An article I wrote about why Christians should read fiction appears in the November issue of The Outlook. You can page through this online preview to read that article as well as a lovely review of my Matthew books.
Fasten your seat belts! Books 2 & 3 of my Matthew in the Middle series will officially launch this afternoon at 5-4-3-2-1 PM.
Patricia, whose melodious voice and godly spirit warm listeners’ hearts, plans to interview me at 1:00 CT today on KCWN 99.9, where hope shines. If you’re out of range of the station’s reach, you can listen live on the website.
Having grown up as a pastor’s daughter, Patricia feels as affinity for my book boy, Matthew. After she read Matthew Muddles Through, she said it seemed like I must have been in her childhood home. She interviewed me about that first book of the Matthew in the Middle series last December (you can read about that day here.)
Matthew Makes Strides and Matthew Moves Ahead, the second and third books of the Matthew in the Middle series, are far more exciting, so I’m eager to hear what Patricia thinks of them. Tune in at 1 PM today to find out!
Local people, send all your friends and relatives over to the station at 304 Oskaloosa St in Pella to get signed copies of these and my other published books. Thanks for supporting this official launch and helping place quality literature into the hands of middle grade readers!
If you or your children have already read the books, what are some things you enjoy about the stories?
Her review captures the spirit and time frame of the novel as she describes Matthew and his problems in creative ways. She notes that any reader with siblings can relate to some of them. She also mentions his struggle with how to grow up as a Christian “without necessarily thinking in those terms.” She writes:
As the son of a pastor he knows the expectations of his community, but his inclinations don’t always match up. He’s at the age where kids are beginning to question of what they’ve always been taught and how it applies to them personally. Matthew has no hidden supernatural abilities and will not be chosen to save the world, but the Holy Spirit is at work in him anyway, and it’s a struggle worth watching.
What fun to place the final Matthew in the Middle book into the hands of the grandson to whom it’s dedicated! The first book in the series, Matthew Muddles Through, is dedicated to my oldest grandson. The second book, Matthew Makes Strides, is dedicated to my second grandson. And this third book, Matthew Moves Ahead, is dedicated to my third grandson. The boys are all brothers, sons of my oldest son.
Matthew began as an experiment in a creative writing class, but grew over the years to a vibrant book boy. This third novel, Matthew Moves Ahead, includes the following “Birth of a Book” section at the back:
My book boy Matthew grew for more years than his age. Although Matthew is eleven, his story is thirteen.
He was an experiment, conceived in a fiction writing course I took in 2002. I challenged myself to write in a point of view very different from personal experience. Could a boring and sedentary mature woman write the first-person perspective of an imaginative and active young boy?
I named that embryo Caleb to reflect the faithfulness and zeal of the biblical believer who urged the Israelites to fight the giants and enter the Promised Land (Numbers 13:30), and who at eighty-five years of age remained eager to fight for the Lord (Joshua 14:6-12). Military matters interested Caleb, the middle child in a minister’s family, who befriended a Vietnam veteran named Fred Winters.
The initial short story began with Caleb washing his toy soldiers in the bathroom sink and went on to show him playing a basketball game with his older brother, while Dad spoke to Mr. Winters in the kitchen. I hadn’t planned that basketball game. It just happened.
I loved this imaginary family. And my instructor loved the story, calling the scene with the two boys playing basketball in the cold “beautiful.” He suggested I submit another Caleb narrative as my next assignment.
That second short story described the chaos of a Sunday morning when everything goes wrong. Later that day, Mr. Winters shared a glimpse of his tormented past, and Caleb witnessed to him about the truths of God’s word and how those things are worth fighting—and dying—for. The story concludes with the two going upstairs for apple pie.
Readers of Matthew Muddles Through will recognize these stories in Chapters 10, 14, and 16 of that book.
My book boy grew in the womb of my imagination until he was born in 2007 as Matthew Henry Vos. Exactly like parents who decide on the right name once they see the baby, I knew this was the perfect choice.
But the poor fellow experienced a sickly childhood, suffering through innumerable surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. Blog reflections on these can be found on my website: glendafayemathes.com.
