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: Matthew S. Rotundo is the author of the Prison World Revolt series–Petra, Petra Released, and Petra Rising. His short fiction has appeared in Alembical 3, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Writers of the Future Volume XXV. He is a 1998 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.
Matt lives in Nebraska.
Visit Matt’s website at http://matthewsrotundo.com
Thanks so much, Matthew, 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?
Matthew S. Rotondo: I was very young–maybe eight or nine years old. I had written a little story called “The Elephant and the Cheese,” about a lonely piece of swiss cheese that none of the other cheeses liked (because he was full of holes, you see), and the kindly elephant who befriends him.
Cut me some slack. I was a kid.
Anyway, it occurred to me shortly thereafter that writing stories was what I wanted to do with my life.
I don’t know that I ever discovered I was good at it. I just worked at it because I knew it was what I wanted. However, in seventh or eighth grade, a teacher was so impressed with a story I had written that she read it to her other classes. So that was encouraging.
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
MSR: As research for my novella From Earth I Have Arisen, I took a ride in a hot air balloon. It was a bit of an adventure. At one point, we got momentarily stopped by a tall tree; the pilot had to lean out of the basket and clear some of the branches away before we could move on. Then we ended up landing in a fallow field in the middle of nowhere. Our chase crew had a merry time finding us, and only managed to do so with the aid of a friendly farmer.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
MSR: I do read the reviews. I celebrate the good ones, and brood over the bad ones. Some might consider this unhealthy, but I can’t really help myself. Positive reviews are a great affirmation for me. Negative reviews . . . well, I can’t pretend they don’t bother me. I think if you something of yourself in what you write, then it’s going to hurt when someone rejects it. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. Just don’t let the bad reviews stop you from doing what you want to do.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
MSR: I’m pretty much a pantser. I don’t believe in writing the story before I write the story. I don’t outline in any traditional sense. What I do is write a bunch of notes that mostly consist of background information on my characters and on the world they inhabit. Almost none of the notes include any story events. When I feel that I know enough about my characters, I’m ready to begin.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
MSR: I usually start with an idea, but the characters follow close behind.
JSC: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
MSR: That depends on the length, of course, but when I’m on my game, I can get the first draft done in under six months. That said, the first draft of Petra Rising, took over five years to complete–for various reasons. I devoutly hope I can avoid that in the future.
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
MSR: John Smith, from Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. He’s the only character in fiction I’ve ever aspired to be like–easygoing, likable, but willing to do what he had to do, no matter how much it cost him.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
MSR: Water, mostly. I don’t like coffee or tea, and I swore off soda decades ago. For adult beverages, I like craft beers (IPA’s, porters, and stouts) and red wine.
JSC: Do you believe in love at first sight?
MSR: It happened to me. When I first met my wife, there was an instant spark. We’ve been married for 30 years.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
MSR: I’m working a standalone novel titled Apocalypse Pictures Presents, which should be out later this year. It’s set in the aftermath of a devastating plague (I wrote the first draft years before COVID, I swear), in which our heroes are, against all odds and common sense, trying to make a movie. To do so, they’ll have to brave the ruins of Hollywood and infiltrate the heavily guarded Hollywood Hills. And some there have other plans . . .
As I said, that should be out later this year. I’m also releasing a reprint of my novella From Earth I Have Arisen, which will be available in September. It’s set in the same continuity as Apocalypse Pictures Presents, but is a totally separate story. After the fall of civilization, a masked hero in a black hot air balloon attempts to liberate small midwestern towns that have come under the thumbs of brutal strongmen.
And now for Matthew’s new book: Petra Rising:
In the ten years since they seized control of Petra, now called Haven, Kane Pythen and his allies have struggled to build a civilization strong enough to withstand the backlash they know is coming from the Petra Compact.
But an eleventh-hour betrayal leaves them defenseless, and old wounds threaten to tear their community apart. Kane forges a desperate plan—one that might brand him as a criminal, if it doesn’t get him killed first. Enemies thought long defeated re-emerge, war with the Bone Tribes brews in Mainland, and Kane’s wife Tayla is about to arrive with a warning that the Compact is right behind her.
The battle for freedom reaches its climax. Kane, Tayla, and their friends face the ultimate sacrifice. Will they will rise…or fall?
Petra Rising is the third and final book in The Prison World Revolt series.
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“They planned to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the Liberation with an all-day feast, with music and dancing, and, as evening settled over Purgatory, with fireworks. Kane Pythen thought the latter in the poorest of taste.
Loren Roman, head of the leadership council, had implored him days previous to avoid making any kind of scene. She needn’t have bothered. Kane had no interest in fighting a battle long since lost. If they wanted to celebrate their freedom, let them. Never mind that their fireworks reminded him too much of another explosion in the night sky—the one that had torn him from his family and forced him to forge a new existence on what had once been a prison world named Petra, now called Haven.
Of course, he had hardly been the only one separated from all he had ever known and loved that night. But if it bothered any of the others present, they hardly showed it—likely because many of them were not celebrating the Liberation at all, but something else entirely. And none of them gave any hint that they bore the slightest concern about the trouble that was inevitably coming their way, very soon.
But he had promised Loren he wouldn’t say anything. Not on this night. Not until the skies above were filled with enemy bombers. Maybe then they’d be inclined to listen.
At least the weather cooperated. The rainy season would be upon them soon, but only a northerly breeze swept the grassy plains around the settlement. A cloudless night sky stretched overhead, and it seemed to Kane that more stars were visible than usual.
The celebrants gathered at the western edge of town near the banks of the Rock River, seating themselves on chairs brought from their huts or sprawling on rough blankets or fiber mats laid on the grass. Some were still eating—fish and roasted game bird remained from dinner—but most contented themselves with sipping water or wine and waiting for the fireworks.
Kane spent his time on the fringes of the crowd, making occasional small talk and drinking too much. He was already a touch lightheaded, and the fireworks hadn’t even started yet. He poured out the remainder of his wine into the grass and set the cup next to a stack of dirty plates on a nearby table. When he looked back toward the river, he spotted Kaleen Maro, Purgatory’s chief systems tech, standing near one of the canopies erected for the celebration, a plateful of food in one hand, a fork in the other.
Finally, someone he was happy to see. Kane approached her. “Glad you could make it.”
Maro—everyone referred to her by her last name, for reasons Kane had never understood—raised a forkful of meat to her mouth. She paused and nodded. “Me, too. It was a near thing.” She stuffed the forkful into her mouth.”
“Despite her slight build, and the fact that she stood shorter than Kane by a head, she had never struck him as small—perhaps due to the circumstances under which they had met. She had stopped Tomas Mehr from raining fiery death on the heads of everyone in Purgatory and had been shot in the gut for it.
Supremely competent, she had almost single-handedly kept Purgatory’s systems up and running for the last decade, a job that only got harder with each passing year. She toiled long hours in the underground bunker that housed all of Purgatory’s essential hardware.
“You were able to reconnect to the satellite network?” Kane said.
She wiped her mouth. “Had to replace a module.”
“Where did you get a replacement?”
Maro cleared her throat and looked away.
Kane suppressed a groan. “What did we lose?”