In our ongoing series A Word with Spec Fic Writers, we sat down with newcomer Matthew Cushing.
Mr. Cushing’s passion for writing fiction started in junior high school when he started adding elements of mystery and action to classroom assignments. Short stories soon followed, and he’s been writing speculative fiction ever since.
He grew up in the scientific and outdoorsy culture of Los Alamos, New Mexico, which ingrained in him an early love of science and discovery. An aficionado of science fiction, magic, and the macabre, he enjoys writing character-driven stories that explore the wonder of ‘what if’ – often with a large dose of humor.
Mr. Cushing’s short story Blue Note G, included in the SpecFic Writers’ First Encounters anthology, is his first published work.
MC: Thanks for including me on your blog.
SFW: So, tell us a little about your short story, Blue Note G.
MC: It’s a story about a young man named Gaspard who is a bit of an outcast but a talented clarinet player. As his talent blooms, his grandmother passes him a family heirloom—a beautiful clarinet. But, with the gift comes a family secret with which Gaspard must quickly come to terms. The clarinet allows communication with voodoo spirits that grant wishes, but as Gaspard learns, every wish has consequences.
SFW: Sounds spooky. Would you classify the story as fantasy or horror?
MC: A bit of both, actually—along with some supernatural elements thrown in there. A bouillabaisse of genres!
SFW: Do you generally focus on horror stories?
MC: Actually, this is my first with a horror element. Though this is my first published story, I’ve been writing for fun since junior high school, and I mainly write either science fiction or supernatural stories.
SFW: Since junior high! What was your first story about?
MC: It’s funny, I don’t remember the specific assignment, but in eighth-grade English, we had to write an analysis of a book, and I took quite a few liberties with the assignment telling it from one of the character’s viewpoints and turning it into a mystery. The teacher liked it so much, she had me read it to the class, and they loved it. It’s a great feeling when others enjoy your work.
SFW: Absolutely. So, how do you decide what to write?
MC: That’s a tough one. Ideas come to me at random times, early in the morning, in the shower, while driving. I have several notebooks in which I try to capture everything. As with most writers, I pull from my personal history, so music, the American southwest, and places I’ve visited all influence my writing. With Blue Note G, trips to my own band camps and love of jazz definitely influenced the story. For my current book, a trip to Ireland helped set up some backstory. Mostly, I just want to tell a compelling story.
SFW: Do you just write and see where it goes or do you do a lot of planning?
MC: I’m more of a planner, and the longer the story the more planning. For a short story, I’ll spend some time mapping out the salient points, while for a novel, I’ll try to outline the entire story, create character descriptions and backgrounds, and map out a timeline. But there are times where a scene is just so vivid in my mind, I have to sit down and get it on paper then worry about how it fits the story after that.
SFW: So, sometimes the stories seem to write themselves?
MC: I wish. In some cases, I’ll get a strong sense of a scene or character, and it just develops as I put it on the page. And the opposite occurs as well. I’ll have characters I think I know (since I thought them up) go in totally different directions once I start writing. It’s fun to see how they develop on their own, even if they are a bit unruly.
SFW: Do you do a lot of research for your stories? What is your research process?
MC: It depends on the story. In general, I’m a lot like Tyrion from Game of Thrones—I drink and I know things. So, I’ve got a pretty solid basis of enough topics to either get myself in trouble or tell a convincing story, and luckily, it’s mostly the latter. For areas I need more research,like understanding orbital mechanics or quantum entanglement, I’ll spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days reading and learning.
SFW: What authors do you admire? Which influence your writing?
MC: I love a good story told by a good storyteller. To me, some of the best storytellers are Stephen King, Diana Gabaldon, Garth Nix, and Michael Connelly, to name a few. I also try to emulate best practices from other authors. James SA Corey writes great characters, Becky Chambers writes with an uplifting tone, NK Jemisin is a world-building master, and Neal Stephenson can weave four separate storylines into one compelling plot.
SFW: That’s quite a variety, but those are mostly modern authors. What did you grow up reading?
MC: I was exposed at an early age to the ABCD’s of science fiction: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Dick. For me, their short stories really pushed the boundaries of what a story could be about. An ice cream suit? Really? Mind-blowing. I also read a lot of mysteries from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as gumshoe noir stories from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Patricia Highsmith. And, of course, the classics. Steinbeck. Hemingway. London. Dumas is another great storyteller.
SFW: What do you do when you’re not reading these great stories or writing your own?
MC: Over the past couple of years, Speculative Fiction has become a big part of my life. I do book reviews and top ten lists on my website, and I’m enjoying this new golden age of SpecFic on TV–it’s entertaining and inspiring. I also do woodworking and gardening, and I like to travel though I haven’t done much in the past year.
SFW: Where did you work prior to focusing full-time on your writing?
MC: I worked in e-commerce for some major retailers. I ran the online division for Tower Records, which matched perfectly with my love of music. Then, I was in charge of all website technology for Borders Books, which was another fulfilling experience. Nothing like taking an afternoon break to meet an author like Christopher Paolini visiting the corporate campus. Sadly, with the transition from physical media such as CDs, records, and books to digital publishing, these great companies have passed into history.
SFW: Last question. What should we expect to see from you in the near future?
MC: I’m working to have my first novel The Osect Indiscretion, a science fiction mystery-comedy, out by summer. I’ll also have another short story in the SpecFic Writers’ second anthology Second Law.
SFW: Thanks for contributing to the SpecFic Writers’ blog.
For more information about Mr. Cushing, please visit his website at www.matthewcushing.com and sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter at @mhcushing.
Speculative Fiction Writers is an online critique group. Although the home base for the group is in the Denver Metro area, we have members from coast to coast. The members support and encourage each other toward the goal of publishing what they write. Here in our blog, we share our advice, lessons learned, and members’ successes. When names of multiple authors appear at the end of a post, it means the work was a combined effort of several of our members.