Friday, February 8, 2019

Author Interview with Author Matt Doyle, Author of Wick

Tell me a little about yourself and your background.

Hi there. So, what should I say here? Well, let’s start with the basics. I’m a UK-based author, though I’m technically a dual-national due to my parent’s being from Ireland. It’s odd, but despite being born in England, I’ve always been proud of that heritage, and actually ended up with an Irish passport. No, I don’t have the accent though. I used to, but it faded over my early school years. Like many of us UK-dwellers, I have a love of tea too (of most varieties, if I’m being honest).

I’m a big fan of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, basically anything that creates a nice little escape from the real world. Anime and video games feature heavily for me too; I actually run a pop culture site where a lot of the posts relate to anime and gaming. I’ve never really grown up when it comes to what I enjoy. Sure, some of the not-for-kids series on Netflix are entertaining, but I do still love cartoons and comics too. I’m an ex-pro wrestler, having spent around ten years in the business before retiring. Oh, and I’ve been a furry since the ’90s.

I’ve been making the effort to be a little more open in recent years, so I’m happy to say that I identify as pansexual and gender-fluid. As such, my more recent output has tended to feature LGBTQ+ characters in lead roles. I tend not to make their orientation the focal point, but I do think that the representation is important.

Do you have a favorite book that you always go to? One that you always turn to for a good escape?

There are two that I revisit quite a bit. House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski is probably my most read book. It’s a wonderful creation. The book goes through pages of having three things going on at once (such as a transcript, notes, and notes on the notes) then somewhere there are only a few words on the page, and so on. Once you get into the rhythm of following it, it’s a really rewarding tale about an impossible hallway.

I also go back to Men At Arms a fair bit too. It was second of the City Watch books in the Discworld series. It also introduced a couple of new characters, including one of my all-time favorites, the werewolf Angua. It’s such a good example of how Pratchett blended comedy, fantasy, and just plain fun storytelling.

Outside of that, I tend to gravitate towards the Mercy Thompson books whenever a new one comes out, and also sometimes head into SD Perry’s Alien vs Predator novels. The first and last Machiko Noguchi stories are really good, and I felt like I got a lot more out of the novels than the comics there.

How did you get into writing?

That was way back when I was little. See, I was always an advanced reader in school, and when I was around nine or ten, I was off sick. Somehow, I ended up convincing my Mum to buy me one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and I got hooked. After that, if I was ill or low, I’d hand over my pocket money and send her down to the local WH Smith to pick up the next one in the series. So, since reading had been such a big solace to me, I got really excited when we were given a few creative writing assignments. At eleven, I was writing horror, believe it or not. It was actually pretty creepy stuff for my age, and to be honest, I’m surprised my parents never had a call home about it.

I kinda realized that I was enjoying working in that sort of style early on, and when our first assignment in high school turned out to be a short story one too, I was thrilled. Of course, once I read the story out to the class, it freaked people out quite a bit. Everyone else was writing about finding their prince or playing for their favorite football team, and there I was writing about a killer in an alley. It left me in an odd position because the teacher really loved it, but it got me a bit of a reputation for being ‘the weird kid’ for a while. I made sure that the next one was a sentimental fantasy piece, but nothing could save me by that point.

I didn’t really start taking writing seriously until much later though. My early forays into submitting stories to places led pretty much nowhere. Looking back on it, I think that while my ideas were good, the execution was so clearly a pastiche of what I was reading at the time that it really wasn’t up to the standard needed. It was when I decided to write sci-fi that I developed my own style and started throwing different ideas out there.

I’m impressed that you remember the earlier stories you’ve written, did you keep them or ever re-read them as an adult?

The really early ones from school? No. But I remember the bare bones of what they were, largely because they seemed to have such an effect on people. The ones that I submitted but had rejected years back I thought I’d lost, but I found a stack of prints of them early last year. Re-reading them, I think that I could work with some of the core ideas a little better now, it’s just finding the right story to fit them too. It’s interesting looking back on them though, as I can see where I’ve changed habits in terms of style.

What is it about writing series, as opposed to stand alone novels, that you enjoy? What do you think is more challenging?

