Ask the Author: Matthew Tessnear
What would you like readers to know about you?
I want readers to know I am a unique person with traits that often contradict stereotypes. I am a Christian who believes firmly in God, but I deal with intense anxiety, and I also will not attack or minimalize you for your own beliefs if they differ significantly from mine. I am a proud native with deep roots in the American South, but I adore the fascinating cultures throughout the entire world. I stand a broad 6-foot-4, but I speak with a soft voice, greet with a kind smile and love to bake homemade pies, biscuits and everything else I can try in the kitchen. I can talk your ears off about writing, history, sports and food, but I suffer from suffocating social anxiety.
I also want readers to know I am an experienced writer and editor who spent a decade in print journalism in my 20s. I worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, photographer and videographer for a variety of daily community papers in the American South. After that, I worked in university public relations and marketing for three years before taking off on my own to pursue personal creative projects, including my book, and most of all to better my mental and physical health.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
My book, Eating Me Alive: How Food, Faith and Family Helped me Fight Fear and Find Hope, is a memoir about my life experiences with General Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and other health challenges. It follows my relationships with food, influential family members and my Christian faith to explore the childhood origins of my mental health obstacles, the ways the battles with my health intensified in early adulthood, and the sources of inspiration for finally addressing my struggles in my early 30s.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
If I can only pick one inspiration for writing Eating Me Alive, it’s my wife. She has encouraged me to do anything possible to improve my health so that I can enjoy my life and our life together. While I’ve had many positive influences in my life, no one has had the direct intentional impact she has by telling me it’s okay to take care of myself at all other costs. I believe we all need someone like that, a person who constantly reminds us that self-care is essential, in our lives.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
My favorite part of my book was the most painful but most cathartic for me to write. I also believe it’s the most important for readers because it reveals incredibly vulnerable truths about my specific life experiences. It’s a section in the middle of my memoir in which I discuss forms of self-torture I have levied on myself throughout my life as a product and facilitator of my mental illnesses. While most people think of self-harm methods like cutting as most prevalent, and they certainly are common, I have used other forms of physical abuse on myself. I detail those in three sections within a chapter titled “The Prison of My Own Brain.”
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
The works of Mitch Albom, especially Tuesdays with Morrie, had a profound impact on my desire to tell stories, including my own. Even more than authors, I had a number of great English and writing teachers who encouraged my writing abilities and possibilities and pushed me to pursue opportunities with my words. My sixth-grade teacher Harriet Sifford, who was a portrait of the American schoolteacher from decades ago, drilled me on vocabulary, sentence structure and parts of speech to the point that I will never forget her lessons in language. My seventh-grade teacher Catherine Pace wrote my hand off that year in preparing for the state writing test, and I think all those formulaic essays helped me get the basic mechanics down. And perhaps the single-most influence on any ability I have to describe a scene was crafted by a writing coach named John Rains in my early newspapering days. Reading great writing, no doubt, encourages more great writing. But each of these teachers instilled some tangible impacts on my own ability to put words together.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
You can do it. No matter what you want to write, you absolutely have the ability to make it happen. First of all, your story matters. So, believe in what you have to say and share with the world. On top of that, there are more ways to tell your story than ever before, so you really just have to get your story out onto the screen and then choose which way you want to send it out in the world. It’s not an easy process writing any book, but at the same time it really is quite simple compared to trying to publish in the past. I would add that the most important thing to being a writer is to write. At some point in your journey, you need to flow a large number of words out of your mind and onto a page. There’s no set number, but once you write enough words, you eventually become a writer. At that point, writing is not just something you do. Writing is something you are. So write every time you want to because, whether fiction or poetry or memoir, every story matters.
I am Matthew Tessnear, 35, a writer in the foothills of western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. My work is available from Amazon.com (quick link to my current release: bit.ly/EatingMeAlive), as well as at local independent bookshops in my region. Readers and authors can find me on all social media at @MatthewTessnear, and I would love to interact with anyone and everyone.
If you’d like to hear more from Matthew, check out these links:
Interview on Al Levin’s Depression Files podcast: https://www.podbean.com/site/EpisodeDownload/PBB7BF05K89EI
Interview on NPR affiliate WNCW’s Friday Feature:
Article in Matthew’s hometown Gaston Gazette: