Over the summer I had the good fortune to chat with fellow author Matt Doyle, of Matt Doyle Media: Taking a Positive Look at Pop Culture. That tag line was the first thing that drew me to Matt’s website, because I often find myself frustrated by the way some fans reduce fandom to an exercise in nitpicking. Anyone who knows me knows I love to analyze the media I consume, but I also want to enjoy it. And when something – a movie, a book, a comic – has way more clever ideas than problems I would much rather focus on the clever ideas.
The other thing that made me want to chat with Matt is how kind and thoughtful Matt is in a couple of Facebook groups to which we both belong, and how imaginative and enthusiastic Matt is in his writing. It was an absolute delight interviewing Matt, and I think you’ll enjoy our conversation, too!
MICHAEL WILLIAMS: You describe yourself as a speculative fiction author. I know some writers really embrace that as an umbrella term and some reject it as too generic. (Personally, I’m the former: I love it!) What drew you to that term in particular?
MATT DOYLE: It was actually how all-encompassing it is as a term that drew me to it. Initially, I was kinda struggling as to how to classify my work, because a lot of it features elements of various different genres. In the end, I was usually sticking to sci-fi as that was the genre that was present in all of them, but it wasn’t quite right. Then I stumbled across the concept of hybrid-genre, and figured that was a good start, but it still meant having to clarify the genres a lot more than I wanted.
I hadn’t actually heard the term speculative fiction for a long time, so kinda forgot about it. When it popped up on a post in a Facebook group I’m part of, it suddenly clicked. I mean, speculative fiction covers all those different sides of genre fiction that I like to blend. It’s what I’ve been reading since school. Once that sunk in, I thought, “I’m gonna embrace this.”
MW: You identify as pansexual and genderfluid. As a gay man, I know my sexuality and gender identity have been a huge influence on my writing, as all my perspective characters are at minimum LGBTQ+ and, in some way or another, it shapes who they are and how they see the world. Is that true for you? How does your identity and experience shape your storytelling? Are there particular advantages or disadvantages it gives you?
MATT: Oh absolutely! I’ve been writing LGBTQ+ characters for a while now, and even the multiple POV books will have at least one in there. The thing is, growing up, I had the same confusion that a lot of us did when it came to things like sexual orientation and gender. Where I hit a snag was that the non-LGBTQ+ focussed media I found featured stereotype-heave representation, and the stuff that I found that was specifically targeted at an LGBTQ+ audience tended to be contemporary coming out stories.
Now, I absolutely appreciate how important those stories are. They’re popular because so many people need to feel that connection and find those similar experiences, right? For me though, they didn’t fit. I preferred genre fiction for one. And for two, I didn’t want to see the coming out process, I was already dealing with that. What I wanted was to see what happens next; the people like me that had found themselves and were now embracing their role in the world.
So, that’s what I started writing. My current series, The Cassie Tam Files, is actually probably a good example of how that comes across. The protagonist is an out lesbian, but the focus is on her work as a PI, and mixing the sci-fi setting and the hardboiled detective style mysteries. That she’s LGBTQ+ is just something that’s a small part of her, and things like romance take the role of side stories.
In that regard, yes, my experiences do shape my work. My characters are people that are like me, but the stories fill a role that was much harder to find in my youth. There are a lot of us out there doing it now too, which is great to see.
As to advantages or disadvantages…to a degree, it gives me both. Writing the stories actually made me more willing to out publicly, which has been a real weight off my shoulders. It also means that I can draw on some experience for some things. I do believe that you can write outside your immediate experience providing you research things properly, but it is easier when you’ve got that starting point. As another example, I have a story called Dear Sis in the furry anthology ROAR 9. I may not be a teenage fox, but that story was actually very personal and drew on a lot of my own experiences with being genderfluid. That it led to someone contacting me to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how important a story they thought it was left me with such a good feeling.
On the flip side, it does put some readers off too. I’ve had ads running for books where people have actually replied to the ad on Twitter just to tell me how gross it is that I’ve got LGBTQ+ protagonists in my sci-fi. So, I have no doubt that both writing this way and being open has lost me a few sales.
MW: You’re also a very active and enthusiastic pop culture blogger. What’s the show, book, movie, or other piece of pop culture – new or old – you’re always eager to get someone to read/watch/etc.? (For me, it’s Babylon 5.)
