Next up is the Short Sharp Shocks! (and actually right now, our favourite title surely?) Matthew R. Davis’ Supermassive Black Mass. A few days before publication (May 10th) Dean and Matthew sat down and chatted:
DEMAIN PUBLISING: Welcome welcome Matthew – let’s hit the ground running. Tell us a about your book and how you came to write it.
MATTHEW R. DAVIS: Supermassive Black Mass was originally written for a SF horror anthology put together by my friend Steve Dillon. Alas, I didn’t get the edits done in time to make the final cut, but I’ve since reshaped the manuscript into its current, better form. The core idea was something that had been kicking around in my head for a few years: what if a crew of astronauts returned after many years away to find the entire planet overgrown by a single haunted house? I couldn’t see my way in, so I reduced the SF element and decided on more contemporary characters. I didn’t know who they would be until I happened across a copy of Electric Wizard’s Witchcult Today album, after which it seemed perfectly natural to make my lead a stoner metal frontman with a taste for ‘70s horror! I’ve extensive experience with all of those things, so writing [the character of] Terrance Cranston was no stretch at all – except that he’s had a fair amount of success, whilst I continue to toil in well-deserved obscurity.
DP: I’ll be honest I had never heard of Electric Wizard before, but obviously I went on YouTube and checked them out...intriguing and they certainly grew on me...what challenges did you face when you wrote Supermassive Black Mass (it never gets boring typing that)?
MRD: Handling the SF elements was tricky – I ended up taking more of a Weird Tales pulp angle on that, because hard science fiction is, well… hard! Otherwise, I had issues in my personal life that were keeping me from sitting down and concentrating on the work, and the usual threat of a looming deadline that I’d be hard-pressed to meet. I ended up writing the first draft in a single day.
DP: One day?! Good for you (takes a breath...one day?!)...um, okay (still a little shocked)...did you ever feel that you were one of the characters at all?
MRD: I can relate to Terrance – we have a similar taste in music, film, indulgences, and women – but no, I never felt like I was him, nor does anything he experiences come directly from my own life. (Deadbeat Kingpin, though, was once on the shortlist of names for my own band, for which I ultimately chose Blood Red Renaissance.) I did notice afterward, however, that there was a certain resonance to the overall storyline – man fights his way through an endless maze in a desperate attempt to reach his beloved partner – that was sympatico with events in my life at the time.
DP: I love Blood Red Renaissance – great title for a book or film...for those that aren’t familiar with your work so far, would you say you have a specific writing style?
MRD: That’s not for me to judge, really. I don’t try for any style in particular – that would be contrived, and I believe fiction should be as honest as a pack of lies can be. It is what it is, and some stories call for a different slant on it, but I’ve found my voice and that’s how I communicate my ideas. The hard part is nailing certain moods and feels – I’m often convinced that I haven’t quite evoked the atmosphere I want, whether that’s true or not.
DP: Can you tell us about your influences?
MRD: Early influences include: morbid tomes about Greek mythology and legendary monsters; Ray Bradbury; Roald Dahl; the occasional adult horror anthology, which chilled my blood as a child; and the Doctor Who Target novelisations – those of Terrance Dicks in particular, if only for his ubiquity. Following a fantasy phase where I was influenced by D&D, Raymond E. Feist, and Terry Brooks, I rediscovered horror, and my subsequent teenage writing was heavily redolent of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. After reading every horror author I could find in my local library, and coming across more sensuous authors such as Anne Rice and Tanith Lee, I entered a pot-induced surreal and violent period where my love for Ramsey Campbell and Richard Laymon became apparent. In recent years my style seems to have come into its own, but I can sometimes detect faint strains of Clive Barker, Laird Barron, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. As far as favourites and mentors are concerned, I suppose that the two biggest and most obvious influences / beloved father figures would be Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. King is a born storyteller who is as important to the horror genre as Metallica is to heavy metal – he worked hard to earn his rightful place as exemplar and popularised the style, forever casting a long shadow over the field – and Campbell’s mastery of mood and simile is a height to which I continue to aspire.
