Greetings all! Tonight, I had the privilege to be interviewed by Joseph Cautilli from the Cyberpunk Detective Cafe ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/361868213953073 ) Here is a transcript of the interview for those who don’t want to join the group. (Edited some typos because I had to. Couldn’t bear to look at them.)
Joseph Cautilli: Hi Matthew- before we start talking about your book, I want to take a moment to ask you about two issues that we have been discussing on this list. The first is of course, the issue of partnering with YouTube- making a chapter of the book available to get a larger readership. What are your thoughts?
MC: I must’ve somehow missed that. Like recording a video of reading the first chapter and posting it on YouTube? Seems like an interesting idea. I mean, the first chapter is free to read on amazon already so…
MC: Or are you thinking of a text scroll or changing panels of text like song lyrics?
JC: Yes, they are. The idea is that YouTube get sponsors a pays you. Anyhow that brings us to the second topic. Many small groups of authors are now pooling together to create group worlds. Weird apoc is one such group. What are your feelings on group worlds?
MC: Similar to collaborative writing. Seems like it could work if everyone’s into it
MC: Reminds me of the short stories I’ve done for James Wymore’s actuator anthologies. A lot of authors writing stories all set in the same world, but it’s wide open for different interpretations.
JC: Yes, it seems that amazon has its own group doing it, as well The idea is that group characters give more exposure to the fan base and people start to love the characters regardless of the writer- sort of what the comics do…For those arriving late, we are here with distinguished author Matthew Cox to talk about his book Division Zero. Mathew can you give us a teaser about what the book is about?
MC: The book tells the story of Agent Kirsten Wren, who is an officer with the psionic arm of the National Police Force known as Division Zero. Kirsten was born with a power known as astral sense, which allows her to perceive and interact with the world of ghosts and other paranormal entities. She also has a weak-to-moderate rating in another ability referred to as ‘mind blast’, which is feared even among other psionics. The combination of both abilities in one person has given her a unique talent (the astral lash), which, unlike most Astral Sensates, allows her to attack spirits when they leave only violence as an option. In this book, a case falls on her lap where androids known as dolls have begun to malfunction for no reason the normal authorities can determine. After several deaths, and with no reasonable explanation for what is going on, they kick the case to her to investigate a possible paranormal angle.
MC: It’s running on multiple levels. On one level, there’s a “police procedural” going on… but on another level, the story is about Kirsten’s evolution.
MC: I tried not to club the reader over the head with the tech/cyberpunk/sci fi aspects of it – using the world as a backdrop for the story rather than forcing the technology to BE the story.
JC: Can you provide us with a link to the book?
MC: sure – links
Division Zero http://amzn.com/B00ITWTRZ0
Lex De Mortuis (part 2) http://amzn.com/B00NE7E04I
Thrall (Part 3) http://amzn.com/B00VEFD2A0
JC: At the outset, I want to say how much I enjoy the visuals in your book. Each chapter begins with a bath of images. Do you have a theory or a guiding principle around your use of color in writing- especially your presentation of neons and greens?
MC: When I’m writing, I tend to visualize the scene in my head like a movie. My goal is to transport the reader into a scene and let them be there with the character. I try to find a nice balance, hitting all five senses when possible. Sometimes, the tone of a scene just ‘feels’ like a certain color. The strongest example that comes to head unfortunately isn’t in D0, it’s in Virtual Immortality – the laundromat scene. I saw it saturated in green. Of course, I wasn’t trying to invoke ‘envy’ or anything with it… nothing that deep. It just felt green.
JC: Your definitely hit a lot of great visual effects in the book and they drew a lot of emotions. What would you say is the general emotional color theme of the beginning of the book?
MC: One thing I do in everything I write, from novels to short stories – is for the first word in the piece to be symbolic to the character. The first word of Division Zero is ‘Adrift’, which is very much where Kirsten is when the story starts… she’s adrift… In a society that is terrified of her, alone, wondering why her own mother hated her so much. The opening mood is one of loneliness and isolation.
JC: Which brings us to Kirsten- The book deals with a psionic characters. Can you tell us what inspired you to explore this view of the mind?
