Author Matthew Quick talks about Every Exquisite Thing

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock author Matthew Quick talks about his new book, Every Exquisite Thing.

Matthew Quick is a former teacher, so he probably has a pretty good understanding of the youth mentality, which is helpful as a writer of both adult books such as The Silver Lining Playbook and YA books such as Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and the upcoming Every Exquisite Thing.

Publishers Weekly got to interview the author/screenwriter about Every Exquisite Thing, including that story within a story, and his choice of music in the book.  They also get into writing YA in general as compared to writing adult books, and the possibility of his books (aside from The Silver Linings Playbook, that is) being adapted into film.

I read that you were at first reluctant to write YA. Now that you’re four novels in, what would you say you’ve learned about the field and what do you now like about writing for this age level?

Writing for young people feels a lot like when I was teaching. They have a lot less baggage. They tend to be a little bit less jaded as readers, and I think as people, too. So I feel as though with my YA readers who are teenagers that if they like something, they like something because they like it, not because they are supposed to like it. I think adults have a tendency to want to be in with the herd, whether it’s academia or the literary elite or whatever. They want to like the right things, and I think that teens are eager to find the work or books that resonate with them strongly on a very personal level. I know it was for me when I was a teenager; none of my friends read books, so when I was reading it was a very solitary experience. It was all about what I was feeling and having this very intimate relationship with a book. So I like that about YA and writing YA. The fan mail that I get from teenagers is often, ironically, more thoughtful than the stuff I get from adults, because usually adults are very formal with their fan mail whereas teens are very informal. They’re unguarded, they’re ready to tackle ideas, and they’re still forming their worldview, so literature can be very revolutionary for them.

What have I learned about writing YA? I just think it really cements all the challenges and rewards of writing for adults. I think that there is definitely a bias against YA. There’s snobbery out there, especially in academia. I’ve seen people in papers take shots at my adult books, calling me a YA writer. It’s just more annoying than anything else. I think if you’re a writer and you want to tell stories, then you tell the stories you want to tell and you don’t listen to critics or anyone else. But I feel like there definitely are people who will hold it against you for writing YA, and I used to be like that myself, but now as a professional I’m just grateful to tell stories in any arena and I love writing YA books.

You’ve gone back and forth between writing adult and YA novels. How does the process differ in writing for each group?

For me a story is a story and once I decide the point of view, I just try to become that character and lock into that mind. I would say I do the same thing from a writing perspective or storytelling perspective. It’s not like I say “Oh, I’m writing YA now so I have to change the vocabulary or make it shorter or whatever.” I try to tell the story the best I can and it’s really just that first decision of whether it’s an adult or teen narrator, that’s the only thing that really matters.

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

Where did you get your inspiration for the fictional book, The Bubblegum Reaper, within Every Exquisite Thing?

I’ve always been attracted to books about big ideas and books about rebellion and books about putting the individual over the group – the anti-herd mentality – so I grew up reading Salinger, Vonnegut, Camus. I remember reading The Stranger when I was about 18. Of course every 18-year-old who reads The Stranger learns about existential philosophy – it’s pretty mind-blowing, especially if someone is brought up in a very religious household. That was the book that really changed my worldview; it made me think about things that were uncomfortable, things that I’d never thought about before. So I don’t necessarily think The Bubblegum Reaper metaphorically is all that unique. I think teens have that book. So for me I wanted to write a book about reading a book like that. It was fun when I was a high school English teacher to put those types of books into the hands of the right kids who were right for that, who were hungry, who knew that there was more out there but didn’t know how to get to it, and were tired of the worldview their parents had given them. If you match them up with the right book it can be revolutionary. I remember giving teens Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, and kids coming back saying, “This changed the way I think about everything.”

That experience was really what I wanted to capture, both because I’ve had that experience as a young person and as a reader and also because I’ve seen how amazing it is from the point of view of a teacher. I also wanted to capture the idea that reading can be dangerous, and that buying into new ideas that maybe the rest of your society doesn’t buy into can be isolating and there can be real consequences. I grew up in a family that was very Protestant, very religious, so my family didn’t read the type of books I was excited about reading as a teenager and in college as well. And as I was reading those books and as my worldview was changing, and as my thought process was changing, I remember feeling this rift that was opening up between the people that I loved and me, and it was scary. To realize that reading literature could distance you from loved ones, could put you on a different path – you don’t realize that when you’re 16, that that could happen, and so that was what was interesting to me and I wanted to write a book that maybe would make people think about that.

You incorporated quite a few different literature and music references in this novel. How did you go about choosing which authors/musicians to include?

Obviously I drew from things that I was familiar with. So everything that I mention in the book is songs that I’ve heard before, books that I’ve read or taught. But really I just thought, “What would these kids or teenagers be drawn to?” Like Bukowski, for example. If you’re somebody who wants to rebel against society, Bukowski is your god for that. I think everybody who has that rebellious phase goes through a Bukowski phase as well. But even Antigone is a classic example of a strong woman who won’t conform, who won’t bend. So it only made sense that Nanette would be attracted to that character, and that’s a character we’re all introduced to in high school. Los Campesinos! is a band I like. They’re a band that has a punk background, like sing-songy punk. It’s a band that’s definitely not for everybody. And I love Los Campesinos!, but my wife hates them and she can’t stand when I put them on. Sometimes I’ll really enjoy putting them on because she can’t stand it. It’s a way for me to be an individual within my own house. So I think I’ve always gravitated toward music like that. Stuff that resonated very strongly with me, but maybe not with other people. And I think with Nanette and Alex, that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to figure out what their identity is and who they are. I certainly did when I was a teenager: I thought that the bands I listened to defined my identity. Or that the books I read defined my identity. I think we’ve all been there.

Alex is a poet in Every Exquisite Thing, albeit a troubled one. Have you ever considered writing a poetry collection?

When I was a teenager, I wrote endless poems. They weren’t very good. In fact I remember entering a poetry contest when I was in high school and I was put on a bus and sent to a college and some professor critiqued my poem right in front of me and just ripped it to shreds. It was an awful day. I don’t know that I could be a good poet; I don’t know that I have that gift. But I like writing poetry. To be honest, I’m quite proud of the poems I wrote for Alex even though they’re angsty teenage poems. I enjoy reading them. I love the poets that are mentioned in the book, like Phillip Larkin or Bukowski; they’re all poets that I love. But I don’t know that I’d ever publish a book of poems, nor that anyone would want to read that collection.

The Silver Linings Playbook was already turned into a successful movie. Are you hoping to see that done with any of your YA novels?

Well they’re all in development. Every Exquisite Thing is with the Weinstein Company, there’s a screenplay, and Ted Melfi is set to direct. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is with the Weinstein Company, there’s a screenplay, and Channing Tatum is attached to direct at this point. Boy21 is with Lionsgate and Sorta Like a Rock Star is with Searchlight. So I would love for all of them to be made into movies, especially if the movies are good. All of my adult books are being developed, too, and I’ve moved into the stage where I’m writing screenplays as well. So I’m adapting my next book The Reason You’re Alive (HarperCollins, 2017) for Miramax.

Read the full interview with Matthew Quick, including more details about Every Exquisite Thing, at Publishers Weekly

By Molly

Molly is a proud Canadian who is currently attending university in Scotland. She loves to read, write, watch films, and talk about Sarah J. Maas books. If not snuggled up with a book, Molly can usually be found tapping at the dance studio, or writing yet another essay.