NiFtY Author: Matt Coonfield

I have a very special NiFtY Author Interview for you today, featuring one of my favorite people in the world: my little brother. He hasn’t always been my favorite person. There was this time once when we were playing Legos and he was obviously wrong about something, and we weren’t very good friends right then…but I digress.

Here’s his interview. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll throw tomatoes and have to clean off your computer screen. Good luck with that.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your work-in-progress?

MC: I don’t want to give away too much. I am actually quite paranoid. The short version is a young man named Ray starts a civil war in the ghost world in an odd and adventurous way.

BH: What was the biggest challenge in finishing your first draft?

MC: Honestly my biggest challenge has always been me. I am a big lazy hurdle that I just can’t jump. I don’t like to write when it is hard, when I have to grind it out. Generally I only like to write when it is flowing. Anyone who writes knows what I am talking about. When you can churn out twenty pages a day and the only reason you stop is fear of carpal tunnel. When your thoughts are practically jumping on to the paper for you. That is when I like to write. When this doesn’t happen I start a new book. Oddly I have never finished one until now.

BH: Can you compare Ray, the main character in your work-in-progress, to anyone you know in real life?

MC: I guess parts of him are me of course or parts of me if that makes sense. I’m not schizo or anything but I like to pretend I am Jared from The Pretender. I have hidden Matt compartments that I draw from and one of them happens to be a teenage ghost-hunting ghost, conveniently enough.

BH: I understand you’re working closely with somebody else on this project. What is his role in your project?

MC: As I mentioned earlier I am notoriously lazy when it comes to writing. My partner’s name is Don and he is basically my dentist. That is to say he pulls teeth. We have only been working together a short time and I am considering buying another cell phone and not giving him the number. Other than that he does all the things I hate: paperwork, typing, forms, queries. Once he offered to paint my garage if I promised to write more.

BH: What is your experience like, working with another person? What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

MC: Well Don can be quite persistent sometimes calling me four or five times a day. I had to get used to it at first but we’ve come to an understanding now. He has given me 100 percent artistic say so, which was a condition when we first started, but even then sometimes he feels adamant about something and I hate to put my foot down too much. There is one scene in particular in the book that he wrote and it makes me leery but I have let it go so far.

BH: One of the things about your writing that impresses me is all the crazy ideas you come up with—ideas that you can make work. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?

MC: Well… My faith is definitely an inspiration to me. Really I don’t think I could write without the Bible. Not that my stories are Christian but the right and wrongs for me come straight from the source. After that I steal them. I guess it sounds weird to say that right after my Jesus plug but it is honestly what happens. I always read things, good and bad, and I can see the improvements that need to happen. I see a tweak that if the author had seen could have changed his whole piece for the better. When I find those tweaks early enough in a book or combine them with other tweaks I get really excited about what I can do with it and when I get excited….

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

MC:  I try to fit it in between reading and Pokemon but too often I am forced to combine two of the three to make up for time.

BH: How has your writing changed—either the scheduling or the experience itself—after becoming a father?

MC: My scheduling has definitely become more intense. The very reason I had agreed to work with my coauthor in the first place is money. I need it. I can’t sell a book if I don’t finish one so I brought on Don to help me finish my books. The experience hasn’t changed in the least, I just have a deeper well to draw from.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

MC: My writing workspace looks suspiciously like the cab of a Nissan Frontier. Much to the chagrin of my typist most of my good ideas come when I should be paying attention to the road. This makes for some very peculiar handwriting and possibly the next unfinished series. We all know how well it worked out for the Canterbury Tales. Don’t judge me.

BH: Just remind me to avoid the road when inspiration hits. What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MC: A notebook.

Beth and Matt Read Catching Fire

BH: You told me recently that Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is not your favorite book, but it made it into your “top ten.” What is your Top Ten?

MC: The Bible, X-Men, Dracula, Death in the Long Grass, The Night the Bear Ate Goomba, Yvain, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Great Divorce, God’s Grandeur.