MC: The setting for Division Zero is based on a world I’ve spent the past twenty some odd years developing. Initially, I created it as a backdrop for a science fiction roleplaying game. From the start I’ve always been fascinated by psychic abilities in fiction, and they felt like they added a level of uniqueness to the setting. I wrote Division Zero after Virtual Immortality. In VI, the story is more focused on the technology of the world. For Division Zero, I wanted to get more into the psionic aspect of it, and I felt that Astral Sense (and an open door to ghosts and other things) offered more variety in potential story ideas beyond something like telekinesis or telepathy.
JC: It does look like you have spent many years developing this work. I really enjoy the depth of the characters. Now, your lead character has a special and rare psionic, she can speak to the dead. What inspired you to explore the idea of an ability to speak to the dead? In some ways it reminded me of the work of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope (not in content but in idea).
MC: Well, the psionic talents that exist in the world the story is set in are codified in the notes I’ve developed over the years. Each separate psionic path (telekinesis, pyrokinesis, telepathy, telempathy etc) has a defined set of abilities and sub skills. I thought that an astral sensate would offer a wider selection of story potential as well as open the door to interacting with things from modern day to draw in some references that would ground the world in a sense of familiarity. (For example in part 2, there are a few ghosts that she interacts with who may seem familiar. (In the timeline of Division Zero, these people who are alive today would be long gone.)
JC: As we have your publisher here on the list, would you like to tell us what it is like to work with Curious Quills?
MC: Oh they’re great! Everyone’s so helpful and friendly… and the quirky sense of humor is perfect.
MC: I think I’ve signed about 15 books with them now and I still get nervous like it’s my first time when I send them a new one, lol.
JC: I like publishers with a sense of humor. I am sure that some of the indie authors here will find that very cool. Now killing a guy, for a character that speaks with the dead, creates an interesting array of problems. I can imagine all the nagging episode and the person following her around taunting her for years. How do you get yourself in a mind set to deal with this issues? (thinking of the problems she as having circa page 19-20) How do you ensure that your character gets a break from what could be a steady stream of nagging?
MC: Well for most astral sensitives, that would be a big problem. Kirsten has the lash, which most do not. If a ghost gets too irritating she can destroy it, though that is never her first choice. Kirsten doesn’t like to take life. While she has seen glimpses of ‘the other side’, she’s in no hurry to send anyone there ahead of their time. As a police officer in a hyperviolent society, she does kill when absolutely necessary – but even when the person was trying to kill her, she feels guilty about having to take things to that level. Because she can destroy ghosts, she doesn’t worry too much about one lingering around. She’s more hesitant to kill for the sake of not wanting to kill than because of what happens after. As it works out, Kirsten has so far only been forced to kill people who were dark enough that the Harbingers have claimed them within minutes, sparing her the need to deal with an irritated ghost. This issue would be more of a problem for an astral who lacked Kirsten’s aversion to killing and murdered people the Harbingers wouldn’t be interested in.
JC: What do you think drives her overall view of killing- after all she kind of knows what is on the other side.
MC: Well interesting point. She thinks she knows. She sees some ghosts go through a flash of silver light toward the voices of their families and friends, and she sees black shadows (the harbingers) drag other ghosts off to who-knows-where. She’s also seen a lot of spirits stuck among mortals, and how sad and lonely they are. Because she’s lonely herself, I think she has a big component of guilt at not wanting to be responsible for putting someone in that situation. If it’s a matter of live or die – or an innocent is being threatened, she’d rather put a criminal into limbo than risk an innocent (or herself) being killed. (Except when confronted with vibroblades. She’s phobic of cyberware, and has it in her head that if someone gets too close with a vibro blade she’s going to lose a limb and wake up with a metal arm or something.)
MC: Ultimately, she really has no idea what happens on the other side of the silver light
JC: I liked the scene of Kirsten talking to her father on the bus. I could see people staring at her when she is shouting at no one. Do you have kids? How would you described the relationship between Kirsten and her father?
