10 Questions For... Matthew Rowe

Usually when I write a bio to lead into one of my "10 Questions for..." interviews, I'll request some info from the interview subject, while doing my own research to round things out.  Well, Matthew Rowe is an interesting bird, so I've decided to let him tell you about himself in his own words:

Matthew Rowe is a recently three-dimensional philosopher of space-time with an unhealthy habit of showing strangers his pussy(cat) on the Internet. He likes innuendo, leading people astray and cookies. When he’s not condemning souls to hell for all eternity he enjoys shouting at small children and defending Earth from extremely polite extraterrestrial threats. He escaped from the UK and hid amongst the terrible disasters of Japan, on March 11, 2011, where he feels relatively safe. He hopes mankind can invent cyborg parts before his arms drop off. Behold his glory, puny mortals!

He's also the author of the novel Better off Dead and the short story collection Not All of Them About Zombies. So, without further ado, here are 10 questions for Matthew Rowe...


1. What would you like readers to know about Better Off Dead?

It’s an antidote to a plague that only got worse while I was making it. It’s also cheap and awesome. You’ll never read another book like it. It’s a motivational guidebook for the slacker generation. It’s an intellectual exploration of how much pressure it takes for a man’s head to pop. It explains why penguins can’t fly. It solves world hunger. It also would make an awesome movie.

2. What drove you to write Better Off Dead?

Vampires. We were on our way to this party, but the dude hosting it got staked by a slayer so we all had to scarper. I was left with an evening of naff all to do, so I wrote a book. That night. A whole book. That's a lie. It was vampires though. I got bored of them always being portrayed as either mindless monsters or lost lonely souls gothing up the place with their emo feelings and scented candles, and this was before sparkling vampires came along! Oh Satan! My book is about vampires who enjoy having superpowers and being free of the mortal coil. Of course, they still have their problems, otherwise I wouldn’t have a book, but if they think, “Hey, you know what would be really cool? Jumping off this building, landing on my face and eating the paramedic that comes along to save me. That would be pretty cool,” they do it, because they can. They don’t write poems about their woman who drowned two hundred years ago while trying to wipe tears with a handkerchief at the thought of a sad kitten and they absolutely do not sparkle. Ever.

3. What would you like readers to know about your short story collection Not All of Them About Zombies?

It's not what you expect. If there is only one thing people will ever say about my work (apart from, “Urgh! What is this shit?”) it’ll be that I play with expectations. The title is not a lie, but it implies a certain something, and each of the stories within plays with your expectations of the main concept. If anyone ever predicts the endings of my stories I’ll buy them a Ferrari…cake.

4. Who are some writers that have affected your storytelling sensibilities?

Douglas Adams taught me straight away that writing should be fun. Is there a single moment in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where immense amounts of fun are not being had? I don’t think so. I think that was the first grown up’s novel that I read. I then migrated to Pratchett’s Discworld and learned that stories could be a complex observation of human culture, and I liked watching humans because I was a shy child. I think they shaped upwards of 80% of my sensibilities, those writers. I don’t really write comedy though. I just can’t imagine life without some laughs.

5. What methods and strategies have you employed in order to promote both yourself as an author, as well Better Off Dead?

I’ve done a lot of different things, but, judging by my bank account, none of them have been successful. I love the writing, I really do, but a writer has to be his own marketing agent nowadays and I am terrible at that – I don’t understand people at all. They behave nothing like characters. However, I’ve got the Twitter account, I’ve got the blog (even though I have struggled with deciding exactly what to do with it, much like a cat might approach an electronic mouse), I did some readings on YouTube, I got features in the local paper and interviewed on the radio. I really don’t know how to do it well though, so don’t go asking me for advice. One thing I am loving recently though is Vine, an app from Twitter where you post six seconds of looping video. I've been experimenting with ways that a writer can use such a thing.

