Author Interview: Josh Matthews #hellgate #horror
What genre(s) do you write and why? I’ve written mostly in horror because it gives me the freedom to do what I want. When you write in other genres, such as crime or mysteries, you have to adhere to certain rules and conventions. With horror there are no limitations. My favorite part is creating unique monsters and settings, allowing me to let my imagination run wild. However, I’m trying something new with my latest manuscript, which is a dark political thriller about the Pentagon using scientifically-augmented assassins to go after North Korean leader Kim Chong-un.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m a plotter. I spend weeks developing the storyline in my mind and jotting down scenes/dialogue/character quirks on 3×5 cards and ordering them. Most of the book is written out in my head before I sit down to draft it. Sometimes the book develops a life of its own and takes me places I had not originally planned, which is fine with me. Often those scenes are better than the ones I had outlined.
What do you feel your books offer readers? Entertainment. I don’t include social or political commentary, or life-changing themes, in my books. I write about good versus evil, average people being thrown into unusual and horrifying situations, and how they cope. The only constants in my books are action and suspense.
How long have you been a writer? I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school, although I wouldn’t have called myself a professional back then. My work consisted of several monster magazines typed on folded-in-half construction paper with photos cut out of other magazines and really bad short stories jotted down in notebooks. I had a fan base of one – my mother.
What was the first book you ever had published? How much time did it take from writing your first book to having it published? The first book I published was about modern vampire hunters, which I wrote under my real name. It took six years to finally find a publisher, and I was told by many established authors that six years was shorter than the industry average at that time. However, once I got my name out there, it only took a few tries to get my other books placed with publishers. With some of my latest books I’ve tried self-publishing, which opens up a whole new world of pros and cons.
What other careers have you had? I worked for the CIA for twenty-three years before retiring in 2013, mostly working against North Korea or involved with weapons of mass destruction or cyber security issues. Before that, I was a jack of all trades – realtor, high school teacher, exterminator, and a dozen other odd jobs.
Do you write under more than one pen name? Why? Yes, Josh Matthews is my young adult pen name. I also write under my real name, Scott M. Baker. What I publish under my real name is mostly dark, hardcore horror laced with violence and gore. I opted to write my young adult books under a pen name because I didn’t want a twelve year old enjoying Hell Gate, picking up one of my other books, and being shocked.
When you create characters, do you base them on real people? Only one character was based on a real life person. Drake Matthews from The Vampire Hunters trilogy was an iced-coffee drinking, whiskey swilling, cigar smoking adventurer who owned a pet rabbit named Van Helsing. Except for the adventurer part, Drake was based on me, so I got to live vicariously through Drake.
How do your family and/or friends feel about your book or writing venture in general? Most of my family and friends get a kick out of the fact that I’m a writer, but they have never read my books. The only close family member who is really excited about my career is my wife, Alison Beightol, the author of The Primigenio Tales trilogy. We met because we both wrote vampire novels and eventually fell in love. Who says horror can’t be romantic?
Where are you from? I was born and raised in Boston, spent over two decades living in the Washington D.C. area and overseas, and retired for four years in northern Florida. As I write this, my family is packing to move to New England.
How do you come up with the titles? I think up several possible titles for my books and then run them through Amazon to make sure they have not been used. Those that survive I run past my beat readers for their input. My daughter Maddy is my best source of titles; she came up with Nazi Ghouls from Space and Mutant Assassin Group (the title of my soon-to-be-published dark political thriller).
What do you do for fun? For fun I spend time with my family, play with the pets, read (usually horror and post-apocalyptic fiction and histories of World War II and the Cold War).
Do you work on one project at a time? Or do you multi-task? I thrive on multi-tasking. I write a book and send it off to my beta readers and, as they review it, I begin the first draft of another book. Then I switch off, sending the newest book to the beta readers while I incorporate their suggestions and do the final edits on the first book. In between, I’m outlining upcoming books and/or writing short stories.
What kind of kid were you? Which social path did you take? I was a total geek as a kid. Farah Fawcett posters on my wall. Aurora monster models on my book shelves. A stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland under my bed. I became more serious in college, studied history with the intent of teaching, and eventually wound up working for the CIA. But I still enjoy my roots and love going to horror conventions because I feel right at home with the other people there.
Do you have any pets? At the moment I have four pets – two cats, Archer and Michonne, who think they run the house and two boxers, Bella and Walther. The cats are jealous of the dogs’ fame because Walther and Bella are the inspiration for Lucifer and Lilith, the werehounds in Hell Gate.
