I’ve never been a huge fan of of rap, but these two songs are definitely an exception:
Last week I attended the meeting of Sheltering Trees, a book club in Wallingford, Connecticut. The members of the group (more than a dozen ladies ranging in ages from their twenties to their seventies) were kind enough to read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, so I joined them for their discussion.
As expected, it was great fun. Book club events always are.
After having attended the meetings of more than 100 book clubs over the past five years, I’ve discovered that every book club has its own traditions, rules, quirks, and eccentricities.
I’ve attended a book club meeting that opened with a game show created by the host, played by the other members, and was based upon the book they read.
I watched a book club choose their next book via professional presentations that included PowerPoint presentations, heated discussions, and carefully chosen clips from New York Times reviews.
I attended a book club meeting where two of the women disappeared in the midst of the meeting, only to be later found skinny dipping in the pond.
The latter was my own book club.
I could probably write a book about my adventures attending book club meetings. I probably should.
The book club that I met with last week ends their meeting by rating the book on a 1-10 scale, and these scores are averaged, giving the book a final score. These women take this rating process very seriously. In addition to assigning a number, each person also gives a reason for their determination. Members not present who finished the book can email in their rating and rationale. One of their members was in Korea but still took the time to email a score and a paragraph explaining her thinking.
As the author, it was both fascinating and a little terrifying to listen to these women, who pull no punches, rate my book. I offered to leave to allow them to be honest, but they insisted I stay. “Don’t worry,” one woman said. “we won’t be careful of your feelings.” Two of my ladies in the group assigned my book a perfect ten, which causes the rest to burst into spontaneous, uproarious applause.
These women take their perfect scores very seriously.
I also had my share of eights and nines from the group, and my book ultimately received an average score of a nine, which I was told is very good.
At the end of the year, the book club meets for an award’s night of sorts. The members vote on the books read during the year in categories like best and worst book, best passage from a book, best and worst male and female character, best discussion, best cover, and more. They run this awards gala like the Oscars. Members vote, and presumably one member (unless they also enlist the services of Price Waterhouse) collects the votes and places the winner’s names in Oscar-like envelopes for the dramatic reveal.
No book is read for that December meeting. It’s simply a review of the previous year’s books.
The women were kind enough to invite me and Elysha to their awards celebration, and if the date is open, I’m going. This book club is comprised of an interesting cast of characters (they always are), and I suspect that the evening will be highly entertaining.
Maybe it will be the final straw that pushes me over the edge and makes me want to write that book.
I’m often asked where I get my ideas for books, which is an understandable but impossible question to answer.
There is no well of ideas. There is no secret formula. There is no one answer to that question, as much as fledgling writers seem to want there to be.
Simply put, I hear something. I read something. I see something. The flicker of an idea is born.
Something Missing was born from a conversation with a friend over dinner about a missing earring.
Unexpectedly, Milo began with a memory from my fourth grade classroom.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was born from a conversation with a friend and colleague while monitoring students at recess.
My upcoming novel, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, originated with a story that my wife told me about her childhood just before falling asleep.
My unpublished novel, Chicken Shack, began with a dare.
All of these are simplifications of the actual origins of these novels. There are more complex stories behind the origin of each book. In all cases, additional ideas were grafted onto the original idea to create a more complex story.
But in terms of the initial spark, that was how each story began.
Which leads me to this poster, which is displayed in the Yawgoog Heritage Museum at Yawgoog Scout Reservation, the camp where I spent many of my boyhood summers.
I suspect that someday in the future, this poster will be added to the list of initial sparks for one of my novels.
A nun’s day at a Scout camp? How could this not be the basis for a novel?
I had the pleasure of speaking at the Cragin Memorial Library last night as part of the Connecticut Author’s Trail. A group of about 48 women and two men gathered to hear me speak, which I continue to find both humbling and astounding.
Rather than read from my novel, I tell stories about the writing of my most recent novel, the writing of my previous novels, and my life in general. How I became an author. Stupid things that I have done in my life. Lessons learned. My wife joined me for the event last night, which she usually doesn’t do, making it even more fun for me.
A few important observations from the evening:
I made my wife laugh on at least two occasions, and on the way home, she told me that I was “very funny.” Making my wife laugh is one of my primary goals in life, and it’s not easy. If I make her laugh even once in a day, I feel complete.
I always ask for a round of applause for the men in the audience, because there are generally so few. Men suck when it comes to reading fiction. Possibly reading in general. We need to do better in this regard.
