Tonight for horror month, we have the very lovely Michael Matula, writer of Try Not to Burn, and also the mediator of a writers group that I'm part of called 'CWOG' aka: Cool Writer Only Group.
He really is one of the most imaginative writers that I've come across, with stories of a pick-pocketing Elf, teenagers on the run from zombies, and the finer points of persecution in hell! If you haven't checked out his debut novel, I honestly can't reccomend him enough.
In fact, take a look at the sample below and you'll see for yourself.
Michael Matula is a novelist from Chicago, IL, and a current member of the Chicago Writers Association and the SCBWI. Michael once dreamed of becoming a comic book artist, sketching pictures and caption bubbles in class when he really should have been studying. Unable to draw fast enough to keep up with all the ideas and story lines he came up with, he wrote out a side story for one of his characters. He ended up falling in love with writing and never really looked back.
His first book, Try Not to Burn, was released in September 2012 by Post Mortem Press.
He's currently working on the sequel, and a sample of one of his novels won the top prize on Authonomy.com after being ranked at #1 overall.
A Quick Get To Know The Author
Five facts about you that people won’t know about you. Can you juggle? Ride a bike with no hands? Drink beer upside down? Something unusual… GO!
1. As a very small child, I almost died because of a candy cane. Not even joking. People tell you not to run with scissors in your hand, but they don't tell you not to run with candy canes in your mouth. They probably should.
2. I used to draw my own comic books when I was a teenager. It's basically the springboard that got me into writing.
3. I'm building my own thesaurus. Kind of. It's less of a traditional thesaurus, and more a collection of Microsoft Word files I keep around on everything from swear words (I always have a hard time thinking of PG rated curses) to varieties of mythological creatures.
4. 13 is my favourite number. My mother, one of my sisters and I were all born on the 13th of different months. I was the only one born on a Friday, though. Lucky me?
5. I have a fear of heights, and yet I've always been great at climbing things.
Five facts about your newest book that people won’t know. Some background history on one of your characters maybe? Maybe it was going to be called something completely different to start out with? Is it the same genre it started out as?...
1. The original name was Second Chance. Then I looked at Amazon and saw how many books had that name, so I started brainstorming other ideas. I ended up with "Try Not to Burn," since the characters are trying not to burn in Hell, but I almost went with "God's Grinder."
2. I had a different prologue at the start of the book before. It was from the point of view of Rellik as he goes on a crime spree. I swapped it for the current prologue, where a news report is playing. You only hear the audio from the broadcast for a very specific reason.
3. The book is based on a short story I wrote when I was still in high school. This idea has been rattling around in my brain for a while.
4. The name "Clarence" was suggested to me by someone who was reading along as I wrote the book. They thought he seemed like the guardian angel from "It's a Wonderful Life." I ended up running with the concept.
5. One of the monsters in my book was partly inspired by the aliens in Starship Troopers.
Five facts about your next book… Name, genre, expected date of release…
1. Arrival of the Ageless
2. A young adult zombie novel.
3. A sample of the book was recently awarded the top prize on Authonomy.com after being
ranked #1 overall.
4. It was originally just called Ageliss, after the corporation in the book. I changed the
name when I realized that most people would probably think it was a typeo.
5. Um…no release date yet. Still workin' on it.
Three tips that you think might be useful for other authors… anything you want. It could be, to write a certain amount every day, only write after midnight and never get Gizmo wet (Sorry, that’s Gremlins not writers! My bad.) Maybe it’s some information that was given to you that has helped your process…
1. Try to stay open to new ideas. You never know where inspiration will strike. A power outage inspired me to write the first short story I ever got published. It was a science fiction story about a man who gets trapped in an electric car when the power grid breaks down.
2. There's a saying: "Write drunk, edit sober." I take it to mean that you should let go of your inhibitions while you're writing. Experiment. Get a little crazy now and then. You can always fix it later.
3. And last and definitely least: write responsibly. Don't write and drive. ☺
Try Not To Burn Excert & Book Cover
Here's some little links which might come in handy for you.
Michael Matula Interview
Name: Michael Matula.
I used to hate my blogspot page, but I did a full redesign recently, and it’s looking much better than it did before, though that might not be saying a lot!
