New York Times bestselling author Morgan Matson is behind several Young Adult novels such as Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, Second Chance Summer, Since You’ve Been Gone, and The Unexpected Everything, which has a special edition Philippine release in partnership with National Book Store.
Before she goes on tour, I met Morgan in Writer’s Bar in Raffles Makati for a quick but enjoyable chat about her journey as a writer, her writing process, and what she looks forward to during her stay here. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
What do you feel about being a published author?
It’s nice cause it’s a bit of a slow kind of build. Some of my friends have become huge and successful right out of the gate, which is amazing but I feel like it also has its own set of issues. Luckily for me, it’s been some sort of organic like I feel like my own books have found their own audience in time. My first book was six years ago, and I feel like I was able to see people who read that and I saw people who’ve read the others, and it sort of been building slowly. It might be a little jarring and sudden, know what I mean? So I was sort of getting used to every stage and it felt like a progression.
What drew you to Young Adult literature in the first place?
In college, I was working in a bookstore, and I was working in the Children’s department. YA hasn’t really existed in the same way when I was still in school. The YA revolution hasn’t happened yet. I suddenly got to read all these amazing books I haven’t known about and I just fell in love with it. I would leave my books, go to my job and I would go home and write my own terrible YA novel. I was having so much fun with it I thought maybe I should begin focusing on this and I just love it.
I read that you never intended to be a writer and wanted to be an actress first. Would you say that The Unexpected Everything is also the title of your transition?
Seriously! I feel like it’s that quote that goes “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The second you say “this is what I want to do,” I think some things like it’s where the exciting things in life come from. When you have a plan and something takes you over here and then, maybe it’s better than what you thought, what you originally want to have.
Can you tell more about Katie Finn?
My secret identity! It’s an open secret. My full name is Morgan Katherine Finn Matson, so I just pulled out my middle names. That was my first book actually, my Katie Finn book. I was working in publishing at Scholastic and they wanted a book about social networking. I was literally sort of like “I’ll write that! It’s not like i’m doing anything else right now.” So, it was great for a first book. At that time I was already working on Amy and Roger but this was a no-pressure, quick, fun, great first book experience because it gave me what I needed to write a book was a deadline and someone waiting on it. One of the hardest things about writing your first book is writing it when no one’s waiting for it and there’s no pressure but they gave me my advance and I spent the money and that if I hand’t finished the book I would have to give the money back so it was sort of good kind of discipline and pressure for that. It was supposed to be a one off but then it did well and so it became a huge trilogy. And then a few years ago I wrote another Katie Finn trilogy. It was a lot of fun but I feel like I want to focus on the Morgan Matson books for now. But you never know.
Is there any difference between Katie Finn and Morgan Matson?
When I talk about it I sometimes say it’s like flipping channels and I go from a comedy to like a drama and the Katie Finn books are a lot more plot-driven and a little bit more soap opera-y and always you know, getting revenge on people, holding grudges, and pulling off a heist. It’s a little bit more extreme.
Given the number of books you’ve written, how do you address writer’s block?
Writer’s block for me is more like an early morning system. If it’s not coming so easily I just learned in my books that it means that I’ve done something wrong. I read a quote once that said that if you get stuck, go back to the last honest thing you’ve wrote. And I could usually tell. If I’m getting stuck I’m like oh, this turn I was taking something in my brain is smarter than I am and knows that this isn’t a good way to go and usually if I could go back and go on the right path, it sort of flows. Luckily I’ve never had writer’s block writer’s block.
Let’s talk about your writing process. I read a curious bit about the characters you write and they all share the same fictional universe, Stanwich. Is it based on Greenwich, Connecticut, where you grew up?
It’s basically the same town. What’s fun is that people from Greenwich would sometimes email me or tweet me like “Wait a second, I see what you’re doing here. It’s very clear to me.” So since they’re all from the same universe, characters from other books sometimes make cameos so you get to keep checking in with characters over time which is a lot of fun because for a lot of them there are sorts of answered questions and for what people want to know about what happened in a relationship or a friendship and you get to, it’s not completely distracting if you read them on a different order, but if you do, it’s like a fun little treat.
