Matthew Quick had a tenured teaching gig at Haddonfield Memorial High School. His wife, Alicia Bessette, was a professor at Bryn Mawr. The job security was great, but long hours started to drive the pair apart. To save their relationship, they abandoned the stability of their traditional careers to travel and take a chance on writing.
Today both are published authors. Quick’s debut novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, was sold as a movie property before it was ever published. (It stars Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and opens Thanksgiving weekend this year.)
Quick, who lived in Collingswood for a time while beginning his writing career, will appear at the Collingswood High School Auditorium from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 5, to discuss his new novel, Boy21.
In advance of his tour stop, Quick answered some email questions about writing, success, and what he’d really like to do with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Patch: You’ve spoken about how taking a chance on writing saved your marriage and your professional soul. How much do you think being in a partnership with another writer helped make that moment something through which you could support each other?
Matthew Quick: Being married to a fiction writer means your partner understands your great need to write, the ups and downs of your creative mania, and that working a so-called traditional job can be seriously bad for your mental health. The stakes are high for both of us, and this intensifies everything, which can be both good and bad.
Alicia is a trusted confidante. We discuss all of our creative efforts on a daily basis, edit each others’ work, and take turns playing cheerleader and therapist. It’s a partnership that works, but it is somewhat rare. I wouldn't have made it this far without Alicia. She has been and continues to be the most essential component of my creative process/career.
Patch: Now that you’ve arrived professionally, what’s the difference between breaking through and staying in the game?
Quick: I’m not sure you ever actually arrive professionally. When I was unpublished, my then-mentor and now-friend, Roland Merullo, used to tell me that just as soon as you rise up a level the goals immediately change. "If only I could get an agent" becomes "if only I could sell a manuscript" within five seconds of landing an agent. And I think this is the way of the world.
I try to appreciate all that has come my way and celebrate every success, but I'm also always writing the next book. This isn't a hobby for me. My goal has always been to be a working fiction writer in the present tense. Fans will always be asking what’s next and I aim to always have an answer.
Patch: Sorta Like a Rock Star and Boy21, your two subsequent novels, were written for a Young Adult audience. Why the switch in genre focus?
Quick: Given my experience as a high school English teacher and the fact that my adult novel is about a man who gets knocked back into a teen-like mindset, my agent suggested I write a young adult novel. I resisted at first, but he talked me into it.
My first attempt didn’t sell. It was a (somewhat insane) novel called ELEPHANTMOUSE. There was one editor who said nice things about it and asked to see another book from me, so I wrote her one and she bought it. Since, I have read a lot of very good, current, realistic YA and befriended some publishing YA writers. It’s a vibrant, healthy and lively community. I’m happy to be a part of it.
Patch: How have your experiences in the classroom helped you fictionalize the adolescent mindset? What are the most important things to keep in mind as an adult writing for that audience?
Quick: I taught, coached, chaperoned and counseled teenagers for eight years. During that time period I gained an appreciation for just how difficult and formative the teen years are. What struck me was how hard most teens work to be seen as adults, even before they are ready to be adults. They’re stuck in this in-between world. Sometimes my students shocked me with great insights and maturity way beyond their years, and other times I’d catch them coloring in class, or humming childlike in the hallway, or singing on the bus ride home from a sporting event, or crying over the most trivial occurrence.
When I write YA, I try to remember that teens are neither adults nor children, but maybe people with one foot in both worlds. I think the best thing we can do for kids is to reassure them that they can step fully into adulthood and be OK—help them make that leap.
Patch: As a South Jersey/Philly-area resident, you must know how the region can be neglectful of its local artists until they make it bigger elsewhere—and then takes pride in owning its own once they hit the mainstream. What are your feelings about success, and what do you expect of your homecoming?
Quick: I don't feel that way at all about the SJ/Philly area. Collingswood has been incredibly supportive of my career from the beginning. Even when I was a student at Collingswood High School, there were people encouraging me to write, albeit a small number. But I understand what you mean.
Part of being an artist is stepping away from the herd and into the fringe. The artist does this to find some sort of unique perspective. The herd is very suspicious of fringe people until they understand what they are doing out there all alone. Publishing—especially if you receive any sort validation from credible sources—confirms for the herd that you really are a fiction writer and not delusional. I can’t wait to speak with the Collingswood community.
Patch: Along those lines, in what ways do your South Jersey roots influence your approach to storytelling, if at all? What do you miss most (and least) about the region now that you're living elsewhere?
Quick: I set most of my stories in or around Philadelphia, partly because I know the area, but mostly because I love Philly. Setting my stories in and around Philly is a way to come home. The thing I miss the most about SJ/Philly is good pizza. Hands down. You cannot buy a slice in my town here in Massachusetts. How crazy is that?
Patch: In Collingswood, you and Alicia lived above the Cheese, Etc. gift shop. (Just so you know, the Horlachers still keep a copy of The Silver Linings Playbook on hand.) What are your memories of that period of time?
Quick: Kenny and Gina Horlacher are fantastic people and trusted friends. Their cheese selection is also wonderful. (I recommend the drunken goat.) Many a Second Saturday we closed the cheese shop wine-tasting parties. Alicia and I really miss living in Collingswood. We made many friends who were also artists, writers, filmmakers. It’s a fantastic community. Definitely where you want to be in South Jersey.
Patch: Now that you’ve had a first-hand taste of two of the most passionate rooting interests on the East Coast, who’s worse Negadelphians or Ma--holes?
Quick: If you are driving, Ma--holes are terrifying. Watch out on I-90, because people drive fast and aggressive! But when it comes to rooting on a sports team, especially in central Massachusetts where I live, people are so polite it’s almost embarrassing. They are passionate sports fans around here—every man, woman, and child can name the Red Sox starting lineup—but they are just so nice. They never rub it in when the Philly teams lose, and often mention the Philly wins to me with true excitement, as if they are happy that their neighbor’s team won. It is indeed a strange place for a Philly sports fan to live.
Patch: If you could sit in Jeffrey Lurie’s desk, what would you do with the current Eagles franchise?
Quick: Go back to kelly green uniforms. The Eagles uniforms will always be kelly green in my mind. Midnight green is not our color. I lost faith in Andy last year, but I’m feeling hopeful enough to buy in again next year. I just paid for my season ticket. What can I say? I’m a hopeful guy.
Patch: What story ideas are on the horizon for you? On what kind of timeline are you operating for the next novel?
Quick: I have another young adult novel due out in the spring of 2013 called Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. I'm working on an adult book too. And I've been toying with a screenplay.
Patch: What's your advice for unpublished authors who share your irrepressible impulse to write? Would it vary by age? Status? Income level?
Quick: At any age/status/income level, you must make writing a priority. If it's not your first priority, it should probably be in your top three. Write a lot. Read a lot. Write some more. Learn how to edit. Learn about the publishing business. Be professional. Say thank you. Encourage other writers. Support other writers. Don’t trash other writers online, because the publishing world gets very small once you get a foot in the door.
Perhaps most important—remember that you are not competing with anyone except yourself. Celebrate success wherever it lands and try to stay positive. My grandfather used to say, “It’s a long race,” and it is.