Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction author Matthew Stewart Williams. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Matthew. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Matt: My name is Matt Williams, I am based in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. I decided to become a writer during my senior year of high school when I realized just how much classic literature and the world of ideas intrigued me. I made the decision at that point that I would become a teacher and, just as important, a writer so that I could share that love with others.
Morgen: What a great idea. Many writers are teachers too (either way round). And I love your caricature. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Matt: Typically, my genre of choice is science fiction. It is what I know best and what originally inspired me to open my mind and learn all I could about this thing called existence and this place known as the universe. I am currently working in the contemporary genre as well, which happened when I realized that not all my ideas were future-centric, and that I could write something more relevant to today.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Matt: I have published a full-length novel (Data Miners), seven short stories and over a hundred articles under my full name, Matthew Stewart Williams. No alias here!
Morgen: 🙂 You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Matt: It was a friend and mentor of mine, Fraser Cain, founder of UniverseToday.com who inspired this decision. He is an expert in all things technological and told me that the traditional publishing route has become all but obsolete thanks to new media, and that new authors are making their own way by using this same media. After years of trying and failing with traditional methods, I was eager to bring my work directly to audiences, and so far, it’s been pretty successful!
Morgen: Congratulations. It’s a long, hard road for many. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Matt: Yes, I have made my books available primarily as ebooks through all the major distributors. I was pretty involved since it still takes a bit of work to make books available in this format. But not nearly as much as the whole paperback production process. While I do prefer real, physical books to ebooks, I can go either way.
Morgen: I’m somewhere in between. Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters?
Matt: Definitely, I think Yamal Pradchaphet from my modern story Data Miners is my favourite. So much of myself and my friends went into the making of him that I’ve come to think of him as having taken on a life of his own.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Matt: Absolutely. One of the best things about being a self-pub author is the amount of creative control you have over the process. And I think they are very important. A good cover says a lot about a book and will have a direct impact on how well it does in the marketplace.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Matt: Finishing up Data Miners, working on a sequel to my sci-fi novel Source, helping to produce two anthologies with my writers group Grim5Next, producing a serial novel named Crashland with the serial novel website Story Time, and maintaining several ongoing articles for my personal website.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Matt: I try to write every day, but it can be hard. One of the most difficult things with writing is finding the inspiration to actually create something, as opposed to just allotting time and trying to hammer something out. I frequently get writer’s block, but it tends to pass as soon as I find some mindless task to do.
Morgen: 🙂 Life does tend to get in the way too much. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Matt: Both. I usually start with an idea and just begin putting pen to paper. But I’ve also forced myself to sit down and write out a bare bones guide. While it can seem counter-intuitive sometimes, it is helpful in the long run.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Matt: Ordinarily, I just let them create themselves. I ask, “what would be good here” and let that flow. As for coming up with names, I usually do a thorough search of common names based on the characters background, once I’ve come up with it of course. Ultimately, I think what makes a character believable is a realistic backstory and some genuine flaws. No one can ever be a stand in for the plot, like a hero must be noble and a villain must be evil. Ultimately, it is the choices they make based on what is required of them that determines who they are and what role they play in the story.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Matt: I personally hate editing!
Morgen: Oh, so do I. I’d love to be in a position where I just write the story and hand it to my editor.
Matt: I find that once I’ve finished writing something, my job is done and I’d like someone else to handle the nuts and bolts elements of it.
Morgen: Great minds think alike. 🙂
Matt: However, my writing has gotten noticeably better as time has gone on so its become less necessary. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally write something that needs serious polishing though! It’s my weakness since, as I say, I like to publish the moment I’m finished.
Morgen: Some authors do… unwisely. Do you have to do much research?
Matt: Oh yes. When I began writing, I did so with the sense that I knew enough from my own experience with sci-fi and other literary genres to generate my ideas as they stood. However, I soon learned that regardless of what genre you write for, research is crucial. Not only do you need to know your subject matter, it is good to stay current and know what other authors in your genre have been producing. It helps you avoid the pitfalls of writing something that’s already been done, at least to some extent. And when it comes to writing modern-day fiction, I’ve found that research is the cornerstone of my work. Unless you’re an expert in the field, you have to do your homework so you know what you’re talking about when you begin building the scenario/universe you’re story’s set in.
Morgen: There will always be someone who is an ‘expert’ and to gladly point out an author’s failings. We have to do our best to avoid that. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Matt: I’d say third person. I’ve experimented with first person and found it a bit lacking because it’s impossible then to show things from multiple points of view. I have yet to try second person narration, but I’ve seen it at work (Tom Robbin’s Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas) and would be willing to try it someday.
Morgen: I’ve not read that. I love second person so I must track it down. So you write a lot of short stories, do you write any poetry or non-fiction?
