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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

SPFBO: Interview with Matt Larkin

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a full-time writer who writes grimdark re-imaginings of mythology, laced with a bit of flavor from my background in philosophy. Because my books require large amounts of research, I have recently become a digital nomad, traveling around (with my wife and daughter) to study locations and cultures for upcoming works.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

Being a writer ;) I pretty much work 7 days a week at that. For me, that means creative work, admin work, marketing, and tons of research and planning.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

My absolute favorites and influencers are definitely R. Scott Bakker and Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m also currently a huge fan of Michael R. Fletcher. Early on, I drew inspiration from Frank Herbert.

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

Yeah, I started writing “books” in first grade as soon as I knew how to write (my first book was probably 10 pages long, in first-grader size font). My mother tells me I was quoting Gollum before my sister was born, so that would have made me about 3.5 years old when my parents first read LotR to me. So, I was pretty much always doing fantasy.

I kept writing throughout college, but got really serious about doing proper novels after that. The first one I did was way beyond my ability in scope. I wrote it, rewrote it, rewrote it again …

I had done lots of practice, read tons of books on craft, had taken creative writing courses, and such … so I think I had the pieces were there, point of view and characterization and such. But after countless rewrites where it wasn’t quite there, I realized I needed a slightly less ambitious project to build up to the one I was trying.

I also began a deeper study of plot structure instead of simply craft, and this made a big difference.

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

I use a deep 3rd person limited POV so some of what’s being portrayed is quite subjective. I also try to keep the action very visceral. My contention is that violence ought to feel awful and wince-inducing, not to titillate, but because anything less aggrandizes that violence. To me, that’s kind of what makes grimdark resonate--the harsh reality of what violence costs both doer and victim. A knight-in-shining-armor who suffers nothing for his violent deeds is praised for them and remains unchanged, that lacks verisimilitude unless said knight is a sociopath.

What made you decide to self-publish Darkness Forged as opposed to traditional publishing

My mythology-retellings are all part of a single universe and I wanted total control over my work. Higher royalties are also a factor.

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is? 

Yeah, as above, the author has more creative control. I remember reading stories about writers having written a series they loved, that fans loved, and the publisher dropped it because it didn’t perform as expected. One in particular stands to mind, where the author admitted not only would the publisher not publish it, but his contract prevented him from shopping the rest of the series elsewhere. So … someone he’d probably never met, who had probably never read his book, made a decision to kill his work. I remember reading his explanation to a fan of why he wasn’t allowed to publish the rest of his intended books in the series and feeling heartbroken on his behalf (and disappointed because I also liked the series!).

About this same time, in a forum for how to write query letters, I met David Gaughran when he was first looking into this stuff. Primary credit for me going indie probably goes to Dave ...

Also, unless you get a huge advance, indie authors have more chance to make a full-time living doing this. I know many of the trad authors I most admire can’t even make a full-time living as authors. These are masters of the craft who can’t make a fraction of the money they deserve.

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on?

Sure, there’s still plenty of people that have an anti-indie mindset. They’ve maybe tried a few indie books and didn’t like them and assumed that meant most indie books are of lower quality than most trad books. 

Or maybe they’ve been affected by the longstanding bias against vanity presses (much more justified) and mentally transferred that bias onto indie / self-pub.

So you have some readers who would love your work who will never try it because of this mindset.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

Yeah, for sure. There are two parts to this, really. For some readers, they’ve heard of you but have so many other wonderful books to choose from they need something to spark them to start your book now. And for others, they’ve never even heard of you. Indie authors run ads, but whether the right people see them at the right time is always a question.

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

This is the third year I’ve entered. Every year I’ve done it, I’ve met other authors and bloggers and professionals that have since become friends. But also, yeah, it offers a tremendous chance to help readers become aware of books that might be exactly what they would love. I think that’s an opportunity no indie fantasy author can afford to miss.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

Probably celebrate with a nice dinner with my wife and daughter! Honestly, the honor of it would also likely spark a super burst of productivity. A nice review often has that effect on me and other authors. The knowledge that someone gets what we were trying to say with a particular work means a lot.

How would you describe the plot of Darkness Forged if you had to do so in just one or two sentences? 

A cruel king abducts and maims a legendary smith to force him to work for him. The smith’s vengeance becomes the stuff of legend.

What was your initial inspiration for Darkness Forged? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

Darkness Forged is a retelling of the Völundarkviða. Volund’s part of the story is mostly direct from that. The story of his brother Agilaz is adapted from related tales and expanded somewhat. The story of Slagfid is largely missing from the sources, so his quest is mostly my own invention.

If you had to describe Darkness Forged in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Dark, gritty, hypnotic

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Darkness Forged serves as a standalone prequel to two of my other series: Gods of the Ragnarok Era (9 books) and Runeblade Saga (5 books). I plan to also write other standalone stories in this setting that will be part of the same “series” as Darkness Forged. I haven’t settled on a particular number for that series.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Darkness Forged’s protagonists/antagonists?

The three POV characters are three brothers: Volund (the youngest and the one with the most chapters), Agilaz, and Slagfid. King Nidud of Njarar serves as the primary antagonist.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Darkness Forged? 

Clarissa Yeo of Yocla Designs did the cover based on my description of a dverg-built fortress in mountains in Sweden.

Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Hmmm. Maybe “What happens to Volund after this series?”

A: Volund appears again throughout Gods of the Ragnarok Era (after book 4) and Runeblade Saga (after book 2).

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

One thing I really liked about this book, as a standalone, was how everything was tied up and more-or-less resolved in a single, relatively short tale. It enhanced the general dreamlike, or folklore-like effect. While written as a prequel introduction to my series, it became one of the books I was most proud of.

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

Walk into darkness, or dwindle to naught in half-light.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Every time I try to make a schedule I stress myself out with self-imposed deadlines and wind up working slower than ever. Which said, I’m currently working on a Greek-myth series that takes place before the Ragnarok Era, and on another short book in the same standalone series as Darkness Forged.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Yeah, actually. I get a lot of questions about my sources, mythology in general, and so forth. So I began writing a series of articles (the Eschaton Development Journal) on where all this stuff comes from. Those interested can find my thoughts here:



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