Saturday, April 13, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Mattes

Amy Mattes loves PNW rainy days powered by too much coffee and writing to epic movie scores. She has a vintage suitcase full of old journals and a heart shaped rock collection. She is inspired by the grit and beauty of human connection, often drawing story out of struggles with identity, sexuality, grief and addiction. She holds an Anti-Oppressive Social Work Degree from the University of Victoria and is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts School of Creative Writing at Vancouver Island University. Amy is represented by Carolyn Forde of Transatlantic Agency and is currently writing her second novel and raising a child. She holds gratitude for the Snuneymuxw First Nation whose unceded territory she lives, learns and loves on.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Late September is my fictionalized story that begged to be written. There was a lot of healing for me in having it come to fruition. It is a dream come true. A dream I worked at, but I don’t think I ever want to go back into the headspace of a 19-year-old character again. For my work in progress, the main female lead is closer to my age now. There is a wisdom that comes with ageing that I couldn’t have tapped into in my current writing until I’d been through it.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

My novel contains a lot of non-fiction experiences and observations woven in and embellished or mutated and I’ve been writing what I call ‘scrap’ poetry my whole life. For some reason calling myself a poet feels superfluous, though I am starting to take more ownership of that term. A lot of my note taking starts out as poetry. Writing a fiction novel, however, was just something I always felt that I needed to make happen. I believed in the story that was developing and kept on with it, despite a gap where I went to university. Writing a fiction novel was what I always wanted to accomplish, now I feel like the possibilities are open ended.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I am a mix of all those. Some works come and I have to get them down immediately and others I sit with. My drafts usually maintain their bones. I free write and journal a lot and then move to my computer. I try to make sure I really live outside of my writing time, doing so gives me more passion when I get the opportunity to craft.

4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

So far, I’ve started both books from the beginning, though they don’t take a linear trajectory after that. My first novel I wrote the start, then the end, then the middle over the span of six years. My second, I’ve promised myself won’t take that long, and I am trying something different with perspectives and timelines, so I am jumping around even more.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I wouldn’t say readings are part of my creative process, but I do enjoy them. They help me develop a dialogue with people who care about the same things I do and being given gracious opportunities to read from my work feels cathartic, though I’m learning they need to be sustainably planned.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

My debut novel is about the coming-of-age themes I experienced like grief, addiction, and sexuality and I look to other authors to read the ones I haven’t like immigration, and racism. I think the questions we ask are still the basics of who are we? What unites us? What hurts us and divides us?  I really value connection and listening, and I imagine most of my work will cover personal growth in one way or another.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Like any artist, a writer reflects life. I think part of that role is a responsibility to be political and just and current. To be more than tolerant, to teach and to learn. A writer should aim to channel and articulate issues and values.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Patients wouldn’t survive to tell a good story if their surgeons didn’t perform their best. The editors I’ve worked with have fixed me up, made me a better writer. Got me exercising my writerly muscles. Editing is a big and miraculous undertaking. I’m enthralled by their abilities to see within.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Most thing aren’t worth anger.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

As I said before poetry has always been there for me, but it’s felt less tangible. I’m taking some poetry classes right now and since my days are busy, I love that it gives me the chance to read and write in shorter spurts, but with the same command.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

On days when I don’t have my son, I drink coffee leisurely in bed while I think, no phone, no book. Then I will write at my desk for an hour or so before heading to work. When I do have him, life is more hectic, but I always carry a notebook everywhere and will write on my phone. I’ll puts words down wherever and then try to amalgamate them in the evenings when he’s asleep.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I take my dog for a walk in the rainforest to quiet things down. I usually focus my thoughts on where I am stuck, and I will problem-solve and breathe and usually get the answers I’m looking for. If that doesn’t do the trick I will rest or read. I am a big fan of sitting in stillness.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I have a sensitive sense of smell, so this conjures up seasons and memories over a lifetime of homes, but to choose one, since “home” here feels like the past, or the first, I’d say the crisp, but stale inside of an old hockey rink.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Music all the way. I am moved to tears on a regular basis by song. I also really love film moments where the music is just right, and feelings are captured and slowed down. I aim to reconstruct that in words. My novel was influenced by skateboarding and the use of public space as a context for adolescent development. Skateboarding is a hobby that is emulated in fashion and art, but if you are a real skateboarder, you’re usually apathetic about inspiring the trends, the true focus is on creative expression without boundaries. Grit and determination, play. I don’t think we play enough as adults.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’m a huge fan of Miriam Toews and Joshua Whitehead. The Kite Trick by Bill Gaston changed the limits of what I thought was possible in a short story. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, to me is the most eloquent production of a poem and I just bathe in those words when I lose track of where I am going.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

This question is so perplexing to me. I’ve done a lot in my lifetime. Take my son to Disney? Travel the World? What is one supposed to say? In my truth, there is something deeper percolating: I want to enter a relationship with the vulnerable task of communicating my needs calmly. I want to be seen and heard in love. I don’t think I’ve done that.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I have a full-time career as a Probation Officer on the side. It’s humbling and forces me to show up for people and bear witness to their stories. I try to fudge the system how I can, I am not in it for the law enforcement. I love connecting with people and being a part of their lives in a positive way.  

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Strangely enough, writing has been the constant. It’s as though if I am not writing I am not breathing. It’s the way I process life. In my elementary school writing books, I was always asking the teachers for more library time and more art!

I played a lot of sports, played in band and did drama, but when things fell to the wayside, writing was always there.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I can find greatness in nearly every book I finish. I recently adored Rouge by Mona Awad. As for film, I was very moved by the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front. I am a sucker for dramas with an epic score.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a collection of poems, and a second novel about an infertile woman returning to her unincorporated hometown for the funeral of her childhood best friend, a woman whose addiction resulted in the loss of her kids. One desperate to have a child, the other incapable of caring for them. It is a walk down the memory lane of a secret-holding, shady and depressed community.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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