Matt Betts’ short and flash fiction has focused a lot on humor and horror. His work appears in Arkham Tales, Ethereal Tales, the Triangulation: Taking Flight anthology, Bizarro Fiction! The Journal of Experimental Fiction 37, A Thousand Faces and Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy.
Matt’s poetry has been published in numerous venues, and his poem “Godzilla’s Better Half” was nominated for a Rhysling Award, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s highest honor. His poetry has appeared in Star*Line, Escape Clause, The Book of Tentacles, Illumen, the 2010 Rhysling Anthology, Kaleidotrope, and others. One of his pieces was also mentioned in a New York Times article on zombie poetry.
“Matt Betts doesn’t seem to know all writers get put into a box. He ignores genres and boundaries and simply writes what his imagination wants. His stories are what make reading fun.”—Greg Hall, Everyone Hates a Hero
Bernadette Sukley had a chance to speak with Matt about his writing and the writing industry.
Bernadette: A favorite author(s)? Why?
Matt: I read quite a bit, and have a number of favorites. Stephen King is certainly one of them. He’s written some fantastic books. I think he’s a favorite because he makes stories seem so simple. As an author, I started writing because I thought anyone would be able to write his kind of fiction, but I soon found out that it isn’t easy to write like that. It takes work to make something so easy to read, and yet so effective.
I’m also a huge fan of Elmore Leonard. Again, his stories are pretty straightforward, but his dialogue and characters constantly blow me away. He’s another one that made it seems easy. His stories are simple crime stories that never turn out quite so simple. My goal has been to make my dialogue as good as his and to follow one of his rules for storytelling: Cut out the parts that people tend to skip.
Bernadette: What is it about zombies that have captured the attention of literature (and other media)?
Matt: I think zombies are one of the great monsters in literature and pop culture. As a reader, you don’t have to understand their motives or anything else about them. They want to kill the living. That’s pretty much it for motive. Therefore, the author can write about the heroes of the story. The focus shifts to how average people handle dealing with such a mindless adversary. You can examine how people do, or don’t, band together to survive. I think from time-to-time that’s a welcome change from complex villains with intricate schemes and complex backstories. And it’s fun to see how each author has interpreted zombies-are they fast or slow, smart-ish or mindless, are they after brains, is someone controlling them? Each vision can be interesting and pretty unique.
Bernadette: Look into your crystal ball. What’s the next major theme of speculative poetry in the future?
Matt: Speculative poetry evolves with the times, I think. It can capture the themes of the day in a way that maybe other literature can’t. I think we’ll see more speculative poetry in the future examining our technology and how we, as humans, interact with that tech. I think implants, robotic limbs, and genetics will change the way we look at ourselves and others. We’ll certainly examine what it means to be human in the face of the possibility that technology can change us in significant ways.
Bernadette: Your “radio voice” is perfect for the audio reads of your own books—can/should other authors do this without voice training?
Matt: Well, I think it’s possible, but I would certainly encourage anyone considering it to seek out a little bit of training. I took a lot of classes in college for radio and acting that really helped me understand the effectiveness of my voice–how to give a good reading, for example. It’s easy to get a decent microphone and record with a computer, but I think many people go into it without a plan of how to do it, where to break, where to pause, etc. and it makes for a poor result. There are plenty of podcasts, YouTube videos and books out there on how to do recordings on a budget. I’d suggest exploring those, and also listening to professionally done audiobooks to see how others do it, and what makes them effective. Certainly anyone can do it, they just have to look objectively at their results. Try recording a chapter, and listen to it. Have others listen to it, if possible to see what they think.
Bernadette: What are common traps for writers, especially beginners?
Matt: One the traps that I fell into, especially with writing novels, was that I wanted to correct everything as I went along, thinking I’d have a perfect finished product. I’ve since found that I should leave my mistakes alone. Save spellchecking and grammar fixes for the end, or the next draft. Nothing threw me more off track than stopping to find that perfect word on the first pass. I’d stop to research something and go down an internet rabbit-hole for hours when I could’ve been writing. Save it for later. Mark or highlight something you need to follow up on and go back later. Get the bones or the framework of your novel or story down while you can.
