Author Spotlight – Matt Gilbert
Matt Gilbert, in addition to being a fiction author, is a professional video game developer; a veteran; a columnist for his local newspaper; and the father of three wild boys and two wild girls. He was born and raised in Woodbury, GA, and has been on watch for zombies ever since.
Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I just finished Amanda Justice’s “A Wizard’s Forge” and had a lot of fun with it. It’s a very interesting world, reminiscent of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire series, where the remnants of a starfaring colony ship’s crew have devolved into more primitive societies supplemented by unexpected magic.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Back in the day, it was fighter all the way, usually a longsword of some sort. These days, it’s usually a rogue, and whatever weapon best fits my plans. As far as leading, well, one can lead from behind, right? I’m watching out for anyone trying to sneak up on us, ya know. Listen you, stop saying you don’t trust me because I nicked that gem from you, the question said I was the leader. Shut it!
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
At one time, I did a lot of handwriting, but I am pretty much strictly typing unless I have no computer available. I still have boxes full of handwritten stuff I did when I was younger that I keep telling myself I should transcribe. I doubt my handwriting is clear enough for OCR.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I’m a programmer by trade, and I tend to work with heavy techno in the background, but it’s not really conducive to my writing. On occasion I turn on a song that kind of fits the mood of what I am working on, but most often it’s silence.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I write everything out in a kind of shorthand, first. It’s a mishmash of actual dialog, abridged dialog, descriptions of actions, etc. It’s much easier to change as I am working on the story, because inevitably you reach a point where you realize something has to be different to accommodate a new idea.
I use a text editor called notepad++ with Yaml format to allow me to collapse or open different sections and see a layout by chapters, or open chapters to see the above abridged stuff. Then, when that looks good and hangs together in terms of making sense (basically, once the story and plot are good), I move the abridged stuff into the actual doc and begin expanding it into actual chapters.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
The old “Excalibur” movie was a tremendous thing for me as a kid. My cousin and I could practically recite the whole thing. I still remember Merlin’s charm of making by heart (and by ear, I have no idea what he was actually saying): “Anaal nathrak, usfas bethod, dochiel deinve!”
The Star Wars saga counts as fantasy IMO, and it, too, has been a huge influence. I even had a Sith Wedding. Yes, seriously. 😀
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
The last big thing was “The Expanse”. We really enjoyed it. I had heard many good things about it, but what tipped me over the edge was the Nauvoo and its backstory. Mormons in Space with an interstellar spaceship temple made me smile, so I had to check that out.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Seems a perfect day to spend with my kids at the beach. That’s pretty much our go-to leisure activity.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
The semicolon. I used to have a problem with them, using them way too much, and it seems no one really cares much about them anyway. I stopped using them and no one noticed except in a good way, i.e. “Gosh, you don’t have all these stupid semicolons that I don’t know what they really mean.” I am pretty sure we could dispense with it except for lists.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
I am editing the last book of my series, “The War God’s Will”, and I am a little worried that people who have been following along may lynch me over it. Several likable characters do not survive, but, hey, it’s grimdark, so we’re not going to get a “happy elves and singing birds” ending, right? There’s pain and blood and sacrifice aplenty, but overall I think the ending feels very solid, and fairly grim, too.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
In general, I don’t think I would like collaboration overmuch, because I feel like authors would inevitably get butt hurt about decisions the other is making that don’t feel right. So I’d pick the author whose tastes seem to most match my own, which would be Joe Abercrombie. I’m sure, him being a Big Important Lord of Grimdark, and me being a very small fry, he would be calling the shots on any disagreements, and I suspect him being my master would rankle less than some.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t quit if you believe in your work. There are a million ways to compare your work to others and feel inferior. If you can actually write in ways people can grasp, and not be full of horrible errors, if you love what you’re doing, you’ll find some others who do, too.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Right here and right now is just fine with me. History is fascinating from a distance, but the truth is that the most interesting bits are what the military refers to as “highly fluid situations”, often bloody and unpredictable. The proper military advice for those situations is generally, if one is not an active combatant, to “un-ass the area”.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
There is something of a myth that the muse comes to one and magic happens, but in truth, it’s just like any other large-scale project. You make a plan, and then you work in bite sized chunks. I find not living with the expectation that magic will get things done is motivation enough. Milestones don’t just happen. You have to work to ship a product, whatever that product is.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
There’s an old book by Roger Zelazny that I have always loved called “A Night in the Lonesome October”. It’s a little obscure now, though it wasn’t at the time. Imagine a scavenger hunt with folks like Jack the Riper, Dracula, etc. where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Read it. You won’t be sorry.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Long ago, mad sorcerers make the extremely poor decision to try to trap and kill a god to steal his power, thus creating a “highly fluid situation” that resulted in a ton of people being dead. Said fluid situation was finally resolved by the suitable application of boot to ass, but said god was still pissed off, and promised to come back in a thousand years, when everybody who remembered anything was long dead and unable to stop him.
Which is now, so hold on to your hat, because shit is about to get very sporty as heroes from two hostile nations struggle to work together to avert the Dead God’s prophesy: a world of ash.
Thanks again for joining us today, Matt, and good luck with book three!
Matt Gilbert is the author of the EYE OF THE LION saga, currently comprising THE DEAD GOD’S DUE and THE MAD GOD’S MUSE.