TOWNSEND -- Despite having three published books and a March deadline to submit a fourth, author Matthew Dicks admits that his career as an author still feels somewhat surreal to him.
"I still feel that I am an aspiring writer. This is my fourth year of publishing books, but I've never not felt like I'm on the outside looking in," he said. "I'm really good friends with published authors, I'm friendly with best-selling authors, but for some reason, I don't feel like member of that club yet."
Dicks may be modest about his success, but the reading public is singing his praises. His most recent novel, "Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend," has an average Amazon.com reader review of four a half stars out of a possible five, based on 130 reviews. The book received similarly high reviews on GoodReads, at 4.17 stars out of five, based on 2,613 ratings and 752 reviews.
The book was chosen for the Townsend Public Library's "One Book, One Town" book discussion on Feb. 17 at 3:30 p.m. and Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Dicks himself will be in the Townsend Public Library on Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the book. Although he will be reading a small selection from the novel, much of the discussion will be storytelling about the process of writing the book. Dicks will also be instructing a writing workshop for other aspiring writers.
"Memoirs" is told through the eyes of Budo, the imaginary friend of 8-year-old Max, who falls on the autistic spectrum.
"He's high functioning, but he misinterprets the world a lot of times," said Dicks. "He uses Budo to help him figure out what he can't."
When Max disappears, the only person who knows where he has gone is Budo, who must figure out how to save his friend. Meanwhile, Budo faces another internal conflict: Though he wants to aid Max in understanding the world around him, he knows that the day Max stops believing in him will be his own last day of existence.
"The whole book is an existential crisis," said Dicks. "I have a great obsession with my own mortality."
Or so his wife says, said Dicks.
"I write a book and my wife tells me what it's about," he joked.
Dicks is also a fifth-grade teacher in Connecticut.
"I'd always wanted to write for a living and teach for pleasure," said Dicks. "I'd always wanted to be a teacher but writing was right up there with it. But I knew I wasn't going to be able to graduate college and publish a book. So I started teaching and slowly began on getting something published."
Dicks drew on experiences as a teacher to help develop the character of Max, but he drew on childhood experiences to outline Budo.
Dicks had his own imaginary friend growing up, named Johnson Johnson. When his mother sat him down and explained to him that Johnson wasn't real, it took convincing. As a writer, Dicks was intrigued in exploring this kind of relationship further.
"He was very real for me," said Dicks.
As for the name, Dicks called the character after another imaginary friend, shared by twin daughters of a friend of his.
"They would point to the same corner and say, 'He's in that corner,'" said Dicks. "It was a little creepy; I thought their father put them up to it at first."
Nine months after beginning the novel, "Memoirs" was complete. But the hype began before he was half done. Dicks' agent took him and the first half of "Memoirs" to an international book festival in Germany.
"It was a terrifying thing. It was like she was taking me naked to Germany and showing me to everyone," said Dicks.
But, trusting his agent, he took the incomplete manuscript. Before the festival was over, Dicks had made a half dozen foreign sales. Now, the 102,000-word novel is published in 18 countries, and was released in the U.S. in August. The paperback version is now carried at Target.
"I've learned to do whatever (my agent) tells me to do," he said.
During his writing workshop for authors, Dicks plans to address questions about getting a book published: how to get an agent, what an editor does, breaking into the industry. He also hopes to talk about the process of writing and answer any questions the audience might have.
"I think a lot of people want to write but don't understand there are many ways to write a book, not just one," said Dicks. "When I was in college, I was taught there was only one way to write a book, but I've discovered since then that's not actually the way I write."
Dicks also makes a habit out of giving away a prize at his book discussions for the most interesting or challenging question from an audience member. In the past, he has given out foreign books that he's received from publishers overseas.
Dicks has also written "Unexpectedly Milo" and "Something's Missing." He describes his writing genre as "quirky fiction."
"They're slightly amusing, but not intentionally so. I tend to write about people on the outskirts of society, people who are not always accepted," said Dicks. "I'm very interested in the idea that we tell kids to be themselves growing up and to blaze their own trails and don't submit to peer pressure, but when they submit to the advice as adults, we punish them. I find nobility in those people."