Hi dear Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror friends.
It’s been a while since we drink a nice shot of poison from the wicked bottle. So today we are happy to bring you some nice dark thoughts from a writer of horror of a very peculiar kind.
His name is Matthew M. Bartlett, a man whose style goes beyond the simple “creepy” horror and strange fiction, surpassing both genders sometimes with absurd humor and others with the most dense and unpleasant terror that makes some of the most hardcore readers stop a second to catch a breath before carrying on with the story… The kind of stories that make you look over your shoulder just to make sure you are alone in your living room… or aren’t you?
Matthew has written several books and collaborated with art projects of horror. His first collection “Gateways to Abomination” was self-published (and mostly self-edited) several years ago, and immediately attracted the attention of horror fans and writers of the gender towards him. That’s why his latest work “The Stay-Awake Men and Other Unstable Entities” has been so long-awaited by his increasing fan base.
Native to the dark corners of New England - the same quirky paths our beloved Master H. P. Lovecraft once walked – where he lives with his wife and their cats, Matthew appears to be a normal man, but remember the most wicked serial killers and other “Unstable Entities” are always described by their neighbors as “a very charming gentleman” once their real personality comes afloat. So let’s try to unravel the evil within Bartlett in this edition of... The Mouth of the Madman!!!
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Matthew, thank you for the honor of giving us this interview, you started your horror fiction writer career as an adult (whereas many writers start at an early age). And your first book “Gateways to Abomination” had a good reception. Do you think it was because you waited to learn about the world in order to start storytelling? And also what was Matthew doing before that? Maybe you had the idea of publishing deep in your mind all along…
Matthew M. Bartlett: I couldn't do it until I started doing it, if that makes any sense. I didn't even know that I would start writing until a day or two before I did start. That was in late 2004. I was 34 years old. Of course, I didn't publish until ten years later, and that's when I started writing almost every day. Prior to 2004 I wrote some poetry for college courses back in the early 1990s, a few pieces that I’m pretty proud of, and that I still pull phrases and ideas from to use in my stories. I tried writing fiction a few times, to no avail. I didn't have a story to tell, and I didn't know how to even start stories. In the meantime, of course, there was an accumulation of life experiences, jobs, relationships, friendships, writing in a journal, a lot of reading and movie viewing. I didn't have any real aspirations, creative or otherwise, for a large portion of my life. Now that I'm four years into a writing career, I can't remember what it was like not to be involved in any creative endeavors.
CL & H: The vast majority of our readers and followers are fans of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, his Mythos and the works of his disciples. Do you consider your work influenced by Lovecraft somehow? And what is it about New England that draws horror fans towards her? Seems like there is a creepy aura surrounding the area that has given the world several of the greatest horror writers.
MB: I came to Lovecraft late. I was 33 or so, I think. I'd see the Del Rey covers in book shops and they had me thinking Lovecraft was more of a science fiction or fantasy writer, and I had no interest in those genres at the time. I think that a friend prompted me to pick up Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, and impressed upon me that Lovecraft wrote a lot about New England. I grabbed a copy, and it just hit me like a giant fist covered in spiderwebs. It was exciting to read about locales that were familiar to me, and thrilling to imagine dark doings in the neighborhoods, in the woods, all right near where I live. He is a very strong influence on me, though I don't have any desire to write pastiche or set a story in Innsmouth or Dunwich or Arkham--unless I'm doing a Lovecraft satire--and I have written a few of those. What he inspired in me was the desire to create my own settings, and my own mythos, to try writing fiction again. I had been reading Stephen King for a lot longer, but Lovecraft woke up something in me. Both obviously made use of New England settings, so combine that with my having grown up here...it just feels like a spooky place to me. I like the shadows here, and the history.
