Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Interview with Author Matt Posner

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It's been a while since we've had an author interview on here, so grab a cuppa and and have a seat. Matt Posner, author of the School of the Ages series is here to discuss...well, his books, among other things. From the snippets I've read, I have to say this series looks to be a fun ride about a kid in NYC who attends a quirky school of magic.

Without further ado, welcome to Unwritten again, Matt. And I say again because you've been here before, as the winner of the "What'd Ya Say" dialogue writing contest in August of last year. Now, tell us a little about yourself. What do you do when you're not writing about magically-inclined teenagers?

When not writing about magically-inclined teenagers, I write about other things. :-)
I'm a high school teacher. I teach English and I specialize in kids with learning disabilities.
I also tutor for SAT and other types of test preparation.
Also, I'm a voice and musical performer for The Exploration Project, an avant-garde multimedia band. I write and perform original poetry and use a variety of percussion and electronic instruments. There are some of our tracks on my youtube channel mixed in with my promotional videos. My Kindle book Vampire Poet has a good selection of the poetry I perform. The group also contains a guitarist who does electronica, a horn player who does electronica, and a painter. Our performances are always mostly improvised. We don't rehearse, but evolve our music as we go by reacting to each other.

I've been perusing your book's website, and came across this description:
The School of the Ages series, set to be five books in length, tells the tale of the young magician Leicester Moore, who calls himself Simon Magus, as he develops his magical power at America's Greatest Magic School -- School of the Ages. Simon is accompanied in his painful growth by an exciting cast of allies and enemies, including his best friend, Goldberry, a tart-tongued and beautiful English girl; Robbie Ravitz, his roommate who likes to summon elementals; Yakov Mermelstein, a big and volatile Chasidic cabalist; his stern teacher Dr. Solomon Archer; and many many more. It's NOT Harry Potter -- it's real magic in the world we know -- it's School of the Ages. 
I can see why some might compare your books to Harry Potter, so for the sake of our readers here, what makes School of the Ages (and its protagonist Simon) different from that other series?

My series have a definite American flavor, and they’re multicultural, incorporating characters and magical traditions that are very diverse. This reflects the melting-pot character of New York City, the main setting. Also, my magic system is very realistic, and you will feel like you are learning magic the way people would really do it if they did it. There is no whimsy, no allegorical names. I’m realistic and I’m serious. Also, the events in the story are tied into the real world. Simon, my protagonist, and his friends aren’t living in a separate isolated realm, but in the same society that we live in, and their feelings are truthful, raw and painful. I’m not making a mythology, and I’m not telling a story about ultimate evil and prophecy and the ultimate conflict, but a story about people. As Simon and the others grow up, we will see how they mature and change as they confront challenges, but those challenges are close and personal to them.

Oh, and I use religion in my books. Magic comes from God, and religious beliefs and history are incorporated and explored.

Also, I can’t help it, being a teacher:  all the teachers at School of the Ages are good. Not a wicked, selfish, cruel one in the bunch. They are all there because they want to help and take care of kids, just like the teachers I see with every day in the city high school where I work.

But J.K. Rowling is better-looking than me; she wins that point. 

Mysti: As any true gentleman would admit.

If I had it to do again, I would not write about a magic school because I think it is hurting sales when people think my books are Harry Potter knockoffs, but some day they will be saying my stuff is better.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you have other occupations on your "when I grow up" list?

I decided when I was twelve that I wanted to be a writer. I began writing novels immediately, and submitted my first novel to a publisher when I was sixteen. It didn’t work out, but I got pretty close!

While I was in college, I decided to train to be a college professor also. I’m actually pretty good at that job, but the profession took a nose dive in the early 90s with the nigh-elimination of the tenure track system, and I decided to move on and train to teach high school. In New York City, it’s a union job with benefits and security, the best thing I could seek for my wife and me. Five years later, Mayor Bloomberg decided to begin attacking my union, and his media tools have engaged in systematic assault upon my profession as part of really a nationwide anti-teacher movement. So it’s a scary time for the teaching profession. Guys, we love kids! It’s not our fault! Teaching has become the only profession in which experienced people are considered inferior to young and inexperienced ones. The young teachers don’t think that – they always come to us veterans for support and ideas. Only the people trying to cut salaries have the ludicrous view that all experienced teachers are incompetent leeches. WE AREN’T. One more time, we love your kids, we get better with experience, and we work hard. Please stop trying to fire us!  

Mysti: Amen, Matt! Teachers are my heroes!

From my snooping, I discovered that you moved to NYC from Florida in 1999. How has that move influenced your career, and what are the ins an outs of living in such a large city?

Did you hear that Nietzsche wrote “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger”? Yes, he did write it, but he wrote it as an example of the foolish beliefs of uneducated people. If you say, “Overcoming obstacles by hard struggle makes me stronger,” then you are closer to a usable statement. And that’s New York. If I had stayed in Florida, I might not have made much progress in my career. Florida was economically dead then, and it’s worse now. Being exposed to the hard-knocks life of New York City makes you stronger, as it has for me. I work harder and complain less and have more ideas in the city than I did in Miami. People are nicer and drive more safely here than they do in South Florida, incidentally. 

Mysti: I have yet to travel to NYC, but my husband did and was pleasantly surprised at how nice everyone was--even to him, a Kentucky boy!

The ins and outs of living in such a large city – well, for me, it’s about squeezing the most out of time. I always want to be doing something during the day. While driving, I do a lot of creative thinking and use audiobooks and podcasts and Kindle text-to-speech reader in order to take in information. Even at home, if we’re watching TV, I have my iPad on my lap. I read magazines in the bathroom. I check my email in the middle of the night. The hugeness of the city is manageable if you focus on the parts of it you need to frequent. I almost never go to the Bronx or Staten Island or the northern part of Manhattan Island.

