Tag Archives: How They Were Found

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.

Thanks Creative Loafing!

20 Oct

So many thank you’s to Atlanta’s Creative Loafing (and  Wyatt Williams) for writing this feature on VouchedATL for their Arts Issue, released today! It’s a honor to be coupled with so many phenomenal arts efforts in Atlanta.

Here’s an excerpt where we discuss Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, among other things:

The small-press books that Straub sells don’t have big marketing departments running promotions in newspapers or buying prominent placement in retailers like Barnes & Noble. In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find a copy of them anywhere else in town. Prior to starting Vouched, Straub read Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, a collection of short stories published on an imprint of Midwest nonprofit publisher Dzanc Books. “I love that book, and it was frustrating going to bookstores and not being able to find it really anywhere in the city,” she says.

As the cost of publishing a small run of books has declined, independent publishers have taken a cue from the DIY ethos that emerged from punk and indie rock record labels a few decades ago. They’re publishing work by adventurous young authors writing unabashedly contemporary work often deemed too risky or unusual by big publishing houses.

Read the rest of the article at Creative Loafing’s site, along with articles about what’s going on with the arts in Atlanta (so many awesome things!).

SSR #14 of 15: How They Were Found

21 Jul

In my head, there was already a Single Sentence Review for How They Were Found on Vouched. Why wouldn’t there be? We endorsed The Receiving Tower over at Willow Springs, reminded you of How They Were Found Day, we even awfully interviewed Matt to help promote the Vouched Presents reading back in January. It could easily be concluded that we are champions of this book.

So here it is, a single sentence review of How They Were Found. I’m so honored to be able to sell this book at my table in Atlanta. You will all love it. 

 

These stories should be mirthless, its characters are caught in their own labyrinth, consigned to oblivion; but Bell’s language breaks a hole in the ceiling and lets a little light in, illuminating the mire.

Awful Interview: Matt Bell

12 Jan

Matt Bell wrote his first novel when he was, like 9 or something, which makes sense if you know Matt Bell. Matt Bell is reading this weekend for Vouched Presents, so I got to have a virtual beer with Matt Bell, and then things got weird, and we decided to delete half our conversation, which also makes sense if you know Matt Bell.

Let’s start this off with a good one. What made you want to be a writer?

When I was younger, I read almost nothing but fantasy and science fiction. By the seventh grade or so, I’d read every book that looked good to me to me in the local small-town library, and there weren’t really a lot of bookstores around, so I figured I’d pretty much seen what there was to see. Since there weren’t any other good books left to read, I decided I’d try writing one myself. That summer I wrote a 200-page fantasy novel called Dragonson, about a poor village orphan who gets sent on a great adventure by a wizard-posing-as-a-beggar, upon which he becomes a great warrior and has a middle-school-sexy relationship with a priestess. Oh, and later he finds out he’s the son of a dragon. It even had a map at the front, as all the best books do.

Fantasy and science fiction, eh? Were you a dragon-kid in high school? You know, the kids who wore those silk shirts with embroidered dragons on them?

I was never one of those kids. Although I did own a silk shirt that, somehow, came in a set with a matching silk tie and matching silk boxers. From JCPenney’s. I think I bought it for homecoming my freshman year, for which I did not, somehow, have a date.
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