The Eldritch Heart
Matthew S. Cox
Published by: Curiosity Quills Press
Publication date: August 1st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Princess Oona Talomir enjoys the little things that come with her station: a handmaiden, her lavish bedchamber, and scores of fancy dresses―the duty to win a decades’ long war, not so much.
Oh, did I mention assassins?
Seers foretold the conflict would end by her hand. From the moment she drew her first breath, the neighboring kingdom has been trying to kill her so she could not grow powerful enough to destroy them. The king, fearing for his daughter’s life, has kept her confined to the castle grounds for most of her sixteen years. With the tide of war turning against them, the burden of her crown becomes too much to bear, yet one thing lifts her spirits amid the gloom.
Her servant girl, Kitlyn.
Alas, in a kingdom obsessed with the god of purity, she is terrified to confess her forbidden love. When her father makes a demand she cannot abide―marry a prince to forge a military alliance―Oona panics. He is handsome and honorable, but he’s not Kitlyn. Unable to admit why she cannot obey, Oona does the only thing she can think of, and runs away.
Alone and unprepared in the wilderness, she prays the gods will let Kitlyn find her—before the assassins do.
Today we welcome Matthew for an interview!
1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
I suspect that some part of me at a subconscious level always did, but consciously, I spent a lot of years with no idea what I wanted to do with myself. The whole time though, I made a hobby of creating characters, worlds, and stories, but never made the leap to actual writing until about four years ago. Of course, once I had that epiphany, I felt a tad foolish for not seeing it sooner.
2. How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
My time to complete a book from start to finish varies on a few factors including: how strong the idea is, how ‘into’ the story I get, the amount of distraction free time I have, and so on. The fastest I’ve ever gotten a book finished (in terms of first draft) is eight days. Two of my novels share this time (The Summer the World Ended, and Citadel [which is not yet published, but is signed]). The longest has to be Virtual Immortality which was about three months. It’s both a long book (211k words), a complex story (multiple character POV and an intricate mystery), and it was also the first novel I wrote after deciding to get serious about writing. (It’s not the first novel to be published, but it is the first one I completed.)
3. How do you come up with themes for your stories?
Sometimes ideas hit me out of the blue. Often, this happens when I see something that inspires me but there’s a delayed reaction and my subconscious throws it out to me days or weeks later. Other times I’ll think “I want to write X kind of story” and I’ll sit down and think on it until I get one. Virtual Immortality had its origin in a roleplaying game campaign I ran, though the characters and events are quite a bit different than what happened at the table. Much of my cyberpunk/sci-fi work takes place in a world I’ve come to know as the “DF” (Divergent Fates) setting – which I came up with around 1996.
4. Do you have a schedule of when you write?
Not really. Other than whenever I’m not at the day job, asleep, or obligated to be doing something else.
5. How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
Wait, there’s other aspects?
6. What elements do you think make a great story line?
For me, I tend to view stories as escapism from reality. There’s plenty enough awfulness going on in the world that I like to see a story where the good guys more or less come out on top. I’m cool with bittersweet endings, but if a book is one continuous gut punch after another, I won’t like it.
In terms of general storyline, I believe the reader needs to be introduced to a character that they feel a connection with and want to root for, who is facing trials and challenges that they can relate to. Mix in a little humor here and there, humanize the characters, and add a dash of drama.
What kills stories for me is when characters do unexplainable (or dumb) things that are out of scope for their character purely to serve the needs of the narrative. E.g. the author is trying to ram a square peg into a round hole.
7. What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
I may be unusual as writers go in that I don’t typically find the process difficult or trying. For me the ‘worst’ part of writing is that time between sending a book off to beta readers and getting their feedback. I find the waiting to be agonizing.
8. How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
I’m at 36 completed novels and change (in the process of writing another). Picking a favorite is like asking a parent to pick their favorite kid. I like them all in different ways. If pressed, I’d have to go with Prophet of the Badlands because I love Althea as a character and I’ve always had a fondness for post-apocalyptic stories.
9. Do you have a favorite character?
Althea, from Prophet of the Badlands. (Though Kirsten from the Division Zero series is a close second). Althea is so sweet, and caring, and innocent. She doesn’t let anything that happens around (or to) her change who she is inside. At first, she’s timid and lets everyone push her around, but when she finally discovers a real emotional connection to someone, she comes into her own and becomes a force of nature.
10. Where do you write?
At home. Distractions would drive me up the wall when writing. I need quiet.
11. When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
Initially, I wrote Virtual Immortality, but kept hearing that it was too long to query out to agents as a first novel. So, I set it aside and wrote Division Zero #1 with the idea of a single-character book with a less complex plot (than VI) that I could keep in the mid 90k range. Once I finished it, I started the process of querying literary agents, but I kept getting back more or less the same “This is great, but I don’t think I’m the right agent for you” response.
At the time, I participated in the chatroom at agentqueryconnect.com – which has since been discontinued (the chat part). I met another author there A W Exley, who was published via Curiosity Quills press. Since she’d been published, I asked her if she might read a few chapters of mine and let me know what she thought – if she could offer any insight on the generic replies I’d been getting from agents.
She graciously did, and a few days later said I really ought to try querying her publisher, they’d love this. So, I did… and CQ wound up offering me a contract.
12. Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
I don’t have a lot of family, and as far as I know, none of them have read any of my books. (Most live several states away and we don’t have a lot of contact.)
13. What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
I have to cats. I’m fond of video games. I used to be heavy into roleplaying games, but real life has caught up with us and my friends don’t have the kind of time they used to, so it’s been rough arranging it.
