Interview with Matthew J. Metzger
Today Greedy Bug would like to welcome author Matthew J. Metzger. Matt has released two books this year, Our Last Summer and Vivaldi in the Dark, both reviewed by Josh. After reading these novels Josh had some questions and luckily enough Matt was willing to answer.
Josh: As it now seems to be tradition with Greedy Bug Interviews, I do need to ask a very important question. Who is Matthew J. Metzger?
Matt: Matt is a character – originally Matthew Fleischer, out of a book that never saw the light of day. I hated the novel, but loved the character so picked him up again when the time came to begin writing ‘seriously.’ I was always going to use a pseudonym, and creating an entire character to go with the name seemed pretty appropriate at the time!
The ‘real’ Matt, the person behind the front, is just an office drone with a somewhat questionable upbringing who saw the silence surrounding dysfunctional homes and the things young people have to go through to survive in those homes, and figured it wasn’t right, that the nasty stuff needs talking about too, not just the nice stuff. So here we are.
Josh: How long have you been writing? Was it always something you wanted to do? What prompted you to start?
Matt: Well, given that I’m twenty-three years old, I’d say I’ve been writing for at least twenty of those years. If you can call my early work ‘writing’ in the strictest sense of the word…
I’ve always been making up stories, even before I could physically write them down. It wasn’t very encouraged in my house because my family are all scientists and engineers, and this fluffy writing lark was just seen as a hobby. Made my old man a bit nervous when the hobby started to get serious when I was about sixteen!
In terms of the ‘serious’ writing – i.e. the published work I do now – I suppose it’s more I developed to the point it became possible than I was prompted to really start. Getting published was a lifelong ambition, and frankly, I don’t know what to do with myself now I’ve achieved it!
Josh: What has made you decide to write in the LGBT+ genre, were there particular influences?
Matt: Largely because LGBT+ is very much known to me. ‘Matt’ is bisexual; ‘I’ am part of the ‘+’ of the spectrum myself and was aware of my sexuality being different as a young teenager. But I didn’t know what I was, or that there were other people like me. I grew up in a very traditional part of England, where sex education is that weird witchcraft that hippies teach to their offspring at five. We were briefly told where babies come from and that was it.
I wanted to write in the LGBT+ genre to try and redress the balance anyway, but when I came around to reading in the genre myself, I found a lot of coming-out-angst stories. And that was never a particular problem for me; I wanted to know whether there were other people who suffered with wider issues like depression or domestic violence, and happened to be gay. So that’s what I write.
Josh: December has seen the release of Vivaldi in the Dark through Queerteen Press. You also released another book earlier in the year, Our Last Summer, also through Queerteen. Would you like to give our readers an idea of what your novels are about, from the perspective of the author?
Matt: Both, for me, were about growing up under less than perfect circumstances. About what it’s like not only to grow up under pressure yourself, but to be watching that happening to someone else you care about. Our Last Summer is about homophobia, self-acceptance, and domestic violence. Vivaldi in the Dark is about bullying and depression. And in both novels, there’s a large element of what it’s like to see that going on as well as experience it yourself. Because that’s a huge deal in itself for a lot of people – what do you do when you know something’s wrong? How do you help someone in that kind of situation?
I don’t pretend to offer answers. In Our Last Summer, Mara suggests that Alex, who is beaten by his father, hits back. Some people agreed, and some people didn’t. In Vivaldi in the Dark, Jayden is aware of Darren’s self-harming, but doesn’t tell anyone else. My books are about what does happen, not necessarily what should happen. And in my experience, the big issues like domestic violence are all too often kept under wraps.
Josh: In your blog bio you state that you’re as much a character as those in your books. Which of your characters matches the actual Matt?
Matt: In entirety, none of them. There’s elements in most of them, but some I out-and-out don’t understand from a personal perspective, even when I write them. I think the closest is probably Darren from Vivaldi in the Dark, but largely because his depression is very much modelled on my own when I was younger and I recognise that aspect of him. (The pro-engineering and science aspect not so much…) Some characters I am making up completely – one of my future projects, The Lodger, has a main character Josh that I have almost nothing in common with. It’s a weird balance.
Josh: Also according to your blog both these books were partially based off your own experience. How closely does this novel relate to real life?
Matt: Extremely. The music aspect is made up – I’m thick as mud when it comes to music and drew very heavily off music-fanatic friends for my information. But the depression and the bullying are both things I have experienced at a similar age, and have seen since. There’s also a lot of little things that I took from real life, and that’s much more fun. The weirdest one is that the size of Darren’s hands was wholly inspired by my brother’s spider-like hands that he has still not grown into despite being nearly thirty.
Josh: Abuse and depression in all forms are difficult topics to broach in Young Adult literature. Were there any points where you were worried about including these topics in your books?
Matt: Well, no. I write on these topics because they’re difficult to breach, and they’re happening every day to thousands of young people. To me, these stories need telling. My biggest worry is actually much more personal – I work closely with a friend who soundboards for me, and she has also experienced some pretty nasty things growing up. Writing some of the scenes for Vivaldi in the Dark brought up a lot of bad memories for both of us, and we had to call it a day and take a lot more breaks than usual. The sequel was even worse!
Josh: I love it when books I read are realistic and both of your books fit right into this category for me. Are realistic settings and situations something you try to put in all of your writing?
All bar two of my current projects are in a contemporary setting, so getting a realistic backdrop to the story is vital. I tend to set stories in places I know, because the atmosphere of a place changes. Our Last Summer wouldn’t work had they stayed in central Manchester, for example. Vivaldi in the Dark is more fluid, but Jayden’s sense of isolation largely stems from the small-town aspect in not knowing anybody else who’s gay.
I allow myself more leeway depending on the genre (e.g. fantasy) but even then – people are people. And realistic people are a huge deal for me. If I can’t even begin to think ‘I know someone like that’ then I’m out. I’ve dropped a lot of good plot ideas because the characters forming in my head are too flat, or twist themselves into shallow tropes, and I hate that. I’ve abandoned books in the middle for that, as a writer and a reader. I won’t write it and I won’t read it.
Josh: What else is in the pipeline for Mr Metzger?
Matt: Far too much! I have about nine manuscripts in various stages at the moment, so God knows how that will pan out.
The Devil’s Trill Sonata is coming out in March 2014, the sequel to Vivaldi in the Dark, so I’m currently trying to wrap up the final part of the trilogy at the moment. After that, I’m delving back into the tough issues with Synonyms of Out, a novel focusing very heavily on domestic abuse in a sink estate in London. Hopefully some lighter stuff will get written too – I have a sketchy outline for a short novel called The Suicidal Peanut, which is as mental as it sounds, frankly.
Josh: Thank you for the interview Matt, it has truly been a pleasure. From everyone at Greedy Bug we wish you the best of luck with Vivaldi in the Dark and all your future releases.
Matt: Thank you for this opportunity – and the review! I’m always nervous about a new release, so the reception for this one has been great.
For more information and contact details for Matthew J. Metzger please see below.