When Matthew Quick was thinking of quitting his job as a high-school English teacher to write his first novel, almost everyone he knew told him he was nuts.
His father, who worked as a banker all his life, was particularly convinced his son was making a big mistake.
My Dad thought it was a terrible idea, Quick recalls. I had a house in Haddonfield (N.J.), a tenured position, health insurance. And I was going to leave all that behind. It just didn't compute with my friends and family.
Still, Quick was a man possessed. After resigning his position, he sold his home and moved into his in-laws' basement in Massachusetts. For the next three years, he and his wife lived off their nest egg until their bank account was down to nearly zero.
I can remember going to a Christmas party and people asking me what I did for a living, recalls Quick, a North Philly native who grew up in Oaklyn, N.J. I told them that I was a fiction writer, and they asked me what I'd written. I said I was still unpublished. They acted almost as if I was a criminal. It was tough time for me.
Not long after that party, Quick proved his critics' wrong. In 2008, he published his first novel, the Collingswood, N.J.-set Silver Linings Playbook, and sold the movie rights to the Weinstein Company.
On Wednesday, the David O. Russell-directed film starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro will be released – and the early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. In September, Silver Linings Playbook won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival. And Entertainment Weekly recently called the movie an Oscar Best Picture front-runner.
It's been incredibly exciting, Quick, 39, says. It's hard to put the feeling into words. … To be standing at the premiere with Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper – it's almost surreal.
Cooper stars in the movie as Pat Solitano, a former high-school teacher who was sent away to an asylum after assaulting a fellow teacher for fooling around with his wife (Brea Bee). After his release, Pat moves back in with his folks (DeNiro, Jacki Weaver) and begins fantasizing about rekindling his marriage. In the meantime, he starts hanging out with an unbalanced widow (Lawrence) who is fond of describing herself as a crazy slut with a dead husband
While the story isn't strictly autobiographical. Quick says it was inspired by his own tough times.
I was out on a run one day when I got the idea for the book, he says. I was feeling very low on this winter day. I remember I looked up at the horizon and saw a beautiful cloud covering the sun, a beautiful silver lining. I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if that's an omen that I'll make it as a writer.' Then I immediately thought how stupid that was.
When I got home, though, it occurred to me write a book about a character who uses this kind of delusional, magical thinking to get through a really hard period of his life. I don't think I would have come up with the story of Pat if I hadn't gotten to such a low point in my own life.
When Russell (Flirting With Disaster, The Fighter) was brought on as the film's writer/director, he made some adjustments to Quick's material, including changing the setting from Collingswood, N.J., to Ridley Park, Pa, where the film was largely shot.
You'd have to ask David why he (altered) the setting, but I think it was because Bradley is from Philly, and he knows the Pa. side better than the South Jersey side, Quick says.
If the Ridley Park locations don't give the film enough of a Philly vibe, the constant chatter about the Philadelphia Eagles seals the deal. Throughout the movie, Pat and his father, Pat Sr., communicate almost solely through game talk.
To this day, I don't call my Dad to talk about banking, and he doesn't call me to talk about storytelling, Quick says. He calls me up, and we talk about the Eagles. ... When I go home, I go to the Birds' games. I still have season tickets. My brother is on my left, and my sister is on my right. That's the only thing we do together.
In my neighborhood, the only time kids would get hugs from their fathers was when the Eagles scored a touchdown. That was the only time it seemed appropriate. You could say that was sad or you could say, ‘Thank God we have Eagles football.'
In some ways, the movie is a celebration of Philly much the same way Russell's The Fighter was a valentine to Boston.
I've been telling everyone who'll listen that the film is a love song to Philly, Quick says with a laugh. I have deep Philly roots. When I was toddler, I lived in the Olney section of the city.
When I wrote the book, I was living in Massachusetts, missing home. And I think writing the book was a way to go home. It was a way for me to be around the people I felt comfortable with, in a city I love better than anywhere else in the world.
Quick began reading voraciously early in life. For years, he hid his enthusiasm for the written word.
I like to say I had a secret love affair with literature, he explains. I started writing poetry and plays, but I was embarrassed by it. This wasn't the kind of stuff you talked about in Oaklyn and Collingswood back in the '80s when I was growing up.
Even though Quick always dreamed of becoming a writer, he took up education at LaSalle (where he met his wife Alicia Bessette) and eventually landed a gig as an English instructor at Haddonfield Memorial High.
I thought that I'd have a lot of time left over to write, Quick says. But, of course, teaching high-school English, especially at a place like Haddonfield, is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. I didn't have any time left over.
Since penning Silver Linings, Quick has written three young-adult novels including Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, scheduled for an August release. In the meantime, Quick is helping promote the movie.
The sweetest moment for the author so far was the film's premiere at the 21st Philadelphia Film Festival. Quick's friends and family were in the audience for the screening and to see the author on stage with Mayor Nutter and David O. Russell.
After my Dad got home, he wrote me a beautiful and uncharacteristic-for-him e-mail telling me he was proud of me, Quick says.
That's the power of art – unlikely connections. I never thought when I was 15 that my father and I would be sitting in Philly watching a movie that I wrote – and that it would bring us closer together. It just proves that anything is possible.