Please welcome Matthew Wayne Selznick to the Z-Axis. Matt is an author, creator, and creative services provider living in Long Beach, California. He’s the creator of the popular Sovereign Era storyworld, the free fantasy serial Walk Like A Stranger: Passing Through Home, and Reading The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One, among many other books, short stories, and non-fiction works. I invited him to the blog to talk about superheros and the lessons writers can learn from comic books.
Matt, you’re a multi-published author with a long history as a writer. Of all the books you’ve published, which one is your favorite and why?
That’s an interesting question. I’m afraid I can’t give a straightforward answer.
Each novel or short story I’ve written was the best I could do at the time. I’ve been proud of each one, especially right after finishing it… and then, as time passes and I grow as a creator, I notice ways a work could have been better, and it sort of falls out of favor. Never completely out of favor, mind you…!
So, given all of that, I guess my last novel, Pilgrimage, the follow-up to my debut book, Brave Men Run, is my favorite. It’s my most technically complex work to date, and the ending gives me “the feels,” as the kids say.
But its days on top are numbered! I’m working on a short story right now that makes me laugh out loud. I know people say it’s tacky to laugh at your own jokes, but if I can make myself (intentionally) laugh with my own writing, I’m going to run with it.
You’re releasing a new title in February called Reading The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One—A Critical Review With Storytelling Lessons From A Writer’s Perspective (subtitle subject to change). Are you a lifelong lover of comic books?
Oh, yes. I read my first comicbook in the very early seventies, when I was six years old. My love of episodic storytelling can be traced to bronze age Marvel comics.
My tastes have evolved over the years, and I admit I have very little patience for the market-driven reboots and “event” comics of the last twenty years, but I do have a deep fondness for sequential art, and I always will. There are things you can do in that medium you simply cannot do in any other.
It sounds like Spider-Man is your favorite superhero – are there any others you’d love to write about as well?
Spider-Man / Peter Parker is one of my favorite characters, period. Adding the fact that he’s a super-hero simply allows for storytelling that amplifies the exploration of his nature and the central themes of his character.
If Peter Parker was just an ordinary guy who lived his life trying to get over his tendency for guilt-induced self-sabotage, you could still tell compelling stories about him. The webs, tights, and parade of animal-based bad guys is all just gravy on top of a tasty, tasty meatloaf.
I don’t have a strong desire to write about any other superheroes, at least not at length.
If you’re asking if I’d like to write stories featuring superheroes, or specifically if I’d like to write comicbooks, yes. Absolutely yes. It’s on the list, that’s for sure, along with that romantic comedy screenplay I’ve been casually working out in my head for the last few years. No kidding!
I don’t want to ruin the book for potential readers, but I’d love a hook: what’s the most important lesson in storytelling you drew from reading The Amazing Spider-Man?
The franchise is a central part of the modern mythology of Western culture. It’s endured for fifty years, with no sign of stopping. And nearly everything that makes it what it is was established in the first twelve issues of the comicbook.
That’s the most important lesson. When you’re building your storyworld, distill what you’re trying to say down to a few essential, core ingredients. Introduce them early. Those evergreen central concepts are the lodestones that will always guide the stories you want to tell in that universe.
Your series The Sovereign Era is also about the appearance of individuals with remarkable powers – you might call them superheroes, too. I think I’m seeing a trend here. What is it that draws you to superheros as subject matter for stories?
I see it differently. The Sovereign Era storyworld is an alternative history–part of a much larger arc of stories–about figuring out whether, faced with deep, disruptive change, we let it destroy us, or advance us… both indivdually, and culturally.
The Sovereigns are the most obvious manifestation of that disruptive change. But they’re not what the storyworld arc is about.
And not for nothing… there are no superheroes in the Sovereign Era storyworld. No one wears a costume or a mask; there aren’t any secret identities; the Sovereign don’t take “good” and “bad” sides any more or less than anyone else does.
Don’t get me wrong. The idea of the superhero is rich with storytelling possibility; it’s a wonderful metaphorical device.
But even after a quarter century, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is still, in my opinion, the first and last novel that’s actually about superheroes as the subject (and a whole lot more, of course). Not that I wouldn’t love to see someone else give it a go… and if someone has and I missed it, I’d love to hear about it in the comments of this post!
Finally, what’s the absolute worst advice you would give to any aspiring writer?
Hah! I love that — turning the tired old obligatory closing-question-when-interviewing-the-writer on its head! Well done.
The worst advice I would give to an aspiring writer is that your job is done when you type “the end.” Folks who don’t understand why should ask about it in the comments!
Thanks so much for inviting me to have this conversation! If you or your readers would like me to elaborate on anything in this interview, I’m eager to have a conversation in the comments thread. And if anyone wants to learn more about me and my creative endeavors and the creative services I provide, I hope you’ll visit mattselznick.com, where folks can sign up to get a free e-book sampler of my works, read my blog, buy my books and short stories, sign up for a free weekly fantasy fiction serial, and contact me directly.
Matt would like to offer readers of The Z-Axis a special discount when they pre-order his next book, the aforementioned Reading The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One. Simply pre-order the Kindle or EPUB editions before Sunday, February 9, 2014 and save $4.00 off the retail price. There’s no risk — he won’t actually take your money until the book is available for sale. Thanks, Matt, for such a great interview and for this awesome discount.