Interview: Matthew Alan Thyer

November 12, 2014 Sci-Fi 10

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As part of sci-fi month I am interviewing author Matthew Alan Thyer today!

Hi Matthew, welcome to Lola’s Reviews! Thanks for stopping by for an interview. First can you tell me something about yourself?
I am probably not qualified for this position. But I’m a rogue, a person who has made it this far through the liberal application of improvisation and a stalwart refusal to fail. I write hard science-fiction and speculative cli-fi. Prior to finding my voice as a writer I’ve worked as a signals analyst, operations engineer, wildland firefighter, backcountry ranger, kayak guide and river rat. My hobbies include trail running, backpacking, skiing, mountaineering, bicycling, and paragliding. The film star I most resemble is Pee-Wee Herman and my spirit animal is the venerable mudskipper. In no way am I a fan of self deprecating humor.

You certainly have had a wide variety of job! I enjoy Skiing, but I stay far away from most of the rest of your hobbies. Beside bicycling, if you live in the netherlands it’s only obvious that you can cycle.
Okay, so you write a lot of short stories, why did you decide to write short stories?
I write short stories because I love to read short fiction. As it’s easier to turn on the television and catch a short episode of your favorite program than to watch a full-length feature film, it’s easier for me to read shorts than epic novels. I like shows that are around thirty minutes long because they don’t require much planning. I can check out of my daily routine and when my mini break from reality is over, I can get back to work.

Recently, I pre-ordered Edge of Tomorrow — the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt epic sci-fi film retelling of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill (オールユーニードイズキル) — as soon as it hit iTunes. I’ve been eagerly anticipating these 113 minutes of action-packed scifi goodness. But since its release, I’ve made two attempts to sit down and watch this film, and still haven’t made it through the opening credits without interruption. For me, watching a movie requires planning.

My preference in media is to read, but my life does not afford a lot of leisure time. Shorter, well-written stories fit into my schedule a lot easier, and when they are done right they are appreciated as much or more than their epic-length relatives because they don’t require a lot of time to read.

It is not that I intend to specialize in short fiction, but it’s what I have time to write right now.

I agree that making time for shoter stories or episodes seems easier then a full lenght one. I’ve been reading more short stories lately, now I have less time to read. What do you think are the benefits of writing short stories in comparison to full length novels?
Shorts are the literary version of a “sandbox.”

Short fiction has allowed me an opportunity to try many new voices. Each time I sit down and bang out a couple thousand words I’m locked into that narrative voice.

I’m currently about 75,000 words into a novel length work which I started writing in the present tense. By chapter seven I concluded that the tense, and subsequently the narrative, wasn’t working the way I wanted. My original intent, pushing the tense up front in order to make the story more immediate, had turned into a problem. Everything had to happen RIGHT NOW and it was killing me specifically where I was writing scenes that were by their very nature less frenetic. Had this been a short story I could have cut it off, ended it before the problem occurred, instead I am compelled to re-write and revise.

Short works give authors the ability to try a story out first, take it for a spin. Now, when I begin to work on larger ideas, I will first write a series of shorts set in the world I want to create.

Also, short stories allow a writer an opportunity at growth hacking. In my life I’ve had a bunch of different professions. In high school I wanted to be a pilot or even an astronaut. I’ve floated most of the big rivers of the American west and fought wildfire. I’ve even made a go at being a small business man a couple of times. Without question I’ve had a number of unique experiences that color my world view.

When I made the decision to give writing my full attention I entered this game with a bunch of preconceived notions and irrelevant ideas of what success looked like. These were quickly, some might suggest brutally, corrected.

The hard part of this game isn’t the writing. Rather it’s the facts of life. I’ve heard John Scalzi say that he writes for his mortgage. I’m not there yet, but that’s a goal.

I can pump out a pretty consistent stream of short works while I hack away at my novel length books. These shorts can hopefully be sold to periodicals, posted on social sites, read at conventions or used where they’re most appropriate. And if any of these helps me get exposure, or make a little money, or find a new fan they’re doing their job. Add to this that in each is the potential for a larger story.

