10 Questions with Matthew R. Davis
Matthew R. Davis is an Australian Shadows Awards-winning author, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, with around sixty short stories and poems published around the world. He sings and plays bass in heavy bands such as Blood Red Renaissance and icecocoon, sometimes performs spoken word with punk poets Paroxysm Press, dabbles in short film and graphic design, and likes to explore interesting locations with his favourite photographer for research and fun. His published books are a collection of horror stories, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, and a novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love. Find out more at matthewrdavisfiction.wordpress.com.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
My name is Matthew R. Davis and I’m an author, musician, and general artistic busybody who calls Adelaide home. I write horror almost exclusively, though there are many shades of darkness: sometimes my work leans toward an emotive, empathetic kind of paranormal fantasy, sometimes it prefers a mordant conte cruel approach, sometimes it likes to splash blood all over the walls in grim abandon. My bread and butter, however, is literary horror that aims for the head and the heart.
2. What drew you to that particular genre?
I’m not sure. I was a somewhat morbid and melancholy child when not being brainy and sociable, and I don’t feel I’ve changed much in that regard. I always felt drawn to action, violence, peril, and foreboding insinuations. I delighted in books about monsters from Greek mythology and snappy tales by Roald Dahl, and after lights out at a school sleepover in Year 7, I told a version of a story I’d read in a collection of dark tales—a story I recently identified as Edith Nesbit’s “Man-Size in Marble”. In high school I discovered Stephen King and a slew of other horror and dark fantasy writers, and the die was cast: I was to be an author. That never changed, though I made a stab at also becoming a rock star along the way, the failure of which hardening me enough to withstand the constant rejection and disappointment of a writer’s life.
3. What’s your best known work?
It’s kind of you to assume any of my work is known as such... let’s say my first novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, in the hope that it will soon become true. It was published by JournalStone, which is a bit of a coup considering the authors they’ve had on their roster, and that’s opening my work up to a wider audience than anything prior. It’s incredibly validating to have people like (JS editor) Scarlett R. Algee see the merit in my work and give it a broader platform, especially when it’s because they just love the writing and not because they think it will fit some marketable niche. The novel is hard to categorise—I’ve resorted to calling it a contemporary rural gothic mystery horror, which is a fair mouthful, because it reminds me of some weird blend of The Dry, Picnic At Hanging Rock, and Pet Sematary. The reviews that I’ve had so far are mostly glowing—read it for yourself and see if you don’t agree, wink wink.
4. What inspired you to write it?
Midnight in the Chapel of Love was born of a scene I saw in my head whilst driving between Port Pirie and Adelaide one afternoon whilst listening to Something for Kate. I think my complicated relationship with the town where I grew up was something that put a lot of meat on the bones of the plot, and I relished writing something that touched upon the greater mysteries of life and love. (Wow, that sounds pretentious. The book is not, trust me!) It’s a little odd that this has proved to be my first published manuscript, considering the horror element is backgrounded more than usual, but that’s the way the cookie hath crumbled—and it’s a rather layered and delicious cookie, if I do say so myself. I wrote a five-part post on my blog in the week leading up to publication, and that tells you a lot about the process... but now, I’d rather hear what other people get out of it.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I plot out novels fairly extensively, having learned that I’ll just write myself into a blind corner if I don’t; short stories require less preparation, but I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Research is something that can happen at any stage—sometimes I Google something as I’m writing, sometimes I’ll check out books from the library to garner more knowledge on a subject, and occasionally I’ll conduct interviews with people.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
Since I conducted a research interview just last night, let’s look into that. I met up with Adelaide punk icon/filmmaker Dick Dale, who is currently shooting his feature debut Ribspreader—I’ve shot a few scenes for it as an extra and I was picking up a T-shirt I bought as part of the fundraising—and I conducted an interview with him for my next novel manuscript. We talked about the Squatters Arms, a 19th century pub turned strip joint turned punk rock venue where he used to live and work and where my band Blood Red Renaissance played a few shows—now derelict, it’s long been reputed to be haunted, and a place in my next MS is based upon it. I also picked his brains about the Australian punk scene of the 1980s, which serves as background detail for the same story. Suffice to say that the Squatters has had a long and colourful history, and I hope my fictional counterpart exudes the same kind of ramshackle charm.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
Oh, this could have so many answers—but let’s focus on a story that’s recently been highlighted. “Vision Thing”, from Tabatha Wood and Cassie Hart’s charitable anthology Black Dogs, Black Tales, was shortlisted for Best Short Story in the 2020 Australian Shadows Awards, and it’s one of a batch of tales I wrote across 2018-2019 that resonates with the pain and loss I experienced during and after the end of a romantic relationship. There are a lot of specific references in it—probably too many to qualify as anything other than emotional masochism, frankly—but the scene that hit the hardest for me is a single paragraph, comprised of one long run-on sentence, wherein the narrator recalls accidentally striking his partner. We’ve probably all got similar stories where circumstances and clumsiness aligned in such a way that someone we love got hurt, no matter how kind and well-intentioned we are, but it’s a truly horrible feeling and I think I really nailed it in that story. The tale does end with an optimism of sorts—or at least a dogged persistence, pun intended—and I’m glad to note that the story of the relationship that inspired it has been winding back toward a happy ending of its own.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I read widely and extensively, and it all goes into the blending pot—not just horror but literary, crime, non-fiction, memoir, SF, fantasy, and so on. Some influences are too marked to ignore: Stephen King’s presence is predictable, or perhaps inevitable, and Ramsey Campbell has been another great teacher/literary father figure. Less obvious are the lessons learned from authors such as Clive Barker, Laird Barron, Tanith Lee, Richard Laymon, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Terrance Dicks, Ray Bradbury, et al. It’s not so much about the kind of stories I tell as the way I tell them: due to the aforementioned folks and a great many more, my tales have gained an emotional rawness, a surreal and disturbing feel, a gritty humour, a lysergic sense of colour and detail, an imaginative breadth, and so on. We are the sum of our influences, conscious and otherwise, and so we should seek as many experiences as possible if we hope to create truly unique art.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
None—I don’t keep them there. But I will mention what I’ve been reading lately: It Will Just Be Us by Jo Kaplan, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract by Rebecca Fraser, Beneath A Pale Sky by Philip Fracassi, Sole Survivor by Zachary Ashford, Goblin by Josh Malerman, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Into the Night by Sarah Bailey, The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward, Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond & Adam Horovitz, and Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert McFarlane.
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
My first collection of horror stories, If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (Things in the Well, 2020), is available through Amazon Australia; my first novel, Midnight in the Chapel of Love (JournalStone, 2021), is available through Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia, Waterstones, the JournalStone store, and pretty much anywhere that sells books. Recent short story publications include “The Black Regent” in If I Die Before I Wake Vol. 4: Tales of Nightmare Creatures and “Hole to Feed” in Flashes of Hope; the next few months should see the release of Nightmares in Yellow, a two-volume Carcosa-themed tribute to Joseph Pulver that will feature my story “Il re giallo”, and Tales of the Lost Vol. 3, featuring “Vigil at Singer’s Cross” alongside some truly wonderful authors. I’m always waiting to hear back about new opportunities, so hopefully there will always be something exciting in the pipeline!
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