Plans for his entrance into society changed from one novel to four, to three, and back and forth between four and three a few more times.
Matthew survived preliminary auditions in 2009 and flew to the big city in 2010 to make a name for himself, but returned home feeling rejected. Occasionally I visited him while he languished in recovery.
Until Thanksgiving of 2013, when my oldest grandson asked, “Grandma, did you ever finish that story about Matthew?”
Well! If my grandson wanted to read Matthew’s story, I wanted to give it to him before he lost interest. And he was almost a teenager. I determined to place the first book in his hands for his thirteenth birthday.
Matthew now lives in the hearts and minds of more readers than I’d ever imagined.
I love hearing from readers. Moises read the first two books and has been begging his day for the third one for months. Recently I received this message from Moises (age 9), who lives in California:
Dear Glenda Faye Mathes,
Thank you for the books you wrote. They are very good books. I liked them a lot! They are the best books I have ever read! I liked them because they are Christian and Reformed. I liked them too because they were very interesting! There were no bad words or bad pictures in them! I learned not to be selfish, to obey our parents, not to get angry at them, and to help others whenever they are hurt!
After church services, Asher often came up to me with shining eyes. “Mrs. Mathes, Mrs. Mathes. We’re reading your book!” Only all summer, it was: “Mrs. Mathes, Mrs. Mathes. When will your next book be ready?”
It’s finally here, Asher. Enjoy.
Few things thrill a writer more than holding a hard copy of a finally-published book. It’s a rush to see your name on the cover, but it’s also such fun to see how the colors and artwork look in real life. With all three of my Matthew in the Middle books, I’ve been pleased that the actual books look even better than the PDF cover files. Ken Raney, over at Clash Creative, did the artwork for all three novels in this series and he did a fabulous job.
What a pleasure to receive this afternoon my first hard cover copies of Matthew Moves Ahead, the third and final book of the Matthew in the Middle series! All three novels are now available on Amazon: Matthew Muddles Through, Matthew Makes Strides, and Matthew Moves Ahead. Check them out!
If you enjoy them, please leave a review. Any reader can review a book, and it’s easy to do. It takes only a few minutes, but it means a great deal to the author because reviews drive ratings and sales. And being able to pay for groceries thrills a writer almost as much as holding a hard copy of a published book.
After three long years of waiting, Matthew Vos is finally going to the Cadet International Camporee! He’s earning money to buy supplies, but the lawnmower slips from his grip and cuts through a customer’s garden. Matthew’s hopes wither like the sheared-off plant tops. What more could possibly go wrong? And will the Camporee turn out to be all he’s imagined?
Click over to Amazon and check it out! Better yet, put a copy in your cart. Read it. Write a review. Spread the word. Buy more books. Give them as Christmas gifts. Tell your friends to give them as Christmas gifts. Not sold yet? Consider these endorsements and their sources:
I love this kid. Of course, I love Matt’s fondness for The Accidental Detectives books, but I also love his humorous voice, active imagination, and fledgling faith. Glenda Faye Mathes crafts vivid scenes and authentic dialogue that draw me into the story and into Matt’s head. Because Matthew Moves Ahead in realistic ways that reflect universal childhood disappointments and joys, readers will love Matthew, too.
‘He leaned over the table and contorted his face like speckled Silly Putty.’ This playful line (one of so many) from Matthew Moves Ahead aptly demonstrates how well the author pegs fun, insightful, and altogether natural word pictures. Reading through a brief period of Matt’s everyday life is much like living a brief period of your own. The young boy in the heart of Glenda Faye Mathes is us—and he comes to life with rich and believable detail, warmly testifying to God’s love in real time.
What an adventure! Matthew Moves Ahead is a delightful story and a great addition to the library of any young boy, especially a Cadet who has actually participated in an International Camporee. Glenda Faye Mathes has obviously done a lot of research and accurately portrays Kamp Kananaskis details, even down to menus and devotions. The characters develop well as the story progresses, and the reader will see Matthew’s cadre grow into a unit of close friends by the week’s end. All in all, it’s a tale well told.