14. What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Grab a copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King (not Stephen). Also, find some reliable critique partners and/or beta readers. Don’t leap to change something as soon as someone suggests a tweak – people’s opinions are different. If you get the same feedback from more than one person, consider it. If everyone universally says something, it’s probably worth changing.
Also, expect rejection. Only about 2% of queries ever get accepted. Keep trying. Don’t take it personally.
15. What is your favorite book? favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
I’d have to say my favorite book is Neuromancer, though Ready Player One is a close second. The Martian is also in the running. As far as a particular author inspiring me to write, not so much. Though William Gibson did basically invent my favorite genre.
16. Do you have any go to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading and such?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great editors with Curiosity Quills – Lisa Gus, Mark Woodring, Julie Rodriguez, and Kate Bystrova stand out. I’ve also got a wonderful group of readers who are always willing to help me out with a beta read – Louise Feagans, Denise Kalicki, Dianne Webb, Dan Cox (no relation), and Leslie Whitaker have perhaps read the most of my stuff early.
17. Are you working on anything now?
Yep. I’m working on an urban fantasy novel that will hopefully start another series. I’ve also got an outline for a middle-grade LitRPG ready to go once I finish this draft. I’ll also be working with JR Rain on a future project though I’m not sure how much of it I can divulge right now.
18. Tell us 5 things that make you smile
Cats. Videos of soldiers coming home and being reunited with their kids. Tiramisu. Spending all day thinking it’s Wednesday and finding out it’s actually Thursday. And having someone tell me that they connected with one of my characters.
19. Tell us 5 things that make you sad
Hearing about bad things happening to real kids. Reading/watching about bad things happening to fictional kids. Stumbling across an animal cruelty post on Facebook. People using religion as an excuse to hurt other people. That it’s 2017 and there’s still so much racism in our country.
20. If you could travel anywhere in the world to visit a place so you could use it as a background for a book, where would it be?
Thanks so much for stopping by today, Matthew. Great to have you here!
Evor, the groundskeeper’s son, gave Kitlyn a confused look as she collected a wide outdoor broom from the stack of tools leaning against the wall. The boy, a year or so younger, tilted his head at her. He too wore a beige tunic and brown pants to go with his knee-high boots. Kitlyn grumbled. The other servants didn’t ‘misplace’ his shoes constantly. Except for Beredwyn and Oona, it felt as though the entire keep conspired to make her miserable enough she’d want to run away. They didn’t need to know the earth underfoot seemed to charge her with energy; it certainly helped with her tasks. After ‘losing’ three pairs of shoes in one week when she’d been twelve, she stopped bothering to ask for more. It wasn’t worth being scolded. At least they’d left her winter boots be. It seemed they desired to be nasty, not malicious.
“Oi,” said Evor. “What ya doin’ ‘ere?”
“I’m to clear the garden path of seeds,” she muttered.
“Isn’t you the princess’ handmaiden?” He grinned.
A man in the back of the shed laughed. “Not dressed like that she’s not.”
Kitlyn held up the broom and sighed. “Aye, but only Oo―the princess thinks so.”
Both of his eyebrows flared. Most of the upper servants would’ve been appalled at her slip with the name. “I donnae know why ‘ey all treat ya like ‘is. I fink they jealous.”
She laughed. “Jealous? Of me? I’m not even on the social ladder. I’m flat on the ground and the ladder’s on my back.”
“I fink they jealous o’ your eyes.” He stepped closer. “They gleam like em’ralds. You’re beautiful, yanno. ‘Neath alla dirt, an’ them ol’ rags.”
Kitlyn looked away. “Thanks.” Well, this is unexpected. Usually the male servants either sneered at her with the same disdain as everyone else or ignored her. Only the lower ones who worked outside treated her as an equal. Of course, the groundskeeper’s son didn’t stand all that high up the ladder himself; few would’ve batted an eyelash at the idea of the two of them together. Yet, having him look at her like that, seeing the woman under her boys’ clothes, made her feel fidgety and squirmy, and closed the breath in her throat. “I… uhh, need to go before I get in trouble.”
“Awright.” He smiled and moved out of her way. “If’n ye ‘ave time later, p’raps we kin go for a stroll by the lake?”
She swallowed. Evor’d always been friendly, but she couldn’t think of him like that. Still, friendly people here were in short supply, so she forced a smile. “Thanks. I’ll, umm… see.”
He nodded. “‘Ere, use this one.” He picked up a different broom. “Ye’ll be done faster. That one ye got’s bout ta break.”
Glancing down, she gave the broom a slight shake; the head wobbled. Sure enough, it did appear ready to fall apart. Kitlyn offered it back to him and took the one he held out to her. “Thanks.”
His fingers brushed hers for a second, a deliberate gesture. Her gut clenched, though she kept smiling at him. “Thank you, but I’m going to be scolded if I don’t hurry.”
“Let me know if’n ya need ‘elp.”
After a brief nod, she raced off down a narrow strip of walkway between two farm plots where the boy’s father grew rare vegetables, herbs, and spices for the cook staff. She ducked a lumbering bee at the end of the planted row and headed for the corner of the main keep. Grass tickled her toes; the sun warmed her from above like Lucen himself smiled down on her.
Born in a little town known as South Amboy NJ in 1973, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Somewhere between fifteen to eighteen of them spent developing the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and The Awakened Series take place. He has several other projects in the works as well as a collaborative science fiction endeavor with author Tony Healey.
Hobbies and Interests:
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, Gamemaster for two custom systems (Chronicles of Eldrinaath [Fantasy] and Divergent Fates [Sci Fi], and a fan of anime, British humour (<- after="" also="" and="" cats.="" deliberate="" fiction="" fond="" happens="" he="" intellectual="" is="" it.="" life="" nature="" of="" p="" questions="" reality="" science="" that="" the="" what=""> ->
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