What's one book you remember reading in high school? What stood out for you during or after reading it?
I absolutely loved reading as a kid, both before and during high school. Honestly, it was one of my main go-to forms of entertainment growing up, and it was always the thing that I turned to for comfort when I was sick. That being the case, there are so many books I could mention here. I think though that the one that really stands out was Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. I actually first read that when I was about ten, so before high school, but I reread it a number of times throughout my teens.
The book is the fifteenth entry in the Discworld series which, if you’re not familiar with them, are a collection of forty-one comic fantasy novels about a flat, circular world that sits on the back of four giant elephants riding the back of Great A’Tuin, the star turtle. This particular book deals with the City Watch, which are the pseudo police force of the series’ primary city, Ankh-Morpork. There were a lot of things that really grabbed my attention with this book, the first of which being that it introduced a number of new characters to the already rather colourful City Watch. The whole idea was that they had been ordered to show a little more diversity in their ranks and so had taken on Detritrus and Cuddy, a troll and a dwarf respectively (two species which didn’t really get on in the series) and the first female member of the team, Angua Von Uberwald.
Angua was a major selling point for me early on because, while the other characters assumed that she had been brought in to be representative of the female population of Ankh-Morpork, she was actually included because she was a pure blood werewolf. I have always loved werewolf lore, so that little character trait really got me interested in her as a character. It helped that she had enough going on outside her lupine tendencies to be interesting too, and her slow-burn romance with Corporal Carrot Ironfounderson was a joy to read as the books progressed.
It was during my teen years that I also came to realise that, outside the wonderful cast of characters, the book was deceptively smart. The mystery that the Watch are assigned to takes you on a journey through the political workings on Ankh-Morpork and unashamedly draws references to the real world at the time the book was written, especially as it pertains to the changing tide in terms of how things such as casual bigotry was received. The underlying message was actually one of unity, but it’s put across in such a way that it’s not in your face. The humour is really on point throughout too, and Captain Sam Vimes serves as an excellent primary investigator that is reluctant to remove himself from the workings of the city he lives in.
To this day, the book remains a favourite of mine, and is just as entertaining now as the first time I read it. I just understand it better now than my ten-year-old self did.
Coffee? Tea? Something else?
Oh, Tea, definitely. I like coffee, but I find that I have to be careful with it or I get migraines. I literally cannot walk into a Starbucks without the smell of the place setting off a headache. Given how overpriced they are though, that particular deterrent is no bad thing. Tea though, now that’s a drink.
Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Yorkshire are probably my favourites at a push, but I’ll give most types a try. As it stands, the only non-herbal tea that I’ve disliked has been lapsang souchong. That one was just too woody. I’m no good with mint and liquorice teas either, mostly because I’m not fond of either ingredient. Pretty much anything else is fair game though. I’d happily pick a nice hot mug of mango and lychee, spiced apple or orange and lotus flower tea over alcohol any day. The spiced apple tea from Twinings is one of the best winter warmers out there!
Your latest book has been released by NineStar Press. What drew you to NSP?
Honestly? I hadn’t actually heard of them originally. Basically, I’d written Addict and was looking to start pushing it out to agents and publishers, when I started seeing people talking about Twitter Pitch Events. At the time, I didn’t really know what they were, so I did a little research and found out that they’re basically a way to pitch novels to agents and publishers via Twitter. Having started to use said social media platform a little more frequently by then, I figured that I had nothing to lose by giving them a crack. So, I tweeted about the book during a PitMad event and got a like from NSP.
Like I said, at the time, I wasn’t aware of who they were. The thing is, anyone can take part in Twitter Pitch Events, even on the publisher side. As such, there is always going to be the possibility that someone who contacts you is bad news. By that time, I’d started having some issues with another publisher that I was signed as well, and I really didn’t want to repeat some mistakes that I’d made there. So, I did a little digging to see who exactly it was that was interested in me. From what I could see, NineStar Press had a good reputation online, which was a good sign. When I started trawling through their site too, I was blown away with the quality of the book covers. My word, they are so consistently good in that regard! Then there’s the fact that they’re an LGBT+ focussed house. The protagonist in Addict, Cassie Tam, is a Chinese-Canadian PI. She’s also an out lesbian. What better home could there be for her than a publisher who focusses on LGBT+ literature?
