Welcome to my interview with the amazing author of Hearth: Exile. The review can be found here:
1. Tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and where you come from?
I was born in and lived the first ten years of my life in New York City. Then my father left his position in the Episcopal (American Anglican) ministry at St. Peter’s Church and we moved out of New York and to a farm in the foothills of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Those two facts should tell you a lot right there. We lived in a town twice the size of New York in area but with less than 900 people. Our 200-acre blueberry farm of woods, fields, streams and ponds was surrounded by the Chester-Blandford State Forest, which was surrounded by more wilderness. I went from having numerous friends at a great school, in which my life was full of activity and moved from one thing to the next, to a state of complete isolation and alienation in which I kept my own company. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was there that I became self-aware. Most of you know what I mean; there are those who rush through life, never really examining anything or being aware of what’s going on around them. They don’t spend any time alone or get to know themselves as individual human beings. They don’t take the time to discover the creativity within, or to appreciate the beauty of the world and of nature. Instead, they are reactive to life instead of proactive, and they don’t observe. In short, they don’t have a rich inner life. I was like that for a time as well, but the farm changed me forever during my most formative teenage years. I created fantasy worlds and adventures in my head. I walked for miles, exploring. And I began to fill my time by writing stories, stories that would always stay with me. Now I am putting those stories down on paper (well, screen) and finally publishing them. It should take the rest of my life to get it all out there.
2. Why did you start writing? Why do you love it so much?
I think I’ve been writing and reading since I was about four years old. I remember playing word games, twisting words around to make new sounds, or learning what the words translated to in other languages (my mother spoke fluent French). I liked to write simple rhymes and imagine the beginnings of great epic stories filled with adventures, in which the fate of the world hung in the balance and good always triumphed over evil. But it wasn’t until I was 8 years old, when I read Lord of the Rings, that I took my stories further and began to imagine a complete fantasy world that lived and breathed on its own. I started writing stories with a beginning, middle and end, many based on this imaginary parallel world I had created, where Magic (Magick as a noun in this world) took precedence over Technology and Nature still held sway.
During my teenage years and through college, life got in the way of my writing for a while (or I got in my own way), and I drifted away from the thing that gave me the most satisfaction. Then during one Fall several years ago, while my wife and I were renting a small, remote cottage on Sebago Lake in Maine, I took up my pen again and started writing what would become the Hearth series (I always start stories in pen and then migrate to the computer). I haven’t stopped writing since.
3. Why this particular style and genre?
Fantasy, especially Epic Fantasy, has always appealed to me, at least ever since I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although it is the most difficult genre (I think) to write in, I get more satisfaction out of creating alternate worlds than almost anything else. I like what Joseph Campbell said, that Fantasy and Mythology – through their archetypal tales – speak greater Truths about life and the human condition than any other type of fiction. Fantasy also reminds us, along with quantum physics, that we are all on a Grand Adventure, full of many lesser but no less important adventures; that what we do in life is important, that it Matters, and that we are eternal beings. Most of all, storytelling in general, and fantasy storytelling in particular, reminds me that we are first and foremost Creators (capital is my own stressor), which is what all the great religions of the world mean when they say we are made in the image of God. Creating alternate worlds is what gives me the most joy.
4. What inspired you to write the Hearth novels?
The germ of the idea for the Hearth novels (formerly called Terre) was the sense of isolation and immersion in nature that my wife and I felt living on Sebago Lake. I thought of a man, and then a couple, who are not only isolated and alienated from society and community, but isolated and alienated from themselves as well because of their amnesia. This first seed then meshed and merged together with our history growing up in New York City. The city is as much a part of who we are as is the country and a love for wilderness that have both came to embrace. I felt that placing these two characters in New York would heighten their sense of isolation and the mystery surrounding their identities. The idea of Hearth and its place as a parallel world to Earth then seemed to blossom from these two characters and their isolation. I came to regain that Magick-focused world that I had created during my younger years and the story took off from there. Hearth feels real to me, as if the people are living their lives there and events are happening whether I am thinking about them or not.
