Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview-- Matthew P. Mayo

Matthew P. Mayo’s short stories have appeared in (or will soon appear in) Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Mondo Sasquatch, Moonstone Books, and others, including the DAW Books anthos Timeshares and Steampunk’d. His story, “Half a Pig,” from the anthology A Fistful of Legends, was selected as a 2010 Spur Award Finalist by the Western Writers of America (WWA). 

Matthew’s novels include the Westerns Winters’ War, Wrong Town, and Hot Lead, Cold Heart. His non-fiction books include Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears; Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks; Sourdoughs, Claim Jumpers & Dry Gulchers; Maine Icons, and others. Matthew lives with his wife, documentary photographer Jennifer Smith-Mayo, and two dogs on the coast of Maine where he protects his family from kill-crazy sea creatures.

Tell us about your latest book?

My most recently released book is Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England. It came out in October and it's been selling well. In fact, before Christmas it topped three or four categories at Amazon for a few weeks running. It was just favorably reviewed in the Boston Globe, and it's gone into a second printing. So I'm pleased to see it has legs.

As with its predecessor, Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West, it's narrative non-fiction, and consists of fifty chapters of about 2,000 words each, 320 pages of accessible history that readers can pick up anywhere, read a bit, then dive back in later. I'm closing in on finishing up a new one, Sourdoughs, Claim Jumpers & Dry Gulchers: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Frontier Prospecting. It's another fascinating topic that I think readers will dig.

A nifty recent development with Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears is that it's just been optioned for film by an independent producer. He wants to develop it as a series and sell it to an outfit such as the History Channel. He has Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks in his back pocket, too, with an eye toward doing the same thing with that book. Fingers crossed!

How is this book different than your previous book?

These books all share the same set-up and style, but differ a bit from some of the other writing I do. I'm currently working on two other non-fiction books in a series of three that my wife and I are doing for the same publisher, Globe Pequot Press. These are coffee-table books, very pretty, with full color throughout and dust sleeves, the works. I write the words and my wife, Jennifer Smith-Mayo, a photographer and college instructor, shoots them. The first, Maine Icons, is due out in May. We'll complete the next two, Vermont Icons and New Hampshire Icons, by fall of this year. I believe they'll be available summer/fall 2012. And to round out my non-fiction books for this year, I'm also working on Haunted Old West, all about ghostly people, places, and things in the old American West. That's due this fall, too.

Fictionwise, I'm writing two Westerns under house-names for popular long-running series, and my agent is shopping two of my own series for me. The first novel of each series is written, as well as detailed synopses for subsequent books.

You write in multiple genres, do you feel like you have to defend yourself for writing "genre fiction"?

I have been known to assume a pugilistic stance to defend, say, Westerns or men's adventure stories if they are receiving unwarranted disparaging remarks. Especially if the speaker is snooty about it. There's nothing more annoying than hearing someone drone on and on about symbolism in a "literary" novel, then go on to say that they don't read "popular" fiction--as if it's covered in boils and reeking like a week-old gut pile.

I try to not make a distinction myself. Writing is writing, no matter what sort of stamp a publisher puts on it. I read all sorts of writing--poetry, classics, plays—but I'm not going to read it simply because someone said it's literary or genre or what have you. It has to work to earn my time.

Why do you write westerns, mysteries, steampunk?

I write what interests me, which so far has been just about everything. I have short stories in all sorts of anthologies and magazines--crime, horror, suspense, 30s pulp action, mystery, Western, sci-fi, steampunk. I also write a fair amount of poetry and have had it published in a number of places. It’s a satisfying feeling when a poem comes together.

When did you know you were a writer?

I've written stories, poems, snippets, character profiles since I was a kid. My folks always supported it, especially by setting an early and lasting example as readers. They read lots and that rubbed off on me and my brother. So I'm not sure there ever was a specific time when I said, "Hey, I'm a writer," though it's been a few years since I decided to pursue it as a full-time career.

What’s a work day like for you?

We generally get up early, about five, deal with the dogs, make coffee, and get rolling from there. I mess around with email and the Web for a while. Then I jump into the work and get cracking. Like most freelancers, it's rare that I don't have at least two projects going concurrently, and usually three or four. I write for a few magazines--primarily book reviews and features--in addition to writing books and short stories, so deadlines are always barking at me from the calendar. I work until mid-day, then break for lunch, play with the dogs, maybe take a walk. I go back at it in the afternoon for a few hours, and then I break for supper. Then work for a few hours more, then do some reading. It sounds boring, laid out like that, but there's so much variety in what I write that I rarely grow snoozy with it.

What’s a day off like for you?

I haven't had a day off in months (wait, do I hear violins?). Even on days when I don't do lots of writing, I'm still researching, reading, thinking about what needs writing. I'm finally doing what I dreamed of doing for years--making a living (such as it is!) as a writer--that I don't want to slow down. So, while there are days when I scratch my thinker in doubt about my career choice, I'm digging what I'm doing and don't feel the need for much down time.

If you could be anything other than a writer, what would it be?

I'd like to be a time traveler. Then I'd go back to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and … write paperbacks.

How do you define success?

That's an interesting question. My definition of success keeps changing as I attain various things that I had previously looked at as goals with my writing--selling stories to magazines, selling a novel, seeing my name on a table of contents in an anthology, seeing my name on a book's cover, working with an agent, selling novels and non-fiction proposals to bigger publishers, having a book optioned for film, working with my wife on book projects, that sort of thing. Now that I've tasted this stuff, I want more, sir. More!

What’s next for you?

This year is shaping up to be a big one in Mattland--lots of books to write, lots of stories for anthologies, magazine work, the potential for selling more novels, plus I'm very interested in ebooks and plan on releasing my first three Westerns (which originally came out at Black Horse Westerns through Robert Hale, Ltd. of London) as ebooks. Revised, updated, expanded, and with nifty new covers. I can't wait to give 'em a go. 

If folks are interested in knowing more about what I'm up to, they can visit me online at: Thanks for the invite to chat here at Tense Moments, Larry. It’s been fun.


Tom Cochrun said...

Thanks. Again informative and insightful. Fascinating to see other writers think out loud.

Larry D. Sweazy said...

Thanks, Tom. Matt's creating an interesting body of work.