Nightlife Gets Bigger and Even More Frightening – An Interview with Author Matthew Quinn Martin
For Halloween of 2013, author Matthew Quinn Martin introduced us to the little town of New Harbor and the very frightening world beneath it–read my co-review with Mogsy here, and our first interview with Matthew here!) Now, his NIGHTLIFE series is expanding to bring you NIGHTLIFE: HAZARDOUS MATERIAL, a novella that I reviewed here, and the full sequel NIGHTLIFE: AS THE WORM TURNS (all for the low, low price of $1.99!)
Matthew is back to chat with me about what’s in store for NIGHTLIFE, and what you can expect in the new book.
In the first book in your NIGHTLIFE saga, your aim was to make vampires scary again. You definitely achieved that! What was your horror-based goal with HAZARDOUS MATERIAL?
The aim with NIGHTLIFE was not just to make vampires scary, but to make them horrifying. To strip away all the post-Bram Stoker stuff and get to the root of a terror that shows up in the legends of nearly every culture on earth. I’ve talked at length about that (including on this site) and people can look that up if they like (and I hope they do).
As for HAZARDOUS MATERIAL…well, it’s a bit complicated. I’d originally written this as a short story. It featured a crude version of Agent Ross and an embryonic portrayal of The Division. Even then, I knew that Ross and The Division were too good to keep to just that story. So when I started work on NIGHTLIFE I pulled them into that universe.
My editor and I thought it might be fun to expand the original short story to novella length, bring it closer in line with the other NIGHTLIFE books and put it out there as a “sample” of my work. As for my horror-based goals…well a lot of my own fears are based in the most mundane concerns. “Will this next advance afford me time to finally write that breakout book?” “Will I be offered enough adjunct work to keep the pantry stocked?” “Will my fifteen-year-old car make it though another season?” And so on…
I think that sense of everyday dread resonates with a lot of readers in the current climate. The true horror of HAZARDOUS MATERIAL (I think) is that Jarrod’s existence is one of grinding monotony that he fears will lead to nothing, eventually, but the grave. Watching a character get killed by an ax-murderer might be thrilling, but it’s hollow. Watching the slow descent of an otherwise decent person who just made a wrong turn someplace…that’s the kind of horror that gets under my skin.
This is why Jarrod takes a gamble on the game. No one who isn’t desperate would ever haul back home an unknown video game cabinet that’s been sitting next to a wall riddled with bullet holes and graffiti scrawled by a spree killer 30 years ago. I mean that’s “just run out of the haunted house” kind of lunacy…but desperate people are driven to desperate measures––and a lot of times that comes at a serious cost.
HAZARDOUS MATERIAL features several news story pieces that are based on/hit very close to the reality of mass shootings that happen far too often these days. In fact, one of the book’s settings is a video game arcade that was the site of a mass shooting years before our protagonist, Jarrod Foster, finds it. Video games have always been strongly linked to mass shootings. What made you decide to make that link concrete in HAZARDOUS MATERIAL?
I don’t want to hop up on a soap box here…but every time a mass shooting happens, you see a lot of hair pulling and people pontificating about this and that, pointing fingers at stuff like violent video games, or rap music, or a million other things that have nothing to do with the real reasons.
Violent music, video games, movies, dystopian YA with teenagers killing each other––these are works of creativity. And I think the impetus to create these works, ultimately, is the same one that leads to mass shootings. We live in a world that seems to have take little issue solving its global (and corporate) problems with grand scale violence in the form of near endless wars, police actions, invasions, missile attacks, drone strikes, assassinations, crushing embargoes, and so on.
Is it any wonder then…especially when it comes to teens whose brains haven’t yet fully formed, or the mentally unbalanced…that if the most powerful countries on earth condone violent action to solve their problems and petty squabbles, some individuals might feel that that right extends to them on a personal level?
Now…of course the Polybius as I envisioned it in HAZARDOUS MATERIAL was an early experiment on the part of The Division to fight a greater threat to humanity that is still only being hinted at in the series. The mass shooting in the back story (as well as what happens with Jarrod) was never part of the plan.