Writing a standalone at all is sometimes the most challenging thing for me. I think that what basically happens is I set up a story and, when I start planning things, it just goes beyond the scope of a one-shot thing. I want to change that a little this year and intend to start working on some standalone things, but mostly, series seem to fit better with me. I like the freedom of it; I can come up with all the different details but work them in over the course of several books rather than have to fight my compulsion to reveal everything.

Do you know where your series will end when you start it or does it take you places that you didn’t start off with the intention of going?

With The Cassie Tam Files, there was always a set endpoint in mind. I knew exactly where I wanted to take that if I could get Addict signed, and we’re on course with that now. It’s expanded a fair bit, and some of the things that I hadn’t fully fleshed out yet are now in a much better place, the overall endpoint remains the same. Honestly, you can tell what sort of stuff I was watching when I planned that bit, I think. As it stands, the series is meant to be five full-length novels. Again, that was always the plan. Book four is almost ready to submit to the publisher now, and I’ve almost finished a spin-off novella set between books three and four too to flesh out Cassie’s girlfriend, Lori.

The Spark Form Chronicles were a little different because I intended it to be a duology. By the end of book two though, it was clear that there was a want for a little more, and I had left a few plot points hanging. So, I sat down and planned out a proper end to tie things up fully. GIFTS, the Christmas novella set after book two was meant to add a little while I worked on book four, and that’s almost ready to go now too.

I think that, when it comes to series, you either have to plan ahead for a set finish or just keep going. I prefer to have a finish in mind, though one that would allow me to revisit things if needed.

Let me first ask you about the Spark Form series, what gave you the idea to create this world? (It’s very yu-gi-yo-esque.)

It was actually an accident. WICK, the first book in the series, was actually my first full-length novel. When I started it, it was actually a very different story and was based around a book long space battle between two characters, Fahrn Starchaser and Meera Thorne. It was when I sat down and started writing it that I realized it was never going to be a full-length piece. Oh, and it became clear that some of the things happening were essentially lifted from a single episode of an anime I’d been watching. So, I scrapped the idea and decided to try something completely different.

I always liked card games. I used to play Pok√©mon as a kid – I still do online sometimes – and was a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh growing up too. I even gave Magic The Gathering a crack in the early days. So, I figured why not write a story based around a card game? As I started noting down ideas, it dawned on me that I could make sure of my wrestling experience in there too. You see, I’d wrestled, but I’d also trained people and ran shows, so I had a fairly broad amount of knowledge to draw on. Then the whole AI idea crept in too, and things started to take shape. Fahrn and Meera stuck around too, though Fahrn now is more like Meera from the first attempt, and Meera is completely different.

The hardest part was actually the card game aspect though. I knew that I wanted it to feature a system that worked, so I actually came up with four or five different sets of rules and mock decks and just continually tried them out until I had one that felt right. The difficulty was having rules that weren’t identical to other games, and there are a lot of card games out there to check that against! If anything, Spark Forming as a game would probably sit well with fans of Jasco Games’ UFS, though it is way different in set-up.

Since there are so many individual characters in the story, is there one that you created first that you feel most connected to?

While Fahrn and Meera were around in the early attempt, John Forrester was actually the first one I created for what the story became. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. His hyperactivity is infectious, and he’s really quite a sweet character when you look at how he is with Carnival.

It’s Carnival that seems to get most of the love from readers though, and I love her for that. For a non-human hologram that doesn’t really speak, she certainly seems to make a lasting impression. I think it’s her quest for acceptance that does it for people, you kinda feel for her, you know?

On to the Cassie Tam Files, what do you think inspired the character of Cassie Tam?

Now, that’s an odd one. What basically happened was that I was playing Blazblue Chronophantasma Extend online – you can read playing as losing in quick fashion over and over again – and while I watching my character take another knock-out blow, a little voice in my head said, “You’re going to write a mystery next.”

Now, I hadn’t done that before, so I decided to research the more noir end of things by binge-watching the film versions of The Maltese Falcon and L.A. Confidential. Being primarily a sci-fi writer, I threw Blade Runner in too. Once I got through those, I started plotting out a few ideas. I knew that I wanted the book to be a standalone, but with a few hints at a bigger story hidden away in there. My reasoning was that I wanted to sell the book to a publisher, and unless I could do that, I didn’t want to commit to a series. So, the idea was to give readers a clear end but leave myself space to build the world up more as I went.

