Written and reported by Bryan Littel.
If a writing career is a series of peaks and valleys, Matthew Quick hit one of the tallest peaks with his debut.
The Oaklyn native and former Haddonfield Memorial High School teacher created a hit in The Silver Linings Playbook, which was in the pipeline to become a movie, and Sorta Like a Rock Star, a young adult novel he was writing, was coming together in the best way possible and looking like another great high.
But after Sorta Like a Rock Star was published and had its quiet moment, and the waiting game for the movie version of The Silver Linings Playbook began—Quick likened it to waiting for a sunrise that was always just peeking over the horizon—he crashed back down from that peak, calling it probably the worst depression of his writing life, as he was plagued by anxiety attacks in trying to kickstart the creative process again.
“My wife didn't know what to do with me,” he told the crowd of more than 150 at the Cherry Hill Public Library Monday night. “For the first time in my career, writing was painful. It was hard to face the page.”
But out of that experience came his next book, Boy21, and those struggles with anxiety and depression, among other mental health problems, have become a uniting theme of Quick's work, including his latest, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, which profiles a school shooter.
The genesis for that book and the furious voice of its narrator came, somewhat incongruously, during a trip to the south of France.
Looking back on it, Quick said he drew on some of the anger he had as a teen—“I repressed that and didn't talk about it,” he said—and the anger he had near the end of his teaching career, at what he said were the misplaced priorities of standardized tests and the failure to focus on what he believed was important as a teacher.
“How many wins we got in the Colonial Conference was much more important than empathy and emotional intelligence,” he said.
In some ways, Quick said, writing Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was his way of working through that, and at the same time, served as a way to put a human face on people who are labeled different or weird.
His fans have taken notice of that, and how much attention his books—and the movie adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook—have given to mental health, as well, something Quick said he didn't even consider in the process.
“Sometimes you don't even know what you're writing about,” he said. “I didn't think I was writing about mental health.”
But touring the country opened his eyes to what kind of conversations his work and its adaptations were fostering—as did the random hugs he'd get at events.
“People were coming up to me and hugging me and saying, 'Thank you for writing about this,'” he said.
The most important thing, Quick said, is those conversations are happening in the open now, and are leading to other conversations—about diversity, about what makes people unique, about putting that human face on everyone.
“There's a Leonard Peacock in every school, and that's who we need to reach,” he said.