Matt Moore Archive

5

Adam’s First Blog Hop

Last Friday, Matt Moore tagged me in a blog hop. What’s a blog hop, you ask? Apparently, it’s a Ponzi scheme with writers at the helm. Marie Bilodeau tagged Matt; wherein he had to answer a handful of questions before tagging three other writers to do the same thing. Little did I know, Marie wasn’t the genesis point of this seemingly infinite regression. Marie was tagged by Eileen Bell, who was tagged by Mahrie Reid, who was tagged by Mary M. Forbes, who was tagged by Sara Walter Ellwood. Forget about Ponzi schemes, this is like following the genealogy of a character in a George R.R. Martin novel. Nevertheless, I’m happy to participate. Here are the questions that Matt put to me.

1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer. It must be a specific moment.

This is actually an easy one for me. It was April of 1999, toward the end of my grade 12 year of high school. For the most part, I only wrote in high school when somebody held a knife to my throat and said, “words on paper or else I bleed you slowly.” I liked the process, but my love of video games and movie watching trumped most other concerns at that point in my life.

My relationship to writing started to change when I took OAC Theatre (this is back when Ontario had five years of high school) and half my grade depended upon writing, producing, and directing my own one act play. That pushed me way out of my comfort zone. It is one thing to write a science fiction story for an English class, but it’s another thing to make a science fiction story work on stage. The “I want to be a writer” moment came on a Friday evening after my play made its debut in our class’ one act festival.

Yeah, that’s the kind of high school I attended. You didn’t perform the play for your peers, you aired your dirty laundry for the public.

When the dust settled on the festival, my teacher and the head of the theatre department sat myself and four other directors down for the critique session. I hated the critique session. It was not unheard of for these debriefings to reduce student directors to tears. When they finally got to my play, the head of the theatre department looked me in the eye and said, “I hate science fiction, but right now, the only thing I hate more than science fiction is you for making me like science fiction.”

That’s the moment when I knew that I could make this writing thing work.

2) Which of your stories would you like to see come true?

Hmmm, this is tough one. Being that most of my stories are set in terrible versions of the near-future, I don’t know that there are many I would want to come to pass. However, in the spirit of fair play, I’ll pick the transhumanism story that I have been shopping around. I like to think that when humanity figures out how to use biomechanical augmentations to improve quality of life, it won’t precipitate a debate on what it means to be human, followed by persecution and fear of that which is not.

3) A new writer comes to you and says “I feel like I should quit writing.” What do you say?

“Good, you should probably quit, at least for a little while.”

I know that sounds capricious, but there is method to my madness. Half a dozen years ago I started to feel like I was writing on autopilot. That is to say I wrote because I was afraid to not write. If I wasn’t writing, then I wasn’t a writer, and if I’m not a writer, what the hell am I?

Sometimes a person needs to stop and find their footing. My hiatus only lasted about three months before I couldn’t ignore the myriad of ideas that kept popping up into my day-to-day thoughts. If/when a writer on a break gets to that point, they can pick up their pen because they know it is something they want to do.

4) Twilight turned vampires into brooding, sexy teens. What’s the next monster (yes, MONSTER!) we should make sexy? And how?

Okay, wait for it…

Sexy Horse Vampires.

The horse vampires are very anthropomorphized – think along the lines of Thundercats, only horses. The rest pretty much writes itself.

A teenage girl wants her father to buy her a horse so she can hang out with the equestrian club at her private all-girls prep school. The father concedes to her demands, as pushover fathers are wont to do, only the horse that he buys her has a dark secret with ironic consequences. The more the horse vampire feeds on the girl’s magic blood, the more he turns into a man. But the more he becomes a man, the more he wants to bang her (or thinks about banging her since we want to keep this PG-13 as to bring in as wide of an audience as possible), and those impulses make him revert into horse form. Thus do we witness the eternal struggle between man and beast…and vampire.

Publishers and film producers of the world, I await your phone calls and dump trucks of money.

And now to spread this blog hop to three more people. I’m tagging Nicole Lavigne, K.W. Ramsey, and Simon McNeil.


1

Why it’s Hard to Make Horror for TV (or “Why I stopped watching The Walking Dead”)

Since Adam is down with the aftermath of Cthulhu summoning his minions on the Earth a headache, he’s given me the reins to The Page of Reviews and been kind enough to let me promote my Aurora-nominated short story “Delta Pi”.