I felt great about my talk even though my fly was apparently down for at least the last third of the talk. As soon as I finished speaking, I was surrounded my people who wanted me to sign their books. The first woman said, “Your fly is down. When you stuck your hands in your pockets, it started falling. Slowly.”
I laughed, thankful that this woman, sitting in the front row, was the only one who noticed.
Five other women then proceeded to tell me the same thing. “At least nothing fell out,” one woman said.
Part of my talk is to reward the person in the audience with the most unusual or challenging question (I want to encourage audience members to ask me anything), but for the first time, I failed to keep track of the question that stumped me the most. Last night’s prize was the German edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, so I gave it to a man whose son lives in Germany, though I felt as though this decision did not sit well with some people.
“If I had asked you why your fly was down, would that have been good enough to win the prize?” one woman asked.
“Yes,” I said. “You should’ve asked.”
Readers are the best.
I’m often asked about how my students, my friends, and my family feel about my books, and I am forced to explain how completely unimpressed they are with me. My students tend to be unimpressed with me in general, but my friends and family are equally unmoved by my authorial career.
The less you know about me, the more impressed you tend to be.
Last night I told the audience that I texted one of my closest friends last week to tell him to read The Martian by Peter Weir. “An amazing book that I know you’ll love.” He started reading immediately.
I spend more time with this man than almost any other friend. We play golf together. I taught his children. I taught his daughter twice. He is my son’s godfather. I have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. We are in a book club together. His home was featured in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.
Yet he has not read any of my books.
He’ll begin reading a novel on my recommendation alone, but as for the books written by his friend?
He’s unimpressed. Like everyone else.
I often tell audiences that they should all be writing, and I assign them the homework of writing every day for the rest of their lives. Over the years, a few have accepted my challenge, at least for a time, but not many.
A handful at most.
As a result, I’ve started to say, “But most of you won’t go home and write because it’s hard. You’d rather watch a stupid television show, eat potato chips, and dying forgotten and filled with regret.”
Or something similar.
I chastised my audience last night as well (I think I said that I was sure they wouldn’t complete my homework assignment because they suck), but I’m starting to think this insulting my audiences is not a good idea, even though they always laugh when I do.
A photo of my books at The Strand in New York, sent to me by a friend.
I’m always asking my students for a unicorn sandwich.
They never find my request as amusing as I do.
A reader in Ecuador tweeted this about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend:
"Memories of an Imaginary Friend" by Matthew Dicks should be considered cultural heritage of humanity.
Some of my closest friends haven’t even read the book yet.
This week I have heard from readers in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Mexico and Portugal.
I also heard from a teenager in Ohio who convinced her geometry teacher to read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and then managed to turn her math class into an English class for a day.
I love that.
I feel so fortunate to live in a time when readers around the world can reach out to me. Responding to readers takes time, but it’s worth every minute.
My favorite bit of reader communication came from a Portuguese reader who tweeted this (translated via Google Translate):
You destroyed me with your book. I'm not well.
I didn’t know what to say, so I apologized and hoped he felt better soon.
My daughter has an imaginary friend named Aubrey. She calls Aubrey her “pretend friend.”
Needless to say this thrills me. Not only did I write a novel about an imaginary friend, but I had a long-term imaginary friend when I was a child, too.
So far I have learned that Aubrey:
- Sleeps late and needs to be awakened by a pretend trumpet.
- Goes everywhere with Clara, even if Clara doesn’t mention her.
- Likes puzzles.
I’m so excited.
I love this story.
I received an email last week from a librarian in southern Italy. It reads:
We write from a public library of a very small town in the South of Italy, in
Salento (Puglia), near the city of Lecce (TUGLIE). A library which hasn’t got any financial resources sufficient to buy books frequently. However thanks to the generous collaboration of many authors and editors, the number of books as well as of readers grows day by day.
Since your books are so successful among our young readers that requests are growing increasingly, we will be so grateful if you would collaborate to the increase of our heritage through a donation of your series of books (in Italian), maybe through your Italian publisher.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your interest.
I was honored by the request. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was a bestseller in Italy, and it’s always thrilling to hear from international readers, and especially librarians. To date, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been published in 23 countries worldwide.
By contrast, I have only traveled to one country outside the United States in my entire life, and that was Bermuda for my honeymoon.
Yet almost every day, I communicate with readers outside the United States via email or social media about my book.