Other contacts/social media sites:
Link to Amazon page:
And in the UK and Canada:
Where did you grow up?
Just outside of Chicago. _
What school did you go to?
Glenbard North High School. In two of my books, Try Not to Burn and Arrival of the Ageless, I’ve used the Glenbard North team mascot for the schools that appear or get mentioned. (I’ll leave it up to readers or googlers to find out what it is).
When did you start writing?
In high school. I wrote a fantasy book in Junior year, and another one in senior year. I’d be super embarrassed if anyone read any of them today, as they don’t hold up very well, but they helped shape my writing today, and I often go back to my earlier stories and rewrite them, to see if I can get them up to my current standards. Sometimes I still can’t quite get there, but other times, it really pays off, and I get a book that I can be proud of.
What made you start writing?
I originally wanted to be a comic book artist, and drew whenever I could find the time, including during classes. I made a couple of full comic books, though the art was rather rough, to say the least. Eventually, I got to the point where I couldn’t draw fast enough to keep up with the stories I wanted to tell, so I wrote a few down as a script. Then, I wrote a story based on a character of mine, and I just kept going.
Is it something that you have always wanted to do?
I wanted to be an artist first, but my talent didn’t keep up with my aspirations in that regard. Writing was the next best thing, though now I enjoy it way more than drawing. I hardly ever draw anymore, and I only miss it every now and then.
What is your favourite genre to read?
Horror, mostly, though I’ve discovered that if a book can make me feel what a character is feeling, and relate to them on an emotional level, I will probably love that book, whatever genre it’s in.
What about to write?
I like to mix genres, but almost everything I’ve written, from an urban fantasy novel about elves, to a Speculative sci-fi story, always seems to journey into horror at some point. I can’t seem to resist throwing it in, so I imagine that would mean it’s my favourite.
Do you write full time?
That’s the dream. I’m not quite there yet.
Who are your favourite authors and or books?
My favourite authors growing up were C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander. I still remember my mother reading The Black Cauldron to me as a child, and it filling my head with a sense of wonder. As a teenager, I gravitated towards fantasy and horror, and Nancy A. Collins and Robert Jordan became two of my all-time faves. I haven’t been a huge reader since then, as once I became a writer, it became difficult for me to read books without trying to edit them at the same time, so some of the joy was removed. Which probably explains the fact that all of my favourites are still from when I was a kid.
I was a pretty big comic book fan as a kid, as well, and Chris Claremont’s run on the X-men is still very near and dear to my heart. I went back to it somewhat recently, and I still think there are some terrific stories in that run.
Currently, some of my favourite authors are on Authonomy. It helps that I’ve gotten to know a lot of them, and the fact that they’re amazing people doesn’t exactly hurt.
About your books.
Thank you for asking, Claire! I love talking about my books.
Title/plot, and who it’s signed with?
Try Not to Burn is a horror novel set in purgatory, following a newly-deceased rookie cop named Brandon Morales, a female bank robber named Sam Reiss, and Jane Calrin, a teenage girl who ate a bullet to cap off a tear-stained murder-suicide.
All these three strangers have to do to survive is pass a series of tests, avoid the wanton clutches of their fellow inmates, brave nightmares made flesh, and keep from being swallowed by the constantly evolving mass of purgatory itself.
If they lose the test, they'll Burn forever. If they win, they might just earn themselves a second chance.
The book was published late in 2012 by Post Mortem Press, a steadily-growing indie publisher from Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s currently available on paperback and Kindle in the US and the UK, though last I checked, only the Kindle version was available in Canada.
It’s the first of two books in the series. The first draft of the sequel has been completed, and I’m hoping to have it published in the near future. The better Try Not to Burn does, the faster I think the sequel will be released, so I’m trying to get the word out about the first book as much as I can, and I’m hoping people who like it will help spread the word as well, both by writing Amazon reviews, and telling friends about it.
Did Post Mortem Press contact you, or did you query them?
