This week’s post is an interview with Matthew Anderson, author of Love in Doom and Secession. He takes us on a journey through his writing process and how he discovered the idea for his debut novel.

Tell the readers a little about your book?

Love in Doom and Secession is the story of Delaware becoming an independent country. Delaware and its people find themselves in crisis after Rehoboth Beach is consumed by high tides, which prompts the main characters, Juneau and Victor, to create a movement for independence. They believe that through the establishment of a sort of communist utopia separate from the United States, they can fix all of Delaware’s ills. Unfortunately, corporate interests take advantage of this sentiment to install a theocratic dictator in power. Wrestling with what their movement has become, Juneau and Victor go on a pilgrimage to reflect on the past and come to terms with their future, and along the way, Victor experiences a tumultuous but passionate romance with Raphael, an Israeli soldier.

But I like to think that my book is not only the story of Delaware, the nation: it is also a love letter to this strange, arbitrary place I call home, a reflection on the absurd political age in which we live, and a loving, genuine portrayal of queer romance unlike the typical notions of such relationships that are most commonly found in media.

How did you come up with the idea?

There are a lot of tensions between Delawareans and out-of-state students at the university in the novel. The animosity leads to Juneau creating the image of New Jersey as antithetical to Delawareanism as she attempts to build a separate Delawarean identity almost entirely from scratch.

The satire is certainly exaggerated, but I would also admit that my satire finds its base in truth. Given that the majority of students at the University of Delaware are from places outside of Delaware, I think that does breed a certain kind of culture. I also feel that Delaware is a sort of place that people love to hate, especially its own residents. But I don’t personally have much else to cling to, no deep connection to any sort of specific culture across the Atlantic, and so I found myself wanting to depict my connection to the only home I feel I can claim through literature.

When I began to write this novel, I knew that I would be leaving Delaware for a while in just a few months, and so my desire to write a sort of love letter to the mundane, arbitrary place I called home just grew and grew. I was at a point in my writing life where I had been writing a lot of short stories, and so when the idea of an independent Delaware came to my head, I began to plan it as a short story. But it became clear to me relatively early on that it would have to become a novel: I had too much to say, too much I wanted to work with.

Were the characters in the story inspired by people you know?

Many of them were not, but some of them were at least loosely based on people I know. I think that you can certainly find some of myself in both Victor and Raphael. I wrote their story very intimately: I was trying to comment on my own romantic life, both the yearnings and the ecstasy, and my own thoughts and feelings bleed into their interactions really deeply.

I think there are also parts of my mom in Wynona, Juneau’s mom. There’s one quote relatively early in the book, where the narrator states that Wynona believes “children deserve respect by virtue of birth,” and I feel that that is something my own mother would believe.

How did the pandemic shape your writing life?

The pandemic was very central to my writing process. It was with me even in the beginning stages, in the first blossoms of inspiration. I think the pandemic made the absurdity of our current politics and society much more salient and urgent, revealing some of our weaknesses as a nation, and it made me eager to reflect that in literature, stretch that absurdity beyond its limits to create a work of fiction.

Due to the pandemic, I also ended up having a lot of free time, like many of us. I had six months free because my Fulbright grant to Taiwan was postponed from August 2020 to January 2021. Having just graduated, I was struggling to find a temporary six-month position, especially in the deep quarantine of that time period, so I just threw myself into my writing. I’m really happy I took that time, too: I know that I’ve already completed one novel, so in the future, I am confident I can do it again, no matter what life throws at me.

Do you have a specific writing routine or ritual you use to get motivated to write?

I am now a big fan of the Pomodoro technique, and I utilized it a lot while I was writing the novel. For those who might not have heard of it, it means to write (or do any task, really) for 25 minutes uninterrupted, then to take a five-minute break, and continue working in those sorts of increments. On days when I was struggling to show up at my desk, it helped a lot because it seemed like a small commitment, and then after 25 minutes, I was often in my flow and ready to keep going. Sometimes, though, that writing routine would become tiring, so I would switch to a word count goal instead of a time goal, usually 1,500 words.

What was your biggest struggle while you were writing? How did you overcome it?

I think the hardest part was that I had only ever written short stories before, and so I had to learn how to write a novel as I was going. I learned the importance of rigorous planning and reflection: often, I found that ideas evolved in my head without me even noticing, and so I would need to write them out before I could really know what I was thinking about a certain theme or stylistic choice. I would make a lot of outlines, step-by-step instructions for me to know what scenes I had finished writing and which I still needed to do.

Who has influenced your writing style the most? What have you taken from them?

I see this work in particular as very postmodern. That is what I aspire to, anyway! I wanted to borrow from that genre of literature to reflect the political absurdities of the present day, the precariousness of the current moment. In that vein, I would say I have taken a lot from the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Don DeLillo. However, stylistically, I would say I also am really inspired by writing that is melancholy and reflective, some sort of aesthetic that appreciates sadness for its beauty. There I am indebted to José Saramago, particularly his The Stone Raft: he writes in these long, lilting sentences, you may not be entirely sure who is speaking at one moment but you know that his prose is shockingly beautiful, flowing like an aria. I also really admire Antonio Muñoz Molina, especially his work Sefarad, for similar stylistic reasons: his ability to capture a deep melancholy, even a sort of saudade in his prose. I definitely strove to learn some things from them.

How did you end up in Taiwan?

I came to Taiwan on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. I work in a public elementary school teaching English to students in grades 4-6. I will likely be staying here for a couple more years, teaching English and perhaps getting my Master’s in Chinese literature or East Asian Studies. I find that being in new, unfamiliar environments is really stimulating to the writer in me. In addition to being a writer, I’m an avid student of foreign languages (I’m proficient in around 5 currently besides English), so being here is a lot of fun.

As enamored as I am of new places and new languages, however, I also care deeply about the concept of home, feeling like I have roots somewhere. So I think Love in Doom and Secession is also wrestling between these two things. Its setting and plot is a love letter to my home, if at times a mocking or ambivalent love letter, while the characters also wrestle with feelings of restlessness, of Fernweh, kind of the Germans’ equivalent to wanderlust. I think in this age of globalization, this tension is really palpable.

What are you reading right now?

I tend to oscillate between nonfiction, particularly history, politics, and cultural criticism, and literary fiction. I just finished reading Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, which I highly recommend as a thorough but deeply engaging account of the war. I absolutely could not put it down; despite its exacting and sober treatment of the facts, I experienced it almost like a thriller. Right now, I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I have always admired Bradbury, especially when I was a teenager, and I have not read any Vonnegut in a few months, so I am overdue to reread one of my favorite authors.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I am working on a short story in the creative nonfiction realm. After completing my first novel, I was craving a project with less time commitment and more immediate satisfaction. That being said, I also see it as a stylistic etude, an exercise for me to focus on something with a much smaller scope so I can make everything perfect. It’s the sort of exhaustive comprehensiveness that I want to have when I begin my next novel, Pittsadelphia, which will be a tale of the merging of the two Pennsylvanian metropolises after Philadelphia is consumed by high tides.

Where can readers find your book?

Interested readers can find Love in Doom and Secession on Amazon.

Matthew Anderson is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware, where he studied foreign languages and English. His work has been published in the Eunoia Review and the Main Street Journal. In April of 2021, he published his first novel, Love in Doom and Secession. He lives and works in Taiwan, where he plans to earn a Master’s degree in Chinese literature.

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