Who is Matt Posner? Where do your ideas come from? I am a fantasist strongly rooted in multiculturalism -- an American magician with a global perspective. I believe in drawing upon what has happened in the world, past and present, history and culture and religion and commerce, as a backdrop for the people my stories are about.
Talk about how you plot your novel. My novels emerge from characters. I am writing about a school, so I have an ensemble of people to include, and although I have a strong protagonist who carries two to three story arcs per novel, my supporting cast all get storylines also. I want to make sure that readers who like a character will get to see that character involved in something interesting. It's like a TV series where different members of the cast are featured in different episodes. Plotting a novel begins with my main character's storyline, and then the other people get stories also, and they all intersect, usually with multiple events occurring in the most dramatic chapters. I guess this technique came to me from role-playing, in which each player in my group had a character and needed something to do, so each session had numerous plots going on.
What is the setting of your book? The setting of my books is School of the Ages, a magic school on a hidden island in New York Harbor. It was built in the 1840's and merged with a Jewish school, American Academy of Cabala, in the 1960's. So there are both secular and Jewish students there and the interactions are interesting. with both friendships and rivalries. I use New York City in general for more events, with Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens making many appearances. Europe will be essential in book 3, and India in book 4. My new catch-phrase is "School of the Ages -- Growing Up Magical!"
The name School of the Ages came about by a somewhat confusing path. I became enamored of the Raphael painting with the philosophers standing in a giant classical portico, which is actually a fresco on a wall in the Vatican, but which I have only seen in a copy in oil at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. I wanted to name my school after that painting, and I got it into my mind that it was called School of the Ages. After writing a lot in the series, I became aware that the Raphael painting is called School of Athens. So where did the term School of the Ages come from?
I recently solved the mystery when a Google alert for School of the Ages showed me the relevant reference. That painting appears on the cover of the Harold Bloom book The Western Canon which is subtitled The Books and School of the Ages.
Tell us about the main character. My main character is Leicester Moore, a real melting-pot kid who is the product of an Italian/Jewish mother and an English/Asian Indian father. So with four ethnicities, he really reflects the American experience. (It also reflects my own experience, since I have a Jewish father and a Christian mother and an Indian wife. When my students ask me, as they often do, "What are you?" I have to answer "American," and sometimes even say, "I'm a mutt.") Leicester has taken the name he generally uses, which is Simon Magus, after the Biblical villain. He's a serious and somewhat gloomy young man whose main attributes are loyalty to friends, willingness to risk himself for a good cause, a certain mystical detachment from the world, and a fair amount of emo moodiness. He has the magical power of sorcery, although it isn't so well developed in The Ghost in the Crystal as it is later in the series, and this power means that he feels intuitively what sort of events are coming, and as a result, he is nearly fearless. Simon has some very odd gaps in his personality also: very little sense of humor, not much creative impulse, no interest in music or art. Not to worry, though: other kids in the school have that stuff covered.
What specific authors inspire you? I am inspired by many authors, having taken ideas, moods, attitudes from a lot of writers. I'll start with Lewis Carroll. The second book of my series, Level Three's Dream, which is scheduled for release by the end of August, is driven by Alice in Wonderland, and features about a hundred pages of my teen magicians matching wits with Wonderland and Looking-Glass characters, and not necessarily being as polite with them as Alice was. Alice herself is there, also.
If I had a "precursor poet," to use Harold Bloom's term from "The Anxiety of Influence" - if I had someone I viewed as a progenitor and wanted to top - it would be J.R.R. Tolkien. I also nod to Jane Austen in the way I think about character relationships and write romance, to Shakespeare in some of my feelings about characterization, plotting, tragedy, and syntax. In the fantastic materials, I should acknowledge Neil Gaiman, George Lucas, Gary Gygax, and most of all, Colin Wilson. My plotting and pacing owe a lot to Marvel Comics of the 1970's. Then, while R.R.'s are on the table, there's George R.R. Martin, a favorite of mine since childhood, although I haven't gotten properly immersed in his current work.
Do you plan a book in details before you write? I plan a book as a rough outline before writing. I list elements I've chosen in time order. Then I make a chart of the characters who need story arcs or subplots and begin working those out. More always arise during drafting nevertheless. I then move to a chapter outline. Usually I write parts of a novel before the chapter outline is done, while still mainly engaged with the previous book in a series. During drafting, new ideas emerge, and I am also helped by using music to trigger visualization of storyline events.
Where and when do you write? I write mostly in marble notebooks, which I then type up. Some material is drafted on computer, but not much. The notebooks, usually 2-3 at a time, and about 7-8 per novel, are shifted from one writing space to another. Writing spaces include the E train; the classroom; the teacher's lounge; the park; the bathtub; in the car between jobs; poolside; and sitting on the toilet. This type of writing is a necessity of my busy lifestyle. The poem William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor making house calls, used to write in the car between stops, so I feel connected to him when I do it. I write in notebooks during the little slivers of time I have between work-related tasks and family/marital responsibilities. I have not had a steady daily writing schedule since college, because writing is not how I make money; teaching is. I sure do envy you, Tim, for being retired and able to write as much as you want!
Describe how you've developed as a writer? I had a childhood talent for character and story. My early play was highly narrative and cinematic. I began to write daily while in elementary school, and my college was consistently focused on developing as a fiction writer. My strength has always been technique; despite my being at an early stage in
building awareness of myself as a brand, I am actually as good in this area as some of the best established pros, and better than a lot of people who make more money writing than I currently do. People have difficult paths in life, which is why I'm not a literary superstar, but I have the chops. Read my stuff and see.
If you listen to music when you write, what type of music? Since childhood, I have always used music for visualization. I listen to music and imagine both written and unwritten scenes. I use music to create the proper mood, and I will become fixated on specific music and replay it constantly till a piece of writing is complete. Not only do I listen while writing, but I use music while commuting so I can think about my writing when I'm not able to put words on paper. On my iPod I have a constantly shifting playlist called "Music for Visualization" which I use to keep my mind on my creative work and get ideas. I also mentally construct partial soundtracks for movie versions of my novels this way.
The actual musical selections are very eclectic. There is a focus on what might be called "world music," in other words music that is wholly or partially different from the American mainstream. One genre that often attracts me is "Asian fusion" music; another is Arabic music, including bellydance music. That said, I do have a lot of classical, and a broad mix of pop from many categories and generations.
Here are some examples: The track above is called "Further East" and it's a New Age Asian fusion track by James Asher which I am currently using. The track below I listened to for a long time, although I only recently got a translation of the lyrics to learn what it was about. It's a Turkish pop song called Altay - Kocari. Finally, you can't lose with the Gipsy Kings.
So are you here to promote anything? I would like to get readers for my School of the Ages series. You can also get it for Nook and other e-book readers and in paperback from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Come to my website, leave a comment on my page at the Independent Author Network, click like on my Facebook Fan Page and follow me on Twitter.