Fiction Fragments: Matt Betts

Last week, K. Ceres Wright joined Girl Meets Monster to talk about how writers of color can foster support for other diverse writers and become mentors for young writers. This week, Matt Betts is here to share a fragment, talk about his influences, and the benefits of writing fan fiction.

40645515_267465454090059_5099031125666299904_nMatt Betts grew up on a steady diet of giant monsters, robots and horror novels. The Ohio native is the author of the speculative poetry collections Underwater Fistfight and See No Evil, Say No Evil, as well as the novels Odd Men Out, Indelible Ink and his latest, The Boogeyman’s Intern. Matt loves to travel and speak at writer’s conferences and workshops. He lives in Columbus with his wife and their two boys.

He can be found at www.mattbetts.com, on Twitter as @Betts_Matt and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mattbettswrites/.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome, Matt. So, tell me about your fragment. What was your inspiration?

MB: This is a story I wrote a little over ten years ago. It’s a SciFi western that I really enjoyed writing. It was called a few things, but the final title was “Where It All Went Wrong.” This involves a ship with a crew of three, rather than the larger crew of the Serenity, but as the writer, I was really into Firefly and other space westerns at the time.

GMM: I love Firefly! So that totally sounds like something I would read. Why did you abandon it?

MB: Well, I’ve always meant to come back to it and rewrite it now that I feel a little more sure of myself, so I guess I can’t call it abandoned completely. But whenever I’ve circled back and reread it, it feels so much like Firefly fan fiction. Funny thing is, the story was accepted by two different magazines/webzines, but both went out of business before the story made it to print. I got a little scared it was a jinx and worried anyone I sent it to would fold as well. But I still really enjoy it and maybe I’ll consider expanding it, and cleaning it up, into a novel one day.

GMM: There’s often a certain level of stigma associated with writing fan fiction, but sometimes writing fan fiction can help you overcome writer’s block on another project, and in the highly improbable case of E. L. James, fan fiction can turn into a series of best-selling novels. Have you written fan fiction that you later developed into an original work of fiction?

MB: Writing fan fiction can certainly help with writer’s block, but it can also help with writing in general. I mean, if someone wants to get started as an author, but has no idea how to do it, writing fan fiction can help. With fan fiction, a writer already starts with characters they know, background, and a familiarity with the genre. Writing stories based off of that would be a great start for any aspiring writer. The pressure to create certain elements is off, so they can write character sketches, backstories, whatever. I’ve often heard that writing is like a muscle in that the more you work out (or write) the stronger you get. Any novice writer should practice writing in any way they can. Their work will improve and eventually, they might want to strike out and feel confident to do their own original work.

I’ve never done any fan fic myself, not knowingly anyway. The scrap I’ve provided today really ended up feeling like Firefly, but I never felt it until the story was done, edited and submitted. I didn’t set out to write about Mal and Jane and the crew of the Serenity, I set out to write a space western, and that’s what came out. I think since then, I’ve found my voice and style as a writer and I can avoid inadvertently drifting into someone else’s territory, or properties, a little better. Early on as an author, I tried to write in what I thought was Stephen King’s style, but the stories were my own originals, not based off of his stories or characters. And they were terrible. It took a few years for me to feel like I wasn’t copying off someone else’s paper as a writer.

I guess I’ve never tried to write fan fiction, really, and it might have helped me to learn story and structure a little sooner if I had. I can see how writing Star Wars or X-Files stories would have set me up for better storytelling earlier. Both have science fiction tropes, action, and strong characters — all things which play a prominent role in my work today.

Where It All Went Bad, by Matt Betts

Mason stared at the keypad next to the barn’s side door. The readout showed the security system was disabled and he hadn’t even touched it.

“Boss? We’re holding at the safe point, but we haven’t got a lot of time. What’s going on?” Bess’s voice came through his earpiece. “Are you inside or what?”

He pushed the door and it swung open with a creak. He sighed. Alarm turned off and door wide open? “Yeah. I’m in. Give me ninety seconds to start the roof’s retraction sequence and bring it in.”

“Can do.”

On a job like this one the unexpected was never welcome, especially after they had planned it so well. He pulled his sidearm and closed the door behind him. He paused next to a crate to let his eyes adjust to the low light.

