Last year, I read Matt Rossi's excellent Bottled Demon, which inspired a series of posts about things I had read in the book. Rossi is close to finishing his next book of essays and alternate histories, At Last, Atlantis, and was kind enough to spend some time answering some questions for us.
You can find Bottled Demon at Amazon for only $2.99 (and a free borrow for Prime members!), and Things That Never Were is still available via MonkeyBrain Books and may be coming in an ebook edition soon. His WoW Insider columns can be found at Joystiq, he has a personal blog at Wordpress, and he is active on Twitter via @MatthewWRossi. Our discussion about all sorts of things is beyond the jump.
Jeff: So, first, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do, your writing, etc.
Matt: My name’s Matt, I’m old, and I write things. I started writing after my mom died to try and make sense out of something that was senseless and realized that there wasn’t any sense to be made, but that I enjoyed the process and tried to keep at it. Since I have huge emotional problems, it’s been touch and go, but I’m still here. My wife Julian is really the reason I’m still somewhat able to keep on.
J: You’ve written Things That Never Were and, more recently, Bottled Demon, with another book imminent. I always have trouble explaining what these books really are to people when I talk about them, how would you describe them?
M: Conspiracy theory is often written by people who aren’t capable of realizing that their theories aren’t really the way the world works. I AM capable of that realization, but I write the stuff anyway. My main inspirations are Avram Davidson and Charles Fort, although I discovered Kenneth Hite after I started writing and he’s certainly in the same vein (and somewhat better than I am at making his points). I guess the best term for what I do is Speculative Nonfiction, in that it’s not a traditional fictional narrative.
J: With Bottled Demon in particular, I think I got through about 10 pages before I had about 5 things I wanted to look up and read more about, including the levitating of the Pentagon and the Philadelphia Experiment, two things I hadn’t heard of prior to reading your book. Where do you get these ideas from, what are you reading that puts these in the forefront of your brain?
M: I like to read whatever comes to hand - old Reader’s Digest collections like Mysteries of the Unknown, encyclopedias, old textbooks, short stories, novels, whatever is at hand. I do a lot of reading of authors who write on subjects like Donna Kossy, whose Strange Creations is excellent for trawling into subculture topics. Weird old and new cults, history, whatever I stumble upon.
J: Is there a balance you try to bear out between going the more alternate history/fantastic route and the harder weird history, or do you more or less leave that up to whatever the topic is?
M: If there is one thing no one has ever accused me of it’s being balanced. I just write whatever interests me at the time.
J: Have you run into any of your alternate theories gaining some credence in some circles, or have readers been able to discern the real and the imaginary fairly well? Obviously, for example, there isn’t a steam-powered Napoleon, but perhaps some of the more “credible” occultish theories?
M: Naah. No one thinks anything I write is in any way credible. That’s assuming more than a relatively few people have even read my stuff.
J: Having been part of Chris Roberson’s publishing group (and I’m a fan of Roberson), and then publishing independently in this wild new ebook frontier, how have you felt about the changing experience overall? I know you’re planning on publishing your third volume in a similar way to Bottled Demon, but as you’re someone who’s gone both the small publisher route and then the no publisher route, I’m curious as to your experiences.
M: Well, Chris offered me a chance to publish Things, and I took it, but I always suspected it was a niche book with a limited appeal and that’s been borne out by experience. eBook publishing lets me just put things up as I get them done. That way, I don’t have to feel like I’m letting anyone down by being an odd little fringe writer. I always regretted that I couldn’t bring readers in to MonkeyBrain the way the more established writers did.
In general I’m still trying to figure out the Kindle market and beyond. After At Last, Atlantis is done I’m working on a short fiction collection, so that means even more work - need to get stuff like cover art, do more edits, etc etc.
J: Between your books and some other things I’ve read when looking for more of your stuff to devour (which is why I’m so excited for a new book so quickly), it appears we have a mutual appreciation of Lovecraft and other “weird fiction,” as the terminology goes these days. Would you say that the Lovecrafts, the Howards, etc, helped to kind of inspire a fun, skewed look at the world, or is it more complementary to things you were previously considering?
