The SPFBO author interviews keep on coming! This time I spoke with Christopher Matson who has entered his fantasy novel Half Sword into this year’s competition.
- Hi Christopher, tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to write?
Hi Matt, thanks for having me on your blog (hope you don’t mind parenthetical asides). Hmm—about me, huh? Okay, I’m an author as a second… third? Maybe sixth career. Among other things, I’ve been a mess-hall cook, underground geologist, commercial fisherman, marine engineer, and an international port consultant. Like most authors, I’ve written my entire life. But for me, it was the fun of creating a story, with no thought for publication.
That changed some time around 2013, when Amazon opened Kindle Worlds. I made contact with authors Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo who were running the “Mongoliad” universe as a KW series. My contributions there were fairly successful and the experience of writing for a broad audience became intoxicating. I’ve written for publication ever since. And oh, this year is my first experience with the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). It’s been a real trip so far (and we’re only a few days into it).
- What appeals to you most about the fantasy genre?
Okay, I’d argue that all fiction is more or less fantasy (even some non-fiction, hah!). Look at Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth.” Historical fiction, yes—but with so much world-building, so many new social constructs, it only lacks dragons to be classified as fantasy. Take another example, Umberto Eco’s “Baudolino” (if you haven’t read it yet, close this file right now, open your Kindle app, and don’t do another thing until you’ve finished). It starts as a historical drama and walks right off the deep end into Medieval fantasy. Eco was a genius.
So wait… I didn’t answer the question, did I? Why fantasy? Simply put, it is the most immersive of all the genres. Done well it forces the readers (and sometimes the author) to suspend all judgement and submerge themselves in the story and the characters. It takes you to a whole new world and lets you explore it through the eyes of the protagonist. Sometimes it even lets you come back (unless you’re reading Brandon Sanderson, then good luck).
- Tell us a little bit about your latest project and the challenges you’ve faced putting it all together.
Which brings us to “Half Sword.” This is the one book where I think I settled on the title after the final cover art had been completed (hmm… looks good that way, “Half Sword” it is). Usually, I create a title first and write the story around it (not recommended, by the way). The story developed as a prequel to a yet to be completed series called “Tapestry” (no, you won’t find the other books, they’re not complete, all six—maybe seven of them. Long story about writing a long story).
Did I say I admire Umberto Eco? Yeah, well “Half Sword” is in a similar vein. The underlying theme (or what Twyla Tharp would call the Spine) is self-discovery. Young Simon doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. To find out, he has to take on a cabal of conjurers and survive the encounter. Set in the year 1187, “Half Sword” required substantial research to build a Medieval world that is both authentic and convincing. So much of that early period has been lost to history, and so much of what is written about it is speculation. The fantasy elements were perhaps the easiest part of writing this one.
I published “Half Sword” in the beginning of May, just before SPFBO 7 opened for submittals. It’s available now on Kindle Unlimited and the print version should come out before the end of June. But wait, there’s more… I also write action-adventure under C.B. Matson. I have two books (“Maug” and “Shasta”) that are collaborations with David Wood in his “Dane Maddock Universe” series. Presently, I’m working on a third, “Baal.” Our heroes are going to run into a whole lotta supernatural bad-assedness out in the stinking Danakil Desert. And yeah, I bring a lot of fantasy elements to my action-adventure novels.
- What type of characters do you like to write the most and how much of yourself do you put into them?
I really enjoy writing off-trope female characters. That is, complex characters that do not follow the fantasy stereotype. My protagonists are generally messed up in some way, not beautiful, don’t really have much fighting skill, and scrape by on wit and luck. That said, “Half Sword” is mostly male characters and they are all warriors, in one way or another. All but the protagonist who struggles along on a couple of trick moves and his own stubborn will. Of course, he does get tangled up with a few off-trope women who mess with him pretty good.
As far as projecting myself into a character, I’d say a little in each, but dam’ little. I do steal flagrantly from people I have met, however. My father-in-law is cooked into one character in “Half Sword” (no, not say’n which one). My former career involved a lot of travel to odd places and I’ve picked up a gaggle of fantastic character types to exploit. The hard part for me is focussing my point of view on just a very few individuals.
- For any wannabe writers out there what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned?
Hmm… [scratches head]. If you’re writing, then you are a writer. Even if it’s just a site-visit report for your client, you are a writer. The point? The point is that you’ve got to decide what kind of writer you wanna be. That is, why do you write and what do you hope to get out of it? As long as you keep punching that ticket, then you are a success and that is enough.
