That was yesterday.
That's what it is.
It's also a day for THREE interviews!
We don't have any time to waste, so let's jump right into Matt Bille's!
Star Trek or Star Wars?
DCU or MCU?
MCU on the films, DCU on comics
Firefly – gone too soon or overrated?
Never watched. Scary, I know.
Reboots – a great idea or a lack of creativity?
Lack of creativity + greed = reboots + more greed
A book you’re looking forward to release (by someone else)?
Cave 13 by Jonathan Maberry
A book that pleasantly surprised you?
Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy by the Sea. Not my usual genre at all. Unforgettable portrait of people coping with COVID and each other.
Coffee, tea, or cacao?
Favorite hangover recovery recipe?
Haven’t needed one in some decades
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
That’s hard to remember. Maybe in junior high school. I wrote little stories and ad them in school literary magazines. I sold a humor piece to a TV guide for $15 around 1975 (Do not do that math.) I had very encouraging writing teachers in high school, and they cemented my intere.st..
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Ideas come to me easily. I’m curious about everything. But life is too short to do them all. I had always loved reading zoology and cryptozoology, so no surprise my first book (Rumors of Existence, 1995) gathered information from those realms. Two other books in that general area followed. The same is true of space exploration (I was an eyewitness as a little kid to Apollo 11.) I found a little-covered period of time, the 1950s, and wrote The First Space Race: Launching the World’s First Satellites.. For novels it starts with some kind of book I’d like to do, and them I create details: a horror novel, a non-magical fantasy, a scientific thriller.
As to finding information, I love it. I crawled through century-old depository library stacks of magazines and newspapers for my first book. I teach research classes at my day job company. I’m a very good internet researcher, but the internet doesn’t replace other writing and interviews. It’s very important to reach out to people (if there are living people who know the incidents you’re asking about). Experts are glad to share their time if you show you understand the topic and are not just tossing out topics they could easily find the answer to. For The First Space Race, I can coauthor Erika Vadnais tracked down all the major living figures from the first American satellite programs.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I started a couple of books and lost focus earlier, but the first time I followed it through was with Rumors of Existence, about zoology. So I was 30-ish when I really started a book that eventually hit the shelve at the beginning of 1996, though the copyright says 1995.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I relax at home. Football, the usual stuff. I love to go to museums and the like when I have the chance. I enjoy going to cons. I cosplay Harry Dresden, Jim Butcher’s wizard character. I’m 6-4 and Harry’s 6-8, close enough!
Is there a trope you find yourself going back to in multiple works? Or one you avoid?
I can’t get away from always having one character who has my sometimes-snarky sense of humor, whether it’s the MC or a secondary character. I’ve always liked the type of endings you see in John Irving and John Updike, where characters don’t get the happily ever after, but they do find some reward in life for the battles they’ve fought.
Tropes I despise include the rich antagonist whose sole motivation is getting richer. A bit boring. I really don’t like (and this comes up often in the “creature” novels I enjoy) nonexistent or sloppy science and inaccurate technology. Dean Koontz likes to say you can get the reader to swallow one big implausibility if everything else is nailed down in reality, and I agree.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That experts with national or international reputations are glad to share their time, even with someone they have never heard of, if you show you’ve read and understand the topic and you’re asking intelligent questions.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Six to date. Three zoology/cryptozoology, one space history, two novels. Of course I love them all, but your first books I like your first girlfriend: you always think of them fondly. So Rumors of Existence, where I gathered information on new, maybe-extinct, or reported animals in part because no one had really done it.
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Read a lot. Read out of your genre. I’ve read classics, chick lit, Agatha Christie mysteries, all kinds of things I’d never write. It opens up your mind a little, at least subconsciously, as you pick up little bits of technique and wording.
What do you think makes a good story?
You need a good premise, but beyond anything else, it’s characters. Audiences will follow great characters through books they’d normally find boring, but not the reverse. You the reader have to want to travel with these people. They have to be real 3D people with secrets and surprises (although not overdone)
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
I haven’t met much in the way of unethical practice. I had a rip-off agent once, but she ripped off a lot of people and ended up in jail. That was 20 years back. The most irritating practice is submitting to agencies who simply never reply not even with a rejection. That’s unprofessional.
Trying to chase what’s hot in the market. If you’re writing a good book, it’ll take you a couple of years for most people, and the market will have changed.
Who shot first, Han or Greebo?
Han. Nothing else makes sense. He’d have to be moron with a death wish to let Greedo fire first.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Dean Koontz’ book How to Write Best Selling Fiction. If it’s not in print anymore, check your library or eBay. You’ll thank me for it.
