I really can't decide who's sunnier: Morgan Matson's bright yellow dress when I interviewed her or her bubbly personality.
I got to meet the celebrated Young Adult author the day after she arrived in Manila for her press tour and meet and greet events with National Book Store, and while the weather was gloomy, her mood was the exact opposite. We talked about how her visit here had been so far and she just radiated happiness as she shared how she met a fan at the hotel where she's staying, how the barista at the coffee shop nearby already made her feel like a regular, and the personalized cake with her book cover as the design given by the hotel.
"It’s been fantastic. I got in yesterday and it’s just great everyone’s just been so welcoming and friendly. It’s been lovely really really lovely," relates the author of four bestselling young adult contemporary novels including Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, Second Chance Summer, Since You’ve Been Gone, and The Unexpected Everything. "This lovely girl in our hotel was showing me around the breakfast buffet, showing me the table and she was like I wish I brought my books for you to sign. It’s just exciting to encounter someone who is a fan and they treat you so well. It’s been lovely so far, I don’t want to leave."
Since You’ve Been Gone is available for P359 (Trade Paperback) and P649 (Hardcover); Second Chance Summer is available for P395 (Trade Paperback) and P689 (Hardcover); and The Unexpected Everything is available for P499 (Trade Paperback) and P649 (Hardcover), all at National Book Store
That was such a treat for her because being able to meet her readers is one of her favorite things about being an author: Some of her fans in the States have become her friends, too. "Some people who just come to me that they are readers and now if I am in their town we go out for drinks. So really, you get to know people. They stop being fans and start being your friends. It’s really fun."
Read on for more of our chat with Morgan:
What’s your favorite fan memory? "Someone got a tattoo with a quote from one of my books and showed me at a signing. I was sort of like so touched by that. That was really fun. People will sometimes make you these beautiful pictures or draw your characters and make it as an art. That’s just always you know, heartwarming, when someone does something that makes their own art pieces. It’s just so neat. Maybe the tattoo just blew me away though. It’s like a permanent thing on someone that they’re always going to have on their bodies. So that sort of blew my mind."
What’s your creative process? "It’s not what I recommend to everyone, when people ask me that don’t follow my advice. But, well it works for me. So I tend to get an idea usually at the most inconvenient time. Usually when I have to, working on another visual, that I get this bright, sparkly idea when all I want to do is do my other work. Then I don’t write right away. I tend to think about it for a few months. After a few months I’ll handwrite it in a notebook. Who’s the character? What are their names? The name can take weeks 'cause you know, I cannot really write until I got the names all settled—you know, just thinking, ‘Who are these people's parents and their siblings?,’ ‘what is their life?’ and like kind of building a back story, some of which never make it into the book, just something that I know. So once I’ve done that for a while, then, I’ll start writing. I tend to write just from the beginning straight to the end, in order. I don’t tend to really go back. I’ll stick small things but I just tend to write the end. Then, I basically, read it one time and give it to my editor. And then we start revising it together."
The idea for your first book, how did you know that it was the one? "Well, originally it wasn’t that so I was working on it and it was originally the idea that was there were four stories happening at the same time, four different protagonists and the writer, David Levithan was my thesis adviser so I was working on this in graduate school. He was like I think this who takes a country road trip, I think that’s enough for her own story. I don’t think this needs to be shown more on this other book. And so finally, I was like, maybe you’re right. And when I started think that it’s his own thing, forget about the other characters. This is the story."
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You mentioned that David Levithan was your thesis adviser. What are the best lesson/s you’ve learnt from him? "I think always listen to David Levithan because he told me this and I was like, no. When I turned in my thesis it was sort of a four character thing. It wasn’t until a year or two later that I was serious in trying to find an agent and trying to get it published but I was like he was totally right. I could’ve saved myself like two years of banging my head against the wall if I just listened to him. But I feel like you have to find that out on your own. You have to sometimes go down the wrong path for a while. So I learned, just listen to the smart, talented people. Usually they are right. It wasn’t just because I feel like so much of being a writer is getting notes from your editor or your agent or your readers or whoever. Learning to listen to them and following the advice or sometimes not but always be open to what they say."
