Interview, Matt Posner / Tales of Christmas Magic

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Author Interview #37, with multi-genre writer (and NYC teacher), Matt Posner!

This is a customized Q&A in line with the author’s latest eBook: “Tales of Christmas Magic.”

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[Q&A with Matt Posner / Tales of Christmas Magic (7 questions)]

Jess: I like how the collection presents the magic that features in School of the Ages (magic which is based on the mind and spirit). What was the inspiration for presenting magic this way (realistically in “our world”)?

posner_xmas

Matt: I have read a lot about magic and the paranormal. Although I was interested in the subject from childhood, I took up the study more systematically when I was 21 as a result of feeling turmoil in my life. Learning to read tarot and understand Hermeticism gave me some structure at a time when other things weren’t helping.

Shortly I discovered the writing of Colin Wilson, beginning with The Occult and moving on to various other similar books, like Mysteries, Poltergeist!, and Beyond the Occult, and from these I became aware of how many amazing phenomena there were in the world that could be incorporated into fiction.

At first I tried to put them into an epic fantasy novel, which was agented for a while in New York around 1993, but then I left the subject alone for a while. When it came time to return to writing about magic, I used all that I had studied and learned to create the School of the Ages magical system.

Jess: Epic fantasy is a great foundation ;) I thought the underlying theme(s) in the story “Goldberry vs. Santa Claus” were very smoothly handled. Incidentally, the characters featured on the cover are from this story. Any reason for this? :)

Matt: I consider this the centerpiece story of the collection. It’s the one that is most Christmas-themed and has the strongest dramatic tension. Having a teen girl magician fight Santa Claus makes a good blurb also. Using that story enables me to get the school (actually Toronto’s Casa Loma castle) and Santa on the cover. Adding to that, my cover artist Eric Henty found a girl on a stock photo site who looks perfect as Goldberry, and then a boy on the same site who looks perfect for Simon.

What luck: the resulting image is just great!

Jess: Your School of the Ages project contains a very unique blend of elements (ranging from history, to religion, spirituality, and education!). Does it get confusing at times or does working with these themes come very naturally to you as a writer?

Matt: It comes naturally to me because of my multicultural past. My parents socialized with Indian immigrants beginning when I was a small child, and I read Amar Chitra Katha comics about the Ramayana and other Indian mythology.

In high school, I focused on Spanish classes as much as English. In college, I took a course in ethnomusicology and listened to world music while getting my bachelor’s in Humanities. It was one of my favorite courses.

Years later, getting married to Julie, who is from India, really strongly activated my desire to know more about non-Western cultures. Working in yeshiva high schools caused me to build some Jewish cultural identity (what they call Yiddishkeit).

Over the last few years, I have repeatedly taught a college course called World Civilizations (shoutout to my students!) which caused me to reflect on the vast range of cultural heritages there are and fed me ideas. I taught some art history in college too. I’ve been to some of Europe’s greatest art museums, although not enough of them yet in my opinion, and not to mention the great ones in New York City, where I live. These things have only whetted my appetite for multiculturalism.

Jess: Speaking about multiculturalism — something that I (and many other readers) like about the STA series is how it is multiculturally-inclusive. How would you define multiculturalism (along with its strengths and disadvantages, to be more specific)?

Matt: I define multiculturalism as the view that the world is made up of many traditions, faiths, arts, languages, societies, and that all of them are interesting and have some way to contribute to the lives of other human beings. I want to write about the interaction of these cultures and I want to draw cool stuff from all of them to make the School of the Ages books distinctive.

I’ll give you an example. In Level Three’s Dream, the students go to Paris where they have an unexpected battle with a group of older students from Paris’ magic school, Citadel d’If. Some of them are fairly unsurprising French ruffians, based loosely on the gang in the original La Femme Nikita, but pumped up with magic powers. However, one is distinctive: Arnaud le Vampire is an Algerian Arab. I know from studying history about the long and uncomfortable connection between France and Algeria, which was so severe that it nearly caused a civil war in France, and I wanted to reflect this history by putting a French-speaking Algerian into the school. He’s not a typical undead vampire, either; he’s fully alive, about 18 years old, and has the abilities of a psychic vampire, who can drain your energy by staring at you. (Many people believe this type of vampire actually exists!) When he fights, Arnaud shouts the Takbir, an expression used by Muslims for both prayer and battle: “Allahu Akbar!”

