I don’t believe in chance meetings. I think most everything in life has some sort of meaning…. on a weekend afternoon stroll through Historic Downtown Saint Charles, my family and I dropped into Main Street Books bookshop and author Matthew S. Field was signing copies of his then newly released novel The Dream Seeker. Now, it’s your turn to meet him…
Let’s start with The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking,and Baseball. In this book, what do you offer as your most practical piece of advice? Your most emotional? Your most spiritual?
Your first question is the most difficult of the three, I think. If I had to pick one, though, it would be “Maintain your routines.” While “Having a fruit or vegetable with every meal” is also extremely practical and pays dividends to the single dad and his children in many ways, continuing with the same habits and schedules after a tragedy, like the loss of a spouse, is an important starting point for a single father family. By persisting in those routines, whether they include Girl Scout meetings on Tuesdays after school, Taekwondo classes on Saturday mornings, or family movie night on Fridays, children find comfort and solace in consistency. In addition to the health benefits of having regular meal times and bed times, familiarity in routine is a subtle reminder to the family that, although life may have significantly changed, things will be all right.
From an emotional perspective, understanding that “There is no wrong way to grieve… as long as you don’t hurt anyone in the process” is the most important rule. Regardless of how the single father’s community or society believes a man should grieve the loss of his spouse, knowing that it’s all right to express emotions–or not, when it’s appropriate to seek companionship, when or whether to remarry, and so forth, knowing it’s all right to sort those things out are critical to becoming an effective parent.
I cited I Am Third, in which Gale Sayers explains that he believes he is third behind God and the people close to him. While I respect Mr. Sayers perspective, I don’t think that formula works for a single father. In short, a single dad really does have to take care of himself first, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually before he can be the sort of parent, the sort of man that he has to be to negotiate the obstacles he’ll face. So, the popular metaphor that I borrowed, “Put on your oxygen mask first,” is probably the most spiritual, or perhaps philosophical, of the “Single Father Golden Rules” in The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball.
You have authored three diverse children’s books, but is there a shared depth from which all three of these books stem?
Clearly, each of the three children’s books I’ve written or co-written, Father Like a Tree, The Three Pigs, Business School, and Wolfe Hash Stew, and Sometimes, My Dad and I, share a common theme.
While I do not want to imply that my work is in the same category as these writers (yet), Ernest Hemingway could not help but include World War II either directly or in subtext and the same goes for Kurt Vonnegut about the bombing of Dresden. There have been precious few events in my life that have had as profound an effect on me as becoming a father has. In everything I’ve written, my experiences, attitudes, and values relate to fatherhood and my three children.
In Father Like a Tree, which I think may be the best thing I’ve published so far, (beginner’s luck), two plot lines advance simultaneously as three baby birds learn from their mother about relationships, family, and life. In The Three Pigs, Business School, and Wolfe Hash Stew, the three pigs grow up in a home where love, respect, and trust are valued, each excels in school, and then prepare for careers so that they may make a contribution to society.
See the pattern?
Both books had been written prior to the loss of my wife to complications of breast cancer in 2005 although both were published subsequently. Now, of course, I know my writing is heavily tinted with my feelings related to that experience.
Co-authoring a book with your young son is a beautiful message in and of itself, even from afar. How did your collaboration process work? (What do you wish to share about the writing process in this endeavor?)
Writing and publishing Sometimes, My Dad and I was a pretty special experience, although, to be honest, the book really was my son’s idea.
As I looked through his home/school folder one spring day near the end of his first grade year, I found a “blue book.” I opened and read the blue book and found the story. His original manuscript didn’t have a title and each of the five pages began, “Sometimes, my dad and me, sometimes…” and described an activity that he and I do together, like play catch or read. I think I knew at that moment that I wanted to publish it.
I could talk about every detail of the process, but for the sake of brevity, he and I talked about every step, from editing and adding pages to choosing an illustrator. Now, together we have a beautiful, lasting, and tangible tribute to our own relationship. It’s something that we’ll always have and, hopefully, something that will affect father/son relationships for many years to come.
In the pages of The Dream Seeker you constructed flow containing uncomfortable surprises, vivid details, and much spirit and heart. As all writers know, the life of the book is sometimes wildly different from your original plan. Did anything surprise you about the story as you wrote it?
While I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this until now, The Dream Seeker is autobiographical fiction, and I intentionally chose to break some rules when I wrote it. Frankly, I wanted the readers to feel something about what they read in the book; creating “uncomfortable surprises” was one of the ways that I achieve that. (Based on some of the feedback I’ve heard, readers did have some pretty strong feelings about the story.) Almost the entire book is a metaphor for many of my experiences as a widower. However, the first twenty pages or so are pretty much the synopsis of my own personal experience on the morning my wife died.
Was I surprised by anything about the story as I wrote it? For the most part, no. I had created the characters a couple of years before I wrote a single word of the manuscript. I’d regularly revisit the character outlines and make changes or additions, so I knew Quinn, Skylar, and the rest of the folks pretty well. I also had an outline, which, for the most part, I followed. So, when a character acted or reacted in one way or another as the story progressed, he or she was only doing what he or she was supposed to do.
There was one moment that I hadn’t planned and it made the story quite a bit more interesting. If I’m specific about that opportunity, I’m afraid that I’d be spoiling an important part of the story for people who haven’t yet read The Dream Seeker. For the folks who have read it, though, a hint, it relates to someone Quinn met when he was in Spain…should be enough.
Do you have any future novels either still developing in your mind or actually in the works “on paper”?
First, the next installment in non-fiction series, The Single Father’s Guide, is finished and will be published in 2014 by Arundel Publishing. The working title is The Single Father’s Guide to Dating.
In the realm of fiction, I have several projects that are in various stages of completion. First, I’m working on a collection of short stories entitled Oedipal Arrangements. I’m also in the early planning stages of transforming The Dream Seeker into a trilogy, and, believe it or not, I’m also developing a truly unique perspective of the life of Jesus.
Finally, I’m working with celebrated photographer, Kathie Austin, to create an inspirational calendar for women and the families of women who have been affected by breast cancer. “The Seasons of Hope Calendar” will be released by Matting Leah Publishing for the 2015 calendar year.
You are also a publisher. Why did you establish this corner in your writing world? What kind of works is your company currently seeking to publish?
After I wrote Father Like a Tree in 2004 but before I published it, I showed the manuscript to friend, business associate, and publisher Alan Adelson, who wrote Lodz Ghetto and directed In Bed With Ulysses. Rather than publishing the book, he asked, “Why don’t you become a publisher yourself? I’ll help you.” I did and he did, and I’ve operated a micro-publisher ever since that day.
When wearing my business manager hat, I’m extremely selective about the manuscripts that I publish. Frankly, I need to feel very comfortable that a manuscript will bear ample fruit in the form of book sales. I’m currently speaking with the heir to a non-fiction manuscript describing a man’s personal interactions with Babe Ruth during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Although I have not yet been able to have a conversation with Steve Bartman, I would very much be interested in publishing his personal memoir about the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field. I have worked with authors in the context of a “cooperative publishing agreement,” in which the author and I partner in producing a piece of literature. Most recently, I worked with author, St. Louis native, and Lafayette High School alumna, Allison Redfern, on her non-fiction title, Porcelain Angel: A Daughter’s Journal of a Mother’s Journey Through Multiple Sclerosis.
For more on Matthew S. Field…