So, being suitably impressed, I had a look through their about page and submission guidelines so that I could get a good idea of what sort of books that they published. That was where I got a little worried. For as good as everything looked, I did start to think that the book wouldn’t be a good fit for them because most of what I’d clicked on indicated a focus on romance, and that side of Addict is more of a subplot than anything. Still, they’d shown an interest in my pitch and, if I’m being honest, I was really hoping that they’d take it on. Like I said, I was just so impressed with everything that I’d seen, and it felt like if I could sell it the right way, then Addict could be a success. As it happened, I really needn’t have worried. NSP does actually publish a fair few books where romance isn’t the primary focus, I’d just missed them.
I must say as well, since signing with them, NineStar Press have been fantastic with me. The three-layered editing process was brilliant, and balanced an air of friendliness with the necessary professional side of it all. The cover work was fantastic too, to the point that Addict is easily the book of mine that I’d point to as having the best cover. The amount of work that they put into getting the book out there and letting people know about it was wonderful … honestly, I cannot recommend them enough as a publisher.
Thinking about 'Addict', what aspect of the work would you say you're most proud of?
This is such a hard one to answer because it was such a fun book to work on. Part of me wants to say that seeing reviewers describe it as ‘Sam Spade meets Blade Runner’ is my proudest moment, purely because that was exactly the feel that I was going for, but … I think I’m going to go with the technological concepts and how they’ve integrated with the story.
One of my goals with Addict’s setting was to show a potential route that we could be heading down as a species. Being set in the near future, I had a lot of opportunity to look at different aspects of our current society and try to picture how it could evolve, for better and for worse. Take the primary plot device of how Virtual Reality has become an integral part of the world.
I was always of the opinion that VR was essentially a gimmick that would never really fully take off the way a lot of companies wanted it too, kind of like 3D movies, but when I started seeing games like the recent Resident Evil looking so realistic, I started to wonder if there was actually something to it all that I’d missed. Given how much business is now conducted online, it wasn’t too big a leap to think that this could start to integrate with VR technology too, much like in films like Mamoru Hosoda’s animated feature, Sumer Wars. From there, I started to think that, with how immersive VR games are beginning to get, there’s every possibility that that could start to tie-in with the already growing problem of game addiction. When you apply that thinking to a place where VR tech is used as often as the regular internet is now, you can see why the world of Addict features Junkies that are addicted to the whole experience.
Then there’s the Tech Shifters. The whole idea here was to show a subculture of people that, for a variety of reasons, use metal exoskeletons to roleplay as animals. For Lori, the protagonist’s client, it’s a form of escapism that allows her to wind down from her high-stress lifestyles. Other reasons are touched on too though, such as people doing it because it’s fun, or because it’s a part of their job.
Given my long-standing love of shapeshifters, it felt like a cool way to add that sort of character into the story without it coming across as just being thrown in there for the sake of it. The whole nature of it meant that it was easy to work it into the main mystery too and let it form a logical part of the villain’s reasoning for doing what they do.
Now, it may be hard to picture how the metal exoskeletons could be seen as a realistic progression for society. To a degree though, it all already exists to a degree. The animal roleplay to destress is a part of pup and kitten play in the BDSM community. And then there are, of course, fursuits. There are some fantastic fursuits out there in the styles of both anthropomorphic characters and realistic looking quad-suits. The influence is actually referenced a couple of times in the story, with Cassie mentioning the furry fandom as an early adopter of the tech and Lori stating that her own suit borrows from quad-suits conceptually. And as far the technological side of it all goes, I’d say to check out Kaiborg Studios as a first port of call. They do some electronic cyborg style masks that fit in with the concept, albeit with less focus on realism. Then there’s the UK fursuiter Beauty of the Bass who has integrated working speakers into her suit that not only allows her to play music for dance routines but to synthesise a character voice. The creativity there in both examples is immense as far as I’m concerned.
Oh, and let’s not forget Bert, Cassie’s AI gargoyle. This is a world where house pets tend to be electronic. In our beaky little beasty’s case, he’s been programmed to react like a snarky cat that’s as loyal as a guard dog. What that means is that he provides some comic relief but also has a deadly edge to him. He seems to be a firm favourite with readers too, which is marvellous.
