by Lorie Lewis Ham
I was very excited this week to have the chance to review Matt Witten’s book Breakfast At Madelines, and to finally get a chance to interview Matt which I’ve wanted to do for years as I am a fan of his work on TV as well. At the end of this post are details on how to win an e-book copy of Breakfast At Madeline’s.
This past Christmas I finally joined the world of e-book readers and while I will always prefer a paper book I can hold, one thing I really love about e-books is that they have brought new life to some older books. The first book I read on my Kindle falls into this category–Breakfast At Madeline’s by Matt Witten. This is a delightful book published several years ago being given new life in e-books along with other books in the series.
In Breakfast At Madeline’s, Saratoga Springs screenwriter Jacob Burns has sold his first script to Hollywood and is kind of kicking back enjoying the success while trying to decide what to do next. Jacob is sitting at his regular table in Madeline’s Expresso Bar when his life is thrown into an unexpected tailspin because another local writer named Donald Penn (who was not so successful), falls dead at his feet.
In the process of dying Penn gives Jacob the key to his safety deposit box and Jacob takes it upon himself to find out what is in the box because he feels that was what Penn wanted. It turns out to be Penn’s unfinished manuscript that really wasn’t any good, and yet seems to have much of the city in a panic about what’s in it, including the mayor and some important people involved in the local arts community.
It doesn’t take long for Jacob to wish he’d never seen the manuscript when people start breaking into his home to steal it, he nearly gets burned alive in a fire, and he is propositioned by a hot young waitress at Madeline’s (well that one wouldn’t have bothered him so much if he wasn’t happily married). However, curious person that he is, and feeling a sort of responsibility to Penn since he had no friends or family, Jacob feels like he has to find out what’s going on even if it means breaking and entering and a few other less than legal adventures. With everything going on, Jacob has also decided that this had to be a murder instead of just a heart attack, and is determined to find the killer.
I’ve come to a point in my reading life that I find it hard to explain what type of books catch my interest and why, I just know when they do and this one definitely did right from page one. Matt has the advantage of being a screenwriter, which I’m sure, helped this character and story come to life with a realistic and fun feel.
This book is an absolute delight and a very quick read. The story is filled with interesting small town characters and drama, a good mystery, and a charming and very funny protagonist. I enjoyed not only the mystery but getting to know this town, Jacob, and his family. Matt Witten’s writing style is witty and fun and I can’t wait to discover the rest of the books in this series. This is a wonderful book!
Interview With Matt Witten:
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Matt: I’ve been writing since first grade.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you share a little about it?
Matt: My first novel came out in 1998. It’s called Breakfast at Madeline’s (the book reviewed here). Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading mysteries. So I decided to try my hand at writing one. I spent about four months writing and rewriting the first chapter, trying to get the tone right. Then it took maybe three months to write the rest of the book. I always get a kick out of it when people tell me the book is light and breezy, because I remember how hard I sweated for four months to get that light, breezy tone. The character of Donald Penn, in the book, is inspired by a famous eccentric named Joe Gould. Jacob Burns’ wife and two sons are inspired by own wife and two sons.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Matt: I’ve written TV shows–Law and Order, House, Pretty Little Liars, and other shows–and also plays. My favorite play that I’ve written is called Sacred Journey, based on a homeless native American man I met in Brooklyn. Currently I’m working with the dancer/actor/director Debbie Allen on a pilot for CW.
Lorie: How exciting! What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Matt: I lived in Saratoga for ten years, was a writer, had a wife who taught English at a local community college, and had two young sons. All of these things are also true of my main character, Jacob Burns! Which meant I didn’t have to do a lot of research. I see Jacob as just like me but richer, funnier, and better looking. In my four Jacob Burns novels, I killed off people who annoyed me in real life–for instance, a local politician who beat out a friend of mine in an election. I also investigated issues that fascinated me, like how it feels to be a struggling artist, or competing philosophies about reinvigorating a broken down neighborhood, or standardized testing in schools. Mainly, I suppose, I had fun writing about things and people I knew quite well and cared deeply about.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Matt: I want my readers to have fun. And I’d like them to care about the people I write about. Those two desires are quite intertwined!
Lorie: I know you have worked in the TV industry as well as you mentioned above–can you share with us some of the shows you have worked on and in what capacity and how you got involved in that? Are you involved in any now?
Matt: I got involved in TV when people saw my stage plays being performed in New York and Los Angeles and asked me to write episodes of Homicide and Law & Order. Right now I’m writing the CW pilot mentioned above and also a pilot for MTV.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Matt: I write whenever I can. I like to get going first thing in the morning.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Matt: With my books, before I start writing I know who gets killed, who the killer is, and who the red herrings are. I know the beginning of the book and the end. As for the middle: I more or less make that up as I go along. When I write for TV, unlike books, I do up a rigorous outline first. A fifteen-page outline for a sixty-page script.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Matt: It was hard to get an agent. Took me six months. I got twenty-five rejections. After I finally got an agent, it took him one day to sell the book. In fact, we had three offers within six days.
Lorie: How many books have you published?
Matt: Four novels, three plays.
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Matt: I once got hired by a shopping center to be a playwright-in-residence for two hours. I talked with kids about playwriting.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Matt: Keep writing till I’m 120.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Matt: Woody Guthrie, Dr. Seuss, Elmore Leonard. Walt Kelly.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Matt: Depends on the project. For my Jacob Burns novels I didn’t have to do much research, I knew stuff already. But if I’m writing about something I don’t know about, I find people to talk to, be they lawyers, cops, doctors, or whatever.
Lorie: What do you read?
Matt: I read a lot of true crime. Love Gillian Flynn’s books. Also Richard Price, Elmore Leonard, and P.G. Wodehouse.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Matt: Homeland. Harvey.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Matt: Keep writing. Hang out with other writers.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Matt: I’m into Project Runway.
Lorie: Lol, yep I’m surprised. Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Matt: No website, no twitter, I’m on Facebook, though I rarely check it.
Lorie: Are you working on any new Jacob Burns mysteries, or any other mystery novels right now?
Matt: I’m not writing any mystery novels right now. But at some point, I plan to write more Jacob Burns novels that are set in Hollywood, after he comes out there to write for television. The novels will be about Jacob and his family adjusting from small-town life in upstate New York to life in L.A.
Lorie: Do you find that e-books are giving your books new life?
Matt: Yes, definitely. My novels have been out of print for three or four years; but now, on e-books, a lot of people are buying them.
Lorie: Can you tell us about the movie you are working on and when it will be out?
Matt: The movie is called Drones, and it’s about the men and women of the Air Force who hang out in trailers in Nevada, push buttons, and kill people thousands of miles away. A weird way to make a living! The movie just finished postproduction and will come out in 2014. It’s directed by Rick Rosenthal and stars Matt O’Leary and Eloise Mumford.
To enter to win an e-book copy of Breakfast At Madeline’s, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Breakfast”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 9, 2013. (This contest is for longer than usual because of the second event) U.S. residents only.