Matt Abraham is the author and creator of Gold Coast City and the anti-hero Dane Curse. His books are a fascinating mix of crime noir fiction and classic comic books, similar to the DC comics brand. Matt was gracious enough to agree to this interview and his answers are fascinating.
What inspired you to become an author?
I always wanted to write, but I never really did much with that passion aside from watch movies, read, and criticize (or praise) the work of others. I mean, writing was pretty much a pipe dream for me, a passing desire that I’d like to do, but didn’t want to put much effort into. Sort of like how overweight people want to get fit, or lazy people want to run a marathon. It was a goal. But one I had no intention of working towards.
Then I enrolled in NUS (National University of Singapore) for an MPA (Masters in Public Administration). My final class was the Art of Leadership, and about halfway through it we performed an extremely emotional exercise. Our professor put us in teams of eight, and told us we were in a lifeboat, but there was only enough supplies for three of us to survive. So we had to choose three people in the group who would live. Easy, right? But the thing was, you had to explain to the other people why you would let them die. Like literally look at another human and explain to their face why they didn’t deserve to live more than another person. It was not an easy task. Especially if you took it seriously.
Afterwards, the professor finished the exercise with a sort of guided meditation. We all, regardless of whether you survived or not, were to imagine ourselves dead. That our lives were literally over. And again, we took this seriously. The most poignant moment was when my teacher asked us, “What do you wish you’d done?” It was kind of like that scene in Fight Club when Tyler Durden’s mashing down the gas and dodging traffic with the space monkeys in the back. They wanted to build a house or have a family.
For me, it was write a book.
Your two books, Dane Curse and The Coconut Swindle, are an interesting combination of two different styles of story telling, Superhero comics and classic crime noir fiction. What inspired you, or gave the idea, to combine these two genres to create your Black Cape Files series?
I love Spillane, Hammett, and Chandler. Love them. And actually, pulp detectives in general. I think everyone does. From Star Trek: TNG to Warehouse 13 to Fringe and now Archer, every TV show eventually touches on this classic, purely American, genre. Plus, I love superheroes. And not in a bandwagon way, I read comics back when you were mocked for it. I mean I read The Fall of Mutants when the Morlocks got their asses handed to them by the Marauders. And they say write what you know…
However, if there was one specific bit of fiction that inspired me it would have to be Astro City’s Tarnished Angel, a great series where a tough guy criminal makes good by finding the man/woman who’s been murdering the town’s supervillains. Overall, my own novels veer far away from the source material, but if Dane Curse has a fictional father, it would definitely be the Steel-Jacketed Man. Though Mike Hammer’s his grandpa for sure.
I got a real kick out of the various names you give your characters, some of which are clearly inspired by the world of comics and others from past crime novels. Which of the classic crime fiction authors do you draw inspiration from?
Mickey Spillane for character, and Raymond Chandler for metaphors and tone. I’m a big believer in the craft of fiction, which means you have a shit ton of gears twisting throughout the book. Character arcs, goals, conflict, stakes, obstacles, plot points, pinch points, pacing, proactive/reactive scenes, call backs, and a million other things. And they’re all vital. But one thing that often goes unnoticed, though seldom unfelt, is tone. How a book feels. Dark. Suspenseful. Lighthearted. Flirty. Absurd. It’s the mortar that holds everything together. And I think Chandler does an amazing job at keeping his on the steady level.
For character, you can’t beat Spillane’s Mike Hammer. Unapologetically masculine, and bonded to his own code of decency, he’s more a force of nature. But like Hammer, Dane Curse is still vulnerable. Still in possession of weaknesses. Still authentically human. He’s not brainy, or overly cunning, but you don’t need that when you got guts.
Are there any comic franchises in particular that contributed to the creation of Gold Coast City and its inhabitants?
Like I said, Astro City was a big influence, but if you go back further I think the golden age of DC is really where my heart lies. Marvel’s solid, but it was born in the tumultuous sixties and seventies, so it’ll always be linked with the counter culture of that era. You expect them to be conflicted internally, like America’s Nazi busting image of purity contrasted with the war in Vietnam. Or truth and justice for all, unless you’re a minority, female, or gay. Because Marvel exists in this time frame, its characters naturally reflect it.
But the DC universe is more at home in the fifties and early sixties. Therefore their characters, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Captain Marvel… they’re simple. Straightforward. Pure. Manichaean for lack of a better word. There’s good and bad, and those heroes are definitely good. And that’s why when they actually run up to the gray areas, those blurred lines that exist in real life, interesting things happen. Like when Mark Wade asked the question in Kingdom Come, “What can bend the man of steel to the breaking point?” It wasn’t a physical force. It couldn’t be, because he’s Superman. But the mental forces, the ones that break a hero’s spirit, and rips from them their basic ideals… they hit harder than all the Kryptonite in the world. I love that conflict. Having a unique strength turned into a weakness. Or when disillusionment occurs to man of ideals. This doesn’t shake the world, but it does shake the character’s world.
