I think most writers know how this introduction tends to go: badly. You talk to the introductee to be polite, and find out that they write something the polar opposite of what you do, and not only that, they look down on what you do.
That was not the case when I met Matt. Instead, we bonded together, two genre writers caught up in the typical upsets of a college writing program that actively disparages genre interests. We've been friends for a decade, tossing story ideas back and forth over wine, beer, coffee, and artisan sodas when I felt snobby.
I got the wonderful news that the second book of his Deschembine trilogy had been released, and wanted to return the favor of the interview he gave me when Clearer In The Night released earlier this year. So, lovely readers, I present: Matt Spencer.
Matt: Y’know, there’s really no one complete, reliable answer to that question...except possibly that as a person, I’m just too full of piss and vinegar for my own good. My imagination just naturally finds its way to those dangerous, frightening, unpredictable places...often the ones that are all too often hiding in plain sight in the socalled safe, civilized places, like right down the block, next door, around the corner, down the hall, or maybe right in the room with you, with the person you’re hanging out with, comfortably shooting the shit. Plus, for whatever reason, all sorts of people, from all walks of life, seem abnormally comfortable with me in casual conversation, opening up about where they’re coming from, confessing all kinds of shit. I love to listen and can’t help taking mental notes. It’s all the dark, murky, troublesome, problematic shit about people that sticks in my craw. It’s what morbidly fascinates me, so it finds its way into my characters and where they wind up.
I love to throw my characters into the most extreme circumstances that occur to me, let them react to it, and see what that creates. If there’s one obsessive theme that I never get tired of exploring, it’s how there’s a very fine line between the best and the worst in ourselves.
Ree: You've told me before that you don't particularly think of yourself as a horror writer. Tell me more about that.
Matt: It’s funny, because a lot of people who read my stuff identify me as a horror writer. I haven’t been one to consciously identify as such for quite some time...like, since before I started getting short-story acceptance letters semi-regularly.
To the degree to which I identify with any genre at this stage, I think of myself more of a fantasy writer. You’re right, though, it does get pretty dark in there, doesn’t it?
It’s a bit weird, because these days, my life is more stable, safe, and nurturing than I can ever remember it being. I’m in a pretty wonderful domestic, romantic relationship, with a woman who loves me, gets me, doesn’t exploit or abuse me, and we take care of and encourage each other...yet whenever I sit down and get in the writing zone, I still find myself going straight to those nasty, dark places, in some ways scarier, holding back less than ever. Maybe I’m still purging myself of some stuff, or maybe that’s just a place I’ll always need to let that part of myself escape to.
Probably, for whatever reason, it’s just where my imagination feels like going, so fuck making apologies for it.
Ree: Who would you recommend this book to?
Matt: If you loved Garth Ennis’s Preacher, or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, or Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, or the Spaghetti Western films of Sergio Leone, or the profane countrynoir of Joe R. Lansdale, or the erotically charged urban/rural contemporary darkfantasy of Caitlin R. Kiernan, Poppy Z. Brite, Clive Barker, or Rebecca Croteau (aw, thank you!), you ought’a get a kick out of this.
Sydney Isle, a beautiful, brilliant, hypnotic up-and-coming singer-songwriter out of Kansas, has enthusiastically described the trilogy as “Like a cross between Lord of the Rings and Natural Born Killers.” So there’s that. Fans of brutal, morally ambiguous sword and sorcery by the likes of Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, George R.R. Martin and Wendy Pini will also get their fix here, albeit with an unorthodox contemporary twist. Also, I’ve noticed, there’s an uncanny cross-section between people who love the classic family animated film The Last Unicorn and people who love The Night and the Land (the first book in the trilogy). I don’t quite know what that’s about, yet it somehow intuitively makes sense, at least to me (I’ve loved TLU since I was a kid, too, so I’m sure that has something to do with it).
Ree: Coffee or tea?
Matt: Coffee. I consider it one of the four basic food groups, really. Also booze. Booze among other things is great for first drafts. Especially after a long day/night of still working a damn "dayjob” and relaxing one’s consciousness into the proper “Fuck it” state of mind for yarnspinning. Followed by copious amounts of coffee while editing. To quote Hunter S Thompson because applicable: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me."
Matt writes brilliant dark fantasy novels that take place in a variety of settings. The Deschembine books happen in a fictionalized Brattleboro, Vermont, while his Frederick Hawthorne books (which I will admit are my personal favorites, especially Dragons of the East End, which joined the very short list of books to actually give me nightmares) take place in Victorian London. There are even rumors that there may be a connection between Eli, from Clearer In The Night, and Frederick's family.
If you like dark, gritty, grotesque stories of intrigue, violence, and the human heart, I can't recommend Matt's work enough. Give it a try!