What did you do with your first advance?
It was $100 Canadian (the small publisher is right on the border). I bought some books, of course!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Learning the Bible, definitely. It’s so vivid and powerful. For a non-religious example, maybe the writing about Watergate, including All the President’s Men.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak crime novels are successful, but I don’t think they have quite the nation-wide national attention I think they deserve. For a single novel, maybe S.J. Rozan’s Absent Friends. It was one of the first novels about how a group of adult friends was impacted by 9-11.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
There’s not a magic formula. The reader has to pay attention, because if I put details in there, they are important. But I don’t expect them to know a bronzing process from ancient Greece. If it needs explaining to make the plot work, the right character will explain it. Anyone with a high school education should be able to follow the story.
Do you write novels, novellas, short stories, episodic fiction, poems, screenplays, or something else? What is your preferred format?
Novels and nonfiction books. I used to write short stories but drifted away from them some years ago. But I’ve gone back to them because of a writing conference a few years ago. My idol, Jim Butcher, was at the same table, and I mentioned I didn’t write short stories. JB said, “You have to. They make you better.” (He’d explained earlier a short story was like a knife fight in a phone booth – every move had to count.) I took his advice, and it has made me better.
Are you traditionally or self published? Or both? Do you feel there are advantages to one over the other?
I’ve always gone with small publishers. I’ve never tried self-publishing: I want to focus on the writing. My attempts at publishing with the majors have not succeeded so far. My work in progress, the scientific thriller Apex Predator, I’ve turned down small-press offers because it’s my best work and I want to try the most difficulty thing: getting into the majors. It’s not about money, it’s about challenge. It’s climbing Everest.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A bunch. Seriously, when you get to 60, you hope you have 25 years or so of productivity, and ideas start dropping out of the queue because you’ll never get to them, or because newer, better ideas have cropped up. I have three or four I’m pretty sure I will knock off in the next decade.
What is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything?
Love. I could explain it a thousand ways, in a million words, but it would just boil back to the same thing. Love.
What does literary success look like to you?
Being well-respected as a good writer, with a reasonably large audience of people who enjoy my books and get something out of them.
What do you have coming next?
I’m searching for an agent and publisher for Apex Predator. I started with a genre I like to read, the creature thriller (Jaws, Meg, Jurassic Park) and set out to write one where all the people were 3D and not just monster fodder, where the science was 100% real and believable, and where people and organizations reacted in believable ways to a startling event. Creating conditions for the plausible return of a critter I love, the prehistoric armored fish Dunkleosteus, has been an interesting challenge, not only because of the science, but because the only place the ecology works is Alaska’s Lake Illiamna, where most of the population is Alaska Native. I’ve found readers and consultants from three tribal nations to ensure Native characters, both heroes and villains, are realistic people who have their own perspectives on the issues that come up in the book, like environmental protection. It’s my best writing and has my best characters, and it won awards at two writers’ conferences. It’ll catch on.
Excerpt: Apex Predator
Charlie Koktelash had always known that legends are born of truth. But never had he seen one erupt into life before him, alive as truth itself and hungering for his life
No hint of danger had marred the beautiful summer morning when the Dena’ina elder checked his fishing gear and eased his sealskin bidarka out onto Alaska’s largest lake. Feeling the living water through every quiver of his kayak-like vessel, he paddled north, to where the crystal blue water deepened to the hue of summer midnight. After seven decades on the lake, Charlie had a favorite spot for every season and every kind of weather. Here the Aleutian Mountains towered in the clear sky to the south and east, but he loved most the view to the west, where the thousand-square-mile lake filled his vision until it vanished over the curve of the earth.
Splashes erupted several boat lengths ahead. Salmon were leaping right toward him, most likely chased by a hungry seal coming up from below. Charlie thanked the fish for offering themselves and traded his paddle for his dip net.
He’d just started to reach out when he saw water was no longer rippling: it was heaving. His net hand froze.
That’s not a seal.
Then his body was shaken like a child’s doll as an explosive collision snapped the bidarka halfway to vertical. The force stove in the bow, then dropped the boat down hard. Chill water and stabbing pain assailed him as he screamed, scrabbling backwards, his eyes fixed on the shape rising from the water. This was a legend he’d known only as campfire tale from his grandfather—until now. K’esugi.
The lake surface ripped open, the boat wrenched violently to port, and Charlie shoved his way back onto the last remnant of the stern even as he gathered the courage built over a lifetime and looked the predator squarely in its round, black, alien eye.
The paddle floated gently away, like a fallen leaf.
Matt’s Science/Technology Blog: http://mattbille.blogspot.com/