Matt Getty’s Web site betrays none of the shame he used to feel about being a writer. In fact, he comes across as downright cocky about his talent. The banner across the top hypes him as the “World’s best writer ever.”
“Who is this guy anyway?” he writes. “How’d he get to be the world’s best writer ever? What does this Web site have to offer me?”
The site is part of Getty’s plan to make a 180-degree turn from the embarrassment that gave him writer’s block throughout high school and college. Being an artsy-fartsy writer wasn’t cool in his down-home town of Reading, Pa., so he stopped writing the adventure stories that he loved in elementary school. He didn’t commit to his calling until a few years after he graduated from Gettysburg College.
“I’d always hear in the back of my head someone sort of like, ‘Who do you think you are?’” he says. “I’m going all the way to the other side with the Web site. Everyone gets that joke and goes with it.”
The 33-year-old Gaithersburg resident and American University adjunct professor has been experimenting with self-promotion since last fall, when his novella, You Will Behave, was published by New York–based SuckerPunch Press. The novella is written completely in the second-person future, told in the voice of a mother scolding her son.
“You will behave,” it begins. “You will sit right there and listen until I am finished with you, and then you will march up those steps and apologize to your sister for sodomizing her Sparkle Beach Barbie with Darth Vader’s light-saber.”
In this same tone, she goes on to tell him his entire life story. Getty tried to picture his mother, Virginia Getty, yelling at him through her teeth while he wrote the book. Virginia says that the mother in the book is harsher than her, but she’s honored to have been her son’s inspiration.
“It’s kind of like a caricature of my disciplining of Matt,” she says.
Getty says his mom is the “biggest champion” of You Will Behave—which has caused some problems. She gave a copy of the book to a relative, who promptly banned it from her home to prevent her 12-year-old daughter from reading it.
In turn, Getty tried to get it banned elsewhere, too. He sent copies of You Will Behave to conservative and religious organizations to try to raise a ruckus. His plan backfired when a recipient recognized Getty as his college classmate and gave him an award for the book.
His publicity efforts haven’t all been for naught. The book has inspired chatter on discussion boards for grammar specialists, Getty says, and he wants to tailor some publicity toward that group.
“I asked SuckerPunch if there was anything we can do with that,” he says. “Is there a Grammar Nerds of America Association that we can promote the book to? But nothing has happened on that front.”
The idea for the book came from two conversations that Getty had with Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Henry Taylor. In the first, Taylor said that any writer worth his salt would try to write anything that someone told him was impossible to write. In an unrelated conversation weeks later, Taylor said that writing a book in the second-person future would be an impossible feat. Getty started writing immediately.
The gimmicky nature of the novella is redeemed by the fact that this story could only be told in such a voice, Getty says.
“My hope would be you forget you’re reading something in the second-person future,” he says. “The only way it works is if you lose sight of the gimmick.”
Up next, Getty is writing a full-length novel that he describes as a “children’s book for adults.” It’s in the third person. He has mixed emotions about the attention he’s gotten for his second-person writing. After all, his first three published works were all from that point of view.
“Is this my thing?” he says. “I don’t really want it to be my thing.”—Rachel Beckman