Sunday, December 2, 2012

Matthew Quick, the author of The Silver Linings Playbook talks about writing as therapy, channeling Rocky, not writing the script, his new novel, and so much more

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick was one of my favorite novels, so I was a little anxious when I heard it was going to be a film. Films never match up to the books, usually. Endings are changed. The picture of a character you have in your head is always better than the one of the screen. But ah--I was wrong.  The film is sharp, funny, deeply moving and filled with great performances. In fact, I was so entranced, I decided I had to track down Matthew, who was kind enough to talk to me about all things Matthew Quick. So this means if you haven't already, track down all his work, do so immediately, and be on the lookout this coming August for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, his new novel. Thank you so, so much, Matthew! 

I love your whole take on life--to risk, to never give up, to move towards your dream. You practice what you preached, too, quitting your teaching job to write full-time in your in-laws basement, which gave birth to The Silver Linings Playbook. So what's your next big dream you're moving towards?

I’ve been channeling Rocky a lot lately, particularly the line about how ‘it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.’ (I might have paraphrased that a little.)

When I first started writing full time, I had no idea what I was doing, let alone what ups and downs were coming my way. (This is probably a good thing, as naivety can be a powerful—albeit it, temporary—shield.) At first, I really just wanted to see if I could publish a book with a major house in NYC, which seemed like a Herculean task. Now I’m trying to sustain a career as a full-time fiction writer, which is infinitely harder.

I read once that the best way to achieve a goal is to be like a stone falling through water, always moving in one direction steadily. And that’s what I’m trying to do now. I go back to the page time and time again. I do my best to promote my work. I try to treat people well and be thankful for all that has come my way. I write and write and write.

When the hits come—and no writer is ever really safe—I keep moving forward. So maybe it’s my dream to stay in the fiction game as long as I can.

I write about people who live on the fringe—lonely but interesting and special people. And I think my fans identify with these characters. I hope my work makes people feel less alone. That’s why I write—to feel less alone. My writing is also therapy.

If you’ve read my work, you know that mental health issues are very important to me. I talk a lot about mental health when I speak, and I’ve come to believe that this is maybe the most important part of what I do, aside from trying to tell good stories. I’d like to do more to foster mental health dialogue, to let people in that community know they are not alone. I’ve always used writing and literature to combat my own personal demons. And many readers tell me that the stories I write and the talks I give help. So I keep moving forward.

The Silver Linings Playbook is that rare bird that is not only an extraordinary book but a fabulous movie as well. Were you anxious about how they were going to transform the book? 

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed both.

I asked if I could write the screenplay and was told they were looking for an established name. It was a moment when I learned David O. Russell was going to adapt my novel. I’m a huge fan of DOR.

I read an early version of the screenplay, but wasn't involved in the adaptation process. When I visited the movie set, David was friendly, but made it clear that the film was his and the book was mine. I got it. I wouldn’t want anyone looking over my shoulder when I write fiction, and David had to do his thing as a filmmaker.

Before they screened SILVER LININGS for me in Tribeca, David called me on the phone. It was the first time we had a conversation. I was surprised to learn that he really really wanted me to like the film. In fact, I’d even say he was nervous about my reaction.

When I watched the film, my hands were clenched into fists, my chest was tight, and I felt like I was experiencing David’s adaptation as several different people—the writer of the very personal source material, a fan of David O. Russell, a fan of movies, a storyteller, someone who had a financial stake in the success of the film, etc. About twenty or so minutes in, I forgot about all of that and gave myself over completely to the story. That’s when I knew we really had something.

I called David that night and we had a very happy conversation. He and I have gotten to know each other a little while promoting the film. He cares deeply about mental health awareness, like I do. And I really appreciate how respectful he was of my original vision. The movie is David’s, but the heart and spirit of what I was trying to do is clearly up there on the screen. My friends, family, and former students agree.

I was going to ask what it's like to be married to another novelist, but what I really want to ask is what's your daily writing life like? Do you plan out your novels or just follow the characters' leads? 

Here’s what my normal day looks like: get up somewhere between 7-9 am; make coffee in the French press; do at least an hour of e-mail (lately, much much more); write for four or five hours; hike the local mountain or walk in the woods with my wife, Alicia, who writes in her office all day and/or crafts solo piano music; write some more; eat dinner with Alicia; on an absolutely crazy wild night we will go to the movies; I usually do Internet career stuff or write some more at night; watch Jon Stewart and Colbert; sleep; repeat.

I never plan out my novels. I start with a character and try to channel him or her in first person. You’ve heard people say, ‘No tears in the writer; no tears in the reader.’ I say the same thing about surprises. I need to have that perception shift during the writing process. I remember reading somewhere this advice from Kurt Vonnegut: make your character want something desperately, and then make the goal really hard to obtain. That’s good advice.

What's obsessing you now and why?

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is getting A LOT of buzz. I’m being read by a larger audience. Stakes are high. Trying to enjoy the ride, but I also have my fingers crossed for many things that shall not be named at this point.

This is a hard game and I realize I’ve had a lot of good fortune already. Just hoping to keep the dream alive.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Well, I’m happy to tell you about my next book, which Little, Brown will publish in August 2013. It’s called FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK and is about a boy who takes a gun to school on his eighteenth birthday intent on killing his former best friend and then himself. We’re very excited about this book. Early buzz is good. The cover is amazing! And I’m hoping it starts an important dialogue. 

I also have another adult market book about which my agents say I’m forbidden to speak. (More on that early next year.)

Thanks so much for interviewing me! My best to all of your readers!

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Lori Nelson said...

Terrific interview, Caroline and Matthew! Love your interest in mental health issues. Wishing you continued success.

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