Guys! I got to interview Morgan Matson for #UnexpectedlyEpic #MorganMatsonWeek and it was, as expected, THE BEST. Morgan is so fun and well-spoken, and I loved talking to her about everything from fantasy novels to secondary characters to Starbucks!
Want more thoughts on Morgan’s work? Bloggers and readers are weighing in today on what Morgan means to them, and one of them is giving away a mini-book necklace!
Tiff @ Mostly YA Lit: Hi Morgan, welcome to Mostly YA Lit and thanks so much for joining me on the blog today!
Let’s talk about your books, starting with the latest, The Unexpected Everything. I’d read an interview with you where you talked about how you were in Washington and saw a girl who became the basis for Andie, the adorable type A girl who’s dealing with a ton at the beginning of the book. Tell me more about how she developed.
Morgan Matson: Hey! Um, no, that didn’t happen – though I LOVE that story. I wish it was true! [Tiff’s note: *facepalm* Where did this come from? Did I dream it? ] I was in Virginia on book tour in 2014 and I went to a chili restaurant for lunch. And maybe because I was so close to DC, but I started thinking about what it would be like to grow up as the child of a politician – how that might shape you. And that was the beginning of the story. I started thinking about someone who’s basically been trained not to be vulnerable – to always think before she speaks, be aware of how all her actions could reflect on her father. And then I thought about who could be a good counterpoint to that, and that’s where Clark came from.
Tiff: Well, that story’s still pretty good. So, speaking of Clark, Andie has this fantastic romance that she stumbles into with him, and he’s a young fantasy novelist. Was there a particular reason he was a fantasy novelist? (was this your secret way of getting to play one?) Are you a fan of fantasy? And what about all that cliffhanger-y stuff where fans get mad at him for events that happen in his novels? Have you experienced that, and if not, where did that come from?
Morgan: Ha! I love that this is my secret way of being a fantasy novelist. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but maybe it’s true! Clark was definitely my way of dealing with being a writer in the most direct way that I’d ever done. Writers pop up around the fringes of my books – the screenwriter neighbors in SCS, Emily’s playwright parents in SYBG – but I’d never really dealt with novelists before. I think it was my way of thinking about what I do – it has to make its way in there somehow.
I was thinking of two things when I came up with Clark – Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon, and George R.R. Martin. I was always fascinated by the Eragon origin story, and once I became a published author, I started thinking about what that pressure would have been like at 14 or 15, and just how hard that would have been to handle.
The fan stuff really came from looking at how mad readers get at George R.R. Martin when he posts something about watching football – everyone goes crazy, because they want the next Game of Thrones book. And I was just thinking about what that must be – that kind of pressure. Since my books are standalones, I don’t get those same kinds of emails (thankfully). I liked the idea of this guy who was really young in some ways – like he’d never had the traditional friend group, high school experiences – but in other ways was a true adult.
In terms of the fantasy I read, I love Leigh Bardugo and Marie Lu’s books.
Tiff: I really have to get to Six of Crows – maybe your rec will give me the push? So Since You’ve Been Gone and The Unexpected Everything both feature really amazing girl friendships – new ones and old ones. I feel like you do a great job traversing both the high points of friendship, and the lows, like friendship break-ups. Can you touch on those highs and lows? Why has this become a more prominent theme in these books?
Morgan: It’s an interesting question! I’d never thought about the fact that the most recent two books deal with friendship more. There’s no plan to this – I’m just going with the stories that crop up when they crop up. I just tell the story that needs to be told.
For this book, I really wanted to tell the story of a long-standing group of friends, since that’s what I had in high school (there were six of us). I realized I hadn’t told the story of a group of girls who had been friends for years – and what that comes with it. And I also wanted to explore the dynamics within a group of four girls, within those friendships. It was such a big part of my high school experience, and I really wanted to address it – the good parts of it, and the more challenging aspects.
I was realizing that in all my books, the main character was suddenly meeting a brand new friend group every summer. And it just felt much more like life to jump into a long-standing friendship or friend group, rather than having a totally new social network every summer. I loved writing the scenes with the friends – it was some of my favorite stuff to write for this book.
Tiff: It was also some of my favorite stuff to read – I connected SO much with the dynamics of Andie’s friend group (thank you for that!).
All of your books have an element of a character following a plan or rules and sort of derailing them. Tell me about that – why is that one of your omnipresent themes, and were you an Andie, Emily, Amy or Taylor when you were a teen?
