A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

So, I gushed a bit about Hanover’s upcoming novel, Not Dressed, earlier. Now it’s time to ask him a few questions about it and a few other things. I should add, the book is available for pre-order, get on it.

With maybe two exceptions, I’ve only had good experiences doing these Q&As over the years, but this was by far the best—Hanover went well above and beyond the call with this one and was more than generous with his time and effort. Drinks are on me if we’re ever in the same city, sir.

Before we move to Not Dressed, let’s look back at Not Famous for a moment—I’ve asked a couple of your colleagues this question, and I’d love to hear your perspective: Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think—and I could be wrong—but the love of music is such a universal thing that it’s easy for male readers to relate to characters that are interested in music, or music-themed books. It’s a universal language we can all understand even if we listen to different stuff.
What lessons were you able to take from the writing, editing, marketing, launch, etc. of Not Famous to the process for Not Dressed? Were there some things that you assumed “Oh, I’ll know better next time” or “I’ve got to do this again for the next book” that in the end, you couldn’t use? Was this an easier process, more difficult, or are the experiences so tied to the different books that you can’t compare?
Not Famous did better than I expected, but I kind of set a low bar for myself as to how it would perform. I was generally happy with the launch, but when sales slowed down, I was often told that the best thing to do is to write your second book because it’s easier to sell a novel if you have more than one. So, I’m hoping that plays out, but I’ve also learned that promoting a novel—any novel—is really hard work. Both traditional and indie authors are competing with millions of other authors trying to get their novels read. While I consider my genre to be “lad lit” it’s also quite clear that most readers are women, and you have to market to women readers as much as men.

One thing that was really different was the time it took to complete each novel. Not Famous was mostly an on-and-off effort over seven years to finish the first draft. Not Dressed took seven months to complete the first draft. My writing has also become a bit more efficient. The first draft of Not Famous was over 107,000 words. The first draft of Not Dressed was 97,000. They both ended up at approximately 94,000 words, so there was a lot more cut from the first novel, which makes sense because I was still learning how to write fiction. I suspect future books will also get easier to write. Whether I’ll improve on my marketing remains to be seen. We’ll see how this new novel goes!

Let’s turn to Not Dressed now: Jake has two significant females in his life his girlfriend (a talk radio producer/co-host who moonlights doing nude modeling) and his new friend (a giant geek who doesn’t know what to do with her life), which came first—the nude modeling hook or the idea for a geeky best friend? And just where, if you can recall, did the girlfriend helping make ends meet via nude modeling come from in the first place?
I knew I wanted to do a workplace comedy for my next novel, and my original development of ideas focused entirely on that. But, I think a good novel requires multiple arcs to be really interesting, and so the first arc hat I came up with was the nude modeling one. I’d been trying to write a short story about a guy whose girlfriend models nude for a long time, even before Not Famous was finished, but I just couldn’t get it to work as a short story. It worked great for the novel because she is driven to model because they’re trying to make ends meet, and her solution to that problem causes another, bigger problem for their relationship.

The geek girl theme I came up with towards the end of writing the first draft of Not Famous when I came up with the scene where the main characters end up at a vintage gaming night. I loved the idea of exploring that type of character and quickly realized a geek girl as a love interest would be a lot of fun to write. And so I decided to use that in my next novel.

Kaylee’s more than just a geek, there’s more to her than the excellent taste in SF/F, how did you make her more than the stereotype?
Developing Kaylee as a character was even more fun than I thought it would be. She started as more of a retro gamer geek but eventually decided to make her a sci-fi geek with an affinity for Star Trek.

To really capture the realistic geek girl I reached out to people on social media, and drew upon my own interactions, and came up with a series of traits and quirks that I thought made her as realistic as possible. I liked making her a bit quirky with her geek obsessions, like her OCD with mixing and matching clothes from different SF/F properties. Which I thought was a fun trait. Most young women would say they feel sexier wearing matching bra and panties, Kaylee, however, would never wear Marvel and DC Comics together. I thought that was a perfect manifestation of her personality.

