Today I am so incredibly excited to share an interview with the wonderful Matthew Beier. You may know him from his previous book, The Breeders. But his newest adventure is a delightful blend of YA/Adult/Middle Grade Lit. It sounds amazing, and it’s called The Confessions of Jonathan Flite. Let’s check out the synopsis.
Jonathan Flite claims to have memories he can’t explain. Seven layers of them, to be exact, all belonging to a group of teenagers who disappeared from a place called Idle County in 2010-ten years before his birth. Seventeen years of anxiety, violent outbursts, and refusal to admit he is lying have landed him at Crescent Rehabilitation Center, a seaside juvenile center for rich kids, and nobody has ever dared to believe his memories might be real.
1. The Confessions of Jonathan Flite is the first book in a series of seven. What drew you to writing series fiction, and why seven books?
I’m a huge fan of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, and Stephen King. The Harry Potter series single handedly showed me how a big, epic, multi-book story could offer insight into the human condition and strike a chord with readers around the globe. The twelve or so years that I was reading those books and seeing them come alive on the big screen–and celebrating every time there was a new installment–gave me some of the best memories of my life. Whether it was reading alone in the middle of the night in a fit of sobs or attending movie premieres with my little sister and closest friends, it changed me forever. To invest in a story long-term and see an author’s vision unfold is a magical thing to me. I decided early on that Jonathan Flite would be a series of seven books, because to me it was a perfect number. A trilogy would have been too short, and eight or more would have been overkill. Also, each Jonathan Flite book will follow one of seven vanished teenagers whose memories Jonathan claims to have.
2. This first book in the Jonathan Flite series introduces a huge story–many threads, many characters, and many plot points of global consequence. Are you just winging it, or have you plotted out every aspect of this story?
I’ve had aspects of this series figured out for almost ten years, and they’ve basically been biding their time in my head until now. Other aspects of the series I figured out within the last four or five years. Seeing as this story takes place over a span of time frames, I’ve really had to figure out the “past” stuff (that being the story of the Idle County Seven, the teenagers who disappeared in 2010), and I do have much of the Jonathan-Flite-side stuff generally figured out. That said, my decision to structure and narrate the books the way I have (that is, outside the head of my title character) has freed me up to let that aspect of the story grow and evolve if need be. Part of the joy of writing is having spontaneous, unexpected story elements bloom out of nowhere. It definitely happened with Book 1. So, I guess you could say I have the series basically plotted out, but I have many options about angles from which to write.
3. The Confessions of Jonathan Flite introduces a big mystery whose answers won’t be fully explored until all seven books are finished. Do you think that will affect your readership?
I love big, multi-layered stories, whether in books or on television. I love when writers plant things early on and don’t necessarily answer them for two, three, four, or five books or seasons. There’s nothing more satisfying to me, storywise, than experiencing this and knowing that the writers actually knew what they were doing from the get-go. I’ve tried my best to make Jonathan Flite this type of series, but I also plan to give every book its own plot and character arcs so that it stands on its own, at least enough to feel like a solid installment of a much bigger whole. I purposefully left some of the bigger aspects of the story open-ended, because they will be addressed in the next six books. It might be risky to do it this way, but I have a very specific vision for this series. I’m writing it with the mindset that, when all is said and done, readers will read Books 1-7 all in succession, and hopefully they’ll see what I was doing from the get-go.
4. You also created the art in this book, including the interior and dust jacket designs. Why did you choose to do the design work as well?
As I said, I’ve had a very specific vision for this book since the very beginning. Even before I knew its structure, I knew how I wanted it to feel as a finished book on my bookshelf–which meant going into my imagination and imagining what exact design elements might eventually spark that feeling for me down the line. It was a very fun process, and because I’m a photographer and sometimes-designer, I had all the tools to take the reins. That type of control extended the creative process, because it allowed me to shape the entire product, not just the story.