When you’re in university, don’t just take writing classes, take a wide range of classes, and go experience things, and go live a life so you have things to talk about. Live as broadly as possible.
Tell me more about how your own personality bleeds onto the stuff you write. Do you share the same quirks as the characters you write?
Sometimes. Emily from Since You’ve Been Gone, her thought process is a lot like mine. I wasn’t really having to think. It’s a very conscious decision to write a character that’s not like me at all. The character Andie in The Unexpected Everything isn’t like me at all. She doesn’t like to read. She’s a very maths and science kind of person. She’s very logical and factual and she’s a planner and so it was fun to sort of write the opposite of this.
As an author, you’ve been doing book signing tours…
This is my first international one. I’ve done a few events abroad, but it’s more like when I’m already there. This is the first time I’ve travelled for a book tour.
Can you tell me your best, most memorable fan interaction story?
The best one that still blows my mind is a fan showing me they’ve gotten a tattoo of a line from one of my books, and I was just blown away by that. It’s so flattering but also oh my gosh, it’s going to be on your arm forever, probably. I feel like I have a lot of responsibility. That was pretty neat.
How can you say that you’ve made it as an author? Is selling copies a factor? Is leaving an impression on readers a factor?
I don’t know. It’s sort of like life, that you’re moving further away, like you sell a book and now that you’ve sold a book you want to sell another one and now you want to sell these many copies. And it keeps on moving out. After I published my second book i’m like, okay, I have two books under my belt and it wasn’t just a one- off fluke. And you get a little bit more confident with every book that comes out. And there was this one time, a few years ago right after my second book came out, we were in Mexico, and I had to fill out a custom form when you come back and it said “Occupation.” And that was the first time for me to put “writer.” Maybe that was the moment where I was like, this is what I do, this is my work! That was the moment I felt like a real writer.
Looking back at your career as an author, how would you describe it in one sentence?
Unexpected, but very exciting.
Do you have any tips for budding YA writers out there?
One thing I also say to aspiring writers is you need to read a lot and write a lot if you want to be a writer. You need to be a reader if you want to be a writer, because that’s how you see stories work. You can also learn a lot from bad books. If you’re reading a novel and you don’t like it and you want to put it down. Look at why, what is the author doing that isn’t working for you? You can learn a lot more from that compared to reading a novel you love. It’s helpful to break down a novel. I always say writing is a skill, it’s a muscle. You get better at it when you do it. And you also have to have something to write about. When you’re in university, don’t just take writing classes, take a wide range of classes, and go experience things, and go live a life so you have things to talk about. Live as broadly as possible.
You’ve taken an MFA in Writing for Children, and you’ve also taken an MFA in Screenwriting. Can I ask why you decided to take a second MFA?
So it’s always been something i’m interested in. I hope to work in the future in script form. I was living in New York, and I was wanting for a change, and I was thinking of moving back to Los Angeles. A lot of things came together at the right time. And I love movies. Books and movies are sort of my great loves growing up. [Screenwriting] is very different from writing books, so it’s sort of like using a different muscle.
Do you have any expectations about your book tour here in the Philippines?
I’m so excited to meet the fans. There are fans in the Philippines that I’ve been talking to online for years now, on Twitter and Instagram. I’m so excited to meet them in person for the longest time now and it’s better that I’m on the same time zone as them.
Morgan Matson and her Philippine Book Signing Tour
Morgan Matson is coming to the Philippines to do book signing events on September 16, 2016 at 4 p.m. in The Gallery, Ayala Center Cebu, on September 17, 2016 at 2 p.m. in National Book Store, Glorietta 1, and on September 18, 2016 at 2 p.m. in the National Book Store booth at the Manila International Book Fair. Know more about Morgan Matson through her website, and get a chance to talk to her on Twitter.
Photos by Lex Celera