If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed how much I love Matt Wallace’s work, so I’m thrilled to have him on the blog today to talk about Lustlocked, the 2nd installment in his Sin du Jour series, which just came out yesterday. Please give Matt a warm welcome!
For readers who haven’t yet read the fantastic Envy of Angels and Lustlocked, will you tell us a little about the series, and in particular Lustlocked?
I will tell you the hell out of that, yes. It’s an episodic comedy-action-fantasy-drama novella series about a ragtag crew of chefs, magic-users, and mercenaries in New York City who work at Sin du Jour, a catering company that plans events for the world of the supernatural. We’re introduced to all of this through new line hires Lena and Darren, who get thrust unknowingly into the thick of things, as is wont to happen in urban fantasy yarns. The story in each book takes place around an event being planned by the company. In Envy of Angels the crew catered a banquet for demons. In Lustlocked they’re doing a royal Goblin wedding. Each book in the series is titled after a deadly sin, which also becomes one of the main themes of the story itself.
A major theme in Lustlocked is, obviously, lust. Things go haywire at the wedding when half the guests are accidentally transformed into ravenous, horny lust monsters and the same thing happens back at Sin du Jour headquarters to most of the staff. Both buildings are magically locked down with the unchanged characters trapped inside, where several of them have to deal with their feelings for each other while trying to stay alive. Lustlocked is sort of Sin du Jour does Die Hard, only with sexual lizard monsters instead of 1980’s Eurotrash stereotype terrorists.
I love the concept of a catering company that serves supernaturals, and the fish out of water appeal of placing the decidedly “normal” Lena and Darren smack down in the middle of all that mayhem. Why do you think readers will root for Lena and Darren?
I’ve tried very hard to make them much more than a device, which characters like them always are in stories like this. They’re the audience’s way into the Other World co-existing with our own. The mistake a lot of writers make is not starting with those characters, fleshing them out, and making them live and breathe before they put the spotlight on their big, expansive, kooky fantasy worlds. I started with Lena and Darren before I mapped out anything else, making them real to me. Half of my family is Mexican and Mexican-American, and I’ve worked extensively with service people and veterans, and I brought all of that to these two best friends from the Midwest who bonded over being outcasts in high school, trying to make it as chefs in NYC. Lena’s a woman and Darren is gay, and it’s still tough to be both of those things in the high-end restaurant world, especially on the line in big kitchens in Manhattan, however progressive people pretend things are nowadays. I think (and hope) they’re compelling people in a compelling situation before the fantastical elements of the series are even introduced to them.
Envy of Angels and Lustlocked are both extremely funny but substance is never sacrificed for laughs. Is that a challenging thing in your writing?
I think it’s a challenging thing to do ever. Balancing such drastically different tones in a single story, whether it’s a book or a movie or a TV/streaming series, is one of the most difficult things to do as a storyteller. It’s really easy for your story to become so muddled no one knows what it’s supposed to be, or what the tone is supposed to be. There’s nothing worse than an audience not knowing whether or not they’re meant to be laughing at a joke you wrote because they’re not sure you’re joking. I think that’s why comedy in SFF in particular is such a rare thing and a hard thing to execute. It’s tough enough blending comedy with drama in a contemporary setting. When you add fantastical or futuristic elements, unless you’re doing an outright parody, it can be really overwhelming.
Sin du Jour is primarily a comedy and my intention with it from the beginning was for people to have fun, but it’s also about real people in a world full of consequence. For me those are the two key elements to balance. The world can be absurd (and mine often is), but it has to be wholly real for the people in it, and there has be real consequences for them. Otherwise no one will care about the people or about what is happening. They may laugh at the funny lines (hopefully), but they’ll dismiss the rest and won’t be engaged. That would be death for a series like this, and it’s what I work really hard to avoid.
Comedy, particularly comedy in SFF, doesn’t get enough respect when it’s done well. We tend to dismiss comedy in general, despite the fact it’s every bit as valid as so-called “serious” works and in my opinion much more difficult to bring across.
Speaking of writing… What is your writing process like?
Do you remember that scene in Jaws where the shark has half of Robert Shaw’s body in its mouth and he’s screaming in panic and agony as he’s being eaten alive, clawing at whatever he can to keep the rest of him from being consumed by this unstoppable, almost otherworldly monster in the middle of a hopeless, unforgiving, and unending seascape? Wasn’t that an awesome scene? Also I’ve forgotten the question. We should just move on.
I love all of the details about what odd foods the clients eat and how Sin du Jour gets ready for an event. Did you do any particular research for these stories?
I’m a big-time foodie and home cook, and I spent a lot of time in my youth hanging around kitchens and chefs in Manhattan, so that informs the very real world of chefs and professional kitchens in the series. As for the fantastical food elements, I make a lot of that up on the spot. It’s either stuff that’s funny to me or that follows logically with he types of creatures I’m featuring in the books. Although one of the hallmarks of the series, and one of the things I have the most fun doing, is taking supernatural and fantasy creature archetypes and completely subverting them. Which is why in Lustlocked all the Goblins are fantastically beautiful creatures who become our celebrities and models and movie stars, and they have their own beautiful person entertainment industry hierarchy. But I often come up with the magical recipes when I’m researching those creatures in fantasy and folklore and figuring out how to fuck around with them.
You have a fascinating background in wrestling, but have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about that progression?
