(Back In September at Salt Lake City Comic Con, I had dinner with a bunch of awesome authors, including Matthew Kirby. We talked about a lot of things from C.S. Lewis to the struggles of being a writer. Really appreciated him and his take on things. So, it’s a pleasure to present this interview for Teen Author Boot Camp 2015. His new book series, The Arctic Code, comes out April 28th. )
What was the one event in your life that got you into writing
The single most important event to my own career was my reading of A Wizard of Earthseaby Ursula K. Le Guin. I was twelve-going-on-thirteen, and for Christmas my parents gave me what was, at the time, the Earthsea Trilogy. I’d devoured them before I went back to school after the winter break, and I went back knowing I wanted to be a writer. There’s a scene in the first book where Ged, the protagonist, engages in an act of forbidden magic. Reading that scene, I became aware for the first time of the author, and the fact that Le Guin had chosen each word with intent and care. I became aware that the author wasn’t just a name on the cover, but was someone actively engaged with me through the text. After that, I knew that’s what I wanted to do
I don’t intentionally go after any themes, but I’m sure I have them. I’m endlessly fascinated by history, and the complexity of human relationships, so my books are often taking up those things, whether its a mentor relationship in ancient Norway, in Icefall, or the relationship of a father and son in a fantastical Colonial America in The Lost Kingdom. As a reader, even when I was young, I wasn’t very satisfied with books that presented a world in purely black and white terms. I knew the real world had innumerable shades of gray, so I find in my writing that my characters are seldom all good or all bad. This is perhaps best seen in The Quantum League, where the line between good guy and bad guy moves around a lot.
How does your worldview play into your writing?
Well, to be honest, I feel like I’m still trying to figure out my worldview on a lot of things. My worldview is something that’s always changing, as I meet new people and have new experiences. Life would be pretty boring if I thought I had all the answers, and fiction is a way for me to ask the questions. Not directly, and I seldom feel like I’ve arrived an any definitive conclusion, but my stories help me to better understand what the important and real questions are
How do you deal with criticism and bad reviews?
I’ve certainly found that criticism and rejection are ever-present. There has never in the history of books been a book loved by everyone. Even if you’re a best-selling megastar, there will be someone, somewhere, who hates your book, and they might even be vocal about it. I’ve had people email me directly to tell me they loathe my stuff. It happens. External validation helps with that, a little. There have been times I’ve held onto the blurb I received from Ursula K. Le Guin as a kind of talisman against criticism (“Oh yeah? You didn’t like my book? Well, tell it to Le Guin.”) But in the end, writers will be most successful if they find internal validation, so no matter what’s being said about their work, even if it seems that no one likes it, on the inside they know they’ve done their best and they’re proud of it. That’s why it’s so important to write for yourself. If you’re writing for the fame, the accolades, the awards, the best-seller status, you’re building your career on a foundation that can be swept out from under you, because those are things you have no control over. But if you’re writing for you, no one can take that from you. No one else has power over that, no matter how vicious their review, because it’s not about them. It’s about you and your creative spirit.
What advice will you have for the teen writers at TABC?
First, give yourself time and room to grow. Write everyday, and write everything. Read everyday, and read everything. As you discover the innumerable kinds of stories that are out there, and expand your mind, you expand your talent. Second, you’re already well ahead of where I was at that age, even though I wanted to be a writer, just by being at TABC
Tell us about your latest project. Where can people get it?
April 28th, I have the first book in a new series coming out. It’s called The Arctic Code, book one in the Dark Gravity Sequence. It’s set in the near future, after a new and unexplained ice age has seized the earth. The main character is Eleanor, and her mom goes missing in the Arctic. Eleanor’s journey to find her reveals what is happening to the earth, and uncovers a threat from outside our world. I’ll also have my first YA coming out in the next year, a Victorian ghost story. Very different projects, but I’m excited about both.