Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Interview With Matt Betts

CHHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

MB: I don’t know if there was ever an “Aha” moment about being a writer. I loved reading when I was a kid, and would devour whatever books I could get my hands on. That love of literature just translated naturally into writing and drawing stories. I did a few things here and there in high school, and then started to learn more about writing and structure in college. Unfortunately, the college professors I had at the time were not terribly receptive to horror and science fiction. So, while I learned a lot about writing, I left college with little desire to try to get published.

I took a while off from writing, but when I look back at that period, I was still composing stories in my head, even if I wasn’t writing them down.

Once I moved to Columbus, I was looking for a way to meet new people and decided to join a writing group. I realized how much I loved telling stories again, and I’ve stuck with it. I guess it just took that 5 year break to help me figure out what I wanted to do as far as my stories.

CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like?

MB: Right now, I have no actual schedule. I’ve started a new job, my family adopted a puppy, and I have two crazy kids that need help with homework and all that other fun stuff. I’m hoping to get back into a regular writing routine soon. When I used to work 9-5, I would write during my lunch hour, and late at night. I recently finished writing a couple of books, and I’d been on a goal of writing a minimum of 2,000 words a day. I got those in whenever I could-some in the morning, some at night, some while I was waiting in line for a food order, whatever it took. In general, I’m terrible at writing in the morning. I just can’t get the engine moving until 10am or so. Keep in mind that my kids generally are up around 5:30 to get ready for school. I love writing at night. I can start at 9 and go as late as the material takes me, but then I need to be up early for the kids the next day. So, it’s sort of a balancing act of work, writing, editing, promoting, hanging with the kids, and the occasional round of sleep.

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing rituals? If so, what are they?

MB: I don’t think I do, really. I have a couple of baseball caps that I call my ‘writing hats’, but I can write without them. I only wear the hats in the case of emergency.

CHHR: Do you like writing short stories or novels?

MB: At least three of my novels started as short stories, but I’ve been focused on novels. I like writing novels. You can expand or constrict your universe as much as you want. The scale of books is always so personal to the author. Does everything take place in just one day in someone’s garage? Or is it over years on a distinct moon? I suppose I don’t like short stories as much, just because I never feel I’m done. There’s always a tangent to explore, a minor character to follow.

CHHR: How is the horror scene where you live?

MB: I’m not sure we have a real horror scene here in Columbus, which is odd because we have a lot of great horror writers in the area. The writing community in general is awesome here. There’s a number of critique groups, discussion series, author visits, etc. I don’t think I would be a writer now if it wasn’t for the extensive number of literary venues. There are comic cons, media events, writer’s conferences and more here, and all are very welcome of new authors of all genres.

CHHR: Do you use outlines or do you go with the flow?

MB: A little of both. I really just went for it, or ‘pantsed’ it, early on. I only started outlining, very briefly, with my most recent book, The Shadow beneath the Waves. And that was only because I needed to have an outline when I proposed the book to the publisher. But, that minimal outline really helped me as I wrote. Once I’d told the publisher what I was doing, it really forced me to try to stick within those parameters as I went. The book was done quicker than my others by a wide margin. In the future I’ll probably still do the small outline and then just run with it from there.

CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?

MB: It gave me courage, I guess? Once I knew someone would publish my work, and then someone else actually wanted to read it, I was energized, you know? It made me want to write the next one and the one after that. It let me know that the crazy stuff in my head could be transferred to paper and translated for other people. So it helped my process by not questioning my ideas, not stopping to ask if an idea works or not, or if it’s too ‘out there’ for readers. It was like getting my driver’s license, only for storytelling. I suddenly had a license to write whatever the hell I wanted and it felt great. Don’t get me wrong, I still question myself, but that first book was a huge hurdle both professionally and mentally.

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story?

MB: Good horror stories, for me at least, rely on the characters. If I don’t believe the protagonist, or the antagonist for that matter, I have a hard time going along with whatever comes next. Realistic characters and dialogue are what put me into a story, and then it’s up to the author to scare the crap out of me. My preference is for monster stories. I like Kaiju, zombies, murderous aliens, and stuff like that. If you have a relatable character and throw a giant creature from space at them, I’ll be a huge fan of your work.

CHHR: What are you currently working on?

MB: I’m writing a sequel to my first book, Odd Men Out. I’ve had a blast revisiting that world and those characters for the follow-up. It’s the first time I’ve written a sequel, so I’m being a little cautious, maybe overly so, as I build up this new story. I don’t want to stray too far from the first one, but I also don’t want to re-hash it. I think I’ve done a good job of balancing that. It’s almost done, so we’ll see how it turns out.

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?

MB: I always have a huge TBR pile. Right now I’m trying to get to get to a set of Elmore Leonard’s westerns. I haven’t read a good western in a while, and I’m considering writing an upcoming weird/horror book in the genre. I’m also looking forward to reading Bruce Campbell’s new book Hail to the Chin. I got to meet him at a signing for it and just haven’t been able to pick it up. Lastly, my friend Jason Jack Miller has a new one out called All Saints. Those are all at the top of an ever-growing pile.

CHHR: What is the last book that scared you?

MB: I recently re-read Stephen King’s Firestarter. I’d forgotten how intense Charlie’s story is. This is a real gem from early in King’s career. I guess I tend to think more of the movie than the book,-though the film had good scares of its own.

CHHR: What is your spirit animal?

MB: I’ve really had crows on my mind lately, because they figure heavily into the book I’m working on. Since they’re both intelligent and mischievous, they make an interesting spirit animal. Beyond those surface traits, they’re considered by many to be harbingers of change, deception, or even death. I think I like to keep to the Native American thoughts that the crow is one of the things that keep the balance between right and wrong, or positive and negative. Sounds better than saying I would like to be a warning of death, right?

What is your favorite beer?

I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I’ve always enjoyed Guinness. There are also a couple of great breweries here in Columbus that make great beer. I like a couple of things from Four String Brewery – Skeleton Red Rye and Brass Knuckle Pale Ale.

CHHR: If you could have a beer with one author, who would it be?

MB: That’s tough. So many great authors out there that I would love to have a long chat with. I would probably go with Neil Gaiman. His work is just so rich with language and imagery, and his stories are always unexpected joys to read. Plus, from everything I’ve heard, he’s a lot of fun to talk to.

Author Bio:

Ohio native Matt Betts grew up on a steady diet of giant monsters, robots and horror novels. He is the author of the scifi/horror poetry collections Underwater Fistfight and See No Evil, Say No Evil, as well as the novels Odd Men Out and Indelible Ink. His latest novel, the giant robot vs. giant monster novel, The Shadow beneath the Waves, was released in February of 2018. Matt’s work was mentioned in a New York Times article on zombie poetry. Seriously. Even he can’t believe it.

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