I took an intro to philosophy class and learned Plato’s theory of the forms,
which blew my mind with its assertions about the nature of language
and the spaces between us, the idea, the image, and reality.
After that I took an intro to creative writing class.
Those two classes, combined with some other experiences I had
outside the classroom, changed how I saw the world.
MATT MULLINS is a writer, musician, experimental filmmaker and multimedia artist. His first book, Three Ways of the Saw, debuts this week from Atticus Books, and his fiction and poetry have appeared in Mid-American Review, Pleiades, Hunger Mountain, Harpur Palate, Descant, Hobart, and a number of other print and online literary journals. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Ball State University where he is a faculty fellow with the Emerging Media Initiative. His recent works of interactive/digital literature can be found at lit-digital.com. Read excerpts, find info about readings, and more at his blog.
Book: Three Ways of the Saw
Title story: “Three Ways of the Saw”
Story at Bull: “The Bachelor’s Last”
Story: “I Am and Always Will Be”
How Matt Mullins Became a Writer
This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Matt for saying yes!
1. Why did you want to become a writer?
As soon as I understood enough about fiction and poetry to be fully impacted by the things going on inside what I was reading, I felt an immediate urge to try and join the conversation.
2. How did you go about becoming a writer?
I was a solitary kid who read a lot. Sci-fi, fantasy, history, non-fiction, all kinds of things, though nothing you’d call literary. I loved being transported by books, and wished I could do it for myself, but I never ventured to try beyond the first paragraph of a Star Wars knock off with a protagonist named Reb Starbayer.
Around age twelve I got distracted by music. I spent many hours wearing headphones and setting the needle back over the same section of an album while teaching myself how to play the guitar. I started a rock band my freshman year in high school. By my senior year we were playing high school dances. I’d go on to play in working bands for many more years.
But when a record label didn’t materialize out of nowhere to limo me off to LA the instant I graduated high school, I came back to reality and did what my parents expected me to do and went to college. I had no idea what I wanted to be. I was considering journalism. Then I took an intro to philosophy class and learned Plato’s theory of the forms, which blew my mind with its assertions about the nature of language and the spaces between us, the idea, the image, and reality. After that I took an intro to creative writing class. Those two classes, combined with some other experiences I had outside the classroom, changed how I saw the world. I became a creative writing major and started focusing on learning how to write fiction and poetry. Next thing I knew I had an MFA, a Ph.D. and manuscripts in hand.
The following is a video poem by Matt Mullins and Michael Pounds:
3. Who helped you along the way, and how?
From the standpoint of how others have helped me evolve as a writer along the way, I can say that the teachers I had in graduate school were instrumental. They exposed me to a wide spectrum of writers, taught me the language of critical examination, and showed me how fiction works. Likewise, the many excellent writers I’ve known as peers have been helpful in both practical and aesthetic ways. Every editor who’s ever encouraged me by publishing my work has also helped. But I think I’ve found the most help in the writers I’ve read. Nothing is of greater help to someone who wants to write than a great book.
4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?
Hubert Selby Jr. Diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis as a teenager while serving in the merchant marine, he was given a year to live. He underwent an experimental treatment that saved his life but essentially left him unable to work. Having no money or education or support, he supposedly said, “I know the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer.” Then by sheer force of will and hard work he became a writer of outsider fiction who ran parallel to and beyond the Beats.
Two of his novels, Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream were made into films. Along the way, his chronic pain caused him to fall into heroin addiction for a few years, but then he kicked it and remained clean for the rest of his life. He lived to be a grandfather in his seventies.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is an important book for me. It’s lyrical. It’s dark. It’s profound. It’s technically and structurally unique, and it completely humanizes people who the self-righteously judgmental in our society would consider to be moral outcasts.
5. What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
Consistency is the hobgoblin of the little mind, but that hobgoblin knows a lot of really, really good stories.
Your friend in deed,
This writer’s story has an authenticity about it, which makes me believe more for myself. Thanks for that.
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