EP: What kinds of things inspire your writing?
JM: Words, ideas, things, and people. I especially like the dance of incongruity and paradox. Example: for decades I’ve had an idea for a story about a group of MENSA (smartypants folks) who are introducing a new member into the group, an unmarried man with an IQ of 165. Presently one of the group’s favorite people is a single woman, also with an IQ of 165. The MENSA folks are fascinated by this fact and are sure that, somehow, these 2 folks are “meant for each other.” Of course, most people would say that the idea is just too silly to take in such “smart” people. They’re wrong, of course, because these are people who have been brought together by something almost as silly, and they honor numbers, for it’s numbers that are so important to their self-images. Thus, they are vulnerable to such a galloping fatuity. Are you still skeptical? Well, I haven’t written the story yet, but a great part of the challenge in making it work would be to make it credible. So will I ever duet? Ask my other self, this one simply doesn’t know.
What is your writing environment like?
My study is next to our master bedroom, in a house whose original part was built in 1835, on 9 and a half-acres of hilly, wooded SE Ohio land. I live mind-deep in this country, for it is my heritage. My wife of 64 years knows my ways and is happy to let me retire into my head, where in this regard, all the action will be facing me.
Tell us about a poem, story you’ve written that has special meaning to you?
Almost impossible to cite a single work, for all of them are intellectual, philosophical probes into some aspect of my unlived life. If you love life, one isn’t enough; that’s why we read fiction and why we write it.
Who are some of the authors you like to read?
Early influences: Balzac, Thomas Hardy (especially Jude), Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, George Simenon, Emerson (especially his wonderful journals), the short stories of A.E. Coppard and John O’Hara, et al. Today, the bibliomysteries of John Dunning, the essays (plus the novels, Kitty Foyle and John Mistletoe) of Christopher Morley, Michael Connelly, Rex Stout (of the perhaps 2 dozen novels I’ve reread, about a half dozen are Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries), et al.
What things do you like to do to get away from pen and paper?
I love to drive around in the beautiful southeastern Ohio hill country, stopping at yard sales (I like to learn things from people who don’t know they’re teaching me), thrift stores (I love to play the consumer game and win—or at least, think I’m winning. Here, as in so much, appearance is good and reality can just go fish).
What do you hope readers find in your writing?
I regard all my fiction as philosophical probes, hypotheses exploring the ways in which one thing leads to another. Simplistic? Not as I mean it, for seeing how one thing leads to another is not restrictive, for it allows for radical juxtapositions, wild imaginative flights, the utmost of speculation. (Where else could any conceivable “next” come from but there?) Lately, I’ve had George MacDonald’s couplet running through my head: “Where did you come from, Baby Dear? / Out of the Everywhere into the Here.” That’s not just true of babies; it’s true of ideas, as well—especially story ideas.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like for them to know the answers to all of the great questions that for millennia have tormented the human biped, and then I’d like for them to tell me those answers. Actually (if I may use the word), much that is relevant to these interesting questions is worked over in great detail in my eBook on writing, A Worker’s Writebook, just published by The Personville Press in Texas. They’re also going to reprint my first novel, Hanger Stout, Awake!, which upon publication in 1967 was praised by a lot of good people, including Eudora Welty, and later listed as William Stafford’s only title in an ANTAEUS series on “Neglected books of the 20th century.” (Stafford was an NBA-Award poet.)
In 1964, they moved to Athens, where Matthews joined the English Department at Ohio University. They still live in the country near Athens. He and Barbara have 3 grown children, 7 grown grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren, with another on the way. During Spring 2010, he is teaching one course on his 2nd post-retirement contract, collecting old and rare books, and, of course, writing.
He takes great pleasure in despising the current generation, which he calls “an indulgence which has forever been the prerogative of old geezers.” He continues, ”I also enjoy contemplating the Dumbing of America. Do you suppose we deserve it? Possibly; we’re a woefully imperfect species—which fact provides limitless material for a writer.”
check out Jack’s essay, “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Untold Tale,” in The Chronicle Review