MC: Alas, I do not. The relationship between Kirsten and her father is fairly tragic. I know you read the short story “Into the Beneath” which takes the reader back to when Kirsten was still ten years old and living at home. While her father did love Kirsten, he was terrified of all the supernatural oddities that came looking for her. He is a weak man who couldn’t stand up to his wife and decided to avoid the situation entirely by taking a job that had him traveling away from home for extended periods. This, of course, left Kirsten to the mercy of her abusive mother. She kept looking to him for protection and help, but all he did was run away. Kirsten spent a long time angry at him for being a coward, though by the timeline of Division Zero, she’s sufficiently guilty about never talking to him again after running away that she’s come to a level of forgiveness for what he did. As he represents the only thing even close to family she has left (prior to her taking in Evan), she’s grown more attached than she consciously realizes to him.
JC: I think it is cool that to some degree she is like the rest of us in the dark about the ultimate destination of the human soul. Related, I like how in traumatic situations Kirsten goes into sort of a “trauma trance.” I think it is better though when she manages to pull herself out – it shows strength and adjustment (like on page 61 when she is telling herself it is not Mother). It suggests that you have a deep knowledge of trauma, would you like to share how you acquired it?
MC: The best thing I can say here is lucky guess or intuition. Fortunately, I’ve been spared having to deal with real trauma too close to home. I build on bits and pieces of things I’ve picked up from other stories / books / movies. Primarily, I try to project myself into the character’s role and think in the way the character would be seeing and feeling that scenario. Then, I factor in the character’s nature and look for what ‘feels right’ for the character to do.
JC: I think that we all have some intuition as to the effects of trauma. I think we all have friends who have been traumatized but I like to say that you take it much deeper. I think you have a much deeper sense of what it means to be in pain and afraid for your life. Switching the topic for a minute- I like how technology sort of forms the setting in your story for what is a pretty deep story of soul searching and coming to terms with the craziness of being different. What insights can you offer us, as Kristen tries to balance her work as sort of a police officer in this world with so many connections in the next? I think someday she make a killer detective squad person in homicide- so who killed you?
MC: Well, as a psionic, Kirsten is more or less ‘stuck’ with Division Zero. The government doesn’t completely trust psionics, so they like keeping them where they can watch them, even someone as ‘pure’ as Kirsten. She does often talk to ghosts who have been murdered and pass along information to the mundane cops. The legal system doesn’t recognize ‘paranormal evidence’ for inquests (inquests are essentially nonjury trials.) Though she could play translator if the ghost could lead a normal investigator to tangible evidence.
JC: I can see why they would not trust them. I think they have a right to fear people who can say know their lies and use them against them. On a related note about technology, do you think the most used sort of sex bot images say something about the society? Also I like the mystery elements of the book. It is good how you let the story unfold, like a “who done it.” What are some of your major influences as to mystery writing?
MC: You know, I hate to say it… but I haven’t read many mysteries. I think most of my influences here come from movies and ‘cop shows.’ I’ve watched a lot of Law & Order, and I’ve always been fond of espionage films. As far as the most used sexbots go, that could also speak to the subset of society that frequents those places. People who care more about public perception in that world can sit at home, plug into cyberspace and do or be whatever they want for a little while. The corporate exec who wants to do unseemly things can do it virtually where no one could see – whereas the common schmoe has to go to a place like where Kirsten hunts down a suspect.
JC: Yes, I agree- I think it speaks to a social subset. Can you tell us a little about the rules the society has about getting into some-one else’s head for all these psychics?
MC: A lot of what Division Zero does is PR for psionics as a social minority. They are going out of their way to mitigate the pervasive fear most citizens have and conduct a “hey, we’re people too” kind of campaign. Currently, psionic information (telepathic mind reading of stuff from a suspect) is not admissible in an inquest. If an officer mind reads something, and then arrests a suspect based on it with no physical evidence, the person will walk and the officer will likely get grumbled at… depending of course on the situation. If there’s been a kidnapping and a Div Zero officer mind reads the location of the victim and goes to rescue them, no one in command will give them crap about that. Generally speaking, the mundane system doesn’t like or trust psionics, so they try to make them as much of a non-issue as possible. Some characters, like Nicole, flagrantly disregard those ‘ethical’ rules, on the mindset that the victims’ rights matter more than those of the suspects. Others, like Dorian, will only resort to a mind read in an extreme case, such as making absolutely sure a suspect is guilty of a heinous crime before conducting a summary execution. But the people in real power are the ones most afraid of them, as it’s hard to keep secrets from a telepath Division 9 does have some cybernetic parts that are capable of shielding a brain from telepathic connections – often in painful ways for the psionic.
