I'm delighted to bring you yet another interview in our ongoing series here at Smash Dragons. This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Matthew J. Hellscream, a writer whose stock is rising fast amongst fans. We chatted about lots of different things, including our shared admiration for the movie Predator!
I hope you enjoy it!
Matthew J. Hellscream, welcome to Smash Dragons.
Thanks for having me, Mr. Summers!
First up, tell me a little but about yourself and your writing career so far.
Well, if the name wasn't a dead giveaway, I write horror. Technically, I guess you'd call me a speculative fiction author. I am the author of Metro 7, the very first Australian fiction novel funded on Kickstarter. I went back to Kickstarter to successfully fund my second novel, Carnifex. I've also released two short stories which are currently available on Kindle. So far I've relied on Kickstarter to bring my nightmares to life, but I'll be looking at other models in future.
When did you first start writing? Was writing something you ever envisaged yourself doing when you were younger?
It absolutely was something I've wanted to do for a long time. My mother brought home a typewriter when I was about 10 or so, and I wrote my very first 'story' which was a blatant rip-off of Jurassic Park: The Lost World. It involved all of my good friends being torn apart by dinosaurs in gruesome ways. I could spell Pachycephalosaurus, but I couldn't spell their. Go figure!
After that, I did it for fun. I just wrote stories for myself. When I was in Grade 10 I wrote a zombie story and entered it into the Mary Poppins Award, run by the local paper in my hometown, and I ended up winning third place against a couple of kids who were in Grade 12. That was when I knew I wanted to do it for real. I didn't actively pursue the dream until I moved to the big smoke in my early 20s, but now, I'm not looking back.
How do you balance working full time with your writing career?
It's killer, dude. You have to sacrifice a lot to make it work. You need to make time to hit your goals, be it word count or plot progression. I have around two hours of commuting time each day that I use to write. I pop the headphones in, and focus on writing as much as I can in the limited time I've got. When I'm home, I edit what I wrote that day, and start to gear up for what I'm going to write the next day.
I'm also a member of the wonderful Brisbane NaNoWriMo group who hold monthly write-ins. I may not always attend, but I always use those days to smash my word counts.
You mainly write in the ballpark of what I would call ‘dark speculative fiction’. What is it about this area that you find appealing?
It's what I grew up on, and it's the type of fiction that I most enjoy. One of my formative childhood experiences was being utterly traumatised by being exposed to the movie Predator many years before I should have been. Well, what I say traumatised, I really mean that it captured my imagination and fundamentally changed my life. I loved it, and I wanted more.
I love speculative fiction because you can explore any topic, any theme, no matter how taboo, in clever and interesting ways. For example, Metro 7 might be a relentless action-horror novel, but the themes within it allowed me to explore my feelings about my father's death at the hands of the Big C.
What’s your take on the speculative fiction scene here in Australia right now? What do we, as a community, need to do better in your opinion?
I think we've got a lot of amazing talent in Australia, and that's worth celebrating. I went to Kickstarter for my books, because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of breaking into the traditional publishing scene in Australia. Horror just didn’t seem like it was on the traditional publishing radar, but in the last few years we’ve had so many awesome scary books come out, that I really think horror is entering another upswing. And I’m very excited about that.
As for what we can do better? I honestly don't know. I’m kind of keeping my head down low, working on my own projects. As long as people are writing awesome books and treating their fellow creatives with respect, it’s all good.
I’ve started reading Carnifex, and I have to say it has been an incredible ride so far. Tell me about the genesis of this book. What inspired you to write it?
I've always loved extinct Australian megafauna. As I was visiting the Brisbane Museum one day back in 2014, I came across a cross-section reconstruction of the head of a Marsupial Lion, aka the Thylacoleo Carnifex. This apex predator immediately grabbed my attention, and I had to learn everything I could about it.