At that point, I knew that I wanted to write an LGBTQ+ lead, but that was pretty much it. I sat down to start writing with the intent of just seeing what comes out, and Cassie pretty much walked into my mind and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story now. I didn’t want to argue, so I went with it.

Was there a real woman that you based her off of?

I didn’t realize until talking to a few people close to me that she actually has a lot of cross-over with me. The way she thinks at times, and the way she approaches life, in general, is pretty much me, I just didn’t notice until it was pointed out. Not all of her fits that though. I’m pretty sure that I must have gotten some of her traits from somewhere else, but it’s not anyone real that I know. I think it’s more of a subconscious trying to capture the feel of certain fictional characters that I really like and then making those traits more how I’d picture Cassie approaching them, if that makes sense? Characters like Ellen Ripley, Kara Thrace, Aeryn Sunn, and Mercy Thompson all kinda come into play there.

Since you say that she thinks like you, is she a character you see yourself most in, or is there another character, in anything that you’ve written, that you feel has the most you in them?

In terms of novels, Cassie is definitely the one. Overall though, it was probably the nameless lead character in my story Dear Sis. The story appeared in the anthology ROAR Vol. 9 from Bad Dog Books and is about a gender-fluid teenage fox writing a letter to his sister. Now, obviously, I’m not a fox. At 34, it’s been a long time since I was a teenager too. Despite the set-up being very different from my real life though, it’s still easily the most personal story I’ve written. It was kinda my way to start being out in that regard and dealt with a lot of the confusion that I had growing up.

Do you find it difficult, as a man, to write for a female character? Did you find it different than writing male characters?

That depends on your viewpoint. The thing is, I’m biologically male, but identifying as gender-fluid, how I see my gender changes over time. So, whether I’m a man writing a female character or not really depends on the day, from a personal standpoint. From other people’s viewpoints? That’ll vary from person-to-person.

Regardless though, as a general rule, I don’t find writing one gender more difficult than another. People are all so unique, and I don’t like getting drawn into working with stereotypes, so it really just comes down to respecting your characters. I try to write each one in a way that makes sense, regardless of who they are. That makes it all the easier, I find.

What is your favorite character that you’ve ever written, whether it be in a published or unpublished work?

Oh, that’s so hard! For most readers, it tends to be either Cassie’s robot gargoyle Bert or Carnival from The Spark Form Chronicles. I don’t know what it is about my AIs, but people seem to enjoy them. I do love those two. That being said, both Cassie Tam and John Forrester are wonderful to write, and I do feel close to the Dear Sis fox. I just can’t choose!

What is the best piece of advice that you wish you would’ve received when you were first thinking about becoming a writer?

I’m a big believer in the idea that there isn’t one right way to do things, so my stock answer is usually: listen to those around you and find the bits that work for you. In the interest of doing something a little different though, I’ll go with this:

It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s not as scary as you think.
I heard a lot of horror stories about agents and publishers, but my experiences since braving it all have been almost entirely positive. Rejection letters are disheartening, but they haven’t been as cruel as I expected. I’ve actually had a few really nice ones. The thing is, as long as you’re acting in a professional manner, the professionals will treat you the same. Behave yourself and concentrate on the story you want to tell. You may get the odd bad experience out of it, but you can get there. Whether writing becomes your primary income, now that’s where results may vary.

This interview was done by MJ. You can follow MJ on Twitter and Instagram

Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England. His house is inhabited by a wide variety of people and animals including (at time of typing) his partner, his three kids, two dogs, a cat, a snake, and a rabbit. Oh and a lot of tea.

He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain varying degrees of success in a great number of fields. This has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler (both working shows under the ring name Tad, and working backstage booking and running several successful shows in his local area), completing a range of cosplay projects and scripting the webcomic ‘Tales of the Winterborn’.

His latest venture involves diving headlong into another world he has wanted to be a part of since childhood: that of an author.

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