Matthew Quick: Writing as 'Soul Medicine'

(photo: Alicia Bessette)

Matthew Quick is the bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook, which was made into an Oscar-winning film; The Good Luck of Right Now; Love May Fail; The Reason You're Alive; and four young adult novels. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages, received a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention, was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and more. The Hollywood Reporter has named him one of Hollywood's 25 Most Powerful Authors. Quick lives with his wife, the novelist Alicia Bessette, on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Shelf Awareness recently chatted with him about the power of art and his ninth novel, We Are the Light (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, November 1, 2022), which brings together the healing power of art, grief's reality-shattering weight, and the resilience of community after a mass shooting in a local movie theater.

Healing through art is a major theme of We Are the Light. What made you decide to explore this idea? Are there any specific moments from your life that spring to mind when you think about art's ability to heal?

I began writing this book during a dark period in my life when I was searching desperately for light. I have always used fiction writing (and reading) as soul medicine, but I'm not sure I ever needed it as much as I did after I got sober in 2018 and really started dealing with some of my past hurts.

I once chaperoned a high school trip to the Peruvian jungle. For a week, my students were matched up with teens living in the Amazon. On the first day, the American teens marched off to their new friends' huts proudly carrying the small gifts our guides had suggested--things like battery-powered flashlights and clocks. When my students returned to the riverboat hours later, some were solemn and a few were crying. I asked what was wrong and they lifted up the gifts they had received--beautiful handmade jewelry and intricately woven items and colorful paintings on tree bark. One student explained that she had given plastic that her parents had thoughtlessly bought at the store and yet she had received something that had taken her new friend months to craft out of natural items hand-selected from the rain forest. She was ashamed and yet, somehow, receiving the gift had been one of the most beautiful experiences of her young life. It opened her eyes to the humanity of others. My students were mostly privileged kids who were used to getting what they wanted. But they weren't used to receiving art from people deeply connected with their culture and surroundings. Thinking back now, I imagine the complicated emotions were due to being gifted something soulful that my students didn't feel they deserved. Some people might call that grace.

Some of the biggest influences in Lucas's life are other men who support him and express their love for him in defiance of stereotypes about masculinity. What draws you toward portraying emotionally deep male friendships and what do they mean to you?

It takes positive masculinity to defeat toxic masculinity. I've become platonically intimate with men who helped get me through my aforementioned dark period. My closest male friends express their feelings and are often heroic with their caretaking. Men have been historically stereotyped as non-supportive and competitive, but I have received a lot of love and support from men in my peer groups over the years. This was even true when I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in the '80s. I remember the self-proclaimed toughest boy in my junior high regularly putting his arm around me on the basketball court and telling me he loved me at a time when I really needed that. Far too often we shame our men out of their ability to love and be loved.

What were the challenges of writing about the emotionally charged topic of a mass shooting in a movie theater?

This storyteller has always considered movie theaters to be sacred places. My wife and I have often said that going to the movies is our church. Learning about the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colo., forever changed my moviegoing experience. I still to this day make sure I know where the exits are when I go to a theater and I always scan the room for signs of trouble, sometimes mid-film. When I obsess about a topic, I tend to write about it. I find that writing about such an emotional subject requires an objective mind-frame. Slipping into Lucas's dissociated state provided the distance I needed to find my way into the story.

What kind of self-care did you practice as you wrote about trauma and its aftershocks?

In many ways, writing is self-care. Fiction is where I go to try and make sense of the world. It's where I process my feelings. When I began writing WATL, I was about a hundred hours into Jungian analysis and reading a lot of Jungian-related books, many of which had to do with trauma. My analyst--whom I still see three hours a week--helped keep me stable through the creative process. Remaining sober, running and eating well are also important parts of my mental health regimen.

Why did you decide to make Jungian analysis a foundation of your main character's worldview?

I had always been Jung-curious. A few years ago, my wife turned me on to a podcast called This Jungian Life. After binging the show for a few weeks, I entered into Jungian analysis and then Jungian thought began to radically reshape who I am. The goal of Jungian analysis is individuation, which involves integrating the split-off parts of us in an effort to become whole again. That's exactly what Lucas Goodgame needs to do.

In your acknowledgments, you mentioned that you had severe writer's block for years before writing this story. How did you work through it?

For decades alcohol helped me stoically deny the intense emotional and psychological pain I had been carrying since I was very young. When I stopped drinking, so much bubbled up and demanded to be felt. It was overwhelming. Since fiction writing has long been my best mental health maintenance tool, writer's block felt like a particularly cruel reward for my sobriety. I'm an intuitive creative type, so when I lost the ability to feel my way into a character and a narrative, it was like losing one of my senses. When it started to affect my livelihood, it was emasculating. Through Jungian analysis, I've come to suspect that psyche temporarily shut down my writing so that I would focus on healing, which I did pretty much exclusively for a few years. That, of course, happily led to the writing of WATL. Reconnecting with my creativity was perhaps the best high I have ever felt, and I've never been more grateful for the opportunity to publish a novel.--Jaclyn Fulwood

Powered by: Xtenit