In some ways I use ‘psionics’ as a reference for various forms of current day social injustice. (At one point in the Awakened series, one of the characters remarks that they’re shocked that the UK is going to allow psionics to marry.)
JC: Interesting- I can see a future story of controllers for the telapathy. So tell us about Adrian Lewis? Where does he draw his strength from? What insights into his personality and his ability to shock people can you provide? It appears when we first meet him that he does not have control of his powers. We also don’t get a sense of how important the relationship is between him and Daniel.
MC: [Mild spoilers in this post] – Adrian Lewis has two primary psionic skills, electrokinesis and mechanical aptitude (or technokinesis). He’s more of a mech apt (which is a psionic affinity for machines and technology.) I’m curious what made you think Adrian doesn’t have control of his powers. He is trying to do something with them that most mech apts don’t normally do with it. He can control his powers, but he is trying to invent a new one per se — or at least a new way to use it. The relationship between him and Daniel is complex. They love each other to the point where Adrian has been torn between who he feels he is inside (a woman) and not wanting to commit to that change because he is unwilling to hurt Daniel. In the setting of Division Zero, the technology exists (with enough money) for someone with gender dysphoria to have their DNA restructured into the opposite gender as though they were born that way. Adrian desperately wants to do that, but he’s been battling with guilt sometimes to the point where he’s considered suicide as a way out, but didn’t do it because he knew that would hurt Daniel even more. What he’s doing with dolls is his way of ‘living it vicariously’ to see if he’s 100% sure about the idea.
MC: Adrian was born with his powers (as are most normal psionics – and by normal I mean non-awakened.) which are extremely rare. (So far, there’s been 8 of them known to exist.)
JC: I like the idea of experimenting with powers. Since he was born with them (lived his whole life with them) I am sure he has tried to run them to there limits. I just got the sense that he was struggling. So Kiristin seems pretty open to Templeton at first, much less guarded then her history might suggest. Is that because of the mounting number of failed relationships in her history? What are your thoughts there?
MC: Well, what Adrian was trying to do – link his consciousness to a doll in real time was not something he’d tried to do before. Mech aptitude more often than not takes the form of a person being able to fix or work with complex machines without really knowing how they’re doing it. Sort of like a prodigy savant.
MC: Regarding Templeton, Kirsten hates, hates, hates, being helpless. She spent most of her childhood as a helpless victim, and she’s tired of it. She also had a weak, ineffective father figure who was not there to protect her. Third, she’s so used to everyone treating her like she’s some kind of demonic beast that would kill them as soon as say hello. So, when Templeton (who is older than her 35 to her 22) shows up and helps her out of a bad situation, shows no fear of her even knowing that she’s psionic, she has a sudden upwelling of need to be with him. More of an infatuation really; even Kirsten knows it’s a product of circumstance. Templeton does come back in Book 2 though!
JC: I look forward to reading about his return. I know a lot of this group is online, as I see green lights by there name. I am impressed with their silent watching- they should feel free to jump in. Ok back to Matthew- Tell us about Lucian’s relationship with his wife.
MC: Lucian is not the kind of guy that does anything directly, at least not when it could come back to bite him in the ass. He’s a ruthless ‘profit at any cost’ corporate shark. His wife started off as a trophy, but he miscalculated her intelligence and refusal to ‘be quiet and smile.’ Nothing too terrible really happened between them beyond drifting apart as it became clear their interests diverged. Dealing with her became a simple matter of economics. Hiring a consultant to resolve the issue cost less than a divorce. Lucian has some sociopathic tendencies, but he does genuinely love his daughter–perhaps the only person he is capable of having real feelings for.
