Interview with Matthew Wayne Selznick of Sovereign Serials.
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Interview took place on Wed Apr 25, 2001
|MWS: Hey, how about that interview?|
Crowe: Sounds great!
|MWS: Okay, so ... how do we go about this?|
Crowe: Well, I like to start out with this question first, as a general, who are you kinda deal. For those who don't know you, how about a little background info? Where are you from, that sort of thing.
|MWS: Well, I live in Southern California in an industrial port city south of Los Angeles. I've lived in Southern California most of my life, having come from Pennsylvania with my family in the mid-seventies.|
Crowe: So you grew up in California then. Do you think that California has influenced your writing?
|MWS: Almost all of my fiction is set here -- I enjoy writing about the locales that I know. It's fun placing my characters more or less around the block, and it makes research a fairly simple thing. I can rely on memory or a short drive rather than travel guides or other materials. I can probably trace *that* to all those Stephen King books that take place in his neck of the woods. For that matter, H.P. Lovecraft did the same thing, as well as James Ellroy and Tim Powers (favorites of mine, and influences to be sure!)|
Crowe: I've read some of your "influences" at your Sovereign Serials site. One thing I noticed, which hit a particular note with me, is the 80's music. Much of the Sovereign stories are set in the 80's. What's the story there?
|MWS: It's key to the existence of Sovereign Serials. See, when I was a high school student in the middle eighties (and a huge comics fan, and a big geek), I started writing very short stories that featured characters not-so-loosely based on my circle of friends. "The Cat" was the first of these, and the most popular. At the time, "The Cat" was heavily influenced by Frank Miller's Daredevil, of all things. From that came a whole roster of characters and auniverse for them to live it. When I decided to do Sovereign Serials, I automatically harkened back to this milieu, fleshed it out, and gave it a realism facelift. So, short answer out of the long one, it's based in the eighties because that's when it all started!|
Crowe: Your stories are always very character driven instead of the spandex clad hero types that were very common in the 80's. Though not short on action, your stories deal with the human side of the whole super hero Phnom. What pointed you in that direction? What's compelling you to tell the behind the scenes stories in these characters lives?
|MWS: Stories about people are the only ones that ever stick with me. While I read more comics in the eighties than any other time of my life, I started reading comics in 1973, when I was only six years old. My first comic book was Amazing Spider-Man #76 (in reprint form). It's a great example of the importance of character conflict in comics -- the Lizard struggles with memories of his human wife and son, Spider-Man has to defeat the Lizard without hurting him, Peter Parker takes time to call his sick Aunt May in Florida, not to mention worry about what a lousy friend he's been to Harry Osborn and try and patch things up with his girlfriend, and worry about a trusted ally learning his secret -- and that's all in the first eight pages. This pathos stuck with me, and kept me reading comics until the annual market-driven "Nothing Will EVER Be The Same" crossover events of the nineties drove me away from comics.
The initial idea behind Sovereign Serials, then, was to re-create the "soap-opera" serial style of the best comics, where the super-hero action takes a back seat. This is not a world where people dress up in funky costumes to kick each other all over major metropolitan areas. The only current Sovereign Serials character who wears anything like a costume is Neon, and that's only because his manifestation of Sovereign ability would cause him physical harm without the silvery body suit. I want to create a universe where, despite the varying degrees of power these people posses, they're still human beings, with human needs and problems.
Crowe: Human is a great way to describe your characters. Despite their more than human abilities, there still your neighbors, friends, classmates... People you know. The Cat is one of my favorites. He's a bit odd and I know while in school I sat at the table with the "geeks" myself. I can identify with him. Which is your favorite character from your stories?
|MWS: Now, a father's not allowed to have a favorite offspring, is he? I have strong feelings for all of them, of course..! Still, there are certain characters I relate to because they are deliberate attempts to explore parts of myself. Nathan Charters and his friends are still composites of myself and my own circle of friends from High School. Ewing Kass, the sympathetic "normal human" from "Paramount," allows me to deal with more adult concerns like divorce and the difficulties of duty versus ethics. Harry Turpin allows me to portray another aspect of myself and my cohorts from another part of my life. Writing, for me, is ultimately selfish, for I'm using the characters and the situations to explore things that I'm interested in -- fortunately, one person's issues are usually shared by many others, and so hopefully I'm hitting on universal themes in Sovereign Serials.|
Crowe: Excellent dodge ;) . I personally enjoy how the web has opened the door to self-publishing. After all, it's the reason we are having this interview right now. The internet made it possible for me to get to your stories, and subsequently get hooked by the characters. What's your take on the internet in general, publishing on the net and the future for writers in regards to publishing on the web?
|MWS: Remember "Neuromancer" by William Gibson? It's the first glimpse a lot of us got of the Internet in popular culture, and it was written on a manual typewriter. Bruce Sterling still had his characters sending text-only messages over the web in his classic, "Islands In the Net." Point being, this is just another medium, and it both falls short and out-does the visions we have of it. It's true that no other medium save traditional publishing would allow me to reach so many people -- folks in Brazil and Saudi Arabia count themselves among my regular readers. Still, before the web, I self-published 'zines the old-fashioned way, and distributed them in three states through friends and the beleaguered US Postal Service, so I think I would be doing this with or without the web.
The internet has given many people a voice, when they ordinarily would not have one. Unfortunately, this has led to an awful lot of second and third-rate fiction on the net, as well as the "fan-fiction" movement, which to me is a masturbatory form of creativity (hey! that guy just pissed off a whole load of potential readers! let's get him!) Because of the preponderance of, shall we say, underdeveloped fiction on the net, net fiction in general has got a bad reputation. This compares to the reputation of traditional vanity publishing. Of course, I'm living in a glass house with these comments, but I still try to produce the best work I can, and my goal is to reach as many people as possible.
