Somehow (Tracy…) illustrators have found their way onto my radar. Though since I usually hang out in Artist Alley, I don’t know why I’m completely surprised! Matthew Dow Smith is a familiar face to many of you in the comics world — having done the art for such IDW properties as Doctor Who and The X-Files. But what many don’t know is that he’s a great author as well and when one of his middle grade projects found its way into my inbox I had to have it. So enough of my nattering on, say hello to Author/Illustrator Matthew Dow Smith in his own words!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
I write wherever I can, whenever I can. My day job – writing and drawing comic books – has a way of taking over every available second of the day, which means I have to take whatever opportunities come along. More often than not that means stealing an hour with my laptop in an armchair before I go to sleep or scribbling bits of dialogue in my notebook in-between comic book pages.
Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)
Almost everything I write starts out as a series of images in my head, so when I begin work on a project, I’ll do quick drawings of those images in my notebook. For me, the writing process is me working out what those images mean. And when I get stuck or feel like the tone is getting away from me, I can go back to those images for inspiration.
What do you love about writing your genre and why did you choose it? What’s the hardest part about writing it?
I’m not even sure what you’d call the genre I write. Suburban Fantasy? Quiet Fantasy for Younger Readers but Hopefully Interesting to Adults Too? But I love writing stories where ordinary things turn out to be extraordinary and where you can have moments of wonder and joy.
I tend to think the genre chose me, not the other way around. These are the kinds of stories I loved to read as a kid, so when I started telling stories of my own, they naturally fell into the same territory, though like every writer, I bring my own perspective and influences to it.
Keeping everything grounded, which sounds crazy considering we’re talking about Fantasy here. But personally, I like it when the fantasy feels like its only a step or two removed from the reality we know and spend every waking moment in. I think it gives it all a little more impact. But when you’ve got leprechauns or giant monsters or killer robots running around in your stories, it can get a little tricky.
Where can readers find you on the web and social media?
You can find me on Twitter: @matthewdowsmith; and on Facebook: @MatthewDowSmithWriterArtist.
What book do you wish you had written, and why?
BREAK MY HEART 1,000 TIMES by Daniel Waters. It’s a really interesting take on a ghost story which manages to keep the stakes emotional as well as physical without anything ever feeling forced. It’s a fantastic novel, and I’m deeply envious of how easy Dan makes it all look.
If you’re not reading or writing, what would we catch you doing?
When I’m not reading or writing, I’m drawing. Or answering emails from editors telling me to draw faster so the next issue can get to the printer. And on the once in a century event where I’m not reading, writing, or drawing, I’m playing bass. But at this point, there’s so much dust covering my favorite bass that I’d have to give it a good clean before I could play it again.
Do you belong to any writing organizations?
Well, I have some Writers Guild credits from my misspent youth in Hollywood, if that counts. They gave up sending me newsletters, but they still send me a yearly earnings statement to remind me that I haven’t written any television shows in 15 years.
What excites you most about joining the BookEnds family?
One of my favorite things about working in comics is that it’s a team sport. You’re working on a book with a whole group of creators who feed off each other’s creative energy to make something better than you could have done on your own. For me, the BookEnds agency is like being on a team again, working together to make something better.
What advice would you give to other authors in the query trenches?
Never be afraid of rejection. I don’t know a single writer whose work I love who hasn’t collected a drawer full of rejections letters.
What’s the last book you read?
I just finished a collection of Jeffrey Ford’s short stories, called ‘Crackpot Palace’. One of my favorite writers, and his short stories are phenomenal.
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
I used to fantasize about a quiet little cottage in the country (I’m an Anglophile, so it would have to be in the UK somewhere) where I could wear wool sweaters and write all day and night, but these days I dream about any place that doesn’t have an art table with half-finished pages on it.
What’s your favorite quote about reading or writing?
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received?
To paraphrase the great David Morrell, ask writers why they write and they’ll almost all say, ‘Because I have to’. The really interesting question is why you have to write. If you can answer that question, what you’re writing will come into better focus. And he’s right.
Plotter or pantster?
Bit of both, actually. I almost always have a rough idea of where it’s all going when I start, with a lot of the story benchmarks along the way, but I try not to plot anything out so tightly that there isn’t room for things to be spontaneous and go in directions I wasn’t expecting.
Synopses, love them or hate ‘em?
Not a fan. But I do them. I’ll spend days writing out a loose synopsis before setting it aside as soon as it’s finished and ignoring it unless I get trapped in a narrative corner. It’s a safety net and a crutch, but it is nice to know there’s a way to get through a story, though I almost always find a more interesting way through it while I’m doing the actual writing.
Do you have a writing playlist or a vision board? If so, what’s on them?
I can’t listen to anything with words when I’m writing, so I’ve got a huge collection of Jazz and Classical music to play while I’m writing, mostly 1950s Jazz and post-modern Classical. Not sure if it helps set the mood for my stories, but it does help tune the world out.
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
Anyone who has met me knows that Doctor Who has had a huge influence on my work as a writer and an artist, but I also find a lot of inspiration in the films of directors like Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, particularly BRAZIL and AMÉLIE, two of my favorite films of all time.
Drink of choice when writing? When not writing?
I used to drink coffee by the bucketload, but I’ve cut back in the last few years. These days it’s mostly water, and when I’m not writing, a Newcastle Brown Ale is usually not too far away.
If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you want to meet and why?
Charles Grant. Not as well known outside of Horror and Fantasy circles, but he’s a legendary figure among many of my writing friends. Unfortunately, he passed away before I got to meet him (and before I’d read his work and discovered how fantastic he is). I’d love to sit down and talk shop with him, if only for a few minutes, and to tell him how much his books have come to mean to me.