My publisher, Black Rose Writing, has approximately 500 authors and counting. Because there are so many of us, I wanted to meet some of them, and then share them with you.
Matthew Arnold Stern is a fellow BRW author. What makes him unique is that he doesn’t pin himself to just one genre. In fact, when he begins writing, he writes without any specific genre in mind. He creates a character and writes the story, and allows the story to go wherever it leads. When he is done, he then determines which genre it might fit.
That is unique. Most of us have genre our writing fits into. For me, it is thriller-crime-detective. The stories I create fit nicely into that genre, although if you have read my work, you know there is more to the crime/mystery element in my writing. There is family and individual drama aside from the mystery. My readers like that.
I do know of one other author who found himself “pigeon holed” in horror fiction. He felt the need to announce that he is going to begin writing in other genres, and doesn’t want to be known just as a horror writer.
I enjoyed my interview with Matthew, and I hope you do, too. You will find clickable links to his work and social media sites embedded into the interview.
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
It started in high school. I was going through typical teenage stuff, and I wrote a journal to deal with it. My English teacher, Darlene Loiler, read my writing and said I have potential worth developing. I got involved with the school’s creative writing magazine and newspaper. But when I went to college, I started doubting whether I can pursue a career as a writer. It was a creative writing class I took with Robert Oliphant, bestselling author of A Piano for Mrs. Cimino, that rekindled my desire to write. I found a job writing press releases and user guides for a startup computer software company. My writing career took off from there.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
I write about ordinary people going through extraordinary situations and growing from the experience.
What genre do you write, and why?
I don’t think about genre when I write the story. I let the story tell itself and find the genre it best fits into.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
I read Slaughterhouse-Five for an AP English class in high school. I still have my copy. The combination of humor, drama, science fiction, and memoir blew me away. It also contained words that would get me in trouble if I said them outside of class. Usually, literature classes cover Shakespeare and authors who have been dead for centuries. Reading a contemporary author like Vonnegut convinced me a writing career is attainable.
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
I’ve been reading books by indie authors. I’m involved with several book clubs where we read and review each other’s works. These include WriteOrWrong Virtual Book Club and Feed My Reads. Recently, I read The Correction by John Hazen and Who Shall Live by Carolyn Geduld. My TBR pile has an upcoming novel by Ben Sharpton, The Awakening of Jim Bishop: This Changes Things.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
I’m looking forward to having dinner with anyone once this pandemic eases up. It would be great to meet writers in person who I’ve only been able to talk to online. My guest list of five includes you, Lynette Smith, Ella Clarke, and Jackie Anders. I’d also invite Jenna Moreci because she would be a blast to talk with, and she would impart a lot of writing wisdom to us.
What is your writing routine? When you write, are you a planner/outliner or are you a “pantser”?
I am more of a planner than a pantser. I come up with the structure of the story and have ideas of where to put plot points and how I want the story to end. But once I start writing, all bets are off. I let my characters guide the story. If the plot doesn’t work with the characters, I change it so it flows logically.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
I’m reading and writing constantly, so I don’t consciously think about how much I do one or the other. I read different genres of books, including children’s books.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In terms of writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I tried scriptwriting in the 90s. I wrote three screenplays. One of them complete enough that I registered it with the WGA and sent it to an agent. It didn’t go anywhere. But the experience of scriptwriting helped me learn about character and story development. It also made me decide to go into novel writing, where I can have full control over my story.
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
Be open to feedback. Use it to improve your stories, but also toss out opinions that don’t work for you. Seek to connect with your audience but trust your voice.
How do you handle a negative critique?
I say if you don’t have any negative reviews, you don’t have enough reviews. Your story is not for everyone. Don’t beat yourself up if you get negative feedback. Take whatever input you find valuable and use it for your next book.
Is there a type of writing/genre that you find difficult to write? Why?
I find genre writing to be difficult. There’s a danger of being formulaic and including elements only because they are expected for that genre. Genres also fall out of fashion too quickly. If you try to write a political dystopian novel because it’s popular right now, by the time you finish it, the genre will either be over-saturated or out-of-style. Write the story you want to tell, and you’ll find an audience for it.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
I think character is the most important. A plot twist may entertain readers, but engaging and relatable characters will stick with readers longer. If you create an interesting enough character readers can’t get enough of, that character can be the basis of a series. I start with the characters, and I find the setting, atmosphere, and plot to go with them.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
There are elements of my life in every one of my novels. For example, my hometown of Reseda, California, plays a central role in my recent novels. But I have to give myself enough space between myself and my characters so I can write them properly. I need the freedom to create my characters any way I want and put them in any situation that fits the character and the story. I can’t do that if I put too much of myself into them.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
Bartleby from Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” He’s memorable because he refuses to let you understand him. And his immovable, inscrutable personality reveals much about the people who try to engage him. That’s why I made this character the basis of my first novel, Offline.
Tell us about your most recent book.
The Remainders is about a homeless son, a troubled father, and the years of tragedy and abuse that have plagued their family. It came from a challenging time I was having, and I wrote the first draft as my Fun A Day Reseda project in 2016. The Remainders always struck me as an interesting title for a novel. The “remainder bin” is the last place you want to see your book. It also ties into my themes of people who feel thrown out, but they still have value.
I like my main characters, Dylan and Oliver, because they are both decent but flawed people who need to grow. They stand in contrast to characters like Steven, who think they have all the answers and feel superior to others.
Where can we learn more about you? You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok with the tag: maswriter. To see my posts on a variety of topics and learn more about my books, visit matthewarnoldstern.com.
I hope you take the time to explore the clickable links and get to know Matthew. An interesting man, and I’m sure, an interesting author.