This interview is with the authors of “Raven’s Tears,” a brand new Fantasy novel, and the first in a new series. It’s rare to find a writing-twosome with a newly released book and such a strong grasp of the publishing business. I think, once you’ve finished this interview, you will want to check their new book out. It’s on Amazon, and the sequel is on the way… Welcome to Author Interviews, Michael and Alesia Matson.
Tell me about how you became writers—what was the first step for you both?
A: Mrs. Bruce, my short, curvy-licious, red-headed kindergarten teacher, introduced me to the forbidden world of the literati when she held my shaking hand in its first attempts to write the letters of the alphabet. Under her sweet, seductive influence, my infamous career as a notorious writer of adult fantasy fiction became a foregone conclusion. As did my life-long attraction to curvy redheads, come to think of it.
M: You mean you can become a writer? I always figured it was a talent, like painting or drawing. You either have it, or you don’t.
A: *snorts* Everyone is a born story-teller, and you only have to raise kids to know that’s so. It’s just that the discipline, focus, and clarity of thought needed to convert a story into a well-constructed novel takes a lot of effort. It’s more than just spewing words into a document; it’s meticulous grammar and punctuation, it’s endless hours of research into topics you know nothing about, it’s an empathic understanding human (or elven, dwarven, what-have-you) nature well enough to make your characters believable and engaging… I could go on, but I’d honestly rather be writing, so…
Do you think anyone can learn to be an effective writer, or is it an unnamed spiritual gift?
A: Anyone can learn to be an effective writer. Colleges are full of Creative Writing courses turning out effective writers. A better question would be, can one learn to be an affective writer? You have to have the courage to reach deep down into your own heart and soul to be an affective writer. You have to be willing to go out on limbs that terrify you. That’s harder to teach in classrooms.
M: Or impossible. Nowadays, it’s so easy to slap a “book” together and toss up onto the internet that the reality that creative writing is art, no different than painting or sculpture, gets lost. Like Alesia said, anyone can go to school and learn to write effectively. Good story tellers, however, are about as rare as good artists — and face similar challenges.
Was there a point at which you felt that writing could be a career?
M: Yeah. When the doctors told me I couldn’t do construction work anymore. It was Make. It. Your. Career. Or. Else! time.
A: Most days, I’m still looking for that point. “Career” is such a buzz word, isn’t it? It’s supposed to make you legitimate, if you have a “career.” Yeesh, I can think of a hundred things more interesting about anyone than their “career.” I want my writing to be an adventure, an exploration, a love-fest, a giggle, an orgasm – my gift to the reader. To me, that’s so much more entertaining than considering whether this is ever going to be a “career” or not.
M: That’s the fun stuff part.
On average, how long does it take for you to write your ideas down before you start writing a book?
A: We didn’t write anything down before the first draft of Raven’s Tears, but we took a long weekend in Portland, OR to block the second book of the trilogy. Then we reblocked the second part of the second book, Dead Man’s Trigger, in a day, then we reblocked the last section of that part of that book in another day, and then decided we needed to rewrite Raven’s Tears. I guess my answer is: However long we want. I do realize that’s less than helpful.
M: What was that line from Master and Commander? Oh yeah: “Which it will be ready when it’s ready.”
What would you say is the “defining” factor in your writing? What makes it yours?
M: The fact that we wrote it, maybe? I mean seriously, every author has their own style. Kind of hard not to.
A: This was the part where we were supposed to talk about the fact that we co-wrote it, and the blending of our disparate voices and styles, and how we didn’t stab each other even once, and are even still happily married.
How do you guard your time to do what’s most important?
M: Many, many years ago, when I was starting my first business, someone told me that the most important business skill I could master was to do what was going to make me money first, and worry about the rest later. It’s a little harder to interpret as an author/indie publisher, but it still works.
A: I’m not sold on the idea that what’s most important is what’s making me money. My answer is, “Figure out what’s most important, and do that first. Life is too short for anything else.”
What are some of the more common distractions you struggle with and what ways have you found to overcome them?
M: PBS NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer had some good advice: Dive deep into one thing, then come back up, pick another one, and dive deep again.