Writing on the net, at least fiction writing on the net, has a ways to go before it's considered legitimate. Most sites don't pay their contributors, and aren't recognized as "publications" for the purpose of credits toward joining the SFFWA or other professional organizations. This has to change ... perhaps if the e-book takes off, electronic fiction will gain acceptance, but that remains to be seen.
Crowe: I see you've spent some time thinking about this subject yourself. I certainly see a future in this medium. Especially if it partners with traditional methods like editing, proofing and quality control. The ability to self publish does open the doors for both ends of the spectrum. So there is plenty of work to find the good in a sea of middle of the road work, or worse. Sovereign Serials was "off the air" for a while. Now that it's back, what does the future hold for the Serials, the site and for you?
|MWS: I put Sovereign Serials on hiatus for a variety of reasons. In my personal life, I was ending a marriage and working far too many hours, often out of town, in my "day job." Creatively, I had other projects I wanted to work on, including a renewed effort to break into print publication and an epic fantasy novel. All of this met with varying degrees of success, and during this time the occasional email would trickle in asking, "When's Sovereign Serials coming back?" I started wondering the same thing myself.
Now, I'm attempting to look at the webzine with a much more businesslike approach. Previously, I invited others to write serials, but the agreement I have with creators was admittedly lopsided. Essentially, it's my sandbox and they were only playing in it, and for free, too. So now, it's just the Matt show until I can find a way to compensate people. I would expect no less myself. I'm exploring marketing right now, trying to promote the site both on the web and in the real world. If I can get enough press, and consequently enough readers, I may be able to attract selected advertising and once again open the site to contributors.
Part of the Sovereign Serials mission is to present "The Sovereign Era" through the eyes of people from all over the world, so getting contributors once again is a priority. Also, I anticipate offering "chapbook" editions of some of the serials' story arcs as a way to build revenue in some small way. Watch out ... Sovereign Serials tee-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, action figures, and lunch pails can't be far behind, and then before you know it, I'll totally re-write the universe every year and find a way to put foil covers on every ... oh, wait, sorry... :-)
As far as the stories themselves, I'm more than happy to offer some teasers: Things are about to get Very Bad. Events in "Harry Turpin, Mystic Protector" will affect the entire world, and shed new light on the origin of the Sovereign. The history of the world in Sovereign Serials is going to diverge dramatically from the history of the real world. From the Big Event in "Harry Turpin," we'll see major ramifications in "Paramount," including the identity of the mysterious Stranger that has had such an influence on William Donner. I may debut a new, limited serial to deal with some of these things. Finally, over in Abbeque Valley, Nate Charters will get some real answers about his own origins and his place in the world.
Crowe: Sounds fantastic, as a fan I can't wait! I always like to end these interviews with the classic question. What advice do you have for those getting started in writing, especially in the area of super hero style fiction?
|MWS: Advice? Geez, all of a sudden I'm an expert? Well, all right -- keeping in mind that this is coming from a guy who's only had two actual sales of his writing, here goes: first of all, read everything. Don't stick to what you're familiar with. Let your current favorite genres lead you into new ones. If you read science fiction, you should be reading history, mythology, current events, and of course science books, too. Stay current with the news, and make sure you get it from a variety of sources, and that you understand the biases of those sources. Your understanding of the world will benefit, and so will your writing.
Next, and you've heard it before, and I'm guilty of breaking from this myself, but, dammit, write every day. Journaling counts, and I strongly recommend it. In fact, when you journal, be honest, and don't worry about what you write. You will learn from yourself, and you must have some idea about who you are before you can start putting thoughts in the heads of imaginary people in your stories.
Don't make being published your goal, although you should certainly attempt it. The most important thing you can do as a writer is write, and finish what you write -- that makes you a writer. Keep going. Collect rejections, and consider them reminders that You Wrote Something, and it didn't exist until you made it.
On the subject of super hero style fiction: do something new. Ignore comics. Love them, read them, but don't try to do them unless you want to make a comic book yourself. What I do at Sovereign Serials is not super hero fiction, despite owing a tremendous debt to the genre. If you want to write about superheroes, make sure you never forget that there's a person underneath the mask. Would that person really dress up in an exhibitionist's leotard and run around risking their life? What for? What would you do if you could bend steel in your bare hands? Write about that.
Crowe: Any other up coming projects you want to plug, besides the obvious Sovereign Serials?
|MWS: If you don't mind, I'll plug Sovereign Serials first, by reminding our gracious readers to please subscribe to the magazine, and to please comment on what you read there. It wouldn't hurt for each reader to tell fifty or sixty of their closest friends about Sovereign Serials, too. Outside of Sovereign Serials, if you want a glimpse of the Editor enjoying another creative endeavor, check out http://www.runningerin.com. Running Erin is a band I sing and play bass guitar in.|
Crowe: Matt, It's always a pleasure talking with ya, and I appreciate you taking the time to let me grill you for a while. I'm sure the readers will get a kick out of it!
|MWS: Heck, Chris, thank you! I was telling my wife what a kick being interviewed is ... it's a validation of what I'm trying to do, and I very much appreciate it. You've been supportive from the get-go, and your Lit.org site is a valuable resource that deserves much success.|
Crowe: I appreciate it! I should have this hush puppy battered, fried and on the plate by the weekend ;)
Chrispian H. Burks
Lit.Org Owner / Founder
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