I’d forgotten you’d said that there’d be a tie between Not Famous and Not Dressed, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got to that passage. How fun was that to write? How tempting was it to bring the two sets of characters together more?
After Not Famous I heard from readers who said they’d love a sequel. I knew I didn’t want to write a sequel because I felt that I was done writing Nick and Alli’s story, and any attempt to continue it in a new novel would take me in a direction I don’t want to go down. But having the book set in the same universe was a lot of fun, and I started planning for this before finishing Not Famous. You may recall that Not Famous begins after Nick has a one-night-stand with Emma, who works at Burnham & Modine—the office where Jake, the main character of Not Dressed, works. I loved doing this as opposed to a sequel, and I really enjoyed featuring more of Emma in this novel. Her friendship with Jake is loosely modeled off a friendship I have with a female coworker.

Readers of Not Famous will be happy to know that even though they don’t appear in this novel, you will get some gossip about how things are going with them.

Typically, when I run into architecture in fiction, it’s the kind of career that Jake imagined himself having, not what he ends up with. Burnham & Modine, the architecture firm that Jake works for, strikes me as incredibly accurate—is that the result of research (if so, how did you go about that) or is this from personal experience (not necessarily as bad)?
I know a lot of architects because I work in marketing for a developer. So, over the years I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about working in the business, and overwhelmingly I hear that the job isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be in fiction and in Hollywood. And I loved that because it was a great angle to play up in juxtaposition to the theme of expectations versus reality. I also used some generic bad office stories I’ve experienced as well.
Sisters play a significant role in both of your books—is this coincidence? Do you owe your own sister some debt you’re repaying?
It’s not entirely a coincidence, that’s for sure. I think the dynamic between siblings makes for great stories, and while each novel delves into a sibling relationship, these relationships are completely different.

In Not Famous, Nick has a much younger half-sister going through her own coming-of-age issues. In Not Dressed, Kaylee has a younger sister, close in age, who, unlike Kaylee, was popular in high school, had a lot of boyfriends, and ultimately reaches certain life goals before Kaylee does. This wasn’t one of my original ideas, but as I developed Kaylee’s character and her backstory, I really liked the idea that while she’s comfortable being a geek she feels insecure around her popular younger sister. It really made for an interesting character and resulted in some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

That said, it wasn’t my original intention to have another sibling conflict in this story, but it really gave Kaylee the depth I felt she needed to be a three-dimensional character. She’s not defined just by her geeky interests alone, but by a rivalry with her younger sister who had a much easier time growing up because of her popularity.

It appears you put a lot of thought into the backstories of your female love interest characters. How do you approach creating these and making them realistic and unique?
I’m really proud of both characters and how they turned out. I spend a lot of time thinking about the backstories of my main characters and how that affects their actions throughout the story. I spent seven years thinking and rethinking and tweaking Alli Conwell’s backstory for Not Famous because it needed to explain so much of her behavior long before the reader finds out what her backstory really is.

Developing Kaylee and her backstory was a similar, albeit quicker, process. First and foremost, I wanted Kaylee to be different from Alli. But, I think readers will find lots of similarities and differences between them. Both are ambitious, but Alli knew what her path was, and Kaylee doesn’t. Alli is independent and works hard to maintain that independence. Kaylee, however, still lives with her parents and is trying hard to find her true calling so she can be independent. As for their differences, Alli is shy, while Kaylee is more free-spirited. Alli was proudly innocent and virtuous. Kaylee, however, feels insecure about her lack of experience and has years of pent up jealousy of her promiscuous younger sister. Despite their differences, both are strong young women with hopes, dreams, and fears.

How much Star Trek: The Next Generation did you have to watch to get this written? Favorite episodes from this time?
I actually binge-watched the entire series as research. I’d seen bits and pieces before, which is why I chose that particular Star Trek show to be her primary obsession. I wanted to have her quote some episodes and really feel like a genuine Trekkie. I also got the idea of her being fluent in Klingon after watching the show and learning about the subculture of people who have done just that. I even got help from the Klingon Language Institute (yup, there’s such a thing) to help with the translations when Kaylee speaks Klingon. I thought it would be a fun easter egg for Trekkies who know Klingon to read it.

TNG has a lot of great episodes, and I would have loved to have quoted more, but one of my favorites does get a mention by Kaylee as one of her favorites, too.

What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #3 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’m currently focused on the forthcoming launch of Not Dressed, but I have been jotting down ideas and notes for a third novel, of which I’ve already determined the primary plot. Just like Not Dressed, it will be in the same universe as Not Famous and have some character crossovers.
Thanks so much for your time and help in getting this Q&A into better shape. Also, thanks for Not Dressed, I had a blast with it and hope that it finds its audience.

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