A: Anything can be a distraction, but only if you let it be. Our species has this big, evolved forebrain that’s supposed to allow us to focus over long periods of time, but I have come to the conclusion that it’s a muscle, like any other. The more you exercise that evolutionary ability to focus down on something, the more you can focus.
Also, meditation. Seriously. It works.
How do you decide what you want to write about?
M: Hah! Already done. We have the 3rd Raven & Iris book to write.
A: LOL – what he said. Start a series. Takes those angsty decisions off your chest for at least another couple of books.
I guess, and perhaps a little more seriously: I sometimes do suspect that the stories choose me, not the other way around. I can’t think of any other reason I’d have stuck with Raven & Iris for this long, and through this much trouble and heartache. There’s something about this story that’s telling itself through me, not the other way around.
As a writer, however, you have the opportunity to self-reflect, to revisit experiences. How does that feel?
M: Is that a trick question?
A: “It’s a trap!” Michael and I are self-reflective by nature, so I hope you’ll pardon our levity. Speaking for myself, after looking at and living with my own foibles for so long, I find I have to laugh at them, lest I give up in despair at the long list of my own personal inadequacies. As for revisiting experiences, I hope they feel the same as they did when they originally occurred, so I can draw from that in order to describe them properly. How else does one answer that?
M: This, I think, is one reason good authors are a bit like wine: they get better with age. They have more life experience to draw on in their work.
What motivates you to tackle the issues others may avoid, such as nature and spirituality?
M: Or sex? Look, it’s LIFE. Shouldn’t we be telling stories about all of life, not just the transient, socially/politically correct parts?
A: The question assumes I have a motivation to tackle those issues in my stories. I’m not sure I do. “Tackling issues” might presume I have a soapbox to preach from, or a point of view to advance. I don’t. This is fantasy. Escapism. It’s a place to go when you’re tired of your own life stresses and want to immerse yourself in the fictional struggles – and triumphs – set in another world. Any “issues” that get raised are with the reader alone, and that is exactly as it should be.
M: I like that answer, too.
When you start a new book, do you know how a book will end as you’re writing it? Or does its direction unfold during the writing, research and/or creative process?
M: Depends on the story, the characters, the setting… It helps to have a trajectory, but too much structure can stifle the characters (of which the setting is one).
A: It’s a little of both, I find. It works best, for me, if I set up a sturdy structure, think through as many plot holes as I can find, patch them, then start writing. I’ve usually left acres and acres of open space to play in, and that always causes changes to the way plots flow, and in how characters develop. Those changes in turn modify how the story is told, but I don’t think I’ve ever completely revised a planned ending because of anything that happened during the writing process. Not in a very long time, anyway. I’d have to “rethink my ability to pre-think,” if that happened.
How do your books speak to people, both inside and outside the reading world?
M: That’s for the readers to tell us, isn’t it?
A: One could have eliminated that last clause and not lost one bit of the meaning, of course. “How do your books speak to people?” Unfortunately, I have no bloody idea. I (co)wrote them. That skews everything. Maybe you’ll tell me, someday.
Do you look at yourself as an “envelope pusher” with your writing?
A: Only insofar as I no longer let “traditional publishing industry” wisdom govern what I write, and that I’m actively encouraging others to embrace the same willful disregard. “Adult Fantasy Fiction” isn’t even an entry in most book category lists, but I’m not letting that stop me. I’d be grateful to learn of, and read, other writers in the genre, too.
M: Not much I can add to that.Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake to avoid?
A: Oh, this is the place where I’m supposed to talk about good proofreaders and passive voice and all that, isn’t it.
M: Okay… Once you’ve finished all your “language arts” classes, go take a real English class. That work?
A: There are no more “real” English classes, not in the US, anyway.
M: Which is why we’re supposed to talk about proofreaders and passive voice and sentence and paragraph construction. Got it.
What obstacles and opportunities do you see for writers in the years ahead?
A: I’ll let Reverend Michael of the Evangelical Church of Indie Publishing tackle that one for us.
M: (I’m wondering if that is a promotion or a demotion.)
