Welcome to Part Two of Confessions of a Reviewers’ interview with Matt Darst. If you read Part One last night, you should have a pretty good idea of what Matt is about. If you haven’t, shame on you.
One thing that strikes me about this young man this week is that as well as having the talent for the writing game, he is an extremely intelligent fella with a very extensive knowledge of the book world.
In tonight’s section Matt kicks things off by talking about his latest book, Freaks Anon, then he will give you a bit more info about himself and finally takes on The Ten Confessions.
As with last nights, this one is funny whilst intelligent and informative and also very personal.
It’s only Tuesday but go grab some pizza and a beer, sit back, and mostly……enjoy!
CoaR - Moving on to Freaks Anon, where did this mash up come from?
MD - It started with a single word: “chimera,” a monster made from the fusion of a number of different animals. To me, the word phonetically sounds close to a name: Kim Era. That idea, that a name could hold double meaning and describe a set of super-abilities, inspired a superhero backstory. Then I went to work building this idea into a story, incorporating characters with a variety of physical and mental “gifts” that society views as monstrous or even demonic. Shapeshifting, witchcraft, and poltergeists all had a place in my superhero universe.
I was also inspired by “real life” superheroes, folks like Master Legend and Mr. Extreme that actually wear masks and patrol the streets despite a total lack of superpowers. There’s something very sweet, albeit delusional, about their lack of self-awareness and aimless pursuit of good deeds. The character of Centurion epitomizes this aspect of “superherodom,” and made for a great foil in the book.
CoaR - This is a question I have never asked before but how long did it take you to write this? In many ways it is so complex but in others so easy to read. It just gives the feeling that this must have taken years to write?
MD - It did, in fact. From ideation to publication, it took almost three years. Since fiction writing is more of an outlet for me than a job, I was able to take my time with Freaks. I hope that shows in the research and plotting. I also had a ton of fun writing it, so it’s possible that I drew out the process because I just didn’t want it to end.
CoaR - You have so many different genres in this story and bring them all together perfectly but which would be your favourite to write?
MD - Thank you! Honestly, I don’t think I have a favorite. I grew up on horror, like Carpenter, King, Stoker, and Straub, so those genres have a special place in my heart. Horror serves as my starting point, and from there I layer in science, history, and mystery with the aim of more fully fleshing out the universe I’m creating.
CoaR - Why go the very generous route of giving all the proceeds from this story to charity? Tell us all about the charity.
MD - Cancer is a real scourge. We’re all impacted by it at some point in our lives, in horrible ways.
My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was writing the novel. Until now, that’s not something I’ve shared outside of discussions with a few friends. Her fight continues, and this novel is a unique opportunity for me to honor her courage and grace.
The charity, Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), seeks to accelerate innovative cancer research to get new therapies to patients quickly, and immediately save lives. By bringing together researchers and encouraging collaboration instead of competition, SU2C offers a real window of hope.
It’s a well-respected 501(c)(3) charity and received an A- from Charity Watch in September 2015. Approximately 77% of SU2C's cash budget is spent on programs versus overhead.
I believe in transparency, so I set up a page that accepts and tracks donations: http://do.eifoundation.org/goto/mattdarst
CoaR – Please help by visiting Matt’s page and giving whatever you can. Like Matt says, we all get impacted by cancer at some stage of our lives. Let’s give a little back.
CoaR - I don’t want to give anything away about the ending but it is possible for a revisit to the world of Freaks Anon. Is this likely to happen?
MD - Yes, I have two ideas. The first is a prequel of sorts involving Charlie and his son (Astrid’s dad). It will stand alone as a novel that takes place during WWII and during the early part of the 80’s. We’ll also get a look at how Nigel’s music career started. The second is a sequel, one that starts where Freaks left off. It will offer new baddies and new challenges.
CoaR - What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
MD - Stopping. Once I’ve got a full head of steam going, it’s very difficult for me to rein myself in. During the winter, it’s worse. My tendency to “binge write” increases as the length of the day decreases. In late December, I’ll write for stretches of eight to fourteen hours.
CoaR - What would your ultimate wish be with your writing?
MD - I just hope people find it inspirational. When someone contacts me to tell me how something I’ve written has touched them, it makes it all worth it.
CoaR - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
MD - My list probably reads like a personal ad. “I like taking long walks, reading, listening to music and going to concerts, sketching, playing with my dog…” My God, that’s milquetoast. I need to come up with some cooler hobbies, like hunting harpies, genetic experimentation, crunk dancing, time travel, etc. I need to aspire to be Buckaroo Banzai.
CoaR - What’s coming in the future from Matt Darst?
MD - I’m working on a vampire novel called Sanguinary. I have the prequel outlined for Freaks Anon, tentatively called Adverse Possession. I’m also playing around with a couple of short stories about time travel and sentient mold. I started working on a kid’s book called Don’t about a bug that leads a little girl on a journey through a variety of monstrous landscapes. Here are some early sketches for it.
THE TEN CONFESSIONS
1. Who would you view as your main competitor in the writing world?
I’m not sure I see it as a competitive landscape. In fact, I try to help other authors out when I can. I’ve reviewed and copyedited stories for a number of friends on social media. And since I didn’t get into writing to become famous, the success of others isn’t a factor that drives me. I like seeing them do well.
So, that said, my biggest competition will probably always be the immediate last novel I wrote. My sense is that Freaks Anon is a vastly better novel than Dead Things, and I want my next book to top Freaks. I hope with every publication I continue to improve and grow as a writer.
2. What book or author have you read that you think should never have been published?
There’s probably an audience for every book. Even if the premise of a book seems a little silly (sparkling vampires, for instance), as long as it serves as an entry point for reading, everyone is better served by having that novel around. Society needs educated readers, and if Stephanie Meyers is the gateway for that, so be it. Embarrassing young readers because of their choices won’t help move civilization forward or improve sales for other authors.
