As part of the 7th annual Fox Cities Book Festival from Monday, April 7 to Sunday, April 13, authors Bruce Machart and Matthew Batt, old friends and classmates of Lawrence Associate Professor of English David McGlynn, gathered in the Pusey room of the Warch Campus Center to present to a small group of Lawrence students, staff and Fox Cities residents. Machart and Batt spoke for about an hour and a half, first illuminating their respective writing styles of fiction and creative non-fiction and the proceeding into readings of their works. Machart read an excerpt from his 2010 novel “The Wake of Forgiveness,” an award winner featured by both Amazon and Barnes and Noble that chronicles the story of a Texas family in the wake of their mother’s death. Matt read from his 2012 memoir “Sugarhouse,” which tells the story of he and his wife renovating a former crack house in Salt Lake City with no construction or design experience between them.
From the very beginning, the chemistry between Machart and Batt was obvious; their friendship and comfort with each other were extremely evident in their easy conversation, and they began their talk reminiscing about an old mutual professor who used to espouse the FAT method of creating characters, involving feelings, actions and thought. Machart and Batt both emphasized, however, that while they stayed true to the FAT method, they added an E to create the FATE method in their writing: for them, exposition is extremely important.
Machart and Batt stressed that because they write differently, fiction and non-fiction, their methods vary. However they both spent time discussing the difference between scene and action and the importance of using both, as well as developing both the external and internal aspects of a character. While they characterized scene as something you could see in a film, something with no internal input, action is more about the act along with the context and history that goes with it, and it is action that reveals a character. Action and thought will develop the internal side of a character.
Another piece of simple advice that the two imparted was to write about the unexpected. “Stories are about the day that was different,” Machart commented; in other words, don’t write about routines — write about that which breaks the routine.
After the advice and technique discussion, Machart lead the way and read an excerpt from “The Wake of Forgiveness.” I’m not usually one for audiobooks, but hearing an author read his own words is a very different experience, and Machart’s deep, expressive voice seemed to truly convey the power of his prose. Similarly, Batt’s voice and tone perfectly complemented his reading from “Sugarhouse,” capturing all of the wry humor of his words.
The talk concluded with the two authors taking questions. When asked about their favorite books, Machart and Batt found a few they could agree on, well-earned additions to the reading list: Anything by Richard Yates of “Revolutionary Road,” anything by Melanie Rae Thon and “So Long, See You Tomorrow” by William Maxwell — in addition, of course, to each other’s works.