DP: Ramsey is a great guy and very helpful in / to our community – he more than deserves the plaudits he receives and such an easy person to talk too...so what next for you – what are you working on at the moment?
MRD: I’m trying to find homes for two novel manuscripts and plotting out another, which I plan to write this year. I’ve a couple of musical projects on the backburner, simply from lack of time and resources, but progress is slowly being made on the next icecocoon album, Gardens of Dust. I’m always pumping out short stories, and the most exciting project on the horizon is my first collection, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, which will be coming out later in the year. I’m currently working with my favourite human to create the photographs that will illustrate each story. It’s going to be something quite special.
DP: That sounds amazing, I’d love to see that when it’s done. And also – can’t wait to hear the new album (I’m serious!) I was listening to Deepest Crystal Black only the other day and love it. I was lucky to meet a band from Sweden a couple of years ago called Yuma Sun who I’m sure you would like too as I can see some correlation between the two bands (and that is meant a compliment by the way) and I’d DEFINITELY come to a show where you were both playing. Honestly, all the luck in the world with the music and keep us updated. So – ever been affected by writer’s block?
MRD: That’s a bit like asking a non-writer if they suffer from erectile dysfunction, but hey, we’re among friends here, right? Yes and no. I never run out of ideas – I have enough backed up to sustain me for decades, and there are always more – but I do sometimes find it hard to turn them into full-fledged stories. Other times, I just don’t feel like sitting down at the desk and doing the work. I’m generally not a writer who can chip away a little each day; I tend to work in intense fits and spurts.
DP: I guess then you write outlines...
MRD: I don’t usually outline short stories, though I do like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I have pantsed a few tales, but that doesn’t always work well for me. When it comes to novels, I need a detailed chapter-by-chapter layout of events and major plot beats before I begin, a skeleton on which to layer flesh and muscle and skin. Some writers find that too restrictive, but I see it as having a structure around which I can build my themes and narratives, with enough room to improvise and add new riffs as I go.
DP: Whatever works, use it – is my motto. Is horror your favourite genre to write in? And when was all said and done, did you learn anything whilst writing Supermassive Black Mass?
MRD: Everything I do comes back to horror in the end, but within that, there does seem to be a few recurring themes: the deep ache of loss, the joys and terrors of love, the life-changing power of music; men who exploit and / or fail women whether they mean to or not, and the infinite, unknowable depths of a godless and indifferent universe. I read widely and voraciously, but nothing satisfies me the way that intelligent, imaginative horror does, and so when I reach for my own instruments, that’s what I jam on more often than not. What did I learn? That hard science fiction is probably beyond the bounds of my patience and ability!
DP: So, I’m a film producer – pitch me Supermassive Black Mass.
MRD: “I’ve got some coke. Have a toot and pass this script on to your PA.” Lol, as idiots are wont to say aloud. Okay, let’s be real and assume we’re talking about indie producers and not Hollywood stereotypes: “Imagine if golden-era Hammer had made a Satanic sci-fi heavy metal horror, scripted by a young Ramsey Campbell. Or picture a stoned occult version of Scooby-Doo, starring Black Sabbath.”
DP: Um, I think I want to make those movies...finally, can you tell your readers something they might be surprised to learn about you?
MRD: That I’m a sack of rats cunningly disguised as a human. (Let’s face it, that would surprise anyone, unless we were talking about politicians, boom-tish.) I’m not saying it’s true, but then, I’m not saying it’s not true, either. A boy has to maintain some sense of mystery, yes?
Definitely my friend, definitely!
Thank you for your time and I hope your readers enjoy Supermassive Black Mass.
If you wish to connect with Matthew direct:
(author photograph (C) Red Wallflower Photography)
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Dean M. Drinkel