Please welcome Matt Bell to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is published today. Happy Publication Day to Matt!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Matt: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Matt: I recently read an essay by Rick Moody where he dated when he began to write by when he first began to revise. I like this standard. So let's say I've been writing since I was twenty or so. Thirteen years, almost? I started writing seriously because I wanted to make more books like the books I loved the most.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Matt: I'm not a particularly quirky writer, probably: I write on a schedule, in the same room, every day. A minor thing, that sticks out as I'm getting ready to travel for the summer: I listen obsessively to the same music a lot, and when I travel I've found that listening to that same music in a hotel room or coffee shop can sometimes make a kind of "sound office" to work in: Even though the space is new, the sound is familiar. It's a great help.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Matt: I'm a pantser on first drafts, and then a plotter during revision. The best of both worlds, I think.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Matt: So much about writing is difficult, and happily so. Anything that comes easy isn't to be trusted. Between projects, part of what I always want to do is to give up some of what I know how to do, to make room for new skills, new challenges, new opportunities. It can be hard to force yourself to give up what you know, but it's the surest way to get somewhere new.
TQ: Describe In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods in 140 characters or less.
Matt: It's a myth about marriage and parenthood, with hunting and trapping and singing, with giant bears and giant squid and ghost children, with new moons and memory mazes.
TQ: What inspired you to write In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods?
Matt: Like most of what I've written, I started with the voice of the narrator: One reason to keep writing is because I get obsessed with new kinds of sentences, and all I want to do is find a way to get their speaker to continue.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods?
Matt: One of the most important pieces of research came from an Old Norse document called The King's Mirror, written in the thirteenth century to educate the son of a king. The epigraph for the novel comes from the text—it reads, "It seems likely that there are but two and that these beget no offspring, for I believe it is always the same ones that appear"—and the passage it comes from provided some of the initial underpinnings of certain parts of the book's world, which changed the book more than any other piece of research.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Matt: The hardest character to write was the wife, I think: She's absent for much of the book, so when she appears in scene she has to sizzle. One of the narrator's problems is that he doesn't understand his wife, and because I came to the events of the book through his perspective and voice, I didn't always understand her either. In the end, I came to know her as he does: Through the accumulations of the objects she creates with her songs, which are, in some ways, the truest expressions of her self.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods?
Matt: One of my favorite parts to write was the labyrinth that comes to exist below the house: It was formally different in a way I enjoyed, and that's also where I really came to know my characters, in the same way that the husband, at last, tries again to get to know his wife.
TQ: What's next?
Matt: I'm currently working on a new novel, as well as a new collection of stories, both due out in the next couple of years.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Matt: Thank you!
About the Novel
In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods
Publisher: Soho Press, June 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover and eBook, 312 pages
Price: $25.00 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-61695-253-2 (print)
In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife's beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.
This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.
From the Author's website:
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