Morgan: I love that you’re finding all these themes I never even thought about! So awesome. I definitely wasn’t following any kind of plan when I was a teenager. I was very much just going from moment to moment. I was not a huge planner in high school – like, at ALL. I became much more like that as I got older, but not when I was a teen. And I was a lot like all of them in some way. I was a total theater kid like Amy, and I had a strong group of friends like Andie.
Tiff: Ha! I was a total Andie in high school (and Emily, with her social anxiety) – maybe that’s why I connect with them so much. And related to connection…in each of your books, the main character experiences a loss of some kind – usually of a parent, but sometimes of a friend. I feel like you have a lot of wisdom and understanding about loss, grief and healing. Why is loss such a prevalent theme in your books?
Morgan: I think that it’s just one of the realities of life – and something you experience as you start to get older. If you lose a friend, or a relationship, or a family member, it’s that first experience of grief and loss and how you handle it – either well or very badly. I feel like Emily’s loss of Sloane in SYBG is a kind of grief – she’s jarred and shocked by what has happened, and spends the whole book, in a way, trying to come to terms with it.
Tiff: Yup, I definitely think Emily is dealing with grief over Sloane – she’s asking herself why Sloane left without saying goodbye, which I think we all ask at any kind of loss of a person. She’s so lucky that she’s able to actually get some closure (as well as fresh start).
Another thing that really connects me to your books is the fact that they are so full of other people. All of your main characters inhabit these spaces where other people are not only influencers, but very much have their own lives. How much planning do you put into your secondary characters? Which one has been your favorite to write? Are you a planner or a pantser?
Morgan: Oh, I love that you like the secondary characters! I love them and they’re actually my favorite to write. I usually have to be pulled back from writing way too much about all of them. The thing about my secondary characters is that I don’t think of them as secondary. I know everything about them, and if for some reason the story had to switch perspective halfway through one of my books, I could absolutely do it. A lot of times I know too much – with the new book, my editor was like, “We don’t need to know quite this much about Palmer’s brothers and sisters (who we never see).” But I know about their families and lives beyond what we see on the page. It’s just the way I’ve always written them! It’s hard to pick favorites – but I really love Lucien from A&R, Collins from SYBG, and Toby from TUE. I loved writing those characters so much.
Tiff: I LOVED Lucien – he’s one of the characters I remembered most from A&R (how’s he doing? Is he a landscape gardener now?). And Collins and Toby 😍😍. Can we talk a bit about you? What were the books you were reading as a teen? Who do you think influenced you the most?
Morgan: The YA renaissance hadn’t really hit when I was a teen! So while I read Judy Blume when I was younger, I didn’t really discover YA as it exists now until I was in college. When I first started reading YA, Sarah Dessen, John Green, Meg Cabot and Ann Brashares were huge influences.
Tiff: YAY Ann Brashares – Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is one of my favorite series.✋🏼 So you’re working on your fifth book now. Is there anything at all you can tell us about it? General description? Is it contemporary? When is it due out?
Morgan: Yes! I can’t say too much about it right now, but it’s (hopefully) coming out in summer 2017. It’s a contemporary as well – there’s a teeny clue about it in TUE, just like a little preview of coming attractions [Tiff’s note: maybe about…the track team at Stanwich High? Or Carly at the diner? I’m just guessing, I swear I don’t know anything!].
Favorite ice cream flavor: Honey lavender from Salt & Straw in LA.
If I weren’t a writer, I’d be…in advertising
Theme song for each of your books:
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour: Nothing in Common, Jason Robert Brown AND My Father’s Gun, Elton John
Second Chance Summer: For a Dancer, Jackson Browne
Since You’ve Been Gone: Kiss Me Slowly, Parachute
The Unexpected Everything: Odds Are, Barenaked Ladies; I Heard Your Voice in a Dream, Smash soundtrack; High Dive, Andrew McMahon
You can only take an unlimited supply of one food/drink on a deserted island with you…Starbucks drinks, In-N-Out burger & fries, pizza, or ice cream? Starbucks!!
I wish someone would dare me to…write a fantasy novel!!☺
Thank you SO much, Morgan, for taking the time to talk about your writing and your books. I really appreciate how much thought goes into the story, and how much you care about your characters. I think it’s clear that your love for them really connects with us readers. Also, thank you for having great and diverse taste in music and sharing it!
Morgan is generously providing one lucky reader in the US with a signed, personalized copy of Since You’ve Been Gone. Sign up below to win, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the #MorganMatsonWeek posts!