Welcome to the blog, Mark! Could you tell us a little bit about The Jade Rabbit?
Sure. Thanks for having me, Rachel.
The Jade Rabbit is the story of a woman adopted from China who is now the director of a runaway shelter for youth in Detroit. The stress of her job and the trauma of the families she deals with, as well as lingering issues from her own abandonment, all get played out in a torturous marathon training program. She develops a relationship with a girl at the shelter known as “the ghost of moonlight” and risks everything in order to save this child. Stories of ghosts who haunt the basement, angry parents who try to intimidate her, board members who threaten to fire her, and her inability to conceive her own child, all culminate in her psyche and get played out during an incredible marathon run through the streets of Detroit.
While the novel is a piece of fiction, the setting is 100% real. I worked for years in a runaway shelter near Detroit that used to serve as a nunnery, and this is the setting for The Jade Rabbit. I’ve also run the Detroit Marathon five times.
The title of the novel comes from a Chinese folktale of a rabbit who sacrifices itself to serves others, and is thus made immortal.
What led you to write this book?
Well, I certainly followed the adages of “write what you know” and “write the book only you could write” with this novel. The unique blending of Chinese adoption, social work, and marathoning are all part of my life experience.
I wanted to write something that demonstrated the power of running and marathoning. To run a marathon is not just a physical thing, it’s a cathartic release of all of your emotional and spiritual energy. It gets squeezed out of your spine like toothpaste, and it’s never just about the strength to run. As the character in the book says, “It boil the truths out of you.” In order to do this, I needed a complex, strong character who also had a nagging fragility about her. In Janice, I developed a strong, nurturing character who plays out some of her baggage in her social work job, (as all us social workers do to some degree). I also wanted to make the climax depend upon her experience in the marathon. Psychological issues can be dealt with by beating the body down, and when we take ourselves to our physical limits, we can blast through emotional, mental, and psychological barriers, as well.
Ultimately, the theme of the novel is the universal ties of family, and how sharing blood is only a small bit of what connects us. We are all mothers and fathers, doesn’t matter if we ever conceived, and the dandelion seeds that are blown our way and land nearby are ours to nurture (to paraphrase the novel).
It was a bit of a risk taking on the perspective of a woman and a Chinese adoptee, especially in telling from the first person. However, I am real clear that this is just one woman’s experience, not some universal statement.
Your blog headline reads, “Writing, Running, and the Human Experience”. I think sometimes I’d be thinking of book ideas while I ran, and other times I’d be running from all the problems of my current book! How do you find writing and running intersecting in your life?
About forty-five minutes in to any run my writing mojo is released. If this mojo was ever sold at the local dope house, there would certainly be an epidemic. The difference is, with running, you have to earn this drug and it gets better over time instead of worse. This is what makes it different from heroin and other society ailments.
Running makes my ideas more grand, makes them flow. It lubricates everything so loose associations flow through my veins. I have great ideas, my characters have conversations, my plots turn incredible and I am master of the universe. ROAR!!!
But then I return home and the reality of putting this on paper hits and it doesn’t always translate. I may have unique and grand ideas that sound good at the time, but then they don’t translate to the story and I never get them on paper.
It is much like getting drunk, which I haven’t done for nearly 20 years.
One of your recent blog posts mentions the moral relativism the television series The Walking Dead often explores. (I’m a huge TWD fan!) How do you create gripping moral dilemmas in your own novels?
What a great show that just got better. That post was my most popular yet, and I’m always having the urge to write a follow up. Yes, I think characters are most appealing when they are a touch of grey. Rick in The Walking Dead may be the golden child battling evil, but it is the Shane and Darryl-like characters who have the most conflict and keep things interesting. And, oh boy, the show is about to blow up with Merl on the horizon and a most unwelcome pregnancy.
But back to my writing. In both my novels, the main characters struggle with doing what is right. Doing the next right thing is the battle of our lives, and while we may judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions.
Stray is about a substance abuse therapist who is a very giving, dedicated, genuine man. However, he starts to feel the world of his clients seep into his personal life, gets resentful, and even blames his client’s overdose for causing his wife’s miscarriage. He struggles throughout the novel between a sense of selfishness and a dedication to helping others get sober. It is a compassionate novel but with a definite edge, and I promise an ending that could be pulled right from the recent scripts of a Walking Dead episode.
Janice, in The Jade Rabbit, is faced with moral dilemmas in how to best serve homeless/runaway youth. There is the right thing to do, and what she thinks is the best thing to do, and they are not the same. Ultimately, she is faced with choices that can lead to sacrificing her job, which is not just her career but her calling and her identity.
What is your best writing advice?
Well, I’m in no position to give advice but I can say a few words. I love the advice of Chuck Wendig. There is so much advice out there, rehashed and over-marketed, but his is fresh and a great, funny, cutely-obscene pep talk. (I tweeted him asking to have his child once. He did answer, and never really said no, so there is hope.)
As for writing, I suppose I follow the same guides as I do for life. If I love to do it, then I’d better do it, because I don’t want to go to my grave without trying. I’m not going to die with my music still in me. As as long as I’m moving and haven’t stopped trying, I’m not defeated. I try to follow this in both running and writing. Both of them squeeze stuff out of me, and give me an alternative reality to relish in.
Excellent thoughts on needing to do what you love. Thanks so much for stopping by, Mark!
The Jade Rabbit and Stray are available at Amazon.
Mark Matthews is a licensed professional counselor who has worked for many years as a therapist, but many more years as a writer. His first novel, Stray, is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. His second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of woman, adopted from China as an infant, who now manages a runaway shelter in Detroit. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, an avid marathoner and hockey fan, and lives near Detroit with his wife and two daughters.
Look for his next novel, Placebo, the story of a rogue psychiatrist who only prescribes placebos and a pharmaceutical representative who feeds the streets of Detroit with a new opiate drug. This novel will return to the drug houses, psychiatric treatment centers, and raw yet compassionate edge that made Stray so popular.
Mark Matthews can be found on his blog at http://markmatthewsauthor.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter @matthews_mark. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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