I usually enjoy short stories that are written in the same series as long lenght novels, they can introduce a reader to the author’s writing style and get a feel for the world. Can you share a short paragraph from one of your books?

“Hale had managed to bring on a couple of hundred liters of fresh water, an impressive mountain of dehydrated ramen noodles, six huge tins of peaches saturated in high fructose sugar sauce, a single head of iceberg lettuce, two boxes of Earl Grey tea packed loose, and a variety pallet of Meals Ready to Eat. Most of these prepackaged meals were labeled “scrambled eggs and bacon.”

“I say he managed to bring all this aboard because he also located and procured a crate of gin while visiting the Sons of Norway lodge. By the time he had finished loading our larder, that box was down about a liter and a half and he was stumbling drunk on his way to the wheelhouse after pulling in the anchors. Standing at the very end of the pier, I was able to get his attention only after I took my rebreather mask off and began shouting as loud as I could.”

Sounds interesting! hmm I could use a cup of earl grey tea around now, my favourite tea flavour!
What is your latest release and could you describe it in two sentences?
This is a draft blurb from my next novel Counterfeit Horizon.

An industrial spy runs for his life. Greedy street thugs, religious zealots and anti-GMO militants work tirelessly to suppress the rise of an optimized humanity — designer bioaugmentation engineered to live symbiotically within the body of human hosts — is indiscriminately released into the wild.

Counterfeit Horizon is a near future, high stakes, science fiction thriller that spans the globe. A breathtaking tale of an unrepentant criminal who unwittingly saves humanity from itself.

Sounds like the main character is a bit of an anti-hero. Sounds like it’s a dangerous world to live in!
As it’s sci-fi month, I want to ask you a few questions about this genre. What is it about sci-fi that appeals to you?
First, I worry a lot about humanity’s future. Climate change, our collective energy future, air and water quality, even wilderness preservation — I’ve collected these concerns over time and they collectively constitute the monkey that rides on my shoulder. Science fiction is my outlet to explore potential solutions to these problems. I think of it as creative therapy for my obsession and subsequent anxiety fixation on the future.

Also, as I’ve discovered this year going to a number of conventions, the genre puts me in contact with my tribe. I’ve tried a number of things over the course of my life and the one prevailing constant has been the sinking sensation that I just don’t quite fit in. Since I started making conventions a priority I’ve always felt welcomed and part of the group. All these different people come together because they really enjoy some aspect of a particular kind of story telling. We get to mix it up, work out kinks, and talk.

Beside potential solution I always see sci-fi as a way to explore the potential problems as well, but from a distance. In fiction all those things are less scary then in real life and it can be interesting to rea dhow humans adapt to those problems. And I think itt’s nice to feel like you belong somewhere. I feel like I finally found my place in the bloggin community, after not fitting in for a long time.
Can you tell me 5 of the best sci-fi books you read?
1. METAtropolis, which is a series of short story anthologies that came out in 2008. I love the first collection above the rest because it broke or remixed a lot of tropes and pushed the boundaries of science fiction. Tobias Buckell’s creation, Reginald Stratton, is still one of my all time favorite characters. And I make a routine of listening to Jay Lake’s In the Forests of the Night not because it is a story about Tyger Tyger, but rather a tale of the protagonist’s chief critic and disciple Bashar, story reimagining to which I aspire.
2. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is also a favorite. First because the main premise of the book is a society without sexual prejudice. Le Guin gets there by removing sex from the equation. I also really enjoy her descriptions of a planet locked in a complete snowball state.
3. Anathem by Neal Stephenson is a little bit of a lot of different story ideas mixed into a big melting pot. The story could have ended with little more than recurring descriptions of Mathic life and I would have been happy. Rather, he Stephenson pushes first principles of science on Arbre and takes us on a real roller coaster of a ride.
4. Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson. In the past I would have included KSR’s Mars trilogy, but I may have moved on. The “Science in the Capital” trilogy, which I maintain must be read as one piece, is a really entertaining story that brings to light some of the dangers of climate change. Fiction as a tool for meaningful social change? I don’t know, but then there is Frank Vanderwal’s tree house. Every time I read about that, the seven year old that lives at my center gets excited.
5. I’m going to end this list with Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. When I encounter literary snobs who criticize genre writing all I need is to introduce them to McDonald to dissolve any and all argument. Since this book made it into my library, I have read and re-read it.

