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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Inside the Mind: Matthew Cost


Welcome to Inside the Mind where we here at The Faerie Review interview authors and creators.
Our guest today is Matthew Langdon Cost, the author behind I Am Cuba: Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.





Lily: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview Matt I greatly enjoyed reading I Am Cuba. What made you decide a historically accurate novel was what you wanted to write? 
Matt:  I was a history major in college, and it was there, in the classroom that the idea germinated. I had a Latin America history professor that was so passionate about the subject that it hooked me. I wrote the first draft upon graduation, and when my computer crashed (long before the cloud) I was forced to start typing it back into the large Apple desktop. It was then I realized that I needed to work on my writing, do more research, and visit Cuba in order to revise this book to an acceptable level. That was 30 years ago. 
Lily: That's a lot of time but given how vibrant the book is, I'd say it was worth the wait. If you had to guesstimate, how many hours of research went into this? 
Matt:   The guesstimate would be very rough as I put in a couple hundred hours for the first draft and then continued to do sporadic research over the next 28 years, before finally (after a research trip to Cuba) revising and rewriting for publication. The number is certainly in the thousands if not tens of thousands.  
Lily: I'd say all the research paid off. You really make it feel like the reader is watching history unfold. Did you ever struggle with trying to balance being accurate and bringing the story to life? 
Matt:   The problem with historical fiction, especially where there is no audio, is that you have to recreate dialogue and thoughts within historical figures heads to the best of your ability based upon what you know of them. My historical events are as accurate as can be in regard to an event that has two polarized recordings of that event. The first, if the carefully manipulated version put out by Fidel, and the second is from exiles kicked out of their homes by Fidel. Finding the truth somewhere between those two camps was extremely challenging. I use my two fictional characters, Vicente and Sophia, to bring the story to life. While they were made up, they are representative of real people and real emotions, and furthermore, personify the countries of Cuba and the United States. Long answer short? Yes, it was all a struggle but I am happy with the outcome. 
Lily: I'm glad you were happy with it, I certainly enjoyed getting lost in the pages and being transported to another time and place. Do you plan on writing another historical novel, one from a different time and place?  
Matt:   I have a historical novel, Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War; At Every Hazard, out already. There is another, Love in a Time of Hate: New Orleans During Reconstruction, in the pipeline. I also write mysteries and have a trilogy coming out over the next year from Encircle Publications. Mainely Power is out in September, Mainely Fear in December, and Mainely Money in May of 2021. 
Lily: Now we’d like to talk about you as a writer. Do you write better with a detailed outline or just a general idea of where you’re going with some notes? 
Matt:   Writing historical fiction requires a carefully constructed skeleton of events. I decide the time frame and then the key events that I believe to be essential. Then, as I write, I flesh out the story and how it will be portrayed. When I write mysteries, it is just come up with the idea and then off to the races and see where it leads me. The historian in me likes the historical writing while the artist in me enjoys the day by day development of what is going to happen.
Lily: I can see the benefits of having that mix. What’s your favorite drink and snack when you’re in the writing zone? Or do you get too far in to remember to eat/drink? 
Matt:  My second cup of coffee in the morning is in front of the computer writing. Other than that, I do not drink or snack while writing, but use food and beverages to be breaks from the process. I often eat lunch standing up as I do far too much sitting down. 
Lily: It's a great way to make sure you get a break in. How do you handle criticism/critiques of your work? 
Matt:     From a distance? There are many different types of criticisms. The first is that my style of writing or topic is not for the reader or reviewer, and I am fine with that. Then there are critiques that are correct (hopefully pre-publication). Often, with these, I have to chew them around for a bit before accepting that they are indeed, quite correct, and make the changes. The final type of critique I have faced is the hardest, and it has happened numerous times already with this book. People want to believe that Fidel Castro was a villain, a monster, and are outraged that I don’t portray him that way. I am Cuba ends on January 8th, 1959. At that point, Fidel was a messiah like figure in Cuba and a hero to the entire world over. Yet, I had a Kirkus reviewer that said the book was meticulously researched and well written, but they were disappointed that I did not showcase the despot that Fidel would become. How do you respond to something like that? 
Lily: A little hard to respond when they're looking for something outside what you were writing. Let’s finish up with some fun questions and get inside your mind. What’s one food you’ve never tried and want to? 
Matt:   The first meal after winning the Pulitzer Prize. 
Lily: I think that would be a memorable meal! Would you rather live underwater in a city surrounded by a protective bubble of air or in the sky in a floating city protected by the same? 
Matt:   Windy days in the sky would concern me but I like the idea of floating around and seeing different things rather than being stationary under the ocean.  
Lily:  If I could get over my fear of heights I think I'd like the chance to float around the sky. If you could observe any time in history as it’s happening, when would it be?
Matt:  I’m probably supposed to say the birth of my children or my wedding day, but I’m going to go with the roaring twenties (and that might be the topic of my next historical).  
Lily:  I don't think there is any right answer, and I think the roaring twenties would be interesting. Have you ever done anything crazy that looking back you can’t believe you did?
Matt:   I have done many stupid things in my life but will address this question as audacious instead of dumb. I proposed to my wife at a production of “Betsy’s Irish Wedding”. I set it up with the theater group beforehand. It was a dinner theater and we went with a group of 10 friends. Partway through the show, the groom went missing and they pulled me onto the stage to take his place. I stumble around the stage in front of an audience for about 10 minutes until the groom was found, and at that point I took the microphone and read a poem that I had written while walking back to our table, and then got down on one knee and proposed. She still hasn’t said yes but we got married anyway. 
Lily:  That's a great story! If you could know the absolute truth to any question, what would it be?​

Matt: I believe that it is the uncertainty that is the spice of life. I can’t think of anything that I would want to know the absolute truth to. I, of course, want to know that my kids will be happy, but what if the answer was no? Nope, I’d like to say in the dark on absolute truth. 

Lily: That's a great approach to life. What’s your favorite kind of pie?​

Matt: Pink Peppermint Ice Cream Pie.

Lily: Now I need to try that! Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?​

Matt: Only that I am glad that we still live in a world where books are important.

Lily: I can't imagine life without books. How can readers discover more about you and you work?​

Matt: Anybody interested can certainly email me at matthew-cost@comcast.net or find out more at the following links.

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