Matt Doyle is one of the most interesting men in the world. He’s an Englishman. A novel writer. Dream chaser. Former pro-wrestler. Anime and videogame savant. Cosplayer. And much, much more. Which is why I’m so pleased to have him on my blog to talk about his novel, Addict, a F/F fantastical sci-fi story with a badass Chinese-Canadian heroine.
Before I get to our interview, here is a little bit more about Addict.
New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options.
For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.
When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.
Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.
TSC: In your website’s bio, you mention that you have chased after your dreams your entire life. Outside of writing, what has been your most rewarding dream you have ever chased and why?
MD: Oh, wrestling, definitely. There were so many great moments for me there. I loved watching pro wrestling growing up and was adamant that I wanted to do it too. So, when I found out that there was not only a local training school, but that it was NWA-affiliated and was run by some people that I’d seen on TV, I knew that I had to give it a shot. From there, everything was rewarding in one way or another. Training was really tough; we went for five hours in each session, mixing up pro stuff and legitimate grappling techniques, so when I had my try-out to get on shows, it really felt like I’d earned my spot. When you consider that so many people told me that I couldn’t do it because I was too small too, that made it all the more worthwhile! Those early shows were great fun to work on too, as not only did I get the joy of getting the crowd behind me, I also got to meet a bunch of people like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, who’d I’d admired growing up. It didn’t stop there either. I also got to help train people, I was a referee and ring announcer for a few shows, I booked events (picked the matches, wrote the storylines etc) and basically got to be involved in every aspect of the business for almost ten years. Had it not been for injuries, I’d probably still be going now.
TSC: I want to say how glad I am to finally have a lesbian book featured on my blog. Do you remember the first lesfic you’ve ever read? Why did you decide to write lesbian fiction?
MD: Hmm … I’m not one hundred per cent what the first was. My mind keeps going back to Richard K Morgan’s ‘The Steel Remains’. It’s a dark fantasy novel, the first in a trilogy, and has three POV characters. One is a straight man, one is a gay man, and one is a lesbian. Up until then, I’d not really encountered too many LGBT characters in genre fiction, and it really helped encourage me to hunt more out, but I suppose that it’s not entirely a lesfic novel. I think that, if we’re looking at pure lesbian fiction, it was probably the manga series Octave. It follows two women, a singer-songwriter and an ex-idol, as their relationship grows. It’s a series that’s often cited as being a really realistic representation of a lesbian relationship, as it avoids a lot of the tropes that are often associated with yuri (it’s not S-Class, the women are both adults, and so on). Honestly though, I’ve probably read more in recent years than those gone by. Beneath The Surface by Rebecca Langham was the last one that I read, and that was a superb slab of soft sci-fi.
As to why I chose to write lesbian fiction myself, that’s not really got a clear answer. You see, like I said above, I didn’t see many LGBT characters in the genre fiction that I’d read. That was an issue for me because I tend to gravitate towards sci-fi and fantasy more than anything, and it kinda felt like there was so much potential for representation there that just wasn’t being utilised. So, when I sat down to write my first novel, WICK, I wanted a diverse cast. Among the five POV characters was Fahrn Starchaser, an out lesbian in a long-term stable relationship with a bisexual woman named Maria Grace. At the time, I simply wanted to write a diverse character whose sexuality was part of the character but not her defining quality. I see why coming out stories are needed, but I always wanted to see more tales about what happens next, you know? I wanted there to be more representation of people who just happened to be LGBT without it being a big deal. That seemed to go down well, so I figured that I’d stick with that style of storytelling.
When it came to writing Addict the only thing I knew for certain when I started planning the story was that I wanted a Chinese-Canadian MC. It was when I sat down to start writing that Cassie wandered into my head fully formed and told me in no uncertain terms that this was her story. I just ran with it after that. So, I guess in that regard, I didn’t entirely set out to write lesfic in this case, it just kinda happened. For me the key was to have a diverse character who just was, and Cassie felt right for that role. I was careful though; I didn’t want the book to come across as being written just because, so I took care to give the character due attention in terms of making her fleshed out and real on the page rather than reducing her to a walking stereotype. You have to treat your subject matter with respect, right?
TSC: Definitely true. Addict, as well as many of your other stories, is categorized as sci-fi, fantasy, crime noir, and cyberpunk. What drew you to these genres?
MD: I’ve never had an issue with contemporary fiction, but it was the fantastical that always drew me in growing up. There are exceptions to that rule, like the aforementioned Octave, but in general I love seeing worlds that are different to our own. Whether that be because it’s a fantasy realm, a world of scientific advances, or even a terrifying tale of horror, it was what made it different to our world that caught me, perhaps even more so than the things that made the stories relatable. A lot of my tastes fall back on sci-fi, with Star Trek The Next Generation, Farscape and the Battlestar Galactica reimagining being solid favourites for me, so when I write, it tends to have a grounding in sci-fi. I’m not generally a fan of hard sci-fi though, I like soft stuff, so I don’t put too much focus on the nitty gritty of the tech in the actual stories. Plus, when I write I try to imagine what could be within our reach, rather than what is so out there that it seems lightyears away.