There are loads of vampires in the books these days, but I feel sure that there are no others like mine, and that readers will be excited by Arnaud’s contradictions and want to read his future appearances in my narrative.

Jess: I wouldn’t doubt the existence of such vampires either :P. I enjoyed “The Sphinx” (the last story in the collection, written when Matt Posner was 16 and bored in Honors English!). What are some of the things you notice with regards to your writing at that age, and in the years thereafter?

Matt: When I go back to my much older writing, my juvenilia such as “The Sphinx,” I’m struck by the fact that my prose style — sentence construction and such — has not changed tremendously. That’s why you can read “The Sphinx” in the same book as stories I wrote in 2011. The themes and meaning are immature, but the quality of the prose is much the same.

Maybe I should feel bad that my style hasn’t advanced as much as my content has, but I’d rather say that I knew very long ago what kind of writer I wanted to be. The truth is that I wrote more fluidly and confidently then, when the troubles of the world and the brutal pressures of limited time to work didn’t distract me from my voice and ideas. I put this story into the collection for a lot of reasons, but one of them was to show that not only do I have it, but I always had it.

Like Lady Gaga, “I’m on the right track, baby. I was born this way.”

6. Excellent! Writers/creative types have to have confidence in their own work :) Please share your favorite excerpt from this collection:

How about this:

Santa Claus had stopped laughing and was now closing in on Simon, who was between them. “Out of the way, or I’ll feed you to Mrs. Claus,” he said, not very jovially. “She gains about ten pounds a year from eating children on the naughty list, you know.”
Tales of Christmas Magic, Matt Posner

7. Comment on writing versus teaching, in your experience (Matt is a teacher in NYC):

Teaching has made me a better writer in that I understand better what goes into literature structurally. I have gotten more out of teaching literature than having it taught to me, or studying writing in graduate school, where I found that my experience was more about politics and personality, both of which I wasn’t good at then. I use writing skills in teaching. The other day I needed a simple example of an ironic poem, so I wrote one myself and then put a fake author’s name on it*.

Writing is solitary, teaching very public, and I need to be public part of the time, or else I will become too self-centered; it’s the phenomenon of the only child at work there. All this said, I feel that if I could only do one of the two, I would much prefer to write. If I were suddenly wealthy enough to quit working a teaching job and focus on writing, I would still want to teach, but I would just be more selective about it: do less of it and exercise more control over the details of the job than I can at present. As a teacher, I work with special education students, who are needy in a lot of ways, and often, though not always, difficult. It’s important to me to feel I’m the kind of person who can love those who are hard to love and who can make a difference in the lives of those who are hard to help. I want to test myself that way and I want to prove to myself day by day that I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t think I should give up doing this, but I wouldn’t mind if I did it a little less…

* My Dog
by Alan Smithee

My dog smells sour.
My dog has fleas.
She barks at night.
On the floor she pees.
She’s the best dog
I ever had.
For how could such
A dog be bad?

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Now go check out some of Matt’s work(s) — after reading his eclectic bio!

Author Bio + Website Links:

Matt Posner is a writer and teacher from New York City. Originally from Miami, FL, Matt lives in Queens with Julie, his wife of more than ten years, and works in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Matt is also the Dean of School of the Ages, America’s greatest magic school, located on a secret island in New York Harbor, and is pleased to tell stories about its people in the five-book series School of the Ages, which will be published between 2010 and 2015.

As the child of classically trained musicians, Matt is a performing poet and percussionist with The Exploration Project, New York’s premier avant-garde multimedia club band, along with the painter Eric Henty and founding musician and impresario Scott Rifkin. Matt teaches high school English, with a fondness for special education students, and teaches world civilizations at Metropolitan College of New York. His interests include magic and the paranormal, literature, movies, history and culture, visual arts, world music, religion, photography, and professional wrestling history.

Website: www.schooloftheages.webs.com

Twitter | Facebook “School of the Ages Series” | Goodreads

Greek Mythology and Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis

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Short essay for my “ENG 359 – Mythology” course, in Fall 2010. Yippee!

(Topic = Write about how classical mythology has enriched your understanding of a piece of modern literature)

P.S. De Profundis is one of my favourites. Have read it four or five times — it always gets better with each new round.

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Essay: Greek Mythology and Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis

I first read Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis a few years ago (an eighty-page love letter he wrote while imprisoned, to Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas). My knowledge of mythology has enriched my understanding of this piece of literature in several ways, albeit in a subtler and more intimate kind of way than the parallel Wilde continually suggests between Salome and the moon, in his play, “Salome” (which draws on traditions of Greek and Roman mythology that figures the moon as a goddess). De Profundis also reflects Oscar Wilde’s lifelong admiration and passion for Greek literature, culture, and mythology.

