breakfast is bread, cheese, and iced tea. Horrified by my eating habits? I don't blame you.

Georgina: Okay, Matt, let's get to How to Write Dialogue! I enjoyed being part of it, but how did it come about exactly?
Matt: Like many writers, I'm never confident about my style, and always wishing to be better in certain areas (for me, mostly its description of setting that I keep forgetting to include). This has made me think about what I do well and where I need to improve. My stylistic strength has always been dialogue. It's my usual mode of storytelling, and generally, during a heated session of caressing the page with words, I have to force myself to do anything else than make characters chatter at each other. With this strength in mind, I decided to make a book about dialogue to share my perspective with others. My goal was to be as comprehensive as possible about how dialogue is put together and what it is for. I think I got everything in…   Most books about fiction writing have samples from writers other than the author, usually from authors arranged by the publishers:  thus the trad publishers provide some easy publicity for other trad authors in their stables. However, I am my own publisher, sort of, so I have to find another solution. That solution is obvious:  we indie authors like to promote together and socialize, so why not get those samples from other indies? That's how my bullpen came about, and as one of my favorite fellow indies and promotional partners, you were an obvious choice. You write dialogue well and in a contemporary style, but in a important genre very distinct from my own. I like the variety! My bullpen is quite diverse and multicultural, just like School of the Ages is.
How to Write Dialogue is good for not only new writers who want to build their skills but also experienced ones who know what's what but would like some ideas as triggers to fire their creativity. It's also a good way to encounter the work of a lot of interesting authors who are also very cool people. Besides you, Georgina, there's also Stuart Land, Ey Wade, Junying Kirk, Rochelle Rodgers, Cynthia Echterling, Marita A. Hansen, Mysti Parker, Chrystalla Thoma, J.A. Beard, and my writing partner and best buddy Jess C. Scott, who also wrote one of the two essay/prologues. The other is by bestselling thriller author Tim Ellis. The book is also illustrated with droll character sketches by fine artist Eric Henty.

Georgina: Thanks for appearing on my blog, Matt! Can you share some links for my readers?

Matt: Absolutely:
For How to Write Dialogue:

To start School of the Ages:

My website:



My home phone number:
(ha ha, just kidding)

I'm a reader-friendly author, so feel free to get in touch!