In both of his books, Matthew Norman cleverly mixes serious subjects with a sense of humor. This Baltimore author and copywriter has written two novels, Domestic Violets and We’re All Damaged. Though the books differ in plot, both titles have a first-person POV, focusing on a male protagonist who must deal with family dynamics, relationships, and an inner desire for change. And although both deal with serious issues, there is much humor and witty dialogue to be found throughout each. Norman is currently at work on his third novel, about a couple who are forced to consider why their marriage is still intact while every other couple in their lives have gotten divorced.
After Domestic Violets, I realized that was the last book I’ll ever write as a first novel. When you’re writing your first book, nobody really cares, except you. It’s totally
self-motivated. Writing We’re All Damaged was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. There is that “sophomore slump” everyone talks about. I worked on We’re All Damaged for about a year, but threw it all away because it wasn’t coming together. It took me forever to write it – three years, not counting that first year.
Writing great dialogue
Dialogue is something I really work on. Every writer has strengths and weaknesses, and dialogue has always been a strength of mine. I like to stay in the scene as much as possible, and dialogue puts you in the scene. It draws in the reader. I’ve rewritten scenes over and over to make it sound seamless, effortless. Also, I read everything aloud. That’s when you know if it’s working or not working.
When I wrote Domestic Violets, I sat down to write a comedy. My main character, Tom, works for a company that was a carbon copy of the company I worked for while I was writing. I hated my job, but it’s not interesting to listen to someone rant about their job. Humor makes pain more palatable.
With We’re All Damaged, the main character is in a bad place, he’s a depressed guy. I didn’t know if it would be embraced as a comedy, but people found it funny. With my personality, I tend to see the world through a humor lens. I use it as a defense mechanism. That may be a personality flaw, but it makes me the writer I am.
I think when you sit down to write a novel, you have a strong beginning in mind. That’s what motivates you to start. I usually have about 50 pages mapped out and some idea of where I want to go. I put plot points on cards and put them in chronological order on a corkboard. This way, I can see the entire plot in front of me. But I don’t know how I will get to those plot points. That’s what takes so long: It’s like fighting your way through the forest with a machete.
It’s all based on logistics. I wake up and get my two girls ready for school. Then I go to work. I get home around 6, and then it’s about the kids until 9. I sit down to write during the week from 9 to 11:30. Friday nights I take off to spend time my wife. On weekends, I steal a couple of hours at a time. Lately, I’ve been changing it up by taking my laptop to Starbucks or local coffee shops.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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