Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Matthew Jobin
Inspired by the forests of his childhood home near Toronto, Canada, Matthew Jobin spent his formative years writing—in some form or another—The Nethergrim, the first book in his first trilogy. It makes sense that our current author would have his Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University, as his books showcase the study of a society and its system of beliefs as affected by changes in the natural world. (Does it really matter that this particular world happens to be fictional? Not even a little bit!) Dividing his time wisely among writing, lecturing on anthropology at Santa Clara University, doting on his wife, their many rescued pets, and looking forward to the birth of the couple’s first child, we all hope this fantastical author has a magical supply of endless energy as we eagerly wait for what happens next in the story of Edmund and his friends.
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
MJ: I was a bit of a geek, an outsider who loved the emotional power of gothic music but did not dare to dress the part. I was good at science but too much of a dreamer to fit neatly into the pure science nerd category. If one thing defined me best, it was that I felt a connection to the dream world of my childhood that I did not see a reason to abandon entirely. I knew that I was growing up, but I felt as though I was giving up as much as I was gaining in the process. That world came back to me through reading, games, and sometimes, through music.
SH: What was the best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
MJ: Best thing: A summer field course in Native Canadian archeology (so yeah, I’m a big nerd I guess, but I did meet my first girlfriend there!).
Worst: Oh, too many memories, alas! One that sticks out is a moment when I realized that my friends had all conspired to go to a party together without me. It is still amazing to me how much that hurt.
SH: What is your favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
MJ: Book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
Food: Mole enchiladas!
Band: There’s lots of competition here, but Radiohead has impressed me more consistently for a longer period than any other band.
TV: I’m not big on TV, I have to admit. I really liked the BBC Sherlock show of recent years, though.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
MJ: There are quite a few, and, fortunately, they are mostly good memories. For some reason, they mostly revolve around moments of danger that turned out to be harmless and funny. Here’s one:
When I was a boy scout, my troop went camping in the winter. We arrived at our cabin after dark, and found that the back of the place led onto what looked like a steep, icy tobogganing hill. It was pitch dark, so we could not see the bottom, but like a pack of fools, we hauled out our sleds, lined up at the top, and . . . let’s just say that I would never try something that crazy again! Everyone was all right in the end, no broken bones, but it was a rather frightening twenty seconds or so.
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
MJ: I regret really not drinking in what some of my English teachers were trying to tell me. Later on, I realized that I had to teach myself all the things they were trying to teach me in class.
The class I would add, and make mandatory, would be philosophy. I know, people might laugh, but the university philosophy courses I took changed my mental world for the better, and I think an introductory course on ways to think critically would act as the perfect antidote to the deluge of facts with which high school students have to deal. Just think—a course about thinking itself! Is there anything you can teach anyone that is more important than how to use their minds?
SH: If you could be a character from any book ever written, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?
MJ: Oddly enough, David Copperfield, because there are times when I think the moral universe of Charles Dickens is self-contained and complete, and would want to live in it.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
MJ: Well, now you’ve got me thinking about philosophy, so I’ll say The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. Not only was it the favorite book of many medieval people, and thus a perfect window onto what C. S. Lewis termed the Discarded Image of medieval thinking, but I think its message resonates here in the twenty-first century. For all the changes that we think we have wrought on the world, the basic facts of life remain the same. If a man like Boethius was able to draw meaning and serenity from his thought, even as he awaited his brutal execution, then I, fenced in all around by the comforts of technology, should be able to do the same.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
MJ: This is not so much a family tradition as a me-tradition. Starting somewhere in primary school, I would touch the trunk of a tree on the last day of the school year. Until high school it was the same tree, but even on through university I always found a tree and marked the moment. I didn’t say anything to the tree, and if the tree said anything to me, it was very quiet. It did not feel obsessive, in fact, I think I skipped a year or two here or there, but was, instead, a way to note the passage of time with something that was growing more slowly than I was myself.
I even did it on the day I got my Ph.D., although since I was at Stanford in California and no longer in Canada where I grew up, it was a eucalyptus and not a maple tree.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you? What makes you laugh?
MJ: The thing that makes me happiest right now is the fact that my wife and I are expecting our first child this August.
I think that if anyone looks at our world and does not need to fight periodic waves of sadness, then they must be seeing something very different from what I see.
The thing that scares me is the Nethergrim. Really.
Words make me laugh, especially ones with lots of b’s in them. If you hold up a red sign that says ‘blue’, I will laugh. “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana” makes me laugh every single time.
Laughter also makes me laugh, but that begs the question.
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
MJ: People who support causes I like, but for the wrong reasons.
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
MJ: I would like to go back to being about nine, get driven to a hockey game by my dad, and score a goal. Just one, just to see the look on his face.
File under: Things that make me sad.
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
MJ: I would choose to have the superpower that makes other people’s superpowers not work, so, nyah nyah nyah!
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
MJ: Resolve yourself on the Way. Rely on virtue. Reside in benevolence. Revel in the arts.—Confucious.
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
MJ: Me: Apparently A Verb (thanks and apologies to R. Buckminster Fuller).
Others: Did He Graduate?
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
MJ: King Charles II of England. Ötzi the Iceman. Lao Tse. Socrates (though I have a feeling I might regret that). G. K. Chesterton.
We will be having mole enchiladas with chips and chipotle salsa, because I like them. We’re going to have some explaining to do re: the enchiladas, especially for poor old Ötzi. Plus side: I might well learn the Proto-Indo-European phrase for “My mouth is burning!”
SH: A series of choices: Print or audio book? Sweet or salty? Board games, card games, or online games? Five star hotel or rustic camping? Morning or night? Movie, music, or theater? Coffee, tea, soda, or water? Planes, trains, or automobiles?
