INTERVIEW THIRTY EIGHT
Matt is a New York City born author with five novels currently out. His newest, The Mirage, was published in February and has sparked quite a discussion. He gave us a fantastic interview and I can't thank him enough for taking time to talk to the Goat! Enjoy his answers and go pick up one of his books!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
2. I've heard of knowing that you wanted to be a writer early in life, but five years old is pretty young! What made you interested so early?
Just the way I’m wired, I guess. It’s something I always wanted to do.
3. On your site, bymattruff.com, you have a section of "Unpublished works and ephemera. I've never seen this on another site, why do you think it's important to show your fans this unpublished material?
I don’t know if I’d call it important, I just think it’s cool to have a little archive showing some of the stuff I did while I was teaching myself how to tell stories.
4. You have a book tour of about 20 stops for your new book, Mirage, do you enjoy touring? Favorite part?
I do enjoy it. Writing is such a solitary activity, so it’s nice to go out—briefly—and see how people respond to what I’ve been working on for the past few years.
5. Mirage has some pretty touchy material in it, do you think you could have published this book five years ago?
Well, I first pitched The Mirage to HarperCollins almost 5 years ago, and they were as supportive of the idea then as they are now, so yeah, if the novel had been finished back then, I think they would have published it. I suppose the public reception of the book, at a time when the Iraq War was still going on, might have been a bit more heated.
6. Your next book Lovecraft Country, sounds epic, can you tell our readers a little bit about it?
It’s a historical horror novel set in the Jim Crow era. The protagonist is an African-American travel writer (and pulp-fiction geek) who drives around the country reviewing hotels and restaurants that accept black customers. Along the way, he has various adventures, some involving supernatural threats, others featuring more mundane dangers.
7. I love the way you look at things from completely different angles than the rest of the world. Has this always been the way you write?
Yeah, that’s one of my signature themes. I like finding unusual perspectives or connections that other people don’t notice, and I like looking at the world through different sets of eyes.
8. I feel like a lot of writers head to or are from the North West, what is the big pull?
My wife and I wanted to be in a part of the country with four seasons but mild winters. And Seattle’s just a great place to live—it’s got some growing pains, but it manages to combine a lot of what you’d want from a large metropolis with the charm of a much smaller city.
9. How is music important to your writing process? I heard during Bad Monkeys you had a soundtrack?
On my website I have “soundtracks” for all my novels—lists of the songs and artists I was most obsessed with at the time I was working on each book. I do often listen to music while I’m writing, but the lists are less about process than about marking a particular cultural moment, the same way everyone associates events in their lives with songs that were popular at the time.
10. You've said in a few interviews that you may even be more popular in Germany. What's it like meeting fans that read your translated work? Do you think it reads the same way as you wrote it in English?
Since I don’t read German I can’t judge the quality of the translations, which is probably just as well—I worry enough about the original versions. But it’s always interesting to meet fans from other countries. Germans in general seem to “get” me—they share my sense of humor, they like the way I play with ideas—which I guess makes sense, since my ancestry is German.
11. After college, you said that you had to either get a job or get established as a writer, was there ever another option for you?
No, I never had a fallback plan, which seems crazy to me now. But when you’re young, it’s easy to assume that things will just work out somehow, and I was lucky that in my case it happened to be true.
12. You have a lesbian vampire book somewhere, in a drawer, will it ever see the light of day?
Not in its current, quarter-century-old unedited manuscript form, no. It’s vaguely possible I might try resurrecting it as a screenplay someday, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.
13. Your wife, Lisa, is a researcher and rare-book expert, does she ever have input on your books?
Lisa’s the first person to read my manuscripts, though I generally don’t show them even to her until they’re done, or almost done. During editing and copyediting, I definitely do ask her opinion about stuff. And of course she’s very handy at tracking down information for me.
14. What's it like having a book optioned for a TV series?
It’s exciting, but the reason it’s called an “option” is that it’s only the first step in a long process that may or may not result in an actual TV show. So it’s kind of like buying a Powerball ticket where you know the first three numbers are a match, but the rest of the drawing stretches out over months or even years.
15. Another Mourning Goats interviewee, Christopher Moore, wrote the blurb, "Read it, memorize then destroy it. There are eyes everywhere." What involvement do you have in getting blurbs? Did you know Chris beforehand?
Blurbs are another lottery-like activity. You make up a wish list of authors you think might like your book—and whose opinion might sway readers—and then the publishing house tries to get manuscripts to them. In most cases, you never hear back, because of course the people on your list tend to be deluged with blurb requests, but once in a while you get lucky. That happened for me with Neal Stephenson, who agreed to blurb Sewer, Gas & Electric, and it happened with Chris Moore and Bad Monkeys. I didn’t know Chris beforehand, and in fact he wasn’t even on my list, but someone at HarperCollins—my editor, probably—thought he’d be into it and sent him a copy. Fortunately for me.
16. What have you noticed the biggest differences between publishers has been, for you?
The biggest difference is probably size. Grove Atlantic, which did my first two novels, is this scrappy independent publishing house. HarperCollins is part of a media empire, so it’s got more money and more muscle—plus there’s the whole blood oath to Rupert Murdoch business, which I can’t really talk about.
17. Which of your books is your favorite? Why?
I’d say it’s a tossup between The Mirage and Set This House in Order. You’re always biased towards your most recent novel because that’s the one you’ve been focused on for the past few years, but I think those two books represent my best work so far.
18. How much are you involved in the publicity of your books?
Very involved. It’s probably the closest thing to a second job I’ll ever have, especially now, with a new book just out. I’ve got a great publicist at HarperCollins, Heather Drucker, who does the heavy lifting in terms of logistics and pitching to reviewers and interviewers. My job is to help her figure out which types of publicity events make sense, and then to go out and actually do the events and make sure her efforts pay off.
19. It usually takes you a few years to write a novel, what is your writing schedule like? Do you write every day?
When I am writing, I try to write every day, yeah. I’m most productive in the morning, so I’ll usually get up around 4 or 5, write until breakfast, and then take a second shot afterwards. By noon, I’m pretty much done for the day.
20. What's next for Matt Ruff?
Deciding whether Lovecraft Country is really my next novel. I’m definitely going to write it, but it’s going to be a big book, so I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t try to come up with a more modest, Bad Monkeys-sized project to work on first, while I’m doing the research for Lovecraft Country. We’ll see.