This is Matthew Payne
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Local author, Matthew Payne (M.D. Payne) has been busy writing children's books for many years. With his fun-loving spirit and abundant energy, Matthew has found ways to capture the attention of young readers. As a fairly new Rutherford resident, he also loves this town and what it has to offer him, his wife and his two young children.
TIR: You attended Ithaca College and studied TV/Radio and International Communications. What did you do after you graduated?
Matthew Payne: After graduation, I connected with an alum from Ithaca College who ran a public radio production and marketing company, Murray Street Productions. At first, he asked me to be a Production Assistant on Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, and I was able to meet some big jazz heroes of mine when they played at Jazz at Lincoln Center: Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, Nancy Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and of course Wynton Marsalis, who is the Artistic Director. I even set up microphones for Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder for special events!
TIR: How did you become involved in children’s book writing and publishing?
After five years at Murray Street working on shows like Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, Pulse of the Planet, Honky Tonks, Hymns, and the Blues, and The DNA Files (mainly as Marketing Manager), I left Murray Street to start my own web comedy venture, "Fist Full of Koi." It went nowhere, but it taught me a lot about how to write creatively fast, something I hadn't done before in public radio. It was just at the time I was giving up on things that my writing led to something else—a friend worked for the smash Goosebumps series for kids, and he needed someone to write small features/quizzes/top ten lists for the backs of books they were re-releasing. I did a dozen books, including The Werewolf of Fever Swamp and The Horror of Camp Jellyjam, as well as instructions for EnterHorrorLand.com and even Taco Bell cross-promotions.
TIR: You wrote a series of books for children called “Monster Juice”. For which age group was this series written? Where did the idea come from?
MP: When my editor left Scholastic to become Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap (now Penguin Workshop), he asked me if I was interested in writing my own series of middle grade books for 8-12 year-olds. I screamed, "YES!" and then had to come up with an idea. I had something vague in mind—I'd always thought it would be funny to see what a monster retirement home looked like—would the vampires have dentures? Would the werewolves be losing their fur? How did these monsters become old? That's where I started.
TIR: What can you tell us about the books in the “Monster Juice” series?
MP: From that basic idea, the books evolved into a gross-out horror series where middle school kids team up with old monsters to battle the newer, crazier monsters that are draining the old monsters of their power. It's a battle not only to save the old monsters, but to save the world! And they use some really gross bodily functions to save the day. You'll get a hint at what brings down the baddies with the titles Fear the Barfitron, Fartsunami, Boogers from Beyond, Burpstronauts, Tomb of Brain Ooze, and Zits from Python Pit. All the grossness aside, the series is ultimately about kids helping old people.
TIR: On April 16th, your latest book was released, “What is the Story of Scooby-Doo?”. This seems like a fun book to research and write. Tell us more about the process. Did you enjoy it? Learn anything surprising?
MP: I just devoured any and all information that I could find about Scooby. TV episodes and DVD special features, newspaper articles, magazine articles, old advertising for the original shows, radio interviews, documentaries, biographies of the creators. it goes on and on and on. While it was really enjoyable binge-watching Scooby-Doo, Where are You? with my five-year-old daughter, Molly (Scooby and Daphne are her faves), the research process was hard in the respect that I had to present a 50-year-old character in a new way, and with new facts. Here are some interesting things I learned: In Britain, when you say "I don't have a Scooby," you mean "I don't have a clue." In the first draft of the show idea, Scooby was called "Too Much?" and played bongos in a mystery-solving band. Shaggy became one of the first cartoon characters to be a vegetarian. The actor who voiced him (Casey Kasem of American Top 40 fame) was a strict vegetarian. After his contract forced him to do a Burger King commercial, he quit the series. The only way he'd come back as Shaggy was if the character, like him, was a vegetarian. So, from the early 90's on, you'll notice that Shaggy only chows down on vegetarian Scooby Snacks!
TIR: Over the years, you have been involved in writing other books in the “Who Was…?” series. You also wrote “Who is R.L. Stine?” What was that experience like?
MP: Even though Who is R.L. Stine? will come out in August, after Scooby, I had completed the first draft waaaaaay back in June of 2016. Writing for the Who Is series is tough, because it demands that a huge amount of research be boiled down into writing that's accessible to 8-year-olds. I missed the mark on the first draft, and had to completely re-write my introduction and first two chapters, and then went through heavy editing on the remaining chapters. It was a good learning experience for sure.
In terms of Stine, I was blown away by his work ethic. Since he was a kid and he stumbled across a typewriter in the attic, he's wanted nothing else in life but to write. And he's written everything, including some really terrible (making up fake interviews with celebrities), boring (writing marketing copy for the soda industry), and embarrassing (his first book was a flop) projects. But he never said, "NO". That's what kept him going, and eventually, that's what landed him Bananas magazine at Scholastic, Fear Street, and, of course, Goosebumps. So, as a writer, it was really inspiring to learn more about this everyday, normal dude who just lived his dream and made it big along the way—which I think is really inspiring to kids as well!
TIR: In addition to all of the writing that you do, you are also the Director of Communications at the City and Country School in Greenwich Village in NYC. What does this role entail? What do you enjoy about working at this school?
MP: City and Country School has a truly progressive program (child-lead, open-ended materials, social studies-based curriculum, no grades, etc.) that's inspiring to be a part of. Because the program is so different than the norm (even from other independent schools), my role is primarily to reinforce with parents what it is we do each day with the children and why it's important. I do this through emails, a 28-page magazine, "Annual Report", our website and password-protected Parent Portal, and through any number of events. Recently, we've produced videos highlighting unique aspects of our program that I think have been particularly effective. After six years at this wonderful community, I'm actually phasing out of my role to spend more time at home with my daughters and on my writing, but I hope to continue freelancing with the school on certain projects.
TIR: How long have you lived in Rutherford?
MP: We've been here for four years now.
TIR: What brought you to Rutherford?
MP: My wife's best friend moved here after getting married, so we were well familiar with the town despite living in Brooklyn. We'd spent many a night in their home on Mountain Way, and many a night at restaurants like Village Gourmet and Eros. We fell in love with the downtown. We lived in Bay Ridge as renters, and when it was time to buy a home, even such a far-flung neighborhood of New York City was crazy expensive. We looked in Jersey City and Hoboken for a bit, but weren't really finding what we wanted for a price we were comfortable with. We were just starting to look further afield when our friends let us know about a place "that we know you're going to love" in Rutherford. They were right and we were hooked.
TIR: What do you enjoy most about living here?
MP: For me, I'm my happiest and proudest in Rutherford when standing in the schoolyard waiting for my daughter to be dismissed. I see all the other parents around me, and everyone is just so focused on their family, on bettering their kids, on giving them the best life. I love that community feel, which extends into the neighborhood through events and activities, and organizations like the REF, the Junior Women's Club, and Brotherford.
I'm also a huge outdoors person, so living in the Borough of Trees, with a garden in my backyard, and with miles upon miles of hiking just 15-30 minutes away is insanely enjoyable to me. Accessibility is key—the bus and the train get you to the city (having two options is fantastic), and Routes 3, 17, 21, 80 the GSP, and NJT get you anywhere fast.
TIR: What can you tell us about your family?
MP: My wife, Carmela, and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage this year, and we have two beautiful daughters with whom to celebrate—Molly (6) and Stella (9 months). Carmela is from Fairview, NJ, and her mother, sister and her family, and extended family are all nearby, which is nice. I can't count the cousins! Carmela's also in children's publishing, as she heads up the school and library marketing department of Penguin Young Readers. My parents are up in Brunswick, Maine, where we go at least twice a year for holidays and summer fun.