So why Young Adult among all the genres? "When I was in college I worked at a bookstore and I was working in a children’s department and I started reading all this YA. It hadn’t really existed the same way when I was in high school. I just fell in love with it and it felt like something I could write. It wasn’t like the books I was reading where the people are in their 20s or 30s. It felt very accessible and for me at least I was probably 23 or 24 when I started to try writing YA. I feel like I have nothing to say about being in your 20s but I could remember being 16. I was far and away it was not just going to be an autobiography. I can actually create stories having seen what the experience was like. I feel like I have enough distance and perspective and I just love YA. I feel like it’s such a wonderful kind... There’s a lot of freedom in the readers—they’re so wonderful, so happy. It’s so fun to get to meet them and I just love, there’s something about writing about a 17 year old. It’s such a fun age to talk about. There are so many things you’ll experience for the first time and your emotions are so heightened. It’s fun to write about people who aren’t cynical or disappointing or lie."
How does it feel to inspire so many young girls or young boys with your stories? "There’s nothing better than something you’ve written has touched someone. It’s great, but I feel like when you’re writing you can’t think that way. You have to pretend that no one’s ever going to see this and if you start thinking about it, it messes you up. If you get a little too self-conscious. So you just have to pretend that it’s just in your computer in your dark room, no one will ever see it.
In terms of your stories do they have values and lessons? Are they consciously placed or they are just part of the story? "I think they’re just part of the story. I feel like the second you start thinking this is the message of the book, readers can tell. I hate when I am reading a book and someone says the theme of the book and like c’mon you don’t have to that. I think a lot of the stuff I hope to impart is just through the characters."
You mentioned about finding good boys, is this a lesson you’ve learned along the way? "I’ve never gotten the bad boy thing. It’s so prevalent like people rooting for bad boy. Guys like that, what’s his problem. Like even when I was in high school ‘what’s wrong with this guy?’ cause for me I love people who make me laugh and generally, bad boys are not funny. So I feel like people are like ‘these guys are so unrealistic’. Oh no. I’ve dated nice boys really nice boys in high school. They are out there, I promise. I think it’s sort of my experience of not, there’s something that happened in Since You’ve Been Gone where this girl’s boyfriend drops her off and doesn’t like drive away. It’s like a didactic reader writes her a note for her like find someone who makes sure you go inside before driving away. It’s like those kinds of things. Little things like that, that makes a difference."
Your stories also touch a lot on the unexpected. Is this something you’ve always been fascinated about? "I feel like I’ve always been interested in the moments that kind of change your life. My editor talked about it a lot in this book that what would’ve happened if this summer hadn’t happened to her. It’s sort of like not her last chance but more of she needed this to kind of get her off the path she’s gone towards a more honest one. So I had always been fascinated by those 'pebble on the pond moments' where things are sort of stable and when you drop a pebble and all of the ripples sort of go from there. Cause I think it’s fun, sort of like where the moment of stories start. Like ‘why?’ is always fun to make."
What advice can you give to people who like planning things about being carefree? "The summer before I went to college. I had a job. I got it in the spring. I thought this was going to be my plan. A week into it I was like ‘I hate this job’. I was so unhappy. So, I just quit. And I was like what I am going to do now? But I ended up having the best summer because my friend needed a job too and we ended up getting a job together. It’s a place where we make smoothies. But basically we just hang out the all day before we plan out on going to college. So, I feel like it’s scary when things don’t go the way it was planned. But usually, sometimes good stuff, exciting happens. It’s sort of a scary place to be in. But if you can get through the discomfort, interesting things will happen on the other side.
Your books have such beautiful happy endings. What are your personal tips when it comes to happiness? "I think so much about finding happiness is figuring who you are which is so hard when you are a teenager. I mean it’s a lifelong question especially when you’re a teenager, sort of figuring it out. Sometimes you need to try stuff and see if you like it. And sometimes the thing you’ve always said like, oh I’ll be happy if this happens. Sometimes that happens and you’re not. It’s okay if you think that thing that will make you happy doesn’t. I think that’s part of the experience. So I think the more you know yourself, it’s kind of good. I like taking stock during my birthday or the new year. What do I want for the next year? What are the goals? How am I feeling this or that? There’s a great quote that I love “Pay attention to what you pay attention to.” So I used to be on tumblr a lot. There’s a one year where 75% of the pictures are dogs. It was like, I think I want a dog. I did not plan on all of these pictures of puppies. It was like something in you is telling you go get a dog. I really want one. But I haven’t put it together until I looked in what I was paying attention to all these times. I think after a few months that’s when I adopted my dog. Sometimes I feel like your unconscious is giving you signals about what will make you happy. So I think you have to listen to it."
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