I love your cover design you used for Dane Curse and The Coconut Swindle. Can you describe the process of these designs came about? How did the process of working with your cover designer work?
Thanks! I’m a huge fan of my artist, Dan Strange. He’s a mad genius. And I don’t mind saying, he’s a little challenging to work with. But then again, he’s incredibly talented, and well worth any issues he may bring. Usually, I send him a synopsis, and then he sends me a few rough sketches. I choose one, then he fills it in. Then I give him a few tips, and he decides whether or not to accept them. He’s shot down a bunch of my suggestions. Which is frustrating. But what’s way worse is when he takes a suggestion he says is bad, and perfectly performs it, and I realize that he’s right. That’s happened a lot. Thus I’ve learned that writing is one skill, and articulating a theme and tone of a story visually is completely different. Thus, no matter what, I’ll be using him for the entire Black Cape Case Files series. No matter what.
The only exception being the BCCF logo at the top left. So far, that’s all me. I patterned that after DC, and have so far kept control over what goes in it. But literally, that’s all. The rest is all Dan.
Dane Curse is not your typical protagonist. Can you describe how you created the concept used to write Dane?
Anti-heroes are just more fun to write. But he had to be built from the ground up, so first I started with his motivation. His goals. What’s the one thing that drives him to do what he does? A sense of honor? Nope. A hatred for evil? Not even close. Dislike of bullies? Yeah, that’s almost it. Wanting to protect the little guy? Yeah. That’s it! That’s who Dane is. Once I knew that, I put him in his home, his milieu, and ran through his life, over and over again. What his family like? What was his religion? Education? Romances? Experiences? When was he born? When and how does he die? In effect, what made him who he was… The more you get that down, the easier it is to write, because you know what the character will and won’t do. And if you do this for each character, know who they are in their make-believe bones, then the story really writes itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t edit itself, and that’s the really hard part.
What’s next for Dane Curse and the other Black Capes in Gold Coast City?
Old Iron. Then The Grace Killer. And finally Gangland. In between, I’m doing a short story every quarter with a central theme that links them together called Gold Coast City Briefs. Sometimes Dane’s the main character, sometimes he’s peripheral, but each one will give the reader a closer look at the cape culture, and how the city works.
Aside from that, my sales goals are to get each book in the overall top 100 list on Amazon. Right now, I’m crushing the genre lists, but I really want to get double digits ranking this year. I’m also assembling a team of sci-fi/fantasy detective authors to put out an anthology this September. I shit you not, we’re like a geeky, weaker Avengers. Excelsior!
What motivated you to self-publish your books instead of following the traditional publishing route?
101 rejection letters. That’s what motivated me. Basically, nobody believed in the story. Granted, I got a few nibbles, and some genuine compliments along with the form letters, but after the third or fourth time I got three ‘no’s’ in a single day I got the hint that if Dane was going to find some readers, I’d be the one to introduce them to each other.
You’ve managed to build a successful following in a short period of time. What steps did you take to build that following?
That’s nice to hear, thanks. I always feel like I should/could be doing more. Especially since I pretty much follow the standard steps that most indie authors take. I’ve got a newsletter that can be joined via my novels, my website, and my Facebook page. I’ve run a few rafflecopter giveaways to bulk up those numbers. And as of now, I’m giving away a short story every quarter via that newsletter, which has gotten some traction. All in all, I’d tell anyone that owned marketing is way better than purchased marketing, but in order to make it work for you, that newsletter has to have value. Giveaways. Contests. Something clever to get your base excited and involved, the more original the better!
What single piece of advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Learn. The. Craft. Writing fiction isn’t an art. It’s a skill that requires study and practice and feedback (that’s polysyndeton, baby!). Nobody ever grabs a piano and with zero lessons or knowledge holds a concert. And nobody ever buys a pair of ballerina shoes and goes to the Bolshoi to try out without classes. But ever single day, a writer who’s never heard of an MRU, proactive/reactive scenes, the three act structure, or has a healthy dislike for adverbs, grabs a keyboard and proclaims themselves a novelist. And please don’t think I’m dumping on anybody’s dreams, it’s just that anyone can write a book. But it takes a lot of effort to write a great book. And that effort requires agony and devotion. The good news is, that means anyone can excel in the craft.
Also, learn some marketing. Bad books with good advertising do much better than great books nobody hears about.
And thanks so much for the chance to reach your readers, if anyone wants to reach me I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can swing by China!
Click here to read my review of The Dane Curse!
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