Outside, the thumping of small explosions suddenly filled the air. “Looks like the town folk started their celebration a might early.”  Bess’s voice again filled Mason’s ear.

“Who can blame them? The festival of fruit only comes once a year,” he whispered.

Bess laughed. “Harvest celebration, genius.”

“Right.”

Mason scanned the building for any sign of life and found nothing; no movement, no sound. He could see a few crates here and there, some frames on the walls, a set of fuel pumps and, of course the ship in the center of the building that he’d come to take. He darted to the other side of the ship where the door control console was and began tapping in codes.

“On the way.” Bess said.

The crack of the overhead door coming to life drew Mason’s gaze upward and the light of the night sky began to creep in, punctuated by the occasional flash of fireworks. In the new illumination he could see his target much more clearly. The ship had been through a lot, and showed the scars of its long years of service; a scorch mark here, a cracked panel there. It was only about eight feet tall and three times as wide, it was designed as a one-man explorer, but two could fit in it easily.

“Thirty seconds.” Bess was right on time. “Secured yet?”

“Working on it,” Mason said “Take it easy.” He holstered his gun, walked to the nearest wing and set the lifting rigs before moving to the other wing and the craft’s nose. He took a minute at the front to lay his hand on the ship and feel its cold metal. He ran his hand along the letters that spelled out the ship’s name – Palomino. He smiled and nodded. “Nice to meet you.”

The retractable ceiling door clanged open to its limit and again, Mason’s eyes drew upward. He saw the clear night sky momentarily before it was blotted out by the underside of his ship.

“We’re here,” Bess said.

“No kidding?” The bay door of the ship opened and Mason could see the silhouette of the third member of their crew, Eli Fisher, feeding out the winch lines.

“Hey boss!” Fish’s voice yelled through the speaker in Mason’s ear. “Any problems?”

Mason grabbed the first line as it made its way down to him and attached it to starboard wing. “Not a one.” He attached the other two lines and checked them carefully. One last look around the barn made him marvel at how easy it had been. His stomach rumbled a little. “Not a one. Haul us up.” He stepped onto the ships ladder and grabbed hold of a rung for dear life as the Palomino was pulled up roughly off the ground.

“Sir?” It was Bess. “There seems to be a large crowd of angry folk headed our way in a hurry. We’d better move out and finish hauling you in later.”

Mason looked down at the building that was rapidly moving away from him. He’d nearly cleared the roof and could see the open sky. A flash nearby made him wonder if the fireworks were still going on, or if someone was shooting at them. The Palomino began to twist on the lines and Mason squeezed the rung tighter. “Uhm. Are you sure we don’t have time to haul me in?”

“Don’t be yellow. We’ll be to safety in two shakes. Fish? You may want to strap yourself to something.” Bess said.

Mason’s stomach churned again. “Wait! If he needs to strap in, what about me?” It was too late. Bess had already steered the ship sharply back in the direction it’d  come. More flashes burst nearby “Just fireworks. Just fireworks.” He hugged the craft and pressed his face against its cold exterior.

Next week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes a mystery guest. Stay tuned!

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Sterling Archer

We’ve all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I say it’s an effective panty peeler, too. Who hasn’t enjoyed making or watching someone laugh? They seem more attractive in that moment of careless abandon, right? The people I have been most sexually attracted to in my life stimulate my brain first, and there is no better way to do that than to make me laugh. Especially about something inappropriate or irreverent. Laughter is sexy.

According to the article “Use Laughter to Improve Your Sex Life,” the area of women’s brains that is stimulated during sex is the same area affected by laughter. “The stages of laughter correlate to the stages of sex, especially in women. When you’re laughing, your facial muscles do their own thing, you simply can’t help it. Your skin becomes more sensitive too, just like when you’re in the throes of passion. That feeling of relaxation post-sex is also similar to the feelings when you stop laughing – your body temperature drops, you’re feeling relaxed and your breathing goes back to normal.”

With the erotic nature of laughter in mind, today’s installment is devoted to one of my favorite cartoons, and no, I don’t mean Jessica Rabbit.

