Today on Paws4Thought we are happy to welcome Shades of Fear author and fellow puzzler, Matt Lovell. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Matt.
I’m an insomniac writer, actor, director, puzzle-maker, computer geek, music and TV aficionado, cat-lover, night owl, and internet addict.
How did you get involved with Shades of Fear?
Well, through YOU of course. I have been somewhat vaguely connected with many other puzzlemakers on facebook. And suddenly I was friends with someone named Debbie Manber Kupfer. Have you heard of her? I don’t actually remember the exact point or circumstance that led to my friending you or vice-versa. But one day, I had asked her (I’ll speak to you as if you’re in the third person, like Ozzy, now) once about some crossword puzzles she did for a mutual friend. Some time went by and I noticed one day that she had successfully gotten one of her books published and was psyched about that. (CONGRATULATIONS AGAIN!!! 🙂 I pinged her one day and we got to talking about publishing and books and writing and she had agreed to look over a couple of stories for me for feedback. Then she said there were a few writers groups on facebook and would I like to join? Hmmmm…she wanted to me to join another thing on the internet that would keep me from getting anything productive done. Okay I’m in! 🙂
I was pretty much approved immediately. I noticed there was a lot of discussion about anthologies at the time. Debbie mentioned there was another anthology accepting stories coming up and they were already using another of her stories in the antho they’d just completed. I couldn’t exactly keep the threads straight so I asked if they were accepting stories for the current one (which was Shades of Fear) and added that I had something that might fit for it. They said they had completed accepting stories for it but if I sent it in quick they’d take a look at it. With pretty much no time to actually alter it in any way, I submitted it and they liked and accepted it. Happened that fast. It’s probably good it happened that way as knowing me I probably would have tried rewriting it again and screwed it up.
Who are your favorite authors?
I’d have to say Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury are at the top of the list. This list changes of course. But really anyone that is very clever with words. Both of those authors were amazing wordsmiths in different ways. Adams was a master at taking words and overanalyzing them from a satirical point of view until you forgot what his main point was. That’s pure comedy gold. I’ve seen authors try to write comedy before in genre fiction(fantasy, sci-fi, etc). And they end up just falling flat. They made likable characters but their comedy just wasn’t funny. That takes a special gift really I think. I don’t really think you can teach someone to write comedy. It’s something you have…and absorb from other comedians (whether authors or actors or comics, etc). Anyway he’s a huge influence on fusing comedy into stories, even serious ones. As his stories are usually ABOUT something serious, which makes the comedy work even more.
(Totally agree about Adams and comedy writing. He’s up there in my top writers list too, DMK)
Bradbury on the other hand…every time I read a Bradbury book or short story I feel like I’m reading a free verse poem. Look at things like The Halloween Tree. There is more imagery in one page of that than a whole book of poetry. And even though he is “sci-fi”, most of his stories really are incredibly grounded in reality. No aliens or star wars stuff. A lot of “what if” future sci-fi. And really he melds sci-fi and horror quite seamlessly as many of his stories do NOT have a happy ending. Another thing I learned from him is not to over-explain things. He simply acts as if everything in his little world is common knowledge until suddenly while you reading, it IS! He doesn’t write down to people but assumes they are intelligent. I really like writers like that.
Tell us a bit about your story, Our Lady of St. Raccoonus.
Without giving TOO much away, it’s about a priest on duty in a church. Strangely enough I wrote the character and most of the story for a role-playing game. There was an online site that ran these interactive RP games and one in particular wanted us to write a long short story with a LOT of history in order to get into the game. We had to include a certain number of facets to the story and background and links to other things within the game as well as give our characters typical statistics and skills and such. This wasn’t a normal thing most games ask you to do, but I found myself getting ideas so I went with it. I came up with this character and had things happen to him, linking a bunch of the skills and contacts and such from the game into the story. However, the people running the game weren’t very polite in giving feedback and such (gamers…go figure) so I didn’t bother continuing. I did however like the story I’d written.
Years later I dusted it off and rewrote parts of it to remove the gaming bits and make it a more standalone story. It went through quite a few different iterations. It started out as basically free-writing. I wrote two pages that I ended up completely throwing away, but in those pages was a moment that I used a Col. Potter quote from M*A*S*H about a dream his wife had and somehow that merged with an unusual picture of a religious figure I saw in a different gaming book. That became the basis of the main rewrite and led to Our Lady of St. Raccoonus.
