Welcome back to our author interview series! This week, I’m super excited to spotlight Matt Andrew. Matt is a fantastic speculative fiction writer who has several great stories already out in the publishing world and more awesome tales on tap for release in the coming months. Recently, he and I discussed his inspiration as a writer, his current training in the prestigious Seton Hill University MFA program, as well as his future literary plans.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I wrote a bit when I was a kid, like most writers. As a lifelong fan of horror, I authored my share of one-page werewolf stories with Crayola illustrations. But, I spent most of my adult years drawing and painting semi-professionally. About three or four years ago I went through this massive creative slump. None of my projects panned out—they all seemed like garbage. A friend suggested shifting my creative gears for a while to get out of the doldrums, so I went back to writing—just whatever popped into my head, at first. I’ve been hooked ever since. Although it had been over two decades since I’d written anything fictional, what made all the difference was the fact that I’ve been a heavy reader my whole life. My favorite authors are Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Elmore Leonard, Tom Spanbauer, and more recently, Megan Abbott.
As a fiction writer, many of your stories have been in the horror genre, and you’re currently at work on a novel that’s a horror-western set during the Civil War. What is it about darker fiction that draws you in?
It’s kind of like being an adrenaline junkie—some of us that like dark fiction want to look death in the face. I think, if done right, dark fiction tends to force us to confront some harder truths about life, some of the ugliness that makes us sit back afterward and wonder, “would I do that?” The answer to that can be surprising.
Have you always been a fan of the genre, or did you develop a love for it later in life?
ALWAYS been a fan, both movies and books! I read King’s Skeleton Crew when I was probably way too young to be reading it and I was sold.
You act as first reader at Pantheon Magazine. How (if at all) has sifting through the slush pile changed your approach to your own writing?
One of the first bits of writing wisdom we all hear is that we need to compel the reader to turn the page. Nowhere is that more apparent than when you’re a slush reader. I go through hundreds of stories a year and always sitting forefront in my mind is “would I keep reading this story if I picked it up off the rack?” As a result, it’s become a more conscious tactic in my own toolbox as I write my own stuff—is there anything I can do here to make the reader more willing to turn the page or move to the next chapter?
You’re currently working on your MFA through Seton Hill University’s Popular Fiction department. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in the program?
From a technical standpoint, I couldn’t even begin to answer that. The mentors and professors are top notch and the learning curve has been very steep. But on a more personal level, the most important thing I’ve learned has been time management. In the program, you have a certain number of pages of your thesis novel that you have to complete each month. But you have several other responsibilities, too. We also have critique groups in which we have to provide feedback for other people’s thesis pages. There are also readings from within our preferred genres, which come with their own bit of homework. Not to mention my own projects, unrelated to the MFA program—I always have at least one short story I’m working on, usually more. Procrastination can mean failure in these endeavors and you learn to pace yourself real quick.
Out of your published works, do you have a personal favorite?
My first attempt at horror was a story called ‘Take the Flay Train” which was published in Pantheon Magazine’s Ares volume. I wrote it as kind of a Clive Barker tribute, because I’d just finished Books of Blood and said to myself “That’s what I want to write!” I’ve written some stinkers since then, but I still hold that story close to my heart.
Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?
I’d like to say my first novel will be on a bookshelf somewhere by then, but I’d be happy if I just continued to improve steadily in the interim.