After book and film success, Matthew Quick settles back into writing
Matthew Quick has looked through the silver lining.
“It’s funny, when you start writing you say, ‘I want to be a fiction writer’ and you really have no idea what that means,” said Quick. When his debut 2008 novel “The Silver Linings Playbook” not only became a New York Times best-seller but was also made into an acclaimed 2013 Oscar-winning movie, he started to find out.
Interviews, appearances, responding to people on the social network … “beautiful distractions,” as he has called them. But for a writer who likes to “shut the door and go back to the page and be with my characters again,” it was time away from work.
“My life the last five or six years has really been about adjusting. I’m just starting now to get my footing,” he said.
Quick has kept writing, and his sixth novel, “Love May Fail” (Harper; $25.99), is out this month.
“There’s a real transition from high school teacher to walking the red carpet at the Oscars,” Quick said. He had written “The Silver Linings Playbook” in the basement of the home of his in-laws, with whom Quick and his wife, composer, pianist and fellow novelist Alicia Bessette, lived for three years.
The couple subsequently bought a house of their own in Holden, Massachusetts. Quick, who has acknowledged his struggles with depression, anxiety and mood swings, was “extremely burnt out” after several years teaching high school in New Jersey.
“Silver Linings” focuses on two psychologically damaged characters starting to connect with each other.
With the success of the novel, some people tended to think Quick’s own story was one of “super-rising fame,” he recalled. “But that wasn’t really the case.”
Still, Quick would also readily acknowledge that there have been silver linings to “Silver Linings.”
“It’s been interesting. As ‘Silver Linings’ got attention, a lot of my students have reconnected with me. There are things they’ve been thinking about for 15 years and I have no recollection of.”
Students have told Quick how much they appreciated his classes, even that “ ‘I’m writing, too’ … That really gave me a tremendous amount of fuel,” Quick said.
In “Love May Fail,” Portia flees her marriage to wealthy but sleazy Ken in Florida and heads back to the south New Jersey of her youth to try and find the one person she feels believed in her — Mr. Vernon, her old high school English teacher.
Schools and teachers show up quite frequently in Mr. Quick’s work (so far consisting of three adult novels and three young adult novels). It may have been a while since Quick, 41, taught, but the experience has had reverberations on both sides of the echo chamber.
“I would say as a teacher and a student I’ve had teachers who were influential in my life,” he said during a recent telephone interview.
Quick had gone into teaching “thinking I can save the world.”
Originally from Philadelphia, he grew up in Oaklyn, New Jersey, and graduated from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, where he met Bessette, who is also a La Salle graduate. Quick had double-majored in English and secondary education and taught high school literature and film in southern New Jersey as well as coaching soccer and baseball and counseling troubled teens.
Students have also written to Quick remembering the fist pumps he had them do, and a contest for “who can say the Pledge of Allegiance with the most gusto … “
“You always think about teachers having impact. When you’re on the other end of that, it can be overwhelming. I started to think about responsibility. One of my former students is a cardiologist. What did I know at 24 to teach them?”
Portia finds out in “Love May Fail” that Mr. Vernon is no longer a teacher. Indeed, we learn that he has no desire to return to the profession. There is no autobiographical parallel between Quick and Vernon, but Quick noted, “When I left (teaching), I felt I had given everything I had for seven years.”
Quick wanted to write, which with the support of his wife he was able to follow through on.
It could be said that “Love May Fail,” without giving anything away, is about the power of writing and literature.
Quick, however, also pointed out that the novel’s title is part of a longer quotation from novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “Love mail fail, but courtesy will prevail.”
“Little things matter. Portia going back and having concern for Mr. Vernon. It’s about taking care of the people that take care of you.”
Quick has written to his former teachers.
There will soon be writing of a different sort appearing in the book review section of newspapers in this country as “Love May Fail” is published. Awaiting the reviews is also part of the life that Quick is living. In fact, at least one review has already appeared. The headline to the review in The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney, Australia, reads “Matthew Quick’s ‘Love May Fail’ is uneven but has redeeming features.”
“I don’t worry about it,” Quick said of reviews. “It’s like trying to control the weather, right? Or planning a picnic — the storm may come, you can shake your fist, and it’s not going to do much good.”
He recalled receiving a bad review of an earlier novel from The New York Times. The following week, in the same publication, it was an editor’s pick selection, he said.
“I can read the first line and I know exactly what they’re going to say. Regardless, you’ve got to keep writing.”
Meanwhile, all of Quick’s novels since “Silver Linings” are “in development” as possible movies. Sony has “Love May Fail.”
“Anything can happen at any time,” Quick said. Even his post-”Love May Fail” novel, “Every Exquisite Thing,” to be published in 2016, has a movie development deal.
Quick has already finished “Every Exquisite Thing,” which is about about an 18-year-old female student-athlete who has “a rebellious awakening that leads to consequences.” He’s currently working on a novel about an adult son who returns home to to take care of his aging Vietnam veteran father.
Quick isn’t doing his writing in a room in a house in Holden anymore. He and his wife moved to Colington Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks 15 months ago.
“It’s less snow,” he joked. “I grew up vacationing in the Outer Banks. I always said I want to move down here at one point.”
Life isn’t turning out too badly.
“I would say life is definitely good. I’m very grateful I can make my living this way,” he said. “I don’t feel I’ve reached the top of the mountain. I get up every day to work really hard and keep my career alive.”
Contact Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette writer Richard Duckett at Richard.Duckett@telegram.com.