Author Interview: Matthew O. Duncan

Joining us this fine day is the author of the New Terra saga, Matthew O. Duncan. Read on and get to know both him and his books a bit better. (See below for his debut novel’s description.) 

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The year is 2319. Lt. Comm Roy O’Hara leads his squadron against the enemy’s latest Super Destroyer and is shot down over an unexplored planet. The planet holds secrets to a long lost alien weapon and the key to Roy’s own destiny. Near death Roy is found by Katreena, a beautiful and mysterious woman. When she finds Roy, he’s broken and battered, and saves his life with the Boto Stone. She is unaware that by doing so she will create a deep bond and awaken an affect not seen for hundreds of years; the ability to communicate to each other in dreams. An unguarded moment leads to a forbidden night of intimacy; an act of betrayal to the crown, an act that will put both their lives in jeopardy. Katreena flees to save them both. Danger increases as their secret may be discovered and war erupts on their planet.

pcc-2016-me1. Hello! Could you please tell us about yourself?
I’m Matthew O. Duncan, Novelist and Playwright.  I go by Matt, but when I started publishing I found that my name was very common and lost in the Google Search.  I considered going with my full name which is Matthew O’Brien Duncan, but it felt too long and I get tired of explaining that the reason that my middle name is a last name is simply because my father thought it sounded cool.  I considered Matthew O’B Duncan, but it just looked too odd.  So I settled on just using my middle initial. Visually it has some symmetry and it is unique enough to pop up on the front page of most search engines request; except for Amazon.  That I don’t understand.

2. When did you start writing?
I had always wanted to be an actor.  I was very involved in theater all through high school and when I went to college I declared it as my major.  It didn’t take me long to realize that as an actor I was okay, but I didn’t have the height, looks or ego that it would take to be successful at it.  Yet my audition pieces that I had written myself were getting a lot of praise from my peers.   So I decided to try my hand at playwriting and entered my first attempt in the school’s blind contest.  I won and the prize was to have the play produced the following semester.  Having my ideas and words performed on stage was one of the greatest thrills of my life.  Playwriting became my thing.  I continued to write and had four more productions before I graduated.

While in school I had the opportunity to intern at Walt Disney World (twice) in their college program.  It was a fantastic experience and I was hoping to continue on with the Disney Company after graduation, but all they had for me at the time was part time and I couldn’t live on that.  So I returned to Arizona, worked in local theaters as a writer and stage manager, but even that didn’t last.  Life moved on.  I got married, had two kids, took a management job that paid the bills and let my writing become less of a career goal and more of an occasional hobby.

In 2011 life had become difficult.  With the down turn in the economy I was laid off and was only able to find part time work.  We exhausted our savings and our house was going into foreclosure.  I was feeling depressed and frustrated, and the only thing that was keeping me going was the love and support of my wife and kids.  On my birthday that year my wife bought me a copy of The Writers Market.  A book that I used to buy myself every year when I was in my 20’s that had list of all the publishers, agents and writing contest that had open submissions that year.  She included a message with the gift. No matter how bad things get I never want you to give up on your dreams.  She knew how happy I was when I was writing and hoped I would find that joy again.  That was a turning point in my life.  I started writing again and never looked back.

3. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your debut novel?
Shortly after I started writing again I decided that I wanted to write a screen play that I had been thinking about for a long time.  When I first met my wife she was involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), which is basically Renaissance Reenactments.  She would dress in beautiful period dresses and sometimes compete in singing contest or participate in other activities.  I agreed to let her make me some clothes to wear so I could participate as well, but my interest were more in Sci-fi, particularly future space dramas like Star Wars and Star Trek.  So I had the idea of wondering how the two very different universes would interact and clash.  So I came up with some interesting character and a few ideas for events in this world of Sci-fi and Fantasy character, but no full story.

When I decided that I wanted to take a crack at writing a script that fit these characters I needed to flush out the story.  So I decided to write out a short story.  That would help me outline the three acts and give me a beginning, middle and end.  Taking a small notebook computer that I bought cheap on-line, I started writing.  After about a week of writing at night and on lunch breaks I found that I had written over 40 pages and hadn’t gotten past what would be the first half of the first act.  What I was writing was a novel.  Something I had never done before.  Yet it was good, at least I thought so.  More often than not I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard to type so I could find out what happened next.  You see, I write the way most people read, not knowing what’s going to happen until I see it on the page.

