Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Matt Mendez Interview - The Broke Hearts


Photo Credit: Chris Summitt

Matt Mendez is the author of Barely Missing Everything, his debut novel, and the short story collection Twitching Heart. Barely Missing Everything has been called a “searing portrait of two Mexican-American families” by Publishers Weekly and “accessible and artful” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Barely Missing Everything was named a 2019 Best YA Book by Kirkus, Seventeen Magazine, NBC Latino, and Texas Monthly. It was a Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominee, awarded second place in the International Latino Book Awards, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and a Land of Enchantment Black Bear Book Award winner.

Like many of his characters Matt grew up in El Paso, Texas and continues to love and live in the Southwest, now in Tucson, Arizona. He is a military veteran and earned his MFA from the University of Arizona where has taught creative writing. Matt is the father of two daughters that he loves fiercely.

        
  

Greatest thing you learned at school.
I wasn’t the greatest student. I didn’t focus on lessons or teachers or anything like that. Instead I spent my time watching what else was happening inside the classroom, in the cafeteria and on the playground. How people acted depending on where they were and who they were around.

I observed that everyone had multiple versions of themselves, and these different versions moved through school, a place that from the outside could seem like one singular place but could actually be many wildly different places all at once. I remember having this thought while in middle school.

This could be why I end up writing books with multiple points-of-view, to show the different sides of a character, of a place. To write as wild a story as I can.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Too often it was writing that felt like the distraction. I wrote a majority of The Broke Hearts in my car, while my daughters were in folklórico practice. I am in the military, and have been for 27 years, so writing pulls me away from work and family, which often leaves me feeling guilty. Am I being a good enough dad? I am putting in enough effort at work? But writing stories is such an important part of who I am that I feel (hope) that readers find the same kind of magic in them that I do.

What chapter was the most memorable to write and why?
The most memorable to write was the final chapter. I certainly don’t want to give away the ending (s0 I won’t), but after writing it the first time I felt the urge to immediately go back and start revising, feeling like the story wasn’t big enough for it yet.

But as I continued revise The Broke Hearts, the ending kept getting stronger, even though I didn’t change it much. And that felt like a sort of magic. The entire story eventually grew into, and became as forceful, as the original ending, which has never happened to me before.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is how we let each other know what matters to us. What we’re thinking about. What scares us. What thrills us. What and who we love. It’s central to how we connect.

Can you tell us when you started THE BROKE HEARTS, how that came about?
The Broke Hearts is a companion book to my first novel, Barely Missing Everything. There were multiple false starts with this one. I started a draft before BME came out in 2019, but it wasn’t working until and fell apart. Then 2020 happened.

That year, during the panic and turmoil of the pandemic—as well as upheaval in my own life—a new story began to take shape. The Broke Hearts became a book about the different ways we all live with broken hearts. How we love imperfectly. Heal imperfectly. Living through 2020 and the years that followed allowed me the grace to write an inventive, funny book about grief and heartbreak.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from THE BROKE HEARTS
The following scene is a lot of fun for a few reasons. There is chemistry between the characters—who’ve only recently met, a funny exchange, and we get to see a different version of JD, a side none of the other characters get to.

JD is meeting Isabel (Isa) at a bookstore, and the two are flirting their hearts out.

“Well, look who’s a smitten kitten,” Isa said without taking her eyes off her book.

“Meow?” JD immediately regretted playing along.

“You are so weird!” Isa exclaimed correctly. She slipped a bookmark into her paperback and shut the cover. JD studied her expression, wanting to figure out if she thought he was the good or bad kind of weird. She had a sly smile going, a mix of amused and flirtatious. The truth was, JD was a smitten kitten. Sure, Isa was fine as hell, with long, impossibly black hair and perfect teeth, her bottom row crooked in the cutest way. Her nose was thin and her cheeks sharp, her eyes a honey brown. But it was her bold and sure-of-herself way that had JD right where she wanted him—at least he was hoping that she wanted him.

“You don’t speak cat?” JD said. “Speaking multiple languages is a sign of badassness.”

“I took a year of it in high school,” Isa deadpanned. “But my teacher was a dog. I think he was the football coach, and they just made him do it. He also seemed kinda racist.”

“Was he always telling you how cats were lazy?”

Isa shifted in her seat. She was reading Dominicana by Angie Cruz. JD didn’t read, not that he was against it. He quickly scanned the stacks and stacks of books, realizing that if he wanted to start, he would have no idea where to begin. “It was more subtle. Like he once told us he only bit Mexicans.”

I really enjoy writing these types of scenes. Where characters are being mostly earnest with only a thin layer of humor to protect them.

Name one thing you miss about being a kid.
Riding bikes! I used to love jumping on my bike and pedaling around the neighborhood with nowhere to go—for hours. If I ride a bike now, it’s for exercise or to get somewhere. I don’t have a group of friends to ride back and forth on the street doing wheelies with me either.

There is never undoing the past. But I do think we should try our best to repair the damage we have caused. To apologize. To make amends.

At a movie theater which arm rest is yours?
Both.

What is your greatest adventure?
Being a dad! Watching my daughters grow and learn, watching them write their own stories and having them reading them to me—they are both going to be much better writers than me one day. Watching them dance folkl√≥rico and learn to bake. Seeing their paintings and sketches. Listening to their jokes.

It’s amazing.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Like JD in The Broke Hearts, I deployed when I was still a teenager. I was sent to the Middle East when I was nineteen years old. Flying on a military transport jet, sleeping on a cot, living in tent city with my unit was surreal. At the time I remembered thinking how only a few months ago I was in high school and that many of my friends still were. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Every single kind of relationship ends, so why not choose love? I would choose to love and then get crushed by heartbreak every single time.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I have plenty of regrets! And most of those come from times when I failed to be brave, when I didn’t have the courage to either stand up for myself or someone else. When I didn’t do the right thing. But I WOULDN’T go back and change any of those times because that isn’t the brave thing to do.


In this piercing follow up to Barely Missing Everything , JD and Danny, still reeling from the gutting death of their best friend by police gunfire, grapple with life-changing decisions and the kind of people they want to be, for Juan.

A year after losing their best friend, JD and Danny are still brokenhearted. JD’s impetuous decision to join the Air Force only makes him yearn for “before” more than ever. Danny, who’d rather paint murals than open a book and certainly never thought of himself as college material, makes the equally impulsive choice to do what Juan will never be able to and enrolls in a community college.

Danny’s father, The Sarge, is proud of him for the first time ever for living out Sarge’s own dream of being a first-generation college student, but Danny can’t shake the thought that it should be Juan, not him. And studying hasn’t gotten any easier for him despite his new academic goals. When Danny is on the verge of flunking out and JD gets notified of imminent deployment, the two are forced to confront their shared grief that led them to these paths. Can they learn to live lives that are their own in honor of Juan, rather than for him?


You can purchase The Broke Hearts at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MATT MENDEZ for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Broke Hearts by Matt Mendez.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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1 comment:

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