Welcome to Part One of Confessions of a Reviewers’ interview with a man that many of you may not have heard of before, Matt Darst. This is part of my mission to change that. You really need to get to know this man and read his books! They are absolute gems and need to be on more shelves!
If you don’t know a lot, or indeed anything, about Matt, then read on. In this interview Matt was kind enough to take the time out to give us some detailed, informative and funny answers to all the questions I threw at him.
In Part One, tonight, we find out some general information about Matt and his writing and influences. In Part Two, tomorrow night, Matt will give us some specifics on his latest book Freaks Anon, and also some more general life stuff, and of course will be taking on the mighty Ten Confessions!
On night three, as always, I will be posting my review of Freaks Anon.
Nothing left to say at this point other than go grab some nibbles and a drink and sit back, and most of all……enjoy!
CoaR - So tell everyone a bit about yourself in general? Who is Matt Darst and what is he about?
MD - A tough existential question right out the gate!
First, though, I’d like to take a moment to thank you. Thanks for reading Freaks Anon and thanks for this interview. I know there are a lot of reading choices out there, a lot of good books competing for your time. I really appreciate your interest in the book.
My base response: I’m a cog in a greater societal machine. My job is to turn and do so as long as I can. Hopefully as I go through my rotations I can help the people I come in contact with, spin too. That, I think, is the duty we all owe each other as part of a greater social compact: make life easier for people when you can, and when you can’t, make sure you don’t say or do anything to prevent others from “turning.” Like the gears in an engine, our time is finite. We are the personification of planned obsolescence. Let’s be kind to each other while we can.
What else? I like learning. I enjoy synthesizing information and connecting seemingly unrelated ideas in creative ways. I revel in data and using it to solve problems.
When given a choice, I’d rather hang out with people that are different from me. There’s so much to learn from others. After all, who really wants to hang out with his or her clone anyway? What would you talk to yourself about? How completely and utterly boring. We should celebrate our individuality.
You’ve probably guessed that I’m kind of introverted. I occasionally need alone time to recharge my battery. I sometimes worry that this sends the wrong signals.
I’m a music fan. Right now, I’m listening to Roxy Music’s Out of the Blue. The next song that’s queued up is Nite Flights by The Walker Brothers. Favourite musicians-slash-bands include Bowie, Iggy Pop, New Order, The Smiths, Pulp, The Stranglers…honestly, there are too many to name check.
CoaR - I know that you studied law but have you put that into practice? Do you use it for a pay the bills job?
MD - I negotiated contracts and drafted ordinances in my prior job. Now, the majority of my job consists of managing a data analytics team, challenging accepted theories about transportation and delivering data-driven insights to clients. If the purpose of technology is to save time, then the purpose of transportation technologies must be to save time while travelling. This probably sounds boring, but I actually enjoy it a lot, and I could rant about mobility for hours. We don’t have hours, do we?
CoaR - Why writing? Why decide on that as a career?
MD - Well, I wouldn’t call writing a career, necessarily, although it is a huge component of what I do on a daily basis. I write a lot for work. I draft content for a number of transportation periodicals and research boards. I get to present a few times each year at conferences and to customers concerning subjects that are important to cities: sustainable transportation, mobility as a human right, managing congestion, etc.
I write fiction because it’s a compulsion, an itch that only the written word can scratch. If I go for a prolonged period without writing, I sulk. Writing is an opportunity to problem-solve. It’s a method to work out my thoughts.
When I started writing, I didn’t have illusions that I could make a career out of it. That’s really hard to do (especially when you’re not very prolific), and I have tons of respect for those who make it. From a glass-is-half-full perspective, being a part-time writer has its benefits. It frees me from all of the deadlines and expectations that full-timers face. It allows me to write what I want when I want. That’s kind of nice.
Okay, that’s mostly lip service. I’d love to write fiction for a living.
CoaR - Take us through your process for a story. How do you start it and follow it through to the final product?
MD - A lot of my stories are sparked by something I’ve read, like an article in Discover Magazine or Scientific American. Contemplating how the impossible (zombification, superheroes, ghosts, immortality, etc.) could potentially be made real through science is fun.