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you travel? I’ve already traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I’m one of those eccentrics who enjoy locations off the beaten path that are not frequented by a lot of tourists, especially locations related to World War II. The two spots I really want to see are Pyongyang, North Korea, as well as Chernobyl and the abandoned town of Pripyat in Ukraine.
Do you have a favorite beverage that you drink when you write? Iced water or iced coffee. If I’m writing late at night, I enjoy whiskey.
Please tell us 5 miscellaneous facts about yourself. 1) I used to smoke a cigar a day, but I kicked the habit nearly four years ago (although I do indulge on special occasions). 2) I’m a huge World War II aficionado and have taken numerous trips to see battlefields and locations associated with the war. 3) I am not a Star Wars fan but am a huge Trekkie. 4) My hobby is collecting militaria; my collection includes artifacts from Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Communist China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and the regime of Saddam Husayn. 5) When I was fourteen I got to fly a small plane over southern New Hampshire.
Please share with us your future projects and upcoming releases. The sequel to Hell Gate is scheduled for release this October. The first draft of the third book in the series is almost complete, and I’ve begun plotting out the fourth book. Also, my dark political thriller is currently with an agent who is reviewing it, and hopefully will be released in 2018. I’ve already begun research on the sequel, which involves a biological warfare attack on a major city.
BRIEF AUTHOR BIO:
Josh Matthews is a former New Englander who has returned to his roots along with his wife, teenage daughter, and four lovable but exasperating pets. Josh used to work for the U.S. Government where he had the opportunity to travel around the world and be exposed to numerous cultures, many of which will appear in the Hell Gate saga. He has always been a fan of horror novels and monster movies, and sees the Hell Gate saga as his way to share that love with a new generation of fans.
Sixteen-year-old Jason McCreary is living a nightmare within a nightmare. Not only is he trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons from Hell, he also shoulders the burden for humanity’s fate as it was his mother who opened the gates in a scientific experiment gone wrong.
In a last ditch effort to redeem his family name and erase his guilt, Jason joins a squad whose mission is to travel to Paris and close the Hell Gate. Once there, they discover an environment more frightening than anything they could imagine and demons more terrifying than they had ever encountered before.
Time is now against them.
Can Jason gain his redemption along with the respect of his peers, or will a new web of lies threaten to rip apart his world and jeopardize his team’s only chance for success?
The stillness belied the danger that lurked in the shadows of every alley and doorway of St. Mere Eglise. Jason McCreary found it unsettling. Most of the towns along the Normandy coast had been abandoned long ago. Animals now flourished amongst the desolation, with livestock and wildlife replacing humans. That wasn’t the case today. Even the birds had left, plunging the town into an eerie silence that forewarned of an approaching evil. Experience had taught Jason that when the animals fled it was to escape from Hell Spawn. He made his way along the center of Rue Eisenhower, clutching his crossbow, ready to shoot if necessary. Despite walking lightly, his footsteps echoed through town, sounding like a dinner bell for the dead. His eyes scanned the buildings. Nothing moved except overgrown grass and weeds that swayed in the wind. The same wind tousled several blond strands across his face. Jason used his free hand to push them back behind his ears.
Jason took a deep breath to calm his nerves, holding it for several seconds before exhaling. It did little good. His heart still raced, and his hands trembled, knowing that something demonic could lunge out of the shadows at him at any moment. He glanced down to the werehounds that stayed close by his side. Lilith brought up Jason’s right flank. She looked like a large wolf with shiny black fur. Her head darted from side to side, seeking out anything that could be a threat. Occasionally, she glanced behind them to make certain nothing approached from their rear. Lucifer walked along on his left. He resembled an American bulldog. His ears stood straight up, listening for any noise that signified danger. When Lucifer saw his master staring at him, his tail wagged. After the brief display of affection, he went back to prowling for Hell Spawn.
Jason sniffed the air to see if he could smell the demons. A tickle formed in the back of his throat, causing him to hack against the rear of his hand. Ever since the opening of the Hell Gate, the air had taken on an unpleasant odor. Father Chirac referred to it as the brimstone stench of Hell. Jason had no idea what the priest meant. To him, the air smelled like the living room of his old house after his mother built a fire in the fireplace, only mixed with the stench of rot and shit.
