Interview with Matthew Aaron Browning

Published 2014-04-25.
What's the story behind your latest book?
"One Way In" is a short story I wrote as part of author Brent Hartinger's Real Story Safe Sex Project. The purpose of the project is to shed light on HIV/AIDS and show characters making smart safe sex decisions, particularly gay and bi characters. I decided to use the backstory of one of my characters in my novel, "Welcome to Straightville," and approach the story as a prequel of sorts. Brent's vision for the project is to celebrate the sexual portions of these stories instead of shying away from them, which YA writers sort of have to do. I was a bit nervous about writing so explicitly, because the novel is very different in tone from the story and because I've never been one to write graphic sex scenes. But I gave it my best shot.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I got my start writing poetry at age 13. It took me a while to feel confident writing anything beyond that, but I remember the first story I wrote that I felt had legs. In college, I worked for a few years as a booking clerk at a jail, processing inmates into the facility. We also handled suicide watches in the department, so I certainly saw a lot of interesting characters - and things I didn't want to see! I took those experiences and poured them into a story called "Night Shift." It eventually got published in a local literary journal, which gave me the confidence boost I needed to try my hand at long-form writing.
What is your writing process?
It tends to differ with each project, but I generally approach my books in a screenplay style - a sort of three-act structure with plot points to propel the action forward. I did some screenwriting in college and found the elements of it to be easily transferrable to novel writing. I also build music into my approach along the way. I like to have a playlist of songs - a soundtrack - to accompany the scenes. It helps to get me into the necessary mindset for what I'm writing.
How do you approach cover design?
I generally have a pretty clear creative vision for my projects, but no knowledge of actual design. But that's what friends are for! For my story "One Way In," I worked with a graphic designer friend of mine to bring it to life. The story is a prequel of sorts to my novel "Welcome to Straightville." While I may have little to do with the eventual design of that book's cover, in my head I see a town's welcome sign being part of it. So for "One Way In," I wanted to keep that general theme and depict a one-way highway sign.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I'm from a little coal town in southern West Virginia, and my first novel - and a portion of my "One Way In" story - are set in a little coal town in southern West Virginia. It's an area of the country that isn't always portrayed in the most flattering light, so I attempt to write honestly about the region (and stereotypes are part of that honesty) while depicting the people and the setting in a way that reflects my pride in being a product of it.
When did you first start writing?
I remember very vividly the first time a wrote something for a completely creative purpose. It was the summer of 1994, and I was 13. I wrote a poem called "Land of Darkness." I thought it was pretty good at the time and just kept on writing. Anything larger than a poem intimidated me for a very long time, but once I overcame the obstacle of self-doubt, I dabbled in short fiction and screenwriting. I started my first novel at 28.
Who are your favorite authors?
It can change depending on what I'm currently reading, but a few folks have squatter's rights on my favorites list. My favorite book of all-time is "To Kill a Mockingbird," so Harper Lee is up there. I also dig Raymond Carver, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Truman Capote, and I've recently become obsessed with George R.R. Martin's "Song of Fire and Ice" books. I predominately write gay-themed Young Adult, so I read a lot of those books. Brent Hartinger and J.H. Trumble are two favorites, and nice folks to boot.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I work in the higher education arena in marketing communications, so I get to stare at a computer screen all day for that job and then go home and stare at one again to write…but I'm not complaining!
What do you read for pleasure?
A variety of things. I try to read my genre, gay YA, as much as I can. But it's good to veer outside of that. I like a good mystery or fantasy book, nonfiction if the topic interests me, and autobiographies. I've been binge reading the Song Fire and Ice series the past couple months. Excellent books.
What are you working on next?
"One Way In" leaves off where "Welcome to Straightville" begins, so I'm hoping to progress with getting it published soon. My agent is shopping it around, along with another novel of mine called "Blades of Grass." While we wait for feedback on those, I'm fleshing out an idea for another book that I'll begin working on this spring and summer.
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Books by This Author

One Way In
Price: Free! Words: 7,140. Language: English. Published: April 25, 2014 . Categories: Fiction » LGBTQ+ » Gay
(3.50 from 2 reviews)
Teenager Alexander Pratt's first trip to a gay bar leads to a night of new experiences and big decisions that impact his life in ways he can't even imagine. A prequel to the forthcoming novel "Welcome to Straightville," this story is part of the Real Story Safe Sex Project. Warning: Contains adult language and explicit sexual content.