I outline (I’m not a “pantser,” someone who flies by the seat of his pants) and research. If I’m setting a story in the past, for instance, I’ve got to know what people ate, what the weather was like, what they wore, the politics of the period, etc. I need to ensure that my application of science is fairly sound. I’ll probably read a book or two about epigenetics, emerging diseases, Native American lore, or another relevant topic. It can be a lengthy process.
Once I’ve actually completed the novel, I run it through the critical gauntlet formed by my family and a few close friends. These are people that aren’t afraid to critique me. They don’t hold back, and that’s a blessing. Their feedback leads to changes, and my stories are always better because of it.
Some writers hate editing. Not me. It’s a chance to make a few last minute modifications that can make or break a book. It might take months to fully edit a novel, culling thousands of words and adding back thousands more, but it’s a necessary process.
CoaR - Your parents are both artists. Did this have anything to do with you expressing your own art in writing?
MD - It did. Dad is an oil painter and mom is a potter. They’ve always been supportive of my writing and of art in general. They bought me my first electric typewriter. They nurtured creative thinking and a spirit of wonder in me and my brother and sister.
My dad is pretty gracious. He lets me use his art to support my author website (MattDarst.com) and in my non-fiction writing.
As an aside, my siblings are pretty artistic too. My brother, Josh, designs offices, schools, and building space, and my sister, Hanna, makes jewellery and is a great seamstress.
CoaR - How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you carry a notebook with you everywhere or write stuff on the back of your hand?
MD - I have too many notebooks. They’re all half full of thoughts, sketches, and ideas. I think I purposely forget to bring notebooks when I travel just so I have a reason to buy more. There was a time when I kept boxes full of articles from magazines that inspired me. Now, I try to move ideas to electronic formats, like spreadsheets.
More and more, I cut and paste research into files so that I can reference articles easily. I recently started to use PowerPoint to outline, describing a separate scene on each page of the presentation. That allows me to slide scenes backward or forward to improve the flow, or delete them altogether. I also use a white board and post-its.
CoaR - I know quite a few lawyers that are writers as well. Is there something in this? Some strange kind of talent that combines the two?
MD - If you’re predisposed to writing, law school can help you to become a more persuasive and organized writer. Law helps you think critically, fuse ideas, and research. From that perspective, a legal education has been invaluable.
Or it could be that writing is just an extension of the masochism that is being a lawyer. We should take a poll.
CoaR - Can you tell us if any of the characters in your books are based on people you have come across in your life or maybe even yourself?
MD - Well, there are aspects of myself in pretty much every character in my first novel, Dead Things. Peter’s vocation, Van’s sarcasm, Ian’s taste in music and fear, Burt’s love of Star Wars, Wright’s commitment to reason and protocol, etc.
There’s much less of me instilled in the characters in Freaks Anon. For the most part, they’re fairly original renderings. With a few exceptions, I tried not to base characters on friends or family. I do, however, like to drop names of my friends in my stories when I can.
CoaR - You only have the two novels for sale. A lot of authors these days seem to have a plethora of short stories in all sorts of anthologies. Why not you? Are shorts not your thing?
MD - I respect the short story format and admire writers that have mastered it. It’s very difficult to do, to tell a story in seven and a half thousand words or less. You have to be disciplined and tell your tale succinctly with narrative clarity. The novel format gives me a lot of room to roam. Because of that freedom, it probably suits me better. Still, I’ve got a few ideas for some short stories I’d like to tackle.
CoaR - Music seems to be a big part of your life, vinyl in particular and Brit bands also by the looks of things. What’s that all about?
MD - When people ask, “What type of music do you listen to?” I never answer, “All kinds,” or, “Everything.” I’m not that guy. I’m really particular in an annoying way.
My parents were big into music when I was young, and then suddenly they weren’t. I think their interest in new music inversely correlated with child herding. Who has time to listen to a new album when the kids are about to kill each other in the next room? So their LPs were passed to me. I spent a lot of my teens taping Rolling Stones, The Young Rascals, and Otis Redding albums. That’s probably where the love began.
