Matt Wallace has come to be known as force of nature in the podcast fiction community. He’s one of the “new breed” of fiction authors that has used the internet–and podcasting in particular–to build an audience, get some recognition, and make the leap from amateur to full-time pro. His short film Latchkeepers appeared recently on the podcast Stranger Things TV, and I have to say it was well done. It is refreshing for me personally to see true production value on a shoestring budget, so kudos to both Matt and the filmmakers. I encourage you to check it out on iTunes or the Stranger Things website.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
MW: I made my first short fiction sale in May of 2006 to an on-line horror ‘zine. I was paid ten dollars. And although I savored the one-and-a-half Fuzzy Navels purchased with my hard-earned money, it kind of made me realize this was not the ideal path to a career as an author. So naturally I decided to forgo the ten dollars altogether and start giving away my fiction for free via podcast. This insane backwards thinking paid off, however. After starting Variant Frequencies with Rick and Anne Stringer and making my short stories (and later my first full-length novel, The Failed Cities Monologues) available in audio form free of charge, I had several properties optioned for film by an Australian producer and began working as a screenwriter in that market. It was also on the strength of the audience I’d built as a podfic author that Apex Publications offered to release my first short story collection, entitled The Next Fix. The message here is simple, kids: Don’t be a whore, be a slut. Give it away, give it away, give it away now.
TH: What is The Story of Matt? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
MW: The Story of Matt is an 8,000-year-old African cave painting of San tribesmen worshipping two mating cows. The one being mounted has an ironic look on its face. I think the subtext there is obvious and should tell you everything you need to know.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
MW: Storytelling is the first conscious impulse I remember having toward or about anything. Before I could actually write a word I was creating bad surrealistic narratives with crayons and construction paper. Unfortunately my illustrating skills never improved much, so prose seemed like the natural alternative. But really, I was just a natural born writer, the way Bruce McCulloch theorized some people are born gay or fans of The Doors.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
MW: I co-wrote a couple of novels with my friend and fellow author Anne Stringer. They’re still better than the novel you’re working on (yes, you) but as agents and publishers continued rejecting them and we both moved on to other literary pursuits they’ve kind of become relegated to “the drawer.” Although I expect when we’re both bigtime and have become completely jaded and uninspired, we’ll agree to pull them out to appease our New York publishers and keep the fat royalty checks rolling in.
TH: What type of work is your creative preference-shorts, screenplays, novels?
MW: I’ve been most prolific as an author of short stories by far (probably because I have the attention span of a regular Sesame Street viewer on a prescription diet pill binge. That, or my age. You make the call). If there was any kind of market left for them, which there isn’t, I could see making a living as a short story writer. Although having a screenplay you’ve written produced and released and seeing an audience dig the hell out of the finished product is an unbelievably rewarding experience. And I find the work much easier than writing novels.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
MW: I’d like to write the first novel released exclusively on Blue Tooth-enabled hydroxyapatite eye implants. I’m also angling for my own section in the cultural database of the lunar archive my friend Laura Burns is working on. I want to be one of the first authors published on the moon.
TH: Is hydroxyapatite a real word or did you just make that up?
MW: Hydroxyapatite is very real and your bones are absolutely filled with this shit. It’s for that reason they use it in bio-integrated implants
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
MW: Old episodes of Darkwing Duck. My burning hatred of Diablo Cody and her ridiculous success. Maya Angelou’s early work.
TH: So is it hatred, professional envy, or a latent attraction to freaky girls that spurs you? Diablo Cody has a club-sized golden statue named “Oscar” and she looks like the kinda girl who would use it.
MW: Oh what the fuck ever, dude. She’s a milquetoast suburban bitch who stripped for, like, five minutes in a gentlemen’s club. Yeah, let me shove my heart back down my throat after that shocker. Needless to say my definition of “freaky girl” differs from most.
It’s hatred. I hate her bullshit name. I hate her bullshit simile-and-metaphor-choked prose. I hate her bullshit nex-gen pop hipster dialogue. I used to begrudgingly admit that she’s a pretty good writer, but I’m so deep down the well of my own rage at this point that I wouldn’t even afford her the rights granted under the Geneva Convention.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
MW: Podcasting has been my bread and butter for the last two and a half years, and I believe it’s still incredibly fertile promotional ground. I also know a lot of smart people who believe Facebook has an endless amount of potential as a promotional tool if we can just figure out how the fucking annoyingly heinous thing works.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
MW: I’ve reached personal and professional milestones as an author. I don’t know what “making it” really consists of. But I’ve held my first hardcover book in my hands. It may’ve been a small press imprint, but a publisher offered me a contract, paid me an advance, professionally edited my manuscript, commissioned artwork for the cover, and released a very slick product that people can buy (and a few of them even have, shockingly). It’s a helluva thing, at any level. I landed my first freelance screenwriting gig. I got my first freelance screenwriting check. I actually paid rent with that money. That felt pretty frosty.
Oh, and Warren Ellis recently commented my blog and told me to eat nine old men’s cocks. I feel like I have his blessing now. So I got THAT going for me.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
MW: I see the value in building your brand. That’s one of the hallmarks of a podcast fiction author. Mostly I just believe in hustle over spending twelve years working on the Great American Novel. I believe in having deadlines and a check waiting at the end of them. I don’t turn down paying work based on some kind of bullshit college lit class artistic principle. As a professional writer I pride myself on adaptability. A good writer can bring their own style and standards of quality to any project. That is often the business of being a professional writer.
