My debut novel is called The French Revolution – but it’s not directly about the French Revolution. Instead it’s a San Francisco family saga loosely structured on the historical French Revolution. I like to say it’s like Animal Farm meets A Confederacy of Dunces – an allegory with a deep sense of place that’s not afraid to be zany and makes for a boatload of fun. I’ve been fortunate to receive nice reviews as well – the San Francisco Chronicle named The French Revolution a Best Book of 2010 and Poets & Writers called it a Notable Debut.
Tell us something about yourself.
I made headlines worldwide when I originally released The French Revolution on Twitter! That’s right, I broke up sentences in 140-character chunks and broadcasted them to the world for free – and wound up getting featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal CNN and more. Best of all, a few weeks later I landed a book deal. Take it from me, this book is a LOT easier to read in traditional book form.
What inspired you to write this book?
The French Revolution is one of the most ridiculous eras in history. If you said today that we were going to execute Barack Obama in the middle of the National Mall next year, you’d be arrested – but that’s exactly what happened in France. I wanted to take that zaniness, that sense of creation colored with bizarreness, the thrill of creating a new country weighted with tragedy – and explore it within the ecosystem of a family saga. Modeling a book around the French Revolution gave me a license to be inventive, and I used it.
That said, you can just read the book straight through as an inventive family story and still have a hell of a ride.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
Oh man. Well, first it took me a year to land an agent. That required rewriting my novel, on spec, for one agent’s specific requests. (Fortunately, she took me.) Then, after another round of revisions, I was rejected by thirty publishers. I analyzed all their feedback and made another overhaul, then we resubmitted to twelve more publishers. The first few rejections dripped in, and–in consultation with my agent–I decided the hell with it, let’s put this thing on Twitter. With a little PR grease, the idea caught fire.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Before I begin a book, I sacrifice a goat. Each day, after writing my first paragraph, I meditate for seven minutes precisely. On the quarter hour I perform eleven jumping jacks; on the half-hour, I gargle “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I edit only during full moons.
But seriously, my only writing ritual is to email myself a lot of notes whenever I have an idea. It gives me an ongoing reservoir of pretty good ideas that I can go to anytime I get stuck.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
I learned to trust authors more. My god, it is HARD to publish a book. The people who write, and edit, and go through all the hoops for (usually) minimal sales and prestige do it because they love their work, because they believe in their creations. Anybody that insane wins my unequivocal respect.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m wrapping up my next novel now – it’s called Duct Tape, and is about a homeless man in search of his imaginary son.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Never give up. The world is set up to say no – it’s up to you to find a way to make them say yes.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
I’m on the web at http://matt-stewart.com, where you can download my free iPhone app that’s a companion to the book (!). Also, feel free to drop me a line directly at email@example.com or @mjfstewart on Twitter.