And by mentioning it, I’ve promoted it enough.

On to other things. Namely: why it’s so hard to find good horror on TV these days. Under the Dome has a shot, but so far it’s giving me more of a science fiction vibe. I’m intrigued by the concept (having not read the book) and appreciate that it juggled about a dozen major speaking roles, but don’t find myself emotionally engaged.

There’s only a few genres that seek to evoke emotion as their modi operandi—horror, comedy and romance/erotica. And horror is unique in trying to provoke a negative emotion. But trying to evoke an emotion means understanding and exploiting a cultural zeitgeist.

Once upon a time, we were horrified by the slaughter or corruption of the innocent by monsters. And by “we” I mean the upper class who had the means to afford books and the education to read them. But literacy spread and those just scraping by were not so easily shocked since what the upper class considered horrific was everyday life for most people. Especially as the horrors of wars during the late 19th and early 20th century spread through newspapers, radio, and finally television.

During this time, Lovecraft changed the game by giving us monsters of abstraction. Maybe we could deal with the monstrosity of Cthulu’s octopus head, but not our inability to comprehend the alien geometry of R’lyeh. R’lyeh told us that the human mind is not all-powerful and some things will remain unknowable. In an age of rapid scientific discovery, this ran counter to the prevailing mood.

But into the late 20th century we have come to accept that few of us will truly understand advanced concepts like string theory, the Higgs boson, or heat death of the universe. But since they don’t touch on our everyday life, there’s no harm in not being able to explain a world of 26 dimensions.

So what is left to horrify us? How about changes to our everyday life.

Imagine this: I hold a baseball out at arm’s length and let it go. Rather than falling, it remains stationary in mid-air. In the movies, you’d react with curiosity or maybe surprised laughter. In reality, you would be horrified. Why? Because we have certain assumptions about the world, like gravity.

This is where true horror comes into the equation. As a society, we have become immune to many things and few things horrify us. We have to look to the extremes—think Hostel—to be horrified. Or, we could look to the perversion of what we take for granted.

Which is what I wanted to invoke in “Delta Pi”. (You caught me, I’m back to it, but will move on soon.) I wanted to write a horror story that challenged a basic assumption we have about the world. As someone who did very well in math class, I tried to imagine what would happen if Pi changed. In finding that I could not, I knew I had a horror story that could get under your skin my challenging a fundamental assumption.

Owing to Lovecraft’s use of bizarre math, I gave the story Lovecraftian overtones (but without the language): the true nature of the universe is more complex than we can imagine. But I also gave the story a main character you could identify with. In the end, it plays on one of the most horrific of themes: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

But there’s still another threshold of horror.

I’m reading slush for the upcoming anthology Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow. In reading, I’ve run across many interpretations of what writers feel horror is. The stories that have really grabbed me are the ones that hint at more going on underneath the main story. A sense of disquiet and dread. I don’t want to go into specifics since we are still deciding what stories to accept, but in generalities one story that grabbed me was of a man who may or may not be a killer. He spends a lot of time in his workshop, but what he is working on is never revealed. That unknown—which I assume is intentional—is chilling. Or a man, who realizes his life’s work will ultimately ruin other people, either decides to fight against the forces that have made him or he kills himself… and we don’t know which.

So, one could say the lack of certainty—something we all feel in our busy lives—is a key ingredient in modern horror.

That’s why Stephen King is the “master of horror”. You could argue others have better monsters or bloodier scenes, but what makes King a master is his characterization. When a character we care about is disappointed, disfigured or killed, we feel it. In other words, their everyday world, which we can identify with since it is so like ours, is turned upside down, which is horrifying.

Which brings us (finally) to The Walking Dead.

As someone at the World Horror Convention in New Orleans said, “I watched it until it became 9-0-2-1-oh, zombies!” Character conflict in any drama is essential, but can become familiar. Mad Men, The Wire and Breaking Bad all do it with heartbreaking effect, but they are not horror.

What made Season One so effective was the resistance of characters in accepting their new world. Since we were following Rick, who slept through the zombie uprising, his transformation was our transformation.

But in Season Two, Rick had adjusted, so we the viewer have adjusted. So the show had to up its game by focusing on character conflict. The trouble is all the characters had become hard in reaction to the world they live in. Only Carol remained emotionally vulnerable, but after Sofia’s death she became hard as well. Now hard-boiled characters can be intriguing, but what makes Batman, Boba Fett, Sarah Connor, and The Man With No Name so intriguing is they have the dispassionate strength needed to survive in an unforgiving world. When everyone is bad-ass, we have no one to emotionally identify with. This is a world without morals and therefore can’t be horrified. (Now, what makes Daryl the fan favourite is not that he’d bad ass; it’s that he’s someone who finally found his moral centre, just like Sawyer on Lost.)