I sent PMP and one other publisher a query letter in late 2011. Eric Beebe, the top guy at PMP, sent me an email a couple of weeks after that, telling me to send a reminder if I didn’t hear back from him in over a month. Well, a month went by, and the other publisher rejected the book, and I started to lose confidence, so I didn’t remind Eric about the submission. I was worried it wasn’t good enough, and that I should go back to pushing my other books instead. These were only the first two publishers I’d submitted to, but previous drafts of Try Not to Burn had been passed on by a number of agents. This was a newer version, with a newly added section with a pair of reporters at the start of the book, but I still wasn’t confident in it, as I hadn’t gotten much feedback on it.
And then in late January 2012, Eric sent me an email. I almost didn’t want to open it, since I was so sure it would just be another rejection. Then I popped it open, and I couldn’t believe that it was an actual acceptance email. In the summer, he paired me up with a fantastic editor named Felicia A. Sullivan. She told me how much she liked the book, and that “I’ve never read another book like it, and I’ve read EVERYTHING,” which was a huge boost in confidence. We went through about four or five drafts of the book, sending it back and forth, and in fall of 2012, the book was released on paperback. The ebook version followed a bit later.
You have two titles on Authonomy at the moment, tell me a little bit about them.
Arrival of the Ageless.
A Young Adult horror comedy set in the zombie apocalypse. In this story, though, even the zombies have something that they fear, and it’s not the humans.
Title of the second one.
What, the Elf?
It’s a Middle Grade urban fantasy adventure about an elf pickpocket in Manhattan. He’s named Whatrigal Madugal, so everyone calls him “What,” for short. I’ve heard him described as “bad-ass” a couple of times, which I always love to hear, especially since there aren’t nearly enough bad-ass elves out there, especially in books for this age group.
What made you decide to upload them onto Authonomy?
Ageless was the first book I’d uploaded. It was the one I was most uncertain about, as while I’d gotten a few requests for full manuscripts from agents for What, I hadn’t been getting any requests for Ageless. I often wasn’t getting any response at all, so I loaded it up to see what I’d been doing wrong, and get some feedback on it. I’m quite glad I did, as I’ve already found a number of my writing blind-spots (things I constantly do that I never even noticed before), and both books have greatly improved in the time I’ve been on the site.
What are your hopes for them?
My biggest hope is to improve the books and my pitches enough so that the next time I send off queries to agents, I can get better results than I have already. If an agent or a movie producer were to find one of the books and want to offer a contract, that would be cool also, but I’m not exactly holding my breath, of course.
How long did they take you to write?
Arrival of the Ageless took me exactly 29 days, from the moment I thought up the idea, to the moment I finished it. Yeah, I’m not usually quite that fast, but I basically just wrote non-stop for that entire stretch. That was back in March and April of 2012. What the Elf has taken significantly longer, as I originally wrote the first draft in 2005. After getting feedback from a couple of editors, I’ve rewritten it a few times since then. This is one of the first times where I feel confident with the book, as it’s far more polished now that it ever has been before.
What gave you the idea?
For What the Elf, I thought up the title first, when I was thinking of short stories to write. Then I got the idea of writing Oliver Twist as an elf, and went from there. For Ageless, I’ve always loved zombies, and liked the challenge of writing one without any real gore. I haven’t really seen any movies where the zombies weren’t disgusting, and I thought that perfectly-preserved zombies (which probably aren’t technically zombies, as they’re not really dead, they’re immortal), would set me apart, and appeal to even the most squeamish of YA readers.
Who is your favourite character?
It’s a bit difficult to choose, as they’re all quite personal to me (even the bad guys – most of my characters are drawn from aspects of myself, or from people I’ve known), but I’d probably say that Nik Newton is my personal favourite. She’s a motor-mouth thief with a penchant for mischief and a heart of gold. There are a few characters that I think just write themselves. You put them in the right situations, put your fingers on the keyboard, and just let them play, and she’s definitely one of them for me. She’s the kind of friend that would do anything for you, but gets you in trouble all at the same time.
What’s the best piece of advice that you have been given in regards to your writing?
From JC Michael, author of Discoredia: (such a great guy with such a great book- Claire C Riley)
He told me: “Stick with it, work at it, listen to your comments but write your story your way.”
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been at it for years, I’d say these are words that could apply to just about any writer.
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