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A Conversation With Matthew Woodring Stover
Part 2 of an interview with Gabriel Chouinard
April 2001


Photo © Matthew Woodring Stover
Matthew Woodring Stover
Matthew Woodring Stover
Matthew Woodring Stover was born in 1962. He graduated in 1983 from Drake University and settled in Chicago. He worked as a bartender in a private sports club as well as spending time as an actor, theatrical producer, playwright, and theatre co-founder. His previous fantasy novels include Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with artist and writer Robyn Fielder.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Blade of Tyshalle
SF Site Review: Heroes Die
SF Site Review: Jericho Moon

Blade of Tyshalle
Heroes Die

Art: Douglas Beckman
Heroes Die
Jericho Moon
Iron Dawn

SF Site Interview: | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 |

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You have a lot to say about the so-called duality of human nature (again, like John Woo!), even going so far as to have multiple characters who are really more than one person, especially in the Aktiri. Do you think that duality is a common factor in the average person's life?
I think "duality" doesn't quite capture it; human nature is more complex than that. At the risk of sounding repellently New Agey, identity is not an object, it's a process. It's architectural: we are constantly building ourselves, layering each level upon the foundation of the last.

I could extend that metaphor into a lengthy essay, but shit -- each of the four protagonists of Blade of Tyshalle is more than one person. I've spent three years and a third of a million words on the interaction of personal identity, fractal reality, mythic destiny and the Meaning of Life. I'm not about to bust my ass to summarize it here.

If the truth were simple, I wouldn't write books. I'd rent billboards.

Coming from a theatre and acting background, how much did you draw upon your own experiences?
The biggest influence of my acting background on my fiction has been the ability to inhabit a character. A large part of effective character-creation on stage is training yourself to see the world the way the character sees it; if you can do that, all the character's choices -- no matter how bizarre or perverse they may seem from the outside -- develop their own internal logic, because they arise from the way the character expects others (or the world in general) to react. That's what makes these choices convincing, and goes a long way toward helping the audience believe the character is a living, breathing human being. That's what Hari does in Day Two of Heroes Die, when it's time for him to become Caine.

I do the same thing when I'm creating a character on the page. It seems to be working so far.

I hate to call Blade of Tyshalle a sequel to Heroes Die. I see it more as an extension of one large story. But tell me, is Caine's story told? You left quite an opening in the last few pages. Will this grow up to be a Jordan-esque epic?
Christ, I hope so! Jordan-esque, at least, in the sense of Outselling Everything Else On Earth and Making Me Richer Than God.

Hey, a guy's got to have a dream, right?

I'm kind of interested in discovering how many stories I can draw out of this vein before I start to repeat myself.

Are you going to revisit Overworld?
That remains to be seen. I want to; in fact, I have notes for two whole trilogies with a linking stand-alone. But the future of Overworld is subject to the realities of publishing, and the necessities of making a living. Which is to say: Blade of Tyshalle has to make money. It's that simple. Putting out a book these days is expensive, and publishers aren't in the business for fun.

I may write for love, but I also like to eat.

The scope of this novel is much broader than Heroes Die; there are more plotlines, more characters, more of everything. And yet, everything is fully-developed; even the villains are multi-dimensional. Is this your ultimate ideal -- that everything and everyone has thousands of facets? Or is this simply your strength as a writer?
That's exactly my ultimate ideal. One of my idols is Tolstoy -- when you've finished War and Peace, you feel the the Rostovs and the Bezukhovs and the Bolkonskys are all people you know. You feel like you've known them for years, and you feel like you've lived through the Fall of Moscow.

I may never produce a story that true. But I don't have any plans to stop trying.

In fact, I don't really think of my characters as characters. I think of them as people. Even the minor characters are nodding acquaintances. They are real to me in a way that I can't precisely describe.

Fiction, as Caine observes, is a slippery concept.

Obviously, you drew upon many philosphical, theological and psychological references for Blade of Tyshalle, in order to postulate the numerous philosophies underlying the novel. Did you do much research, or are you just a naturally deep thinker? (chuckle)
There's only one philosophy underlying Blade of Tyshalle: mine. This book reflects what I believe.

All the mythologies, the epistomology, aesthetics and mystic traditions are just the bricks, the mortar and the paint on the walls.

I'll admit to being a thinker. Whether I'm deep or not is for others to decide. The only research I did for the book was on gene-splicing for bioweapons, a little on antiviral agents, and a little on the symptomatology of rabies. All the rest of that stuff just happens to be swimming around inside my skull. I'm more like Tommie, from the book: I'm interested in things, and I pay attention. That's all.