I’m thrilled and thankful for these amazing endorsements from men with specialized expertise. And while I’m a little sad to bid adieu to Matthew, I’m happy to announce this final novel’s availability.
The Matthew in the Middle series is aimed at middle grade readers, ages 8-12, but can be enjoyed by any age. Other novels in the series are Matthew Muddles Through and Matthew Makes Strides, both also available on Amazon.
In the course of the series, Matthew develops relationships with people very different from himself. He discovers the pitfalls of being a hero and how to overcome fear and anxiety. And he grows in his faith as he lives more and more for Jesus.
Many Christian Renewal readers may be familiar with Janie B. Cheaney as a regular columnist for WORLD magazine. But you may not know about her multiple writing successes. She and another writer launched the RedeemedReader.com website to focus on children’s literature. She has written creative writing workbooks called the Wordsmith series. She has several published fiction books: two Elizabethan-era young adult novels (The Playmaker and The True Prince), a middle reader novel set in the WWII time frame (My Friend the Enemy), and two contemporary-setting middle readers (The Middle of Somewhere and Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous). She anticipates publication of another middle reader novel in June of 2015 (I Don’t Know How the Story Ends).
Booklist magazine chose The Playmaker as a top ten best young-adult books by debut authors, and it as well as The True Prince were on the list of the New York Library’s Best Books for the Teen Age. The St. Louis Dispatch named My Friend the Enemy as one of 2005’s top ten books for children, and the book was a finalist for the Pen award for best children’s novel. The Middle of Somewhere was nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet award, the Florida Sunshine State Young Readers award, and the Indiana Young Hoosier list. Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous was named a Junior Library Guild’s 2014 Fall selection.
Janie is not only a successful author; she’s also a humble believer invested in a local Reformed congregation, Gospel of Grace Church in Springfield, MO. Christian Renewal’s Glenda Mathes recently communicated with Janie about her work and faith.
Christian Renewal: Janie, you’re a regular columnist for WORLD magazine and have written several award-winning novels as well as a creative writing curriculum that continues to sell well. What’s the “secret” to your success as a writer?
Janie B. Cheaney: There’s a practical secret and a spiritual secret. I’ll deal with the practical first, because it’s the easiest. The easiest to state, that is; not so easy to do. The main secret of writing success is to show up for work. For beginning writers this is a tough hurdle because they haven’t established themselves as a salable commodity. Writing is a unique occupation in that the writer must produce a substantial body of work before the job actually begins. It could take years just to develop the craft and learn certain tricks of the trade. Then the sales job begins, during which you create a product and try to find a market. Over time you’ll develop a resume and a contact base leading to assignments, like any other line of work, but at the beginning the only thing that keeps you at your desk is your own conviction and determination. And, I might add, a certain inner need that all writers have; we are compelled to shape words around our thoughts and stories and to strive for our own trademark style. If you can keep going after months, or perhaps even years, of rejection letters and emails, you know you’re a writer.
The spiritual secret is this: if the Lord intends that you write, he will see that you get the opportunity. So much of publishing appears to the world like a matter of luck (dumb or otherwise): connecting with the right editor at the right time or catching a trend on the rise. For a Christian, all these mysterious hits and misses are divine appointments.
But you still have to show up for work!
CR: Most people who write for a living limit themselves to one genre or type of writing, perhaps for their entire career, but you may be writing a column for WORLD and a novel during the same week. How do you manage your various writing commitments or organize your time?
JBC: Organization is key, especially as your commitments increase; unfortunately I’m not an extremely organized person. One thing I must do is get up early so I can lay claim to the maximum number of uninterrupted hours. How early is early? Try 4 a.m. A detailed daytimer with each calendar day divided into time increments is also a big help to me. Writing down when I plan to do something doesn’t guarantee that I’ll do it, but at least I can imagine that it’s possible.
