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Author Spotlight: Matthew Buscemi

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today, Matt Buscemi – Matthew Buscemi is a speculative fiction author and founder of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. He grew up in Illinois, but left to explore the world. He has taught English in Japan and Thailand, and has studied linguistics in Hawaii. Nowadays he lives with his partner in Seattle, Washington, where he types code by day and prose by night. He dreams of exploring the multiverse himself, but until humanity gets around to inventing a means of inter-dimensional travel, his imagination will suffice.

Matt Buscemi

Image Copyright © Mary Grace Long Photography 2014

Thanks so much, Matt, for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

Matt Buscemi: I’ve known I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure I’ve ever discovered that I’m good at it. I’ve certainly built confidence over time. I worry about discovering that I’m good. What I’ve learned about writing (and developing any kind of skill, really) so far suggests that the only way to truly improve is to constantly challenge yourself to do better, to be self-critical, and to strive to view your work from different perspectives. I’m too worried I would stagnate if I started thinking I’m good.

JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?

MB: Literary. All of my writing overlaps into science fiction and fantasy, but only because that’s the best angle to get at the topics I’m interested in exploring.

JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.

MB: My first published novel is called Voyage Embarkation, and details the exploits of eighteen-year-old Kal Anders as he explores the multiverse. His adventure takes place entirely in Chicago, Illinois, but he’s constantly shifting dimensions, and human history and culture changes with every shift.

The novel has a unique format. It was originally written as fourteen serial short stories, which I merged into a single novel. I have plans to publish the second edition later this year.

JSC: What’s your writing process?

MB: Life experience gives me a topic I want to explore, and I use narrative to explore it. I generate most of my ideas from my non-fiction reading, particularly The Hedgehog Review, The New Yorker, and speculative fiction literary criticism.

I’ve never had trouble coming up with ideas. If anything, I have too many of them. If given unlimited time and money to write and publish, I’d be able to put out three novels and one short story collection per year for quite a while. Although I’ll admit that I’m quite content with my current cadence of one novel and one short story collection per year. Certain recent life experiences have blunted my desire to focus my energy entirely on writing and publishing.

JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.

MB: That’s difficult. I have a very “open book” approach to social interaction. I like hedgehogs? I lived in Hawaii for four years? Everyone knows all that already.

JSC: Do you write more on the romance side, or the speculative fiction side? Or both? And why?

MB: Neither, not in the sense the question intends, I think. Darko Suvin’s conceptual framework of the novum best describes how I approach fiction. A novum, according to Suvin, is a salient difference between the world of reality and the world of the novel that allows the attentive reader to become aware of the real world from a new perspective. In science fiction, this is usually sociological, political, or both.

There are gay characters in my writing because my stories have diverse casts of characters. If there is romance in my writing, it is because the emotional relationships of the characters are sexual, and because sexuality is relevant for the topic the story explores. All the speculative elements of my works exist for specific socio-political purposes. Voyage Embarkation was a little looser about that, but the foundation is still there. By the time I got to Alterra (my third novel), I was in hardcore novum territory.

JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?

MB: No pets currently, but I have a cat on the cover of my first short story collection, Lore & Logos, in memory of my late orange tabby Max.

JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?

MB: Both, I think. I don’t write out plots in advance, but I certainly write outlines… then I proceed to break them as I write the novel. The outline gets almost as much revision as the actual story throughout the novel’s creation. I always know roughly where I’m heading, but I often know none of the details until I actually start writing out a scene.

JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?

MB: It would be called Artist’s Day. Groups of sensitive, intelligent individuals would meet up to talk about works of art that inspired them. Televised sporting events and congregations of people who can’t control their volume would take a respectful hiatus from their usual activities on Artist’s Day.

JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?

MB: I’ve just begun a new novel called Dessyit. I hope to be able to publish it this autumn.

transmutations-of-fire-and-voidAnd now for Matt’s new book: Transmutations of Fire and Void:

Fifteen short stories explore the formidable interstices between violent conflagration and frigid desolation.

A facility generates power by obliterating aesthetic beauty from parallel universes; a “pink brick” defies the analytical capacity of a team researching an alien culture; a temple remains serene and unperturbed even as the world around it plunges into war; a young man with relationship problems is tormented by his own reflection; a deadly poisonous organism masquerades as an art show piece.

Buscemi’s short stories make a hairpin turn into the violent fluctuations between fury and desolation in his second short story collection. The world as you know it is about to be forged into something new: something between chaos and order, calamity and stasis, fire and void.


From Lunar Eclipse:

Eslyum 17, Year of His Holiness 763

The journey home felt longer than it ever has before. My hands are still shaking as I write this. Never before have I been more afraid to walk the streets of my home city. But His Holiness has always remained a staunch supporter of the observation of the stars, & I doubt even the events of the past few days could undermine the foundation he provides for our researches. If anything, I have heard that it has only availed Him of its importance.
But politics is not my forte. I shall leave such endeavors in the hands of others, such as Methis. He enjoys hosting guests from the Court.

I sit now in my studio. It is quiet outside, though not the natural quiet of night. I saw fires still burning on my way here and heard shouting in the distance. It was as though I had been transported to another world. But here in Arno district, at least, people have shuttered themselves inside, & the insanity remains at a distance.

