Author Interview: Matt Leyshon
Each Sunday, I'll be interviewing a different author about their writing journey. If you are an author and would like to be interviewed for this series, please complete this application form. If you have any questions, or if you want to recommend an author, please get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Matt Leyshon
Matt was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, before moving to the Tampa Bay Area, where he has lived on both sides of the bridge for the last 14 years. Since moving to the USA, Matt has been a Solutions Architect for a software company, and a husband and father of two by day, before morphing into a fervent writer after 10:00pm.
Despite showing early promise and being told by his First Grade teacher to "write more stories", it's taken him nearly four decades to fulfil that promise. His novel Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut is his first published novel, but he has been writing and creating stories for nearly four decades. Matt plans to grow this book into a series featuring many of the core characters from Live and UnCut. Other great unsolved cold cases will be subject to investigation through the use of time travel.
Matt has also appeared as a panelist on Rippercast and at Rippercon, to discuss his book as well as Jack the Ripper in fiction.
Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut has been shortlisted for 2 awards for Jack the Ripper Book of the Year. It is available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle formats, as well as Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Goodreads and the Book Depository.
Do you research your books before you begin writing? If yes, how long do you spend researching?
Yes, I do research—a lot. For Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut, I researched on and off for over a year but I performed about ten weeks of research before starting the book. It makes it easier to braid historical fact with a fictional narrative when you have both readily available. For me, it was a very dark rabbit hole to go down, though, and I am thankful I maintained my sanity.
I wanted to write a proper Ripper tale though. I have been fascinated with the case for over 25 years and I know nothing frustrates a Ripper fan more than inaccuracies. I wanted to Make sure I took care of them as well. I wanted a story that could educate newcomers about the case, and possibly encourage them to learn more, but I also wanted to satisfy the folk who are detail oriented. I wanted to get it right as much as I could. It's a compelling tale without fiction, so I wanted to stay on an historically accurate path as much as I could. That was only possible with a ton of research.
What has been the most difficult challenge you've had to face as a writer?
Handling rejection, and it's a tough one in my case. Every person who has read my book has loved it—not liked it, loved it. It has excited them. However, I have sent queries to literary agents and have never gotten past first base with any of them. I sought advice on how to write a better query from multiple sources, yet still couldn't get anyone to at least want to read more. It was extremely frustrating.
In an age where we put ourselves out there, be it applying for a job or trying to find a partner or dating online, there are many scenarios where we may be filtered out by a phrase. In my case, I believe the phrases "self-published" and "Jack the Ripper" would almost automatically qualify me for instant exclusion. I know agents have it hard, they receive a lot of work to review, but when they are saturated with submissions I feel they look for a reason to move on from an author rather than move forward with one. It's not their fault—it's more or less how the system is right now. It sucks. The one demographic that I need to appeal to in order to get my book to a higher level of promotion is not interested, whereas everyone else loves the book—whether that be Ripper experts or newbies to the case.
The other huge challenge is finding time to write. Naturally, I would love to crank out Carl Axford adventures for a living, but life does not afford that opportunity. In many ways, I face that same challenge many authors do. I have a full-time job, a wife, two children, and I have to invest myself into those things if I wish to be good at them. With writing, I have to find pockets here and there. The only difference now is I no longer make excuses. A writer should always find time in the day to work.
Do you believe in writer's block?
Totally. I hit it during the book, hard. I think the main reasons was that I knew the next few chapters would require a lot of research (refer to liking description less comment). But I wanted to do it well. As a thriller writer, you want to put people there and make them feel like they are in the scene with the protagonist. Dan Brown is very good at doing that. When I felt writer's block, I jumped to another part of the book and wrote from that point through till the end.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
From start date to end date it was approximately sixteen months. I did have a four-month break in the middle, but even during my break there was a lot of research.
Have you ever read your book reviews/comments, and if yes, what did you think of them?
I do because if you want to be a good author, or at least one that grows, you need to digest what your readers think. They invested in your book by reading it—their opinion matters. If you put it only on yourself to improve then you may not progress in the right (write) direction.
Having said that, I have received a lot of reviews across multiple websites as well as feedback through messages, emails, etc., and I have only experienced one non-5-star review. It was still 3 stars, but the reader enjoyed my book. I took his review on personally and will consider his feedback in the next book I write.
When I completed Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut, I was slightly scared. Like any new author, you seek validation in your work but are not sure how people are going to react. I sent my book to four different Jack the Ripper-related publications, the most likely demographic to criticize my book (Ripper fiction is not exactly embraced warmly among Ripperologists...). They all also gave the book 5 stars, which made me feel I was onto something with this book, but also felt like I was a decent writer. Every review has value, and obviously any 5-star review will always make me smile and feel more proud of my debut work.
What does literary success mean to you?
In a way, it's what I have right now.
To me, literary success is approval, preferably by the handsome majority, that your book is decent and people felt an experience from reading it. Many people came by this book because they knew me, or knew of Jack the Ripper. They are all now fans of Axford and Gen, who they hadn't met before, and the readers want to see what their next adventure is.
Sometimes, people read your book out of obligation, but when you hear they sincerely loved the story, that is what you want to hear. I love hearing that my book kept people up at night, either through being creeped out or feeling the need to read "that one more chapter". I love that! It means the chapters are more than just words to my reader, and they felt something, which means a lot. It's a high compliment to an author, not only as a writer but as a story-teller as well, especially when readers say things like, "I didn't want it to end," or, "I can't wait for the next one." I love chatting about the book with the readers. Their feedback just fuels me to keep promoting the book and seeking a higher reader base, as well as to plow through the second book.