I think I saw some Philip K. Dick in there somewhere...
Sure. Along with everything else I've ever read, and everything I've ever done, everything that's been done to me, and everything I know -- or think I know -- about the ways the universe works. I mix it all together, give it a squeeze and see what drips out. That's how I write.

Readers could probably make a parlor game out of guessing from where I stole what.

I once asked you if you were worried about Cainism becoming a religion in reality. Your response was: "If only. That would REALLY piss some people off. But, y'know, like t'Passe says, the capacity for personal freedom is a rare talent." I tend to agree... but you obviously hold some hope for that capacity, or you wouldn't be returning to the idea again and again. So, tell me... how much of Caine is really you? How's your capacity for personal freedom looking?
All of Caine is really me. So is Ma'elKoth, and Raithe, and everybody else in my books. Even Berne. Even Kollberg. If you had to pick a character who's the most like my everyday personality, it'd probably be Kris Hansen.

My capacity for personal freedom seems pretty solid, these days. It hasn't really been tested for a while. Ask me again after the mid-term elections.

You've also mentioned that at one point you'd thought Blade of Tyshalle might be your last novel, and you wanted to go out with a bang. You made quite a bang. But is this your masterwork? Your War and Peace?
I hope not. I want to make each book better than the one before. On the other hand, I don't think I'll be attempting anything on this scale again for a while. My sketches for future Overworld stories are more focused, more concentrated, less sprawling. More Hemingway than Tolstoy.

You know, I never wanted to be known as a series writer, but about halfway through Blade, I realized that I had laid down the underpinnings for a multiverse I can use to say pretty much everything I might ever want to say with heroic fantasy. So, let me put it this way: If my career is to go according to my fondest wish, it would be that Blade will be not so much my War and Peace as it is the second volume of my Remembrance of Things Past.

Do you have any promotional plans tied to the release of Blade of Tyshalle? Will you be hitting the bookstore circuit, signing autographs and pressing palms?
Doing these interviews is pretty much the sum of my promotional plans. I may show up at a couple of cons here and there, but book signings tend to be hard on my ego -- sitting around watching people who have no idea who I am skitter nervously past the table, avoiding eye contact -- it can get depressing. I have better luck with writing seminars and book club talks; at least I know I'll have an audience. On the other hand, anybody who's really desperate for my presence can email me at brkngmad@aol.com -- or call up the Del Rey publicity director and badger her to send me out on tour.

Now you're working on a novel for the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series. Can you tell us how that came about?
I was approached by Jenni Smith, who had formerly edited Barra & Company over at Roc, but was by that time working with Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey. They had a specific book in the SW:TNJO story arc that they thought I'd do very well. I confess that it took a little convincing, but when Jenni laid out the broad concept of the story they wanted me to tell, I became very interested indeed. Jenni and Shelly went to bat for me with the folks at LucasFilm Licensing -- who of course had no idea who I am; most of the other TNJO authors are better-known. Jenni sent them copies of Jericho Moon and Heroes Die, and they must have liked what they read, because here I am.

It's an odd dichotomy for a Next Wave author to be writing something so mainstream. But then, Kevin J. Anderson says he's seen the sales of his non-licensed-property novels rise quite a bit from his recognition. Was there ever, in the back of your mind, that hope of "luring" some of those Star Wars readers over to the darker fringes?
It's not exactly PC for a Star Wars author to be luring fans to the dark side, is it?

A Star Wars book is absolutely a boost to my career; it would be for anyone in the field, I think.

And the Next Wave is where you find it: I never set out to limit myself to the Next Wave model, that's just a name for where my books fall. Of the writers we've been talking about, I'm probably leaning more toward the mainstream already. Hell, I'm looking forward to the Next Wave model becoming the mainstream. I don't see any particular merit in being a fringe writer; I just want to write good books. And get paid for it.

Working in the Star Wars mythos is quite a departure for someone who's known for hard-hitting, gritty writing. Do you feel at all limited by what you can write? How have you adapted to telling a Star Wars tale?
Anybody who thinks Star Wars can't be hard-hitting hasn't been reading The New Jedi Order. My novel, Traitor, is going to be just about as gritty as it gets. It's in no way as graphic as Heroes Die or Blade, of course, but you can do a lot with understatement and suggestion, and the central conflict is as intense as anything I've ever written.

Frankly, I'm expecting Traitor to blow some fans' minds.