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Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas

Dante’s Inferno is one of the texts to which Wilde frequently alludes in De Profundis. Dante’s Inferno is heavily influenced by classical mythology (for example, it features the Greek mythological figure Charon, and the great Roman poet, Virgil). More than half of De Profundis is taken up by Oscar Wilde’s confession, not only of his own sins, but of Bosie’s. He evokes a striking image for Bosie — he uses his favorite passage from Agamemnon, about bringing up a lion’s whelp inside one’s house only to have it run amok, to compare it to Bosie. He also writes the following line to Bosie, “If Hate blinded you, then Vanity sewed your eyelids together with iron threads.” This is a visual image from Dante’s Inferno, where the envious have their eyes eternally stitched shut with “iron threads.”

Oscar Wilde mentions the sea in De Profundis, comparing it to the mention Euripides makes of the sea in “one of his plays about Iphigeneia, [which] washes away the stains and wounds of the world.” Oscar Wilde then expresses his view that he “[discerns] great sanity in the Greek attitude,” linking this back to the visual imagery of the sea, and the contemporary people of Oscar Wilde’s time having “forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and that the Earth [was] mother to [them] all.” As a consequence, Oscar Wilde stated that the art of his time was “of the moon and [played] with shadows, while Greek art [was] of the sun and [dealt] directly with things.” These lines evoke the sense of purification in elemental forces, which Oscar Wilde writes that he wants to return to, and “live in their presence.”

The concept of decadence is also frequently mentioned in De Profundis, which is linked to Dionysus in Greek mythology — the god of wine, vegetation, debauchery, decadence, depravity and self indulgence. Oscar Wilde’s self-reflection includes a mention on how he experienced “pleasure for the beautiful body, [which was] pain for the beautiful soul.” He also compares filling his life to the very brim with pleasure, “as one might fill a cup to the very brim with wine.” He allowed pleasure to dominate him, which ended in “horrible disgrace” — leaving him only one thing in the end: “absolute humility.” Oscar Wilde also compares the appeal of Jesus Christ to people “who had been deaf to every voice but that of [the voice of love] heard for the first time,” and finding it to be “as musical as Apollo’s lute.”

Oscar Wilde continues his self-reflection by bringing in the statement of the Greek oracle: “know yourself,” which Oscar Wilde states is “the first achievement of knowledge.” He also writes a wonderfully succinct and comprehensive passage, which refers to several Greek myths all at once. He introduces this paragraph by writing that “the Greek gods, in spite of the white and red of their fair fleet limbs, were not really what they appeared to be.” He then compares the curved brow of Apollo to the sun’s disc crescent over a hill at dawn, and “while [Apollo’s] feet were as the wings of the morning, he himself had been cruel to Marsyas and had made Niobe childless.” He writes that “in the steel shields of Athena’s eyes there had been no pity for Arachne; the pomp and peacocks of Hera were all that was really noble about her; and the Father of the Gods himself had been too fond of the daughters of men.”

Oscar Wilde goes on to say that “the two most deeply suggestive figures of Greek Mythology were, for religion, Demeter, an Earth Goddess, not one of the Olympians, and for art, Dionysus, the son of a mortal woman to whom the moment of his birth had proved also the moment of her death.” Knowing the background of these Greek myths greatly enhanced my appreciation of this particular passage in De Profundis, which drives to a person’s core the message of sorrow. In the preceding paragraph in De Profundis, Oscar Wilde writes that Christ made of himself “the image of the Man of Sorrows, [which] fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing,” thus using this aspect of the Greek gods and goddesses to enhance the Sorrow he went through while imprisoned (and the realizations that came about, as a direct result of this humiliating experience).

Thus, having some knowledge of classical mythology greatly enhanced my understanding and appreciation of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, which makes references to Greek mythology (as well as religion). De Profundis bares the innermost depths of Oscar Wilde’s soul via a long handwritten letter to his “hyacinth,” Bosie (in a letter to a friend, Oscar Wilde wrote of Bosie: “He is quite like a narcissus — so white and gold…he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa and I worship him,” which again brings to mind Greek mythology—in particular, that of Apollo and Hyacinth, as well as Narcissus).

References:

Wilde, Oscar. De Profundis. Courier Dover Publications, 1997.