About Matthew Dickerson:
Matthew Dickerson was raised on books. He fell in love with reading at an early age, and by the time he was in high school he realized he needed to write as well as read. “I love to write,” he says. “I want to put thoughts into words and images, or to discover my thoughts from my words. I am especially moved by story. Telling stories is a process of discovery for me. I get to know my characters by seeing how they act in certain situations. Even much of my non-fiction takes a narrative form.”
Dickerson’s writing is broad and diverse. He has published historical novels, fantasy novels, works of creative non-fiction on fly-fishing and ecology, a biography about a singer-songwriter, a work on the philosophy of mind, and several books and book chapters about fantasy and mythopoeic literature–with a special interest in environmental aspects of the writings of J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. “I love to craft essays as well as discover and tell stories. Writing is a great way for me to learn. I write books that I would want to read. It has to be something I care about, something I can learn about, and something I think I can write well.”
Although Dickerson has traveled to all but a handful of the United States–and caught trout in more than half of them–he has lived his entire life in the northeast: in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and currently Vermont where he teaches at Middlebury College and for twelve years was director of the New England Young Writers Conference at Bread Loaf. He is a member of the Chrysostom Society and the OWAA (Outdoor Writers Association of America).
Some of his favorite books are: “A River Runs Through It” (N.Maclean), “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion” (J.R.R.Tolkien), “The Book of the Dun Cow” (W.Wangerin), “The Horse and his Boy” (C.S.Lewis), “Tell it Slant” (E.Peterson), “Beyond Identity” (D.Keyes), and “Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing” (P.Kreeft).
A few of his other favorite authors include: Stephen Lawhead, Madeleine L’Engle, Wendell Berry, Luci Shaw, Gina Ochsner, Jeffrey Overstreet, Robert Siegel, and Jim Schaap.
What inspires you to write?
My fiction is largely inspired by character. I begin with characters, and I tell stories to get to know them: to discover what my characters are like by the decisions they make. My imagination is always seeing these stories unfold. I think entering into the stories of others (whether they are stories I am writing or stories I am reading) also helps me to learn empathy. With my fantasy novels, I also enjoy exploring new worlds–landscapes, histories, cultures, food, etc.–as my characters travel around them.
With my non-fiction, I think writing just gives me an opportunity to think carefully about, and learn about, something important. I also just love the process of finding the right words for the thoughts I have: searching for an image or a narrative structure that will carry an idea.
Tell us about your writing process.
My fiction is very much a process of discovery. I really don’t know where my stories are going until I write them. I sit down, and imaginatively enter into my story, and I find out what happens next. It is partly a matter of watching events unfold, but even more a matter of getting to know my characters. I throw dilemmas or choices at my characters and see how they respond. The decisions of my characters really drive my fiction.
My creative narrative non-fiction is a bit similar in that I see how the story carries me. Of course I am beginning with a story that already happened, and describing it. So the story itself (since it is non-fiction) is not what I am discovering. What I am discovering is the reason for telling that story. I don’t necessarily begin a creative essay with a theme in mind; I discover the theme as I go.
My other non-fiction writing is quite different. I usually have a well-developed outline for where I want to go. It is either a sequence of topics I need to address with some sort of narrative arc, or a sequence of literary passages I want to discuss. Often there is quite a bit of research I need to do along the way.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I am mostly listening to my characters. As I noted above, I put my characters in situations requiring them to choose, or act, or respond. Then I watch, and I listen to their words and thoughts. The more I write and listen, the better I know them, and the easier it will be to know if something is not in character.
What advice would you give other writers?
The advice I have is threefold. It is not particularly original. These points have been made before, but mostly because it is good advice.
1. If you want to be a good writer, you need to write. Just sit down and do it. Put words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Then go back and revise and revise and revise. Ruthlessly. Be willing to write entire books that will never be published because after you finish them your realize they aren’t that great. But you, as a writer, are a better writer at the end than you were at the start.
2. Read. Here I will be more specific. Be mindful to read good books: books that are widely considered as well-crafted, excellent prose. And read broadly. Read the best writers from a variety of “genres”. Read “A River Runs Through It” even if you have no interest in fly-fishing, because it is a beautifully written story about much more than fly-fishing. Read a Harry Potter book even if you don’t like fantasy, and understand how J.K.Rowling creates characters that readers care about. Read a classic work of speculative science fiction: “Enders Game” or something by Arthur C. Clarke or Kurt Vonnegut. Read a great mystery novel by an author like Dorothy Sayers. Read a novel by Steinbeck (even if you read one in high school only because you had to), and a novel by Wendell Berry (even if you don’t care about farming or agrarianism), because they both know how to write about important things, and how to craft careful and compelling prose.
3. Pay attention to how other artists tell stories: poets, photographers, painters, and sculptors. Ask what you, as a writer, can learn from them.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I look for publishers who have published similar books that I would to read. I also have chosen some smaller publishers where I thought the editors would have time for me, and a personal connection to my books. I want to work with an editor who thinks my book is worthwhile.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I worry that so few people buy and read books. There are so many new books and so few people to read them. (Side note: if you want to be an author, support other authors). But I love to read and write so I keep doing it, and hope that I manage to find readers who appreciate what I have done.
What do you use?: Co-writer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: fantasy. creative non-fiction. medieval historical fiction. philosophy. fly-fishing. ecology. biography. literary criticism. eco-criticism.
What formats are your books in?: Print, Both eBook and Print, Audiobook
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.