MATT: Oh crikey, that’s a tough one! Sonic the hedgehog is probably the most prevailing piece of pop culture in my life, and I’m always super supportive of the Blue Blur and his pals. If I could get anything across to people, it would be that the criticisms of some of the modern games are a little unjustified in my opinion. Like, Sonic Forces I thought was a lot of fun, and most of the stuff people picked it up on seemed off to me. The glitches for example, I spent ages trying to get them to happen, and just couldn’t, so it’s not like they were as prevalent as some reviews would have you believe, at least on the Xbox One version.
I haven’t written abut it for a while, but Farscape is one that I think passed a lot of people by. For me, that show hit all the right notes in balancing the serious sci-fi with the comedy and the action. The characters were so well-rounded too that I found myself forgetting that a few of them were puppets. It was my second big sci-fi love after Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I didn’t really get another one that I was that obsessed with until the Battlestar Galactica remake.
Since you mentioned it, Babylon 5 was a lot of fun too! I never got to finish it, but it’s one that my partner and I both enjoy. That’s a good thing too as they aren’t a big sci-fi fan in general.
Outside that…just anything with practical effects. I honestly cannot state strongly enough how much I’d prefer to see a hokey puppet on screen than obvious CG. It’s like, it’s so rare that I’ve seen CG and not recognized it for what it is. With practical stuff, you at least it’s right there in front of the cast. Plus, I defy anyone to show me a CG werewolf transformation that looks as real as the American Werewolf In London one.
MW: You spent ten years as a professional wrestler. Fascinating! How did you get into that career? Has that ever shown up in your writing? If not, have you wanted to draw on it in some way? Or is there some other aspect of your life you’re eager to reflect in your writing?
MATT: Basically, I loved watching it growing up. As a kid, we had WCW airing on TV on a Saturday, and my next door neighbours used to tape the WWE (then WWF) PPVs for us. Meanwhile, when I stayed around my grandparents place, they used to watch World of Sport wrestling. Then I’d go to school and we’d paly wrestling at break times.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to try it. I went along to a local show, and hung around backstage to ask one of the wrestlers how I get into it. They directed me to a school that was far too far away to get to. I was disappointed, to say the least. Then, a show aired on our local TV channel and I started hunting down the wrestlers online. I finally managed to get in touch with one of them and they directed me to a school a few towns over. Those early days training were great Five and half hour training session every Sunday with one twenty minute break, and the trainers were phenomenal. But then, they were the UK affiliate for the NWA, so what would you expect, right?
After being told by people close to me that I was too small to ever make it onto a show, I proved them wrong and worked for years. I’ve been a wrestler, an on-screen manager, a ring announcer, and a booker, so it was a lot of fun. In the end though, injuries caught up with me and I made the decision to step back.
I have drawn on it too. My original series The Spark Form Chronicles features a futuristic card game that has become the top viewed competitive entertainment in the world. The whole thing is presented like a wrestling show, with competitors playing characters and cutting promos, and even massive music and pyro-enhanced entrances and live commentary on the battles while they’re played out in real time by holograms. It’s like Yu-Gi-Oh! and WWE merged into one.
MW: As an author with multiple series, I know I certainly have a favorite. Do you? If so, which one?
MATT: I’ve been happy with all of them so far. If pushed, I’d say that my favourite right is The Cassie Tam Files. It was my first to be signed to a professional publishing house, it’s been the best selling of them, and I feel like it’s had some of my best work in terms of worldbuilding. Plus, Bert the robo-gargoyle is definitely my most popular character ever! Even without that though, it’s been so wonderful to write. I love that world, and everything flows easily for me when I’m working in it. In a way, I’m kinda sad that it’s coming to an end soon.
MW: If someone is new to your writing, which series or book do you recommend they pick up first?
MATT: I’d say go with Addict. It’s the first book in The Cassie Tam Files. The thing is, I think that the third book LV-48 is actually a little better, but while all of the first three can be read as standalones, you get more out of it by starting from the beginning. Even with each book being an individual case, it’s seeing how Cassie Tam grows as a character that makes the story work. Plus, there are only five books in the series, and with book four coming later this year, it’s a good time to jump in!