When reading about the video game, Polybius, that appears in HAZARDOUS MATERIAL, I immediately thought about the game, I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM based on the Harlan Ellison short story collection of the same name. Any connection there?
Truthfully, I hadn’t played the game until you mentioned it (then, I immediately looked it up, downloaded it and took it for a spin). Of course, I’ve read that story more than a few times over the years, first when I was about 15 (and I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was). It wasn’t my first introduction to Ellison (that would be STRANGE WINE), but it was one of those stories that really got inside me. It made me think, on more than one sleepless night, about what I would have done if I were stuck in the same situation as the characters AM is torturing.
I remember coming up with numerous scenarios about how I would have escaped AM’s clutches (even if it involved suicide…or some improbable Deus Ex Machina…but what do you want? I was 15!). What’s fantastic about the game is that it offers the player the opportunity to do just that––to play out escape scenarios no matter how futile they turn out to be.
The true horror in I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM, about the lack of control the characters have, the stripping of their autonomy. The game offers the player an illusion of this “free will,” and that is perhaps ever more hellish than what’s presented in the story. I wonder, if on some level, Ellison knew how his story would affect readers and as an added “F YOU!” decided to show them the futility of it all first hand. Or I could just be projecting. Either way, it’s genius. And like a lot of Ellison’s work…overlooked genius.
And while there is no direct link between HAZARDOUS MATERIAL and the I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM game. Ellison has always been one of the most important influences on my own work. It’s very rare to find a writer of weird fiction (…spec-fic, science fiction, speculative history, magic realism…you pick the term you think fits best), whose work doesn’t suffer with age. Ellison, like Frank Herbert, Walter M. Miller, Russell Hoban, and a handful of others, don’t have this problem. You can pick up one of their stories or novels (some of them almost half a century old now) and they read as fresh as the day the ink was pressed to page. This is a testament to the power of imaginative fiction that dares to go past the bounds of what’s expected of the genre.
The original NIGHTLIFE book was very small town, but with HAZARDOUS MATERIAL’s connection to the mysterious Division, the your supernatural world seems to have expanded into something much larger–and even more frightening than sewer dwelling vampires. Can you give us hints about just how far reaching the Division’s plans are?
I knew, even when I was writing NIGHTLIFE, that there had to be more to the story than just “guy haunted by his past teams up with plucky bartender to save city from underground bloodsuckers.” So I did my best to plant…well…landmines in that first book that may or may not explode in future episodes of the larger story.
I don’t want to give too much away…but The Division (as amoral as its aims may be), along its “on-the-ground-lieutenant” Agent Ross, might serve as the main antagonists in AS THE WORM TURNS, but ultimately there are far more sinister forces at work. Ross, as harsh as his methods might be, sees himself as someone working to save mankind (no matter the collateral damage). He’s sacrificed quite a bit of his own humanity to create the version of himself that we meet in AS THE WORM TURNS (and this is hinted at in HAZARDOUS MATERIAL), and in that respect, he and Jack share a lot in common.
How deep this all goes down the…ahem…”worm hole” is something that I hope to explore in further installments of the series.
The long awaited sequel to NIGHTLIFE, AS THE WORM TURNS, will be out on July 6th. In our previous interview, the worm was still turning in your head … can you give us a few more hints now about what to expect for monster hunter Jack and his new partner Beth?
Well…I would say prepare for something different. Like you mentioned about HAZARDOUS MATERIAL, the world is growing outside the bounds of New Harbor. The threats are bigger, the stakes are higher, the enemies more numerous. Alliances and allegiances shift. More of what’s been working “behind the curtain” is peeked at. And also expect changes for Jack and Beth…both as individuals and as partners.
DUN DUN DUN…..
Be sure to check out Matthew Quinn Martin’s NIGHTLIFE series, available as a complete set on July 6th! Thanks for taking the time to chat, Matthew!