When it comes to writing, sometimes you gotta turn to the ones who really know how to do it. Authors Matthew Quick and Meg Wolitzer happen to be experts in their own ways, writing the kind of stories that stir our emotions and make us think.
Matthew rose to prominence when his debut novel became an Oscar-winning film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. It wasn’t easy writing Silver Linings: Matthew was met with a lot skepticism, and eventually powered through despite the naysayers. Meg’s critically acclaimed discuss the intricacies of relationships — her novel The Interestings talks about life after a group of young artists form a friendship during summer camp. Meg may have been writing novels for years, but she manages to stay young by mentoring young writers in the many workshops she’s conducted.
If there’s anything we’ve learned form Matthew and Meg’s work, it’s that there’s very little to stop a writer with a dream. During their visit in Manila for the Philippine Literary Fest, we asked them about what it took, and what it feels like getting there. In our conversations, we learn more about the importance of optimism, watching Lena Dunham’s writing career on GIRLS, and why at the end of any story, it’s always better to end up together.
YOUNG STAR: Hey, Matthew. I really loved that dance scene at the end of the Silver Linings — it’s kinda different from the movie version though. Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) wears a leotard and nothing else, but in the movie he isn’t. How happy are you with the creative liberties they took with the film?
MATTHEW QUICK: I mean, I think whenever you sell your book to Hollywood, you have to realize that you’re selling your book to Hollywood. Of course they’re gonna make some changes. I mean, I knew — coming into it — that’s what’s gonna happen. I’m a huge fan of David O. Russell’s work, and there are flashes of me onscreen, and while watching David would poke me, “That was your line, that was your line.” So, you know, you feel really honored that people took your work and adapted it, especially a great storyteller like David O. Russell. There’s a little part of you that hopes that people like the book a little bit more than the movie [Laughs] or people read the book independent of seeing the films. It’s a weird feeling to see someone take your story and turn it into a movie. Of course you’re happy, and it’s wonderful, but psychologically it can feel very strange.
Your character Pat suffered from mental illness, but he was ultimately an optimistic person. Was that trait somehow a projection of yourself?
MQ: I think that I can be optimistic. I think my characters tell themselves stories about the world — I think we all do that — and you know, I think a lot of times in academia, the higher you climb in society, people tend to scoff at optimism. They tend to think you’re naive, or you’re not smart, if you have a positive outlook. There’s plenty of information that justifies that. But I think we tell ourselves stories, and those stories tend to come true. For example, I grew up in a blue collar town, nobody was writing fiction. I didn’t go to Harvard or the elite schools, but I told myself that I’m gonna be a fiction writer. A lot of people laughed at that at first, but I told myself, you can do this. This is available to you. And now here we are, and I think why am I not here and not other people? I don’t think that’s delusional optimism, but what you need to do is to have a narrative that you tell yourself.
If you could describe your style in a few words, what would it be?
MQ: Wow, uh… I tend to write about people who don’t easily fit into the world, trying very hard to fit in the world. I also write about people saving each other. I think that’s because, in my life, there have been people that have saved me. My wife probably first and foremost. And I think my books are about that, being better together than apart.
YOUNG STAR: So in The Interestings, your character Jules feels the need to be special and different, even as an adult. Would you say that people tend to fetishize the specialness of our children these days?
MEG WOLITZER: Oh, yeah. It’s so much a part of our culture these days — you know, programs for the gifted. Like, everybody’s kid has to be gifted. I actually wrote a piece on the Financial Times about this topic of talent. And I think sometimes we confuse talent with success. There are shows like America’s Got Talent or Britain’s Got Talent. And you know, the idea that it’s success that often a culture wants to look at. It’s a culture that worships celebrity, that sees talent and often not enough to leave it at talent and it turns into something else. Success doesn’t last, but talent doesn’t go away. Success depends on style and interests of the moment. And it’s not as interesting as talent, because talent isn’t something you can just give somebody.
You also wrote op-ed piece a few years ago about getting pigeonholed into women’s fiction. Is that something you feel strongly about?
MW: Well, the piece is called “The Second Shelf” and it’s about male literary writers and female literary writers. There’s definitely progress, but I feel that it’s a conversation that needs to be kept alive. There was a study done early this year where somebody looked at the literary prizes over the past however many years, and look at the novels. It wasn’t only about the people who won them, but very few of them were from the point of view of a woman. There’s an insidiousness to some of that sexism, but I think that things are getting better in some ways.
I also learned that you taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the show GIRLS—
MW: Of course! In fact, and I enjoyed watching the stuff that took place there. There’s a line that I screamed at. [Laughs] They go to “a rager on Linn Street.” I lived on Linn Street! I’m like, oh my god, oh my god! [Laughs]
That’s pretty cool! So Lena Dunham’s character had a pretty interesting experience there. She didn’t really get along with her classmates. Was that something you observed while you were teaching there, that sort of competitiveness?
MW: I think she was having fun with the idea of being in a competitive workshop, where everybody was sort of trying to get the teacher’s approval. I mean, it was broad comedy, more than what I experienced. But there were some things in a workshop that everybody who’s been in a workshop knows about. Like, there can be hostility in a class. I mean, I try to run a class with as little as possible, but you can have a student who sucks the oxygen out of the room. And Hannah, the character, she went through a lot of emotional drama that really fractured the class.
Matthew Quick’s and Meg Wolitzer’s books are available at National Book Stores nationwide.