BH: Twilight didn’t make it into your Top Ten, but we both admit we enjoyed it. What, exactly, is so compelling about that Twilight series? Why are these books so popular, in your opinion?

MC: Stephenie did something real special and it took her like a whole month. She tapped into something that was important to young women and made it interesting to young men. She took elements of comic books (which is why it translated so well to graphic novel), Fabio, and Mythology and made it her own. She didn’t follow rules, and she didn’t heed the pressure to omit her beliefs, i.e. her morals. I don’t think it was the best writing in the world but I loved it and I respect what she did… except for the huge let down in the end. That pissed me off but since the plot was ripped off another story what can you say?

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

MC: Write down what you are feeling now matter how silly it sounds. It will make sense to everyone.

BH: Why do you want to be published?

MC: I would like to be superficial and say it is to finance my laziness but the truth is I want to be able to talk about it with someone, someone who liked what I wrote and who wants to talk with me about it.

BH: Who is your real-life writing role model? [Hint: the answer should be someone you grew up with. Who maybe lived down the hall from you. She had a pink room for a few years. And a cat named Apricot.]

MC: C.S. Lewis, Stan Lee, and Patrick F. McManus. I hate to admit but my sister’s love for all things academic never made sense to me as a child. I get it now and all those years may have rubbed off on me a bit.

BH: Eh, that’s practically saying that your sister taught you everything you know. Any words or advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?

MC: Give up. The market is closed. You can’t do it.

BH: Hmm. Yep, that’s my brother.

Thanks, Matt, for the fun interview!

Not My Daughter, You Bitch! (Swearing in YA Lit)

So I’m jumping on this subject bandwagon pretty late. I spoke with literary agent Mary Kole about this issue at a conference in April, and apparently it was a popular topic, because she wrote a blog about it. Because so many people feel strongly about this issue, I figure I may as well use my platform and voice my opinion. This is my website, after all. What would it be without a spewing forth of Beth’s Opinions?

When I think of “bad” words in young adult literature, so many things come to mind. There’s the famous line from the last Harry Potter book (see title above) that shocked Potter fans. In this case I think the word was so shocking because the series started out as a middle-grade series, and then matured along with the characters. Who would even imagine reading the word “bitch” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Another reason for the shock factor: Rowling’s books had so little profanity in even the later books, and this says something for her skill as a writer. Voldemort didn’t need to drop an F-bomb to cement his villainy because he was so evidently evil in reputation and action. Ron used the word “bloody” on occasion, but this barely registered with American readers. Uncle Vernon said something about “effing owls” once. So the “bitch” in the final book was so unexpected. It didn’t really fit. I can see why Mrs. Weasley would be driven to use it, but if I’d written the book, I’d be super-rich and would have invested some time in finding an alternative.

I don’t have a single problem with profanity in young adult literature. I wouldn’t necessarily let f-bombs explode all over the place in my own manuscript, but they didn’t stop me from reading Lisa McMann’s Wake series. Cursing sounds pretty natural amongst the young adult set. Not all of them, mind you. (Although I admit surprise to some of the things I saw on former students’ facebook posts. Not all are as innocent as they seem. Frightening for me, as a mother.)

My own manuscript had exactly four f-words for awhile, and they didn’t bother me spaced out and spoken by college-aged characters. When I did some snipping (okay, I lopped off the first 50 pages) and had to move some conversations around, all of a sudden three of those f-words appeared in the first chapter.

Not the sort of set-up I had in mind. I don’t expect every book to have universal appeal, but I knew that three f-words in the first chapter would turn a lot of people (parents especially, who often buy the books) off. With some ideas from a critique partner I was able to change two of them. The other one is just too natural to the character speaking, I am convinced no other word will do.

And that’s when a swear word belongs in your manuscript. When it’s true to the character and no other word will do.