Author Chat with Matthew Brandt (The Boy from the Forge), Plus Giveaway!
Today we're excited to chat with Matthew Brandt, author of The Boy from the Forge. Read on for more about Matthew and his book, plus a giveaway!
Meet Matthew Brandt!
Debut novelist Matthew Brandt provides an unflinching and realistic look at coming-of-age on the working class landscape of America. His personal experiences growing up as the youngest of six in a challenging home in Milwaukee, WI providethe inspirations for his work as a writer. Brandt holds a Masters Degree in telecommunications from The University of Colorado, Boulder, and he currently lives in Gilroy, CA with his family.
Max and Del did everything together. They bought the same bikes, wore the same clothes, and competed with one another as best friends often do as sixteen-year-old high school students. As their summer together looms on the horizon, and the school year comes to an end, their friendship is tested when Max realizes their blue-collar upbringing in New Athens leads to a life of limitations he didn’t imagine. His only escape from his hometown is in his true feelings for Annika, who Del is also interested in. To prevent ruining their friendship, Max forms a simple plan: To find any way to break free from his working class destiny for something greater than what’s in Milltown.
A Chat with Matthew Brandt:
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Inspiration to write has been with me since I was very young, a boy about seven years old. Answering this question of inspiration is directly tied to where I come from, how I grew up—how working class kids grow up. As the social class name states, it is all about working. Kids are groomed, trained and encouraged to pursue jobs and wages. I mention this because those kids who verbalize or demonstrate a desire to pursue writing, and most other artistic inspiration, are generally discouraged from doing so by not just their parents but those around them. Simply put, you might hear it in the form, “that’s great, but how are you going to pay your bills?” This story has been with me, in a real way, ever since the events which this story is based on happened in my life. I ended up doing what many working class kids need to do for themselves. That is, leave home, join the military and get a college education. I’ve been fortunate to have had a relatively successful professional career, but at no point, did I drop my desire to write. For many years, writing was what I did in private to create balance, add what was lacking from my other career, and develop the what I thought of, as I know many others do, as the real me. The real watershed moment, the aha moment, happened when I read “Look Homeward Angel,” by Thomas Wolfe. Before I had finished the book, I knew I had found the way I would write The Boy from the Forge.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
This is tied to my goals I set for the story when I began. I wanted to write a story people would want to read because it rings true for them, something they could identify with, characters, events and scenes where they could see themselves. I wanted by way of the story to point out simple truths we already know of our lives—there are people, characters, who come into our lives, come into the context
of our struggles, our challenges, and help us, show us, how to adjust the rudder of our boat, to guide us toward new horizons. As much as I included positive adult role models, teachers from my own life, Annika is my favorite character. When I did my early character development, I wanted her to shine as the strong, intelligent young person who would help Max see beyond what he could see on his own.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel. I had several preliminary titles. As time went on, and the volume of words increased, the story tightened, and I tried out new, temporary titles. When I had the first drafts of the last chapters done, it became clear I had written a story about a journey out of something. In this case, it was a story about a boy ultimately leaving his hometown. I wanted to distill everything Milwaukee was when I was growing up into one word. I also wanted to connect a notion of a boy being shaped and formed by the influence and context of iron-fisted father. As a manufacturing city, and as a metaphor where “young steel” is shaped and hammered, the word forge came about. For awhile, maybe only weeks or a couple months, I used “Out of the Forge,” but I was not satisfied. It was incomplete. I needed the main character, and I didn’t like the word out—felt too outsider. Now, I have a boy, a place he came from, and a journey, and the potential reader might wonder, “why did the boy leave the forge and where did he go?”
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Chapter 25 is technically the climax of the story. I think it accurately reflects the intense emotions experienced, and in this case leading to physical battle, by teenagers. There is a sadness felt at the loss of a valued friendship. The setting at the playground fits the scene and the characters and where they are at in the lives. The objects in the scene support the different paths of the character. Max with his car and Del on his bike. Del rages. Max questions his actions. As the dust settles, “The sound of the basketball thumping on the blacktop returned to Max’s ears. The confrontation went unseen and unheard to the kids dribbling and passing the ball on the basketball court. Their focus remained on the basketball as they raced back and forth from one net to the other, over and over again.”
5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Editing. Editing. Editing. I have been extremely fortunate to have the support, and experience, of Tricia Callahan. Editing is about sticking to the fundamentals. I had spent almost a year doing my own iterations of editing. I had always planned to engage with an editor, but I made a decision I wanted to go as far as I could on my own, before bringing in an editor. Part of that decision included leaving the bulk of the words in the story—only deleting those pieces where I knew it didn’t work, was weak and wouldn’t help the story. My thinking, and decisions, were to have a seasoned, publishing expert help me substantive editing first. That means I expected large volumes of text and scenes to be removed and character count to drop. I wanted the advice of someone with industry know-how to help me distill out the main story and its characters. Having said that, the word count of the novel was just
about 150 thousand when I handed the manuscript over to Tricia and she handed by the first revision with 110 thousand. The latest version is 107 thousand. When I read what she handed back, I wrote her “Wow, this is excellent—I know exactly what to do now.” I got lucky I found Tricia.