One of the many, many things people don’t understand about professional wrestling is that it is above all else a storytelling medium. That’s what was always so compelling about it to me as a fan, and it’s what I loved to create as a worker. One of the phrases you hear most when you’re training to become a pro-wrestler, or at least it was one I had pounded into me both literally and metaphorically, is “tell the story.” It’s your job to construct a narrative in your match and convey that to the audience. And I’m not talking about cutting a twenty-minute promo into a microphone, or a mini-movie played before the match. In its purest form, the story happens entirely in the ring, and not only was it your job to tell that story, it was your job to make it 100% real to the audience. That’s why pro-wrestling is so powerful when it’s done well (which doesn’t often happen anymore, in my opinion). You’re drawing people into this visceral, living storytelling experience and I really believe nothing equals it in that way.
Now, of course, a lot of people will read that and I could literally show them my favorite matches and they’d still see nothing more than two mongoloids pretending to beat each other up, probably with homoerotic undertones (because those jokes never get old, folks), and consider it a low-class NASCAR-esque joke polluting their precious high cultural ideals. Despite the fact opera and Shakespeare were both once considered the pro-wrestling of their day and those ideals are meaningless. So fuck them, really. It’s their loss.
Being a pro-wrestler taught me more about storytelling than any writing workshop or MFA program ever could, frankly. I use those lessons every day when I’m at the keyboard, and I’m a million times better for the experiences I had as a worker.
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
My mother actually still has the first complete story I ever made up. I think I was five. I illustrated it and dictated the words to her, and she wrote them down for me. It was a largely incoherent fantasy story about a wizard who was either malevolent or unlucky, and a magic mirror. The premise was solid, but it had serious third-act problems.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That is literally one of the best and toughest questions I’ve ever been asked. Wow. I have zero ability to pick just one, so I’m obviously going to cheat and I apologize in advance. Ken Grimwood’s Replay was one of the most surprising and profound experiences I’ve ever had reading a novel, and to take that journey again for the first time with no idea what to expect would be amazing. I read Dune for the first time when I was very young, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite books, despite how problematic I’ve come to find a lot of it later on. But I’ve spent much of my adult life studying and teaching knife work in dozens of different settings, and to discover a galactic epic like Dune now, in which the political, economical, biological, and ecological fate of the entire universe is resolved in a knife fight would be pretty much the greatest thing ever.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Richard Kadrey’s new novel The Everything Box, coming out this spring. They sent it to me to blurb, and it’s genuinely hilarious. I loved it. Right now I’m reading Daniel José Older’s Midnight Taxi Tango, the second novel in his Bone Street Rumba series, and in my opinion it’s one of the finest fantasy series going, period. Older has become one of my favorite contemporary authors. I also just started reading Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade, and I’m digging the hell out of it, and her. I’ve been on a big poker kick lately and I’ve played chess since I was a kid, and she’s amazing at both, not to mention a take-no-shit feminist, so I’m a natural fan.
Care to dish about the Ditch Diggers podcast and how it came about?
I would, and thank you for the opportunity to shamelessly shill my shit! Hey, that rhymed! Ditch Diggers is the writing-as-a-job podcast I co-host with one of my oldest friends and colleagues, Campbell Award-winning author Mur Lafferty. Mur and I have been podcasting together for years, and we started Ditch Diggers at the beginning of 2014. The whole thing started with us sitting down, with no plan and no thoughts of creating a new show, recording an honest conversation about the state of both of our careers. We’re over 20 episodes in and it’s easily one of my proudest projects. There’s no end of education, both valid and complete bullshit, out there about the craft of writing, but very little in comparison about the business of being a professional writer. That’s what the show is about, whether we’re talking money, how to behave at cons, the politics and procedures of the comic book industry, etc.. We try to feature the best guests we can to cover all these topics, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have knowledge dropped by pros like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Elizabeth Bear, Mikki Kendall, Gail Carriger, Chuck Wendig, Kameron Hurley, Ursula Vernon, and a slew of others.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
More Sin du Jour books are a’comin’. The third in the series, Pride’s Spell, is scheduled for a June release, and I’m working on finishing the fourth book right now, which is called Idle Ingredients. I have seven planned overall in this run of the story (because seven deadly sins and clever book marketing gimmicks), and hopefully people will buy and read enough of these that I get to write them all.
I also just had a brand new novella series announced by From Parts Unknown, the imprint created and run by my friend and favorite indie publisher, Keith J. Rainville. The series is called Rencor, and it’s a buddy cop story about rival enmascarados, or masked Mexican wrestlers, who are forced to team-up to save their beloved city from the forces of evil. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written about pro-wrestling, and I’m super jazzed. The first book, Life in Grudge City, is planned for the second quarter of 2016 and will be released in ebook and in print.
I’ve just finished my first big epic fantasy novel, so hopefully you’ll hear more about that later in the year. For now, there’s plenty of stuff out there to read and listen to by me if this interview hasn’t completely turned you off.
The staff of New York’s premier supernatural catering company, has their work cut out for them in this outrageous follow-up to Envy of Angels.
Love is in the air at Sin du Jour.
The Goblin King (yes, that one) and his Queen are celebrating the marriage of their son to his human bride. Naturally the celebrations will be legendary.
But when desire and magic mix, the results can be unpredictable.
Our heroes are going to need more than passion for the job to survive the catering event of the decade!