CL & H: The main connection on your stories (especially in “Gateways to Abomination”) is a doomed radio station managed by a witch cult that alters the minds of those who happen to tune in. Even in the back cover you find the warning; “that its best to turn off your radio” when you drive by Leeds, Massachusetts. What makes radio waves scary? I mean, we are in the internet era, and still you can craft frightening stories with The Radio. From “The War of the Worlds” to the recent “Sam Was Here”, what are we afraid of?
MB: Radio has an intimacy to it, and a voice on the radio is, to my mind, as effective a vessel for a story as words on a page can be. The combination of words and voice and sometimes music - it can conjure up terrifying images in the listener’s mind. Add to that the fact that so-called terrestrial radio is by its very nature local, so whatever horrors you're hearing are nearby. Lastly, it's an aging technology, and it still survives in the digital era. It hasn't been subsumed by satellite radio, and it hasn't been co-opted nor destroyed by the Internet. It's a zombie, in short.
CL & H: Your story “The Sons of Ben” sounds like an allegory of what Hell rising on earth would be. It´s very original how you invented a “post apocalyptic world” quite different from what most science fiction is usually driven to –example Mad Max, Zombie holocausts, Steam Punk…- What is your inspiration for this? If there was actually an antichrist, would he rule the world reshaping modern cities?
MB: The hellish world I describe is what I call the Real Leeds - it's the city beneath and around the city, the true heart of the city--its real psychic face under the mask of buildings and streets and parks. It's not a post-apocalyptic world so much as it is an mid-apocalyptic world. As far as an antichrist reshaping modern cities, I think they'd look pretty much as they do now. The churches would be different, I guess.
CL & H: You are part of the generation who would go to the library to get a book, or to the video store to rent a movie. Now it seems we have everything available on the internet, and still it statistically, the amount of people reading decreases and the youth get their education by watching memes or by trying to emulate the celebrities who despite doing nothing, are the biggest influencers. What is going on with the people’s minds, and why does this sound like a dystopian horror novel out of your (fictitious) WXXT radio station?
MB: I've benefited in so many ways from the Internet - my generation spent the formative part of our lives without it. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm profoundly grateful we didn't have social media when I went to high school, and I'm profoundly grateful we do have it now. My writing career would not have been the same without it, that's for certain. I miss hunting for rare CDs in stores, sure, and I still poke around my local used book shops before searching the Internet. And as far as movies, no online service can match the local video store for wanting to see a particular movie and being able to do so on the same day. We're in an in-between period there, where you can grab the most popular new movies, or rifle through the every-morphing Netflix catalog, but you're stuck if you want to see a particular movie and none of those services have it, or you have to wait to get the damned thing in the mail. But it's useless to look back on those aspects of art and entertainment that we miss. In any event, There has always been celebrity culture, and I see it but don't feel a part of it. I think there will always be people who are alienated by all that noise. Also, I don't know that the amount of people reading has decreased. I'm an optimist in that area - I think there will always be readers, Twitter notwithstanding.
CL & H: You started self-publishing before working with publishing houses, and in both cases you have received great reviews. What do you think is better for horror/fiction writers, and what would you recommend to those who have some stories and would like to publish them? We know it is a difficult business.
MB: My career began in an unusual way; I self-published a book before ever having so much as a single story published. One reason I never submitted the manuscript to publishers was that most of the content had already been "published" on Livejournal, and I'd been told that publishers wouldn't be interested in it for that reason. I felt as though I had no choice. I don't know that I'd recommend going that route, because there was a lot of luck and accidental good timing involved in my case. Fairly or unfairly, there is still a very strong stigma against self-published writing. It's the butt of a thousand jokes and an easy target for scorn for a lot of people. I was very lucky to stumble sideways into a writing career by way of self-publishing. There was luck, but also a lot of hard work. I think the way to go is still to submit stories for publication, and submit them to high-paying markets, and build a career that way. But I don't know. I'm hardly an expert. If I have advice, it's to take in all the advice given by people with writing careers, see what makes sense to you, turn off your ego as best you can, and be prepared to work hard for what you want. Then choose the path that suits you, and march forward. On the other hand, if you're doing it purely for the joy of it, and not necessarily seeking writing as a career, by all means self-publish, but do it in a way you'll be proud of. Don't skimp on the cover art and the design. And consider hiring an editor, or at the very least a proofreader.
