I love reading; it gets me through the day and brings me to fantastical worlds that I really cannot afford to visit on a bloggers salary. Spoiler Alert: I make nothing.
Today we have an interview with author Matthew Hughes, writer and creator of The Damned Busters, book one in the new series To Hell and Back. We were lucky enough to catch up with him and ask him a few questions about his first book and his upcoming sequel Costume Not Included.
The theology in The Damned Busters was a highly unique one. It almost seemed like the book was written by a writer (obviously) for other writers to enjoy. What made you want to tackle such a powerful idea like such?
Mostly for fun. I don’t think much about readers when I’m writing, even though I’m well aware that there has to be pitching and catching between the two ends of the communication spectrum. I’m an intuitive writer who starts with a character, a situation and an event that takes the character out of the situation and into a conflict. Then I see where it goes from there.
I’ve always been interested in big questions: why is the universe here? Or is there a why at all? Are we really supposed to be making it all up as we go along? Which is how it looks to me most of the time, whether we’re talking about human history or the whole span of evolutionary time.
The answer I come up with is, “I don’t know.” I don’t see how there can be any other answer, so long as we have the perspective of short-lived creatures stuck on one tiny planet in a nondescript galaxy. So I’m very wary of people who tell me that they’ve got it all figured out, especially if they’re relying on the testimony of iron-age people who wrote down oral tales that had been around since the Neolithic that explain exactly what the deity expects of us. They were people who didn’t know why the rain fell or what a chromosome did. Besides, the deity they were writing about was always changing his mind.
One reasonable explanation for all the divine mind-changing, it seems to me, is that god’s a writer working his way through draft after draft of a big book that we’re all characters in. Of course, when I say “reasonable”, I mean “something I can hang an interesting story on”. I’m not really trying to explain life, the universe and everything. I’m just having fun exploring one of the options, however unlikely it turns out to be.
With the aforementioned theology and creationism tale, what made you take the story into a Super-Hero Fiction book instead of going into a standard fiction?
It gave me lots of scope. If Chesney had been just an autistic actuary, the arena would have been much more constricted.
In recent years Super Hero fiction has taken off as a genera. What do you think has caused this sudden growth and what drew you to the Super Hero Fiction section of the library?
What drew me? Same answer as above. I’m not writing deep, psychological drama, but the prose equivalent of a comic book.
As for why superheroes are popular again, I have no solid information, though I could hazard some wild guesses: they appeal to our deep-seated archetypal need for heroes who are larger than we are; or we live in an age that offers us celebrities instead of heroes and we unconsciously feel the lack; or Hollywood, bereft of ideas or artistic courage, has been mining pop culture’s past for bankable concepts and has found that Batman, Spiderman, X-men, allow for great special effects, which appeal to the fifteen year olds of all ages who are their target market for summer blockbusters; or superheroes let us deal with complex problems in a simpler way — they do the heavy lifting we can’t.
I found that the characters in The Damned Busters to be high original and enjoyable. It was refreshing to see Chesney as the main character. Traditionally autistic characters get lumped into with Dustin Hoffman in Rain man or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Chesney seems to be on neither end of the spectrum but instead placed delicately in the middle. What made you want to write a high functioning autistic as a super hero?
If anyone ever does a study of my various characters, a common thread will quickly emerge: they’re all people who find their world a poor fit. They’re not middle-of-the-bell curve everymen. They’re weirdos, outsiders, oddballs, even if they’re highly successful at what they do. To that extent, they’re all aspects of me. I’ve had an unusual life which has made me an unusual person. Or maybe it’s vice versa.
Chesney is a character who sees things in a somewhat childlike way. He doesn’t deal in shades of gray. He either intuitively understands things to his complete satisfaction or he’s completely baffled. He’s thus the perfect foil to put up against a universe that wants to be all shades of gray all the time even when it’s being absolutely beastly, because he’ll always ignore the subtleties and cut right to the quick. Which makes, I think, for good storytelling.
High-functioning autistics and Aspergers also interest me, because they challenge our definitions of what constitutes a human being, just as psychopaths do (although from a much different moral perspective). As well, one of my sons is somewhat autistic, so I can empathize with Chesney’s predicaments, which is always a god thing when working with a character at length.
For every good hero there is a bad villain. Blowdell seemed to me like a man who knows the rules and is content with the consequences of evil but when the consequences may no longer matter then he seems free to act as he pleases. Did you draw inspiration from anywhere for Blowdell?
I used to do politics for a living — not as a candidate, but as a speechwriter for cabinet ministers and party leaders. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in the inner sancta of chief executives of billion-dollar corporations. So I’ve met Blowdells in real life and seen them at work. In The Damned Busters, I needed a villain for plot purposes, so I reached back into my past and formed a composite.
Up next are my two 42 Webs ‘signature questions’. There are small questions that while growing up I always wondered about authors?
What is your favourite book/author? Why?
The author: Jack Vance. Because his genius resonates inside me, and has done consistently for fifty years now. The book: Emphyrio, by Vance. Because, although it’s short, it’s perfect.
What is your most memorable comic trade/graphic novel? Why?
The Turok, Son of Stone comics from the 1950s, because at nine years old I could spell and define palaeontologist.
The idea of a real-life Nat Blowdell scares the molasses out of me. One more reason to stay well clear of the corridors of power.
Fortunately, I’ll be able to get my copy of Costume Not Included without hobnobbing with CEOs and ruthless politicos…
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Just finished the two books…loved them. Matt, Some of the theological perspective, and even a direct quote, reminded me of “A Course in Miracles”. Any connection?
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