Matt: I have tried my hand at poetry, found I wasn’t nearly good enough, and put them all in a file folder marked personal. No one shall ever see those until the day when I can perfect them! I have yet to do any non-fiction, but would not be averse. I lived and heard many interesting true stories in my time and would like to write them down some day. As for short stories, that’s the majority of what I’ve written. They’re fun, stylistically tighter than novels, and the creative process is less drawn out. Basically, you get to pack a lot of meaning and action into a shorter space, which makes for a more pleasurable experience in my mind.
Morgen: Me too. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Matt: I often wonder if any follow-ups to my first full-length novel will ever truly make it out. The first book in that series, Legacies, was meant to be my magnum opus, but did horribly after I published it with a Print-On-Demand house. After pulling it, I decided to go the traditional route with it but also wanted to heavily edit it first. If it ever gets out there, I might just get to work on its many sequels. However, the way things are going, I have a ton of material which I think might never get into print. Which is sad, but given how much I’ve changed as a writer, and how much things have changed for me, it might just be a reality.
Morgen: Talking of sad, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Matt: Several in fact. I’ve received form letters from several major publishers who weren’t interested or simply weren’t taking new manuscripts at the time. I dealt with them by doing what anyone does when that happens. I got sad, mad, and then pulled myself up by my bootstraps and said “what’s next?”
Morgen: 🙂 Do you enter competitions?
Matt: Not really. I did one years ago but that really didn’t yield much in the way of results. Since then, I haven’t found any that I felt the need to partake in.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Matt: I represent myself currently, which is in keeping with my recent stint in self-publishing and promotion. However, I do think an agent is a boon to authors since they know the publishing world and most likely have a developed list of contacts.
Morgen: How much marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Matt: Between the social media I use, my site, and the publishing companies I use, I handle all my own promotions.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Matt: My favourite aspect of writing is the process itself. I love coming up with ideas, doing the research, and then putting it all together. My least favourite is what comes after it’s all done. As a writer, I kind of feel like my job is done once the book is produced. Unfortunately, that’s where the real work begins, and it’s just so slow and tedious!
Morgen: It certainly is. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Matt: There are five things, three of which I’ve been told over the years from respected sources and mentors and two which I’ve learned for myself. I like to pass these on whenever possible, so thanks for the opportunity!
- Do what you love, the rest will follow. J.M. Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 told me that. As long as you are dedicated to what you are doing, success and recognition are sure to follow.
- In the meantime, keep your day job. Chris Jackson, a respected colleague and successful writer told me this. Basically, until the day comes when you’re art has achieved enough recognition that you can commit to it full time, it’s important to keep your options open.
- New media is a means to get your message directly to the market. Fraser Cain, founder of Universe Today and my mentor in all things technological said that traditional publishing is becoming obsolete due to the advent of new media. However, this presents new opportunities for writers to promote and publish themselves, which can be a better route than the traditional “hurry and wait” process.
- Find your voice. This one is all me. Basically, a writer needs to find the genre that speaks to them the most. Knowing how your stories will be classified can really help you relate to your audience and find the right market for your ideas.
- Do your homework. Also my own advice. Before you try to write your ideas out, make sure you’ve checked out all the relevant info so you can sound like you know what you’re talking about. Also be sure to read books that fall into your field so you can avoid saying something that has already been said. Though it may be impossible to be completely original, there’s always the chance for a fresh take on what’s already been said.
Morgen: Great advice, thank you. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Matt: Just three? Okay… Frank Herbert, Bill Watterson, and Steve Jobs. Assuming none of them have allergies or are vegan, I’d serve steaks, homemade potato chips, and steamed greens with Caesar dressing, washed down by copious amounts of ale or red wine.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Matt: “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters, but seek what they sought” – Basho Matsuo
Morgen: I like that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Matt: Oh yes. I write articles for a series of online publications, such as Universe Today and Were You Wondering. I’m also a contributing editor to the writer’s group Grim5Next and the artistic director of our first collaborative anthology. I also have submitting writing for a friend’s anthology on bike-related stories. And I take part in serial novel creation for the site Story Time.me.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Matt: I teach and train in Tae kwon-Do (been doing it for over 20 years), I hike, I kayak, I take long walks down by the shoreline. And I review beer, my favourite intoxicating beverage, and love to cook. My party tricks consist of jokes, impersonations, and impressing people with my ability to retain funny moments from movies and popular tv shows.
Morgen: 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Matt: For me, anything having to do with recent developments in the field of science, or places where indie authors can swap opinions. These would include NASA.com, IO9.com, Universe Today.com, and of course Goodreads. I do love to liaise with other authors, but aside from that, I tend to avoid websites that would offer pointers for writing. I feel that too much advice can gum up the mental gears and take away from the real aim, which is getting better through personal experience.
