Joseph Matthew Nespoli is the author of the recent novel Broken (World Audience Publishers, New York, 2010), a book that tells the stories of several characters with broken lives. Whether they can fix their lives to emerge from the broken state of being is the main point of the book. Following is a brief interview with Matt about Broken.
Ernest: Hello Matt, your first novel Broken is out now. Would you like to tell our readers what is it about?
Matt: Broken is about you and me. It’s told from the point of view of fourteen different characters, all of whom have run to California. It’s about our human nature to seek out others like ourselves, and our need for human companionship and love. The characters in Broken are all extremely varied from one another, so everyone reading it will find at least one character whom they can relate to, which makes the story much more personal to the reader.
Ernest: How long did it take you to write the book since the conception of its idea and what inspired its creation?
Matt: There was no conception of an idea for this novel. It just kind of happened. I was traveling the country, a bit of a nomad, hopping from state to state, staying for three months and moving on. I met many other travelers along the way, and what I found is that most of them were running away from something every bit as much as they were running towards something new. With a little self-reflection, I realized I was doing the same thing. The characters are based on the people I met during my travels. I started journaling my travels, never intending to write a novel, but just trying to keep track of all these incredibly interesting people to help offset my horrific memory. The women in Broken are all based on girls that I’ve dated and the men’s personalities are a combination of guys I’ve met, and my own multi-faceted, complex, odd personality. I didn’t consciously decide to write the novel until I met a girl here in California, who inspired me and turned me on to literature. I based one of the main characters on her as well. It took me only about 2-3 months to write Broken, because I write very stream of conscious. I write it as I think it. However, after writing the first draft, it took about 12 months to edit it.
Ernest: You tell the life stories of a number of people from different backgrounds. Why did you prefer this style of mosaic of stories instead of a single plot followed all along like in most other novels?
Matt: It’s not necessarily that I preferred this style of storytelling; I didn’t even know that this type of storytelling had been done before. In fact, I feared that this style could make the story to confusing for the reader. However, it was the only way the story could be told. If I was going to get my message across to the reader, then each individual character had to be able to directly communicate his/her feelings with the reader. Writing from the perspective of fourteen people, and making sure they all had unique voices, was hard, but it was also the most fun aspect of it. And I believe it was successful because most readers find a character they can really relate to. Many people compare Broken’s style to that of “Crash”. That’s nice, because Crash was a great story; however, it also upsets me, because I wrote this long before Crash came out.
Ernest: The sampler available online at http://www.worldaudience.org/pdfs_samplers/Broken__Sampler_Scrd.pdf seems to show that the novel deals with the role of drug and sex in breaking people. How exactly does the novel treat this topic?
Matt: I chose some hard hitting topics like sexual abuse, drug abuse, and homelessness, because this is what I saw the most of when I traveled. These stories, these tragic pasts, are real, and I wanted to put something out there, for other victims of abuse to read, that would help them feel less alone in their own tragedy. You’d be surprised how many people in this country have fallen victim to abuse. Most people keep it to themselves because they don’t want others to view them in a negative light. I have a very non-threatening personality and for some reason, that I still don’t understand, many people feel comfortable opening up to me. I can’t tell you how many women have approached me with their stories of sexual abuse, both before this novel, and even more after it. However, Broken isn’t a downer; it’s not all hard-hitting and sad. Several of the characters, whom are also broken, have much less tragic pasts. But they are every bit as broken, because to them, it’s all they know. A character who has a bad relationship with his father, feels broken, and though he may not be a drug addict or a victim of sexual abuse, his pain is no greater or lesser than the woman who’s been sexually abused. The point is that everyone’s pain is personal and everyone’s pain is real, no matter how insignificant it may seem to the rest of us.
Ernest: Is Broken an upbeat book and does it have something important to show about healing or recovering from loss in life?
Matt: Well, yeah, that’s kind of the entire point. Broken stays true to real life and that some people find healing and happiness, but not everyone. The message that Broken tries to communicate is that we need each other. We all need love, and not necessarily of the romantic kind, but we all need love, someone to hold us, someone to tell our secrets to. It’s a rough life and can get lonely, and without someone to lean on, it’s nearly an impossible journey.
Ernest: Okay Matt, do you think your novel is more appealing to an adult male audience than women?
Matt: Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote it. I know that the women connect a lot more with the tragedy and romance in the novel and the men connect a lot more with the humor in it. One thing that I’m proud of is that there is something for everyone in it. It’s heavy hitting in spots, but I also try to keep very light and comedic tones throughout, and that was the benefit of writing from multiple points of view. Some of the characters are completely tragic and broken and see the world from a very pessimistic point of view. Others have very humorous takes on the exact same subject matter.
Ernest: Did you personally learn or gain anything significant while writing Broken?
Matt: I learned that I’m no different than anyone else. I too am broken, and through love, I have found my saving grace. Also, in writing, I’ve found some peace. Some people go to therapy to exorcise their demons, I write about mine.
Ernest: How do you compare your fiction writing experience with other kinds of article and essay writing that you practice on your site http://mattsnakedword.com/?
Matt: Now we’re talking about two completely different things. NakedWordSurfer.com was started for political reasons. I’ve grown very frustrated with the political landscape of this country. Corporate America has taken over government and we all sit, like passive little sheep, as the wealthy take more and more from the rest of us every year. The middle class is all but dead. So, I started this website to try to make a difference. However, my bride had a baby, and I found that fatherhood was extremely hilarious. So, I started writing little humor stories about my wonderful little kid, and when we got the numbers back on the site, we found that the humor blogs were being read about four times as much as the political stories. So, we’ve used those stories to rope people into the site, and then we try to keep them there to read our socio-political stories. We want to wake up America. We’ve found that it’s become very apathetic about things we should care about.
Ernest: So are you up for writing another novel in the near future?
Matt: Oh, absolutely! I’m currently working on a humor memoir about fatherhood as well as a screenplay about two brothers who love the same girl. Besides playing with my kid, kissing on my bride, and playing beach volleyball, writing is my favorite thing in life. I intend to write many more novels. However, I’m not going to allow myself to be pigeon-holed into any type of genre. I think Broken sort of defied all genres and maybe even invented a new one. Future novels may not be as ambitious as to invent a new genre, but I’ll never become complacent within any one genre. I’ve got ideas for romance novels, horror novels, political novels, humor novels, etc.
Ernest: Thank you Matt for taking the time for this interview!
Matt: Thank you! I love talking about Broken and I thank you for the opportunity.