Matthew Binder is the author of the novel High In The Streets. We checked out the book recently, and Matthew was even kind enough to share an extract of it with us. Afterwards, we chatted about the inspiration for the book, its characters, and what makes Matthew tick. A big thank you to Matthew for sharing some wisdom.
So, your author bio makes you sound like you’ve had a pretty adventurous life so far. Is this to suit the persona of the book, or Is there a fair chunk of Lou Brown in you? I’ve made my fair share of ill-advised life decisions, similar to Lou. I had written a different novel before High in the Streets. I didn’t know any better, and was convinced it would be a tremendous success. High in the Streets is sort of how I imagined my life would be if that success had actually transpired.
Yeah, that makes sense. I thought it worked well though, rather than striving for the American dream, it was showing that the American dream isn’t enough to be content Was this your intention? I didn’t work from an outline on this book. Each day that I sat down at the computer, I was going into completely blind. No idea what I’d write or where it was going. The themes just sort of naturally developed as time went on. I wrote the first draft very quickly, maybe 3 or 4 weeks. It wasn’t labored at all. I think in some respects, I got lucky that the book worked out as well as it did. It probably shouldn’t have.
That’s interesting. One of my favourite things about this book was actually the subplots. I think Cliff was a really interesting character, where did he come from? My best friend from growing up was a ballplayer. He read my first novel, the one that failed to make a mark on the publishing industry, and was hurt that he didn’t get a character. I told him I’d put him in another book if I could ever manage to write one. When I started writing High in the Streets, I wanted to make good on that promise. However, my pal has turned into a very well-adjusted, high-functioning member of society, which would make for boring fiction. So, I used his last name, kept the character a former ballplayer, and made up the rest.
There was a real sense of authenticity to his struggle. I tried to give him a lot of the qualities that both Lou and I lack as people.
The great struggle of both embracing life and simultaneously having to live in this world.
Did you find it tough creating Lou? He’s not the most likeable character, but in the same way he is what a lot of people, especially male writers, want to be. No, it wasn’t difficult for me to write him. His bad behavior mirrors all my natural instincts as a person. I’m lucky that I get to hide behind a veil of fiction. That said–I don’t think Lou is a bad person. He’s always very loyal to his friends and he always looks out for folks who’ve had injustices committed against them. He’s just rotten to everyone else.
There was a real swagger of sex, drinking and smoking in this novel. Is this writing what you know, or a romanticising of an ideal life? Well, I tried not to make it all swagger and bravado. There’s a good amount of bad or failed sex in the novel, too. As for the other bad behaviour present in the book, I wouldn’t say I veered too far off course from what I know from my own experience.
But at the same time, under that, it’s romantic. Is that fair to say?
I’m not sure that in most cases Lou would make a good model for a successful life, but it works for a certain type of person.
So, back to you. Lou had a moment when he decided he had to start writing, did you? I had spent many years playing in various rock n roll bands. Then I got to a point where I completely lost interest in it, so I quit. However, I was miserable, not having anything creative or productive to work on. A few weeks later, the baseball pal who I mentioned earlier and I were driving across the desert from Albuquerque to San Diego. It’s about a 12 hour trip. He was deathly ill and required complete silence so he could sleep. Not having anything else to do, I plotted out my entire first novel in my head. At the time, I had never even written a short story. The next day I quit my job and began working full-time on the novel. That’s a true story. Six months later, I was dead broke and had to move across the country and live with my parents for a time.
And now with a first novel coming out, how does it feel? I’m certainly glad to have written it. I’m sure the book won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it seems like a good number of folks are finding some value in it. For the most part, though, I’m just anxious to begin work on something new.
So you have stuff in the pipeline? I finished High in the Streets last summer. I haven’t written a word of fiction since. I’ve actually gone back to writing and recording music. It’s easier and less time consuming. For the past 2 years, I’ve been working at a proper, grown-up job. There is simply no way I could write a novel living as I am. The current plan is to quit, then take all the money I’ve squirreled away and move to Budapest to write something new. A few weeks ago, I bought a one-way ticket for a flight leaving in late June.
Sounds like you practice what you preach a lot. My only aim is to suffer regrets I can be proud of.