M: Well, I grew up in Rhode Island, so for me Lovecraft is almost a culture hero, someone who embodies the way the state feels. Rhode Island is an extremely odd place. As for my worldview, it’s definitely been helped along by the writers you’ve mentioned, as well as guys like Mervyn Peake, Fritz Leiber, women like CL Moore, there’s a host of them I owe a lot to.
One writer who doesn’t really get a lot of credit nowadays is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who put out an enormous volume of fiction over the years. Granted, it wasn’t all great, but anyone who comes up with Barsoom and Pellucidar you kind of have to admire. I’m also a huge fan of James Branch Cabell, E.R. Eddison, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and Gene Wolfe. Oh, and H.G. Wells and Jack London, especially London’s science fiction.
J: Have you found a lot of things you’ve liked in the more modern “weird” resurgence?
M: Oh sure. There’s tons of good stuff out there. Stepan Chapman’s The Troika, the body of work of Paul Di Fillippo, Ramsey Campbell, Jeff VanderMeer.
J: Shifting gears a bit, how did you get involved with doing World of Warcraft stuff for Joystiq?
M: My wife was a big [WoW Insider] reader, so when they did a call for writers, she pointed it out to me. I needed a job pretty bad at that moment. Elizabeth Harper, [editor-in-chief] of WI at the time, took a chance on me and that’s how I ended up there.
J: I assume we can consider Warcraft your main MMO, but have you played with others? Excited about anything else coming down the pike gaming-wise?
M: I’ve played City of Heroes/Villains, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic (which I still think was a fantastic single player experience), Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online. I’m interested in The Elder Scrolls Online and Neverwinter for MMO’s that are coming out, and probably whatever Titan ends up being.
J: You mentioned Kenneth Hite earlier. Is tabletop role playing something you have an interest in at all along with the WoW and alt-history/conspiracy stuff? I have a friend (I believe he may be a mutual one depending on how our worlds cross) who often finds gaming hooks in different places, have some of the things you’ve written about wormed their way into other creative avenues for you or others?
M: I’ve played Pen and Paper RPG’s for years - in fact, I even got a few articles published in Pyramid Magazine when it went fully online, including an In Nomine adventure and an article crossing over White Wolf’s Mage and Aberrant settings. I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons (every edition from the old purple Basic Set with the Erol Otus cover to AD&D to the Mystara Known World Gazeteers and 3rd Ed/Pathfinder, as well as 4th Ed), Hero System/Champions, GURPS, Superworld/Chaosium (Elric, Call of Cthulhu), West End Games’ TORG, Nexus the Infinite City and Feng Shui, and loads more. I’ve run a few games (I had a lot of fun co-GMing in a friend’s campaign based on superspies and such) and I even half finished my own campaign setting called Ad Astra Per Mens Aspera, which you can read on my blog if you’re interested.
J: Finally, I think I only learned the name of the new book from this exchange, and from some of your tweets this weekend. You’ve said you’re in the middle of editing right now, when can we expect it to be out, and is it similar to Demon or is it a little different?
M: The essays in At Last, Atlantis are disparate in terms of when I wrote them - some I wrote before 2000, some I wrote this year. The biggest difference between this collection and Bottled Demon is that two of the essays are actually multi-part, one about the Cathars and another about Atlantis.
J: Anything else you want to plug/pimp/put out there?
M: I guess I could mention that Things That Never Were is still available in dead tree format - I’m considering putting out another edition as an eBook on my own, since the rights have long since reverted to me. Also, after At Last, Atlantis comes out I’ll be putting some focus onto the short fiction collection, and then hopefully once that’s done and available I can get some focus onto one of the half finished novels I’m dragging around behind me like cans tied to a wedding limo.
J: Thanks a lot, Matt. Really appreciate you taking the time!
M: I’m fairly certain you’re actually the one doing me a favor.