I never heard of any of these, but then I have to admit that only a year ago I thought I didn’t like sci-fi books. Obviously that has changed, thanks to a very awesome book. So I was wondering if you had to recommend a sci-fi book to someone who hasn’t read any sci-fi before, which book would you choose to introduce this person to the sci-fi genre?
I’m going to suggest Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. There are few other books with such broad appeal, and this is a favorite of mine. It is a well-written, wonderfully imagined human tale that does an excellent job of putting the reader in the story. Scalzi’s work is good writing and his dialogue is witty and fun; it is likely to hook a new reader despite being a vision of a fantastical future.

Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll make sure to check it out! Okay and now for the last question, can you tell us something about the book you’re currently working on?
Right now I’m reading Tobias Buckell’s latest, Hurricane Fever, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, and a Jack London classic, Martin Eden. Here be spoilers so read further at your own peril.

Buckell’s novel is good, but I imagine that there will be a good number of people out there that would suggest that the premise behind his book is pure fantasy. I am not one of these people, but I think it is important to call this out because Buckell has a habit of doing his research and has an enviably deep understanding of climate change impacts in our collective and immediate future. I know that he wants his readers’ attention to be drawn to the spy-thriller aspects of this work, but I have been swept away by his powerful descriptions of the storms that our children may experience.

Klein’s latest is listed as journalism and shows up under economics and climatology subject classifications. It should be categorized as speculative horror, except that what she’s writing about are the most likely outcomes of our current situation. She does not mince words or muddle her message in any way. I’m only into the book about a third of the way, and this tends to be where most of the scary numbers show up, and the projections Klein has assembled should scare the pants off of any one. Coupled with the latest Pacific Northwest wind event, and the droughts all across the west, this book is responsible for turning up the dial for me. I am anxiously anticipating later chapters where I hope she’ll employ that same critical investigative sense to providing mechanisms through which we can limit warming to two degrees or less.

I’m reading London, and specifically Martin Eden, because it is a semi-autobiographical tale to which I relate. Eden is about the development of a writer and his struggles within a ham-handed publishing industry.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions! It was fun talking to you ☺

matthew alan thylerAbout the author:
Matthew Alan Thyer is an independent author writing hard-science fiction with a twist. Currently publishing a series of stories which share the theme “sports in space.” He is an Army veteran who served as a signals intelligence analyst. Prior to finding his voice as a writer he worked as an operations engineer, wildland firefighter, backcountry ranger, kayak guide and river rat.

Matt’s hobbies include trail running, backpacking, skiing, mountaineering, bicycling, and paragliding.

You can find Matthew online here:
Website
Twitter
Goodreads

10 Responses to “Interview: Matthew Alan Thyer”

    • Lola

      Same here Kritika, I never thought about why a author would like to write short stories. Lately I have been reading more short stories, although most of those are part of a series or a serial.

  1. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    Ohh, short stories? I have to confess, I’ve only ever read a handful of short stories. Everything I do seems to be LONG. But I love and totally get what he means about just taking that little break from reality and then getting back to work. (I love tv shows. Omg, they are amazing.) Interesting interview! Hardcore sci-fi is intense. o.O
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…We Need To Talk About City of Heavenly Fire (6) by Cassandra ClareMy Profile

    • Lola

      I have read quite some short stories in the last year, but most often those are short stories that accompany a series, are part of a serial or by an author I love. Short chapters are also a great way to take a short break, I usually have the urge to stop at a chapter break and luch breaks can become longer when the chapters are long or I’ll have to stop in the middle of a chapter.

