Please read below for an interview with Matthew Aaron Browning, an author of gay-themed YA fiction who lives in Charleston, W. Va. He is represented by Stephen Fraser at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. Learn more about him at www.MatthewAaronBrowning.com.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? What was the process like?
I was fourteen years old when I “knew.” I used to write and draw these little comic books about the students and teachers at my junior high school. They were quite inventive, and I still kick myself for not holding onto them. It was just something I did for fun. I also began writing poetry during that time. I was confused and lonely and in need of an emotional outlet. Writing provided that and helped me through a tough adolescence. Finally, I was blessed with some teachers who showed me the value of writing as an art form. So becoming a career writer was always this far-off dream I thought of while I went to college and worked a day job, writing in my bedroom at night. I didn’t really start thinking of myself as a “Writer” until I got an agent. That’s a mistake. You’re a writer the minute you start writing.
How do your identities influence your writing if at all?
I write fiction, but I focus on gay-themed fiction. So who I am and my experience bleed into my writing constantly. For instance, I grew up a lonely gay kid in a little coal town, and my first book is about a lonely gay kid in a little coal town! Granted, my protagonist’s journey is more exciting than mine was, but there’s a lot of me in there. You’ve heard the old adage “write what you know”? I used to think it was silly, because if we only wrote what we knew, we’d be awfully limited, wouldn’t we? But I’ve stopped saying that now, because it makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I’m always mining my past and present for inspiration and using pieces of my life in my work. I don’t want to box myself into a category, but I enjoy writing about gay characters. We need more good books about them.
What is the creative process like for you? How are you inspired?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. As I said, my first book draws heavily on my own adolescence. The project I’m working on now stems from a dream I had. When I woke up, I thought there was a book in there somewhere. So I typically begin with a spark of an idea that I then flesh out into a plot. I like to thoroughly plan before I begin writing, and I do that best by hand, with a pencil and a notebook…and a glass of wine and my iPod. Music often drives my creative process. I find songs that elicit the same response I need in what I’m writing. Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara is on repeat for what I’m doing now.
What feedback do you have for aspiring writers?
If you’re just starting out, find your niche and hone your skills by immersing yourself in similar work. I write gay-themed fiction, so I read a lot of it. And with social media, authors are more accessible than ever – follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook.
If you’re looking to get published, start researching the business side of being a writer, even if you haven’t finished a book. Learn the process involved in getting an agent, because you need one. Your expectations for a writing career may need adjusted once you begin to exist in the business side of the literary world. (I’m speaking only of traditional publishing here. I haven’t explored self-publishing.) Finally, never give up. You’ll hear “no” more often than you hear “yes.” A lot more often, probably.
If applicable, in what ways is your work gendered (i.e., affected norms connected to femininity and/or masculinity)?
Most of my work comes from the point of view of gay males. Since I am one, it’s what I’m most comfortable with. I’ve never tried to tackle the subject of gender norms directly in my writing, but I think that by writing or reading about gay characters, you’re sort of living in that neighborhood already.
What future projects are you planning?
My agent is shopping around my first book, called Straightville, U.S.A., but we haven’t sold it yet. Meanwhile, I’m plugging away at my second novel. It’s an ambitious project for me, because I’m writing it as a dual point of view between two characters of considerably different ages. It began as a National Novel Writing Month project, but don’t get me started on that! It has its perks, but you’re not living in the healthier parts of yourself as a writer. I basically scrapped most of what I had written and have reimagined the whole thing. I can’t wait to see how it ends up.
-Interview by Sem