With Addict specifically, it all started while I was gaming online. Basically, I was getting whupped on BlazBlue Central Fiction on the PS3 and, while wondering how I managed to lose yet again, the thought came to me to write a noir mystery. What that led to was me binge watching Blade Runner, The Maltese Falcon and L.A. Confidential. I felt that, aside form all being in my DVD collection, they represented a good cross-section of styles: dark cyberpunk – because I can’t escape sci-fi – and two ends of crime fiction, with a hard-boiled PI and a corrupt police force respectively. That led to the creation of New Hopeland City and in turn the idea that I wanted to see an old school PI let loose in the near future setting.
TSC: When I was younger, I often tried to imitate the writing styles of Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton. Were there any authors you might have imitated when you started writing?
MD: Absolutely. I started trying to get into online magazine years before I started WICK, but I had no luck. The reason was that everything I wrote was essentially a HP Lovecraft pastiche. I was loving both HPL and Ramsey Campbell at the time, and it all just seeped into my writing. I was actually looking back at some of the manuscripts recently and … the concepts aren’t horrible, but the execution is a bit off. I didn’t realise at the time that I was trying so hard to imitate that I was doomed to not have the right feel to the work.
TSC: Cassie Tam, the heroine of Addict, has been described as badass, hard, and interesting. Where did the idea for Cassie come from?
MD: While she pretty much came to me fully formed, I think that I can trace her back a little. I’ve always been a fan of strong female characters. What made them strong though wasn’t just physical strength either. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was never just a bad ass, for example. Sarah Connor in Terminator wasn’t an automatic fighter. Even stuff like Goldie Hawn’s Wildcats portrayed the idea that a strong woman was more than just a proxy for a male. These were women who were resourceful and could do anything they put their mind to. That combined with both my mother and my little sister being strong (albeit in different ways) meant that I was always aware of what an actual strong female character was. So, I knew that Cassie needed depth, and made a point of trying to draw that out in the story. At the same time though I needed her to be a homage to hard boiled PI’s, so being a bit of a bad ass was necessary. I just didn’t want that to be the only thing she was. A lot of people seem to enjoy how awkward she is when it comes to interacting with her love interest Lori too, so I was glad that I was able to bring that out.
TSC: New Hopeland, in Addict, is this dark, sprawling metropolitan-like city that’s supposed to be the center of the technological age. Readers have called it “detailed” and “sprawling” while comparing it to Gotham City and Blade Runner. I, myself, being the nerd I can be, get vibes from shows like Ghost in the Shell, Psycho-Pass, and later episodes of Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne. How hard was it to create New Hopeland and keep all of the details straight? Did you have to do any mapping?
MD: Now, that’s the funny thing. I watched Blade Runner more for the feel than anything. I wanted New Hopeland to be more of a city that you could see existing within the next fifty to a hundred years than Blade Runner is. I picture it like something that would happen if Elon Musk was given free rein to create a city, but it accidentally turned dystopian rather than utopian.
Ghost in the Shell is a great shout here though, as Masamune Shirow’s work is one of my longest standing influences. Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, and Dominion Tank Police all sit as favourites in my collection of both manga and anime. Now, Psycho Pass … that had been recommended to me multiple times, but I never got around to watching it until I was part way through drafting the second Cassie Tam book. What made me laugh was that when I finished it, I had the thought, “I’ve ripped this off without watching it …” The thing is, New Hopeland has a lot more going on than I’ve touched on yet. My two rules when writing the books are: 1) that each one must be a self-contained case, and 2) each book must also contain a few breadcrumbs that point towards the bigger story. What I have in mind isn’t identical to Psycho Pass, but there are certainly some similar points in play.
I probably did more planning with New Hopeland than I have with any other setting I’ve written though. I have stacks of notes here, there and everywhere with different things that are going on in the background, not to mention what the final reveal will be. It wasn’t so much difficult to keep the details straight because I’m a big X-Files fan, so I’m used to being around long-term storytelling, but it remains a pain to keep the physical notes in order.
TSC: Scrivener, my friend, might be useful for all those notes. Now, seeing that you are an anime aficionado, has anime ever impacted your writing in any way?
MD: Definitely. Like I said, Masamune Shirow’s work is a big influence for me. I do like to mention anime once in a while in books as well, with the characters sometimes acknowledging when a setting or scene is reminiscent of a popular anime trope.
Even putting aside the points above for Addict though, one of the things that people loved with my Spark Form Chronicles series was how anime influenced it was at times. The holographic card battling was so Yu-Gi-Oh! at times for example. I think that, no matter what I write, there’s always something of it in there, because I devour the stuff so much.
TSC: How far have you gone in the name of research? (And I don’t just mean miles traveled).
MD: LOL. In some respects, not that far, as I tend to draw on stuff that I already know or am interested in. To give you an example of my train of thought with research, I’ll talk a little about Tech Shifting in Addict. In general terms, it’s people wearing metal exoskeletons so that they can roleplay as animals (both actual animals and anthropomorphic hybrids). This has two layers of initial research for me.
