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  • Annette Dawm

Moving Forward with Matt Eicheldinger

Matt Eicheldinger has a lot to look forward to, even though he doesn’t know exactly what it entails just yet. Tomorrow, March 19, 2024 is a huge day for Matt! His first children’s book, Matt Sprouts and the Curse of the Ten Broken Toes will be released wherever books are sold! Eicheldinger previously released an independent version of the book. However, he said this is the moment where he will finally feel like an author.

“....I’m looking forward to what happens after March 19th because when you think of a dream for so long, I feel like you can only think of it up and to a point. So, for 15 years I thought, ‘I want a book on a shelf and I want to be an author.’ On the 19th, it’s fully realized. Everything I worked so hard at happens, but right now I can’t think past that.”

“I think it’s okay to change your goals, too.” He continued. “That’s what goal setting is all about, right? You need something to shoot for and those little milestones along the way. For me, I’m excited to see what does happen after March 19th. Does the book do really well? Is it at the dollar store? Do I get to tell more stories? Am I travelling? I’m just looking forward to that unknown period of time.”

Matt Sprouts and the Curse of the Ten Broken Toes is the first part of a trilogy that will hopefully lead to more books. Eicheldinger began drawing Matt Sprouts at an early age and the stories are based on his childhood. The series is written for kids who are “struggling readers, or reluctant readers, or even reading avoiders”.

The author added that he was once a “reading avoider”, with the exception of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. He now shares his publisher with them, which is “pretty surreal”.

“….When you post on social media, not everyone’s going to see your content. So every once in a while when I remind people that the book is based on my life, they’re like, ‘Wait! What?’ So I don’t know that every reader will ever know that it’s about me. But for me to draw myself in the same way that I’ve been doing it for such a long time makes the book feel very personal to me…. I think that people look at children’s authors and think they’re writing a fictional story and that they are probably attached to it because they wrote it. For me, so much of the story is based on my life. I feel a very strong connection to what the character does and how the parents interact with him. I just really enjoyed writing it and to reflect on it now and see that my story is going out into the world is very strange!”

Matt knows his way around social media. Thousands of people on Instagram have gotten to know him (as Mr. Eich) via videos about his teaching career. Each short video starts with an introduction: “Hello, my name is Matt and I’m a teacher,” which sets up his story of the day.

The stories centre on students from his past and how the little moments they shared each day caused him to reflect on his own life. He hoped that by sharing these stories, people would “slow down with their own day and see what they could be learning as well.”

“Now, if you didn’t know me from Instagram and you just picked up a silly, little book for a middle-grade student, I would hope that you thought of me as a good storyteller for kids. The stories I tell—even though they are exaggerated—are grounded in something that happened to me. I think that’s what makes me a relatable writer for kids. All of these things that I write about are just believable enough for kids to be like, ‘Oh! That could actually happen to me!’”

“…. I really wanted the book to be an engaging story for kids. So there’s a lot of humour and not as many lessons. As students continue to read the series, the humour stays but I’d say there are more and more things that are like what I share on Instagram. There are more little nuggets—not just for kids but for parents too, if they’re reading along. So I hope that, number one, the readers are just engaged. I hope it floods their imagination! That’s the first goal, and then the second goal is that I hope they think about how their actions affect others in all different walks of life. That happens more in the second and third book and I’m not explicit about it. My character is never like, ‘You should never do this!’ It’s always just learning through watching someone else’s experience and finding ways to relate to it….”

“…In January 2023, I signed a two-book deal which I had been pursuing for 15 years. To help realize that dream, I took a year off from teaching. So on the first day of not being a teacher, I thought maybe I should start looking into Instagram to help grow a platform. It was maybe for my book stuff, but really, that day I just felt compelled to tell a very singular story. I didn’t have a plan to tell more stories from teaching. So I told a story about a kid who gave me a sticky note. I saw that it resonated with people. It went viral. I had been lucky enough or unlucky enough—however you want to define it—to have gone viral before on TikTok. So I knew that… attention spikes and goes away. I waited a week or two and then I told another story. That went viral as well. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe people need this perspective of their day?’ I happened to have written down hundreds of stories over my teaching career and so I just kept telling them. ….In terms of what was the motivating factor, I still don’t really know. I just felt compelled to tell that story that day.”

