Today we have something new and very exciting! Fantasy author Matt Spencer was kind enough to take the time to be my very first interviewee on the blog! We talk about his latest book, The Renegade God, and how it ties into the universe he has created.
MS: Quite well, when all of life’s other, less fun stressfactors aren’t getting the better of me, so I feel like a cranky, anxiety-consumed basket-case. I often have to make myself pause, take a deep breath, remind myself that my life has been much, much worse in the past, that I have it pretty damn good right now, all things considered. It took me a long time – thanks to a long history of questionable-to-bad life decisions and even worse subsequent luck – to get myself to a stable enough place where I could feel organized enough to buckle down and focus on turning my life into something I’m happy with.
Meeting and falling in love with the right person, yeah, that had a lot to do with finding it in myself to turn it all around, to really take charge of my shit and steer it forward. One way being with Laura has really helped with that is having to re-program my thinking, like, it sounds cliché, but it’s not all just about me anymore. I’m in this with someone else as a team now. Every important decision I make now, it affects not just me but her too, so I can’t just go on following all the nutty old impulses I used to. But at the same time, I can’t entirely regret where all that used to lead me, because I at least got a shitload of crazy memories, not to mention great writing material out of the deal, right?
I still get to spar and fence weekly with my buddy Ian, who I assist in teaching Renaissance-style fencing, so that’s my outlet for untamed aggression and stress release, plus keeping myself in shape, and it also keeps my brain sharp for writing fight scenes.
DK: The Renegade God is a spin-off of Changing of the Guards, and stars some familiar characters, Tia and Ketz. What were some of your key motivations, or themes you wanted to explore in revisiting them, and writing TRG?
MS: Hahah, long story there. Tia and Ketz have an unusual evolutionary history as characters. Some years back, a local activist commissioned me to co-write and co-star in a local all-ages-cast stage play. It involved blending slice-of-life reality with magical realism and outright fantasy. So I wrote the two lead youth roles for the director’s daughter and said daughter’s best friend, as a scrappy sister-brother pair who get swept off into a sort of Narnia-esque adventure, and I named them Tia and Ketz. Dragon mythology from all over the world figured very heavily into the writing of that play, so if you’re up on that sort of thing, you can probably put it together how I came up with the names. That was a fun production to be involved in, and it was all very whimsical and family friendly and such.
Later, when I was writing Changing of the Guards– which, as you know, is not a “family-friendly” book at all – some whim prompted me to introduce this scrappy, smartass sister-brother team of little teenage mountain-dwelling tribal warrior badasses, essentially as comic-relief characters. On a whim, I named them Tia and Ketz as an inside-joke. While writing the rest of that novel, they stuck in the back of my mind as intriguing characters in their own right, who it might be interesting to return to and explore as protagonists.
I first tried that when my friend Matthew Gomez was starting his own retro-pulp fiction magazine, and he asked me to contribute a short story. I wrote one starring Tia and Ketz, picking up with them shortly after the events in CotG. I really enjoyed their bantering dynamic, the way they play off each other when getting into trouble together, how they both have their own strengths and weaknesses as people that balance each other out while relying on each other to survive, so I tried writing a short novel about them. The Renegade God is what happened.
DK: What were some of your key motivations, or themes you wanted to explore in writing TRG?
MS: I don’t often go into a work thinking of themes I want to explore. There are definitely themes that are important to me, that I want to explore in fiction, but I don’t usually start a specific one thinking, This is the one where I’m going to grind that axe, y’know? I typically start by dropping some protagonists into a scenario, then getting a feel for the characters as they reveal themselves within that situation, for their point of view on the world as they’re experiencing it, and let them lead me to whatever themes the story wants to explore. As with CotG, themes of socio-political/economic/hierarchical culture-clashes figure heavily into everyone’s conflicting motivations.
But where CotG was a story about big, “important” movers and shakers, changing the tide of history in their world and its broader geo-political landscape, the Tia and Ketz stories are essentially that same world seen from the point of view of a pair of punkass hobo kids, making their way from one scrape to the next, often making questionable-to-amoral decisions, not in the name of some greater cause, but just survival. I don’t see them as really heroes or antiheroes. They’re capable of being barely any better than the enemies they cross blades with, but they’re also capable of being genuinely heroic, when it falls on them to rise to the occasion.
When Robert E. Howard described how he came up with the character of Conan, he said, “It may sound fantastic to link the term realism with Conan; but as a matter of fact - his supernatural adventures aside - he is the most realistic character I ever evolved. He is simply a combination of a number of men I have known, and I think that's why he seemed to step full-grown into my consciousness when I wrote the first yarn of the series. Some mechanism in my sub-consciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian.” I relate to that statement particularly in regards to Tia and Ketz, as their personalities reflect a number of scrappy drifter, train-hopping and street kids, as well as some hard-edged bartenders and bouncers, disillusioned former military men and women, and other such on-the-edge types I’ve known.