The above notwithstanding, I’m not necessarily sure that Michael Crichton’s The Lost World improved the planet. I’m a Crichton fan, but it seemed to rely too heavily on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work of the same name and Crichton’s own Jurassic Park. That might be one of the rare cases when the movie betters the book.
3. Are any of the things your characters have experienced in your books been based on something that has actually happened to you? What was it?
I have never fallen down a sinkhole. I’ve never battled zombies. I’ve never fought a government agent in an alley. I’ve never thrown a Molotov cocktail. I’ve never contacted ghosts in the astral plane. I’ve never sipped from the fountain of youth. I’ve never survived in a post-apocalyptic world.
And I’ve only turned into a werewolf twice, at least that I’m aware of.
4. Have you ever blatantly stolen an idea or scene and adapted it for one of your own books? If so, care to share?
I don’t think so, at least not consciously. I do incorporate a lot of scientific research into what I write, so a lot of information about pathology, astronomy, and biology makes it into my books. I try to twist it to suit my own purposes though.
As an aside, if you’re ever looking for a great book on parasitism by microbes and other organisms, please check out Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. It’s an amazing resource. And if you’re looking for a book about emerging diseases, grab Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague.
5. Have you ever anonymously left a bad review for someone else’s book? If so, care to share?
Never. Author Joe McKinney gave me some pretty sage advice over drinks once. First, never interact with reviewers. The review space is the habitat of the reader. When an author engages with reviewers in that space, it’s like reaching your hand into a shark tank. That’s startling for readers/would-be critics. Most of the predators will dart away, but some might attack. Second, if you don’t like a book, there are better ways of spending your time than crushing it.
6. What’s the one thing you are least proud of doing in your life and why?
I think what I’m least proud of is who I was during my early college years. I wasn’t incredibly tolerant, and I allowed my views to be shaped by my past and others around me. Fortunately, a series of experiences—an internship at a foreign policy think tank in Washington, moving to Chicago on my own, putting myself through law school at night—provided opportunities for me to get out of my comfort zone. I realized that I was an incredibly narrow-minded person in my late teens/early twenties.
I’m also not proud of my first concert: Wham! In my defense, it was a date, and she and her sister screamed like it was the second coming of the Beatles while her parents waited for us in their car in the parking lot.
7. What’s the one thing you are MOST proud of doing in your life and why?
Gosh, I’m not sure. I’m just psyched when I can hit the wastebasket with a crumpled piece of paper.
There are things that I’ve done that I’m happier for doing. Like rescuing my dog, Rodrick (below right). I picked him out a month or so after my bulldog Jack (below left) had passed away. Unfortunately, Rodrick was going be euthanized due to a cleft pallet. That sounds draconian, but it’s actually merciful as dogs with a cleft can’t survive for long. They starve, choke to death, or die from infections. But I fed him with a syringe for months until he was big enough for surgery. After a couple of operations, he could finally eat on his own. Like Jack, Rodrick is pretty amazing, and I’m glad I was able to give him a new lease on life. And he’s a great writing buddy. He hardly ever criticizes my work. Hardly.
8. What’s your biggest fault?
There have been times when I have allowed fear to control my life. I don’t take many risks, and those I take are fairly calculated. I’m a creature of habit, and it’s often easier for me to forego a new experience even though I might be better for it. Change can make me anxious.
9. What is your biggest fear?
Losing people I love is probably my greatest rational fear. It’s easier to come to terms with my own mortality than losing others.
My greatest irrational fear? Clowns. I say, “clowns,” and not, “evil clowns,” because the word “evil” is really superfluous.
More irrational than that? Space clowns, of course. Wait, maybe space sharks. I don’t know. That’s probably a tie.
10. If you had to go to confession now, what would be the one thing you would need to get off your chest?
I’ve got a list:
✦ I don’t call my family enough. I need to do that more.
✦ Although I’m pretty tolerant, this election cycle is testing my limits.
✦ I’m a music snob. I actually debated someone the other day about whether Bare Naked Ladies is a good band. They. Are. Not.
✦ I still have a crush on Jennifer Beals. Shouldn’t I have been able to move past this by now?
✦ I have a collection of fossils, and if someone calls them, “Rocks,” they are dead to me.
✦ I have never seen Avatar. And I won’t.
✦ I have never smoked pot. And I probably won’t because I’m too old. That’s just plain sad.
✦ I’m a wallflower. It’s better to not dance and let people think you’re horrible than to dance and erase all doubt.
✦ I’d like to write a script for a James Bond movie. In mine, Bond would be in his seventies and would become the new M. He’s drawn back to work because his friend Tanner has been murdered and his government pension is horrible.
✦ I make too many lists.
✦ My lists are too long. I never know when to end them.
✦ I question myself. Like, should I end this list now?
✦ And I’m prone to internal dialog. Yes, end this list now. You’re being ridiculous.
✦ I’m sensitive. Don’t call me ridiculous.
✦ I’m repetitive. Well, this list is too long. Enough with the list.
✦ I pout. Fine. I didn’t have anything more to say anyway.
Well, unfortunately that’s it for the interview. I’m sure you will agree that you probably learnt a thing or two from this one. I certainly did. Least of all how to make lists!
I would like to personally thank Matt for his time and help in putting this together. This was a bit if a surprise one because there were no firm plans for an interview but once I had read Freaks Anon, I couldn’t resist.
Please remember to come back tomorrow night where I will have the Confessions review of Matt’s latest book, Freaks Anon and will include all the links you need to pick it up.
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:
And for more about Matt, visit his site or find him on social media: