Author Q&A: Matthew Cody

Matthew Cody hails from St. Louis and holds a Master’s degree in Theater from the University of Alabama with a focus on Shakespeare. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop and currently resides New York City with his family. His published works include the award-winning Powerless and The Supers of Noble’s Green books, the Robin Hood re-imaging Will in Scarlet, and his newest MG trilogy The Secrets of the Pied Piper. He’s currently the head writer for the collaborative serial fiction series Remade. You can follow him on Twitter at @Matthew_Cody.

TBL Author Q&A Series: Matthew Cody

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What first drew you to writing? What is it that makes you a writer?

Writing wasn’t my first love, but I knew that I wanted to be a storyteller even from a young age. In school, I was heavily involved in theater and though I entered college as a creative writing major, I switched to the drama department my second year. Ten years, an undergraduate and graduate degree later, and I found my way back to writing prose.

When did you know you wanted to do this for a living?

I think the real key moment is when you decide to do it at all, because it’s terribly hard to make a living solely as a writer. It took several years after my first book was published before I felt comfortable enough to quit my day job. But the decision that put me on the path was joining a writing group here in NYC. Watching other people get passionate about this profession really helped me take my own writing seriously.

Do you think your education has ultimately helped or hurt your writing and/or your career? What have you learned outside of school that has helped you as a writer?

In college, I studied drama and English, and I have to say that for me, the theater instruction was surprisingly useful for my writing. Studying drama is all about character and story—motivations, obstacles, how characters choose different tactics to overcome those obstacles. In retrospect, it was tremendously helpful.

I’m a big fan of writing workshops, too (I teach at Gotham Writers Workshop part-time), but I’ve learned it’s useful to get outside the bubble and look at other storytelling mediums as well. Studying screenplays, stage plays, and comics, etc., can be very useful.

What themes and topics entice and inspire you most?

Someone in a writers group once pointed out to me that all my protagonists were either children or old men. Because there’s not a huge market for geriatric fiction, I think I’ve found my niche! But those two stages of life, while seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum, do share a lot in common about their place in society, and the lack of agency we give to them.

I guess I’m always rooting for the underdog.

Does being a father influence your writing?

Absolutely. A lot of authors will talk about how it affects the themes they deal with, but it also has a financial effect! When you suddenly have someone dependent on you, it makes you work all the harder to be successful. When my son was born, it was a moment of truth, and I had to ask myself if I was really prepared to raise a family being a writer. It’s a clarifying moment, to say the least.

What is your writing habit? Do you write daily in a strict routine or when the words appear?

I write every weekday, but try to take weekends off unless I’m up against a deadline (which seems to be always!). I try not to hold myself to word counts because a good deal of writing is imagining. But I do aim for a set number of hours with butt-in-chair.

How has your writing evolved throughout the years, especially after being published?

That’s a hard one. I think I’m faster, but that really depends on the project. There are personal stylistic quirks that I’m more aware of now, some that I try to avoid and some I lean into. But overall, the process feels much the same as it always did.

What is writer’s block to you? What does it seem like or how does it manifest? What do you do to fight it?

There’s a whole set of romantic conceptions that go along with being a writer that I resist, and writer’s block is one of them. There are certainly good and bad days at the desk, but that’s true of any profession and I think that giving special significance to a writer’s bad day is dangerous for the writer. It elevates it from just a crappy day at work to something that can threaten your creative life.

Write through it. Even if the words are crap, write them anyway and you’ll find your way back to the good stuff eventually. Or take a walk and come back later. Either way, don’t obsess over it.

To paraphrase one of my favorite picture books: It may be a horrible, no-good, very bad day, but some days are just like that.

What do you look for in good writing? What qualities or characteristics must it have?

I’m really drawn to immersive writing, a story that makes me forget the author and the words on the page. That means a plot that surprises but stays rooted in the characters, and prose that pleases but doesn’t distract. But these are largely issues of personal taste. My cuppa tea may not be everyone’s and that’s okay!

You’ve published a good number of novels through traditional publishing houses. Can you walk us through that process? How did you react to it all?

Wow, got a spare evening? It’s a far more involved process than I originally thought. I’m constantly learning new things because it’s constantly changing. For example, the consolidation of big publishing houses created, at least in part, a financial model that’s driven by one or two major hits a season. It’s like the movie studio’s summer blockbuster that must over-perform or the studio takes a hit. That means resources are naturally scarce for the midlist, which in turn makes it harder to have a midlist at all.

For these reasons, I suspect it’s easier to be a debut author now than when I was first published, but harder in some ways to establish a lasting career.

How did you feel when you first learned that you had a book coming out? How did you feel when you first saw or held it?

I’d almost given up hope, so I was thrilled when I got the call. I still remember where I was: Washington Square Park. And holding the actual book in my hands was pretty surreal. Still is, in many ways.

What advice do you have to give to people just discovering writing? Trying to get published? Trying to finish their novel/collection?

Write and finish what you write. Then write the next thing. It sounds trite but you meet a lot of people with great ideas or half-finished novels or a thousand reasons why they can’t write, but the honest truth is you can’t get published unless you have something to publish.

The industry is constantly changing and with self-pub tools these days, there are many, many paths to choose from, so you can’t blame it on the gatekeepers any more. If you have stories you’re passionate to tell, then put them out into the world. There’s literally no one stopping you.

As for traditional publishing, networking is always a useful thing. Like any profession, it’s run by people who like to work with other nice, talented people. Go to conferences and meet other writers and industry folks. Join a writers group or form your own. Reach out to people online and start conversations. I mentioned those romantic conceptions earlier, well the hermit-writer is another of those. Publishing is a surprisingly social industry.

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