Book Nerd Interview
He holds a BA and an MA from Stanford University in English literature as well as an MFA in fiction writing from Arizona State University.
For the last six years, he has worked as a writer for Electronic Arts’ Surviving High School, which he has also adapted into an upcoming series of young adult novels.
In 2009, he and co-writer Phillip G. Flores won Netflix’s inaugural Find Your Voice competition for his screenplay Almost Kings (fomerly The Wheeler Boys). The movie went on to premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival and will soon be available on DVD.
He is currently working on several screenplays as well as a novel.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
To me, stories are the ultimate act of empathy, requiring the reader to imagine life from someone else’s perspective. Without stories, the world would be a far lonelier place.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
The biggest surprise for a lot of readers is that I’m a guy! For some reason, people can easily understand how Tolkien inhabited the mind of a hobbit on Middle Earth or Suzanne Collins channeled a rebellious youth in Panem, but it never occurs to them that a young adult writer might cross the gender gap.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Cursive. Just kidding. I think the best thing school taught me was discipline, probably the most essential trait a writer needs. When I’m besieged by deadlines or revisions, my academic training often kicks in, allowing me to finish things on time.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
In On Writing Stephen King implores aspiring authors to shoot for 2,000 words a day. That advice has served as a great benchmark for me. Starting out as a writer, it’s hard to know what a “productive writing day” even looks like. King’s number provides a solid standard.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
I went through six years of university and graduate level creative writing courses without ever obtaining a clear sense of novelistic structure. Only later, when I became a screenwriter, did I read a book called Save the Cat, which finally gave me a sense of how stories are built. I can’t recommend that book enough. Once you have a sense of structure, the rest is a matter of determination.
Can you tell us when you started Surviving High School, how that came about?
I’d served as the head writer for the iPhone/Android version of Surviving High School for a number of years. The game is basically an interactive novel, where your decisions guide the outcome of the story. Given the game’s popularity, my bosses at Electronic Arts decided we should try to write a book, and since I was the original Surviving High School writer, they gave me the project. I was overjoyed.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Emily?
I don’t think I realized just how much of a risk-taker Emily would eventually became. She starts off a lot like me in high school—trying so hard to be perfect. It’s not until she falls in love with Ben, that she diverges from that path. Having never fallen in love in high school, I didn’t know exactly how it would feel for her, how she’d react. She gets to have a lot more fun than I ever did.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
How about another game? I would have loved to introduce Sara to a white mage from Final Fantasy, who would have been able to save her after her accident!
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
I’m still a little young for sagely wisdom, but I guess I’d tell them to go read David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement Speech. http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words. If I could make everyone in the world read one speech, it would be that one.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
I’ve been to every continent but Antarctica, but I’m never happier than the moment I arrive home.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
Following a flood in my hometown of Ashland, Oregon, a friend’s swimming pool had filled completely with mud from the river. The family hired about a dozen of us to dig it out with shovels and wheelbarrows. I lasted about four hours.
When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
Ten seconds ago (my fiancée just brought me tea!)
When was the last time you cried?
Last night I teared up at the end of Wreck it Ralph. Don’t tell anyone.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Definitely that I do not love them back. Hurting other people’s feelings is the worst.
What's the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
Other than my fiancée, seeing the first copy of my book, fresh out of the box comes to mind.
Where can readers stalk you?
I have a personal website at www.maxdoty.com. Surviving High School fans also congregate on our official page at: www.facebook.com/survivinghighschool
Emily Kessler thinks she has it all figured out. She eats, sleeps and trains for competitive swimming. All she has to do is keep her grades high and swim times short -- short enough to live up to her sister Sara's. But walking the crowded maze of unfamiliar high school hallways is like diving headfirst into shark-infested waters. Shark #1: Dominique, her biggest competition on the swim team and all-around mean girl. Shark #2: The adorable and popular Ben Kale... Emily can't resist his smile no matter how hard she tries. When the pressure builds to the point where Emily isn't sure she can stay afloat, she begins to question the strict path her life has always followed.
Maybe there is more to life than studying and swimming. Maybe the secret to surviving high school is just to have a little fun.
The hit mobile game Surviving High School comes to life in an original novel about perfection, failure, and following your dreams.
The message that M. Doty has applied to this remarkable story is one that many young people should follow. Although it is very important to always follow your dreams, one must realize that it is also important to have fun while chasing it. Readers will find this book to be addictive and enjoy following Emily’s high school experience. The depiction of Emily’s relationships with friends and family felt realistic where many readers can relate to. This aspect of the story made the book very special as readers will place themselves into the shoes of Emily and experience each of her problems first-hand. Surviving High School is a fun-filled book with many teenage life lessons. It is highly engaging and will grip readers’ attention from beginning to end.