Matthew R. Davis, whose short story “Ruby’s Syzygy” will appear this Halloween in The Black Beacon Book of Horror, tells us about his craft and his inspiration. This dark diamond is multifaceted, as you're about to find out.
Photo credit: Red Wallflower Photography
You’re a man of many hats… or perhaps hair lengths: author, metal-head, and urban explorer. How did you get into each?
I’ve always been interested in stories, perhaps since my mother read to me as a very young child. I started writing at age seven and just never stopped! Although a lot of my early influences were SF, action, fantasy, mythology, and the like, many of them contained elements of the supernatural and/or horrific – Ray Bradbury is regarded as a cuddly and nostalgic writer, but some of his early output is utterly chilling, and Doctor Who has always leaned into horror as much as anything else. I remember many times when fiction gave me a frisson of fright as a child, and I’ve been chasing that ever since. My ambitions crystallised when I was about fifteen, I suppose: I wanted to be a rock star and/or horror writer. Nothing but art has ever mattered to me, as my utter lack of proper career prospects will attest. As I became a teenager, I began exploring music with relish, beginning with the things my best friends were listening to – hardcore hip hop, hard rock, and heavy metal. The first album I ever bought – on Valentine’s Day, aptly enough – was Swallow This Live by Poison, but the third tape I owned was Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and it didn’t take me long to move past hair metal into the boundless realms of heavy music. Even now, with my music tastes diversified to include almost all styles – my absolute favourite band is The Cure (interviewer's comment: makes sense considering The Cure is the greatest band in the history of music) – I keep metal close to my heart. At this very moment, I’m listening to Godflesh’s Selfless and last night I finally saw Megadeth live. I’ve also played in many bands, the main one being my brainchild Blood Red Renaissance – an eclectic and unique heavy rock group with me on bass and lead vocals. As for urbex, I have my partner Meg to thank for that. I always liked taking detours and photographing urban alleyways and such on my phone, but when I started dating her, we began ranging further afield for places she could shoot. I might be mistaken, but I believe the first abandoned house we explored was in my hometown of Port Pirie on a quiet Christmas Eve, which led to a short story by me and an increased interest in such environments for both of us. She’s made a real art of it by now, and I’m more of a dabbler who accompanies her when I can. Dereliction and decay are big inspirations for us and we love to imagine the stories implied by the wreckage left behind.
Which of your stories best illustrates your interest in urban exploration?
There are surprisingly few, now that I think about it, but I don’t want to keep repeating myself – I’m saving most of my ideas for a forthcoming horror novel that builds a strange mythology around abandoned places. The story I mentioned earlier is “An Endless Echo in Every Empty Space”, from the anthology Below the Stairs and reprinted in my first collection, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep. Subsequent stories include “The Waiting Room” from It Calls from the Doors, “Trash and Treasure” from the forthcoming Where the Weird Things Are Vol. 2, and a currently unpublished novelette by the name of “Effigy in Flagrante”.
Black Beacon Books recently published Tales from the Ruins: A Post-Apocalyptic Anthology. What is most post-apocalyptic spot you’ve ever ventured into?
Interesting question! I don’t really get that feel from most of the places we explore, but a cement factory and a mental health compound kind of touched on that. Really, the location that most resembled what you’re talking about wasn’t ruins at all. Before Meg and I got together, we did a photoshoot for one of my bands, icecocoon; the album we were releasing next, How Long is Forever…?, had post-apocalyptic painted artwork with a lot of deep purple skies, and I thought it would be apt for her to shoot us standing on the expansive salt flats at Lochiel – it looks like a pink desert. We didn’t end up using those shots in any way that capitalised on that association, but there you go.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Ha! What isn’t? It’s never coming up with ideas, but it can be everything else – shaping those ideas into forms that feel original enough to engage me, getting plots to fall together, finding the time and energy to write when I feel drained by work and life’s myriad pressures, and so on. Sometimes you just have to give that boulder a shove even when you don’t feel like it, and when it starts moving, you get caught up in the momentum. Also, option paralysis is a real problem for me – at any given time, I have at least a dozen projects fighting to be realised, and when I can’t choose one or focus on whatever I need to complete first, sometimes it’s easier to just give up for the day and do something else.
What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
Knowledge and love of the craft and the fields in which you work. Excitement at the huge range of words available and the process of putting them into ordered sequences. An understanding of rhythm and rhyme and flow. Knowing which parts of the story to put on the page and which to leave off. Sincerity and authenticity, even though what you’re doing is essentially telling fanciful lies. Originality – you’re unlikely to create a new paradigm, but you must find your own voice and tell your own stories instead of aping others.
