Outskirts Press (2019)
Matt McCracken was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1960, but has lived most of his life in northern Virginia, primarily Arlington County. He attended Arlington’s public schools while growing up, and upon his graduation from high school attended Wake Forest University for a year, then transferred to the University of Virginia where he graduated with a B.A. in economics in 1982. After a brief stint in the Air Force he returned home to northern Virginia and worked as an accountant. In 1987 he attended the George Mason University School of Law and got married the following year. Upon graduation in 1990 and passing the bar that summer he took a position as an attorney at the U.S. Department of Labor where he has been to this day. Bulldog is his debut novel.
Hi Matt, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views Kids! To get started, please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.
I grew up in Arlington, Virginia where I still live. I am married, am the father of two adult children, and work as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor. I have always loved to read, especially about history, and am a person of faith. I always wanted to write something that would meld the two subjects, and Bulldog is the outcome.
What is Bulldog about?
Bulldog is about a young man growing up in Baltimore in the late 1970s who falls in with the wrong crowd after his family falls apart. He lives with his father and belongs to a gang that sells drugs and alcohol to other teenagers and engages in petty theft. In an effort to expand their activities into stealing and selling bicycles the gang sends Bulldog, whose real name is Nate, into a hardware store to steal some bolt cutters to use in stealing bicycles. The store’s owner catches Bulldog in the process but allows him to work off the cost of the bolt cutters instead of calling the police. The book is about the relationship that develops between the store owner and Bulldog.
What was your inspiration behind the story?
Many years ago, I watched an episode of the television series The Wonder Years in which the main character, played by Fred Savage, was employed in a hardware store for a crusty old man who worked him hard but also mentored him as well. Fred Savage eventually quit and went to work at the local mall so he could hang out with his friends, but I thought so much more could have been done with the story.
What called you to write Young Adult fiction?
I think young adults like a good story without a lot of plot twists or hidden meanings often found in adult literature, and the story I came up with was perfect for a younger audience. I also drew from my experience as a teenager in the late 1970s and thought it would appeal to younger readers.
How do you think writing for the YA crowd differs from writing for a more mature audience?
I think younger readers want a good story, but not necessarily a work of art. I also think younger readers want something they can relate to without being preached to, and I tried to do that in Bulldog.
What can you tell us about your protagonist, Bulldog (Nate)? What motivates him, what are his quirks, and what do you think appeals about him most to readers?
Bulldog is not a good kid or a high achiever. He comes from a troubled home and has spent a good deal of his youth trying to survive on the streets. He ultimately has a good heart and that comes out later in the book, but it takes a while for him to find it. I think younger readers who are tired of being pressured to be good students and athletes will find Bulldog refreshing.
What do you hope young readers take away from the story?That the world can be a complicated place to navigate where good and evil are not always easily distinguishable. A person should do the best they can but need to be ready to change their actions and attitude when new information comes to the fore.
What was your biggest challenge in writing Bulldog?
Finding the time. I had a family and worked full time while writing it.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Hike, ride my bicycle, walk my dog, read, go to church, and most importantly, spend time with my family.
What do you like to read?
History mostly. I have found that even the best fiction cannot compete with human history, especially if it’s written well.
What book has most influenced your life and why?
Probably The Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. It’s a history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam told through the life of John Paul Vann, who served in Vietnam on behalf of the United States. The book taught me that even stable democracies with checks and balances can still commit egregious errors and atrocities. No form of government can remove human frailties that we all possess, such as greed, prejudice, and stupidity. I cannot say I recommend it for younger readers however.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be
Be patient with yourself. Like anything it takes time and practice to become a good writer.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?
I had an uncle who was one of the first special agents for the FBI. He actually hunted down and arrested Nazi spies during the Second World War. During a conversation once I asked him if the FBI would ever tolerate the abuse of a prisoner, and he told me that the FBI instilled in him the belief that everyone, regardless of what they had done, was a human being and deserved to be treated with a minimal amount of respect for that fact alone. That always seemed like a good rule to live by, so I try to recognize that everyone, regardless of who they are, what they have done, or how they live, is a human being and therefore of inestimable value, and I try to treat everyone that way.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write what you want to write, not what someone else thinks you should write.
So, what’s next, do you have plans for another book?
Not at this point, although I am thinking of writing a sequel to Bulldog.
Matt, thank you so much for joining us today at Reader Views Kids and sharing a bit about yourself and your work with us!