Finding Magic in Reality: An Interview with M. R. Mathias9 min read
At Plotist, we are constantly researching new ways to help writers. In a new series, we seek out authors who have become successful and dig into their perspectives on the writing process.
First up is M. R. Mathias. This multiple-genre self-publisher has won numerous awards—including the 2011 and 2015 Reader’s Favourite Awards. The Wardstone Trilogy, a small collection of his literary works, has sold over 350,000 copies worldwide. He’s an old-school dungeon master and believes that “magic is everything.”
But M. R. Mathias has me looking deeper into every quote, and inspirational speech.
What started out as a desire to learn secrets to share, became a transformative journey that has forever changed how I perceive advice from distinguished authors. We writers often see quotes from successful authors that spur us on to put our own stories on the page. Personally, I love those little snippets of inspiration, as they help me believe I am just as capable as Neil Gaiman, Dick Francis, or Stephen King. But M. R. Mathias has me looking deeper into every quote, and inspirational speech.
Why? M. R. Mathias candidly shared a small portion of his life story with me. This insight into his life gave his words a gravity I would otherwise miss.
“The path I ended up taking led me through a lot of dark places,” Mathias shared, “but those experiences are what define who I am. My unique perspective on people and the characters I write couldn’t be the same, had I taken any other path.”
As writers, we put pieces of our heart and soul into every character’s words and gestures. Every story spawns from the voices we hear or the worlds we envision, and M. R. Mathias is no different. But the advice given by those we see as successful is also rooted in the speaker’s heart and soul. I feel it is important to understand the dark path Mathias has walked to fully appreciate what he shared.
“I started writing because I was in a Texas jail (for drug possession) and had read every book available, some of them twice,” Mathias started. “One day I decided to write a novel… I had always heard that finishing a book is the hardest part. So I wanted to see if I could do it.” He created Buxley House which he later rewrote into a 300 page novel for NaNoWriMo 2010 named The Butcher’s Boy. While in prison he also created The Wardstone Trilogy. “After that, I became addicted.”
I can’t help but cheer Mathias’ strength to overcome substance abuse. Still, as someone who has not walked that path, it’s hard for me to empathise, even if I can relate with the addiction to writing. As M. R. Mathias continued talking, he spoke about how writing has allowed him to share precious moments with family members suffering through something I can understand: dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
“That’s a great question, because I struggle with guilt every day.”
The two most important and influential people in Mathias’ life are his grandmother and his mother. Both women handled adversity with grace and strength, something he draws on to create the strong women in his stories. His grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia before her death, and his mother has terminal cancer. “My grandmother was dying when I was entering the longhand versions of my books into a computer to edit…but she listened raptly as I read the words into a speech-to-text conversion program.” His mother just went through her fourth round of chemo, and it sadly wasn’t to cure her. “She is now letting nature take its course, facing each day very bravely.”
As Mathias shared with me the amazing things each of these women had accomplished in their lives, questions swirled in my mind. How does he find time to write when being a caregiver? How can he remain positive and driven? But the one question that haunts me personally every day: how does he deal with the guilt of wanting to write, while the people he loves and takes care of suffer?
“That’s a great question, because I struggle with guilt every day.” Mathias has spent a lot of time lately in hospitals, unable to head out to sea, a place where he finds most of his inspiration. He’s kept his phone on him to stay connected to his fans. The alarm goes off at 5am, just so he can eek out a few precious hours writing. As he explained this to me, I couldn’t help but see the strength he extolled about his grandmother and his mother… in him.
What M. R. Mathias is going through, every one of us has experienced to some degree. It is the children we are raising, the job that eats up time so we can keep food on the table, or the loved one who needs our time more than our characters do. Yet, despite the tragedy of the situation he is currently in, he took the time, incredibly precious time, to share advice.
Considering the history he shared with me, I wanted to know what advice he would give to his younger self. His answer surprised a chuckle out of me, considering the heaviness of what we were previously discussing. “Honestly, if I could talk to my younger self, I would tell me who won the last ten Super Bowls and then gamble my way into retirement.” His life has helped to create well-rounded characters. “Everyone has flaws. There are no goody-goodies in my books.”
“Your creative side loses its flow when you stop to add that comma.”
Knowing he has written several different series and genres, I was curious how he balanced writing different books at the same time. Turns out he doesn’t. “I write Vanx Malic in four book blocks to prevent getting confused or missing something.” I can see the brilliance behind this, especially when he revealed before winking, “Making sure each book’s conclusion is exciting and has some bit of closure is important to me. Even though some of the series I write span many books, I try to give the reader an ending they can walk away from, or that makes them run to the next book.”
November is rapidly approaching, and we know many Plotist Awesome Writers who will be participating in NaNoWriMo. Not all authors find this works for them, but M. R. Mathias participates and donates to it every year. His award winning Dragoneer Saga novel Blood and Royalty was his 2013 project. “… I think this is a great place for aspiring authors to figure out if they can do it.”
While NaNoWriMo can be used test your mettle, it has taught Mathias a valuable lesson. “I have learned that way too many authors focus on editing while writing. This isn’t good because one is a right brain operation, the other a left. Your creative side loses its flow when you stop to add that comma.” His advice? “Write the story, then pay for an edit.”
“Fargin’ magic creeps my crotch!”
We live in the age of social media and aspiring authors are being asked to do more than just write a story. They are being asked to self market while creating new stories, writing, editing, and networking. Even with taking care of his mother, M.R. Mathias sees what he does as a 24-7-365 job. “Writing a book is the easy part of the process… after you write you have to pay for edits, cover art, and formatting. Then comes the promotion and advertising. In today’s world, every waking minute you have to be in touch with your core fans.”
Finding that home/writing balance can be difficult, but it can be done successfully. M. R. Mathias is living proof of this. We’re often told to write what we know, or to seek inspiration from the world around us. M. R. Mathias does this by seeing dragons overlaid on pelicans gliding across the sea. As a fan of deep sea fishing, he sees the large fish as beasts in his story. And he finds time, that elusive requirement to put the inspiration onto a page, where he can.
If you would like to learn more about M. R. Mathias and discover which of his characters exclaims “Fargin’ magic creeps my crotch!”, you can find him on his website, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Book Gorilla, and BookBub.
And if you have any questions, he’ll be checking the comments below and responding when he can.
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