One favorite, by the way, is an album that came out before I was born, WPOP’s Pop Explosion. It’s a sampler with a ton of great songs on it by The Music Machine, ? and the Mysterions, Shadows of Knight, Count Five, James Brown, etc. My dad won this album when he was in the service by calling the Wolfman Jack radio show. A cool story to match some great songs.
I lived in Kentucky for most of the 70’s and wasn’t exposed primarily to country and western music. When I moved to the suburbs of Chicago in the 80’s, I was blown away by everything I had been missing.
Independent radio and music videos provided insights into new styles and bands, and I bought in. In the 90’s, as radio stations coalesced through mergers and acquisitions and the number of formats shrunk, I turned to the import bin at Virgin records for new music. If you wanted anything other than grunge, that’s where you searched. Granted, there were great U.S. bands like the Pixies and the Replacements, but they broke up as the decade stretched on.
CoaR - Are the pictures you post of the views of the lake taken from your house? If so, can I have it? It looks like the perfect writing / reading spot?
MD - Haha. Yes, they are. And while I can’t give you title, you are more than welcome to visit! Yeah, Round Lake is a great spot, a hidden gem an hour outside of Chicago. It’s a wonderful spot to work and write. It’s where I recharge my batteries.
The lake has its ghost stories too. For instance, there’s the legend of the ghost train. The lake is fed by natural springs, and in the early 1900’s, hundreds of tons of ice were pulled from the lake daily and processed by the Armour Ice House to refrigerate train cars. Some say a train crashed through the ice during one of its runs, killing those on board. Others say that the train was left derelict on the ice when the Armour facility closed and sank as the ice melted. I say the legend will make a great premise for a story someday.
CoaR - Who would be the authors you would give the credit of being your influences and who do you just not “get”?
MD - H.G. Wells, Richard Matheson, Chuck Palahniuk, King, Carpenter, John le Carre, Crichton, Hemingway, Irvine Welsh, Joseph Conrad, Gaiman, Thomas Harris, Christopher Buckley, Frank Miller, Brett Easton Ellis…my list of influences is pretty exhaustive and jumps from genre to genre. These are masters of storytelling, sci-fi, horror, espionage, humor, graphic novels, and adventure. Once you’ve read one of their stories or watched one of their films, you’ll keep it with you forever.
As for books I don’t quite get, I can only think of one right now. I wasn’t a fan of The Ruins by Scott Smith, and that’s weird. That novel came highly recommended by Stephen King and should have checked off all of the boxes for me. I loved Sir H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and, to a lesser degree, The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so this should have worked for me. Maybe I’m just tired of spring breakers that I lack empathy for making stupid decision after stupid decision. Maybe I got my fill of talking plants from Little Shop of Horrors. I don’t know. It’s totally conceivable that I’m wrong and should give the book a second chance. A number of professional reviewers loved it, and who am I to disagree with Mr. King?
And on that note, unfortunately that is all for Part One of the interview.
Please remember to come back tomorrow night when Matt will be kicking off by telling you all about his latest book Freaks Anon, giving you more about his writing, and of course giving up his very soul with The Ten Confessions!
Thanks again for visiting Confessions of a Reviewer!
All proceeds from the sale of this Freaks Anon will be donated to Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). Private donations can be made at http://do.eifoundation.org/goto/mattdarst
Matt Darst’s childhood addiction to reading took a turn for the worst when he started writing…for fun. His experimentation with notebooks (a classic gateway) led to dabbling with typewriters. Soon he was hitting the hard stuff: word processors.
After law school, he decided to straighten out his life. He went cold turkey. He got a responsible job, a place in Chicago, and a dog. He surrounded himself with all the trappings of a normal life. Still…
Pen and pad call to Matt late at night, cooing his name, telling him to take another hit of fiction. Sometimes, when he’s weak, he heeds the siren call of the drug. He wakes from each blackout amid reams of freshly written pages, pages that have seemingly written themselves.
And for more about Matt, visit his site or find him on social media:
Website – Facebook – Twitter – Goodreads – Amazon Page
Website – Facebook – Twitter – Goodreads – Amazon Page