MJ: Print! Sweet! (Maple especially) Board games (Ultimate Werewolf!)! Camping! Night! Music! Coffee! Automobiles, especially my faithful little Nissan Leaf.
SH: What did you buy with your first paycheck as An Author? Was it a planned or an impulse purchase?
MJ: I “bought” less credit card debt 😉
SH: If someone wrote a book about your life: who would you want as the author, what kind of book would it be, and what title would you give it?
MJ: Did He Graduate? A Tragedy in Three Parts, by Karl Marx, Richard Marx, and Harpo Marx. Foreword by James Patterson (with Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, Henry David Thoreau(’s ghost) and His Holiness Pope Francis I).
SH: Have you hidden friends or family in your stories? Has anyone ever asked to be included?
MJ: I have never based a character on anyone I know. At worst, that sort of thing is either a hagiography or a hatchet job. At best, it’s just lazy thinking.
People have asked to be included, and also to not be included. I always answer by smiling cryptically and by petting a cat, if one is nearby.
SH: What’s the best, most surprising question you’ve ever been asked?
MJ: Are those cows on the road in front of us?
SH: Last, but not least—is there a question you wish someone would finally think to ask?
MJ: On the carvings: Why a disc and a dagger? Were you trying to say something with that?
The Nethergrim Series
SH: Do you think you’re most like Edmund, Katherine, or Tom? Which of the three do you think would be your first choice for a best friend? Who would be the one you’d be most likely to take on an adventure?
MJ: I think I am least like Tom, which is likely why I admire him so much. If I could be more like him, I think I’d understand life a little bit better. Katherine would be my pick for best friend, simply because she would be the most all-around fun. Edmund would be the one I would take on adventure, because he’s smarter than I am.
SH: Of the four footed friends—Juniper, Indigo, Rosie, or Jumble—which would be your first choice of companion?
MJ: I’m not a good enough rider to claim any of the horses. Indigo and Juniper would both likely throw me out of the saddle, and Rosie would just sit there looking at me while I helplessly tugged at the reins. I would be most happy with Jumble, anyway, so long as my cats would be cool with it.
SH: Who is the nightmare creature you’d least like to meet in a dark alley: a bolgug, a thornbeast, the Nethergrim, or Vithric?
MJ: The bolgug or the thornbeast might take my life. The Nethergrim might nullify the reasons why I live. I fear the latter more than the former.
SH: Were you ever as brave as Edmund was when he declared his feelings to John Marshal? Was there a Katherine for you—in your teen love life?
MJ: There were certainly girls who I loved from afar at Edmund’s age! I don’t recall being as brave as he was at fourteen—it was not until my later teens that I started dating, and my first girlfriend declared herself to me, not the other way around. I was a sighing, hopeless romantic through most of that time, perpetually crazy about one dream girl after the other without saying a word to her about it. I suppose I’ll never know whether I had a chance with any of them!
SH: Would you rather lead the first dance with the girl of your dreams at the village fair—with everyone watching or would you rather be a poor shot with the longbow and be pressured into demonstrating your lack of skill—in front of the girl of your dreams?
MJ: Oh, dear, that first option reminds me of my eighth-grade formal dance! Ba-ad memories. I’m going to go with shooting the longbow, and pray that I’m not quite as awful as Edmund.
SH: What made you decide the Nethergrim should be a she not a he?
MJ: If you put on Napoleon’s hat, are you then Napoleon?
SH: Was it harder to come up with the strategies behind different alliances, the execution of battle plans, or the magical elements—from the intricate spells to the imaginative creatures?
MJ: Each one had its challenges. I think the battle plans were the easiest, because I had done lots of research about medieval warfare to get Katherine’s trickery just right, so when the time came, those chapters just spilled out. I think the hardest are the spells, because I do not shape them as repeatable, deterministic events but as temporary changes to the way the world works. As mentioned in the books, spells are like making poetry or music—knowing the rules helps, but you have to be inspired to do it well. That goes for the author, also!
SH: What or who inspired the line-by-line breakdown of the spell used to free people trapped within the Skeleth? (It’s beautiful by the way!)
MJ: That runs the gamut of all the many thinkers who have inspired me. There’s a little bit of at least these folks: Seneca the Younger, Hildegard von Bingen, John Lennon, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
SH: If you were lucky enough to find a rare, treasured tome hidden in someone’s personal library—what information (or secrets) would it need to contain for you to want to “borrow” it without permission?
MJ: I’m really hoping the answer would be “none,” and that I am a good boy at heart. ☺
SH: Will we ever learn the whole truth about Elli?
MJ: The world of the books is a much wider one than the window through which the reader can currently see. That’s another way of saying: Stay tuned!
SH: For what or for whom would you be willing to take on the cost and the pain of death?
MJ: I would hope for anyone, but I’ll have to settle for saying at least for my wife Tina and for our baby to be. What anyone would give up for someone else is the core question of all human problems. The wider the circle of trust becomes, the more that each of us gives for others, the more that each of us can rely on each other and the better things are for all of us.
Unless, of course, the Nethergrim is right about the world, in which case . . . well, let’s not let her in on this one.
Books by Matthew Jobin
The Nethergrim. Philomel, 2014. 356p. $17.99. 978-0-399-15998-5. VOYA February 2014 4Q 4P M J
The Skeleth. Philomel, 2016. 400p. $17.99. 978-0-399-15999-2.
Matthew Jobin Online
Author’s Website: http://matthewjobin.com/
Stacey Hayman is … Wha…? Oh, hey there. Um, could you please not bother me right now? I’m reading -Thanks!