Going Forth

Matthew Savoca is the kind of writer I love to interview. He works as a carpenter by day, writes poems and stories as a hobby, and evenly splits his days in Philly and NYC each week. In essence he is a writer without being a “writer”—he doesn’t even consider himself to be one at all (more on this later). I, for one, certainly think of Matthew as a writer but one who leads a charmed and simple life, more about the joys of writing and less about expectations. His quietly-released first novel I Don’t Know I Said, about a couple in their 20s on a road trip, has been making a sizable dent within the literary community and Matthew shares some insight as a writer in the world of independent publishing. Now, onward. —JL

Wondering if you wrote IDKIS from personal experience traveling on the road and what inspired you to write this particular story?
Yeah a lot of it comes from personal experiences. I can’t get into making stuff up. There’s already too much shit around, and I’m still trying to figure out what most of it is. The road trip part of the book comes from like three different road trips that I took. I kind of just put them all together for ease and simplicity. I don’t think I was inspired to write the story, I just started doing it without even really realizing it. Like how when you’re driving down the highway all of a sudden you look around and wonder how you got where you are, what happened to the last fifteen minutes. I didn’t plan it out or anything. It was like one day there I was just sort of writing a book.

How did you link up with Publishing Genius Press for IDKIS?
I had known Adam from Publishing Genius for quite a while over the internet, probably since 2008 sometime. We were in the same sort of circle back then, but we didn’t really know each other too well. We had had a few exchanges over email but more or less just knew of each other. But this book came out of the slush pile. One day in early 2010 Publishing Genius opened submissions, so I sent Adam this manuscript and about a month later he wrote me back saying he really loved it but that it wasn’t the right project for him at the time. He said he hoped good things would happen with the book and that he wouldn’t forget about it as a possibility down the line. Most of the time when you hear things like that you feel really happy just that the person liked it so much but you also kind of feel like, yeah okay, sure you’re going to keep it in mind for the future. Nice knowing you. But sure enough about two years later Adam wrote me saying he wanted to do the book, so we started working on it. Since then Adam and I have become pretty good friends. I really love Adam. And he deserves a lot of credit for the consistency in the book, and the smoothness of its readability. He really did a lot to make it better.

Until you pointed it out, I subconsciously kept sneaking a “what” in the title! That said, I think there’s actually a lot going on in ‘I Don’t Know I Said’ even before the story starts. It’s a really interesting choice and I’d love to know how you came up with it.
I remember back then wanting a title that was sort of different, something I hadn’t really seen before. And It’s always been my nature to say “I don’t know” a lot. At some point it all just kind of came together in my mind that I was typing the phrase “I don’t know,” I said a lot and that I hadn’t really seen a title that was made up of dialogue before, and I liked it. So from very early on that’s what I was thinking of the story as, and that’s what I was calling it. It gave us a few complications in the final stages of the book when it comes to marketing and all that, because people need to be able to refer to the book and people need to be able to search for it, so it needs to be simple. There’s a reason that you don’t see all kinds of strange new types of titles on books. If something is harder to pay attention to for whatever reason, that’s all the excuse people need. They won’t give it another thought. So for a while we were talking about whether or not we should change the title to something more simple. We thought of calling it simply I Don’t Know, but it just didn’t feel right to me, so in the end we went with I Don’t Know I Said, which is as simple as it can be while still keeping the feel it needed to have.


We’re all in the age range—your characters, you (Matthew), us here at STET… your story hits unnervingly deep, but in a good and familiar and lonely and comforting way. At this very moment, do you feel like you’re in this state of confusion like your characters are, or do you feel like that’s passing?
No, that particular feeling is passed and gone. I wrote this book five years ago, so there’s been plenty of time. I still don’t have any idea what I’m doing. But it’s not worrisome or crippling anymore. I’m here today and I’m just doing whatever I’m doing. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself, for today has enough trouble of its own. Jesus said that.

I’m also curious to know how you felt after you finished writing this story.
I don’t know if I remember how I felt when I finished writing it. If anything I think I felt happy that I had gotten it right, that in the end it seemed true on paper to what it was in my soul. Like how it feels good just to accurately describe anything. Or when you’re singing along with a song and you go two whole minutes getting all the words right. It felt like that.

I think it’s amazing you’re a carpenter by day. It must be nice to not work in front of a computer all day. Do you consider yourself a writer with a day job, or a guy who just likes to write by way of hobby? What’s your writing schedule like?
I really like being a carpenter. Most of my days are full of manual work and solving problems and fixing things, building things. It’s good work. It’s real. You get to do stuff that matters on the most basic levels of being alive, and there’s nothing else like that feeling. I don’t think of myself as a writer. I just like to write as a hobby. I don’t really have a schedule to it at all. That would completely ruin it for me. I just sort of do what I want, write when it comes to me. Sometimes it might be every day for a while, and sometimes there will be a lot of months in a row where I don’t write at all. I mostly just write for my life, for the people I meet, for something to do. Because I’m a homebody. I spend most of my time at home away from people. If I were naturally more social and people-loving, then I don’t think I would write at all. I would spend my time out and about talking to people and just telling them stories right to their faces. But I don’t do that. I go walking around in the woods and tell stories to myself. Sometimes that stuff turns into books.

Anything you can tell us about your forthcoming books of poems and collection of personal essays? I see they’re being released through indie presses too, respectively.
The book of poems is actually a reissuing of an old book that had fallen out of print. It’s called Morocco. I like to describe it as a book of poems like telephone calls. It was written together with Kendra Grant Malone and reading it is basically like listening in on a private conversation that doesn’t hold anything back. The other book coming out is a new book called Why I Hate Nature, and I’m sort of calling that an autobiographical collection of stories. It’s basically just the every day stories from my life that I like to tell people, all the way up to age 30. There’s a lot of family mythology and growing up stories, stuff like that. I recently described it to a friend of mine by saying that if someone asked me “So, who are you? Who is Matthew Savoca?” but before I could answer, I had to run down the street and save a cat that had just caught on fire, I would just hand them a copy of this book and then be off.

What is the community of independent publishing like?
Independent publishing is like the small town version of things. Nobody gives a shit about you in the big city, you are either a dollar sign or you are not, which is shitty. But at the same time, sometimes that’s nice, because you can disappear if you want to and no one notices for a while. But with indie publishing, you make a lot of friends. The dollar signs are very, very small so people tend to be in it for a lot of other reasons, and most of the time it makes things more enjoyable. For example, my books are out with Scrambler Books which is run by Jeremy Spencer, Publishing Genius Press run by Adam Robinson, and Holler Presents co-run by Scott McClanahan. All three of those guys are good friends of mine, close friends even. They’ve all stayed with me in my apartment when they’re in town, and I talk to them all very often, most of the time not even about book stuff anymore. We just talk about life. We just hang out and drink beer and do stupid stuff. Because, really, that’s the nature of books. Books are for the people you don’t know. Once you know a person and that person is in your life, they don’t need your books anymore. They get all your stories and all the magic right from your big dumb face.