6. Writing a book is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?

Generally, it normally starts while I am watching a movie or something on TV. A plot device or character goes in a completely different direction to what I want him to and so I reach into the TV, pull out the screenwriter and shake him yelling “No! It would have been so much better if you did it like this!” And I keep doing that until he agrees to let me rewrite it for him and all the women love me and all the dogs have fat little puppies and the universe is blissful again. In other words, I usually see some cliche that triggers a "what if" question in my head-mush and I write it down. Usually, it's a character trait or a plot twist. I then brainstorm about what kind of message I can give. This is normally clear as I want to stand against the cliche that annoyed me in the first place, but sometimes deeper messages develop and the story flows from that.

I’ll then make a character for it, asking "Why are they how they are?" and building the world up around this central, initial, unchangeable idea until I have a whole backstory and story arc for them. Then I build up supporting characters as needed and usually these characters change the main plot a little, so I tweak. The tweaking continues as I write, which can happen from any time really, but normally I have a whole novel outline done before I get 10,000 words into the novel. During the actual writing I’ll separate it into chapters – even if I eventually decide the book doesn’t need chapters later – and I choose where I want my characters to be at the start and end of each chapter. Then I just write until I get to that point each time. Also, I go back and edit previous chapters whenever I need more time to think about the current section. So usually I have a very polished beginning, but the end of the novel is usually much rougher! It gets polished eventually.

7. Has living and teaching English in Japan affected your writing?

I’ve not been influenced by the culture, by being an outsider in a strange land, nor do I have to get out all my angst from being stared at by homogeneous peoples by furiously banging at a keyboard. I’ve actually been motivated by my students. I work in public schools, so most students don’t give a flying simian about English. However, a lot of them have been impressed by the fact that I write novels and stories.

Many of them, especially those who like English, and who I adore because obviously they are superior people, have expressed a desire to read my work. In that respect, I’ve felt bad because my novel is so full of slang and my own twisted ways of speaking that non-native speakers would struggle to find any meaning. Plus some of the short stories are a little adult. I don’t mean a dwarf. I mean, I’m not shy about swearing and my birds do my bees all over the page…occasionally.  So, they have motivated me to write something they can read and enjoy, but more generally, seeing how hard some of them try with English makes me feel guilty for being so lazy with my writing. I really want to make stories that my students would be proud to say “my teacher wrote this” without the awkward "… but don’t look at page 52."

8. Where do you see your writing career five years from now?

I think in five years I might have two or even three new novels out, another compilation of shorts and I might even have earned enough in sales to pass Amazon’s limit to actually transfer earnings to my bank account. On that day, I shall buy a new bookcase with my earnings, and then lament at the waste of money as I will only have ebooks and my iPad/Kindle will look pretty lonely there on its own. I’ll have a writing career, but I won’t be successful, because I can’t market myself. Such a thing is as foreign to me as driving a taxi is to a newt with General Anxiety Disorder. I’ll be happy though, because I’ll be writing.

9. What are you currently working on?

I’m just perfecting that ending on my SF comedy No Technobabble Please, We’re Earthlings! which has proved to be as troublesome as Justin Beiber’s singing career is to my eardrums. I hope to get that published first thing next year. I’m also in the late planning, early first draft stages of my next novel, The Damsel. It’s a reverse of the usual "Chosen One" stories. So its a "Bugger off, we didn't want you" story, I suppose. I think its a world first in that respect. When a world of superpowered citizens cries out for a hero, the only normal girl puts on a mask.

10. What advice would you give to an aspiring author who hopes to see their work published one day?

Just do it (sponsored by Nike). You’ve got no excuses anymore. Anyone can publish anything, and it's not damaging to your career if you don’t go the traditional publishing route. That I wouldn’t recommend anyway. I wasted eight years chasing a publishing contract when I should have jumped on the self-publishing wagon as soon as it emerged from its stable like a terrified lamb. What is harmful to your career is if you publish something before it is ready. Make sure your work is the best it can be before you send it out into the world. It’s not like your child. It’s not going to eat all the snack food, get fat, make your basement smell bad and have you labelled as a terrible person by all society if you don’t get it out of your house by a certain age. Write it, edit it, edit it again, edit it some more and then pay some professional people to keep editing it until you are crying from all the pages you’ve had to lose (or whatever best serves the story). I may or may not have made such a mistake in the past. Stop judging me!


If you’d like to learn more about Matthew Rowe and his work, you can check out his website, Matt Cannot Write. You can also check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.