Interview with Deck Matthews

Welcome gentle readers! Today I have the pleasure of Deck Matthew’s company. As such, I have tied him down and forced him to, compelled, asked him to answer ten (terrifying) questions, in an effort to garner some insight to his world, his influences and his writing process.

As is becoming the case with many ‘new’ authors I come across these days, I discovered Deck on social media via his IG account @varkaschronicles (check it out, it’s really cool), after which I read his short stories and then his debut novella, The First of Shadows.

All I can say is wow.

Deck is a great writer and one you should really check out – especially if you are a fan of Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks or Peter V. Brett.

But for now, on with the interview!

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m a Canadian, self-published fantasy author with aspirations of striking a traditional deal one day. I was born in Kitchener, Ontario. I’m a child of the ‘80’s and adolescent of the ‘90’s, which had an obvious impact on me. Lots of 90’s rock!

I hold a master’s degree in English Literature from Wilfrid Laurier University, a small school located in Waterloo, Ontario.

What started you writing, and is it the same thing that still inspires you today?

I’ve been making up stories pretty much since I started to read, so it’s difficult for me to pinpoint an exact moment where I started writing. What I can tell you is the moment when I knew I wanted to write fantasy. At the end of my eighth grade year, my teacher gave me a set of David Eddings books. Over the course of the summer, I devoured them. That’s when I realized that fantasy was what I was truly passionate about.

Today, I just want to tell the stories—and there are a lot to tell. It seems as though I come up with one or two new stories every month! Most will probably fizzle, but I’m hopeful that over time I’ll be able to bring many of them to life, and entertain or delight readers in the process.

How many novels/stories did you write before you published?

To date, I’ve self-published two short stories, “In the Tower of the Witching Tree” and “The Melding Thief”) and one longer novella, entitled The First of Shadows. I have several more stories and novellas in various states of completion, so keep an eye out!

But if you’re talking about projects that died on the vine, I started one novel with a friend in high school. Later, I wrote a massive tome of a book.

What has your publishing journey been like?

I decided to start out with self-publishing my work. I had two main goals. First, I wanted to learn what I could about about the business. Obviously, self-publishing and traditional publishing are different in many ways, but there are parallels too, through editing, production and deadlines (even if those are self-imposed).

My second goal was (and continues to be) to build an audience and test the market. I wanted to prove to myself that there was a readership that would be interested in my work. So far, the response has been very positive. I can’t say I’m breaking any sales records, but those who are reading it are providing generally favourable comments, so I’m encouraged by that.

Please tell us about your novella, The First of Shadows.

The First of Shadows is the initial installment in what will become an ongoing series of similar sized novellas, entitled The Riven Realm. Each story will combine to tell one larger arc. I liken it to a television show, where each episode moves the overall plot forward, forming a larger story arc.

This first installment introduces us to a number of primary characters. There is Caleb, the young rigger with a crippled foot who works on the wind riders of the local lord. Then there is Palawen, a young drifter with a magical heritage, and Tanner, a mercenary with a hard past. There is Avendor, a corporal in the Ember Guard, and Tiberius, a blind old sage with secrets of his own. The novella starts bringing some of these characters together, in two distinct story arcs, loosely bound together for the moment.

My goal was to write a short, entertaining read, full of action and excitement. I like to think I’ve managed that.

(Mark: You have!)

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a short story/novella/novel, or about writing in general?

Time. Generally speaking, I’m not a fast writer. Combine that with the fact that I am an extensive revisionist (read: perfectionist), and each piece that I produce takes a lot of effort. With a full time job and a young family, it can be difficult to find the time to write, edit and proofread.

Beyond that, I think that one of the biggest challenges remains scope. I don’t think this is unique to fantasy, but I do think that sometimes fantasy can compound the issue. The world, the characters and the plotlines can take on a life of their own, and if I’m not careful, they can spin out of control. As much as possible, I try to keep things contained and moving forward, not expanding outward. It’s not always easy.

What is your work schedule like when you’re in writer’s mode?

Chaotic. I work full time as a web developer and have two young daughters and beautiful wife, all of which require a great deal of my time. As such, I don’t have much of a defined schedule, though I’m really trying to get better at that.

Generally, I try to sneak time wherever I can. I actually write on my phone quite frequently. I keep all my work in a Scrivener file, and the ability to sync it over Dropbox allows me to write on the bus during my commute, or between sets at the gym. Probably a full third of the first draft of The First of Shadows was written on my phone!

Do you use an outline when you write, or are you more of a discovery writer?

I really, really like the idea of an outline. I do. I just have trouble sticking to it. I actually have nine novellas in my Riven Realm sequence outlined, but the story is evolving and I can already see how that outline needs to change.

I still have a particular endpoint in mind though, so I know where I’m going. Now it’s just about drawing the blade and cutting my way through!

How do you balance what you’re reading against what you’re writing?

I mentioned that I write on the bus sometimes. That’s generally only when I’m neck deep in a project. For the most part, bus time is reading time. When I go into the office, it’s usually about an hour and a half of travel time each day. It seems like a lot, but that’s when I get the bulk of my reading in. I actually enjoy having that time baked into my day. It would be hard to find the time to read consistently without it.

That being said, I do read at other times too, usually on the weekends when things aren’t quite so rushed, or just before bed if I need to help shut down my brain after staring at a computer screen for hours upon hours.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write.

Yes, I know it sounds cliche, and it’s what every other writer seems to say. But there’s a reason for that, and that reason is that it’s the “plain bloody truth,” as Tanner Hoff might say (don’t get that reference? Read the novella!)

Writing is hard. It can beat you up, knock you down and mess with your emotions. Some days I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels, but even on those days, there’s usually something valuable that comes out of the writing.

The other thing is: read. There’s so much to be learned about the craft of writing just by reading. I find that every novel or short story I read offers me something new to learn. Whether it’s a matter of pacing, or world building, or just an interesting turn of phrase that gets my mind thinking in a different direction, I honestly believe that extensive reading remains the foundation for solid writing.

Deck Matthews, thank you!

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