As I was researching this fearsome creature, I saw mention of a theory about many of the big cat sightings that are so prevalent up and down the east coast of Australia. That theory was that a population of these Marsupial Lions might still be out there, surviving, and occasionally being seen.
Combined with a creepy, fictional Queensland small town called Kooyah and an ancient secret that the locals want to keep buried, Carnifex emerged from the shadows almost organically, hungry for flesh.
Monsters and creatures feature in your fiction a lot. I’m curious; did you grow up on a steady diet of monster movies and books? Do you have a favourite monster?
I grew up on a steady diet of 80s cartoons, horror movies and Monty Python. One of the themes I most enjoy is transformation, be it energy, form or consciousness. I'm looking forward to exploring those in future planned works.
Do I have a favourite monster? Yes, I do play favourites. John Carptenter's The Thing is my absolute favourite. Followed closely by all of the various aliens from the Alien series, and the Yuatja from the Predator series. They just don't make monsters like they used to. Those are the benchmarks that I strive to reach for when I’m creating my monsters.
Metro 7 was your first book. What challenges did you face whilst writing it? In your opinion how have you improved as a writer since you first published it?
To be completely honest? I had no idea what I was doing. I just had this idea, and I had to get it out of my head. It took 5 years to finish the first draft, and then another 12 months to get it to a point where I was happy with it. Metro 7 is a first, self-published novel, and it shows. It has its share of problems. But I think the story stands on its own merits, and I have people chasing me for the sequel.
I've improved a lot since publishing Metro 7 in 2014. I've focused on furthering my knowledge of the craft, and have been sharpening my claws in preparation for the future. My main aim is to write captivating, cinematic page-turners, and my focus is on making them the best that they can be.
Last time we spoke you were working on a Lovecraftian novella. How’s that coming along? What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
It's coming along very well! It was initially envisioned as a 20k word novella, but I've hit the 20k mark and I'm barely a quarter of the way through the story I want to tell. The working title is Deepwatch, and it's going to be pretty special.
I also write 'Screamers', which are short, brutal, extreme horror novellas, and I'm going to be releasing a Christmas themed Screamer in December called Slay Bells.
I also have another 3 books in the immediate pipeline:
Deep 6, the sequel to Metro 7.
Earth to Embers, a Kaiju/Mecha thriller.
Dirtworld: The True, Untold Story of Citizen Sin.
Every writer has a certain process that they go through when writing. What’s yours? Are you a planner or pantser?
Metro 7 was pansted, but every story since has been planned. If not chapter by chapter, then at least by outline. For example, Carnifex was planned chapter by chapter. Even then, some of my characters derailed my plot a couple of times and I had to improvise. Deepwatch is a little looser, with key moments planned that I want to hit, while allowing my characters their own freedom to explore and express themselves.
I use a program called Scrivener, which makes it incredibly easy to outline, storyboard and manage research and other reference material. I would be lost without it.
Argh, this is an excruciatingly difficult question! I would love to spend a day with Stephen King, but I wouldn’t want to intrude on his privacy. I know he values it. I would say Scott Sigler, because he's a rad dude and seems like he would be down to talk shop, as well as have a couple of beers. His hard scifi horror books are incredible.
What is the most cherished book on your shelves? Why?
A totally beat-up, spine-split, signed copy of Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly.
When I was in High School I went through a huge Matthew Reilly phase. I read his entire back catalogue. His story about self-publishing his book Contest, selling it out of the back of his car, inspired me to take the same route. On my graduation day way back in 2003, Matthew Reilly was doing a signing in Bundaberg, which is about 2 hours from where I went to school in Hervey Bay. Mum drove me to Bundaberg and back for the signing. Matthew and I talked about writing, and he said that famous quote to me - You're not an aspiring writer, you're a writer. Period.
And here I am. That day, which my copy of Scarecrow represents, was the day I made the choice. I was going to chase my dreams, and fight to make them a reality.
Best convention experience so far?