As of today, Matt has been away from teaching for seven months. In addition to making videos, his daily routine includes typing and illustrating. He admitted that this process can be “pretty lonely”.

“….I look at myself and I record myself by myself. So when I get to meet new people, it’s a really fun break from writing.”  

He is also happy to hear from his former students: “I’ve had plenty of students reach out to me who have had me as a teacher, which is so exciting! They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! You popped up on my For You page!’ or ‘Someone sent me your video!’ But I have yet to have a student reach out from a story that I’ve told. I kind of hope they don’t. The reason is that that I try to protect their privacy as much as possible. Now, many of the stories I tell are from early in my teaching career, so many of those kids are now adults. I also change names to help keep with privacy as well. One of my only fears about telling stories about other people is that I would in some way embarrass them or not do that person’s story justice. So I’m very mindful… and there are a lot of stories that I would love to tell but I just can’t. It’s not right for me to share them.”

Mr. Eich “always found it strange” to say that he is a part of a community on social media, however, he agreed that he seems to have built one.

“….I used to think that social media was about how I post something and you interact with me, but what I have found is that people interact with each other underneath my videos (in the comments). That’s where I get really excited! People share stories with one another. I remember there was a teenager that commented on one of my videos. It was a video about friendship and they were concerned that they just haven’t found a really good friend yet. That comment from that kid had like, 90 comments from other people with encouraging words…. It has been fun to watch people interact. It’s been really cool and I have yet to see any real negativity on my Instagram page. TikTok is another story, but I am happy with Instagram.”

Matt hopes to meet some of his followers at his upcoming book signing events. While he is not worried about what the fans will think of his book, he is apprehensive about how people in the industry will rate it:

“…. I am not nervous about for the actual events. I won’t brag about myself much but I am really good in front of other people. I’m very comfortable. What you see on Instagram… is the same Matt that you get in front of a bigger crowd. What I am nervous for are the reviews. I know that comes with any art form, but I would love to continue telling stories. I know that reviews can dictate how long an author’s career can last. I had the independent book so I know that the book does well and people like it—but that doesn’t take away from the nervousness of getting feedback from everywhere.”

With all of the support that Matt Eicheldinger has received online and in person, he is sure to be a storyteller for years to come, but he will always be passionate about teaching:

“I would say if you want to be a teacher, there is a high need for teachers right now. That’s a good thing if you’re looking for a job because you may be in a position that many teachers before you haven’t been."

"When I came out of college in the state of Minnesota, there were barely any jobs. So you were scraping to find anything. Right now, there are a lot of positions open and that’s not necessarily a good thing. That means people are leaving the profession. The great thing about becoming a teacher is not only do you usually get the summers off—which I’ve found to be really enjoyable, especially when I had kids—but working with kids is so fulfilling! There are so many things about it that will inspire you and help you see the world in a different way.  Depending on where you go, you can make a very successful career being a teacher. There are ways to go up and across in that profession. So I would encourage people who are thinking about teaching to get in a classroom, give it a try and see what you think.”

“Then as far as being a writer… if you want to try writing, my advice is that you need to write the project first…." He continued. Over time, people have approached Matt with their ideas for books. Unfortunately, most of them were incomplete or never made it to paper in the first place.

“I remember early on when I was pursuing publication, someone told me writing the book is the easy part. I was like, ‘That can’t be! That was really hard!’ They were right. Writing the book is the easy part. Promoting your book and getting picked up and all those other things is a grind. Write your project. It doesn’t have to be all in one sitting. Chip away at it. You may be surprised. Once you start going at it a little bit at a time, it will become a faster process.”

“….With any creative job or hobby, you and your imagination can push out so much before you need to get inspiration back in. Inspiration, I think, comes in so many different forms. For me, taking things in can be as simple as going for a walk or a run. Occasionally, I will sit and read, but I need something that is in a different playing field than what I’m working on.”

“I think if someone’s feeling stuck creatively, what I would encourage you to do is walk away. You need to go do something completely different and not be thinking about that project while you’re doing it. Go to a concert! A really loud one!” (He recommended Mat Kearney as well as Ben Folds with The Minnesota Orchestra.) “Really let those tunes distract you. I think if you can step away from that process a little bit, you’d be surprised at how much will end up coming back in.”

Photos courtesy of Matt Eicheldinger.

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This is interview 103.



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