5. Where did you get the title for your novel?
The answer to this is actually a bit embarrassing, but I personally know of at least one other author this has happened to. The original title to my novel and series was Terre, not Hearth, with the volumes being 1-Exile, 2-Rebellion, and 3-Armageddon. At the last minute I had to change the title to Hearth, because the name Terre was already being used by another author. It was hard coming up with another name, but one night the name Hearth just popped into my head for no apparent reason. In retrospect I think it’s a good name; “Hearth” denotes both “Hearth and Home” and yet it is also a place of great heat and fire (and danger). The fact that it is Earth’s parallel or sister fits, too, given that Hearth is Earth one letter removed, and yet sounds entirely different, reflecting the relationship between the two.
6. Is there any specific message you want your readers to get?
I suppose if there’s one message I want Readers to take from the Hearth series, it’s that we are all a part of something Greater. I believe in a universe, or universes, of possibility. To me one of the strongest implications of the quantum theory of reality is that if we humans create a story, or a world, and embrace it strongly enough, it becomes real somewhere in the universe, or in infinity. Many writers (hopefully many of you among them) have had that strange, almost eerie experience in the creation of a story, where your characters begin to take on a life of their own and suddenly “want” to do things you hadn’t planned on them doing. They pull the story in a new and different direction, and you find yourself writing a tale completely different than the one you had expected to when you first began composing it. After a certain point it seems that, rather than merely writing a story, you are transcribing events as they actually occurred somewhere. I believe this has everything to do with the fact that in composing a tale, we are “giving birth” to something new, something which indeed takes on a life of its own and grows to exist independently of us after a time. Perhaps it is in one of those alternate dimensions String Theory talks about; perhaps it is on another world in our own universe. I don’t know, but I do know that the first time I read Lord of the Rings, it FELT real to me. I KNEW that story and that place called Middle Earth existed out there somewhere. Now that I am older, I think I know where that feeling came from.
7. What is your favorite book and who is your favorite author?
My favorite book – this is a tough question to answer because I have multiple favorites from multiple genres. Lord of the Rings is definitely at the top of my Fantasy list (by J. R. R. Tolkein), but the Magician series by Raymond Feist isn’t far behind. Other favorites might include Stephen King’s 11/22/63 – a metaphysical love story full of Meaning in the highest sense of the word; The Body (which became the movie Stand By Me), whose main character, Gordie, reflects me as a writer and a lot of what I went through while growing up. Finally, there is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which can’t be compared to anything else, except to say it is just about the funniest, quirkiest work of literature ever created. There are other favorites of mine, but these are the fewest I can keep to.
8. Is your family supportive of your writing?
My family is and has always been supportive of my writing. My parents have both passed away, but my mother was always my greatest fan and motivator. My wife has since taken up that mantle and will often critique my plots and help me talk them out, coming up with new ideas or additions to the plot, or else questioning the need for something that may be extraneous and not necessary. Lastly, my Shih-Tzu Princess is a constant companion and a great listener . . .
9. Is there anyone you would like to thank?
I would like to thank my entire family – parents, brothers, sisters, wives, canines (including Doig, my Black Lab who has since passed away) who have all encouraged me in their own way. I would also like to thank Melissa Alvarez, my book cover Illustrator and Designer, and Cassandra Giovanni and Geoffrey Wakeling, who were two of my first Readers and Cohorts in my writing efforts. We have each supported each other in small ways during these early stages of our writing careers, and it is nice to see we are each blooming at the same time. If you are looking for something new, check out some of their ebook titles, especially Geoff’s Inside Evil series and Cassandra’s In-Between Seasons series
10. Are any of the characters molded after people in your life? If so who and how did those people influence your writing?
I suppose all the characters reflect aspects of people I’ve met during my lifetime. Sister Regina reflects two people – Sister Lavinia, a severe, owl-eyed nun from my elementary school days at St. Hilda’s & St. Hughes, and a member of my own family who shall go unnamed but who has had to deal with her own doubts about her faith and the Path she has chosen. Page is based upon a child I know who is, for all intents and purposes, an orphan, and who has had to struggle through many trials, troubles and tribulations because of it. She is strong, however, and I have faith she will make it through to the “other side”.