CR: Your method enables you not only to write efficiently, but also to write excellently. You’ve received several awards, and your recently-published novel, Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous, was a Junior Library Guild’s 2014 Fall selection. You structure the novel in an interesting way with an almost-unheard-of nine points of view. Why did you want to portray so many characters?
JBC: Most of my children’s novels are written for middle graders, an interesting transition time. That’s when their primary loyalties are beginning to shift from parents to peers, and that’s a natural process even in the most loving families. It’s an identity issue: kids are beginning to wonder who they are apart from family, and they become almost obsessive about what their peers think of them. My idea was to take nine middle-graders (one for each month of the school year) who all live in the same neighborhood, many of whom have grown up together, and tell each one’s story over a year of shifting self-images and relationships. They are all tied together by a central mystery, which is, Why does the driver make the same stop on the way to school every morning, when there’s never anyone waiting there? She refuses to say, and it troubles some of her passengers more than others. Over the school year, each one of them will pick up a clue to the mystery of the empty bus stop, and by the end (of course!) it will be solved. We also learn who will be famous, but I’m not telling.
CR: The novel ends with an exciting and satisfying conclusion that finally answers questions raised in the reader’s mind at the very beginning. How did you decide on that crucial first scene?
JBC: The first problem with posing nine protagonists in a novel is introducing them. Most authors when beginning a story will be careful not to crowd too many significant characters into the first chapter, because a reader needs time to get into the story and feel comfortable with it. Throwing eight or nine people at the reader in the first few pages is more likely to frustrate than intrigue. After my first version of a completed manuscript had been rejected a couple of times, I decided to use a trick.
The climax of the story involves a bus wreck—in a driving rainstorm, the driver swerves to avoid a passing car, the bus hydroplanes and slides off the road and down a slope towards a creek. I decided to move that incident to the very beginning of the novel: the rain and wind, a highway patrolman receiving a message about a school bus and racing to the scene. No names are mentioned and only two characters from the bus actually appear; one limping down the hill toward the patrolman, and one trudging uphill. Then the scene shifts to “nine months earlier,” with eight of the children getting ready to board the bus on the first day of school. The idea is that the reader knows the wreck is coming, but who are these people and what will happen to them? Any injuries? Any deaths? I’m hoping that after the prologue the reader will be invested enough to keep reading, just to find out.
CR: While your juvenile fiction novels convey deep truths, they are not overtly Christian or marketed at Christian readers. What’s your writing philosophy, and how does your Christian faith inform your work?
JBC: I think a writer’s worldview will automatically emerge, whether or not she sets out to write an explicitly Christian novel. We sense a structure and purpose to life, and simply can’t end a story on a nihilistic note. At the same time a Christian should understand sin and evil better than an unbeliever; there’s a reason for tragedy, but redemption waits just over the horizon. As Solzhenitsyn famously wrote, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart, and that’s where the wisest of nonbelieving authors end: with a conflicted heart. But God does not end there; he draws that line straight through the heart and ties it to Christ.
Since all my published fiction is for children (so far!) I can’t plunge into the depths of human depravity, but all children’s novels have the same theme: they are essentially about growing up. In the course of growing up, my main characters make mistakes and have to confront their own flaws. I never know what the theme of the story is when I begin writing; that will emerge from my embedded worldview and from the demands of the story itself. The Playmaker and The True Prince, my first published novels (both for a slightly older age than middle grade) are set on and around the Elizabethan theater, so the natural theme is about establishing your true identity in the midst of playing a part (as almost all young teens do!). My Friend the Enemy is a World War II homefront story involving a friendship between an all-American girl and a Japanese-American boy; it’s about seeing below the surface and determining who your friends really are. The Middle of Somewhere is a contemporary humorous novel about finding enchantment in the ordinary, and Somebody on This Bus is basically about adjusting one’s expectations. My next novel will be titled, I Don’t Know How the Story Ends, and the setting is Hollywood during the last year of World War I and the early years of the silent movie industry. It turned out to be about accepting profound changes in life that are contrary to the “story” you imagine your life to be.
