The Being Behind the (lab) Bench: Matthew Moffitt

11006368_10153174776016098_3392216903656017197_nTo kickoff a series of interviews with scientists over coffee, I am delighted to introduce Matthew Moffitt, a novelist, script writer, and scientist. He completed an undergraduate degree at Valparaiso University where he double majored in Biology and Psychology, with a minor in Chemistry. It was here that he says his relationship with coffee first began and blossomed. “I was studying organic chemistry, cell biology – classes that took insane amounts of time to learn – and coffee was my lifeblood.” It was also here that I first met Matthew – we were classmates and during senior year, we were lab partners for an upper level Cell Biology course.  At the lab bench, Matthew was an involved, hardworking and focused lab partner with a cheerful disposition. While he has since exchanged his seat at the lab bench, for a seat in the clinic, I have no doubt that he brings the same work ethic to his studies as a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology and charisma to his patients as a Psychology intern at the Early Psychosis Intervention Center at the University of Arizona.

What is your current profession, and what are your research interests?

Currently, I am working at the Early Psychosis Intervention Center at the University of Arizona, Department of Psychiatry. I primarily conduct therapy, research, and assessments with individuals suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar with psychotic disorder, and other forms of psychosis. I also happen to write in my spare time. I recently released a science fiction novel, FROM MOON TO JOSHUA, and am currently writing the script for MY EYES ON YOU, a murder mystery, neo noir video game that follows an FBI analyst chasing a serial killer through the streets of Chicago.

Outside of science and writing, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Hiking. Video games. Trying new foods. Spending time with my wife. Drinking coffee.

How would you describe your relationship with the beverage coffee?

I. Love. Coffee. I can’t live without it. On a good day I’ll have three cups. On a bad day, I’ll have four or more. My relationship with coffee really blossomed during my undergraduate education; I was studying organic chemistry, cell biology – classes that took insane amounts of time to learn – and coffee was my lifeblood.

But it’s about more than just consuming it. I treat it like wine. I will try different coffee shops until I find the one that makes the best brew. I’ll test how well a certain drink goes with soy, almond, or regular milk. And I’ve even had coffee from South East Asia (Singapore and Malaysia); in fact, my favorite coffee ever is made in Singapore. They roast the beans differently there than in the western world. If you’re real lucky, you may even find a shop there that makes butter coffee. I was told that butter coffee – that is, putting a stick of butter inside hot black coffee – was used among the lower classes in Singapore to provide nutrients/nourishment because they didn’t have money for a full meal. Bottom line: butter coffee is amazing. If you ever have the chance, try it.

As you can see I’m a bit obsessed with coffee.

At what point in your training (B.S., M.A., PhD candidate) did you decide to write a book? Was there one moment where you thought to yourself, “I’m going to write a book!” or was it a gradual realization overtime?

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I said, “I’m going to write a novel,” but the idea had been brewing for some time. As for publishing that’s a different story: I would say the decision to publish and the decision to write the story were not the same. I didn’t go in thinking I would publish one of the stories I wrote; I simply wrote because I had to. The first and second novels I felt were not good enough to be published. The third novel I did, and it (fortunately) worked out.

As someone with a diverse background in the sciences (Psychology, Biology and Chemistry), did you find yourself drawing on this training during the writing process for your book FROM MOON TO JOSHUA? (character development, plot, Ideas, inspiration, knowledge base)

14650611_10154646857436098_8532606108191072923_nI think every aspect of my background is used during the writing process to some extent, whether it’s providing a sound biological basis for a mechanism or explaining a chemical reaction. For FROM MOON TO JOSHUA much of my writing was drawn from my experience working with prisoners in the state penitentiary and understanding psychologically how their view on the world has changed since being admitted. FROM MOON TO JOSHUA takes place on the Desert Land, a place the home country Toreth sends their criminals to live out the rest of their days. On the Desert Land, there is no coin or economy; everything is done through bartering, trades, and deals. Its people are ruthless and hostile; they’ve had the place they call home stripped from them. They’ve, in short, been forgotten. There is a lot to explore there in terms of identity, acceptance, change, and growth and I think my background in psychology aided me in that regard.

img_3443Did coffee play a role in the writing process?

Coffee was there with me every step of the way. It kept me going. On those late nights where I had finished studying or completing paperwork but didn’t want to write, I would go grab a cup of coffee and get my second wind. There would be times I was up at 3 or 4 in the morning still pounding away at the keyboard. It also was a great way to take a break from when I was struggling with a plot point or character development; I’d stop and say, “I’ll grab a cup of coffee, mull it over.” Coffee also set the tone, you know? I get my coffee. I sit down at the table. And now I’m ready to write.

While you were writing your book you were also a graduate student. How did you balance writing with other tasks/demands, and how did you continue to find creative inspiration and the energy necessary to write with other demands on your time?

I wrote three novels throughout my graduate education. In order to balance it all, I made sure to set boundaries for myself. The first was a commitment to write something every day, even if it was just a paragraph or two. Most writers will tell you that as well: that you should write, rain or shine, without fail, every day. The second was eliminating distractions – no facebook or social media while I was working or writing; it made it much easier to focus on the tasks at hand. With regard to inspiration and energy, the myth is that every time I or any other author sits down to write, I’m thrilled about doing it. The reality is that some days you will love putting pen to paper, but other days it’s going to feel like you’re walking through wet cement. You just gotta keep pushing. I think I benefited from having a very active imagination as a child. That transitioned into adulthood, too. The creative inspiration would come easy (as a matter of fact, I believe I have six or seven new story ideas I’ve written down but haven’t started yet); it’s the energy to go back at it every day that makes it difficult.

From someone who has experience writing a Master’s thesis, publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal and now a book, what are some similarities or differences you have noticed in these processes?

12193305_10153766656296098_3196482420753006302_nThe book submission process is quite different from the peer-review process. Book submissions first often begin by submitting to a literary agent who will then decide to represent you and your manuscript. That literary agent will then represent your work to different publishers. Most publishers don’t accept a manuscript without a literary agent. However, FROM MOON TO JOSHUA, was submitted to EDGE science fiction and fantasy publishing which does not require an agent, so there are those few exceptions to the rule where you can find a publisher that says you don’t need an agent. It’s a catch-22: agents will say you need to be published before they take you on, while publishers will say you need an agent to be considered for publication. The whole process is convoluted and painstaking. Manuscripts can, like peer-reviewed journals, be accepted on revisions, but those opportunities are extremely rare. Both agents and publishers can request a “Revise and Resubmit.”

What advice would you give to aspiring book writers?

Write what you love and dedicate yourself to the craft. The skill will come with time and practice, just like anything. But if this is something you really want to know, you have to make time for it every day, without fail.

How can people learn more about you and your book(s)? 

You can learn about FROM MOON TO JOSHUA by clicking here.

You can order my novel in kindle or paperback on Amazon!

Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook, or Instagram and be sure to check out my website at www.polarbearscanwrite.com

The night before his book FROM MOON TO JOSHUA was released in print, Matthew shared  on social media a picture of himself pensively seated at a desk with book and coffee in tow, accompanied by these words, which aptly summarize his hopes for the readers of his book:

There are a thousand things running through my mind the day before my novel is released. Will people like it? Will they hate it? Will it reach people, cause them to think about the world in a different way? Bottom line: I hope I get a reaction. I hope it makes you feel something, because at the end of the day, that’s what makes us human. I hope and pray FROM MOON TO JOSHUA does that for you.

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