Another problem for me was not taking the time to do some sort of outline. I’m not a plotter, more of pantser, but having even a bare synopsis has kept me on track with my story, rather than wandering aimlessly. I do maybe a three paragraph synopsis of my story, and that seems like plenty. I also develop a ‘story bible’ as I go along. It’s just a brief bio of each character, setting, etc. That way I’m not constantly looking back to remember a name, or defining feature or motivation as I go. I’ve found this to be immensely helpful and a real time-saver as I revise.
Bernadette: What has changed in the writing industry since you began (good or bad) and please tell us why these changes benefit or hurt writers?
Matt: There are a couple of things that have changed for better or worse since I started writing. One is the ease of self-publishing. I self-published my first poetry collection nearly a decade ago. I did all of the work myself-layout, page setting, preparing for printing, finding a printer and so on. It was a pain in the rear, but I learned a lot from it. Today, there are so many ways to do it yourself. Really, once you write it, and do some formatting, you have plenty of cost-effective options, whether you want to do print or e-books. You can have a book on Amazon, or elsewhere in a matter of hours once you’re done. Good and bad. This ease of publication sometimes makes people rush to get it online an sell their work when it might benefit from one more editing pass or another draft, or even giving it to an editor. On the other hand, authors don’t have to search for an agent or publisher if they don’t want to, they can skip that step and skip sharing profits with anyone else other than their online venue. When I self-published, I put it online and through my site, but most of my sales came from attending conferences and being a panelist-I got out and hustled and met people and did readings to get my name out there, which certainly helped. I eventually met a publisher that liked the book and put it out through his press. I’m positive that wouldn’t have happened if I’d just sold via the web or just through my site.
Attitudes have changed about self-publishing. When I started out, self-publishing had a negative connotation. It seemed people equated self-published books with authors that couldn’t get published through normal channels. Today, I think it’s seen as a viable way to get your work out there by many authors, and perfectly acceptable by readers. There’s tons of great self-published work out there from people who take the time to put out professional-looking and professional-sounding books.
Bernadette: If you were an instrument in an orchestra—which instrument would you be and why?
Matt: I don’t know. Maybe I would be a flute or a clarinet. They aren’t loud like a tuba, or a timpani [kettledrum]; they’re sneaky. They blend in until you least expect it. And suddenly you look in the seat next to you and say, “Holy cow, where did that flute come from and what does it want from me?” or “I did not expect that clarinet player to start soloing in the back of that taxi I passed while I drove to work!” Sneaky.
Matt Betts will be at the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ on Saturday, March 25, with four programs to enhance your writing.
Make History with Your Writing: Learn about the exciting genre of alternate history and find out what it takes to change the world in your novel. Discover the importance of research, the consequences of toying with time, and how to foster believability. Then take those ideas to a practical level when we spin the “Wheel of History” during the session and ask attendees to reimagine the outcome of actual events.
Steampunk: Everything Old is New Again: Have you heard the word “Steampunk” thrown around for years, but never knew what it was? Now is your chance to get a quick and painless tutorial on gears, goggles, and giant airships. Find out how to use the genre to create your own unique worlds and enhance the excitement of your next story.
The Rhyming Dead: Horror Poetry: Wait. Horror poetry is actually a thing? Yep. So is science fiction and fantasy poetry. Come get a brief history of speculative poetry, hear a few examples, and check out the markets that might even bite on your vampire, alien and zombie poems. Learn it all from an instructor who somehow made it into The New York Times with his zombie poetry.
What is a Media Kit? Why do I Need One? :You want to create a buzz about your books, but the morning TV shows aren’t calling? Your publicity plan may be missing a crucial element. Explore the components of a media or press kit, find out how to put one together, and find out how to use it effectively.
Bernadette Sukley, Write Stuff Writers Conference™ Flash Literature Contest Organizer and Chairman of the GLVWG Anthology, ‘The Write Connections’, has been researching, writing and editing for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in national and international publications. Her focus is human interest, health, and lifestyle. She’s also written and edited guides, pamphlets, columns, stories, and novels. She’s published two novels (A Saving Hurricane, Find Me a Woman) and a nonfiction book (Made in Pennsylvania) within the last eight years.