Today I’m chatting with YA fantasy author Matt Posner about his series and about writing in general. Matt Posner is a teacher and writer from New York City. Originally from Florida, he has been happily married to Julie since 1999. Matt is also the poet/percussionist with the Avant-Garde band The Exploration Project. Connect with Matt at his author blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I started writing for fun when I was in elementary school. I decided to include “novelist” in my career plans when I was twelve and had to do a project for my 7th grade “gifted” class. I wrote a novella for that class, among other tasks. Recently I rediscovered the typescript, so I hope to share some of it later this year.
How long did it take you to write The Ghost in the Crystal?
I started The Ghost in the Crystal in early 2002. There were many stops and starts. I finished it in 2008 or 2009, I think — hard to recall now. Probably 2009. It doesn’t take me that long to write a novel if I am focused, but the early 2000s were hard times and I often lost track of anything other than my stressors.
In one sentence, what’s the book about?
The Ghost in the Crystal is about Simon, who joins a magic school in New York City and is stuck with the task of helping a disturbed ghost to find peace.
Your School of the Ages series is about a magic school in New York. With all the young adult books about magic schools popping up (Harry Potter, The Magicians, etc.), what sets your books apart?
Multiculturalism and real-world grounding are the distinguishing features. I use real places, and I mix cultures and history and I’m not afraid of religion. The books are very dark and often painfully sad, but they are about growing up in a way that I think is very emotionally realistic.
One caveat — I wouldn’t classify The Magicians as being a young adult book. It’s pretty grown up in subject matter, with sex and drugs and profanity, although kids who are talented readers will probably enjoy it.
The fantasy genre has many tropes and “rules” for magic and fantastical creatures. Which ones do you pay homage to and which do you change or put your own twist on?
I follow real-world paranormal studies in most situations, using a view of the spirit world and ghosts and magic that a casual student of hermeticism and meditation would find familiar. The only fantastical creatures which I incorporate in the books are elementals — beings based on the four elements of classical Greek philosophy, air, earth, water, and fire. The starting place for this is the four winds, two of whom are in The Ghost in the Crystal, all of whom have been introduced by the end of The War Against Love. I have more entities like that, too. I just love elementals.
In book IV I introduce rakshasas, demons or evil spirits in flesh, which come from the tradition of Indian mythology. I tried to write them just as they are in the mythology, except that the one who appears in the 21st century has a 21st-century gangster lifestyle.
You were one of the writers in the Kindle All-Stars Anthology. What were your short stories about and were they related to The School of the Ages series?
For Resistance Front I selected a gritty, violent story I had written in the late 1990s that I thought was really good and needed a home. The story features two paraplegic military vets fighting to the death in wheelchairs in an underground club in the Bronx. I thought it was an eerie, action-packed piece that would blow people away, but that hasn’t happened yet. I hope the story finds an audience. My story for Carnival of Cryptids was written specifically for that anthology and was my attempt to work in an adult-pleasing, slightly naughty context, combining the topics of TV cooking competition, mysterious animals, and … er… ribaldry.
Here’s a story that hasn’t been told anywhere else. There was going to be a YA anthology from Kindle All-Stars, before Carnival of Cryptids, and I wrote a School of the Ages short story for that, but Laurie and Bernard declined it, and thereafter the anthology was cancelled. The story is called “Meshugana Monday” and stars Yakov Mermelstein, the moody student cabalist who is a major character throughout the series. It was available for free for a while at my goodreads blog but I have now put it back under wraps until my next short story book is prepared, whenever that might be.
Do you lean more toward plotter, pantser, or somewhere in the middle? What does your writing process look like?
I’m about 70% plotter and 30% pantser. I write plot outlines in the form of scene or chapter sentence summaries, and then when I am writing I make major changes as I get ideas. My writing process looks like outlining, adding in new ideas freely without a sense of being married to the original plan, and composing the contents out of order to piece them together later.
Do you write to music, background noise, or silence?
