Awful Interview: Matt Bell

5 Apr

It’s easy to see that everyone at Vouched is in Matt Bell’s corner. Just search his name in our search bar (up there at the top right corner of your screen) and be amazed at how many posts pop up with his name. There are all sorts of reasons to like Matt Bell: he is likeable, he is accomplished, he has important things to say, he isn’t afraid to say those important things, and he writes crazy/awesome/beautiful words that will make your spine shiver.

I couldn’t be more excited for Matt to read in Atlanta with the rest of the Over the Top gang (along with Jesse Bradley, Melysa Martinez, and Amy McDaniel!) tomorrow evening.

In your first Awful Interview with Christopher, you told him that when you were young you read a lot of Science Fiction books. Any specific titles that stand out in your memory?

There’s tons of books I could pick probably, but I still have a few of the ones I had when I was a kid on my shelf: Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov, the first of his books I read, I can see from my desk still, and I know that was a book my brother and I read and reread, and not just for all the implied robot-on-Spacer lust. (I can still get pretty excited about the Three Laws of Robotics, if prompted in conversation.) There’s a book (now out-of-print) by a writer named H.M. Hoover (who I just realized was a woman, since I knew nothing about her) called This Time of Darkness about two teenagers who have to escape an underground city that’s sort of a combination of 1984 and Soylent Green—I loved that book, but lost my copy and then couldn’t remember its name to buy another. Thankfully, it showed up again at my parents’ house, in the basement I lived in for a year or two between colleges.

More than just sci-fi, it was sort of broad genre fiction: I almost certainly read more fantasy than sci-fi, although there was enough of both. I read a lot of the D&D novels, like the Dragonlance Chronicles, and I was a huge fan of David Edding’s different series, especially the Elenium and the Tamuli trilogies. I actually got into Stephen King in the fifth grade or so through his The Eyes of the Dragon. When I was slightly younger, I got introduced to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which quickly led me other series that combined the CYOA style with D&D-style role-playing, including character sheets and combat and so on. The best of those was a series called Lone Wolf, by a writer named Joe Dever, that I played over and over. I recently found my cache of those books as well, and then set about buying all the ones I was missing: The last few were never released in the U.S., and so count as one of the few things I’ve imported to collect.

That’s dedication. How long did it take you to track down the final few books? Did your love of D&D and role-playing ever branch out to text-adventure games, or are you strictly a twenty-sided die man?

It wasn’t terribly hard, honestly: the internet makes it pretty easy. The hard part was deciding to part with the cash, since the rarer ones were priced well above their early nineties cover prices. I actually think there’s still one I don’t have, because the copy I found was eighty bucks or something and I just couldn’t do it. Some day!

I played a lot of text-adventures when I was young. My younger brother and I would play them together, and try to solve the puzzles together. I’m not sure we understood them very often. The best ones were made by Infocom, and I think we probably played dozens of them. One of our favorites was based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (you can play an illustrated version at the BBC), which at the time we hadn’t read. Of course, the book works by a sort of absurdist logic that makes it hard to reason your way through the puzzles, and we were just completely stumped. There was no internet to look up clues, no one else to figure things out with. Somehow we beat the game, and it seems to be there’s something telling about my brother and I there, in that experience: that the two of us spent countless hours trying to understand and interact with an illogical world—and then succeeded—seems like a good example of how we became who we’d end up being.

You know what’s odd is my sister and I had the exact same system, except we played the King’s Quest series from Sierra Entertainment (and then later on Myst, Riven, etc., not to mention a bit of Wolfenstein 3D)
Do you feel that you are able to apply your RPG/text-adventure experience to real life? Can you give any examples?

We absolutely did the same thing with those Sierra games as well: We loved those, deeply. (A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for Hobart about Leisure Suit Larry. It’s not online to link to, but a teaser I wrote for it is.) I’m not sure I ever applied the knowledge I gained in those games directly to real life, but it is funny how playing a lot of a game can seep into your daily awareness: A year or two ago I played a game called The Saboteur, where you’re a resistance fighter against the Nazis in WWII Paris, and in the game there are these communication towers you’re constantly knocking down—and they look just enough like cell phone towers that every time I saw one in real life I would have this urge to run over and knock it down. Not a real urge, that I was going to act on, but just that tinge of muscle memory, of learned behavior burning a track in my brain. I think there are a lot of those little reactions that build up, as we spend time interacting with video games. In the same way that one of the functions of the novel (especially of social realism) is to give us a way to think and feel through social interactions (something we’re never given second chances to do in real life, where every decision gets made on the fly and is irrevocable), so do video games give us opportunities to act out certain kinds of exploration, problem-solving, and behaviors. We’ll probably never be called upon to do the exact kinds of activities you and your sister did in Wolfenstein 3D, but that kind of exploration of spaces, avoidance of danger, and exploitation of limited resources is probably a handy kind of practice for many other experiences in real life.

 For certain! I couldn’t agree more. I imagine some of those lessons may come in handy when you’re on the road with Oliu, Newgent, and Gobble this week. I mean maybe not necessarily anything directly from Wolfenstein 3D or Leisure Suit Larry, but every road-trip usually involves those kind of limited resources/avoidance of danger scenarios you mention.
What’s your biggest hope for this book tour? What are you totally pumped for?

I think a lot of people go on book tours with the idea that they’re going to sell books, or get some kind of local fame, or some other kind of promotional goal. Nothing wrong with any of that, I guess, but if I had to choose I think I’d pick adventure over sales, memories over fame. With these three brothers in the car and three cities full of great people hosting our visits, I can pretty much guarantee that both the adventures and the memories are forthcoming—for us, surely, but also for anyone who comes out to join us. Tuesday morning I’m hopping on the Greyhound to Indianapolis, and from there I’m setting the GPS to QUEST for the rest of the trip. Can’t wait.

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2 Responses to “Awful Interview: Matt Bell”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Laura Straub’s END O’ THE YEAR list « Vouched Books - December 21, 2012

    […] Interviews that still make me laugh big and large:  Joshua Ware, Michael Nye, Matt Bell, & Nicholas Tecosky (who still owes me an arm […]

  2. Happy Release Day: In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods by Matt Bell (Soho Press) | Vouched Books - June 18, 2013

    […] This Awful Interview that Laura did with Matt […]

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