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Q&A with Alex

Q&A #002: Alex Mattingly, Consulting Editor

Hope this finds you well. HTFYW.

The greeting of our current age. Sometimes, while typing it, certain words seem to shimmer. Or, maybe it’s just that I’m typing this after being flattened and still a bit woozy. “Sick as a dog,” a phrase used by my ancestors. Pity the dog?

We need new phrases. Certainly, one is needed for this period between being toppled and feeling slightly better. And then another for that space between better and…well. I’m guessing these phrases already exist somewhere with a multitude of bike lanes and free day care. If so, please share.

Regardless, I do HTFYW, and arrive (at a safe distance) bearing gifts.

The tiniest first—we’ve extended the deadline for Playing Authors to December 1. We’re absolutely thrilled to start sending out acceptance letters later this month, but also wanted to expand time a bit. So if you haven’t submitted yet, you still can. Submission guidelines can be found here. Send us your best 3,000 words or less.

Also, we’re going to wait to open General Submissions until December 1. We’re excited to read your strange, uncategorizable work, 30,000 words or less, but take some time and set your course for December.

Now, for the real gift—our Q&A with OIP Consulting Editor, Alex Mattingly. An incredible writer, reader, and editor, Alex is also a spectacular human. I could effuse for days about Alex’s skills and knowledge, and the countless ways I’ve benefited over the years for knowing him, but here’s the short version: I love the way Alex’s mind works and his generosity as a writer/reader/editor/person inspires me. Folks, A. Mattingly is the real deal. I’m so grateful and absolutely stoked to be building OIP with him.

Without further ado, it’s time for (announcer voice) Nine Questions: The Alex Mattingly Edition:

Question #01:

At OIP, we love the fact that everyone has their own set of “classics” (i.e., books, songs, recipes, comics, food, objects, movies, shows, etc. that shaped you). What were some of your favorite childhood “classics”?

Alex:

My personal canon was heavily influenced by a belief/obsession with the paranormal. I read anything by Daniel Cohen I could get my hands on, which was a surprising number of books given that my only source was our small town library. I constantly checked out his book The Encyclopedia of Monsters, and I think what was so captivating about him was that he treated monsters and UFOs and ghosts as serious topics of study. There was this tantalizing sense of glimpsed mystery that completely captured my imagination. More than anything, I wanted to experience it too. I wanted to see UFOs, or ghosts, or the Loch Ness Monster—anything to prove conclusively that the world was bigger and stranger than what the adults in my life could imagine.

Question #02:

Where would your adventure be set: underwater or in space?

Alex:

Definitely underwater. When I was a kid, my mom tried to explain to me the plot of The Poseidon Adventure by telling me it was about people trapped on an upside down ship. I assumed that meant the ship had sunk, and that everyone on board had to form a new society inside the ship on the bottom of the sea. I thought it was a great premise, and was sorely disappointed when I found out that's not what the movie was about. On the other hand, it left me free to write my version, a novel called Sunk, which I'm now in the process of revising. Misunderstandings are a great source of story ideas.

Christmastime at the Mattinglys. Here I'm trying to keep a gyroscope balanced on a thin piece of string. This is still my expression whenever things go a bit wobbly.

Question #03:

Favorite word / font / letter?

Alex:

I love Cambria, both the font and the word. As a word, it has a nice ricochet to it—the kick of the C rebounding back on your tongue. As a font, I think it has a respectable serif appeal with the cliche that's become of Times New Roman.

Question #04:

What are some things you enjoy doing off-screen? (*your very own digital disruption):

Alex:

I love riding my bike more than just about anything, although I'm a very leisurely rider. I'm also a member in good standing of my local fossil club, so a couple times a year I'll join the gang out in a quarry somewhere and dig up some ancient brachiopods or small bits of trilobite. There's something mind-boggling about the volume of fossils you find when you reach the right depth in the ground. It feels like actual magic when you reach a geologic strata that's suddenly teeming with signs of ancient life.

I spent a morning digging at the bottom of a quarry with my local fossil club, where I found a small deposit full of horn coral and brachiopods. It's very surreal, descending through all those layers of empty rock until suddenly you're standing ankle-deep inside the floor of an ancient sea.

Question #05:

Snacks while you work–yes/no? If yes, what’s your go-to?

Alex:

Not very often, although I recently read that Patricia Highsmith would write in bed and smoke cigarettes and eat cookies, which makes me think I'm doing things all wrong.

Question #06:

What are some of your favorite tools-of-the-trade?

Alex:

I like low-pressure tools, especially cheap notebooks. When I started writing seriously, one of the first things I did was go out and buy some nice notebooks, because that seemed like a way to prove I really meant it. But the problem I have with Moleskines is that my first drafts and journal notes never seem worthy of an expensive notebook. I work better with something so cheap it almost feels disposable, so my house is now filled with $2 5" x 7" Mead notebooks that I can scribble in without feeling like I'm defacing a beautiful object.

Question #07:

You are hosting a party. Who’s coming? Where and when? What’s being served?(Fictional characters and locales are welcome.)  

Alex:

The best conversations at parties always seem to happen in kitchens or on porches, so I think I would start by constructing a building with no other rooms—just one kitchen after another, each with an exterior door that leads to yet another porch. People love going to parties just to squirrel away with their favorite people and hide from everyone else, and I find that very endearing.

Posing deliriously with a replica tyrannosaurus skull, on loan to a local school from Chicago.

Question #08:

What mashups do you wish existed?

Alex:

This is a dangerous question, because as soon as I say something someone will chime in to point out that actually that mashup already exists. So I'm going to use this question to solicit book recommendations. My favorite book of all-time is Christopher Isherwood's "A Single Man," and I love books that take place in a single day and yet give you the full depth and life of a character. I'd like to see what a science fiction writer would do with that constraint—how do you create a speculative world and give the reader enough context and detail, while restricting the action to a single day? I'm sure someone has done it, so I'd love to hear who's done it well.

Question #09:

Any recommendations for the OIP community? What have you been enjoying this summer? (Or, something you are working on that you would like to share?)

Alex:

Lately I feel like I've been engaged in a fight to win back my mind, if that makes any sense. To that end, I've read and really enjoyed Alan Lightman's In Praise of Wasting Time, Matt Haig's Notes on a Nervous Planet, and Stephen Batchelor's translation of Verses from the Center. These books make a strong case for getting away from devices and thinking less of the self, which is a habit I'm now trying to put into action. (I recognize the irony of saying this after doing a Q&A that's all about me!)

Thank you, Alex! You are simply the best.

A reminder, submissions for Playing Authors is open now—December 1. Sign up for our (*forthcoming!*) newsletter and follow us on Instagram.

Take it slow, folks. And, cheers to fun!

– Eliza

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