FLOW: What inspired you to write while in prison rather than say, take up a trade, continue with drugs or join a gang—other common prison pastimes? How did you maintain that inspiration (prison can be a very depressing and/or scary place!)?
M.R. MATHIAS: I was doing some of the above mentioned things until I ended up in solitary. Once there, I was consuming books like a mad man. It got to the point where I just said, "Hey, you can do that." And I did. For the better part of four years I read 300 pages and wrote 3k words a day. I still have novels on the shelf that are in longhand. I’m hoping to find someone who can read my terrible handwriting and will enter them into word for me....lol Yes my penmanship is that bad.
FLOW: So, in a sense like you said, solitary was good for you. Were other inmates ever a hindrance to your work rather than an inspiration or facilitator? Staff?
M.R. MATHIAS: Yes. Solitary is crazy. Guys yelling from cell to cell all day. Gambling on every sport event that made the radio (No Television at all) I could read through all of that. If the book was good enough, like Robin Hobbs, Scott Lynch, or G.R.R.M. it would all fade away. Writing in the day was impossible. But there is a time, after the noise dies away where its nearly still, only a distant whispered conversation echoing around the concrete. In that time I wrote, and I escaped into my stories.
FLOW: As you’ve said in past interviews, lack of resources was a real problem in prison. Plus, prison libraries are often chronically under-stocked and outdated. How did this influence the formation of your writing style and habits? What, if anything would you change or unlearn about them if you could?
M.R. MATHIAS: I have some bad point of view habits. I tend to want the reader to know what all the characters are thinking. I'm working that out as I go. I am also working on the issue of showing instead of telling. Sometimes I am telling on purpose, to advance the story because one thread or another has passed a lot of time and the current one needs catching up. I don’t think the reader wants to know what every day of a journey is like. Over capping the bulk of a trip while detailing the few exciting events is telling, but necessary. I'm learning to better pick and choose what needs showing though. My editor helps me greatly with suggestions and even sternly typed lecture.
I wish I would have had him for all of The Sword and the Dragon. It has some editing issues still, but I think overall the version that is available now captures the raw nature of writing such a huge book in a prison cell with an ink pen. I didn’t have backspace keys or spell check. At least twenty percent of the trilogy is written the margins sideways, upside down, in balloons, with tiny, tiny printed letters and arrows pointing to where the insertion goes. I challenge anyone alive to do as well. I think people want to read what I wrote in prison, not what a fancy editor turns that into. The distractions of the mistakes should act as a reminder of the conditions the story was created under. After all, that’s half of the whole story, right. It’s the "huge fantasy novel that guy wrote in prison." That said a fully revised edition will be available in the future. The "as is" prison version will always remain for sale too.
FLOW: How do you see your writing as having evolved since leaving prison? Since becoming an internet success? How would you like to see it continue to grow and change in the next 5 years?
M.R. MATHIAS: I think I am learning with every chapter I write. My POV is getting tighter and my grasp of showing the story instead of telling it is gaining strength too. I have never had a problem with content. I was always the dungeon master when I played AD&D as a kid. And in prison I made up an entire system based on Gary Gygax's game so that we could play structured RPG's without the many books and charts associated with such. As I learn the mechanics of writing, even the storytelling becomes easier. I can only thank the Gods for that. Learning the proper way to write is work, though. I think it’s clear to my readers that I am undertaking that task seriously.
Part III of this intriguing interview to follow soon