CL & H: You have worked with several graphic artists and I understand your first draft for what now is “Gateways to Abomination” started as a collage mixture between images and stories. And with your new project with Ives Tourigny “Of Doomful Portent: An Advent Calendar of Grotesque Horrors”, you seem to have reached a point of transgression and originality that not many artists have thought of. Damn I wish I could buy one of those Calendars, hope you make one for next year. How important is for you working with images in your stories? And how important is it to invest in them even if you have to share the credit with other artists?
MB: When I was writing the Gateways stories on Livejournal, I started by finding an old tintype or daguerreotype, online or physically in a local antique shop, and forming a story around it. The pictures were creepy, and I liked the visual aspect of online storytelling. I don't work that way now. But I love every bit of art--and fan art--that my stories have inspired, and it's interesting and fun to work with such talented visual artists. But when I'm writing, it doesn't enter into my mind. It's a pleasant surprise afterwards, and always a bit of a shock to see how others visualize characters and scenes that I've written.
CL & H: Your horror stories are plagued by the most terrible nightmares with the vile and evil characters, however there is always a layer of absurdity and dark humor. Why is it important to keep a splash of this in the horror gender?
MB: Humor is part of the human experience; to me it deepens and strengthens the horror to have a touch of the absurd mixed in.
CL & H: What is something that really scares you? And, tell us about the scariest situation you have lived in your life.
MB: My fears are not unusual. I fear loss, violence, death. I fear disturbance and upset. As for the scariest situation I've been in, one fall day I drove into Central Massachusetts to go to a farm stand where I could buy ghost peppers. The stand was located at the far end of a pothole- filled street, and there was no cashier or attendant. You were to leave your money in a lockbox. I got out of the car and went into the little shed. As I was gathering the peppers and putting them into a bag, a growling wild dog approached. He was between me and my car. There was no one else around. I did not have a cell phone. Strangely, I don't remember how the situation resolved itself.
CL & H: We usually ask this question to the writers we interview, some do answer some prefer not to, but it comes with the trade. So, do you believe in the supernatural?
MB: I do not, but I remain open to the possibility.
CL & H: Today I heard on the radio that we are officially 7.5 billion people on earth. Sounds a bit too many. If you were chosen to start the human race over from “scratch”, who would you chose to be Adam and Eve to repopulate the world?
MB: I'd probably just let it die. Not to get all antinatalist, but I don't see the point of engineering a new populace. We had a good run, but in the end we were too greedy and too stupid to sustain it. We did not deserve the world we could have made.
CL & H: Would you give your Mexican readers a micro story of a few words? It starts like this: “Matthew won a trip to a small town in Mexico; but on the way back to the tour bus, he finds the party he had come with is gone. Night is upon him and the only place open is a small ‘cantina’ at the end of the street…”
MB: They had run out of tortillas, of tequila, of cerveza. The meat had gone rancid and the chicken had been nibbled at by rats bubbling with bubonic plague. The lettuce was brown and the cheese had gone green. The pico de gallo smelled of death itself. The owner removed his hat, which had the cantina's logo on it, and handed it to Matthew. "It's all yours, mister," he said, and opened the doors to a ravenously hungry crowd.
CL & H: Do you have some final words for your Mexican readers of the Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror?
MB: Thank you for reading!
Matthew M. Bartlett says hi, Iä, Iä!
Thanks to Mr. Matthew M. Bartlett for this nice session, and thanks to all our readers of the horror. You can find Matthew’s scary stories at his official page:
Just be careful when you tune in your radio at night, because somewhere in the sector, you could have the bad luck of entering in the sinister world of the creeping waves of Matthew M. Bartlett and his cursed station.
See you at the next edition of De Boca del Loco!!!