The Big Idea: Matt Forbeck
Posted on January 27, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
In the annals of the dreaded author question “where do you get your ideas?” It’s entirely possible that Matt Forbeck has got the most interesting response, at least when it comes to his novel Amortals. I’d go on further about it, but I think I should just let Forbeck jump right in and take this one.
Amortals started — starts, actually — with a snuff film.
In case you’re a sensible person who doesn’t know about such things, a snuff film is a movie of someone getting killed. They’re the real thing, sometimes full of blood, brains, and guts, but always capped off with a real live person being punted off this mortal coil, often in a gruesome or grisly way. No special effects here.
I’ve never seen a snuff film, and I don’t have any desire to. There’s enough death in the world without me having to go hunt it down and rubberneck at it. But when I heard about these movies — about the fact that some people made them on purpose by recording premeditated murders — the idea of them struck a nerve.
I started wondering not about what it would be like to make such a film but to be the subject of it. To be strapped into a chair, beaten and abused, terrified for your life, and then shot to death. To be the man who got shot just so someone else could see you die. And record it for other people to watch.
That just pissed me off.
From there, I thought about what it would be like to have that happen to you — and then be able to come back, but with only the snuff film as evidence of what had happened. What would you do? How would you react? And how would you find your killer and make him pay?
That’s impossible, of course. You don’t get to come back from the dead. Right?
Well, not today, but that’s one of the great things about science fiction. You get to play around with technology we don’t have yet, things that make the impossible possible, at least in the story.
I sat down and wrote the first chapter of what became Amortals in one big rush. It was brutal and horrifying, and at the end of it, the victim woke up in a fresh clone body and was charged with going back out into that cold, hard world and solving his own messy murder.
From there, I didn’t really know where to go. I came up with an outline and shopped it around, but this was back in 1994. Not only was I a lot younger then but I only had couple handfuls of publishing credits, and most of those were in tabletop games rather than fiction. Even though my career in that field was taking off, those credits totaled up to not even a fraction of what I needed to make an editor jump up and offer me a contract based on what little I had.
As a busy working writer, I couldn’t spare the time to sit down and write an entire novel on the hope that someone might buy it. Even if I did sell the book, that would mean not eating for the months I was writing, and wasn’t able to risk that at the time. I shelved the idea, promising myself I’d come back to it later.
In the intervening fifteen years, I moved from being a full-time game designer into writing tie-in novels, and I established a reputation as someone who could spin a good yarn. Most importantly, my editors became comfortable with the idea that I wouldn’t disappear with an advance, that I could and would finish what I started. One of them — Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot — finally took a flying leap of faith on a refurbished version of that thin outline of mine and, based on a page-and-a-half synopsis, signed me to write the book.
Then, of course, I couldn’t avoid it any longer. Any excuses I might have had vanished. I had to sit down and write it. After all, I’d already cashed the check and spent it.
Fifteen years passed between me having that initial inspiration and sitting down to write the book, and the thrust of the book evolved due to that. Not only had the world changed, but I had too. The concerns of a young man fresh out of college naturally differ from those of a guy with five kids. The core of the story, though — the spark that ignited the flame — hadn’t changed at all.
Amortals — the version that’s in stores already — starts the same way now as it did back in ‘94: with a snuff film, a lot of bullets, and a man bent on avenging his own death. The power of that idea carried me all the way through.
Amortals: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read and listen to an excerpt. Follow Forbeck on Twitter.
I’m glad he found his inspiration from the idea, but I do wish he wouldn’t spread the notion that snuff films are a genuine phenomenon in this reality instead of a popular myth in fiction.
It’s also available at fictionwise.
Drat, you made me go and buy it!
Well, reading the extract convinced me I want to read it, anyway.
I read an advance copy of this and enjoyed it. “Watching your own snuff film” is definitely a way to kick a book off with a bang.
Well, you’ve certainly never seen a snuff film, because there *aren’t* any, as far as anyone has been able to determine — with snuff film defined as the intentional filming of a death which is then sold for profit (Obviously deaths have been caught on film, but those aren’t “snuff films.”) They’re one of the great persistent urban legends. Certainly rich material for a sci-fi horror story though.
Just purchased the book and read the first two chapters. The concept of the ‘amortal’ is an interesting one, and I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.
Well, that just made me go and buy it. I am definitely looking forward to it.
I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my “must read SOON” list. Matt is an A-plus gentleman and a hell of a fine writer.
This book certainly starts with a horrible premise that’s made even MORE horrible
in Orson Scott Card’s short story, “A Thousand Deaths”, which was, I think, first published in 1978. I mention this not because I think Mr. Forbeck cribbed the idea (I don’t know, don’t care, and ideas are hardly patentable or copyrightable (is that a word?) anyway) but because the OSC short story sticks in my mind as being possibly the most horrific story I can remember reading. So much so that I wrote a disclaimer on a postit note when I gave the collection I read it in to friends. Until I just looked it up, which took a while since I couldn’t remember the title, I had no idea it was so old. If you like the central idea posited above, you’ll probably like that short story. I leave it to each person’s moral judgement as to whether or not they want to actually put money into OSC’s pocket for the privilege (may be impossible to actually do that anyway if the anthology is out of print).
Glad see some more books from Angry Robots getting press. They have a fantastic stable of authors … Assuming you can call a group of authors a stable. I picked this up a few weeks ago. Guess I better moveit up my list.
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