Writing to music has been my preference since teenage years. In high school, I had two cassettes, one Russian overtures, the other Mozart Requiem, which I just played over and over. Now I am more flexible. I have a YouTube playlist of music to listen to while writing – it’s public on my YouTube channel schooloftheages – and I frequently add to it. If I’m writing somewhere else, like on a train, I use my iPod music instead.
I also listen to music for creative visualization while commuting, with an evolving playlist depending upon what I am writing. I burn out this music eventually, especially when the book elements with which a track is associated have been completed.
Tell us a little about your next release or what project you are working on right now.
I am trying to get out School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth (there is an excerpt below and I have posted others in my various blog locations, including my website, my goodreads blog, and my Facebook fan page). The book simply refuses to be finished. It is perhaps too ambitious compared to the first three novels in the series, attempting to incorporate so very many characters and subplots as well as wrap up multi-novel story arcs and incorporate Indian mythology, with the inherent risks of doing that. But I will get it out this summer. The story needs to be told.
After School of the Ages 4 I am going on hiatus from STA for a while to write some other books. By the end of the summer I should have a how-to book called How to Write Dialogue which contains contributions from a team of indie authors also. Then I will begin two projects, a non-fantasy novel for adults (not releasing the details yet) and another Teen Guide with Jess C. Scott, also on a crucial social issue (again, I’m holding off on the details). Jess C. Scott, by the way, is an ideal writing partner: a great professional and an independent-minded thinker and a supportive friend, and I’m lucky to have her as a co-author.
What are your favorite novels?
There are many, but I’ll just focus on one here for space reasons.
The Lord of the Rings is an all-time favorite although I don’t constantly reread it these days. It’s hovering in the background of my writing all the time. There are some places in School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth in which I can feel the voice of Tolkien’s most epic characters speaking through the mouths of my own. Tolkien for me speaks the authentic voice of elevated English prose.
One of the characters from Mahbharata who appears in Simon Myth is Bhishma, the greater elder statesman of the book who is possessed with semi-divine power. In this speech from the middle of the book, he channels Tolkien’s heroic diction:
“Pain of the body is easily conquered,” said Bhishma. “I have lived many lifespans of men, and I have found the answers to many things. A body’s pain is nothing to me. I am troubled, if I am troubled, by memory. I raised not only Arjun, but his grandfather and father and elders even before that. And I raised not only Arjun and Sahadev, Yuddhistir, Bhim, and Nakul, but also their foes in this war. Duryodhan, Dushasan, they are also as sons to me, and all of their brothers, who are now dead or shall soon be so. As they are cut down, Anuvidh, Durdarsh, Saraasan, I remember them. And the blood too of Nand and Upanand, Vrindaarak and Bahwasy I regret, though I know it cannot be otherwise. I cared also for Pradham, Chitrakundal, Belavardhan, though they were all dreadful rascals. Not only these men, whom I felt as sons though wayward, but generations of men I have seen fall to ruin. And many 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.”
The original Mahbharat’s being written in Sanskrit means that English versions of its elements must find their own way. I found this particular way. Most of the time my writing does not emulate Tolkien, because I am writing a 21st-century story, but in this context it makes sense. Tolkien would mostly likely not take credit for this diction, of course, but would credit it to Anglo-Saxon or some such.
Coffee fuels writing—true or false and why?
Coffee fuels going to the job for me. Coffee fuels driving for me. Coffee is what I use to keep myself alert and maintain my energy when doing something that I don’t really want to do. Of course, I have had some fine cups of coffee over the years, such as the cappuccinos Julie and I enjoyed at Hamburg’s Speicherstadt Kaffeeroesterei which linger in the memory years later. Overall, though, I don’t really take pleasure in coffee – I use it like medication. For writing, I prefer cold drinks, like water or diet soda.
I’m happy to share with your readers the semi-final cover for School of the Ages 4: Simon Myth. This is how it will look, plus a blurb which will be added when my blurb supplier has written that blurb for me. I’ve just sent the next-to-finished manuscript to a very nice author in the UK named Nicola Palmer, author of the Alice Parker’s Adventures series, which I highly recommend. I have my fingers crossed that she will consider it blurb-worthy.
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