Matt Wallace is a man for all seasons. Half of the incendiary publishing industry podcast Ditch Diggers, a truly memorable tweeter, and, oh right, the author of possibly the weirdest fantasy series ever served up by a mainstream publisher. Sin du Jour is a brilliantly subversive, totally wackadoo contemporary fantasy series about a NYC catering company that services the supernatural communities of the world, from goblin kings to the lord of Hell. For fantasy fans or foodies, it’s a full meal—seven courses now, one for each deadly sin—packed with flavors quite unlike any you’ve tasted before.
On the occasion of the release of the final book in the series, Matt took the time to talk to us about tackling a heptalogy, planning ahead, and psychic pizza delivery clowns.
So, how does it feel to have committed not a trilogy of Sin du Jour novellas, but a full on seven of them‚—a heptalogy?
Is that what that word means? People keep using it when they talk about the series, but it always sounds like a class at Hogwarts to me, so I just assume they’re telling me something about Harry Potter and I kind of tune out. Now I feel bad. About tuning out on those people, I mean. I feel great about the books. Because seven is a lot. And having the most books means I win. I know because that rule is cast in bronze behind one of the toilets in the Flatiron Building. [Editor’s note: The Flatiorn is home to Matt’s publisher, Tor.com Publishing.]
Seven is a lot. And it all started with Envy of Angels, and truly divine Chicken Nuggies. When you were writing that first novella, how far ahead had you planned? Was the endgame of Taste of Wrath already in mind?
Before I ever put bald eagle’s blood-dipped bald eagle’s talon to bald eagle’s skin parchment (it’s okay, that particular bald eagle killed my parents), I conceived and pitched the entire series concept and a general plot outline to Lee Harris at Tor.com Publishing. I’d already published my own digital-first novella series, and I had a lot of time and interest invested in the model. I still believe in it, although it’s taking longer to seed the mainstream than I’d hoped. But when I heard about Tor.com Publishing wanting to launch a novella line, it seemed like a natural fit. They bought the first two Sin du Jour books, and we went from there. I am surprised to be reaching the end in that vein. None of their other series have, as yet, made it this far. I certainly didn’t expect to be the first.
How much have things changed since that initial outline? Are the main plot beats there still recognizable today? How have the characters changed or surprised you from their initial conceptions?
Oh, I’d say at least 60 percent of it has changed since inception. I believe you have to allow for that, and room for any episodic story, whether it’s television or prose fiction or comics, to grow and change organically. Rigid adherence to an initial outline is a killer, and it always, always comes through in your finished product, one way or another. The way something plays or reads, you can practically feel it deflate where the creator or creators continued hammering a character or plot thread that stopped making sense, either to them or to the rest of the story.
As for the characters, they didn’t change so much as their relationships to each other changed. That was the biggest difference between my initial outline and the finished books. I’d envisioned this classic love triangle being the main thrust Lena’s character, and then I realized how tired that concept is and how uncommitted I was to it mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. About midpoint through the series I realized that as far as the characters go this wasn’t a story about romance and hook-ups, although that happens along the way, it was a story about ascendency, characters finding their place in the world and rising to take that place. That’s really what Taste of Wrath, the final book, is all about.
There is a definite sense of closure, finality, and yet growth and change and going forward in Taste of Wrath. In the midst of all of the gonzo action, adventure, and worldbuilding, there are strong themes and undercurrents, moments of real pathos, tragedy, and triumph. How do you balance all those flavors and ingredients?
I think the key to balancing all of that is the characters. You can surround them with the most absurd, even surreal circumstances imaginable and as long their reactions remain genuine and they remain true to real life and true to themselves it naturally anchors the narrative and the tone. When you let the characters become absurdist or surrealist caricatures, that’s when you end up with this tonal hot mess that no reasonable reader can accept. In short, you don’t write a story about a giant clown chicken crapping processed fast food chicken nuggets, you write a story about reasonable everyday people reacting to a giant clown chicken crapping processed fast food chicken nuggets.
Although they are all equally your word-children, what’s your favorite set-piece scene in the series?
I mean, I can’t seem to get away from the giant chicken in Envy of Angels. Along with the cover of that book, it’s made me “The Chicken Nugget Author” on Twitter. And it did, I think, immediately set the series apart in the “urban fantasy” space and establish the gonzo tone of the world. The most emotionally well-executed scene, I think, and the one of which I’m most proud, is the blaze-of-glory Boromir-like death scene in Gluttony Bay (you have to read the book to find out who dies).
But personally, I have a soft spot in my heart for the psychic pizza-delivering clown scene in Gluttony Bay. I had the idea for that character and that scene literally over 20 years ago, but I was never able to find the right story for it. I can’t explain how excited I was to finally write it, and how happy I was with how it finally came out.
So what’s next on the horizon for you? Besides possibly a good meal to celebrate and commemorate the end?
I’ve written what I’m calling an anti-epic fantasy novel that is the beginning of a trilogy and it will be published. It’s the biggest work I’ve ever undertaken, and I’m immensely proud of and excited about it. I’m also working on finishing my first middle grade novel, an original standalone that is wrestling-centric. That’s all I can say about it at the moment. I’d like to learn to play the didgeridoo, and possibly workshop some new facial hair styles, but I don’t like planning that far ahead.
Taste of Wrath is available now. Find out more about Matt Wallace’s “anti-epic fantasy novel,” Savage Legion, right here at the B&N Sci Fi Blog.