I once took a class on office organization. The instructor talked about having a place for every thing when someone raised their hand. “My office looks like a tornado went through, and my boss keeps telling me to clean it up,” they said. “But, I know where everything is at any moment.” The instructor looked at the person and said, “You are organized; your style is just different from your boss.” The way Suzanne Mattaboni describes her desk invoked this memory. Everyone’s organizational style is different. But, as long as it works for you, stick with it. Enjoy Suzanne’s interview.
Who are you?
I’m Suzanne Mattaboni, author of the new novel Once in a Lifetime, a fun, coming-of-age women’s fiction set in the 1980s against New Wave music and art background. I’m based in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, an hour north of Philadelphia. I write fiction, corporate PR, and essays. I’ve been writing in a lot of different capacities. For the past couple of years, my goal has been to expand the creative end of my writing, which was my first love.
What do you write?
I write “young” women’s fiction, middle grade, some YA, and have been getting into horror short stories that have found some nice homes in anthologies and publications. They’re gory but a blast. I like stirring up emotions.
I gravitate to stories about people striving for something more in their lives. My characters are typically breaking their butts to burst free of their little worlds and become something bigger. That’s the moment you stop, look around and say, “How is this my life!?” and realize you’ve got to do something differently. I think that’s the most interesting moment in a person’s journey.
Do I love what I do? I love that I’ve been able to make a full-time career as a writer. But, when I sit down at the computer to write, I don’t always love it. That’s when I discover I really need a bowl of Captain Crunch or to water the plants or research my upcoming vacation. But once I get into the meat of the writing, that ridiculous magical vortex sucks me in and doesn’t let me go for hours. Then I love it again.
Where do you write?
I’m not a tool person. I sit at a laptop on Microsoft Word. I don’t use Grammarly or word clouds or Scrivener; I tend just to organize as I go.
I’m the type of person whose desk looks like a Staples exploded. But what the casual onlooker doesn’t understand is that I don’t need things to look pretty; I have a strangely amazing memory, and I know where every shred of everything is. I could stick something into a folder and never touch it again for five years, but the next time I need it, I’ll remember exactly where I put it. I don’t color code. I don’t alphabetize. If my memory fails, I ask myself where I’d put the thing if I had it at that moment. And there it is.
Frankly, search tools and platforms and automated thesauruses dull those skills for me. They make me dependent on the engine instead of my brain. And I need my brain in full working order!
Grammarly would absolutely hate everything I do anyway, so I avoid it.
When do you write?
Since I’ve made a good living for years as a PR writer, there are few times when I’m not writing something. (Wait, look—I’m doing it right now!)
I typically write fiction late at night. I have to physically get out of my regular home office where I do the corporate stuff and set up in my kitchen, all alone. No Spotify playlist, nobody else’s words in my head. If I’m working on a long-form piece, I start slow. I’m lucky if my first session yields three paragraphs. Then I work up to several pages per night. I can’t rush myself, it only leads to guilt.
It’s funny, I have this great yard with willow trees and butterfly bushes and such, and people ask, “Oooo—do you write out here?” No, I don’t, because when I’m out there I want to dance under the willows like Maria from The Sound of Music and enjoy the gorgeous day, LOL. When I’m writing, I’m in my head, so any nice scenery is wasted.
Why do you write?
It’s just what I do. I’ve been narrating my whole life in my head probably since I was about four. I used to act out novels with Barbie dolls. I don’t know—maybe it’s a control thing. I want to remake the world the way I want it to be and share it with everyone. I’ve always gotten a thrill out of being able to make people feel the things I imagined for them.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
I wish I had an exciting answer, but … I clean stuff. Doing something utterly mindless like washing dishes loosens me up. That’s when your thoughts wander, and you need to run back to the computer and put something down.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I like to get out and do stuff: go to a community festival, travel somewhere, hit a writer’s conference. I’ve got a fun family—we’re like children. Or an improv troupe. We get together and go wild. Now and then we’ll do something wacky, like when my daughter and I flew to Florida to take my retired mother to the X-Files reunion panel at the Spooky Empire conference in Orlando. I’ve been to Drag Con. I’ve been to ComiCon. From the outside, I look like a quiet introvert. But underneath it all, I’m a motivated, geeky, party-goer.
My thanks to Suzanne Mattaboni for today’s interview.