Which is why, finally, I stopped watching The Walking Dead. Rick’s confrontation with the Governor was not good versus evil, but really it was two forms of rationalism. We’re supposed to side with Rick because the Governor is crah-ray-zee, but I think both men have a claim on a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable world. Which is not horror. By taking us too far away from our everyday world, it is impossible to identify with the characters. One could argue The Walking Dead is still a thriller, which is true, but it’s not horror.

I hope if you go and read “Delta Pi”, you’ll find it has that horrifying effect.


1

Short Story Review: Silverman’s Game by Matt Moore

Full disclosure: Matt Moore, as anybody who reads this website or listens to my podcast knows, is a friend of mine. But for the sake of this review and per Matt’s request, I’m taking off my Jeff Winger crafted magic friendship hat, and donning my critic’s fez.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Silverman’s Game is a good piece of longish short fiction. The characters are well developed. There’s a perpetually tense atmosphere throughout the narrative, proving once again that the author knows how to set a mood with the written word. The structure of the story, however, tends to get in the way of the plot. Therein I wasn’t particularly surprised with the resolution to this piece of psychological horror/suspense. Arguably, an internal spoiler of sorts is not that big of a deal for most critical readers. I only bring this up because unlike many of Matt Moore’s other stories, Silverman’s Game targets a broader audience.

Silverman’s Game is what Star Trek fans would recognize as a Kobayashi Maru – the no win scenario. When three teenagers break into the eponymous Silverman’s house, he teaches them a lesson at the end of a revolver. Between the narrator, his brother Greg, and Greg’s friend Jack, the trio must decide who among them will die so that the other two may live. First person narration adds a layer of intensity to the story telling as the group scheme, cajole, and ultimately embrace the bizarre test of survival. In that, Silverman’s Game is very much an effort to subvert the literary tedium that is the “coming of age” narrative.

Beyond the inherently macabre nature of the story itself, the characters’ dialogue manifests as an essential asset in the ongoing subversion of the myth of idealised youth and better days gone by. Jack, the established troublemaker of the group, works in profanity, slurs, and racial epithets like an artist sculpting clay. Unsettling as his speech may be, the language echoes the pretensions of maturity that teenage males so often adorn themselves with as a means of demonstrating their entry into manhood. To that end, these characters ring quite true even if their situation is exaggerated for artistic purposes.

Silverman, as a character, is something of a conundrum. In one sense, he’s the embodiment of the “stay off my lawn” old man archetype taken to the extreme. Though he draws a connection to the Second World War when explains that his game originated with an experience his grandfather survived in occupied Poland, there is an odd whiff of Vietnam veteran emanating from this man. Granted there’s nothing explicit to the text that points to this piece of back story, but there is something in the way he oft calls “bullshit” that evokes an image of R. Lee Ermey as Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Once again, high marks to Moore for trusting his readers to craft Silverman’s history rather than explaining it all away in an info dump.

As mentioned earlier, the only potential problem in this story, I say potential in that it really comes down to what a reader wants out of a piece of fiction, is that its construction gets in the way of the plot. Deft use of the first person narrative is sine qua non in a story like this; Moore pulls that off with polished aplomb. It’s the opening sequence, with an adult narrator reflecting on the events of his youth, which ruined the ending for me. Within a few hundred words of the present to past perspective shift I knew how the game was going to end. While that in no way invalidated the journey, I do like to be surprised from time to time.

Should you buy this story? Absolutely, yes. It’s a well crafted piece of writing that revels in eviscerating a protagonist’s psyche without so much as a single physical scar. All the while it undermines any romantic notions that a reader may hold toward childhood innocence and teenage shenanigans. While predicting the ending won’t require a visit to the oracle at Delphi, the trip from beginning to end ultimately proves to be a satisfying experience.

Silverman’s Game was written by Aurora Award nominated science fiction and horror author Matt Moore. It is available as an e-book from Damnation Books.


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Podcast Episode 20-1: Adam Shaftoe in the Morning!

Here’s what happens when I work through the night, and I’m left to my own highly caffeinated devices at five-thirty in the morning.

