Another YA Success

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 1st, 20122012-11-01T09:38:15Zl, F jS, Y at 2:38 am2012-11-01T09:38:15Zg:i a

Recently a long time client and very dear friend, Mat Raney, published his YA novel, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves. I had the chance to interview Mat about what it was like switching from screenwriting to prose, whether his move to LA was a beneficial step in his writing career and whether he prefers Lewis or Pullman.

Oh yeah and read the Kirkus Review of Mat’s book here!


Julie

I met you what – five years ago, Mat? Something like that? I read a script of yours and was blown away by your writing! I remember calling you to tell you that!

Mat:

I remember that too! I hope you know how big of a moment that was for me in terms of my writing. You know, it’s great when your friends and family tell you that what you wrote was good, but it’s another thing entirely when a stranger or an experienced writer tells you that you have talent. That’s when you start to gain real confidence. After that phone call I thought to myself, “maybe I can really do this!” So thanks so much for that!

Julie:

At that time, you lived in Kentucky. Did you move out to LA expressly to move your writing career forward? Has it helped? How has living in LA been beneficial to you?

Mat:

Well, I have the good fortune of working for a wonderful company at T-Mobile USA. So there was really a dual purpose and what ended up being a dual benefit coming out to Southern California. There was quite a bit more opportunity career-wise for me in Los Angeles, but I also thought and hoped that it would be a huge help for my dream of becoming a professional writer. I certainly believe a writer can be excellent and achieve success anywhere in the world, especially with all the advances in social networking, but what makes a place like LA so special is just the sheer number of creative individuals congregated in one place. It’s so much easier to find a group of peers to help you refine your craft.

Julie:

I read an early YA novel of yours and loved your prose writing. What made you switch to prose and leave screenwriting behind?

Mat:

Thank you so much! You know, I’m not really sure there was any other reason beyond the fact that I just enjoy prose writing more. I was tired of writing screenplays and being told, well, don’t try and tell the director this or that, or, that’s a nice idea but a director will probably just change it, or, leave that to the actor. In prose writing you’re not just the writer, but you’re the director and all the actors as well. I find that not only very challenging, but also very rewarding and fulfilling. You really own the whole story. That being said, I have thought recently about going back and writing some screenplays again, even if it’s just for fun. At the end of the day, I just love storytelling, in whatever genre or mode.

Julie:

The YA market has really taken off with the crossover appeal of books like the Harry Potter Series, His Dark Materials, etc. Is that why you chose to write in the YA genre or was it just a natural predilection?

Mat:

You know, when I was reading books growing up, nobody ever told me: “This book is YA,” or “this book is MG.” I knew that there were little-kid books and that there were just books. And I liked just books. Anything that looked cool to me was what I read. And I think that concept still influences me today. I just want to write a good story, a good story that a young reader could pick up and fall in love with or that could also spark an older reader’s imagination. In the case of JIM MORGAN, the main character happens to be 11 years old, so the book works for the middle grade audience, but I think readers of all ages could give it a read and have a great time.

Julie:

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman and the Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis – both are YA fantasy books with theological underpinnings. Which did you prefer? Oh that was loaded but I’m curious for your thoughts!

Mat:

I’m definitely more nostalgic when I think back about Narnia. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the first books I think I actually loved when I was very young. I didn’t read Dark Materials until I was older and really they’re written for a slightly more mature reader. But truthfully, in terms of style, I love what J.R.R. Tolkien said about Lord of the Rings: that it was a religious book without the religion, or something along those lines. So much of fantasy writing is based in mythic structure and I really think the best way to share one’s thoughts on the human condition is through that structure, symbolism, and narrative, through bubbles and glimpses, not necessarily as heavy-handedly as either Lewis or Pullman. I think direct allegory is somewhat limiting. It can sometimes hinder your message as opposed to bring it to a broader audience.

Julie:

Do your spiritual or philosophical leanings come into your writing?

Mat:

They do, but again, more through principle than through direct analogy. One of the biggest turning points in the novel is the death of Jim’s father. My own father died when I was young and Jim’s adventure allows me to open up about the importance of friendship in loneliness, learning to love others, and finding forgiveness and direction in a life short on traditional authority figures. Those are heavy topics, but when you tell them in a story, even very young readers can relate and hopefully find hope and encouragement when they come to their own rough patches in life.

Julie:

I know you sought a publisher for a very long time and it was a frustrating experience. What made you decide to self-publish? What has that experience been like for you so far?