It looks like you earned your MFA (Masters in Fiction Writing) from the University of Alabama in 1996. I've asked this of other authors. Did you find the program worth it in terms of time and money spent, and would you recommend other aspiring writers to consider getting their MFA?

I wanted to be a college professor. The MFA is the final degree for a professor of creative writing, although the Ph.D. is better. I got the degree with the goal of moving on to be an academic fiction professor. I didn’t spend any money to go to Alabama, as I had a fellowship and then two years of teaching assistantships. I definitely got my money’s worth. It was a bitter place full of infighting, and I soon became a pariah when I was perceived as an arrogant intellectual bully. Ultimately, none of the regular creative-writing professors were willing to sponsor my thesis, and they brought in a guest faculty member to take care of me and a few others in the same position. That professor, upon reviewing my work, told me he was surprised to see how high-quality was the work of the students he had been asked to handle. We had political problems; we weren’t poor writers, you know? So I think it was a pretty bad experience. I had writer’s block for almost TEN YEARS after that. I am now starting to reconnect with my classmates of that time, very slowly, using Facebook, and perhaps I will bring some of them over in time to the ranks of subversive indies like you and me, Mysti! 

Mysti: If you bring them, I will interview them--it's Field of Dreams, Unwritten-style!

I do not recommend MFA programs or academic fiction training for aspiring writers. Academic writing is different than the kind of writing that sells, and I don’t find that MFAs have a better track record than people with other types of writing-intensive education.

If you've seen any of my other author interviews here, you know everyone gets a random question. Here is yours: What is on the walls of the room in which you are sitting?

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There is a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in scaffolding in Paris, and two paintings of flowers, and a Ganesha clock. Also in the room are two small color field paintings by my wife and a miniature of a snowy landscape, some ceramics, and a picture of me in Prague; these things are all on the bookshelves amid the books. Not hung yet are a woodcarving of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer made by my late grandfather, Morris Posner; and a scary-looking kabuki doll given to my wife Julie by our friend James Rogauskas, the author of Office Haiku. I am listening to a CD called Asian Drums by Kiyoshi Yoshida and I have on the desk by me the audiobook of Adam Mansbach’s Go the F* to Sleep

Mysti: Thank you for giving me a nightmare about scary-looking kabuki dolls. *shudder*

Finally, Mr. Posner, would you mind sharing an excerpt from the School of the Ages series?

Sure. Here’s a sample from book two, Level Three’s Dream. Simon has just met Level Three and is learning about his unusual mental power.
 I was standing on a dirt road with grassy slopes on either side. Pine trees and large boulders and a rippling brook were nearby. The sun shone in a cloudless sky. Booming thumps from behind me. I turned. 
A man the size of a building was behind me. He wore leather sandals, a loincloth, and a Robin Hood hat and held a wooden club as long as a pickup truck. 
“Fee fi fo fun,” he trumpeted. “I am the giant Cormoran. I smell the blood of a magician.” 
Was this some kind of mind trick I’d never heard of before? I didn’t like it, and I wanted out. I responded. “Fee fi fo fred. Get off my case and go soak your head.” 
The giant’s shadow engulfed me as he lowered his face toward me. That face was Level Three’s face turned monstrous. His breath was like a taco restaurant dumpster. “I’ll hurt you, little boy.” 
“You look like a giant,” I said, “but you need to grow up.”
           I saw the girl, Lorena, step into the shadow next to me. “Let him go, Linus,” she said calmly.

          “He interrupted me,” said the giant. “He’s a little jerk.”

           I struggled for some weapon or technique I could use against him. Could I be a giant too? Or create a sword? I tried to reach behind me for a rock, as I had in my real-world fight that day, but nothing happened. I was totally helpless, trapped in Level Threes world. Lorena kept scolding her brother.

           Then I was back in Amsterdam Auditorium. I was on the edge of panic, my breaths coming fast. He had made me lose my cool, in a way the fight earlier had not. My continuous defense, taught to me by the School of the Ages teachers, was gone, too. Wobbly, I grabbed him by the shirt front. “I’ll kill you if you do that again,” I shouted at him. “I will kill you, you hear me?” 

Thank you SO much for appearing on Unwritten. I do hope you can make it back here very soon!


Matt is giving away the first four (4) handwritten, signed pages of his manuscripts for The Ghost in the Crystal and Level Three's Dream, shipped by him to a US or Canadian winner!

Please take advantage of this very unique prize and leave a comment with your email like this: mystiparker(at)yahoo(dot)com.

I will draw a winner exactly one week from today. Good luck!!

Don't worry! Your manuscript will be soaked in lime
and scraped clean before it is hung to dry. Not really.


  1. As usual-great interview, Mysti! I'm most intrigued by what motivates writers and their work. I must say that Matt makes me feel like a super slacker for all the good work he is involved with!

    As a sometime teacher myself,it's refreshing to know that there are teachers out there who can really light up the world for their students!

  2. What a great giveaway. Great interview, love to learn about new to me authors. I love to read and always looking for new stuff to check out. Liked the excerpt. Thanks for the giveaway and the chance to win.

  3. Oh wow - this is a unique giveaway! I have been considering buying these for a while, I have them on my wish list. Thanks for the great interview, Mysti!

  4. Thanks for commenting, Bree, Chris, and Amy! First handwritten pages I've had the privilege of giving away :)

  5. Alrighty then! Miss Amy has won the first page of "The Ghost in the Crystal" and Chris has won the first page of "Level Three's Dream". Enjoy!!


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