February 5: Sterling Malory Archer

Code-Name

If you’ve never watched an episode of Archer, well…you’re in for a treat. Archer is an adult-themed cartoon on the FX network that spoofs spy movies and TV shows from the 1960’s – James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (look for an upcoming post on Illya Kuryakin), The Saint, The Wild Wild West, I Spy, and The Prisoner – think Get Smart on crack with a healthy dose of sexually explicit banter. DO NOT watch this show with your children unless you want to attempt to explain why a mad scientist who may be one of the “Boys from Brazil” is romantically involved with a female Anime hologram.

58102-Archer-kriegersan-cherry-bloss-iJsC

Yeah, good luck explaining this to the kids.

But enough about Krieger, I’m here to talk about the main character, Sterling Archer, code name “Duchess.” Archer is the top spy for the global espionage agency, International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), which is run by his mother, Malory Archer. Archer and his boss/mother have an antagonistic and sometimes co-dependent relationship that borders on Oedipal.

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Awkward.

Malory was a spy before Archer was born, and her work in espionage and lack of interest in being a mother meant that Archer spent most of his childhood living in a boarding school – for over fifteen years, “or, whatever, the normal number”, Archer explains. Needless to say, Archer has some serious mommy issues due to this maternal abandonment. And, he has no idea who his father is, because a) Malory slept around so much that she can’t remember, or b) is too embarrassed to admit who fathered Sterling. His emotional instability, narcissism, irreverence for all things sacred, and passive aggressive personality add up to some of the most hilarious and irreverent black comedy you can find on network television.

Archer-Mother

His unhealthy relationship with his mother has made it impossible for him to form stable relationships with other women. He sleeps around a lot. No, I mean A LOT. But, he feels genuine affection for his ex-girlfriend, Lana Kane. Both field agents, they team up on missions more often than not, which creates plenty of opportunities for conflict and sexually-charged arguments that usually jeopardize their ability to complete missions.

Lana is a much better spy than Archer, but he outranks her at ISIS because his mother is the boss. Archer and Lana have an on again/off again relationship, and end up in compromising situations on a regular basis. Even though she broke up with him sometime prior to the pilot episode, and they both have sexual relationships with other people, there’s usually quite a bit of sexual tension between them. Let’s face it, they make a good couple. At least when they’re getting naked.

Lana and Archer are one of the hottest couples on TV even though they’re cartoons. Obviously, there’s a long history of erotic cartoons and art. Japanese Shunga, the work of R. Crumb, and Tom of Finland are just a few examples of how sexuality is expressed through art. So yeah, Sterling Archer is a totally fuckable toon. And so is Lana. I know Jessica Rabbit comes to mind for a lot of people when asked which cartoon character is the sexiest. But she isn’t nearly as sexy as Lana Kane. Seriously, if one more person mentions how hot Jessica Rabbit is, I’ll scream. You want a hot toon? Look no further.

Seriously, she’s like a Blaxploitation wet dream.

At the beginning of the series, Lana is dating ISIS’s comptroller, Cyril Figgis, who is pretty much the exact opposite of Archer. Lana claims that she is dating Cyril because he is more sensitive and mature, but we soon come to realize she’s involved with him because she can dominate him and he is apparently well-endowed. Archer resents the fact that Lana has chosen Cyril over him, and constantly emasculates him. Preferably in front of Lana. Eventually, Lana leaves Cyril because she discovers that he’s been cheating on her and has developed a sex addiction. Archer finds this situation extremely funny, and decides to spend more time “bonding” with Cyril.

Hookers

Male bonding gone awry.

Laughing is great, but if I can laugh at something dirty and completely inappropriate, even better. Each character adds a new level of dysfunction and perversion to the mix. In the spirit of fiction writing, here is a character trait alignment chart of the Archer cast:

Character-Traits-Archer

Pseudo-educational mumbo jumbo.

If you haven’t watched Archer and love to laugh at things that mortify and offend most people, you can catch seasons 1-5 on Netflix. Season 6 should be available soon, and the show has been confirmed for a seventh season. See for yourself why Sterling Archer (and Lana Kane) are totally fuckable characters. And even if you don’t find them attractive, you’ll still enjoy a good laugh.

No, you aren’t hallucinating. That really is Burt Reynolds, one of Archer’s all-time favorite idols and man crushes.

So pour yourself a stiff one, kick back, and enjoy.

Always-Drink