Did you do any research for your story? Have you ever been to Bournemouth? (I have – it’s a rather nice seaside town!)
Not as much as you’d think at first. I grew up catholic so I actually had a clear picture of the church setting in my head. I used the church I grew up going to as the setting and merged it with the one on my campus at college. I’ve always felt churches, when no one is there, to be really spooky gothic places. All dim with nothing but candlelight. And they have that tense echo about them. And of course, there’s all the eyes of all those statues looking down on you.
When I started actually shopping the story around I realized I had to make sure all my facts were accurate. I had this character, who was a British priest. I didn’t have to keep him British, but he was already in my head that way. Of course that meant making sure his location was right. Since he’s British I made him Anglican, instead of Catholic. Again, I didn’t have to, but it made more sense that way. So I then researched actual Anglican Diocese online for a place to put the church. I was really looking for a one of those wordy town names like Stratford-upon-Avon or the like. They just are wonderful townnames to read on the page. But alas, I found none like that. Again I realize I could have placed my fictitious church in a real town and that would have been alright, but I was feeling a bit OCD, so felt I needed to pick a real one. Bournemouth jumped out at me. You want to know the reason? Because that was the city where Eric Idle’s film “Splitting Heirs” was set. I’ve never been to England myself. Would like to go of course. (Of course! DMK)
Since I’d decided the church was Anglican, I needed to research whether they had the same customs, rituals, sacraments, and church odds and ends that Catholic churches have. The one thing I found (and changed several times) after I sent in the story was a discrepancy on how you address a priest of the Anglican Church. Did you know that it is grammatically incorrect to call a priest “Reverend”? As in…”Hi, Reverend. How are you?” That’s like calling him “Honored” or “Nice”. Like “Hi nice! How are you?” But it is something you can put in front of their name as a title like an adjective. As in “The Reverend John Q Smith”. Fascinating, eh? So I ended up going back and agonizing on every title and address I used for him even though most of my brain was shouting at me that no one is going to care, notice, or obsess over that when they are more interested in what happens to him. Like I said…OCD. But then again, I’m painfully aware I’m not the only bearer of this. And of course that’s probably all you can think about now I’ve pointed it out.
(I personally agree with you and think the little details are very important in stories, and go a long way to make sure that the facts in my stories are correct too. DMK)
What inspires you to write?
Everything. Absolutely everything. However it’s a matter of whether I’m actually aware and ambitious enough to catch hold of that story idea that comes floating into my life and lasso it to the page. Usually I just absentmindedly let it float by in my laziness and go back to humming tunes stuck in my head. There are a couple of things I do that help me develop ideas. One is taking a shower and the other is going for a walk. In both cases there is just me. I am isolated. There are no distractions. No internet, no computer, no TV. Just me and my thoughts. And I just force myself to think about my story issues and suddenly other ideas join together until I have a solution.
What are your greatest fears and how do you deal with them?
I think I’m afraid of success almost as much as I’m afraid of failure. Failure has kept me from attempting some things in life but I think success is that way too. I think people can relate to that. I think a lot of people feel safe and peaceful stuck in immobile mediocrity. NO one to judge you. Nothing to reject you. Of course there is another visual fear. One of someone staring at you. If I’m watching a movie or TV show and I see a character staring straight out at me from a distance. Not moving. Not saying a word. Just a wide-eyed stare, I find that terrifying. The Shining REALLY set me off with that. Maybe that film started that fear. Who knows? You know the scene. The one with the little girls in the hallway. I’ll leave it at that.
Let’s talk puzzles – tell us a little bit about the interactive stories and puzzles you’ve created?
Oh wow. I’ve been doing puzzles for several years now. I got involved in helping with various puzzle events at Microsoft. Seattle has quite a thriving puzzle community. Think crossword and word search puzzles on acid. The types of crazy things you find in Games Magazine. That magazine started my love of them. So I started making puzzles for these events. Usually relatively simple puzzles, but they’d always have a twist. My favorite is doing weird things with word searches. I created a word search that was crossed with a cryptogram that got all its clues from music files once. I love music and like to inject my music favorites onto other people whenever possible. Some of my puzzles have actually been huge undertakings and were very interactive. I made a 4-part adventure puzzle which forced competitors to run to different parts of the Microsoft campus while having to solve four different puzzles based on Rush songs.
