Morgan Matson : Her stories about everything

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

Andie is a hyper-organized, neat freak, type-A student and a congressman’s daughter who always has a plan laid out in the history of everything.

Clark is the adorkable guy—awkward writer with an adorable side. Sounds quite a mismatch. But readers of best-selling American novelist, Morgan Matson, know better that her fourth novel, “The Unexpected Everything,” is yet another tug in the heartstrings.

In the recent book signing by National Book Store, Morgan chatted with the Play! pool and took us back to that fortuitous day at Washington DC when Twitter crashed for half an hour and lighted the story idea of Alexandra Molly Walker and Clark Bruce McCallister.

Her other novels are “Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour” (named one of the Top 10 Best Books for Young Readers); “Second Chance Summer” (California Book Award winner); and “Since You’ve Been Gone” (Publisher’s Weekly bestseller). All of these stories are character-driven, inspired by the most mundane of things. A day in the mountains somewhere perhaps, or a road trip to wherever.

For Morgan, a story with a plot twist or magical elements could be as interesting as it is without. Funny, smart, engaging, with a bit of her own quirkiness, Morgan talked about her books and inspirations, and her brief stint in the tropics that is the Philippines.

Based on your Instagram posts, we’re curious which you like best: the coconut water or the mango juice?
Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to pick! I’ve been having the best meals and drinks here. This morning I got a gigantic coconut like they literally cut the top off, put a straw on it and handed it to me. It was amazing! It’s been so great. I had mango smoothies last night. It was so good! I’ve been enjoying the food and drinks down by the beach where the hotel is. It’s so beautiful!

Are you excited to meet your fans?
I saw that some people were waiting for the mall to open. I was drinking my coconut water by the beach and they’ve been sending me photos on Twitter like they’re all lining up. I’m so excited to see them! I’ve been talking to some of them on Instagram and Twitter for years. They’ve been asking when I’d be coming.

So you do respond to your fans online …
Oh, yeah! Always. I try to reply to everyone as much as I can. Days like this when everyone is tweeting you, it gets harder but normally I try to respond to as many people as possible.

Morgan Matson with her latest book, “The Unexpected Everything” (Photo by Jed Galang)

Morgan Matson with her latest book, “The Unexpected Everything” (Photo by Jed Galang)

How much time do you allocate for this?
I’m on it way too much. (Laughs). It’s not that I allocate, it’s just that I’m always online. And it’s not good. (Laughs). I think after this trip, I’m going to take a Twitter break because I have a deadline. I just need to cut it out especially we’re getting closer to election in the States. There’s so much to read and news coming in all the time that I need to just tune out and focus on writing.

What inspired you to write your latest book, “The Unexpected Everything?”
There’s a political element to the book. The main character’s father is a United States Congressman. It started when I was on a book tour in Washington DC and, speaking of social media, Twitter went down for like three hours and everyone freaked out. It was like a world-wide thing. Even I remember I kept wanting to go on Twitter to complain about the fact that I couldn’t go on Twitter! (Laughs). Normally, I would’ve been on my phone but Twitter was down so I left my phone and grabbed a notebook, and went out to lunch. I was in Washington DC and I started thinking about what that would be like if you had grown up with a parent as a politician, and I sort of went backwards with it.

As soon as you could remember being aware of what you said or anything you said was a mistake could be used against your father, what would that do to you? How would behave in relationships? In friendships?
I worked backwards from there to come up with a character. But I really think it was because I was in Washington DC and Twitter was down. If Twitter had been working, there may not be a book! It made me realize, you have to get offline, Morgan. How many other ideas am I missing out because I’m always on the phone? Not good. (Laughs).

