Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Queen of No Tomorrows! Given that this book is the first installment of the Hazeland series, how would you describe the series’ overall premise, and what (or who) was its inspiration?
Matt Maxwell: You’d think that I could give really fast and snappy answers for these sorts of questions, but it’s tougher than I’d thought. The overall premise is folks in the Los Angeles of the past are realizing that the world is far, far stranger than any of them thought. That things are slipping into something not simply darker, but more fantastic and possibly more strange and wonderful than on the surface. Right now the series focuses on Cait MacReady, an ex-punk rocker, now a forger of books and a librarian in her day job. But the forgery side of things has taken a turn for the weird as her latest project, not a forgery but an original work, has taken a life and reputation of its own. And it’s attracted the attention of a woman who’s both a powerful criminal and witch. Nobody should know the book even exists, but the Queen does. She’ll do anything to have it.
As for the inspiration, I can’t point to any one thing. It’s just a setting I’ve always wanted to work in. I’m of an age where the time period of the book is within my lifetime, some fond and not-so-fond but powerful memories associated with the eighties. I grew up in the shadow of Los Angeles and always found it a fascinating place. Even more so once I started digging into the history of it and scratching beneath the surface of everyday life there. Artwise, I was inspired by Raymond Chandler’s (now nearly 100 years old) take on the city in his novels and how he portrayed it as a fantastic, yet grounded, place.
There’s an extensive moodboard for The Queen of No Tomorrows that I came up with when originally writing it. You have to dig a little on the page, but it covers a lot of ground as to the workings of the book and setting, much more than I’d want to hit here.
This link gets you there.
BD: What can you tell us about the creative process of bringing this story to life?
MM: My process is weird and I’m not sure that I’d want to recommend anyone follow in my footsteps. But it works for me in its strange way.
Originally, I came up with the concept of the book, just the one line version of it. “Occult book forger makes a book of magic that’s real.” And it went from there. The original version of The Queen of No Tomorrows was meant to be a shorter serial, maybe four parts, about 7500 words apiece. And that kind of structure made it a little easier to figure out which big story turns I’d end with. After that I wrote out a page or so that covered all four parts (and by then it was going to go out as a novel – projects mutate along the way). Then, I wrote out maybe five pages or so covering the major scenes and what notes I wanted to hit along the way, little scraps of dialogue that may or may not make it into the finished work.
But things get wild when the writing actually starts. Sure, I’ve got a pretty firm outline in place, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t change along the way. Stuff pops into my head or I make what I think is a misstep but actually isn’t or a line comes out from apparently nowhere and that spins into a scene. A minor character speaks up and demands more of the limelight. Or sometimes you figure out what the book is all about when you’re not thinking about it. This is one of the reasons I outline pretty extensively. When I know the direction that things are going in overall and I’m working towards that without wondering it, I can let myself experiment or play or slip up. It’s like working on your dribble or free throw over and over until it’s happening without thought. That’s when I get surprised or find something new I can work with.
That’s the nuts and bolts of plot/outline. The rest of it comes from experience and research and digging up bits of texture or remembering the time I was in a small venue and the music was so loud that it was rearranging my guts under my skin. Taking experience and stitching that into things is where a lot of the fun happens.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Cait’s story may connect with and impact readers?
MM: Honestly, that’s for the reader to decide, if they want to identify with her or not. Or with any of the characters in The Queen of No Tomorrows or any other Hazeland story. I try to be aware of perspectives not my own and to be honest about them in the work, which is about all I can do. I mean, empathy is empathy, and I do my best to work that into all the characters.
BD: How many books do you anticipate including within the Hazeland series?
MM: That’s a good question. I have The Queen of No Tomorrows and the follow-up novel, All Waters are Graves, which is focused around Cait and the fallout from the first book, as well as a new threat that’s waiting in not only the oceans, but the rivers and streams of the city, in every bit of water including that in our own bodies. After that, I’ve got three collections of stories, some shorts, some novellas that will help flesh out the world and backstory without shoehorning all that into novels where it’s just not important to know. I’m a big fan of just worldbuilding through storytelling and not dumping exposition or backstory into it. Anways, that’s five books. There’s a trilogy of novels after that that are pretty tightly planned. And then two others that are loosely planned. But everything could change after that. A lot of this depends on reader response. As an independent writer, I’m the only one keeping this going. No publicity crew, no publisher, etc. I’d like to hope there’s some demand for the books, but realistically, it’s all got to come from me for a good long time before even building an audience. A long process.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MM: It’s just this for the meantime. I’ve got ideas rolling for a gothic space opera sort of setting and a couple big stories there. And some straight fantasy, as well. But like I said up there, I’m just one guy. I do all the writing and editing (with feedback from beta readers), do all the covers, do all the publicity as much as it is, do all the outreach to sites like yours who are out there promoting new work and new writers. It’s a *lot* of work beyond just the writing (which itself is a lot of pre-writing in my case and then drafting and then editing). Plus, the cats have to be fed and I have to keep up with my warlock in World of Warcraft.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Queen of No Tomorrows and your other work?
MM: The best way is via my website: highway62press.com
I’m also on Twitter, so long as it holds together at @highway_62, where I’ll sometimes talk obliquely about my new writing and music I’m into, whatever I happen to be cooking that day.
On Instagram, it’s @hwy_62, but I’m not super active there.
That’s really it. I hang out on some Discord servers, but that’s a lot to keep up with.
Thanks for the questions and the opportunity to talk about my work!