9th Annual Author Series Kicks Off with Matt Betts

22 Feb 2014 7:55 PM | Julie Klein (Administrator)

Spirit of imagination fuels author’s passion for speculative writing

By Mardy Hanlon-Stolte

"I loved writing in high school. I loved writing in college," said writer Matt Betts at last evening’s 9th annual Author Series.

Hosted by the Friends of the Marysville Public Library, the first program of the 2014 series took place last evening at Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium.

Growing up in Lima and attending college in Toledo, Betts gravitated to popular culture. He would enjoy writing speculative poetry about the paranormal.

"There is such a thing as speculative poetry," he said. "It’s horror, science fiction and fantasy."

Betts’ poem, "Godzilla’s Better Half" or "The Night Godzilla Dumped His Chick" (the title he prefers), was nominated for a Rhysling Award, the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s highest honor. Although Betts didn’t win the award, he is proud his speculative poetry was recognized by the prestigious organization.

Betts explained to the audience how watching Godzilla topple tall buildings featured in old horror films and seeing his 6-month-old son knock down building block towers served as similar creative images for his writing of the poem.

Betts then pursued writing a short story because he "wasn’t brave enough to write a novel at first." He submitted his work to magazines and anthologies for publication only to face multiple rejections that did include valuable advice.

"I took the recommendations of editors to heart," Betts said.

Many of them liked his short story but were critical of "how he ended his work at a place where they wanted more (content)." The concept of expanding the length of his short story of 8,000 words to a novel of 85,000 seemed daunting to him.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Betts said.

He decided to write "Odd Man Out," a steampunk novel about Union and Confederate soldiers maintaining a truce in California during the Civil War. Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction that includes science fiction, fantasy or horror themes and takes place during historical times when steam power was greatly used.

"When I was writing this, I was aware of the ‘zombie problem’ in America," Betts said. "I wanted zombies to be an element of the book and not the focus."

Betts cast his characters – good guys and bad guys – and expanded their roles as well as the major conflict.

His writing involved researching the Civil War battles.

"I loved the research for this book," Betts said. "I love history. There was quite a bit of activity in the West (during the war)."

Betts shared how he would write during his work day lunch hours and at night. He would also "write in his head" during his time commuting to and from his job.

"I had to eke out any time I could," Betts added.

He spent a year and a half writing the first version followed by eight different edits of the book.

"There were a lot of changes," Betts said.

He engaged the interest and input of writers groups as well as beta readers whom he selected to read the novel.

"I sent the book to a lot of people to make it better," Betts said.

In August 2013, "Odd Man Out" was published by Dog Star Books, an all science fiction division of Raw Dog Screaming Press. He has signed a three-year contract that will include sequels to his novel.

Betts already has an idea for two sequels. "Just ask my mom…I’ve always had an imagination," he said.

The Author Series continues Tuesday, March 18 when writer Lillian Duncan visits Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 233 W. 6th St. in Marysville, at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased that evening.

(Article originally published in Marysville Journal Tribune, February 21, 2014.  Reprinted here with permission from the author.)

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