What do you like to do to relax?
I watch TV. Yeah, yeah I know. Lots of people say “OMG TV is so bad for you! I never watch TV!” I love TV. Wonderful stories are told on TV. In fact it’s probably the number one source of comedy there is. I don’t take TV seriously. In fact I try to learn from it. I often come across a series that does things with story in ways I never expected. It is great finding a great original new show. Of course if it’s that good of an idea it will probably be cancelled. Ha! I also like listening to music. Again for the same reasons. My favorite is 70s progressive rock. Lots of wonderful musical stories they are.
I’m a big fan of TV sitcoms too – do you have an all-time favorite?
Whoa, that will require a list for sure. Most of my all-time favorites were not exactly standard sitcoms. Topping that list I think is Futurama. The satire and stories are just brilliant. Sometimes really scifirific, sometimes very poignent, sometimes very biting, and usually hilarious. (Great choice, DMK.)
Others on the all-time list are M*A*S*H, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, Blackadder (yes the British do comedy better). For more standard sitcom fair, I always really liked NewsRadio, Frasier, The Office (the Brit version is brilliant but the American version, once it found its own voice, was flat out uberbrilliant and hysterical to boot), Night Court, Seinfeld, and the original Bob Newhart Show…and how could I forget Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. So most of my favorites are odd in their own way. I think you need that unusual setting or style in order to be really funny.
And a current favorite sitcom?
Definitely Community. Season 2 was just so new and fresh and original and totally geared toward the ubergeek like me. Plus it was fast, SO fast. Then the creator was fired, yada yada, and season 4 was terrible, then he was rehired and it’s good again (although so sad that Chevy Chase and Donald Glover have left the show). Just start with season 2. It’ll really take you places!
So music, what are your favorite bands and artists?
I so adore the stories and music landscapes of progressive 70s rock. Rush is my favorite. From 2112 and Hemispheres Grace Under Pressure, science fiction worlds are explored, philosophies pondered, and musical masterpiece achieved. You would really think Bradbury were writing the lyrics to so many of these gems. Also in that list are Genesis and Yes.
Genesis told more fantasy and dark stories with both humor and pathos. More briliant playing and tons of atmosphere. Steve Hackett’s swirling acoustic guitar really takes you on a journey. Yes, is like a bite of poetry that you taste that lifts you up and lets you float away on it. It is a bumpy ride, but at their best there was magic in their sound.
Pink Floyd another seminal group. Everyone knows them, sure. I think their early middle period was best The Meddle/Dark SIde Stuff. Of course Wish You Were Here also brilliant. These are groups really that every time I listen to their songs, there is an entire story playing out in my head to match, and oftentimes a different one than the last time I heard it. Can’t forget Beatles and Bowie of course….but there are tons of others I like. Too many. I must go listen to them all now.
Oh and one more thing . I got a stereo for Christmas when I was young. I had it into adulthood. It was a very cheap and nothing stereo, but it had a turntable on top. One day I was listening to “Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd, you know the song that starts with this robotic motor sound winding up and has this thump all through it…well at the end, once it is through (listen to it on youtube to hear what I mean), at the end, the song literally winds down. The wind up from the beginning is reversed, the synthesizer pitches up like an alarm sound and then winds all the way down to a low note and a last thump…when it got to that part….my stereo….stopped beating forever…and died. Was the most wondrous and sad music moment ever.
What are you currently working on?
A lot of short stories. There are a couple for the next anthology on fairy tale characters in therapy. There is a different one, a horror story, set in Caesar’s Rome. I also have a children’s book I’m shopping around, and am looking for writing work in the gaming industry.
How can readers connect with you?
They can pick up the nearest object and throw it at me. Once I turn and shout things at them, we can then have what’s called a conversation. Of course, the days of throwing rocks at each other is a bit passé. I suppose most folks are on Facebook. Here’s a link that I THINK works, although they just YET AGAIN changed how Facebook is displayed so who knows.