In Home Making, Lee Matalone explores how people face anxieties as they attempt to put together their lives and figure out their places in the world. The debut novel is filled with multiple generations of women who are finding their footing at different stages of life.
Matalone, who teaches at Clemson, puts forth lyrical prose that encapsulates subtle moments in these characters’ lives. Her grasp on language makes this debut book stand out.
I spoke with the author about crafting this book, how teaching has helped her writing, and what interests her moving forward.
How did you get into writing?
I grew up in Northern Virginia and went to college in Virginia and thought I would go into international relations or politics. I ended up taking a creative writing workshop in fiction and something in that class triggered something inside me. I have stuck with writing ever since. I continued on that path at University of Virginia. I got to write a mini-thesis with some stories. It was my first year of college that I realized I wanted to be a writer. I always wrote stories when I was younger, but never thought of it as a career path.
I worked in publishing in New York and freelanced before doing an MFA in Louisiana when I was around 25-years-old. At the end of that was when I sold my book.
Do you remember what was so special about that creative writing class that triggered this passion?
I remember reading “Boys” by Rick Moody, which I still love so much, and I remember after reading that story that I would type it up over and over verbatim to get the rhythm of what good fiction feels like. I think the magic of that story taught me about the power of how fiction can get at the central aspects of human emotion. It was nice to connect with someone I didn’t know on the level I did after reading the story.
Were you working on Home Making during that time you were in publishing or did it start at your MFA?
I started it before my MFA and I worked on it during the program. I am a very slow writer. The book isn’t a very long book, but I am a perfectionist.
What was the genesis of this then? Why did Home Making become your first novel?
I certainly never intended to write a novel or never thought I was capable of writing a novel. My other work is very short. I write what would be called flash fiction. It was sort of an accident that I started writing this novel. I had written an earlier version of what became the Chloe section of the novel before scrapping it and re-writing it.
Then one morning I wrote what became the introduction of the novel and I realized the narratives were connected. Then I figured out I had something longer that I had to deal with. It was happenstance where the narrative called for what I initially thought.
Even structurally, the chapters are very short as well.
The brevity of it is what is natural to me. The structure has evolved overtime. Before I started working with my agent, the sections for characters were more distinct. I had the entire Chloe section, the entire Beau section, the entire Cybill section. When I started working with my agent, she suggested the current structure of interweaving the sections. It made it more coherent than what it was before. The book’s structure evolved, but it was always tight.
If Chloe was one of the first narratives you wrote for Home Making, when did Beau come into play?
Later in the process. He was the last character I wrote. He was initially a peripheral character. When I restructured the book with these longer first-person sections, I thought he was a central counterbalance to the family unit I had with Chloe and Cybil. His section is probably my favorite.
Why is it your favorite?
I think that the other characters, in some way, I adapted indirectly from real life situations. Beau was invented whole-cloth but feels real to me in a way the others don’t. He is distinct and mysterious to me in a way the others don’t feel because I know them so well. I know him as the writer of him, but I am so curious about him
Earlier you mentioned you write slow because you’re a perfectionist. What is your writing habit then?
I am disciplined and in the school of thought that you need to be on the page everyday even if you’r not producing anything. I am a morning person and I sit at my computer and try to do something. There are moments I fail at that, especially during this book publication process.
When you’re actually writing and trying to get anything on the page, when do you know you’re actually having a productive writing session?
When I feel some sort of satisfaction with what I have written. I suppose that’s happening at the level of the line. It’s when there is some climatic sentence that comes through. Sometimes I feel there are words on the page that I produce that aren’t amounting to anything interesting, but when I can write that one turning point sentence that gets at the emotional complexity of the situation is when I feel my writing practice of the day is validated in some way.
In addition to this publication cycle, how has teaching effected your writing?
I don’t see it as hindering my writing in anyway. It’s hard for me to say what the relationship between the two is. It’s more constructive than anything. I get to go to work and talk about books and craft. It’s a way for me to process my thoughts on writing. I think of teaching as a gift.
And now that Home Making is out in the world, what interests you moving forward?
I am contemplating a longer, non-fiction project that weaves together two interests of mine. The relationship I have with my mother, who I am very close to, and this concern I have thinking about the future loss of her. Then this other perspective loss on an ecological level. I was in Oaxaca doing research on climate crisis and I am trying to bridge those concepts about how those loses are very abstract but at the same time I feel them very immediately. That’s a project I am thinking about right now and considering to explore more in writing.
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