Matthew Quick Puts on the “Mask of Fiction” Again

Matthew Quick photo by Alicia Bessette

Matthew Quick creates characters to whom we might not expect to relate. Often marked as “crazy” by those around them, his oddball protagonists (think Pat Peoples in The Silver Linings Playbook) say out loud – and act upon – thoughts many of us have had, if perhaps kept inside.

With his fifth book, The Good Luck of Right Now, Quick has done it again. Without giving away too much of the plot, it’s safe to reveal that the main character, 38-year-old Bartholomew Neil, narrates his life in a series of letters to the actor Richard Gere. Bartholomew may not always act like a “normal” guy; nonetheless, his insecurities, hopes, and bargains he strikes with the universe often feel recognizably ordinary.

Quick – or “Q” as friends and colleagues call him – talks about his characters and his career in this candid interview with our editor, Mary Laura Philpott.

Slide1You’ve used the term “mask of fiction” to describe how your novels relate to your own life. Can you talk a bit about how that process works for you – translating things that you feel, that have happened to you, into fictional people and events?

Q: When I wrote Silver Linings, I really thought it was a book about football and male bonding. When the mental health community embraced the novel, I took a step back and psychoanalyzed myself a bit. I’ve had eight years to ponder and am now convinced that I was subconsciously writing about what I was too afraid to discuss. Hence the mask of fiction.

That’s not to say my novels are autobiographical. They’re not. But in 2006 I wasn’t comfortable discussing my own battles with depression and anxiety. Writing about Pat Peoples was a way for me to explore some tricky emotional territory before I was ready to talk openly about my own issues. I think this is what fiction does for all of us — it allows us to work out our real-life quirks without real-life consequences. (Well, maybe with fewer repercussions.) This all happens at the subconscious level, though, so I’m not sure you can really explain or teach it.

Speaking of that, what did you think about the discussion of mental illness that The Silver Linings Playbook opened up among the general population and in the media?

Q: I’m very grateful for that discussion. The best part about openly discussing mental health issues is that it often gives others the courage to talk honestly, which is healthy. When the book was published, friends of mine approached me privately and said things like, “Hey, man, how did you know about this stuff because, well…me too.” These were people I had known for decades and yet we had never before talked about our mental health related issues. I was terrified of my family’s reaction, but publishing led to some great conversations there too.

When I traveled around the country to promote the film, I really saw just how eager people were to discuss mental health. At the end of screenings and Q&As, people approached me with tears in their eyes. They didn’t want to rave about the book or the film. They just wanted to thank me for fueling a much-needed conversation. I think that’s when I realized Pat’s story had transcended me – that maybe I had accidentally tapped into something universal. Again, this is the power of fiction and wearing that mask. The book and the film – fiction – gave people a safe talking point and helped many to open up. It was so heartening to see that, as a fiction writer, yes, but also as a human being.

Matthew Quick GoodLuckofRightNow cover photoIn The Good Luck of Right Now (which I just finished and loved, by the way), your characters are dealing with issues and themes that have come up in several of your other books: isolation, the attempt to connect with others, the difference between what feels “real” in our heads and what’s real in the world. In what ways do you think this latest book gets into territory your others haven’t?

Q: Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it. Good Luck may be a bit more philosophical than Silver Linings. I definitely feel it’s a step forward for me and hope readers will agree. I wrote Good Luck as Silver Linings the movie was being filmed and promoted. The wonderful Hollywood spotlight had me asking a lot of big questions. Why was my book picked for film? How did I do this? What does it mean? It’s one thing to dream and quite another to find yourself in the middle of a dream come true. My mother says I used to keep her up at night with unanswerable questions, back when I was a little kid. I’ve always pondered hard.

The success I’ve had – and I am extremely grateful for it – produced a lot of questions in my mind and very few answers. I created Bartholomew because I wanted to explore the big questions with childlike naivety again. He’s largely unspoiled. Untouched by academia. Untouched by the world. Maybe I wanted to go back to that untouched place and see the wonder again? Maybe writing Good Luck was a way to cope with the beautiful whirlwind that my first movie-adaptation experience created?

Let’s talk about that Hollywood experience. Your last book prior to this one, the YA novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, has a film in the works now too. Now that you’ve had the experience of seeing your books made into movies, do you find that changes the writing process for you at all? Are you thinking ahead to “how will this play out on screen”?

Q: Again, I’m very grateful and somewhat amazed. All of my books have been optioned for film. Leonard Peacock is with The Weinstein Company, who also did Silver Linings. The project closest to being filmed is Good Luck, which is with DreamWorks and is being cast now. I’ve always been a film guy. And while I read a lot too, film has probably influenced me more as a storyteller. I just do what I do on the page. While I’m writing I don’t think too much about anything except telling a good story. If that ever changes, I’ll be in trouble.

It’s a tricky art to blend comedy with despair. Reading your work, I often feel like just when a character’s about to break my heart, he or she comes out with a line that cracks me up. What role does humor play in your daily life?

Q: Humor has saved me a million times. I always say if I’m not laughing and crying throughout the writing of the book, I won’t finish the project. I’m someone who knows the great highs and lows intimately. As an author, I need to represent both, mostly because I want to tell the truth. Humor can acknowledge tragedy and comedy simultaneously. My wife is always saying, “We need to laugh more.” She’s right, of course, even though we laugh all the time.

Last — a lightning round on where you write:

In what room does most of your writing take place?
Q: In my office with the door closed.

What time of day do you write most?
Q: I seem to get my best writing done late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

Name 3 books you currently have on your nightstand, coffee table, or desk:
Q: The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

What do you do to take a break after a long writing stint?
Q: Walks with my wife, usually in the woods.

MLP: A million thanks, Q – and congrats.
Q: Thanks so much for the good questions and for spreading the word about Good Luck. Hope to see you on book tour.

A version of this interview also ran in The Tennessean.

New York Times bestselling author Matthew Quick will be our guest for Wine with the Author, a book signing and reading event featuring selections from The Wine Shoppe at Green Hills: Monday, February 24, 6:30 p.m. at Parnassus Books on Hillsboro Pike. 

(For more detail about The Good Luck of Right Now, including some wonderful quotes from the book, check out the write-up by our friends at Chapter 16. They call it a “marvel” — and they’re right.)

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