I passed the email onto my agent with the request that she forward it onto my Italian publisher, but I also sent it to my mother-in-law, Barbara, who demands to read all positive news about my books and publishing career.
My mother-in-law then proceeded to reach out to the library on her own, using Google translate to send her message. She exchanged emails with the librarian, and once she had secured the address to the library, she ordered Italian editions of my book via Amazon.it and had them shipped directly to the library.
Readers in a small town in Italy will now have greater access to my story thanks to the initiative of a small town librarian, a technology that I use almost every day to seamlessly communicate between languages, and most important, the kindness and generosity of my mother-in-law, who couldn’t stand the thought of readers anywhere waiting for my book.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been named the 2014 Dolly Gray Award “for promoting high quality children’s literature that includes positive and realistic characters with developmental disabilities.”
As an author, it’s thrilling whenever your book wins an award, but this one is extra special because in addition to writing novels, I am a teacher in a school with a large special needs population, and every year, I have one or more of these extraordinary students in my classroom.
To be recognized for my ability to portraying a character with developmental disabilities both effectively and positively is an incredible honor, just as it is to teach these students every day.
Booktopia, the largest bookstore in all of Australia, is now selling the Matthew Green and Matthew Dicks versions of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend side by side.
As the reader who reported this oddity to me said, I’m really not sure what to think about this.
There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s accomplishments.
I am proud of my fifteen year teaching career, which includes a Teacher of the Year honor.
I am proud of my publishing career, which includes three novels that have been published in more than 25 countries worldwide.
I’m proud of the way that we are raising our children.
I am proud of my own educational background, which includes attending two colleges simultaneously in order to earn two degrees, all while managing a fast food restaurant fulltime, launching my DJ company and working part time in the college’s writing center.
Then there are accomplishments that are perhaps less pride-worthy.
I am proud of drinking my friend, Scott, under the table at our friend’s wedding back in 1997.
I am proud of getting the best of a colleague who engaged in a shouting match with me about eight years ago, forcing him to eventually apologize to me despite my aggressive tactics and name calling.
I am proud of the fact that my son is 19 months old and has never peed on me. This was a legitimate concern of mine when I found out that we were having a boy.
I am proud of once being compared to my friend, Coog, in terms of video game prowess. .
Add to the list of questionable pride is a new one:
I know. I can’t believe it either.
The Internet Movie Database is the industry storehouse of film and television credits for actors, directors, producers, writers and everyone else involved in the the making of movies and television shows. It’s been around for more than 20 years and is older than the Internet’s first Web browser.
I received a Google alert that my name had popped up on IMDB. I clicked over the site and found two entries for Matthew Dicks.
“I wonder who these two guys are?” I thought.
The first is a Matthew Dicks who worked in the art department for the 2004 film The Woodsman.
I clicked on the second and discovered that it was me.
All three of my books are currently optioned for film or television, and Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is actually moving along quite well (by the agonizingly slow standards of Hollywood). But Unexpectedly, Milo, is also being worked on by a production company, and I am listed in IMDB as a writer on this project “in development.”
I am way too excited about this, especially considering I didn’t actually do anything to deserve the page other than write the novel.
I immediately texted by screenwriting friend, who doesn’t have an IMDB page yet, to taunt him, but he was annoyingly happy and supportive for me.
I told another friend, but she didn’t know what IMDB was.
She must be living under a rock.
I’ve actually resolved to write a screenplay this year, so perhaps one day a more legitimate credit will be added to my IMDB page, but for now, this is more than enough.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend recently published in France under a different title, and since then, readers have been sending me images like this:
I can’t tell you how unbelievable and thrilling it is to see my novel in countries all over the world.
I also can’t tell you how frustrating it is to know that my novel has traveled far more extensively than I ever have. With the exception of a trip to Bermuda on my honeymoon, I have yet to leave the United States.
Bestselling author Lionel Shriver has been criticized this week for a piece she wrote in The New Republic in which she complains about the amount of publicity and the demands on her time that an author of her stature endures in today’s literary environment.