All of these have resonance for a Christian. The solution to the central problem might not be what the characters had hoped for, but it gives them hope, and sets them up for the next challenge in their journey to adulthood.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 34-36 of the February 25, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal. The following book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 37 of the same issue.
Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous by J.B. Cheaney; Sourcebooks; hardcover; 296 pages; © 2014
Take nine middle school kids, combine them in a bus, stir in diverse personalities, sprinkle with literary elements, drizzle in mystery, and shake well. That’s the basic recipe for J. B. Cheaney’s well-written Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous.
Few authors would attempt to incorporate nine different points of view into any novel, let alone one for middle grade readers, but by layering nine primary chapters—each focusing on one student and one month of the school year—Cheaney creates a delightful treat.
Another challenge with multiple points of view is introducing the characters, particularly when standard procedure is to keep characters to a minimum in the first chapter. Cheaney beats that problem by creating a gripping initial scene set in a terrible thunderstorm (the Storm of the Decade!). Readers learn only that a bus has crashed and children are hurt. They’ll have to read to the end to discover what’s happened, and by that time they’re heavily invested in all the various characters.
Cheaney keeps readers invested by lacing the plot with an intriguing mystery and spicing it up with realism. Believable action, dialogue, and thoughts reflect the wide range of problems and emotions experienced by these kids and the adults in their lives. The author garnishes the narrative with fresh literary elements that appeal to young readers. Many girls will identify with this one: “On the outside, she looked the same but was really a virtual human, trying to act normal while a snake wrapped around her quick-beating, mousy little heart” (p. 77). And most middle grade boys will enjoy: “It may be the kind of idea he should forget, but it’s like a booger that won’t shake off his finger” (p. 219).
Kids will enjoy the tasty writing, but parents and teachers will also have fun reading this delectable book to their children and students. Cheaney’s superior writing leaves a palatable aftertaste readers will continue to enjoy.
My book boy Matthew has moved into his final phase. He’ll leap only a few more hurdles before crossing the finish line.
Matthew Moves Ahead is the third and last novel of the Matthew in the Middle series. My wonderful online critique group reviewed all the chapters in it, and I’m finalizing end matter prior to submitting it to the proofreader. I’m seeking endorsements. The artist is working on the cover. I hope hard copies will be published this summer, perhaps in July.
The first two books in the series, Matthew Muddles Through and Matthew Makes Strides, are already available on Amazon, and I’m excited for the third one to join them. Writing this series has been quite a process, with Matthew sometimes sidelined for long periods of time. (You can read more about that here and here.) I recently took some time to reflect on how my book boy was born.
Several young boys (and some girls!) have asked about this final Matthew book, and I’m eager for them to hold it in their hands and turn the pages.
Here’s hoping Matthew clears those hurdles and soon rejoices in the winner’s circle!
Putting a copy in his hands was almost as much fun as writing this stimulating story. Others who’ve read the book find it exciting as well. This is what Douglas Bond, who’s written Duncan’s War and other works of historical fiction, says:
Glenda Faye Mathes writes with energy and intentionality. When she writes about a coming tornado, it feels so real, I start glancing nervously out the window. Young people will feel like the author knows them, is inside their heads, so intimate is her knowledge of her readers. This is a frank and honest portrayal of a preacher’s kid, but one that speaks to the extraordinary challenges and joys of ordinary growing up. Highly recommended.
This is a huge compliment, coming from the author of engaging nonfiction and many intensely thrilling novels.
Another excellent writer provided a second meaningful endorsement. Simonetta Carr, author of Christian Biographies for Young Readers, writes:
Well written and captivating, this book—as the previous one in the series—takes us through the everyday life of Matthew Vos, an inquiring and thoughtful fifth grader who faces many typical challenges of a middle child and “Preacher’s Kid.” There are surprises along the way, and important lessons as Matthew strives to overcome his fears and to be more like the heroes he admires. I was impressed by the author’s ability to describe in a very plausible and heartfelt manner the inner thoughts of a young child. Although the book is set in a specific situation (a Dutch Reformed community in 1996 America), many children in different circumstances will easily identify with Matthew’s feelings and struggles.