  2. Matthew Alan Thyer

    Another thought I’ve had regarding shorter works that we really didn’t touch on above has to with portability of stories. I have a theory about epic stories that are made into movies. Basically, think Lord of the Rings for the moment. Big written stories tend to translate poorly to screen play because chunks of the story we’ve come to love must be cut from what appears in the final edit.

    Shorter works may require a little augmentation to make the jump from one medium to another, but nothing is left behind. This is useful for a writer because the movie or TV script will likely bring new readers to their works.

    • Lola

      I agree long books are difficult to translate to the screen because parts miss, but on the other hand there are still a lot of people who love those movies and it brought more readers to the books as well.

      I think that short stories which are made into movies are more alike to the book and less have to be removed for the movie.

  3. Matthew Alan Thyer

    Hey Lola, When we first began speaking I hadn’t noticed that you lived and worked from the Netherlands. I can’t tell you how jealous I am that you have access to that amazing multi-modal infrastructure. Since we’ve moved back to the Pacific North West of the United States I have been lamenting the fact that even our bicycle infrastructure just doesn’t seem to connect us to anything.

    I worked for a large software concern for thirteen years and for much of that time I rode my bike to and from the office. Now that I ferry around a three year old I feel compelled, for his safety more than anything, to give it up and drive like everyone else. Often it’s only the last few blocks of any trip where we’re sharing road instead of riding lanes or even paths.

    The variety of modes that are available to people to get around is pretty astounding. Add to this that I don’t recall having a conversation with another parent recently in which, at some point, they didn’t lament how hard it is to keep weight off. And something about this makes me wonder if that isn’t key to the US breaking out of the MAP-21 (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/) funk we’ve been perpetually stuck in? I’ve backed away from playing the role of bicycle advocate for the moment, but it would not take me much of a push to get back on that soap box. There is a part of me that wants to write many stories about these sorts of things.
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    • Lola

      As I only lived in the Netherlands for all my life it seems pretty normal to me. I once talked on my blog about the public transport and availability of cycling roads with someone from the US and they were impressed by the system, it was only then that I realized how what we have here isn’t normal. On vacation in other countries it also becomes clear, you can’t cycle everywhere and the public transport is way less frequent the here. And cna you believe there are actually people who complain about our public transport? I can’t drive a car and don’t plan to learn, but it’s not really necessary as I can get everywhere I want to. I walk, cycle or take the train.

      I think cycling here in the Netherlands is pretty safe as there are special roads for it and there are so many cyclers everywhere that car drivers are used to it. I can only guess how different that would be in the US.

  4. Matthew Alan Thyer

    We have interstitial fietspad here in the US, but only in a few places and they tend to be solely focused on recreation. If you’re smart about it, and very careful, you can stitch a trip that will connect you to destinations in these urban areas. But that’s the thing, here everyone looks forward to that point in their lives when they must learn to drive. When they’ll be entrapped in a cycle of fossil fuel burning and perpetual waiting.

    This sort of traffic happens every single day here in Seattle and our solution to this problem is always to add more to it and do it all over again. Drives me crazy!

    I’ve outlined a novel about a man that crosses the most of North America sometime after a climate change induced decline in prosperity. He does this on a cargo bicycle with a pet (probably a milk goat) and as he travels the land, searching for his daughter he must deal with the decay of a collapsed motor-centric world. Maybe this spring.

    Anyway, enjoy how lucky you are. Someday I hope to visit Netherlands, in particular so that I can see and ride there.
    Matthew Alan Thyer recently posted…Lola’s Reviews has a new interview with meMy Profile

    • Lola

      Fietspad, that’s the dutch word for cycling roads (or whatever the english word is). The dutch word for bicycle is “fiets”. Here you don’t have to be smart or carefull to get somewhere on a bicycle, although it might take a bit longer then with the car and the route is less direct. If you go to a city with lots of students you will be surprised at the amount of bicycles stacked around the train stations.

      Sounds like a great idea for a novel! I have read one book before where bicycles became the most used travel method after climate change, it’s more eco friendly! And I would love to own a pack goat once!

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