6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
What I like most is an organic creation. I like to watch the look on people’s face when they see the cover for the first time. It’s great just to see how people handle a book, it’s tangible, it’s physical—it’s real. The most common reaction I’ve observed, once they give it that squeeze in their hand, measure it thickness, it’s dimensions, is they smile. Often, they will say, “who is the artist?” I love that. David Sims created the cover art and Vinnie Kinsella created the interior and overall design. I handed over a mock-up, using key story elements, to David and Vinnie. Specifically, that meant a boy on a bike, twilight, the colors orange and blue, and a super moon. Twilight has long been a passion of mine. It’s in the story. It’s part of Max’s larger picture of his natural world.
7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2018?
That’s probably the toughest question. In my usual fashion, I’ll answer it indirectly and probably get long winded and take a short digression in doing so. I think it is more accurate to say, in a slightly weird way, our favorite books find us. I think we seek out what we are looking for to answer, help explain, where we happen to be in our lives at a given moment. For me, that might happen by a friend sharing Mary Oliver’s latest book of poems. I might be exploring and wanting to know more about quantum physics and discover something by Michio Kaku. The further digression is to say I think it is important to challenge our brains with new, sometimes wildly divergent topics. The creative process, I think, involves a continual cultivation of thought. Sometimes we want to revisit our own favorite masters—our comfort zone. I’ll go further to say I find it important to surround our lives with any and all forms of the Arts. A new release might be checking out a new gallery, a new painter, going to see live music, visiting a museum, watching a great movie, and maybe, a stretch here, seeing the new release of flowers in our gardens and our larger natural world.
8. What was your favorite book in 2017?
I’m going to answer this by saying which book I have re-read the most. So, this answer has a funny, ironic answer. Most readers have their favorite genre they stick to—and genres they don’t tend to read. In my case, horror stories are not my go-to. I’ve only read one in my life (and it wasn’t the author I’m leading up to). This is my favorite book because I have learned some important fundamentals of writing from it, listening to it inspires me, and it keeps me in what I call “the zone.” Stephen King wrote a book called “On Writing.” The best part is he narrates it. When I listen to it, I imagine him sitting behind his desk, his feet up, maybe drinking coffee, and
discussing the craft of writing, much the way you are lucky to have that special teacher, or professor, who loves what they do and is willing to share their wisdom with you—with positive intention and enthusiasm. The ironic part is, I haven’t read any of his horror novels, but I haven’t listened, and read, his book on writing over twenty times, some specific sections many more. When I said I learned fundamentals, the funny part is his delivery and content in the book. In one section, he is talking about sticking to subject and verb combinations—two words, that’s it, and you have strong writing. My favorite line I retell myself, one of his examples, is “plums deify.” And, you get it delivered in his unique Stephen King delivery.
9. What’s up next for you?
Easy question. The next nine months of Max’s life. Novel #2 picks up where #1 left off. It’s going to be fun and challenging—for Max. He will need to make more big life decisions. He is going to meet some fun, crazy and great new mentors who help him on his next journey. In this case, to answer Question 3 for the second time, the title is already there. The fundamentals of the story are there and some of the writing is done. Now, I need the time of the coming months to write the story and then edit, edit and edit.
10. Is there anything that you would like to add?
People ask me how much of the story really happened in my own life. The short answer is much of it. I re-arranged the timeline to create a story, I embroidered, embellished, and just plain made up scenes as needed. The two people in the book’s dedication are the two most important people to Max at that time in his life—his best friend and his first love. My goal was to write a third person story of people and the context of their lives during what is probably the most formative time of our lives. As an avid reader, my utopian goal is for a young person, or person of any age, to pick up the book, find themselves wanting to submerge into it for that special suspension of time while reading, where our own lives and experiences can co- mingle with the fictional world of literature. I hope readers like the story and find even a modicum of relief from the challenges, the demands, and those lonely, lost, moments when we might second guess our fate, yet in the end, our shown a path forward.
11. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
Max’s mom Jocelyn. It is no mystery The Boy from the Forge is tightly bound to the events of my own life. My mom is still alive. I wanted to present Jocelyn’s character as a person who has been dealt a tough set of cards in life and does her best to overcome. With a few exceptions, I’m one of those people who believes in redemption. We are all faulted. Sometimes life breaks us. What is more important is we put ourselves back together, we get back up, and we move on. In the story, as in real life when we are Max’s age, teenagers, I think it is safe to say we don’t possess a deep understanding of compassion just yet. We end up reacting to the behaviors, right or wrong, of our parents, given the emotional abilities we have at the time. As we grow older, we start to see our parents, others, in a larger light, a larger setting.
Again, characters reacting to and bound to the context of their lives in a specific moment of time.
The Boy from the Forge
By: Matthew Brandt
Release Date: July 1, 2018