Matthew is the bestselling author of CyberStorm and the #1 hit series Atopia Chronicles. He started out his career working at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines, going on to become one of the world’s leading members of the cybersecurity community.
Can you tell us a bit about CyberStorm?
CyberStorm is a realistic and frightening take on the science fiction/disaster scenario, using cyberwar as the trigger. It is basically a war-game scenario told through the eyes of a family trying to survive the event.
How do you experience the huge success it has become, did you ever expect something like this?
No, I didn’t expect it at all. It was a bit of a shock. The news that 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights came from almost nowhere (my film agent wouldn’t say that of course) and had an immediate impact. Now the book is being translated into over a dozen languages.
What inspired you to write Cyberstorm?
A large part of my motivation was to educate what a “real” cyber event might look like.
If you ask people about cyberwar, a lot of people imagine something squeaky-clean that deals with computers. Honestly, they’re not sure what to think of it and imagine it sort of like the War on Obesity—it’s kind of metaphorical. But if it happened, it wouldn’t be. By infusing the book with a heavy element of realism, I wanted to remove that metaphorical quality and show exactly, in nitty-gritty-excruciating-detail, what a major cyberattack could look like.
I’ve worked for quite a few years in the anti-hacking business, and in writing CyberStorm, I interviewed people like the head of cyber operations for the US Air Force, the DHS and the NATO Cyber Command liaisons (these were all people I had professional contacts with) to come up with plausible scenario that combined Mother Nature and a series of cyber events to create a nightmare scenario in New York City. It illustrates what a major cyber event could look like from the perspective of an average family trying to escape the disaster.
20th Century Fox recently purchased the film rights to CyberStorm. Any news you can share about that?
Yes, that’s right! 20th Century Fox has acquired the film rights for CyberStorm, in what I am only allowed to describe as a “major” move deal. This is quite an amazing thing for a self-published book, just a few months old, to be bought for a major film. It is still early days, however, and I don’t know exactly what my involvement will be, or even if the film will get the rest of the funding it needs—but it is exciting! The latest gossip (unconfirmed) is that Bill Kennedy, the writer of House of Cards, is writing the screenplay now. So we’ll see something soon I hope!
Tell us a bit about Atopia Chronicles?
Atopia was the result of my years starting and running one of the world’s first tactile-sensory interface companies, which has grown into the world leader in its field. I ended up in Silicon Valley, and spent years studying geeky things like the human-machine-interface, psycho-perceptual feedback loops, and more than that, actually building them.
The Atopia Chronicles are many things at once, a series of twilight zone-like stories that all tie together into a large adventure story arc, but a large part of the book was a venue for me to express my ideas about the future of the human-machine-interface, exactly how I thought it would evolve, based on my years building tech in Silicon Valley. And from the feedback from readers, especially the tech-geeks like me, a lot of people saw something really interesting and unique in that vision.
The sequel to Atopia, called Dystopia, is now finished and will be released this summer. Very excited to see what my readers think!
How are you publishing your books and why?
As the current terminology defines me, I am a “hybrid”—a writer that uses a mixture of self-publishing as well as traditional publishing channels to market. Self-publishing is amazing, and I’m convinced this makes the most money for a writer, but mixing in deals with *real* publishers enables me to spread my wings and access some markets that self-publishing can’t get into, like bookstores and foreign markets. I think a blended approach makes the most sense, if it’s an avenue a writer can take.
What in your experience has been the best way of marketing your books?
By far the best way, when starting out, is by using the Amazon Select system, and using the “free” publishing days and promoting on the 40+ small websites devoted to this sort of thing. By starting out with short story formats, then using the Amazon system, I was able to get thousands of initial readers to at least give my stories a try. From there, you need to find an audience and hook readers, but it is an amazing way to catch to wave, so to speak.
Tell us about the covers and how they came about.
I used to work as an artist, so I did most of my own covers myself to start out. Now I use Jason Gurley who is AWESOME.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
I think the self-doubt is the hardest part. You start out with these stories…but then open yourself up to the world. Will people think they’re dumb? Will they ridicule my writing? And these things do happen. I think I am a bad writer…and if you saw some of the first drafts you’d laugh! But it is through iteration, using readers to comment and constructively rewrite and review that something good comes out!
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
It is hard emotionally when you get bad reviews. But I use these as inspiration to get better, to improve. The absolute WORST thing to do when you get a bad review is to enter a comment about it or try to get defensive publicly. Just let it go. Trust me.
How do you define success as an author?
Being able to pay the bills J
A big part is the feedback that people enjoy the work. That is very important and emotionally rewarding. I think success, for me, is the freedom to explore ideas and concepts, and to communicate these with my readers, create a kind of feedback cycle as we test the boundaries together.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I read mostly eBooks, but for an author I really enjoy, I still like getting a paperback to dig my nose into and dog ear and underline passages etc…
What kind of books do you read, any favourite authors?
Haha I really like Jody Picoult. I tend to read non-sci-fi to try and get my head into emotional spaces. I have enough hard science stuff!
I just released a new short story in the Hugh Howey “The End is Nigh” anthology which is a collection of never-before-published stories—I honestly think this is the best writing I’ve ever done.
Beyond that, Atopia and CyberStorm both explore fields that I’m deeply passionate about. My first love, however, was artificial intelligence—it was what I studied in college, and my first job was at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines. My next novel is going to explore the impact of artificial intelligence, the extent to which we’re already surrounded by it, intersecting with a deep-dive into financial systems—all wrapped up, of course, in a world-ending apocalyptic thriller. This is the sort-of-sequel to CyberStorm.
Beyond that, I’ve got a book planned to explore artificial life, another one planned on animal-human chimeras (wrapped in a Weather Wars battle book that will become another series), and an amazing first contact novel with a unique twist (which, again, is designed as another series). A lot of writing to get done!
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Interview by Dag Rambraut - SFFWorld.com © 2014