Q&A With Matthew Hughes

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Q&A With Matthew Hughes

Mickey Mikkelson connected me with author Matthew Hughes. Matthew is the author of A God In Hiding, Barbarians Of The Beyond, Ghost Dreams, The One & its prequel The Other. 

Q: Matthew, would you like to briefly describe each of your novels and how they differ from one another?

A:  I’m somewhere north of thirty novels by now, so I’ll just offer a representative sample of the genres I write in—space opera, science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, and one historical novel.

Space opera:  I’m heavily influenced by grandmaster Jack Vance’s far-future SF, in which humanity has spread out along our arm of the galaxy, which he called the Gaean Reach.

In my version, it’s The Spray, home to the Ten Thousand Worlds.  No galactic empires, but all kinds of different cultures, ranging from the relaxed and benign to the outright weird.

Prime example, my novel Template, in which a professional duelist from a world where every aspect of the culture is based on economic quid pro quo, has to travel to different worlds to unravel the mystery of his origins, and why someone is trying to kill him.  There’s also a sequel, Passengers & Perils.

I should also mention Barbarians of the Beyond, an authorized sequel to Vance’s iconic series The Demon Princes.

Fantasy:  In recent years, I have been extrapolating Jack Vance’s wonderful Dying Earth setting, a far-future Old Earth, where science has given way to magic and the sun is entering its final era.  I sometimes play for fun, as in the episodic novel 9 Tales of Raffalon, originally published as a series in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and sometimes for a more serious tone, as in The Ghost-Wrangler.  The former is a Cugel-like thief who is always getting entangled in the machinations of wizards, while the latter is a freelance necromancer who falls afoul of a powerful official but manages to segue into a career as a secret agent and then a diplomat.

I should also mention one of my forays into urban fantasy, the To Hell and Back trilogy, about a high-functioning autistic actuary who accidentally causes Hell to go on strike and comes out of the imbroglio as a costumed crime fighter with a weasel-headed demon for his sidekick.

Crime:  I started out as a crime writer (even won an award) but then got sidetracked into SFF.  I’ve written one very good suspense novel, One More Kill, about a US Army Ranger, invalided out of the service by a slow-acting form of leukemia, who finds a new purpose in life:  killing evil-doers who got away with their crimes.  It isn’t the killing that satisfies him:  it’s planning and arranging the logistics of getting in and getting out, much the same as the work he did as a Ranger officer.

I should mention here a crime novel that melded with urban fantasy:  Ghost Dreams, about a professional burglar who encounters the ghost of a woman railroaded into an insane asylum by a powerful family she married into, only to have her newlywed husband die.  The burglar gets involved in the ghost’s need to find out what happened to her infant boy, taken from her right after birth.  It brings him to the attention of a circle of vicious people who surround a reclusive billionaire.

Historical:  I consider What the Wind Brings my magnum opus, about what happened when a ship carrying African slaves was shipwrecked on the jungle coast of Ecuador in the mid-1500s.  The survivors melded with the local indigenous people and created a new society that outfought and outthought the conquistadors of Quito.

The book was the first Canadian title to win the cross-border Endeavour Award in the prize’s twenty-some year history.  It was first published by a small Canadian press but I now have an agent sending it out to major publishers.

 Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an author?

A:  Yes.  I knew early on that I had a talent for writing.  But, in my twenties, with a wife and children to provide for, I became first a journalist and then a speechwriter.  As a freelancer, I could make a healthy five-figure (sometimes six-) income, but I found I could not write fiction in my off-time.  It seemed the factory had to shut down and retool, so I was well into my forties before I began seriously to write fiction.

I was never a serious contender for bestseller, so in order to survive on what a modern midlist novelist earns, I gave up having a home and possessions and spent sixteen years as a traveling housesitter, living in twelve countries and visiting several more.

Q: What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading your books?

A:  I’m not a didactic author, but one theme does rhyme a lot in my work:  I write about oddballs and outliers, since I am one myself.  As someone put it in a review, you won’t find me writing about traditional heroic characters, but about their sidekicks and henchmen.  I hope that my tales bring some comfort to other oddballs and outliers.

A good current example is my flash-fiction story, “What’s in a Name?” that will run in the August issue of Fantasy Magazine.  It’s a retelling of a classic fairy tale from a different character’s point of view.

Q: Is it too early to reveal any details about what you are currently working on now, or can you talk about it?

A:  I never mind talking about my current work.  It’s another Dying Earth novel, this one tracing the younger years of a sorceress named Margolyam, who was a late entrant in the series of stories about Cascor, who himself began as a side character in the Raffalon series.

I’m sixty-some thousand words into it and will self-publish it in the next few weeks.

Q: If Hollywood were to get the rights to your work (if they haven’t already), who would your dream cast be for the characters you created? The entertainment industry is in desperate need of new material whether its remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels & spin offs. 

A:  Given the kinds of characters I create, I would want to see them portrayed by first-rate character actors who would sink themselves deeply into the roles.  I’m thinking of the likes of Steve Buscemi, Paul Giamatti, Sam Rockwell, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub.

Q: Is it fair to say that the fictional worlds and characters you created are loosely taken from real people and places?

A: The characters, certainly.  I’ve had the advantage of a wider experience of the world than most, having come from a working-poor family with a definite streak of criminality but becoming a confidant and aide to CEOs of billion-dollar corporations and heads of government.

I don’t have to imagine how powerful people conduct themselves behind closed doors because I was the one who closed the door and sat in on the discussions.  At the same time, I know what it’s like to be a teenage hitchhiker five hundred miles from home with two bucks in my pocket.

May I add one thing:  I produce a monthly emailed newsletter, telling my readers what I’m up to.  New sign-ups receive an ebook copy of my collection of stories about Henghis Hapthorn, foremost freelance discriminator of Old Earth in its penultimate age.

Here’s a link: