Matt Doyle Author Spotlight
So last week, we dove into the mind of Belart Wright and took a look at his latest outing, Hell’s Glitch. This week we Matt Doyle, author of the Spark Form Chronicles! This duology is immensely creative and I found it to be an engaging and entertaining read. Mr. Doyle kindly set aside some time so I could pick his brain on the series and what he has planned next!
Okay, so right off the bat I could see that the world of The Spark Form Chronicles was a vast one. What were some of the main inspirations behind the duology?
The Spark Form Chronicles ended up taking in so many things that had been a part of my life for the longest time, which is why it kind of feels a bit genre-bent at times.
The most prevalent one from my own standpoint though would be pro-wrestling. The way the tournament works, the general feel of the battles and how each competitor has their on-screen personality quirks, the commentators, the backstage stuff … it’s all drawn from my time in that particular business. Aside from being a wrestling fan from the age of about seven, I actually started training at NWA-UK Hammerlock way back in 2001, and made my debut in 2002. I’ve never been massive, but back then I was so skinny that my spandex was in danger of falling down! Regardless though, my debut went well. I had two matches in a winner stays on gauntlet match, first defeating a fellow local trainee, Phil, then losing to Ross Brown, an experienced guy that had come down from Ireland. Between then and my retirement towards the end of 2010, I worked matches (as a wrestler, referee and ring announcer), booked shows, promoted events, trained people, and took on a road agent role. I also got to tour with some of the guys that I grew up watching like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart. After spending all that time around the business, it really does become a part of you though, and so it ended up playing a major part in my writing for this story.
Anime and manga also had a major influence on me for this one. Again, I’ve been watching anime from a very young age, and I maintain to this day that a decent anime or manga has a different feel to Western works in terms of storytelling, and that always appealed to me. While I loved a lot of the stuff that’s come from outside Japan, there’s something about works like Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell that that just sticks with me. In the case of The Spark Form Chronicles, I took my queues for the card based battle system from a combination of Yu-Gi-Oh! and my love of collectible card games in general, though I made sure that the actual card game rules that I used were unique to the world. The way the book switches from viewpoint to viewpoint and spreads itself over a pretty large cast was influenced by a mix of the anime Durarara! and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. The underlying theme of AIs and technology is something that seeped in from the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell series. The biggest anime influence though was undoubtedly Digimon Tamers. Aside from being my favourite series from my favourite franchise, it covers a lot of similar themes: the question of whether a digital non-human can be alive or whether they’re just an artificial construct with no real life value, humans bonding with said entities, using cards to carry out battles, the long term effects of trauma (especially in children) … it’s all there, but covered differently.
As an interesting side, the anime influence is probably the longest running one in the book. When I started writing, I actually had a different story in mind, but struggled to get a full length novel out of it. Part way through writing, I realised what the problem was: I’d essentially been trying to rewrite half an episode of Bodacious Space Pirates as a full length story. Once I realised that, I started toying with the future-tech idea and things just spiralled from there. Both Fahrn Starchaser and Meera Throne appeared in that original concept though, and made the transition over to the final novel, albeit with some personality tweaking along the way.
I’ve got to say, I haven’t read many novels where the POV changes as frequently as it does in your book. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I got used to it. Those POV changes really made a difference when it came to the battles though. And not that the battles weren’t exciting, because they were, but what made you decide to have them take place through card games?
Everything has rules to one degree or another, especially when it comes to combat. Even when people use phrases like ‘no rules street fight’, there will be an internal set of boundaries that those involved won’t cross, such as not intentionally opening yourself up to being smacked in the head. By the time that I’d started writing the story in earnest, John Forrester and Carnival had effectively wandered into my head, and I knew that I needed a way for them to fight alongside each other but with the focus on Carnival. The first thing that I thought of was actually The Player of Games by Ian M Banks, which followed the story of Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a famously skilful player of board games. And so, I set about coming up with various sets of game rules and play testing them.
The original couple of ideas were closer to the Dungeons and Dragons board game than anything else, but they all felt a little clunky to me. It was while re-watching the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh! that the idea of using a card game hit me. At the time, I was playing the online version of the Pokémon TCG most nights too, so I figured, why not? I hunted down as many rule books as I could, and started coming up with concepts based on this idea. Again, I play tested each one, and eventually came up with the rule set that I ended up using. The main thing here was to come up with a system that would work as a one-on-one battle with a variety of moves that could be used. What I ended up with has some light similarities to the Universal Fighting System game, but is definitely its own thing.
Speaking of the battles, what gave you the idea to link the main characters with the Spark Forms via the implants during the battles?
That was something that was born of necessity. Using the card system felt right, but I know from experience how slow card games can be if you’re getting really tactical. I wanted the battles in The Spark Form Chronicles to be relatively fast paced so that I could keep up the excitement with them, and stick with that feel of it being like a decent pro wrestling show. I really wanted the battles to be fought in real time, so I knew that I’d need a way to make it so that the competitors could play at a high speed.
You see a lot of stuff in Sci-Fi where people can hook themselves up to machines through the use of implants, so I decided to use that as a starting point. I already had the idea of the machines inside the Spark Forms working with small electrical currents as a way to stimulate the human body into thinking that they’re more than just holograms, so I came up with a similar idea for the implants. The use of electronic stimulation to create particular feelings and effects was a convenient way for me to allow the competitors to have a boost in speed, both physically and mentally, and it provided the plug that I needed to fill the gap labelled ‘how am I going to make this work the way I want without just ignoring the problem and hoping nobody notices?’
In the long term, the spinal implants also gave me something else to toy with. The implants that the characters use here are relatively small, but the same type of technology could easily be expanded to have other uses in other stories, so that’s something that I want to deal with more in the future.
I know some authors pull inspiration for character creation from those close to them. Does that hold true for you as well?
Yes and no. I didn’t outright base any of the characters on people that I know personally, though one or two have mentioned similarities that they’ve noticed between the characters and themselves. What amused me with that is that it’s usually negative traits that people pick up on. I’ve always wanted people to feel drawn to the positives of the characters rather than their faults, but there you go. We’re a self-critical species at times.
To a degree, a lot of the characters just sort of appeared without the need to consciously draw too much in from outside, but there were definitely little bits and pieces about them that I based on particular things that I personally hold dear. For example, Fahrn’s first interview in the book was actually based on my own frustrations with the way that we always seem to have new gaming systems in the works, but don’t seem to get any closer to curing major diseases or things like world hunger. Gaming is great, don’t get me wrong, but it does seem mad to me at times.
At the same time, I know from experience that there are a lot of misconceptions about bisexuality, in particular within the LGBT community. That, again, is so frustrating to see in this day and age. With Maria Grace, I wanted to write a character who could avoid bi stereotypes such as promiscuity and unfaithfulness, and just be part of a loving, stable relationship.
Looking at it, I think I did use a lot of the characters to vent my own frustrations with different things, so you could say that that was one the driving forces in their creation for me. Not all of them came about with these hang-ups though. Connor Ford for example. His name came to me first, then the image of ‘Jeremy Irons’ Pope Borgia as a cantankerous wind-up merchant that stole one of Ric Flair’s robes’. After that, writing him was easy.
I really enjoyed John and Carnival’s relationship. Though, if I’m being honest, I enjoyed John’s interactions with everyone, especially Connor Ford. John was such an enjoyable character who seemed to be able to adapt to nearly any situation. I can imagine he was a joy to write. When you were coming up with the team of John and Carnival, how did you come up with their dynamic, because with Carnival’s personality, it seems they would butt heads more often than not?
Yeah, they do butt heads a fair bit, and that’s mostly down to John and the way he deals with things. They both have a bit of a stubborn streak to them too, and with Carnival being less happy-go-lucky than John, she was always going to be the one that came into clashes a little more aggressively.
When it came to fleshing them out, John’s personality came through first. The over-the-top way that he deals with everything was indeed an absolute pleasure to write, but I knew that there had to be a reason that he acts the way that he does. That was why his backstory came out the way that it did. It was a little sad, and it’s left him with some unhealthy habits, but it did mean that I could draw out certain facets of him such as his general demeanour, his desire to entertain, and his reluctance to outright discuss certain things. At the same time, it left him in a position where he could be adaptable when needed, but more than a little infuriating for those around him because of the way that he overcompensates.
With Carnival, I needed a foil to that. She needed to have a sense of humour, or she’d be a quivering wreck after being around John too long. That was also important because she knows that most people would look at her as simply being an advanced AI hologram with a non-human appearance, and wouldn’t even consider whether she may be a living being. When faced with your existence being denied like that, being able to laugh at the world and the few people that are around you becomes important, because otherwise you’d just be so miserable.
At the same time though, I felt that, deep down, Carnival needed to be a little more serious than John, because he really does need someone to reel him in at times. That again comes from her situation. Sense of humour or not, she’s in a difficult place in the book, and working her way out of that was never going to be fun and games. She knows that John always acts with her interests at heart, and that he puts her safety above his own, but she also knows that he doesn’t always think things through fully and that he isn’t quite as perceptive as he thinks he is.
Once I had those two personalities in place, I just let them loose on the page. I knew from the get-go that they’d be playful with each other. There was no way that they couldn’t be; John being the way that he is, and Carnival enjoying being able to cut loose around him meant that it was guaranteed. It was the more serious moments that were more of a challenge to write, because that was where their hang-ups start to show, and in some ways I felt like I was tearing down the fun side that I’d built up for them.
In the end though, I think that the key to their dynamic is trust. They know just how far they can push each other, and they each trust the other to look out for them when needed. They’ve travelled together as long as Carnival has existed, and over that time, they’ve come to appreciate each other’s quirks, and that is what stops them having any sort of major falling out. As long as that’s kept in mind, the way they interact becomes far easier to write.
Do you have any plans to continue the series now that the duology is finished?
Yes, actually. I do want to return to the characters, because I loved writing them and there’s so much more that I can do with them. Each of the main ones has had something happen that has had a major impact on their life, so to see where that takes them is an interesting idea to me. The end of the second book also sets the wheels in motion for the major event that is yet to come, but it may take me a while to get there.
I’m eager to explore the universe that they live in a little more, and I feel that I can do that through a variety of different stories, and not just by following what the already established characters get up to next. There’s a whole world out there, multiple colonies, and a great variety of jobs that the people of the world can do. Oh, and the future tech, that’s going to be fun to experiment with. The Spark Form Chronicles may be over, but that world will continue for some time yet.
What do you plan to write next, if you’re willing to share that is?
Being a bit of a workaholic, I’m actually working on four books at the moment!
The first three are all part of a Middle-Grade Fantasy/Horror series that I’ve been writing. It’s designed to be five books long, and I’ve been working pretty quickly with it, thanks in part to the shorter story length (each is around 40,000 words). The first book is titled Basille, and is pretty much done. It’s doing the rounds with some agents and small publishers at the moment, but if no one bites, then I’ll go down the self-publishing route again. The second book, Ouela, needs another run-through to edit one particular scene, and I’ve now finished the second draft of the third book, Stoth. In terms of what the story is about, my general pitch for the first one is:
‘Simon Teller is an awkward twelve-year-old. He’s an avid gamer, loves obscure rock music, and as much as he’s loathe to admit it, he finds his Dad’s favourite 90’s action heroes to be far cooler than the modern teen characters that he’s supposed to admire. He is also very, very bored.
All that changes when Simon meets a six-foot-tall fennec fox named Xera and a teenage girl named Carrie Lowry. Together with his unusual new friends, he is thrown into a world where he can live out his favourite games while leaving his body behind to deal with all the things that he doesn’t like, like school and creepy local homeless girls.
But all is not as fun as it seems. Xera’s people view humans as toys to play with and push until they break, and the games that they set up are far more dangerous than Simon could ever have imagined. On top of that, he has so many questions that no one seems to want to answer: Why do people keep saying that Simon is a ‘Door Keeper’? Why is Carrie so mean to him? Who is Anubis, and why is Xera so desperate to find him? When he gets his answers, Simon may yet wish that he could go back to being bored … if he can survive long enough to get home.’
I recently finished the first draft of another, currently untitled book that sees me return to the Sci-Fi genre. This is a little different to WICK and CARNIVAL, in that it doesn’t take place at a card tournament, but in a fictional city built on Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert. The story follows Chinese-Canadian PI Cassandra Tam, as she works her latest case. A local man has died and the police have declared it an accidental overdose, but his sister thinks that that’s impossible as he didn’t use drugs, so she hires Cassie to investigate. The book has been fun thus far, and it’s let me try something a little different with the concept of technological implants as a form of body modification. It’s still Sci-Fi but it has a different sort of feel than The Spark Form Chronicles; it’s more of an homage to hardboiled detective stories, and it’ll feature the first love scene that I’ve published, but it’s my style of writing. Aside from a few editing runs, I need to decide if this is part of the same universe as The Spark Form Chronicles or not. We shall see how it goes.
Okay, curveball time! You wake up one day are you’re no longer on earth. Instead, you wake up and find yourself in an anime. What anime would you most want that anime to be, and why?
This is so difficult, because there are so many anime worlds that I love! The obvious one would be to go for Digimon Tamers, ‘cause who wouldn’t want to hang out with Renamon and Beelzemon? I could also go for the Ikebukuro of Durarara! with its non-stop craziness and cool characters … but I’m going to go for something different. If we’re going for a curveball question, we’ll go for a curveball answer too.
This time at least, I’m going to pick Our Home’s Fox Deity. It’s a charming little anime that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a slice of life, shōnen, fantasy, comedy, harem or horror series. What makes it stand out as a good place to live is that yōkai and Japanese deities all walk the world with the humans, and some wonderfully fun shenanigans ensue. It’s a world where there is plenty of peace if you want a quiet day, but at the same time, there’s plenty of excitement going on if you care to go looking for it.
For those who don’t know where they can find you Mr. Doyle, how’s about you go ahead and throw out a little plug?
Don’t mind if I do. :-)
Primarily you can find me at my website www.mattdoylemedia.com wherein you’ll find a lot of different things, including:
· Details of my various projects, including books, merchandise and cosplay
· Links to where you can buy my books, shirts, mugs etc. (more designs for merchandise will be coming, I just need to repair my graphics tablet)
· Reviews of anime, comics, anime, films, anime, and books
· Blog postings about random stuff and cool things that I’ve found
· A handy little contact form if you want to message me about anything that I’ve done or if you want to do a guest post or interview on the site
That though, is about it! Which just leaves me to say a big thank you to Donte for this opportunity, and big thank you to everyone who’s managed to sit through my long-winded ramblings until the very end. If any of what I’ve said sounds appealing, please do check out the books. They were an absolute labour of love, and I’m immensely proud of how they came out in the end, so if they sound fun, give them a look in, and maybe even leave a review somewhere.
Thanks again all!