Two sticks, a drum pad and an author’s journey

This summer, I was honored to be interviewed for the National Association for Music Education. The editor, Tom Amoriello, a guitarist and educator, described himself as a longstanding fan of the Jazz Fly books. So he chose that focus for his “Yay, Storytime!” column. He asked lots of interesting questions, one which I’ll share here. To check out the whole interview, please click here. And check on this blog later for more Q and A with Tom.

Please tell us briefly about being a drummer and the journey that led to you be a children’s picture book author.

MG: When I was a kid, my mother sent me for piano lessons with a neighbor. Weeks would go by, and I wouldn’t practice much. Finally, the teacher asked if there was another instrument I’d rather play. “Drums!” I told her. “Then do us both a favor,” she urged, “and tell that to your mom.”

With two sticks and a drum pad, I could focus on limited details. I practiced overtime and with joy and began to feel more expressive. I played in jazz bands and marching bands in high school and college. I played combo jazz, funk, and dance music on weekends.

Drumming affected the way I write! To this day, when I write even an email, I hear rhythm. I’m a slow reader and writer because I’m constantly listening to the words’ weight and impact. It’s a funny sensibility that, frankly, I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

After college, I worked as a copywriter and translator, mainly to support my attempts at writing fiction. Once I was assigned to travel to Oaxaca to interview the up-and-coming Mexican painter Leovigildo Martínez. He had young children and asked me mid-interview, “¿Mateo, por qué no hacemos un libro para niños?” (“Matthew, why don’t we write a children’s book?”)

Back home, I had just spent years on a novel that my literary agent was having a tough time selling. But my drafts of Mexican folktales, with samples of Leovigildo’s paintings, soon garnered offers from multiple publishers. I thought, “Why fight the universe?” I realized that I liked the tighter focus of writing picture books—kind of the way, as a kid, I preferred two drumsticks and a pad.

Matthew Gollub Interview for the National Association for Music Education