Of course, an author wants to make money off their book, or win awards. Without love from your readers, though, you are writing books for reasons that no longer justify it as art.
Are you working on a novel right now, and can you tell us a little about it?
I am, and it is a second book with these characters and concepts, expanding Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut into a series. I like the notion of using time travel to solve cold cases, and I have mapped out two more stories. The one I am working on at the moment involves the investigation of multiple musician deaths, all deemed accidental or unsolved, and is linking them to a common cause. Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's murderer) is kind of helping Axford and Gen from behind bars...Hannibal Lecter-style, to solve this mystery and make the appropriate people accountable. It also implies that a current day artist is being targeted. New cases, new ideas, with the original ideas and also more in store for the old characters. It feels great to give them new dialog or actions again. I had the warmest smile on my face when I typed their names again.
Has a reader's opinion ever impacted on your plans for a novel/series?
Yes, my wife. I actually wanted my second project to be a book about raising a child with autism. I wanted to document our journey with our son from birth to starting school, as I think the information from other parents is so valuable. Spectrumhood is the working title. After I finished the first book and some early feedback came in, I spoke to my wife about writing Spectrumhood and her response was, "No...you should get started on the next Axford adventure as soon as possible." That's advice I couldn't ignore.
Do you need to feel emotions strongly to become a good writer?
Yes, absolutely—because it is such an important ingredient for connecting with your reader. I wrote a chapter that kept me up till 1:30 a.m. writing, but because of its intensity, and prior research had brought me to tears, I was so full of adrenaline after completing it, I was awake until 5:00 a.m. I just couldn't drop. At the same time, I recall thinking, If my reader gets to feel 10 percent of what I just wrote, then I am a very satisfied writer indeed. On top of this, I expect Spectrumhood to be a very difficult book to write when the time comes. My son is a great story and I want to tell it. A part of that will be not holding back and definitely tapping into how I have progressed with his diagnosis emotionally. I think that rawness, especially from a father's perspective, needs to be told. So get your Kleenex ready...I know I will be!
Who is your inspiration?
In terms of creative inspiration, I have no muse. There are a lot of people I admire, though, and I mentioned Cruz Smith. I also admire Ben Elton, James Patterson, and Dan Brown. The greatest inspiration I draw from to be a writer, though, is undoubtedly my wife and kids. If this were a hobby, or something I felt I could do professionally, it's always good to know you have a center to come back to. Love and support from within your own home goes a long way. Yes, part of it is trying to provide for them, but a lot of it is simply writing something they can be proud of. My son says, "Jack the Ripper was a very nasty man." He's right, but I hope one day, when he's old enough, he can read a book his dad wrote and tell him what he thought of it.
Do you weave personal experience into your writing?
Hell yes. My main character Carl Axford is pretty similar to me in some ways. Some of his experiences (picking up luggage from an airport, for example) are born from things I have lived. There is one very cool twist in the story and its plausibility may seem unlikely. I like to inform readers that it is possible, as I witnessed it myself, and it was based on a real life experience.
Description or dialogue?
Probably dialogue. Description is too much research sometimes, whereas dialogue is always something that comes out of you naturally. It's more organic. I actually prefer narrative more than those two, but some of my favorite lines in the book are dialogue. My main character is a smart-ass, and a lot of the characters in the book are intelligent people. Writing dialogue between them was a lot of fun.
What was the best purchase you've ever made as a writer?
Without a doubt, the investment in my front cover. I had an original cover (that ironically cost me more than my current one), and it was doing the book a disservice. It was not the artist's fault—that was entirely on me and my choices. I bit the bullet and decided to re-brand the book with a new cover. The result today is much better and I am extremely happy with it. It represents everything I want the cover to portray. It looks just like a proper mainstream thriller now, which is what it is. Somebody once said that the front cover of your book is its business card, and I tend to agree. The new cover has received a lot of praise, which makes me feel validated in the choice to change. Very glad I made the change and how all that came together is a great story in its own right. I also wanted to change the title, but if I did that it would result in a new ISBN and therefore a loss of all reviews. As I mentioned, I value my reader feedback and saw that as more important to keep.
Have you ever worked with a book editor?
I have worked with a book editor for Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut and it was a great experience. They believe my book "should be picked up by The Big 5" and have been a great supporter of my work. I have also engaged an editor for my query letter. They were a big help, and my query letter changed quite a bit as a result.
Both experiences were great and hiring a book editor is critical to an author's final product. If your book doesn't read well, it will matter to people who have a standard for what they are reading.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
If you want to go the traditional route then do it, but it is a marathon, as they say, and patience is so important. I didn't heed that advice, and as a result, by being self-published I now leave my book an unlikely path to traditional publication. It is a choice I am paying for now, and I not only regret it but have had to revise plans as a result. I'll definitely be more patient with the second book. One good things is I will have an established fan-base when the second instalment comes out.
On a happier note, I also suggest that if you are intending to write something that may become a series, write with a creative arc in mind. Don't give too much up in the first book but don't leave too many stones unturned either. I have 3 main things that my readers are looking for, and they will come progressively over the next two books. Think of the show Breaking Bad. What made it so amazing was they had an ending in mind from the get-go and worked over a five-season arc to get there. During that time, there was amazing character development and plot reveals. It also had the most fulfilling ending. Then compare it to a show like the original Heroes, or Lost. Great shows in their first seasons but ran out of steam after 1 to 2 seasons. There are many shows that do that.
An author should know what their readers are going to want, but the idea is to get the balance right in distributing the content. You can't empty the locker and still have a book or two to complete.
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If you are an author and would like to be interviewed for this series, please complete this application form. If you have any questions, or if you want to recommend an author, please get in touch by emailing me at email@example.com.