The first was watching some documentaries and reading up a little on pet-play. The focus for most people in that seems to be pup-play, but there are all sorts of animal personas out there. It was interesting seeing how different the concept feels in different countries, or among different groups, because that really has an effect on people’s motivations for doing it. It seems like a really welcoming community though. It was really quite fascinating to research and doing so helped me a good feel for why Lori is a Tech Shifter.
The second layer was fursuiting. That wasn’t too bad, because I’ve essentially been a furry since my childhood in the 90’s, I just wasn’t aware of the fandom until my teens. The way the suits in Addict work borrow a lot from both quad-suits, and stilt based anthro-style fursuits. What’s amazing to think is that the tech side of it does exist to a degree. There’s a UK fursuiter called Beauty of the Bass that built speakers into their suit so they could play music and voice clips, and Kaiborg Studios build masks with animated LCD faces for example.
From there, I really just had to figure out how to make this a potentially workable concept with some futuristic tweaks. I ended up doing an illustrated guide for myself with notes on how the suites connect to the body, how a person fits inside, and how the parts function. I’m actually hoping to be able to use that as back matter in the second book.
TSC: Now that sounds like some very fun research. Finally, what can we expect from you in the future?
MD: Well, the second Cassie Tam novel is in editing with NineStar Press. That’s called The Fox, The Dog, and The King, and I’m hoping to have a release date soon enough. The general idea there though is that Cassie takes on a missing pet case that leads her into something far bigger. The book is designed to further Cassie and Lori’s relationship, build up some more background for New Hopeland City, and push our MC towards the truth about her home.
I’m also doing some personal edits on Cassie Tam 3, tentatively titled LV-48, before I send it to NineStar Press for consideration. That’s an interesting one because, as it stands, it’s longer than both the first books, and deals with some tech-based vampires. That took a lot of research because the vamps utilise some very specific tech and theoretical concepts. I actually learned a little about how some of it will work, at least in theory, from an old ‘Because Science With Kyle Hill’ episode on YouTube.
The fourth Spark Form Chronicles book, Mott, is in the works. I only recently finished the first draft, but all being well, that’ll be out this year.
I was recently informed that I’m going to be in the Bad Dog Books furry anthology, Roar 9. My short story in there is titled Dear Sis and is a little different to my other stuff in that it deals with a gender fluid fox writing to a letter to his sister. So, no sci-fi involved other than that it involves anthros.
I have a few other short stories in mind that I need to get down on paper too, so I’m hoping for a few more anthology spots this year. I actually have a piece of art under consideration for one too, so that’s an exciting prospect.
There are other longer stories in my head too. I really want to write a choose your own adventure style novel once I’m done with Mott. Plus, I still have a YA horror quadrilogy in the works. It needs some work, but I’m hoping to get that moving this year too.
So yeah, far too many things, I think.
Bonus Lightning Round:
If you had to give up one: Anime or video games?
That has got to be the cruellest question ever! Anime is such a big influence for me, and there are certain series and films that I wouldn’t want to be without. At the same time though, you Sonic in front of me and I’ll be lost for ages. Urgh. I really can’t choose!
Your favorite crossplay of all time?
That depends on what you consider a crossplay. If we’re accepting that a Digimon can have gender in some form, then Renamon. That was my first (and so far only) attempt at building a fursuit, and it was easily my most popular to date. It got me a few magazine appearances, and there were so many photo requests that I suffered horribly from over-heating, but it was worth it. If we’re not including Renamon though … Celty from Durarara! That was a last-minute build after I screwed up my original plan. Most of the costume was stuff that could be store bought, but I really had to work quickly to do the helmet. The main thing for me though has always been that, as I identify as gender fluid, crossplay allows me to express gender in a safe environment. As long as I can get a cool femme costume out there, I’m happy!
Tea or coffee?
Tea, easily. I like some coffees, but the stronger ones give me a migraine. Weird, right? Tea though is the drink of awesomeness for me. All the regular blends rock, and I love most herbals too as long as they don’t have mint or liquorice in them.
Coolest pro-wrestling name?
This is a stupid one, but Ken The Box. He was a joke character that, as the name indicates, dressed in boxes. That made me laugh so much that I can’t help but see it as cool.
Favorite advice in 140 characters or less.
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” Captain Jean-Luc Picard
It’s an odd choice, especially as it’s more of a statement than advice, but I stand by it. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that things will not always go the way you want them too, and that’s fine. It really ties in with my own life philosophy that success is relative, and that simply turning up to the dance at all means that you already achieved more than those who didn’t, even if you never quite reach the stars.
Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England and shares his home with a wide variety of people and animals, as well as a fine selection of teas. He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction.
These days, Matt can be found working on far too many novels at once, running his pop culture website, and plotting and planning what other things he’ll be doing to take up what little free time he has.
Thanks for stopping by!
Until next time,