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

Your books tend to focus more on the development of the characters than the depth of the plot.
Yeah, my books are really more character-driven than plot-driven. There are always things that happened in my books but it’s mostly about the growth of a character over time. Before I start writing a book, I tend to just think about it for a few months. I won’t be typing a story. I would just be writing down notes by hand just thinking about who they are and who their parents are, who their friends are, and who their friends’ parents are, and think of their history and build up their whole world. Some of don’t make it into the book, and when I actually start to write, I already figured that out and write straight off through the end.

Is that true for all of the books you’ve written?
All of the books I’ve written, yes. But I know so many other authors who have completely different process. Some write out of order, some have to know the ending before they can write the beginning. Everyone has their own process but that’s always been the way it worked best for me. I think a lot beforehand before I can write it.

Is there a part of Andie that’s based on a real person?
She is not me which is really interesting because my last character from my third book, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” Emily was a lot more like me. So it was fun to write about someone who wasn’t very much like me at all.

And that is?
Andie doesn’t want to read! She’s into math and science. She’s very organized. She has her plans and she’s a bit rigid. I’m a lot more like Clark, actually. He’s a writer and novelist.

So, who is Andie likened to?
I went to college in Los Angeles and I ended up becoming friends with people whose parents were in the entertainment industry. One girl I was friends with, her father was very well known. She was sort of the one at the back of my mind when I was writing about Andie. She was very guarded when you first met her. You can’t really be sure if you wanted to be friends with her until you’re really friends with her. I was thinking of her in terms of how hard that must be to be always filtering through everyone.

What was the most challenging part of writing the story?
Writing a love story, there’s always a moment when things fall apart and that was probably the hardest part to write because I didn’t want it to happen. I’ve been in this journey with them. I knew it had to happen but there’s that piece of me that doesn’t want it to happen.
My first book was focused on a relationship between two people. My second book was about a family. My third book was about different kinds of friend ships. For this one, I consciously wanted it to be all three of those things. So it’s about friendship and family and relationship. I wanted all three to be equally important to the story. That was also the hardest part of writing the story. It’s also the reason that it’s my longest book because of these three big plot lines happening.

And what was the most fun part of writing it?
A lot of my previous books, people get together at the very last chapter. I didn’t want to do that this time. I wanted to show a relationship. That was a lot of fun because I really wanted to have the characters build a connection from the start. I like scenes of people hanging out and talking that don’t necessarily advance the plot at all.
How long did it take you to finish writing this book?
I started that in Oct. 2014 and I turned in my first draft in March 2015. My editor and I revised it and it was finished by September. So it was about a year.

Was there a time when you wanted to go back and change something?
Oh, yes! Always. There’s one scene at the end where I kept coming back to and my editor would be like, “I think it’s fine”, and I would be like, “One more shot!” but I’m still not sure. There’s that one scene in that book that I don’t know if I got it. But you know, you have to let it go.

This copy of “The Unexpected Everything” has a deleted scene. Is this exclusive to the Philippines?
Yes, it’s exclusive to the Philippines, and there’s a letter I wrote to the fans in the Philippines in the front.

Did you always want to be a writer when you were young?
No, actually. A lot of people do. Most writers already know at a very young age. I always knew that I could write, like I could always write my essay on the bus the morning it was due. I could do it at the last minute. I always enjoyed writing whenever there was a school assignment of writing a story. Mine would be the 50-page story because I had so much fun with that. And I’ve always been a reader. I’m a big voracious reader.
I didn’t think of writing as a profession until at the end when I was in university. I got a job at a bookstore in the children’s department and started reading this young adult literature. I was so happy. They were paying me to read all these advance copies and books so I can talk to people about it. It was the best job! (Laughs). So I started reading all these young adult literature that I hadn’t read before because they hadn’t been around when I was in high school. And I just fell in love with it. I would read the books at night and go home and write my own “terrible” novel. (Laughs). But I had so much fun with it.