As he glanced from building to building, Jason chastised himself. He didn’t like being separated from the group, yet he only had himself to blame for being the point man in a potential battle royale. Yesterday, a scouting party on horseback had reported Hell Spawn moving across the countryside toward St. Mere Eglise; they had been unable to conduct a proper reconnaissance because of the approaching dusk. A search and destroy team had been sent out that morning to assess the threat and deal with it. Jason was part of that team. A mile outside of town, the team had dismounted and left their horses with a rear guard unit so they could proceed on foot. Andre had ordered Jason to go ahead and scout the area. When Sasha had protested sending him in alone, Jason had interrupted and said he wanted to take point. He didn’t know if he had been trying to impress Andre or had been embarrassed by having Sasha fight his battles for him, not that it mattered. His stupid sixteen-year-old vanity had gotten the better of him. Now he was heading into a town probably overrun by Hell Spawn.
“And I wonder why they keep calling me Bait.”
Lucifer looked up with his soulful brown eyes and whined, sensing his discomfort.
“I’m fine, boy. I need a bit more common sense than pride.” He reached down and scratched Lucifer behind the ears, who wagged his tail once more.
Jason closed his eyes and concentrated. He could sense the others following half a mile to the rear. Most of the team registered as one signature, giving off an aura of concern over not knowing what to expect. Three stood out. Andre and Slava, both of whom who were excited about the possibility of combat, and Sasha, who was afraid. Not for herself, though. She feared for Jason’s safety. He grinned at the remote display of affection.
At the corner, the street opened up. To the right sat a parking lot empty except for a few dust-covered vehicles. In the far corner sat St. Mere Eglise church, the one made famous when an American paratrooper got stuck on the belfry during the D-Day landings. He remembered seeing that in an old black-and-white war movie he watched with his dad. Red Skelton, or Buttons, or someone with a weird name like that had played the paratrooper. To the left was the Airborne Museum that commemorated the Normandy invasion. Jason veered off the street and into the outer edge of the parking lot. The werehounds stayed close.
He had approached to within twenty feet of the intersection of Rue Eisenhower and Rue de Gaulle when a single figure shambled out into the middle of the street. A Nachzehrer. A flesh eater that fed off of humans. These demons were slow and uncoordinated, so dealing with one or two was easy. However, a horde of Nachzehrer could strip a man to the bones in minutes. Jason had seen hundreds like it during the past few months. Naked, emaciated, and with leathery gray skin dried out from the fires of Hell. It stumbled along, its gaze fixed on the road. The demon hadn’t noticed him yet. He raised the crossbow and aimed at the skull above the right ear. Lucifer growled. The noise caught the Nachzehrer’s attention. Its head shot up and its lifeless, cloudy eyes fixed on Jason. When its mouth dropped open, a mournful wail emanated from cracked, desiccated lips. Jason readjusted his aim and pulled the trigger. The arrow sliced through the Nachzehrer’s left eye. The demon dropped to the ground, a final moan escaping from its lungs as its life force drained from its body, creating a small eddy of blue light that twisted in the air for a moment before dissipating.
Jason reached around to pull another arrow from its quiver when the stench of decayed flesh filtered into his nose, a smell so overpowering his stomach heaved. As he swallowed back his vomit, a chorus of wails shattered the calm. A swarm of Nachzehrer flowed out of Rue de Gaulle and filled the square. A bloated female noticed Jason and screeched. The others turned and, spotting food, shambled towards him. At least a hundred Nachzehrer emerged from the side street, all of them bearing down on Jason. Even worse, he saw four gray shapes darting among the horde. Though he couldn’t get a good view because of the Nachzehrer, he recognized the bat-like bodies and bulbous, eyeless heads with gaping mouths.
Shit! Soul vampires!
“Come on, guys!” Jason said to Lilith and Lucifer. He ran for the church. Lilith stayed close to protect her master. Lucifer defiantly barked at the approaching horde before spinning around and sprinting away.
Reaching the door to St. Mere Eglise church, Jason tried the knob. It was locked. He rammed his shoulder into the door several times. It wouldn’t budge. Placing his back against the wall, Jason scanned the area and weighed his options. Nachzehrer stretched out across the parking lot. They were still over fifty feet away, and he could easily outrun them. Three of the soul vampires spread out behind the first line of Nachzehrer, preparing to attack, and they would cut him down if he moved out in the open. If he stayed with his back against the church so he couldn’t be surrounded and fight, he might have a chance. With luck, the rest of the team would reach him before the Nachzehrer did.