5. What do you like to read, and who are your favorite authors? Which author has influenced you the most?
My favorite authors are ones who have made me physically react to their words, whether in fear or exhilaration or joy or sorrow or whathaveyou. In terms of fiction, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are the obvious ones, and they have probably influenced me more than any other writers. I also love Barbara Kingsolver, Kazuo Ishiguro, Suzanne Collins, Ayn Rand, Philip Pullman, Gregory Maguire, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Strout, and Anne Marie MacDonald. As for nonfiction, I love Brian Greene, Jane Roberts (and her Seth material), and Brian Weiss. Heck, I was even giddy with excitement while reading The FBI Career Guide by Joseph W. Koletar. I think part of me still wants to be an FBI agent.
6. Since The Confessions of Jonathan Flite (and presumably the whole series) never gets inside of its title character’s head, can you give us any tantalizing insight into his character that readers won’t see in the book?
This is a tricky question, because all characterization should appear in the book, shouldn’t it? But I purposefully chose to take this approach, because it made Jonathan a far more interesting factor in the story–that we didn’t know everything that was going on in his head. For instance, in the beginning of the story, when he is just thirteen years old, he kills his nurse, Ellen Graber, by strangling her. Ellen, whose point of view the scene is told from, hears Jonathan whispering his reason for snapping, and she senses even while dying under his headlock that he is still a good person. Some might still see Jonathan as cold-blooded, but to me, he is extremely psychologically disturbed, because he has spent his entire life living with harrowing (and some truly disturbing) memories of these seven teenagers, from their childhoods right up until their untimely ends. He has also been raised under the pressure of being labeled “crazy” by his mother and psychiatrists. When he snaps in the beginning of the book and strangles Ellen Graber, it’s an act of desperation–he wants so badly for somebody to believe him about the things he knows about the nature of life, due to the memories he has in his head. At that moment, however, he is completely hopeless that his burden will ever mean anything. He snaps, pulling his nurse into a half-hug, half-strangle. The strangle wins out, and Jonathan is suddenly a murderer. As the book goes on, he has truly repented for his actions, and we get a glimpse into his true nature: that he cares about those around him, and he never again wants to succumb to his own desperation.
7. What was the first book you remember reading? Have you always been a reader?
I remember most of my life back until mid-age-two, so I can tell you exactly what book I first read. It was The Boxcar Children #21: The Deserted Library Mystery. I was homeschooled from first through fourth grade, and I learned to read using a big, red phonics book. I was old for my grade, because my parents held me back a year before kindergarten due to my shyness. Compared to other kids, I learned to read a bit late–at age seven. Once I finally grasped the whole phonics thing, I dove right into that Boxcar children book, and then the whole series. From there I progressed to Encyclopedia Brown, Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, and Bruce Coville. The summer before fourth grade, I read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which was my first grown-up book, and that was it. I fell in love with fiction and the effect it could have on readers, and I never looked back.
8. If you could tell your potential readers only one thing about The Confessions of Jonathan Flite, what would that be?
This is a tough question and probably a far more personal one than you intended. This book took more work and energy out of me than anything else I have ever done, and the bittersweet thing is that most of it will probably be invisible to readers. I’ve struggled heavily with depression since I was a kid, and the development of this book actually tested me on many levels relating to this. Apart from the general self-doubt every creative person probably feels, my research for this book required me to really, truly address the value of my own life, as measured against what we humans really know about the universe. Was there a point to it, or was it all just a random? If life was random, then what was the point of living it? All of this dovetailed with other personal things I had going on, and there were points when I seriously considered calling it quits. Yet . . . The Confessions of Jonathan Flite and all the work it entailed ultimately ended up being a self-made antidote of sorts for my depression, or perhaps a self-realized tool for finding meaning in my life. The story itself reflects that sort of hope in spots, and I think releasing the book is a symbolic step for me–as in, “Yep, I’m choosing to tackle life head-on.” Readers may see bits and pieces of this reflected in the story, but to them, it’s simply going to be a book. Even so, they may be interested to know just how essential and transformative the experience of writing The Confessions of Jonathan Flite was for me. It basically kicked my ass and helped me embrace whatever uniqueness I have to offer the world.
Wow. I was completely blown away by how much thought and care he took when answering. I am so excited about this series and ready to see more from this author.
Let know how in the comments: Have you read any of Matthew Beier’s work? What did you think? Are you excited to start this new series? Do you have anything to say in reference to the interview questions?