This interview is the third in a series of the people I attended Viable Paradise with, all those young and upcoming writers. In Matt's case, since he's also an Iowan, I have the added advantage of getting to see him from time to time.
Thanks for the interview, Matt. Confessional time: Gary Gygax helped my plotting too...
Tamago: How did you become interested in being a writer?
Matt: When you have two brothers, being able to make up a story on the spot is pretty much a survival skill. Turns out I was pretty good at it. Mom made sure all us boys learned to read when we were young and that helped a lot it. I love telling stories and entertaining people. That's why I write. I wrote my first story when I was in the 4th grade and it was read in front of the entire school. I also give huge credit to my dad from whom I seem to have inherited a writing gene (he wrote the yearly musical for Dubuque's barbershop chorus among other things) and Jim Maddox, my high school English teacher who once told me "You can do better than this" and he was right.
Tamago: I understand that the first book you wrote was a fantasy called Asymonte. What's the plot of that novel?
Matt: Asymonte : Night of Whispers was my shot at an epic fantasy. It centers around a country (Asymonte) that has recently gained its freedom from the Magi, direct descendants from the Gods. The main character is one of the Hunters responsible for their overthrow and through the course of events, he discovers that the Magi were keeping an even greater threat at bay. In his effort to save the few remaining Magi, he learns about his own past and how his fate is tied to that of the Magi and Asymonte. In 2005, I submitted it to Wizards of the Coast's Open Call/Open World contest and earned a personalized rejection with a request to enter again. Gave me a good feeling boost and an idea that I was on the right track.
Tamago: What are you working on now?
Matt: I'm wrapping up Genie Memories (a sci-fi superhero thriller) and polishing a light fantasy short story called Korl Builds a Wall. After that I have another sci-fi novel that has been percolating in my brain for the past couple of months. More futuristic, more space travel and aliens.
Tamago: Given that Asymonte is a fantasy, and Genie Memories tends more toward SF, do you have a favorite genre you like to work in? Why or why not?
Matt: If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said Fantasy, hands down. I love building entire worlds and cultures. Working in Sci-Fi has been a real eye-opener though. I'm finding out the possibilities of what can happen and plus I can still create worlds. I think for now I'm sticking with Sci-Fi but who knows what the future will bring.
Tamago: Which writers would you say influence you the most, and why?
Matt: Matthew Woodring Stover (Heroes Die, Revenge of the Sith) for his incredible conflicts, brutal fight scenes, and looks into the human psyche. Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon is brilliant. It's cyberpunk, dystopia, and hard boiled mystery all rolled into one. My current work transformed immensely after reading that book. The Redwall series by Brian Jacques is one that I read when I was younger and I still have on my shelf. It's a good read and sometimes that's all you really want. I am of the belief that Stephen King's On Writing should be required reading for any writer or aspiring writer, no matter what you think about his other books. And I could never live with myself if I left out Gary Gygax. D&D as a kid was incredibly formative to my development as a storyteller.
Tamago: Most people don't know that you're an identical twin. Do you ever get mistaken for your brother, or vice-versa? Is your brother a writer?
Matt: Jon and I get mistaken for one another all the time. Now he sports a goatee in an effort to set us apart, but it also makes him look like the Evil Twin (though I'm the one with the shirt that declares *I* am the Evil Twin). Jon is not a writer like I am but he is incredibly gifted as well and if he wanted to, I'm sure he could pull it off. He and I are currently collaborating on a comic strip with him drawing and both of us writing.
Tamago: Besides writing, I know that you are a serious runner. What do you enjoy about running?
Matt: I've been running since I was 10 years old. My older brother ran and we literally followed in his footsteps. I ran in high school and college. I once ran under the Eiffel Tower in a thunderstorm. I've done marathons (3:38 PR), half marathons, and who knows how much else. For me, running is a constant and an escape. Doesn't matter what else is happening. I lace up those shoes and its just me and the asphalt/pavement/trail. I don't wear headphones so that I can listen to nature and my own thoughts. I've written entire chapters while out for a run (and probably forgotten more).
Tamago: Where would you like to be, as a writer, in ten years?
Matt: I'd like to be a full time writer. I have a good job now but it is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. But to be honest, I would like to walk into a bookstore and see my name on a shelf. I want to know that someone out there picked up what I've written and for a weekend, they had a really good time. That would make me happy as a writer.
Tamago: People reading this journal RIGHT NOW might be thinking about Viable Paradise as a workshop option. Would you recommend it to them? Why or why not?
Matt: To quote my own blog entries on it - I went to Viable Paradise to find out if I had what it took to be a writer. I answered that question and one more : Yes, I want to be a writer. And this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.
If that is what you want, then Viable Paradise is for you. You will learn an incredible amount. Your writing will transform. It is not, however, a workshop for the weak at heart. If you just want praise, don't go. Sure, you'll get it. But you will also get the unvarnished truth about your story, its flaws and all those deep dark spots that you hoped no one would notice.
On top of the lessons learned, I have more writer friends now, after VP, than I ever did before. People who really understand the genre and are willing to help out. These people are great and I keep in touch with them regularly.
Tamago: What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin writing? Matt: Write. Don't care about plot holes. Don't care about character development or grammar or whatnot. Just write. Nothing else matters if the words aren't on the paper.
Once that story is done, set it aside and don't touch it. Grab all your favorite books and READ. Find out why it is that you want to keep turning the page. Why do you like the characters? What don't you like about the book? Make notes when inspiration strikes. When you're all done, go back and pick up your own work. If it's unrecognizable, if you can pick out the good and the bad, then it's time.
And, oh yeah, this is something you'll do from now on. You're always learning. Don't ever think otherwise.