Interview with Matthew A. Perry, author of “A West Virginia Rebel”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I feel that is an unfair assumption, I have met many kind and socially welcoming authors. The local author community in Huntington, West Virginia has been very helpful to me. Whenever I had questions about self-publishing or needed advice, there were always people willing to help.

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

Goodness, I hope not, if that were true I would have never been able to write two books. I am weak in certain grammatical areas, and I feel that is because I write like I tell a story to my classroom. My way of storytelling leads to many mistakes that I and my wonderful friends who help me edit, must go back and fix. I think sometimes people get too caught up in forming perfect sentences, and it ruins the fun of writing for them. If I were always fixing tiny mistakes in mid-sentence, I feel it would hurt my writing and make writing dull and boring.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

I am going to drop a title that I bet hasn’t been mentioned when authors have answered this question in the past, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” is my favorite book. I have read it so many times that I have lost count. It was written by the brilliant storyteller Jean Shepherd, the man that gave us the classic holiday movie, The Christmas Story. This book is what the movie was based on, but, as usual, the book is so much more. He weaves tales of growing up and what it was like to be a young kid that we all can relate to in some way. I wish I had his skill for striking the nostalgia chord; he was remarkable in that regard.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

My first two books were short histories about the Civil War in West Virginia. History is my life, and it is my profession. I have loved history since I was a kid, and it was the only class that I ever actually cared about in school. I would devour historical fiction and history-related books, and this led to almost an obsession with the Civil War that I still hold today. My goal in writing my first book was to share the history of my hometown of Ceredo, West Virginia with the masses and to make my students and family proud. My family and my school family mean the world to me and teaching kids history every day is the most rewarding job I can think of for my skill set, I love it.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

It is the lifeblood of historical books, my research and the time spent digging into the topic is what allows me to paint a picture of the events. The frustrating thing for a historian is when people didn’t leave many sources which was the case with Albert Jenkins, and that makes for a much more painful experience when weaving their stories.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

I write in longhand, all my research and my rough chapter drafts with a fountain pen and either Moleskine or Rhodia notebooks, but I feel more creative behind a computer screen. I very rarely just type directly off of my rough draft, I am always changing and adapting what I am typing.

What inspires you to write?

Making my family, students and co-workers proud. Teaching is my life; I will never be a full-time writer, but I feel that by bringing historical stories to life, both in the classroom and in my books, that I can truly give back to people. My primary drive in life has always been to prove myself to others; I guess I have had a chip on my shoulder since I was that kid in high school that barely passed in four years. Since graduating from High School, I devoted myself like never before and was determined to prove to people, and to myself, that I could achieve anything that I put my mind to, writing my first two books was just the next step in that journey.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

For fiction, I love Jean Shepherd, Jeff Shaara, Michael Shaara, J.K Rowling. Non-fiction, Bill Bryson, Eric Wittenberg, H.W. Brands, David McCullough, William Davis, and James McPhearson

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Even though I mentioned earlier that being a grammar nazi is boring to me, I have gotten better at sentence structure, and this leads to fewer headaches. My first book had too many mistakes for my liking and went through multiple edits even after first publication; I was not satisfied with that.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

Yes, as long as they are respectful. I understand negative reviews come with the territory, but when people just attack without any real respect, I ignore them completely. I love talking to individuals who have read my books and relish the opportunity to connect more.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Don’t listen to the admissions woman at Marshall, you can teach history and get a job, don’t waste those two years in Journalism school.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

I’m sure I read many books, but the first one that made a truly lasting impact on me was Hatchet. The struggle for survival in the wilderness played to my nine-year-old heart like nothing I had ever read before.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I am working on my first fiction novel. A 16-year-old boy goes off to war during the Civil War. I am learning a lot about the craft of writing, and I find fiction to be much harder than historical writing, but that was to be expected.

It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?

Never romantically, but the personal loss has played a significant role in my life. As the first draft of my new novel evolves, I find that when my characters experience pain, I can feel it as well, and I think that my history of feeling loss and sorrow plays into that.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

When writing history strictly, I find it hard to balance fact based writing and a narrative. Nobody wants to read a textbook, but I was through years of historical study, that veering too far off course can lead to embellishment that isn’t needed by a historian.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

I am a middle school history teacher and girls basketball coach. I love my job and love the people I work with. I get paid to teach kids cool stuff about history, not too much to complain about!

Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

I have lost money publishing my first two books on a teacher’s salary, so no, it isn’t true.

Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?

I love traveling, one of the best experiences of my life was when my wife Amy and I drove across the country just before our daughter was born. The beauty of the American west is breathtaking.

Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?

Yes, but distribution is in the works. I am self-published so finding a distributor would be a huge thing for me.

Do you reply back to your fans and admirers personally?

Yes, to every Facebook message, email or another form of contact. If people take the time to write me, I will take the time to reply.

Have you ever received any help from other writers?

Yes, local West Virginia authors, Eliot Parker, Robert Thompson and Pam Thompson have helped significantly. The most help I have received was from Civil War author and cavalry historian Eric Wittenberg; he was so helpful in writing my Jenkins book, and I am forever grateful to all of these great people.

What do you do in your free time?

Free time? Dads of three that write, coach basketball and teach don’t know what that is.

Do you keep a diary?

I write in my journal every night.

Do you see the ‘writing germs’ in any of your family members?

I have inspired my mother to write finally a book she has been talking about for ten years. She has always wanted to write about the folktales of West Virginia, and she has since started. Very proud of her.

If you die today, how would want the world to remember you?

I don’t know how they WOULD remember me, but I can answer the question how I HOPE they would remember me. I hope I am remembered as a great dad, a teacher that inspired kids to love history and a good friend. I also hope that people respect my writing work and that it can survive for years.

Ever learned anything thing from a negative review and incorporated it in your writing?

My best friend read a chapter in my upcoming historical fiction book where a Confederate was shot and killed. He was quite honest in saying that I didn’t give it enough feeling or buildup, the new draft of that chapter is 100 times better because of him.

Do you have a specific culture you like to write about?

Appalachian culture: I am a proud West Virginian and both my books available to the public tell the history of my state.

Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you push to be a reader as a kid?

My mom is always reading, and she inspired me to learn more. She loves Stephen King.

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