So, what's on your writerly plate now? Anything that you can talk about?
Once I finish Traitor, it'll be the first time since about 1995 that I won't have a book contract -- with its attendant deadline -- hanging over my head. I'm not sure what I'll do. Enjoy the feeling for a while, probably. Then start to panic.

I've always had a little wisp of a dream in the back of my head that I might one day throw open Overworld as a shared-world environment for anthologies. There are, after all, a lot of Studios, a lot of Actors, and a lot of history; the Studio operated on Overworld before Hari was even born. I'd like to anchor each volume with a novella from Caine's early career, then see what some of the other asskicking fantasy writers out there can do with the concept. But those are far in the future, and won't be happening at all unless that future turns out to be the Jordan-esque one we were talking about earlier.

You mentioned in another interview that I read (I believe it was on the Curled Up With A Good Book website...) that several writers had already expressed an interest in working on an anthology. Anyone in particular? Just in case an editor somewhere is reading this...
That was three years ago; I don't want to put anybody on the spot. On the other hand, should the opportunity arise, I'm guessing I won't have any trouble filling out a volume. You'd do a story, wouldn't you?

What about the Flash Gordon novel you've written? Is it going to come out? Will we get to read it?
Your guess is as good as mine. My editor at HarperCollins Entertainment loved it. The marketing staff loved it. The Hearst Communications honchos loved it. In fact, everyone who's ever read it -- what's the phrase I'm looking for? Oh, yeah -- loved it... except for one yutz over at King Features (a Hearst subsidiary) who unfortunately is the actual rights manager for the Flash Gordon franchise. His official line is that the book's "unwholesome." I suspect the real problem is that the book's good, and if he lets it see the light of day, it'll make the rest of his Flash Gordon spinoff stuff look like the cynical, vapid, imagination- challenged fun-deprived pile of mastodon turds it is.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Hmmm... an unwholesome Flash Gordon, eh? I think that would be great to read!
It's been done already, and not by me. You know which movie I'm talking about; I didn't like it. In The Real Flash Gordon, there isn't even any language stronger than the occasional goddamn. Anyone who knows me understands the profound respect I have for the classics in our genre. That's why my book is named The Real Flash Gordon. My Flash is exactly the true-blue champion of the American Way that Alex Raymond dreamed up, and my novel works just like the original Flash Gordon strip: it goes like lightning from one incredible situation to the next, and every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. There is enough mind-bending super-science, rock-jawed heroism and plain old-fashioned adventure for five books; there is true love defying time, distance, even death; there is dark villainy of such depths as to beggar any power of description. There's even some laughs. Not to mention gorgeous babes in scanty outfits.

Hey, like I said: it's faithful to the source material.

Anybody out there who wants to read this thing, direct your calls and letters and emails to King Features Syndicate and Hearst Communications. All together now: FREE FLASH GORDON!

I know you don't like to talk about your personal life, but come on; comic books, role-playing games... you're just a geek like the rest of us. So, for all the aspiring writers out there (and you know they're reading), what kind of advice do you have?
Yeah, you caught me. I'm a geek. SF, comics, RPGs... I was a little old by the time the really cool computer games came out, so I missed that particular addiction, but otherwise, I admit it.

In fact, I'm proud of it.

Because there's no such thing as "just" a geek. I, for example, am a hardcore geek -- and I'm also a 6'1" 210-pound superheavyweight kickboxer. Which means I can not only argue Nietzschean themes in superhero comics from Siegel & Shuster to Alan Moore, I can take you outside if you start to get lippy.

So here's one piece of advice: take care of your body. You don't have to run a marathon or study karate, but your mind can't be healthy for long if your body isn't. Mind and body aren't two separate things, no matter how much some of us would like to pretend they are. A lot of intellectuals disdain physical exertion. It's a mistake. Whatever you can do to make yourself healthier, do it. And make it something fun; taking care of yourself should never be a chore.

My only other piece of advice for aspiring writers is this: Tell the truth. Whatever you're writing, make it as real as your skills permit. We pursue one of the most privileged trades in the world: we get paid to tell the truth. How many others can honestly make that claim?

Well, from a rock-climbing, kendo and fencing practicing, hardcore hiking canoist geek... thanks for your time.
My pleasure. FREE FLASH GORDON!

SF Site Interview: | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 |

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is struggling to become a published author by chucking rocks at windows and hoping someone will notice. He runs a speculative fiction forum at www.delphi.com/specfic -- go there to rain torments upon him if you wish.


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