Are there any literary figures who influenced you?
Sarah Dessen was a big influence. She writes similar books to what I write. Sarah Dessen’s books were the first ones I’ve read that’s just about a girl and a boy, and summer, and family, and friendship. It gave me
permission to tell stories I wanted to tell. Not magical stories like Princess Diaries or Sisterhood of Travelling Pants. More like grounded stories. She was writing character-driven books and that was what I always wanted to write but didn’t know how to do it yet.

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

Morgan Matson (Photo by Jed Galang)

How did the writing of the first book come to you?
“Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour” was when I’ve driven across America twice before. I went to college on the other side of the country. My mother and I drove out with my car when I went to college and after I graduated, we drove back to bring the car back to east coast. When I started on that book, I was drawing on those experiences. I knew I wanted the characters to go to places I’ve never gone before. I was living in New York when I wrote the first draft and flew to California and I rented the same car that they drove in the book which was completely unnecessary! (Laughs).

This is like taking this way too far. (Laughs). So I took the road trip back across country for research. I ended up by accident at this very famous road in America that I didn’t know about. It’s in Nevada. It’s called the Loneliest Road and it’s this deserted highway that almost no one goes on. It was scary at the time because I was all by myself but by the time it was over I was like oh this has to go to the book! I took a lot of pictures so it sort of has a scrap book feeling to it.

As for “The Unexpected Everything,” we get to have emojis! I always like to have a little something extra in my books. That became a whole thing. I mentioned the emojis to my editor and he was like, “Wait a second. Let’s figure if we can legally do this. Just don’t make it a major plot point in the book.” And then I proceeded to make it the major plot point in the book. (Laughs). They ended up having all these legal meetings at my publisher. It turned into a whole thing. The woman who designed the book ended up designing her own versions of the emoji’s. (Laughs). In the audio book, she reads them all too like, smiley-face-smiley-face-smiley-face, fireworks-fireworks-fireworks. (Laughs).

Would you say that “Second Chance Summer” is your most critically acclaimed work, so far?

It is. That’s the one with the most starred reviews and I won an award for it. You’d never know what would appeal to people. But “Since You’ve Been Gone” was the book that hit the most readers. That was the one most readers began to connect with.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to travel. Some of my friends are also writers that we do writing retreats somewhere. I like to go hiking with my dog, Murphy, and spend time with friends. The funny thing is the dog in my book, “Second Chance Summer,” is named Murphy. I didn’t have a dog yet when I wrote this. I just needed a dog’s name that could also be a person’s last name. I settled for Murphy. A few years later, I wanted to adopt a dog. I went to this rescue place in Los Angeles and the woman running the rescue was like, “Oh do you want to meet Murphy?” This feels like a sign! (Laughs). I love to watch movies too.

What was the last movie you saw?
That’s a really good question. I know I saw it because I wanted popcorn. I saw it before I left and it wasn’t that great. Oh, the Woody Allen movie, Café Society. Sometimes it’s just about the popcorn and not the movie! (Laughs).

What’s next for you?
I have a new book coming out next summer. We don’t have a title yet. There’s a beautiful cover. It’s the same woman who designed the cover and the photographer who did that cover in Since You’ve Been Gone. I think it’s going to be out on May 27th.
It’s about a girl who’s the youngest of five siblings and all of them have left the house. There’s a big gap of some of the ages. She’s the only one who’s still in the house. It takes in the spring and she’s going to college next fall but she hasn’t decided where she’s going yet.
She’s not sure what she wants for the future. It takes place over a weekend because her older sister is getting married and so everyone is coming back to the house.
There’s a lot of drama and a lot of high jinks, her brother hasn’t been home for a year, lots of family secrets come out. Her mother is a cartoonist and has this newspaper cartoon strip that’s very much based on their family.
The strip is also ending the same weekend. We’re going to have occasional comic strips in the book. We’ve hired an artist for that! There are two love interests on this one which I haven’t done before. So as soon as I get home, Twitter goes away, movies go away, fun goes away. That’s the plan so I’m enjoying the smoothies, the coconut, and the beach now while I can!

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