Mat:

Well, at the end of the day, if you can find an agent or a publishing house you’ve really given yourself a huge advantage in the game. That’s still the optimal way to publish your novel. The marketing and networking resources provided through those channels are invaluable, and plus, you’ll have a team of people working toward your success, not just yourself. In addition, trying to get reviewed or featured on blogs or websites as a self-published author is extremely difficult. Most sites won’t even take a look at them. Of course, that stems from too many self-published authors selling books before they’re ready, so it’s a bit of a self-inflicted wound.

That being said, the most frustrating aspect of trying to find an agent in today’s marketplace is awakening to the rude truth that agents and publishing houses do not select books just because they are good. They are looking for sure-fire hits, and the only way they know to find a sure-fire hit is to publish books that are like what is currently popular. This is especially true in YA or MG right now. If you go and look on the shelves just about everything looks like Hunger Games or Twilight. It’s extremely heroine heavy and always seems to have a teen love triangle. You may write a beautiful book that has none of that, but if the agent or publishing house feels there’s no market for that book right now, you’re probably out of luck.

It’s very much like Hollywood right now. People are saying “Hollywood is out of ideas!” or “all the creativity is gone!” Well, all you have to do is look at TV or some of the crazy stuff on YouTube to see that’s not true. If anything, I think there is more creativity being expressed out there in America today than ever before. But Hollywood is obsessed with sequels and remakes because they have built-in audiences and execs are desperate for sure-fire hits. There are plenty of amazing spec scripts out there about all kinds of stuff, but Hollywood is unwilling to try new and different things because it’s financially risky. Publishing houses and agencies are in the same boat. As a businessperson, I understand that completely, but as a creative person, it’s deeply frustrating.

Julie:

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves. What is the upshot of the book? Do you have plans for a sequel?

Mat:

I’m so excited about this book it’s ridiculous! I think Jim Morgan is a great story for both boys and girls, but it helps fill a hole right now in that it focuses on a boy hero dealing with the loss of his father and trying to figure out what he’s capable of becoming. I think that’s a necessary topic of discussion right now, especially as we see boys’ test scores falling across the country and their interest in reading wane. This is a main character that has some attitude, is dealing with identity issues, and tackles some big challenges. I think young readers will really gravitate to that. But it also has plenty of humor and heart that I think boys, girls, and even adults will really enjoy that. As for the sequels, I happen to be working on one right now, and so far I’m having a blast with it!

Julie:

Do you have any words of advice for writers weighing whether to continue to pursue screenwriting versus venturing into prose? Do you use different muscles?

Mat:

Well, I don’t want this to sound like a cop out, but I say write what you love to write! This may be terrible advice, I don’t know, but you can either try and force what you write into the narrow categories of what’s popular or you can write what’s in your soul, whatever the genre or mode. The one thing I can say for sure is that your absolute best will only come through when you’re writing what’s in your heart. You just have to be willing to train your mind and skills so that story comes out in the clearest way possible.

Storytelling is storytelling – whether you’re writing poems or songs or short stories or stage plays or screenplays, so there really is not much difference in that regard between a movie and a book. But just like there are rules for screenplays there are also rules for novels. You need to go out and learn about word count and chapter length and all that, and those are different from genre to genre. So read a TON of books that are in the style of what you want to write. But more than all of that (and this may sound silly) go out and learn how to write great, active sentences that read well aloud and silently. That is probably the biggest single difference between prose and screenwriting. In screenwriting, the action and dialogue are your storytelling tools and your audience is directors and actors who will lend voice and tone to your words. In prose, you must provide those elements in addition to action and dialogue and that begins with being able to craft well structured sentences that take a reader out of this world and bear them swiftly and smoothly into the one you’ve created.

Julie:

Is there anything a writer can identify about his or her strengths that might indicate whether screenwriting or prose is the best fit for their writing?

Mat:

Just two things:

1) Do you have the patience to write one story for months or even years?
2) Do you have the patience to rewrite that one story 10 or 12 times?

If you can do those two things then you can write prose as well for the screen, but going back to what I said earlier. Just write what you love! Whatever that is!

Julie:

Any parting words of advice?

Mat:

Don’t give up. If you write because you love writing and storytelling, don’t give up. Maybe fame and fortune will find us and maybe it won’t, but if you love telling a great story and it gives you joy and even just a small audience joy, don’t give it up just because you aren’t seeing dollar signs right away.

Julie:

Thank you Mat! I guess I should call you James now, but you’ve always been Mat to me! Best of luck with Jim Morgan and the sequel(s)! Maybe you will return to screenwriting when you adapt the story into a hit film!

Mat:

You can call me whatever you want, Julie, lol! Your support and friendship have definitely helped me have the confidence to take this new direction. And I might definitely return to screenwriting – it’s a medium I love!

Julie:

Check out Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves today, and be sure to follow James Matlack on Good Reads!

- and yes girls, he’s single :)

Mat:

BLUSH!


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