Oh, an important corollary—you’re going to be bombarded by hundreds of people selling courses, books, how-to advice, MFA degrees, and what-ever. I won’t argue the merits of any of it. However, for your money and time, you can learn more from hiring a good editor than all the rest combined.
- What writing tricks do you utilise to hit your deadlines and keep your stories on track?
Okay, deadlines—there’s no trick, you just have to plan for the deadline early and leave plenty of buffer. Your editor of choice may need months of notice, don’t figure a couple of weeks, give them a shit MS, and figure on miracles happening. Same with cover art. Plan ahead, cook in revision time and budget. Deadlines still gonna getcha but not as bad.
Keeping your story on track is a lot harder. My own first efforts were similar to delivering a bus load of first graders to the amusement park and telling them to be back at the entrance by five. The story metastasized. I had to call the cops (not really, but). I learned from that to write the ending (aka, the grand kablooie) when I am about 2/3 into the first draft, then focus my remaining efforts on converging at the desired conclusion. It works. Sometimes now I outline the ending before I even begin the story.
- Are you a plotter or a pantser (make it up as you go)?
A plotster perhaps? Again, early efforts were pantsing all the way. It was a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. It was that dizzy dancing way you feel. It was an adventure in joyous abandon… and the results were about as dreadful as you can possibly imagine. I’ve since come to realize that pantsing makes for the best author experience, but plotting creates the best reader experience. Always write with your reader in mind. That’s not to say, you can’t pants your heart out between the major plot points, that’s when you discover some of the choicest story morsels and plot-twists. Aaand, what is an outline, if not to be changed when it best suits the story?
- What plans do you have for the future? A new series or perhaps a dip into other genres?
Right now, I’m concentrating on “Baal.” It’s an exciting action-adventure story with an interesting plot-driver. My personal deadline for the first draft is sometime this fall, but every time I look up, it seems the calendar has lost another page. After that, it’s back into “Tapestry” full time and straight on through ‘til morning. I’ve got 450k words (!) in that series that need a deep re-write and re-edit. I hope to add another 150k in the process and make six books out of it. There’s also a seventh book in outline form that will finish the series.
- With the world the way it is at the moment what sort of tales do you prefer? Ones with heroes where good triumphs over evil or ones that take a darker approach?
I’ve always preferred a bit of darkness in my heroes and in my stories. Not that good doesn’t triumph, but the very concept of “good” can be somewhat slippery. As far as the world goes, I concentrate on things I can change and try not to worry about those things that I cannot. With that said, I find our very language morphing into something that is difficult to use. Gender neutral pronouns and inclusiveness for instance. I get the objectives, but I’m not sure how to implement them in my writing. My editor had issue with the word “oarsmen.” Okay, I went with “rowers,” sounded better anyway. But then she flagged “doormen.” “Doorpeople?” “Doorers?” “Dooropenersandclosers?” I’m sure it will all work out, but again, write for your readers… they’ll understand.
- What’s better, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?
What’s this? Matt has just handed me a live grenade with the pin conveniently removed [inserts a bent nail through the firing mechanism and passes the grenade back to Matt]. I would ask, which versions, films, books, comics? Which story/episode/volume? Maybe more important, better in what way?
LotR was my first epic fantasy read (had a few Lord Dunsany stories before that, but), so there’s no way to compare with “Harry Potter” that started out as a horribly edited YA story (with a brilliant concept) and evolved into a much more complex series. And Star Wars? I’d followed Lucas since “THX 1138,” (lived a few miles from his studio) so when the original movie came out, I’d been waiting for like, months… and it was manna (they had me with hydraulic oil running down the Millenium Falcon’s landing legs). However, there were no SW books until much later. So, only pick one? Can’t. Sorry.
- Any Social Media links?
I’m mostly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbmatson, feel free to check my profile and follow if you like my feed. Or not, that’s cool too.
Somewhere out there I have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/christopher.matson.98892. It’s poorly maintained and seldom visited (don’t get too excited now). Whereas Twitter is like the county recycling center’s trash sorting line, I find Facebook to be like trying to furnish your home from the county dump. It’s all there somewhere, but do you really want to dig through that mess? Okay, not very nice. I also have a totally dysfunctional web site: https://cbmatson.com/ that will tell you nothing at all (but someday it might, so keep checking). If you actually want to read some of my stuff, then go to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Matson/e/B094YT15YM