Matthew Dicks is an international bestselling author of four novels. His latest book, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, continues his string of quirky, oddball yet compelling stories told by a master storyteller. Dicks is renowned for thirty Moth StorySLAM appearances and sixteen victories as well as for being named West Hartford Teacher of the Year for his regular appearances in the role elementary school teacher.
Stay Thirsty Magazine was tickled to visit with Matthew Dicks at his home in Newington, Connecticut for these Five Questions.
STAY THIRSTY: In your new book, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, you paint a heartwarming and yet darkly satirical story of a woman and her daughter's road trip to deliver the "perfect comeback" for a wound that has festered for 25 years. Pain and redemption compete for dominance as your heroine acts to set herself free from the past. How much of your own life served as a backdrop for this book?
MATTHEW DICKS: I'm happy to report that I haven't spent the last 25 years wishing for the perfect comeback. By contrast, I've always been someone with a quick tongue. If anything, I often find myself with too perfect a comeback. As a result, I find myself saying things that are a little too pointed and regretting my comments later.
But I know many conflict-averse people, and I often wish that I could be standing behind them, feeding them the perfect retort. In fact, I write posts on my blog that offer strategies for situations that involve what I call verbal sparring. In a way, I'm seeking to increase the amount of conflict in the world by encouraging my readers to be more direct and aggressive when the moment is right and the opponent is deserving.
That said, I've probably spent the last 25 years attempting to prove to my parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and other doubters that I could make something of myself. While growing up, the word college was never mentioned once to me. Not in my home and not at school. I came to believe that the adults in my life didn't believe that I was capable of any significant accomplishments, so I have been striving to prove them wrong ever since. That would be my perfect comeback.
STAY THIRSTY: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is told from a woman's point of view. How difficult was it as a man to think like a woman? In fact, many women?
MATTHEW DICKS: For the last 17 years, I have been working as an elementary school teacher, almost exclusively in the company of women, and prior to that, I attended a women's college for four years. I like to think that if there is a man on this planet who understands how women think, it's me.
Nevertheless, I also had nine women and one man serving as beta readers as I wrote the book, and they proved invaluable to me. They were quick to alert me when a bit of dialogue or the mother-daughter dynamic wasn't ringing true.
I'd also like to think that men and women have much more in common than we think, so although I was cognizant of the differences between the sexes while writing the book, I was also trying to capture the truth of the human condition, regardless of sex or gender.
STAY THIRSTY: Your resume reads like an international bestselling author on secret assignment hiding in plain sight as the father of two young children, working as a highly regarded teacher, moonlighting as an award-winning competition storyteller, a public speaker, a life coach and more. Wouldn't it just be easier to be an author whose books have been translated into 25 languages and sign autographs than being an admirable everyman?
MATTHEW DICKS: Easier is rarely better. The road less traveled is almost always the better choice. My life is an interesting and complicated mix of family, career, and artistic pursuits, and I wouldn't change a thing. I recently went 13 days without turning on the television, and it's not because I didn't want to watch. I enjoy plopping down on the couch before bed and watching a show alongside my wife. We just didn't have the time, and that, I thought, was a great thing. Not only is every one of my days full of meaningful work and unique challenges, but so many of the things that I do serve as fertile soil for my writing and storytelling. A full life is a life filled with inspiration, and I take that to the page and to the stage every day.
STAY THIRSTY: You have won many Moth StorySLAMs and Moth GrandSLAMs because of your storytelling abilities. Is it easier for you to tell your stories in front of a live audience (with instant feedback) or in book form (with delayed gratification)?
MATTHEW DICKS: I love both forms of storytelling. When I'm writing a novel, I'm using my imagination in ways that are difficult to describe. It sometimes feels as if it's magic. The story seems to emerge from the ether. And the process of writing and publishing books allows my stories to travel the globe and land in the hands of readers who I will never see or meet but will connect with thanks to the page. It's an amazing feeling, and even better when they reach out and connect with me via the Internet. And in book form, my stories possess a permanence that I like a lot. When I'm gone, my stories will remain, and as such, a part of my mind and voice will remain as well.
The stories that I tell onstage are always true stories, so there is less imagination and more craft involved, and I love that, too. Storytelling on the stage allows me to share a piece of my personal history with an audience, and the feedback that I receive is both instantaneous and extremely gratifying. I know my novels often make people laugh and cry, but I never get to experience those emotions firsthand. When I tell a story onstage, the laughter and the tears are right there, right in front of me.
STAY THIRSTY: What stories do you like to tell your children? And your wife?
MATTHEW DICKS: My children love the stories from my childhood, but my daughter, Clara, says, "Not the sad ones, Daddy. You have too many sad ones." Their favorites are the one about the time my sister fell into the toilet and the stories of my pet raccoon, Racket.
My wife, Elysha, listens to all of my stories, though there are times when even she's had enough. Someone recently asked her what caused her to fall in love with me. She said that it was my storytelling. She fell in love with the way I told a story, and she loved how the stories I told made it clear I was unlike anyone she had ever met before.
I was shocked. Storytelling landed me the perfect wife. Not a bad reason to tell a story.