Without a doubt, Supanova Brisbane 2015. Peter Cullen, the voice of Generation 1 Optimus Prime was a guest, and I had the honour of meeting the man who brought one of my childhood heroes to life.
When I had my photo taken with him, I told him exactly that, and we both teared up as we shook hands. That was a very special moment. He was such a lovely guy.
I’m exhibiting at Supanova this year for the first time. It’s crazy to think that I’ll be showing my books at the same convention as Matthew Reilly! I’m hoping that my best convention experience is still to come.
You mentioned earlier that you used Kickstarter as a means to fund/partially fund your work. Do you think more authors should use models like Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground? What other models do you think will gain popularity over the coming years?
I think that creators really need to be exploring every avenue available to bring their projects to fuition. In the coming years there is going to be a paradigm shift in the way that creators connect with their audiences. We're already seeing the beginnings of this today.
We not only have Kickstarter, but IndioGogo, GoFundMe, Patreon, PledgeMusic, InkShares... Crowdfunding itself is a boom market, because it does something that no other funding model has done before - it gives creators the ability the directly connect with their audience, and a way for audiences to directly support the creators they want to support.
I'm toying with the idea of using Patreon myself in future, as I think it's a pretty fantastic platform, and ideal for my business model. That's one thing that I think is very important to recognise as an independent creator - you're not only an artist, but you need to understand the business, and you need a model that supports it. You can't keep writing books if you can't pay your rent and keep the lights on!
I must admit I had a good chuckle when you mentioned being 'traumatised' by the movie Predator. That was a movie that changed my life as well. If you could translate one of your stories to film which one would it be and why? Who would play the lead roles?
Ooh, I really want to answer with a book that I've written, but haven't published yet! But I guess that would be cheating. Earth to Embers, my Kaiju/Mecha thriller, is the most cinematic book I've written so far, with an enormous scale, and an absolutely insane set of action setpieces.
If I had to choose one that I've already published, I would have to go with Metro 7. I would love to bring it to the big screen. I think it would translate very well to film. It's got stomach-churning monsters, and a bunch of space marines that are trapped in a situation that is way out of their depth.
As for casting? I've got some suggestions.
Chris Hemsworth would play Draco Goldwing, the heroic Captain of the Icarus. The rest of my space marines? Michelle Rodriguez would play Ava, Domhnall Gleeson would play Vynce, Mike Colter would play Raze. I looooooved him in Luke Cage!
And as for the villain? Veck Simms? My ideal casting would be Jason Momoa. He's got the perfect blend of physicality and quiet menace, but at the same time, can be charming as hell.
You're a big fan of genre art, and I must admit I'm extremely jealous of some of the pieces you have on your walls (Shin Godzilla mainly). Who are your favourite artists? What is it about them that you love?
My favourite artist at the moment is Tristan Jones, who created that spectacular piece of Shin Godzilla art you mention. Which isn't actually on my wall yet! I need to get that sucker framed, pronto!
I found him through an amazing piece of realistic Dino Riders art a few years back. I think someone retweeted it on Twitter, and I had to follow him. I've been a fan ever since.
It's a bit of a dream of mine to collaborate with him some day.
Finally, why should readers buy your books? What do stories from Matthew J. Hellscream bring to the table?
My stories are cinematic page-turners. They're filled with incredible monsters, rich characters, villains that will make your skin crawl and buckets upon buckets of blood and guts. They're also uniquely Australian. I have a passion for celebrating Australian mythlogy, and this is only going to be explored further in my future works.
Matthew J. Hellscream, thanks for stopping by!
You can buy all of Matthew's work (print and digital) online at retailers such as Amazon and Booktopia. Be sure to stay up to date with Matthew as well by stopping by his website here. Also, keep an eye out for my review of Carnifex, which should drop in a week or two. It's a wonderful read that I recommend you all check out immediately.
Until next time peeps... be nice to each other and keep on reading!