JC: haha, ha, ha- I’ll say. When witness the discussion with Tanaka by astral projection how do you know you are getting the actual memories from the ghost instead of let’s say a false information?
MC: I’m a little confused by the question. When Kirsten is projecting astrally, she doesn’t interact with Tanaka. She isn’t reading his mind, she simply overhears him speaking on a Vidphone. A psionic’s power emanates from their living body. While Kirsten is out and about as an astral wanderer, if she used any psionic abilities, they would take effect in the area around her body. In essence, she’s a brand new powerless ghost at that point – able to float around, see, and hear, but not do much. Other ghosts can interact with her, and she’s ‘in their world’ and at their mercy since none of her tricks work. Telepathy doesn’t work on ghosts.
JC: Ok. I just was looking for more of a way that she goes about assessing the situation and the information that she is getting to tell truth from lie. Like with living people, you can try to judge changes in pupil size to determine lies. Anyhow, tell us what was involved in taking the young man under her wings (Kirsten) to sort of mentor and train?
MC: Well, In book 1, she stumbles across Evan and learns he’s in a bad situation. Luckily, he’s psionic which gives her jurisdiction to interfere, and she gets him out of that bad situation. Astrals are rare among psionics, so the higher ups are inclined to let her work with him as a mentor for his power. She is also drawn to him due to certain similarities in their childhood. (Granted, Kirsten – as Dorian said – would take every orphan she finds home if she could.) Of course, she is at a constant war with her own insecurities, wondering if she’s good enough, capable enough, or stable enough to take care of a child. As the series progresses, her need to care for Evan helps her mature as a person – and the fear that she may fail her psych profile and have him taken away from her keeps her awake at night.
JC: Yeah, she seems to want to save people. I think it is a good trait. How much power would you say Intera has? What is its final mission?
MC: Intera is in the business of making dolls and bots. They are similar to the Apple of today – hip, ubiquitous, have gobs of cash. Now take away any sense of moral compass or inclination to respect law and you get Intera. They work within the UCF where there is still a government ‘in the way’, but they also have a presence in ACC controlled regions (Allied corporate council, the other superpower left after the corporate war). Intera also has off-Earth facilities. They wield a significant amount of power, but they do have to be careful on Earth. Profit is king, and sometimes they grit their teeth and tolerate the government so they don’t lose market share. (I’ve got some basic ideas outlined for another series in this world involving this company :P) It’s final mission is to own the entirety of the market share in doll production and gain as much money, influence, and power as they can. The board doesn’t want to be a visible ‘ruling group’ so to speak, much better to have control but remain anonymous to the masses.
JC: Would you say there is a part of you that can connect with the power and influence part of Intera- not the bot stuff but wielding the power and control they have.
MC: I dunno. Doubtful… I don’t really crave power or influence. I’m more like Althea from Prophet in terms of mindset
JC: So they are sort of the anti-you. Interesting. Ok, so give us a little peek into the mind of Albert Motte. What drives him?
MC: [ Spoilers ahead ] – I’m not sure I can answer this without dropping a ton of spoilers, lol. He’s a classic nerd supergeek introvert. Few friends, weak grip on his emotions. Doesn’t handle stress well. He was under-appreciated at his job and thought his contributions were more significant than he was getting credit for. (he was right – he’s meek and not aggressive enough to prevent his superiors from taking advantage of him without compensating him enough.) After Intera decides to assassinate him rather than risk him taking secrets to a competitor, he gets pretty pissed off. He’s not so much angry with a single person as he is the entire corporation.
JC: Ok. We are sort of running out of time. Last question- tell us about working with Dean Samed as a cover artist. What is his greatest strength?
MC: I think he’s able to hone in on the mood of a book from a general description of it. Both the pieces he did for me so far have been perfect
JC: OK, so that is all the questions that I had tonight. We have been talking with MC: . I like to thank Matthew for taking the time to answer my questions and really showing us a part of what he has developed. Guys, feel free to continue to ask questions if you like. The book is Division Zero. I hope you all pick it up and write him a review. I think that it is an excellent story and part of a really unique series.
MC: Thanks for having me on Joseph.
JC: It was my pleasure. I love the work- keep it coming!