TH: We create, we have deadlines, and we get paid, except when we’re giving it away on purpose-with a purpose. I saw a great snippet by Harlan Ellison on YouTube recently that all writers, amateur and professional, would do well to watch, “Pay the Writer.” On one hand, it seems to contradict what you said about giving it away, but the difference is that you made the transition from slut-dom to whore-dom by giving it away. Thoughts?
MW: I don’t think it contradicts the stock I place in podcasting. Although I’m sure Harlan Ellison would disagree, right before shotgunning a fifth of Old Crow, headbutting me in the teeth for being a rank amateur, and fucking my mother on a pool table. But the key difference is I gave/give it away on my own terms. I gave it away to readers/listeners to prove a point. I never gave it away for industry. Any industry. And I would NEVER let someone else profit from my work without getting my cut.
It’s funny. Recently I had a short story in a zine that was being released as both a free podcast and sold as downloadable PDF. Well, the eZine didn’t sell. The editor wanted to change the model and roll our work over. He offered us a flat fee on top of projected royalties based on the business the zine had done so far. It came out to something ridiculous, like fifteen bucks. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of these writers turned into Clark fucking Gable or something. “Money? Oh, no, I could NEVAH! It is merely an honor to be included. I SHALL REINVEST IN THE MAGAZINE!” And that? That is a dude who has and will always have a day job doing SOMETHING ELSE. Me, I took the money. It never occurred to me not to. And I resented being made to feel like a douche bag because I was the only one in the room behaving like a pro. That shit matters. That’s fifteen dollars worth of groceries or five more minutes with the in-call chick I hire on my birthday. And if you don’t approach these things, regardless of the size of the figures, with a professional attitude then you’re always going to be a fucking amateur. And treated as such.
Although for the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit I’d probably do the DVD interview for free. As much as I understand wanting to squeeze a bloated outfit like Warner Bros. for every penny. He can call it an “essay” all he wants-it’s a fuckin’ interview. You are officially charging an “appearance fee” at that point. But when you don’t take a piss without getting paid, I guess that makes sense. Good on ya, Linda Evangelista.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
MW: I contribute a short story-“Receiver”-to J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son: OBSIDIAN anthology. This is a very exciting, innovative, and epic multi-media podcast project set in the world of Hutch’s 7th Son novels. I join a group of the biggest and best authors in the podosphere. I’m also writing and narrating a series of flash fiction for Steampunk Spectacular. It’s the first work of steampunk I’ve made available for public consumption. And finally, the newest episode of Stranger Things-“Latchkeepers”-was penned by me. I’m insanely proud of this one. If you’re unfamiliar, Stranger Things was the first hi-def video podcast, created by Earl Newton. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy anthology series in the vein of The Twilight Zone. I wrote “Latchkeepers” specifically for it, and the finished episode is just mind-blowing. The cast, the visual effects, everything. We recently premiered it at Balticon in front of several hundred people and it played huge.
I’m also working on what I hope will be my next podcast novel. It’s been a while since The Failed Cities Monologues and I don’t want to fade away. It’s never as poetic as it sounds in the songs.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
MW: A reader/listener once accused me of writing “kiddie snuff porn” (in reference to a scene from The Failed Cities Monologues in which one of the characters kills his lover in a juvenile detention center shower room. For the record, there was no actual sex in the scene). She then described in pretty graphic detail how she’d been molested as a pre-teen and that listening to what I’d written tore her up. It was so disturbing that this is actually really the first time I’ve written or spoken about it to anyone. I mean, I can’t be responsible for how people deal with my work, you know? I can only be true to my characters and the story I’m trying to tell, which is what I did. Still, that doesn’t mean it didn’t royally fuck me up inside. Even if it was her own issue, my writing is what pulled the trigger on it that day. As an author putting your stuff out into the world, you worry people won’t dig it, you worry they’ll think it’s total crap. Frankly, you hope it pisses a few of them off. That’s good for business. But I never expected or wanted anything like that.
I’ve also had my share of balls-out awesome moments, but for sheer recall value I’d be hard-pressed to top that one. I dream about it sometimes. And when you have my kind of imagination that shit isn’t fun.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
MW: I can always pimp a little more, if the bandwidth and your attention spans will allow. If reading this was your introduction to the concept of podcast fiction, the next step should be to check out Variant Frequencies, the multi-award-winning short fiction podcast with the best stories and most cinematic production values in the ‘sphere.
With Anne Stringer I also co-edit Murky Depths, a quarterly anthology of short fiction AND comics from the fringe of the new weird. It’s published out of Britain and is easily the most braingasmingly gorgeous literary magazine in the world. It pwns all others of its ilk. Right now it’s out nailing Asimov’s, Analog’s, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s girlfriends. AT THE SAME TIME.
Lastly, I beseech you in the name of everything dark and unholy to pick up a copy of my debut short story collection The Next Fix. It features twelve original tales and a full-length novella. The Next Fix is available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and there’s a very nice eBook version available on Fictionwise if that’s how you want to get down. All proceeds go toward the therapy I need to keep me from killing baby kittens. Take a moment and ask yourself if you really want the reverse effect on your conscience. I’m just saying.