11. Did you have to do a lot of research? What types of research would you advise other authors use?
Most of the research I have had to do for the Hearth series had to do with New York and locations in Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum. These related to specific details and visual aspects of places like the Boathouse in Central Park, the Hall and Temple of Dendur, and the Convent near where I used to attend St. Hilda’s. Although I am a born-and-bred New Yorker, I only visit a few times a year now and there were many small things and nuances I had to refresh my memory with. In terms of more general research to help me with my writing, the following are a few of the resources I used for my writing and continue to use. To me they are the best resources for writing and invaluable tools for any writer:
A. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – this is a classic in the field and it’s Hero’s Path structure has been used by bestselling writers and screenwriters alike for many years. The mythic format laid out in its pages has been used in the making of such movies as Easy Rider, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day, Titanic and Lion King. This book will repay any writer many times over, and help all writers create story plots that draw the Reader in completely. They will be helpless under your book’s spell!
B. On Writing by Stephen King – for inspiration and practical advice from an absolute master of the craft, nothing beats this text for readability and usefulness. Yes, the industry has changed much since Mr. King and his wife, Tabitha, were living in a trailer in Maine and even since 2000, when this book was first published, but the tools and sheer grit are the same as they ever were. King pulls no punches and delivers practical one-two’s like a champion prizefighter. A must for every writer’s bookshelf!
C. Telling Lies for Fun & Profit by Lawrence Block – this gem has never gone out of print (and I’m sure it’s available electronically), and it’s still one of the bestselling books on writing even after thirty years. The book is actually a collection of columns by Block (a popular Mystery writer) written for Writer’s Digest over a number of years. They cover every aspect of writing, and are divided into five sections: Fiction as a Profession, Fiction as a Discipline, Fiction as a Structure, Fiction as a Craft, and Fiction as a Spiritual Exercise. Some of his columns, like It Takes More Than Talent, Writer’s Hours, Do It Anyway, and A Writer’s Prayer, are classics in the Writing field, and the entire book will reward the writer many times over and over many years. Block is also engaging, entertaining, and downright funny.
12. Do you have any advice for any other authors out there. Something that helped you through your tough times?
The best advice I could think of to give other writers that hasn’t been said before applies primarily to ebooks, and is taken from a response to a fellow writer over on Goodreads (it’s on my blog also under Top 100 Paid):
“It’s interesting. I decided to look at the 100 Top Paid Kindle Books on Amazon in an attempt to see if there are commonalities between the more successful authors that they share, which maybe we aren’t doing. Is it websites, is it marketing expertise, is it Twitter or Facebook? What do they all have in common? What strategies do they share?
The results were surprising. Or should I say result? The only common characteristic I found between all those authors, the only practice or ethic I found which 90+ % of them share, was that of prolificity (or prolificness?). That is, specifically, almost every single one of them, at the time they broke out and became bestselling/famous/prosperous, had already published AT LEAST 8 books! By extension, that means that those 8 books didn’t do very well, at least until their Breakout Novel broke out. What does this tell me? WRITE!! Become Fast-Fingers Freddy! Make the smoke rise up from the keyboard as you create worlds like a mad scientist! Every one of these writers had to serve an apprenticeship. They had numerous failures before they hit it big. But all the time, with every new title under their name, they were gaining more exposure online as writers, and they were becoming better at their craft at the same time.
Let no one fool you; I think what we as writers do is the hardest craft of all, or certainly one of the hardest. Our works of art are not completed in a few hours or a few days. We cannot step back from our work, look at it objectively, and say it is great or that it’s done. We have to grind through it every day without the satisfaction others feel (although there are those occasional Aha! moments, when it is all flowing effortlessly and you know you are creating ART). Most of the time it feels every bit like work, and we struggle for the right words. But we also know we would rather be doing this than anything else. This is what we were born for, what defines us, what makes us complete.
The Top 100 Paid on Kindle . . . what they show us is, there IS a way through to the other side, there IS a golden shore out there, if we are willing to stick with it long enough. We just have to keep at it, tune out the static, and listen to our own inner voice. Don’t let the “nattering nabobs of naysayers” distract you. Instead, WRITE!”
Other than that, if you want great advice on all kinds of things and get an excellent primer on the changing state of the publishing industry in these electronic times, check out Joe Konrath’s blog – “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” at jakonrath.blogspot.com. Read entries going back a ways as well. Very enlightening stuff, and you will be amazed at how much money successful ebook writers make (yikes!). Cheers!
Thank you for stopping by Matt!