The thing that makes me proud here is that the tech concepts are mentioned a lot in reviews as a positive of the book. Whether people view them as realistic potential future advancements or simply enjoy the ideas in general, they’ve struck a chord with people far more than I expected them too. Seeing people embrace the weird little things that I come up with is truly gratifying, and I’m really thankful for that.
How do you choose your character names when writing fiction?
Sometimes, with great difficulty. It sounds like a cop-out, but I don’t really have a set technique here. In a lot of cases, I just stick with the first name that springs to mind. Other times, I have to sit there and repeat various names over and over in my head until something either sticks or makes me think ‘just pick that one and be done with it’.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
I like both, but picking one over the other is easy. Star Wars was something I watched at Christmas. Every year without fail, one of the original trilogy used to shown on terrestrial TV in UK, and I used to love watching the films with my family. The Ewoks cartoon was cool too!
But … nothing in the Star Wars universe tops Star Trek: The Next Generation for me. That was the series that ran during my youth, and I remember being entranced by it as a show. I think that it was probably the first TV show that I saw with that many main characters, and every single one of them was interesting in one way or another. From the frankly awesome Captain Picard, right the way down to Data’s quest to understand humanity, it was just such a powerhouse. And the villains! Q, Cardassian’s (which in recent times have led to me being severely disappointed whenever I misread ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ on the TV planner), Klingons, The Borg … they ranged from funny to political to outright scary!
Some of the things that they covered in the episodes were really interesting too. For example, when Picard had to make a courtroom style representation as to whether Data had a right to choose to stay aboard the Enterprise. That sort of episode always felt so much more adult than some of the other live action things that I’d been watching at the time. As a kid, I really marvelled at the different ideas that they put across in the show, and I think that it may have been ST:TNG that really kickstarted my love of sci-fi and led me to watch shows like Red Dwarf, Farscape and the Battlestar Galactica remake. I mean, up until then, my sci-fi experiences had mostly been limited to reruns of Buck Rogers and Lost In Space and a couple of cartoons like Bucky O’Hare.
[A note from Rebecca...I *love* Farscape and BSG, just putting it out there]
Of course, as time went on, I got to experience the other series in the Star Trek universe too. While I always return to TNG as a default, The Original Series, Deep Space 9 and Voyager all have some really good episodes that I really love. The new movies have been really entertaining too. I know, I know, a lot of long standing fans don’t get on with them, but I look at it like this: the movie are designed to draw new fans to the franchise. They aren’t written to just satisfy those of us that are already here, they’re written to show that Star Trek can be like the other commercially successful blockbusters out there. That’s why they don’t feel like the old films and series. When you realise that, it’s easy to enjoy them for what they are. As for Enterprise … I’ve not actually seen it. For one reason or another, I just never got around to it. I have a few episodes on a couple of ‘Fan Collective’ DVD sets, but I haven’t gotten around to them yet, and have instead stuck with the familiar ones like Chain of Command, City on the Edge of Forever, What You Leave Behind and so on.
The thing is, I don’t want to knock Star Wars. I still enjoy the old films, and I’m enjoying the newer ones too, but I have to be in the right mood to get the most out of them. With Star Trek, there’s just that much more to draw me in. It’s like … no matter what mood I’m in, there’s an episode for me.
If you could have a drink or a meal with one contemporary television character, who would it be?
Part of me is tempted to name Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy, but I think that I’d be fearing for my life throughout that. I love him as a character, but he’s a little bit too dangerous to hang out with. So, I’ll say Dr. House. House was such a brilliant show, and Hugh Laurie did a fantastic job of bringing the titular character to life. OK, so I’d totally get lambasted by one of his harshly worded outbursts, but it would be so fun!
Failing that … OK, so this is might be cheating slightly. You see, I’m a huge anime fan. Recently, I found this really relaxing show called Flying Witch. One of the characters, Akane Kowata, is an outspoken and immensely talented witch. Even without all the magical stuff to talk about, she’s really well travelled and it’d be really interesting to pick her brains about the different cultures that she’s seen.
So, how do we buy your books?
Through a plethora of online retailers. As it stands, you can find the book at the following links:
2. NineStar Press
4. Barnes and Noble
Thanks for your time, Matt! And thank you for being the first ever interview subject for this blog.
No, thank you for hosting me! I just hope I haven’t bored everyone with my rambling.
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