Morgen: You mentioned social media, are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Matt: I have subscribed to Wattpad and Authonomy, and to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend either. Such sites really just consist of countless authors all asking for people to read their own work. When people do promote others works, it seems to be the result of a quid pro quo agreement and not the result of actually reading another’s work and liking it. Basically, I see these as a well-intentioned idea, but something that’s relatively useless for new authors. You show up looking for advice and exposure, but end up being nothing more than a needle in a stack of needles.
Morgen: I was on Authonomy (and a similar site You Write On) but didn’t have the time to do the reciprocal. It’s fine for those who have nothing else to do. I’m on Wattpad but not really used it yet. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Matt: If they are lucky, a big break where they will achieve the recognition and fame they hunger for. Or, if they are lucky and independent, a series of small breaks culminating in a faithful following and an alternative form of recognition and fame which they hunger for. If they are unlucky, to toil away in anonymity, never having quite finished that “work in progress” or gotten it published and / or self-published. But in the end, it’s all about the work and the ability to say you did your best.
Morgen: Absolutely. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Matt: Well, there’s my website, storiesbywilliams.com, which covers a great deal of subject matter which inspires me. There’s my author page at Goodreads which contains a breakdown of what I’ve written and catalogues my participation with writer’s forums and my writers group. And the books themselves which are listed at http://www.amazon.com/Matthew-S-Williams.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Matt: Well… I love animals. Doesn’t really matter what kind of animal we’re talking. If I ever saw a cougar in the woods, I’d befriend it if I could. Love cats, dogs, and anything else with a pulse. And I’m convinced that certain animals can understand what I’m saying, particularly my cat Jasper.
Morgen: My dog is wagging his tail. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Matt: What is the most common thing you are asked by indie authors? Do you have any advice that you find really helps them?
Morgen: The most common thing is “can I be on your blog?” (or a variation) but once they’re on here it’s why I started it (because I was told it was a good idea and it’s certainly rewarding, emotionally if not monetarily). It does help authors to gain a profile and I know many have had sales from it. I have a writing tips page on the main blog, but generally I’d say just to try everything. You never know what will work until you try it. Thank you, Matt.
I then invited Matt to include an extract of his writing…
Winston’s internal chronometer indicated that it was now 1930 hours. Accordingly, the arboretums lights dimmed for the night-time cycle. In spite of all the time the residents had spent on the new world, adjusting to its orbital period, they still preferred to think in terms of a twenty-four hour day cycle. Yet another habit that seemed to be slow in making its way out of the human condition.
Yet he could not cast dispersions on the lighting or how it brought out the rich colors of the settlement’s gardens. The vast poppy fields and rose bushes that lined the walkway nearest to him were especially interesting. Planted in native soil, and with allowances made for moisture and radiant exposure, they were doing quite well. In time, the ecologists planned to move them outside the veil, planting them amongst the planet’s crags and fields along with the modified Xiàngshù oaks and Gēhūm̐ wheat.
Soon enough, the planet would conform to the needs of the settlers, and it would be these, some of the hardiest plants Earth had ever produced, that would lead the way. At the same time though, they were considered some of the most beautiful. Within the Earth archives, there were countless examples of these plants were both associated with and inspired great feelings. Love, loss, grief, romance, and friendship.
That in itself was clear enough. Given their aesthetic quality, the seasons that gave rise to them, and where they naturally grew, it was perfectly normal that humans would bestow such virtues on them. What was more curious to Winston was the combination of factors that led to their evolution as is. Particularly the rose, a stem so studded with woody thorns was a being hardened for defense in a hostile environment. And poppies grew in such terrible conditions; rocky, muddy and devastated environments that did not favor the growth of grasses and trees.
Out of such strict and severe conditions, great beauty emerged. Did the terraformers understand just how perfect a metaphor that was for their efforts? Was it significant to their planning, or just a fitting coincidence?
And a synopsis…
Prad is a member of the DeeMarchy, an elite society of data miners dedicated to finding the patterns in chaos and exposing the lies that permeate our society. Or so he thinks. In reality, he’s a second-rate programmer who works for a faceless company and is obsessed with drugs, pornography and a woman he can’t possibly have. Until one day, when a mysterious package arrives that suddenly throws his life into peril, a package containing clues to a secret ten years in the making. If he can crack the code, he just might be able to save his friends and himself. If not, they’ll lose everything: their jobs, their freedom, and maybe even their lives. Like everything else in Prad’s wireless world, the answer is out there, just waiting to be mined!
Matthew Williams lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family where he dedicates himself to teaching, Taekwon-Do and writing. He has authored several novels, short stories and over a hundred articles. In addition to classic sci-fi, his interests include history, politics, travel and culture. He is a member of numerous online writing communities and is a contributing author to the websites of Universe Today and Were You Wondering?
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