I included this afterward to the revised edition of a Worker’s Writebook, which has now been pushed to the major stores. I’ll be posting audio from Jack Matthews about this book and others very soon!
I take some credit for getting this ebook out because frankly, it never occurred to Matthews to publish this writing guide at all. Every semester for decades Matthews would pass around this photocopied guide to writing students consisting of essays and dialogues he’d written over the years.
In 2010 I flew to Ohio to meet Mr. Matthews for the first time and pitch the idea of helping Matthews to publish some ebooks. Matthews feigned coyness when I suggested the notion by email. But when I met him in person, Matthews was eager to get into ebooks though personally he was more comfortable with traditional printed books. The problem was: where to begin? Most of Matthews’ titles were out of print, and at the time I didn’t realize how many finished-but-unpublished books Matthews had – stories, novels, essays and plays. Writebook seemed like an easy project to start with.
Let me say a little about the first edition. The first iPad had just come out, and its ebook application (iBooks) blew the minds of everybody in publishing. When I showed the iPad to Matthews and his wife Barbara during my first visit, Matthews begrudgingly admitted that the sample ebooks look great, and his wife even said she wouldn’t mind owning an iPad herself. Before the iPad tablet, ebook readers had been six inch low-energy high-resolution devices. These e-ink models were technological marvels, but they failed to win over book lovers like Mr. Matthews because of the small displays, limited formatting controls, flaky graphics and complicated methods for loading ebooks onto them. By 2011 the Kindle soared in popularity after Amazon provided a way to view the same ebook on different devices via the cloud.
Producing a basic ebook in 2011 was still a bit of a challenge. You had to produce a separate .epub file for iBooks, a separate .epub for the Adobe reading system and a separate file for the Kindle. I had spent countless hours testing CSS workarounds to produce an ebook which was minimally adequate by 2011 standards; people producing ebooks will remember that period with horror. Fortunately, by 2013 or so, Amazon had updated the mobi format to align more closely with the latest epub3 standard. It was no longer necessary to design special Kindle workarounds; also apparently, some of my ingenious 2011 workarounds made the ebook look worse in later Kindles. For this reason, the Writebook ebook was badly in need of an upgrade even though the content remained the same.
Despite my lack of any background in graphical design, I put together a basic cover consisting of the author’s photograph and the title. I thought that the best way to convey a sage’s wisdom was to use a photo of the sage himself. The title itself is disconcerting but standard fare for Matthews (all of his correspondence contains intentional misspellings and mixed up words).
Sadly, Matthews passed away in November 2013. I wrote a long literary obituary which you can easily find on the ghostlypopulations.com website. I felt lucky and grateful that I could visit him a second time in 2012 to do audio and video recordings. By the time you read this, I will have uploaded a video file by Mr. Matthews talking about the craft of writing and this writing guide in particular. URLs will be on the author’s website and on the popular video distribution sites (YouTube, Archive.org etc.)
After Writebook, Personville Press produced five more ebooks by Mr. Matthews and plans to produce two more. At some later date, I will probably write a book about Mr. Matthews – the man and his works. I stumbled upon Matthews in such an unlikely fashion: I heard him in a 1983 Wired for Books audio interview that CBS radio host Don Swaim did with him (It is listed in the Multimedia section of the ghostlypopulations.com website). Matthews had found a university teaching job which offered stability, access to scholarship and exposure to younger generations. At the same time, it provided a pleasant island of obscurity from the harsh commercial realities of the publishing world.
When I started reading seriously, I imagined a great chasm between reader and author. I remember the long line at readings of fans eager to get autographs or exchange pleasantries with the author. Meeting the actual author seemed intimidating. (At the same time, I was aware that undiscovered writers lurked among us, always waiting for that elusive book contract).
Now things are different. It has never been easier to discover and buy new books. Every book under the sun is for sale on Amazon.com – and sometimes for ridiculously low prices. You could easily preview and purchase an ebook at 3:00 AM and read the ebook on your device seconds later. If you are blogging about books or reviewing them (as I do), you are regularly corresponding with accomplished but underappreciated authors. When I was bowled over by Mr. Matthews’ fiction in 2008, I sent a short fan letter by email to an old email address I was sure was non-functioning. (I was half-afraid that the author had already passed away). But Mr. Matthews replied promptly, and this led to a special and productive relationship that I never could have anticipated. Despite the increasing population and the global nature of publishing and the Internet, the world of authors and dedicated readers can be a lot smaller than you think.
I had two opportunities to visit Jack Matthews in Athens, Ohio. We spent a lot of time talking business, and unfortunately bad weather prevented us from going on a book-hunting expedition. In his later years, Matthews had a hearing problem – which made talking by telephone nearly impossible. We corresponded almost entirely by email. Fortunately, in person, his hearing problems didn’t interfere with having a normal conversation; it was no surprise that Matthews loved to talk/joke/pontificate/surmise/be pedantic. But it was also fun to hear him engage in impish conversation with staff of various stores and fast food places. One morning during my 2012 visit, Mr. Matthews suggested going to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. As it happens, I shared Mr. Matthews love for breakfast at McDonald’s, so I got in the car with Mr. Matthews and his wife Barbara and headed to a McDonald’s 10 minutes away. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but Matthews went through the drive through, ordering for us and making nutty wisecracks to the drive through worker (who seemed to know him – Matthews must have done this often). I expected to return home, but to my surprise, Matthews pulled into a space in the McDonald’s parking lot, whereupon we proceeded to eat our elaborate breakfasts like teenagers late for class. I don’t remember the silly and inconsequential stuff the three of us talked about – certainly nothing literary. Instead we talked about the nuances of the breakfast taco, the quirkiness of our respective families, lore about the town or maybe talk about the autumn weather (we kept the windows open). It seemed surreal to be eating breakfast inside a car at a MacDonald’s with my literary hero. Some mundane details about an author’s lifestyle and demeanor can’t be guessed by reading his literary works. Perhaps Writebook can also reveal some of the unconventional ways Matthews used to teach writing. If interested, you can read several accounts by former students about what it was like to have a writing class with “Professor Matthews.”