A: It is what it is. You have defined ideas and opinions about those subjects. I don’t – but when has that ever stopped me from poking fun at you, when I got the chance?
M: Hmm… So I’m not going to get out of this, I see. Caveat emptor, and all that. This is probably worth less than you’re paying for it, just so you know. So, I’m going to ignore the disintermediation debate. For the average Joe out there just trying to pay their bills with their pen, it’s irelevent. The big publishers are doing what they’re doing, Amazon is doing what its doing, and we peons can do no more than navigate the ever changing terrain they hand us.
Above, I referred to writing as a business because, if you’re trying to make a living at it, that’s exactly what it’s become. Publishing houses now troll Amazon for their next best seller more than their own mail rooms. So whether the goal is to get picked up by a major house, or to make it as an indie, the challenge is exactly the same: you’ve got to sell your book; you’ve got to prove it can make money. The good news is, for those who are willing to dig in and work at it, even relatively poor writers are making a living in the niche markets. The bad news is, the way things stand now, if you’re not the entrepreneurial type, your chance of making it as a writer are approximately zero, even if you’re the next Mark Twain.
Could you talk about one work of creative art that has powerfully impacted you as a person?
M: I only get to talk about one?
A: This time, honey. This time.
I have two in mind, but I’m going to choose The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie. It’s the later of the two by about thirty years. I was in a “writing hiatus” when I read it, and I was glad of it because after I finished that book, I was blocked for months, afterward. The act of reading it was like throwing an evolutionary catalyst into an ocean of creative proto-DNA. It was the lightning flash that illuminated something for me so starkly, and so briefly, that I couldn’t rest easy with my writing until I figured out how to invoke it – or rather, how it might be invoked. Rushdie’s Enchantress is prose poetry. It is like getting drunk and high on words, and on how rapturously words could be strung together. Even though I was somewhat ambivalent about the ending Mr. Rushdie chose, I was riveted to every page I turned on the way, lost in the magic and majesty of the story, in the liquid beauty of the prose. I resolved that I would never write another thing in my life unless I was striving for something of that, in my work, in my writing.
M: I like that.
What relationship do you see between imagination and creativity, and the real world?
M: You can’t have one without the other. Put another way, you could say that fantasy fiction is a vehicle for looking at the collective mythology of our past through the lens of the present. Science fiction is a vehicle for looking at how we see our collective future through the lens of the present. Interpretation starts with the author and ends with the reader — every reader, and no one interpretation is more or less valid than any other.
A: Um. Not sure I understood all that, if I’m honest. I would say that the relationship is inseparable, if it’s not setting up a false dialectic altogether. Imagination spurs the creative impulse. The act of creation brings a thing into the “real world,” whatever that is. Living in that world prompts me to imagine how it might be better, and I want to create that better world, etc. You don’t get a “real world” without someone having imagined it, and then taken steps to create it, at some point. When I was born, space flight was imagination. Moon shots were imagination. Missions to Mars by smart robots? Wow, you were really pushing the edges of the speculative! And yet they’re part of our “real world,” today – demonstrative of my point, I think.
For a writer, it is easy to become an elitist. Have you ever, or do you still, struggle with pride as an author?
A: I have a flip answer to this, but there’s another one that works just as well: I try to write stuff in which I can take legitimate pride, and I strive hard to do that, every time I sit down at my workstation. We rewrote Raven’s Tears when we finally realized that the version already in print wasn’t up to our 2014 standards. If that makes me “elitist,” I’ll wear the badge with pride, but that’s about as far as I go.
M: Taking pride in one’s work doesn’t make one an elitist. In fact, in my experience, elitism is often used as a cover for incompetence (and/or insecurity! – A). People who really are good at what they do rarely run around with chips on their shoulders. Their work speaks for them.
A: Also… also. If to be an “elitist” is to have high standards, not only for what one writes, but also for what one reads, then yes, I am also an unapologetic elitist, in that very narrow regard.
Have you ever considered writing fiction full time?
A: I consider it every day, as I sit down to do it.
M: Can’t add much to that.
And you can’t get much better than this interview… Check out “Raven’s Tears” today on Amazon.