Matthew Arnold Stern on Vonnegut, Villains, and the Value of Writing
1) Let’s get to know each other! What is your Author name; use your Pen name if you have one.
Matthew Arnold Stern
2) What is your genre and what drew you to it?
I don’t think about genre when I write. I write the book as it intends to be written and then find the genre it best fits into. My novels tend to fit into occupational fiction, which are stories set in the workplace or involve a career. My characters have a job to do. In the process of doing this job, they are put into situations where they are forced to grow.
3) What is the hardest challenge in being a writer?
Building an audience. Writing the book is just the first step, and publishing it doesn’t mean you just sit back and watch the royalties come in. You must reach out to prospective readers, whether it is by building a presence on social media, creating a website, doing interviews, participating in author events, advertising, and all forms of marketing. Readers must know you exist before they can buy your books.
4) What is the most important bit of information you would want to tell a person interested in publishing a book?
Write the book you want to read. It doesn’t matter the genre or age group. If you enjoy what you’re writing, you’re more likely to stick with it, and you’ll do a better job. Don’t chase trends because they will be out of style by the time you finish your book.
5) What is your favorite book and why?
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut was a big influence on my early writing career. It combined humor and drama, blended genres, experimented with story structure, and packed themes into a short novel. It showed me what is possible in storytelling.
6) Pick five books that are must-reads in your mind.
· The King James Bible as a literary work. Regardless of your religious or philosophical beliefs, it’s important to read this book because it’s the source of the stories, popular sayings, and ideas used throughout the English-speaking world. Even secular works have been influenced by the King James Bible.
· Green Eggs and Ham. You should read at least one Dr. Seuss book in your life. The Cat in the Hat is the classic, but I like Green Eggs and Ham more. I enjoy the humor, repetition, rising action, and the switch in the ending. This book shows you how to get kids interested in reading.
· The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison because we need more books from different communities in our reading lists. I read this in college, and it’s one that still sticks with me.
· Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is a stark warning about totalitarianism that has become more relevant today. It is also the best model of a dystopian novel.
· Maus by Art Spiegelman because graphic novels are novels. The use of animals, the narrative, the drawing style all fit together to tell a powerful story.
7) Which book villain would be the hardest to defeat?
The best battles take place within a character when they’re their own worst enemy. This is the hardest villain to beat because those self-destructive habits have benefitted that person to a certain point. To battle that inner villain, the hero must give up certain parts of themselves, along with people they have been closest to. It’s a battle all of us can relate to. We don’t battle supervillains and evil wizards, but we often must battle ourselves.
8) If you had to write in any other genre, what would that be and why?
I don’t read or watch horror, but it’s a genre that has a lot of potential for great writing. It can provide important moral lessons by showing us the consequences of bad actions. By demonstrating what we fear, it reveals what we value. I need to read more horror before I start writing it
9) Name one of your favorite authors.
I mentioned Slaughterhouse-Five, and it started me binge-reading Kurt Vonnegut through high school and college. The first hardcover novel I bought on my own was Jailbird.
What appealed to me about Vonnegut wasn’t just his writing style. At a time when most of my literature classes covered long-dead authors canonized as the “greats” by the educational system, Vonnegut was a contemporary author who wrote subjects that interested me. He was also someone who worked a day job as he was starting out. He showed me that a writing career was possible.
10) What is one book that is currently on your To-Be-Read list?
I’m still reading Reckonings by Karen E. Osborne. I’m also looking at In a Town Without a Name by James Murray. It deals with many of the themes in my novel Amiga including facing the past and 80s nostalgia.
11) Villain, hero or “show steeling” side character? Which would you be?
We’re all heroes of our own story. And we’re villains and side characters of other’s.
12) What is your best book memory?
It was going with my daughter to the midnight launch of one of the Harry Potter books at Borders. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan, and she wanted to be part of all the festivities. People dressed in costume as their favorite characters. They speculated about what might happen in the book. JK Rowling’s reputation has tarnished over time, but she deserves credit for getting a whole generation excited about reading. She also showed how you can build a community over a book series.
13) What is the name of your book/series? Tell me a little bit about them.
My most recent novels are Amiga and The Remainders, and I have a work-in-progress called Christina’s Portrait. I didn’t set out to write them as a series, but they shaped up to be. They are part of a connected world set in the town where I grew up, Reseda, California. They also share themes and writing style. All of them have two first-person narrators with the two stories going in parallel until they meet in the climax.
In Amiga, the narrator is the protagonist, Laura. We see her as a young woman beginning her programming career at a startup in San Rafael, California run by an offbeat family with secrets. We also see her as a middle-aged woman in 2016 dealing with career and family problems. She discovers something from her past that helps her deal with her present.
In The Remainders, the narrators are Dylan and his father Oliver. Dylan has been kicked out of his mother and stepfather’s palatial home and sleeps in his SUV behind an abandoned theater in Reseda. Oliver is a doctor who is trying to build a relationship with a new girlfriend and her sons, but he is haunted by a tragic and traumatic childhood. The two must reconnect before their inner demons destroy them.
In Christina’s Portrait, which is currently with beta readers, the narrators are two 16-year-old girls, one in 1977 and the other in 2021. The teenager in 2021, Benicia, has been tasked to produce a video about a girl who was killed at her high school and whose ghost is rumored to haunt the school. The teenager in 1977, Noreen, was that slain teenager’s closest friend and was the last to see her alive.
In all these novels, characters are forced to face their pasts. In doing so, they can find healing and solutions in the present.
14) Do you have a website? If so, what is it?
15) Where can we find and follow you? (Name your social media platforms.)
Here are my links:
16) If there anything important that you would want my readers to know about you?
The greatest reward I get from writing is the connections I make with readers. When I get a review, a comment on a post, or just someone saying they like something I’ve written, it makes the effort worth it. If you’ve been wanting to write a book, or are struggling to finish one, keep at it. The thing you’re writing can make a difference for someone.