Receiving these wonderful endorsements from excellent writers thrilled me, but I also hoped the book’s portrayals of military aspects and heroism were realistic and compelling.
Paul T. Berghaus is a West Point graduate and U.S. Army Chaplain, who has been deployed in combat situations and currently serves as Ethics Instructor and Infantry Chapel Pastor at Ft. Benning, GA. He writes:
Matthew Makes Strides quickly captured my attention and provoked thoughts and emotions that are sympathetic with those of several characters in the story. Glenda Faye Mathes does an excellent job portraying the trauma, excitement, and relief of events where great danger and courage are present. Her chapters are rich in narration, imagery, momentum, and emotion. They also contain a good amount of humor to guard against overly heavy intensity. I am thankful that she is writing Matt’s story and sharing it with readers of all ages, and I applaud her for taking up topics of fear, loss, courage, and authentic masculinity.
In his communication with me, Chaplain Berghaus confirmed that my portrayals in the story exactly captured the characteristics and emotions of military veterans and memorial services. He even noted how the military veteran helping Matthew cope with being a hero brought healing to the veteran himself. This subtle theme may escape most young readers, but I was delighted when an experienced military man recognized it.
I’m excited to share this first blog look at the cover of my newest novel, Matthew Makes Strides, which will be released soon. The wonderful artwork by Ken Raney captures the emotion of this intense moment.
Matthew Makes Strides is the second novel of my Matthew in the Middle series for middle grade readers. Book 1, Matthew Muddles Through, is already available on Amazon.
Yesterday I finished the final revision of the final book of the series, Matthew Moves Ahead. It still needs to go through a lengthy editing process, but the Matthew narrative is now—and finally—complete.
I spent some time this morning thinking about how Matthew came to be and crafting the story of his birth.
My book boy Matthew grew for more years than his age (11) in these novels. He was conceived in a course I took on fiction writing in 2002, as an experiment challenging myself to write in a point of view very different from personal experience. As a boring and sedate old lady, I’d write from the first-person perspective of an imaginative and active young boy.
I named that embryo Caleb to reflect the faithfulness and zeal of the biblical believer, who urged the Israelites to fight giants and enter the Promised Land (Numbers 13:30), and who at 85 years of age was still eager to fight for the Lord (Joshua 14:6-12). Military matters interested Caleb, the middle child in a minister’s family, who became acquainted with a Vietnam veteran named Mr. Winters.
My short story began with Caleb washing his toy soldiers in the bathroom sink and showed him playing a basketball game of Horse with his older brother, while Dad spoke to Mr. Winters in the kitchen. I loved Caleb. And my instructor loved the story, calling the scene with the two boys playing basketball in the cold “beautiful.” He suggested I submit another Caleb narrative as my next assignment. That second short story described the chaos of a Sunday morning when everything goes wrong. Later that day Mr. Winters shared a glimpse of his tormented past, and Caleb witnessed to him about the truths of God’s word and how those things are worth fighting—and dying—for. The story concludes with the two going upstairs for apple pie. (Readers of Matthew Muddles Through will recognize that these stories developed into Chapter 10: Banished, as well as Chapter 14: Trouble with a Capital T, and Chapter 16: Peace Follows Battle.)
My book boy continued to develop and was born in 2007 as Matthew Henry Vos. The poor fellow suffered a sickly childhood, undergoing numerous surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. His debut presentation plans changed from one novel to four to three, and back to four and then to three again (more than once). Matthew made it through some preliminary auditions in 2009 and flew to the big city in 2010 to make a name for himself, but came back home feeling rejected. I visited him from time to time; however, he languished in recovery for years.
Until late in 2013, when my oldest grandson asked, “Grandma, did you ever finish that story about Matthew?”
Well. If my grandson wanted to read Matthew’s story, I ought to finish it before he lost interest. And he was almost a teenager. I determined to put the first book in his hands for his thirteenth birthday. Which I did in 2014.
Now the second one is almost ready to be released, and the third one is written. And that’s the story of how my book boy Matthew was born.