How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?
Far be it from me to exclude anyone! An ideal reader, really, is anyone who makes the time to engage with your work, and that’s always a little humbling and very gratifying. That said, I suppose my work might resonate best with people who see the world in a way not dissimilar to me, and those folks would be compassionate, intelligent, introspective, individualistic, and diverse in their interests and attitudes.
Do you play music while you write—and, if so, what’s your favourite?
I used to when I was younger, but not these days. I occasionally listen to tunes when I’m editing or plotting (or answering interview questions – see above), but generally I prefer my environment to be silent. There’s already plenty of noise inside my head, and I literally always have a song looping away in there.
What’s your favourite writing snack or drink?
I don’t eat when I’m writing. I often have a drink on hand, but I keep booze separate from the process nowadays. My favourite creative additives tend to be iced coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes, and pot.
What is your kryptonite as a writer?
Er… if you mean my weaknesses, I suppose I’d have to say historical fiction, hard SF, and second-world fantasy. I find this gig hard enough as it is without having to create entire worlds and cultures or undertake painstaking research on future technology and previous epochs! That said, I do write the occasional period piece – though usually set within my own lifetime – and I research a lot of things to ensure the verisimilitude of my work even when working on contemporary stories… but if anyone was waiting for me to produce a novel set in fifteenth-century France, they’d better stop holding their breath now!
When was the last time you Googled yourself and what did you find?
I was probably just looking for book links, and I didn’t find anything much more than that. My dark secrets remain safe.
Are you active on social media? How do you use it?
I’m on Facebook every day, and I like to interact with my fellow writers on there. Otherwise, I’m woefully under-represented on social media. Frankly, the idea of maintaining accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and so on just sounds exhausting at this stage. My mind already pulls in dozens of different directions each day and discipline is, fair to say, not my strong point.
What books did you grow up reading?
Mythology, especially Greek, because of all the monsters and grue. Doctor Who novelisations and anything else related to the show. Ray Bradbury, The Hobbit, and a bit of Roald Dahl. The occasional Hardy Boys or The Three Investigators or Tintin book from my brother’s collection. A bit of classic horror here and there – I remember one school sleepover where I recited, from memory, a much-abridged version of a story I recently discovered to be Edith Nesbit’s “Man-Size in Marble”. In my teen years, I had a run at fantasy – Dragonlance and other Dungeons & Dragons fiction, Raymond E. Feist, Janny Wurts, Terry Brooks – before I discovered Stephen King and Dean Koontz and entered the wide world of horror.
What book (or books) are you currently reading?
I just finished Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan. I’ve recently taken in new works by Gemma Amor, Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham Jones, Philip Fracassi, and Leigh Bardugo.
What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
I guess I see that as becoming a name that anyone interested in the genre fiction field recognises, even if they haven’t read me. I see it as respect and critical acclaim more than financial success, but I sure wouldn’t mind being remunerated a little more for my efforts without compromising my work! I’d also like to see my work cross over into other media – I think my first novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love, would make a great independent Australian feature film. Realistically, though, I don’t believe I’ll ever achieve what I’d consider true literary success. I’m always hungry for more, and I’m fairly ambitious when it comes down to it. I doubt we’ll ever see a blockbuster horror author like Stephen King again, but if we got to have another one, I’d gladly take on the mantle. Maybe then I’d finally feel like I’d made something worthwhile of myself.
Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
My parents have always been behind me no matter what I do – even if Mum wonders where she went wrong to bring up a child so steeped in the melancholy, mordant, and macabre – but my biggest fan is my partner, Meg. She’s incredibly supportive of what I do, loves my writing, and actively enjoys curling up to listen to me reading my work aloud. She’s a unique and talented art photographer who shoots my author pics and illustrated my first collection, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with her on future projects. You can (and should) find her work under the name of Red Wallflower Photography.
Would you share something about yourself that your readers don’t know (yet)?
Considering how obscure I am in the world of writing and, indeed, the world at large, that will be exceedingly easy! Here are three fun MRD facts: I’m six and a half feet tall; I’ve only published one novel so far, but I’ve written eight; and when I was eleven, I ran a school spelling contest into overtime by nailing every word that the room could throw at me until someone asked me to spell Khartoum – and even then, I was only one letter off!
Thanks for your time, Matthew...now, get back to your writing!