It almost makes me wish I had never reported the anomaly. Seven days ago, I spotted it during a routine observation of Luna. A dot in the sky nearby, too big to be a star and also brand new. I estimated it at roughly one twentieth of Luna’s size. I wrote up a report immediately, of course, & sent it off to the Court the next morning. I didn’t give it much more thought. Shooting stars appear with some frequency, & stars have been known to flare or blink out on occasion. There are even the odd ones whose light wax and wane at steady intervals like lighthouse beams. Why not should a new light join Luna, albeit a strange one?

And besides, to the naked eye, it merely looked like a new star.

When I arrived at the observatory the next evening, I observed it again, & was both surprised and alarmed to discover it had grown larger. It had also drawn closer to Luna. Observing with the telescope, it now appeared as an unnaturally large star. I sent for a carriage, & spoke directly with the Science Minister at Court. I related my findings with some urgency and alarm, but he insisted I was overreacting. At the time, I remember feeling somewhat silly, as though I were an unruly child, obstinately demanding attention from parents with better things to do. I went back to the observatory and tried to get on with my evening as best I could.

Oh, how I wish the Minister’s judgment had been proved correct. By the next evening, our new “star” had grown yet again & drawn even closer to Luna. It could no longer be mistaken for a star. I filed an urgent report with the Ministry, but did not dare make the journey to Court.
That next evening heading to work was my last such journey for many evenings. I remember the streets being eerily silent in the twilight, & as I looked up at the sky, I noticed that Luna’s new companion was now visible to the naked eye. I hurried onward, rushed into the observatory, and found only a few lab boys present. I asked one of them where everyone was, & he said that the day staff had been summoned to Court. The object had been visible to the city’s entire populace since the afternoon.

I took measurements of Luna’s Companion in the telescope—who now measured one fourteenth her diameter and four ninths of a tessic to her left—and hurried away to Court. I arrived in the middle of a briefing led by none other than His Holiness and all of His ministers.

Word had arrived that two neighboring nations were in turmoil, & another we worried would use Luna’s Companion, dubbed by some imaginative individuals, “Satan’s Omen,” as an excuse to invade. All maladies of our modern age were being blamed upon this new light in the sky, & some had even been invented, apparently to give Luna’s Companion added raison d’être. The Court remained concerned about fortifying our borders and keeping order within the city. His Holiness showed calm erudition, as I have come to expect from him.

I returned to the observatory exhausted, & with only a few hours until sunrise. I decided to take one more measurement of Luna’s Companion before returning home, and discovered he had grown to one-twelfth Luna’s size & had drawn another ninth of a tessic closer.

I gathered up my research notes, ran out of the observatory in the morning light, hurried down the hillside, only to stop dead in my tracks as I gazed out over Prax. Fires had lit up in two districts, smoke bathed the city, & shouting sounded distantly. I hurried to the guards at the observatory gates, who insisted there was nothing to worry about here at the observatory, at least not yet, & I hurried back up to the hill.

I did not sleep during that terrible day.

I alternated between charting the progress of Luna’s Companion, & walking out on the balcony to observe the steady descent of Prax into utter chaos. Thankfully, the palace, the observatory, the other research labs, and the Tollmy District remained peaceful, albeit unnaturally quiet. As I grew more tired and weary, I could not help but feel I had fallen into some kind of dream world. I suspected I were living in a hallucination of my city, instead of reality. All this insanity over a new light in the sky, albeit the strangest light we had ever seen. & we thought the uproar during a blood moon was nothing. That was nothing compared to this chaos.

Prax burned, & I took all the notes I could. Luna’s Companion grew to one-eighth of Luna’s diameter, visible to the naked eye in broad daylight, before disappearing behind her completely.

& then nothing. He was gone.

The Militia restored order, slowly throughout the night. I slept during the dark hours for the first time in months, & when I woke the next morning, one of the lab boys was shaking my shoulder with a summons from His Holiness. I reported all my findings, & handed over copies of all my observations.

Luna’s Companion was certainly not a star, for it grew too quickly. I suspect it was made of rock or perhaps metal, much as we expect Luna to be. The fact that it has never returned to our view, however, suggests only one thing, I fear. Luna’s Companion may have collided with her, albeit on her far side where we would be unable to witness it. And as Luna is locked with her same face always toward us, I fear we may never be able to prove one way or the other.

I wonder if, perhaps one day, men of Prax may discover a way to put a man upon Luna and verify my hypotheses, but alas, such an observation is beyond the techniques of my age or any I can imagine in the foreseeable future. For now, I shall thank His Holiness for keeping me safe and secure within Prax, and for continuing his most beneficent funding of our studies.

Journal of Chief Researcher Alyias Tiffenmoor III
City of Prax of the Kingdom of Reyyan

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Author Bio

Matthew Buscemi is a speculative fiction author and founder of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. He grew up in Illinois, but left to explore the world. He has taught English in Japan and Thailand, and has studied linguistics in Hawaii. Nowadays he lives with his partner in Seattle, Washington, where he types code by day and prose by night. He dreams of exploring the multiverse himself, but until humanity gets around to inventing a means of inter-dimensional travel, his imagination will suffice.

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