With my compliments to J.M. Frey, Matt Moore, James Marshall, Adrienne Kress, Bunny, Jason, and Sam (even though he’s on hiatus) at Imperial Trouble Podcast, and Candice and Nick at Limited Release Podcast.


3

The Daily Shaft: What’s The Deal With Book Trailers?

Today we’re going to talk about book trailers. They are an interesting sort of thing. I won’t claim to be an expert on the subject, beyond watching a great many of them over the last few years. Generally, much of what I have seen is pretty grim. Last night, I saw one that finally made me want to read the book it was promoting, but more on that in a moment.

I’ll take it as a given that the intended purpose of the book trailer, much like the movie trailer, is to sell a given product. Examining how the movie trailer does that seems to be a natural starting point for this discussion. Within its two minutes of screen time the movie trailer needs to do three things to get my attention: introduce the principle cast of a flim, set up the plot, and showcase the movie’s x factor. Take this trailer for Inception as an example.

The trailer depicts a cerebral “action” movie about planting ideas in a person’s mind via a gizmo that exists within the real world. The actors and text panels give me a sense of the characters involved in the story. The x factor, the plasticity of an individual’s dream, is something that most audience members should find accessible. Dreaming as plot gimmick also has the benefit of being an untapped well in recent cinematic history. Interesting characters, good concept, and a newish plot device makes Inception’s trailer a solid piece of work.

Now comes the hard part; transitioning a medium that has been perfected by big budget film studios into a tool that is effective for selling novels. Problem one: the average movie screenplay is 150 pages with a lot of blank space in the margins. Novels are 300 pages of small print and skinny margins that often amount to 75,000 words worth of text. Problem two: where a movie has the benefit of actors who will convey characters beyond the printed dialogue, the novel has no such advantage. On paper, good characterization is the result of cooperation between the author and the reader. Problem three: on plot and x factors, movies tend to sell better when they are obvious about these sorts of things. For the novel, the opposite is true.

Even the math doesn’t work in favour of book trailers having an easy task. Inception’s runtime is 142 minutes. The trailer is two minutes long. That means the trailer is offering 1.3% of the finished product to whet my appetite. I happen to have a copy of Starship Troopers sitting on my desk. This edition is 263 pages in length. In two minutes of reading at a normal pace I managed exactly two pages. That is 0.7% of the novel. The numbers get even uglier if you apply the same math to something like Neal Stephenson’s latest 980 page tome, Reamde: 0.16%. I know, it’s hardly a scientific study, but I can’t imagine the numbers improving if I conducted this test with books I hadn’t already read. Given this unfriendly ratio, it seems to me that book trailers run the very real risk of inviting a potential reader to commit that most capital of sins, judging a novel on its cover.

Say nothing of low budgets, crappy audio, lousy directing, bad lighting, and air of rushed production that have hobbled so many recent book trailers. The very idea of “book” and “trailer” begins to seem downright incongruous.

Then along comes Canadian SF/Horror writer Matt Moore. He posts this video on his Google+ account.

And I’m blown away. Within ten seconds of finishing the video I’m tracking down the publisher, Orbit Books, and contemplating sending in a request for a review copy. Why? Because the trailer gives me my three essentials: plot, character, and x factor. More than that, it invited me to ask questions. Good literary questions rather than the banal details about the speed at which the zombies move. I want to know what sort of man is driven to bury the dead in a zombie infested wasteland. His bringing peace to others implies that he can’t find it on his own, what sort of trauma does that to a person? The trailer for The Return Man has done with its 0.2-0.7% what all good books must do: make the audience engage on a meaningful level with the material.

Nor should we neglect the fact that The Return Man’s trailer is aesthetically pleasing. Never, ever underestimate just how picky people/critics/me will become when they/we/me can find fault in a two minute trailer. “If you couldn’t be bothered to use a camera dolly in the trailer, why should I expect the prose’s transitions to be any more fluid?”

Kudos again to Matt Moore for the find.


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Podcast #7 An Interview with Matt Moore

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Matt Moore.

Topics under discussion include: Matt’s Aurora nominated story, Touch the Sky, They Say, Matt’s fiction at large, the importance of small press publication, life as a panelist at genre conventions, why The Walking Dead is brilliant television and the pervasive nature of zombies in pop culture.

Head over to Matt’s blog for links to the stories mentioned in the podcast.

Any ChiZine Publications book that we mentioned can be found here.