In that sense, I guess what I was going for, was to take all the elements from the kind of old-school pulp fantasy adventure fiction that I love to read, but to put my own spin on it, in a way that today’s readers, particularly younger readers, can maybe relate to on a more relevant level, and get the same kind of kick out of it.
DK: One of my favorite things about your stories is how you often lead readers to expect a familiar trope or story arc, but then take things somewhere new and unexpected instead. Can we expect more of that in TRG?
MS: In some ways, yes, though not quite to the degree of CotG or The Night and the Land, I don’t think. To be honest, I’m not sure! I always like to shake things up and keep readers off-balance, but I can’t really predict how readers will react to this or that. There were aspects in TN&TL, for instance, that I always felt while writing and editing it was fairly obvious, so I was delightedly surprised when so many readers told me just how thrown for a loop they were. There are definitely some sharp swerves that will throw readers for a loop, and some unexpected ways the twins are tested by what they discover, Ketz in particular in this book, in ways that more sharply define who they are by the end of the story.
DK: Would TRG make for a good introduction to your work? Or would new readers benefit more from reading some of your other books first to gain familiarity?
MS: Both, I suppose? I mean, I think TRG stands on its own just fine. Anyone who picks it up at random, looking for a wild sword-and-sorcery tale, with a pair of fun, down-an’-dirty protagonists who get into a crazy adventure that’s violent, sexy, irreverent, full of twists and turns and reversals, etcetera, will definitely get their money’s worth. And yeah, I figure anyone who reads it will have a pretty accurate idea of whether or not my style in general is for them. At the same time, people who’ve read the other books will pick up on a lot of little stuff, and probably get some extra enjoyment out of it as a result.
DK: The Renegade God and Changing of the Guards are both high fantasy, but you also have an urban fantasy trilogy that shares their universe. Do you have any preference for writing in one realm over the other?
MS: I go back and forth. Particularly since writing CotG, my comfort-zone has really become otherworldly sword-and-sorcery adventure yarns, in part because Deschemb feels like such a vast, rich, limitless world, with a wild history that even I haven’t completely discovered yet, where I couldn’t run out of crazy shit to explore if I wrote nothing else for the rest of my life. At the same time, I don’t like the feeling of “I could write this in my sleep at this point,” which is what a lot of my more recent efforts have started to feel like, so I’ve been whipping myself back into shape at writing regional horror, along with some crime fiction. Rediscovering my taste for that sort of thing has been a blast. Gothic romance/horror (in the Shelley/Stoker/Leroux tradition) also has a special place in my heart that I like to revisit sometimes.
DK: Do you have any upcoming projects you want to tease?
MS: There’ll be the re-release of The Trail of the Beast – the sequel to The Night and the Land – coming out sometime early next year, and hopefully not long after that, The Blazing Chief, which completes that trilogy. That should have been published – and was accepted for publication – some time ago, but there was a huge clusterfuck debacle because the original publisher got bought out by new management, who cocked everything up for me and the rest of the authors under contract, so everything was tied up for years, before the company finally went out of business and I got all the rights back. But anyway, I’m taking that as a blessing in disguise, because I’ve grown quite a bit as a storyteller since first writing that trilogy, and now I can really whip the final book into shape, so it’ll first see the light of day ten times better than it would otherwise have been…as the book it’s always deserved to be, I like to think. My friend and fellow author Garrett Cook, who also edited CotG and TRG, will be editing this one, and I look forward to working with him again.
Also, I have a number of short-stories coming out in various publications I love to read, that I’m delighted and honored to have broken into, especially the aforementioned EconoClash story, which is actually a collaboration with my longtime friend Bill Hilburn, who’s been a radio personality for years, but this will be the first time readers have gotten a chance to see his insane imagination in print, so for that particular piece, I’m more excited for him, than for me. Bill, Laura, and me all being in the same issue together feels like an extra special occasion, too. Speaking of Laura, she’s also recently written her first book, Screaming Into The Ether, which has been recommended to a new publisher by an editor…Nothing’s set in stone there yet, but rest assured, whenever and however that book sees print, it’s one of the more unusual takes on an alien-invasion sci-fi horror novel you’ve ever read.
As to what’s to come, there’s at least one more full-length Tia and Ketz novel I have in mind, along with a new supernatural horror/mystery-thriller novel that’s been kicking around in my head louder and louder lately.
I can't thank Matt enough for taking the time for this interview! The Renegade God is available now!