For five months I wrote every chance I got and finished the first draft of my first novel.  I was excited and petrified at the same time.  With hundreds of hours of my life poured out onto those pages along with very personal ideas and fantasies, I feared showing it to anyone who might bring an ounce of criticism to it. Yet there was one person who I wanted to show it to from the day I started putting words to print.   My wife Carleesa.  If she didn’t like it I would be crushed and it would go straight to the trash.  Yet she had always been my biggest fan since our first date when I told her about my plays and recited some of my short stories to her.  If anyone would be a kind critic, it would be her.  So I showed her my book.  She loved it, but also gave me detailed notes on each and every page.

There is a big difference between playwriting and writing a novel.  As a playwright I had to learn how to minimize anything that was not dialogue.   That’s because a play doesn’t just have a writer, but it also has a director, set designer, costume designer, prop master, lighting designer, sound designer, choreographer, music director, actors and a producer; all creative people who want to leave their artistic mark on the production.  So anything that I write into the script that is not spoken is changed, ignored or mutated.  As a novelist there is no other voice to sing the story along with.  It is a solo act and it is up to me to create the entire universe.  So most of the notes that I got were “Show more, tell me what the character is thinking, more inner dialogue, what is the character feeling, show more action, and show expressions” and so on.  It didn’t matter how good the story was if the writing isn’t entertaining for the reader.

I took every note seriously and worked on every suggestion.  But I also decided I needed to go back to studying the art form of writing.  When I wasn’t working on edits I was reading best-selling novels of classic and contemporary writers.  When I wasn’t able to read, like when I was driving to and from work, I would listen to books on CD, with a focus on the writing style and choices.  There was one writer that I found who had written a series of books that were produced on audio.  As I listened to the newest and then jumped to the oldest I could identify the improvements that she had made.  For example in her early work she would use “He said” and “She said” after most dialogue, but in her later works she got creative in added action around spoken words to help the reader identify the speaker without using the identifier “He/She said” several time on each page.  By identifying such mistakes and improvements in another writers work I was able to recognize the same pitfalls in my own writing and make the improvements in each draft.

For two years I worked on draft after draft, each one read and edited by my wife. By the end of the tenth draft I felt it was ready to be published.  I named it The Warrior’s Stone, Book One of the New Terra Sagas.  I was so convinced of its quality that I already planned on writing at least two more before I had showed it to anyone else or even tried to get it published.

4. Tell us a little bit about your books’ titles.
In the first book we learn that some stones on New Terra have an energy that can be controlled by the thoughts of those with the gift.  Some can heal, some can see the future and others can fire a bolt of plasma at an enemy.  The stones that can be used as a weapon are called Warrior’s Stone because they can only be used by a Warrior with the gift that the people believe has been blessed with the power by God.  The stone can only be used and only belong to a Warrior.  Hence the phrase Warrior’s Stone.  It’s a key element of the story.

My second book is called The Last Flight of the Phoenix.  In the first book we meet some of the crew of the T.S.S. Phoenix as it is the ship that Roy is serving on at the beginning of the book.  Half way through the ship is crippled and it doesn’t look like they are going to be able to make it back to friendly space.  The reader is left to wonder what happened to the ship and the crew.  The second book picks up where we last left the Phoenix and tells the story of what happened to them in addition to a continuation of the story of Roy and Katreena on New Terra and other characters from the first book.  It took me two years to complete the second book, but as I grew as a writer through the experience I believe it is just as good as the first, if not better.

5. Does your saga have a moral?
That’s a good question.  But I don’t think it’s good to give what it is to the reader before they have a chance to read it.  I will say that there are a number of moments in each book that will make the reader think.

As for themes in the book, well, it deals with class, duty, love (romantic and family) perspective of age, war, sacrifice, death and the challenges of faith and the lack of faith.

6. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
That’s hard.  Roy is the character I most wish I could be.  Katreena is in many ways like my wife, but not exactly.  Captain Roche is someone I would admire and was enjoyable to write because I had to imagine how he would speak and not just what I would say.

7. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in The Warrior’s Stone.
Selfless, Brave, Lost, In Pain

8. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
There is no typical writing session for me.  Sometimes I go to a coffee shop with a lap top, get a coffee and work with people all around.  Other times I get up early on a weekend, make breakfast and work at the dining room table.  Sometimes I lock myself in my room, sit on the bed and work there.  And on the rare occasion that the house is quiet I will sit at my writing desk and work, but that doesn’t happen very often.  Some of my more productive writing is when I’m in a waiting room or at work when I want the distraction.  My least productive times are when I have nothing to do but write.

  • Do you listen to music as you write?

Sometimes.  Mostly Irish or classical.  I try to stay away from music with words because they distract and anything with commercials can break my concentration.

  • What is your preferred writing time? Morning? Afternoon? Late at night?

Morning or afternoon.  I do write at night sometimes if I have the inspiration, but I don’t work well when I’m tired.

  • Do you set daily goals for yourself (in terms of word count)?

No I don’t set any goals and I don’t like outlines.  I have used outlines when working on a script, but I find that deadlines and outlines can limit the creative process.  However I just entered a writing contest were I had to write a one act play that could not be longer than 15 pages.  I had to find a creative way to tell the story I wanted to write within those limitations.  It came out pretty good, so there can be times when a challenge can help the process.

9. What is your favorite book genre?
I love Sci-fi and Fantasy, both to write in and to read.  There is a freedom and a challenge to writing in a universe where anything can happen and yet convince the reader that it could be possible.

10. What are you currently reading?
I just started Opening Volley (The Raven Prophecies Book 1) by Scott Goforth.  I’m only a couple chapters in, but so far I’m enjoying it very much.

11. What is your favorite book?
I Robot by Isaac Asimov.  This book is nothing like the movie with Will Smith.  That was a good movie, but they should not have used the same title.  The book is a collection of short stories that take place in the future and all involve different points in time when humans had to interact with Robots as they progress in their evolution and how that effects everything.  They are all Morality Tales that shine a light on us more than the machines we make.

12. Any project in the works?
Like I said earlier, I just finished a one act play call Democracy.  I’ve entered it into a local competition and if selected it will be produced in the spring of this year.

I’m also working on book #3 in the New Terra Sagas.  I’m doing my best to have it done and ready by May 2017 so I can debut it at the Phoenix Comicon where I have a booth again this year.

13. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
My first took nearly three years.  My second took two years and the one I’m working on will be a one year task if I get it done in time.  My goal is to have a new book out once a year.

14. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
There is not one thing.  In my opinion you have to treat a story as art.  That means that you start with No Rules.  Tell the story you want to tell and just get it on paper.  Then go back and ask yourself “Would anyone want to read this?”  That’s when you cut parts that are too long, add to parts that don’t say enough, rework the parts that are confusing and then decide what grammar mistakes need to be fixed and what work with the art of the story.

There have been a number of times when I’ve checked out a book from the library or bought an e-book on line because I liked the description on the book jacket and never got past the first chapter because the quality of the writing was so poor.  Spelling errors and typos don’t bother me enough to put a book down, but repetitive phrases, clumsy dialogue, confusing or unclear settings and unimaginative writing are all things that will make me walk away from a book.

15. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Some of the best writers that I have read aren’t overly wordy or complex.  Yet, there is a rhythm to their writing that changes pace and tone with the mood of the story that helps the reader become completely engrossed in the universe between the pages.  If you want to become known as a great writer, keep that in mind before you finish your last draft.

And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
Movies

2. Summer or winter?
Winter

3. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice-Cream

4. Car or motorcycle?
Car

5. Ebook or physical book?
Physical Book

6. Nights out or nights in?
Night In

7. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telekinesis

8. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
Future

9. Making a phone call or sending a text?
Phone

10. Travelling by car or travelling by airplane?
Airplane

11. To find true love or to win the lottery?
True Love

12. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
Batman

13. Reading or writing?
Writing

14. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
Without Internet

15. Having your car break down on an extremely busy expressway or along an abandoned road in the middle of nowhere?
Abandoned road

16. To never speak again or to never eat solid food again?
No solid food

Thank you for joining us, Matthew!
Readers: want to connect with Matthew? You can find him on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and YouTube. Also, be sure to check out his author website and blog.

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