Matt Mikalatos is the author of Story King, and is based out of Portland Oregon. His book is a part of the Sunlit Lands Series. The novel is the third and final installment of the series, where unrest and discord are growing by the day. YEM was able to speak with Matt about his number one rule for writing a book and his writing process. He also shares his favorite part of writing the Sunlit Lands series.
Young Entertainment Mag: Do you remember when you first knew that you wanted to be a writer?
Matt Mikalatos: I think I wanted to do it before I realized that’s what was happening. I had been writing for fun through high school but didn’t think of it as something to pursue as a career. It was in college when I started looking around and saying, “Wait a minute, I can do more of this?”
YEM: The Story King Is the third and final installment in the Sunlit Lands series. How did it feel to finish the series?
Matt: So amazing. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve even started series before… but this is the first time I’ve finished one. So there’s some excitement about getting the whole story out, and also just a touch of sadness to be saying goodbye to these characters I’ve come to love.
YEM: Your number one rule for writing a book is “write the book you wish existed.”. What about this rule makes it the number one rule to you?
Matt: There are so many different rules about writing, and a lot of them are about craft or the market or narrative structure. What I love about this rule is that it centers you as the artist and your passions. What is missing in the world? What do you think would be fun? What about this story makes you specifically the right person to write it?
YEM: What is your writing process like?
Matt: Ha! Well it changes a bit from project to project. One of the first things I do is set a deadline and then chop up the project into daily, weekly, and monthly goals. I keep the weekly goal the key one. So I don’t get too stressed out if I’m behind on a certain day, but as things go forward I try to make sure I make up for in the next couple of days. Some projects I have a really clear idea where I’m headed, and sometimes I just have pictures and scenes, almost like islands, that I’m building bridges between. But the main thing is that I never stop writing. I write six days a week!
YEM: Who were some of your writing inspirations growing up?
Matt: Well, I really loved a lot of science fiction and fantasy: Ursula K. LeGuin, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis were all major players. I also read an enormous amount of comic books. Pretty much anyone who wrote a comic book in the 80s or 90s were on my inspiration list!
YEM: Is there a message in your books that you want all your readers to take away after reading it?
Matt: One of the messages of The Sunlit Lands is that we’re all connected, and the choices we make change the world around us, not just ourselves. So we need to be paying attention and make sure our actions are for the good of the community, not just the good of ourselves.
YEM: What was your favorite part of writing the Sunlit Lands series?
Matt: I love building these little surprises for the readers. When I can figure out ways to give you all the information so you shouldn’t be surprised but then surprise you anyway, it makes me really happy. I love it when fans write me and say I WAS SHOCKED when this or that happened… “And then I realized that you had already told me things so that I should have been able to guess that!”
YEM: Is there a specific character that you prefer writing for?
Matt: I LOVE Jason Wu, who’s one of the main characters in The Sunlit Lands. He’s made a choice never to tell a lie, and he gets in all sorts of trouble because he keeps opening his mouth even when he doesn’t have to. He’s a big goofball with a love for people (and animals) around him. He has a special way of making friends with even the people trying to kill him (of whom there are many).
YEM: Where did the idea for the Sunlit Lands series come from?
Matt: Three places: 1) Two wonderful people from my publisher (hi Sarah and Linda!) sat me down for a big conversation about what kind of books I might like to do together with them. We talked about a trilogy that dealt with issues of race, privilege, power, and how to change the world. 2) My best friend was sick with a terminal illness, so I knew I wanted my main character, Madeline, to be going through something similar. I was still trying to figure out how to deal with all that. 3) I wanted to have fun (which sounds ridiculous given the first two points) but I knew it had to be full of the most over the top laugh out loud moments to counterbalance some of the heavier pieces. So that’s where it came from basically!
YEM: Is there someone that you always let read your books before anyone else?
Matt: I had a good friend who used to read all my books first thing, but she has since passed away. For the Sunlit Lands, my daughters would read each chapter as it was finished, which was really fun because that meant they’d be encouraging me the next day, “Why are you playing video games? Shouldn’t you be over there writing?”
YEM: Is there a genre you are really wanting to write next?
Matt: Oh man. I just sold a graphic novel so that’s coming up in a couple years. I’d love to do a science fiction series, and I actually really love crime fiction, too.
YEM: What is some advice you would give to someone wanting to start writing?
Matt: Do it! So much of writing is just sitting down (or I use a standing desk, you can just stand!) and writing. It’s a skill and the more you do it the better you get. So put in the time, and write something you love.