She writes (I suggest you skim):
Thus, at a time I desperately need to get my next first draft off the ground, check out my commitments for the next couple of months or so: multiple-hour interviews with Dutch and Belgian periodicals, along with the dreaded photo shoots. Literary festival appearances in London’s Soho, Charleston, Birmingham, Cheltenham, Newcastle, Folkestone, Cambridge, Wapping, and Bali (yeah, yeah, tell us another sob story—but Southeast Asia involves a 17-hour plane trip and a discombobulating seven-hour time difference; I still have to work on more than my tan). A reading of one of my short stories at the Arts Club in London. Dinners with my publisher and editor to discuss a new imprint. Copious radio interviews. A ceremony for the National Short Story Award, for which I’m short-listed—and prizes are a particularly destructive time and emotion suck, since in most cases you don’t win. The delivery of a “sermon” in Manchester, which for an atheist will be a big ask. A formal lecture in Amsterdam, replete with mini author’s tour for the Dutch translation of my last novel. A panel on “storytelling” for Mumsnet. A presentation to prospective supporters of Standpointmagazine, for which I write a monthly column. An “in-conversation” for a medical conference. What already awaits in 2014? A reading at the Royal Academy, a two-week promotional tour of Australia, a six-week teaching residency in Falmouth, events in Muncie, Indiana, and Bath, and invitations, as yet mercifully unaccepted, to festivals in Alberta, Vancouver, Estonia, and Singapore.
I don’t know Lionel Shriver and have never met her, but based upon her piece, I think she kind of sucks.
As I explained to a student just yesterday, when you complain loudly and vociferously about the 99% that you scored on your essay, you sound like a jerk. Yes, the 1% that was deducted for a couple of unfortunate misspellings is annoying, but just think about all the students around you who worked long and hard on their essays and only received a B or a C for their efforts.
It’s fine to be disappointed. It’s perfectly acceptable to be annoyed. Just keep those complaints in your head, or express your frustration to some trusted friends. Not the entire class.
Or in Shiver’s case, not the world.
For every bestselling, in-demand author like Lionel Shriver, there are tens of thousands of authors and perhaps millions of want-to-be authors who would love to receive a modicum of the attention and adulation that she has. Many of these writers work just as hard or even harder than she does but are simply not as talented or haven’t found the right editor or agent or haven’t written their breakout book yet.
Shriver needs to recognize this before she complains so loudly and vociferously in a publication like The New Republic, and then she should think better about writing a piece like this.
Like I told my student, it’s fine to be frustrated and annoyed by your success. Just don’t broadcast those feelings to the less-than-successful world. It’s difficult for me to imagine a single person feeling sympathy for her, particularly when she is fully capable of declining most, if not all, of the commitments on her list.
In the spirit of realizing how fortunate an even less-than-bestselling author like me is, here is my meager but amazing schedule of commitments for the week:
Yesterday I had the opportunity to Skype with a book club from Saudi Arabia. We discussed my most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, as well as my writing process and a little bit about my personal background. We even spoke a bit about my previous books, another pet peeve of Shriver’s.
While Lionel Shriver may have found the hour that I spent with these ladies bothersome and distracting, I was honored and thrilled to speak to them, and I had a great time doing so.
Later, I exchanged emails with the coordinator and and administrator of intellectual property for a college in New South Wales, Australia, who was requesting permission on behalf of a student to adapt Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend for the stage. While I won’t be paid for this adaptation and will likely never have the chance to see it, the idea that a person on the other side of the world in interested in adapting and directing a play based upon my book is thrilling. I wish I could attend one of the performances, which is scheduled for February, but sadly I’m not in a position to fly to Australia to see a play, even if it’s based on my work.
Lionel Shriver may have found the writing of those emails tedious, and if she were invited to one of the performances, she might add it to her long list of laments, but once again, I am honored and thrilled that someone liked my book enough to bring it to life on the stage.
Tomorrow evening, I will be traveling to Madison, Connecticut to speak to a happiness club about some of the ways that I have achieved happiness in my life. When I received this request six months ago, I was honored but a little befuddled.
Am I really in a position to speak about happiness?
Am I even happier than the average person?
I asked friends and family for their thoughts on the subject, and the most common response went something like this:
If you’re not happy, there’s something wrong with you. You have the perfect wife and two amazing children. You’re a teacher who loves his job and has been recognized for his skill and expertise. You’re an author who has published three novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages around the world. You own a small business with your best friend that you started from scratch. You have a enormous collection of diverse friends. You love golf and play it more often than most people. And in just the past two years, you’ve become an award winning storyteller who performs routinely in New York and Boston and have launched your own storytelling organization with your wife. If you’re not happy, you’re a stupid jerk.
My friends and family are right. I am exceptionally fortunate, uncommonly blessed and should be extremely happy with my life. And I am. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded about just how lucky I am.
Something that someone should apparently do for Lionel Shriver.