Hello! My name is Max Pfeffer and I’d like to welcome you to the first edition of Indie Author Spotlight! As a writer and avid reader, I check out a lot of self-published authors via my Kindle Fire due to the typically low prices and the prospect of finding as-yet unknown hidden gems. Through my consistent perusing of the Kindle store, I’ve managed to find a slew of talented writers whom I believe deserve to be in the spotlight. In this new monthly column, I’ll be introducing you to a variety of indie authors in the realm of science fiction, fantasy and horror. My hope is that you’ll discover along with me and enjoy these works just as much as I have.
So, without further ramblings, let’s move on to the spotlight!
I was recently scrolling through science fiction books in the Kindle store and I happened to come across Matthew Mather’s CyberStorm. This may seem like an odd way of choosing a book, but I like to scroll through a good amount of reviews before I even read the synopsis. I know, I know; it’s odd. Well, upon rave review after rave review I was ready to check out the synopsis:
Mike Mitchell, an average New Yorker already struggling to keep his family together, suddenly finds himself fighting just to keep them alive when an increasingly bizarre string of disasters start appearing on the world’s news networks. As the world and cyberworld come crashing down, bending perception and reality, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, turning it into a wintry tomb where nothing is what it seems…
That did it! I downloaded the book and immediately began reading. I wasn’t halfway through the story before I was terrified. My heart was racing hours after I put the book down just from thinking about what would occur on the pages to come. I was reading the most realistic take on a disaster story that I had ever read and I couldn’t get enough; however, it wasn’t just the thrill of fear that kept me invested, it was the characters. I was pulled in by the relationships and the honest humanity of the story. Before finishing the book, I knew that Mr. Mather would be the first in the spotlight.
After finishing CyberStorm, I was given the honor of interviewing Matthew Mather. Through our email correspondence, I was blown away by his enthusiasm and kindness. Here’s what he had to say:
Matthew Mather is the best-selling author of CyberStorm, recently acquired for film by 20th Century Fox, and the six-part hit series Atopia Chronicles. He is also a leading member of the world’s cybersecurity community who started out his career working at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines. You can find more information about Matthew Mather and his work at MatthewMather.com
Max Pfeffer: Now, you’ve surely seen some success as an “indie” author. What caused you to go the self-publishing route and do you see this as a long-term venue for publishing your novels?
Matthew Mather: When I wrote my first book, Atopia Chronicles, I was very much a “newbie” and tried the route of contacting agents and publishers. At 140,000 words, and constructed of six individual novellas, it was rejected by over a hundred agents and publishers—all of them unanimous in saying that it wouldn’t sell.
After a year of frustration, I put it on the shelf and sort of forgot about it for another year, but then began reading of all the people having success self-publishing. I had nothing to lose, so…I published it on the Amazon KDP system and voila! A book the “establishment” said wouldn’t sell has now sold over 50,000 copies, has been in the top-10 of its category on Amazon for a year, and is being translated for publishing in a half a dozen foreign countries.
I published Atopia less than a year ago, and followed that up with the more present-day-tech-thriller CyberStorm that I self-published just four months ago—it has already sold nearly double Atopia! With these sorts of numbers, publishers have come calling, but I’ve recently turned down six-figure offers from “the big guys” because I simply think I can do better, at least for now.
So to answer the question, I do see self-publishing as a long-term venue, especially as a way to connect directly with readers. But, at the same time, I’d like to find a way to work together with traditional publishers—they can still open markets and areas that are impossible to get into only through e-publishing. A lot has been said about the death of books, but, as the books might say in response, the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. It would be great to find a publisher I could work on some titles together with, at the same time as self-publishing some other projects myself.
Nowhere is this more important than the foreign markets. While I haven’t managed to find an arrangement with a “domestic US” publisher, I have done traditional publishing deals in a half a dozen foreign countries, with more coming every month. So I’ve built a hybrid business, self-publishing in the US market, and using traditional publishing in other markets around the world, as well as selling film and TV rights.
MP: You have two self-published novels available right now—Atopia Chronicles and CyberStorm. What influenced these writings? Any particular authors or books?
MM: These were both simply books “that I had to write,” for lack of a better way to say it. Apart from the old masters of science fiction, I don’t read a lot in my field, mostly so I’m not tempted to slipstream off what other people are thinking. My books are really inspired by my ideas and worlds of possibility that I want to share.
Atopia was the result of my years starting and running one of the world’s first tactile-sensory interface companies, which has grown into the world leader in its field. I ended up in Silicon Valley, and spent years studying geeky things like the human-machine-interface, psycho-perceptual feedback loops, and more than that, actually building them.
The Atopia Chronicles are many things at once, a series of twilight zone-like stories that all tie together into a large adventure story arc, but a large part of the book was a venue for me to express my ideas about the future of the human-machine-interface, exactly how I thought it would evolve, based on my years building tech in Silicon Valley. And from the feedback from readers, especially the tech-geeks like me, a lot of people saw something really interesting and unique in that vision—and now I have two more books planned in the series (Dystopia and Utopia) that will explore this world.
CyberStorm was a different beast than Atopia, but again based on my professional experiences—I’ll talk more about this in the next question.
MP: I just finished up your latest novel, CyberStorm. Where did you come up with the concept behind this fantastic book?
MM: The past few years I’ve been doing some work in cybersecurity, working with large organizations. I noticed an enormous disconnect between how the general public viewed information security, and how the “industry” saw it. There’s a well-worn joke in the business—that we don’t really need to do any backups of our systems, because the Chinese always have a copy already (and vice-versa everyone laughs!)
At the same time, I noticed that the general public seemed completely apathetic towards the dangers of cyber, of how reliant we’d become on these complex systems, and equally, how uninterested they were in the potential danger of governments and corporations accessing their personal information.
CyberStorm was designed as a page-turning thriller with a sci-fi edge that would explore these ideas.
MP: CyberStorm is a realistic and frightening take on the science fiction/disaster scenario. What inspired you to create what the majority of the world would see as a “never could happen” story with such a heavy element of realism?
MM: If you say, “cyberwar,” a lot of people imagine something squeaky-clean, dealing with computers—they’re not really sure what to think of it, it’s sort of like the War on Obesity, it’s kind of metaphorical. By infusing the book with a heavy element of realism, I wanted to remove that metaphorical quality and illustrate exactly, in nitty-gritty-excruciating detail, what a major cyberattack could look like.
As for this being a “never could happen” story, I interviewed people like the head of cyber operations for the US Air Force, the DHS, the NATO Cyber Command liaison (these were all people I had professional contacts with) to come up with a very-plausible that combined Mother Nature and a series of cyber events to create a nightmare scenario in New York City. It illustrates what a major cyber event could look like from the perspective of an average family trying to escape the disaster.
MP: It looks like Deadline is reporting that Fox has acquired the rights for a film adaptation of CyberStorm. This is such fantastic news! Can you shed any light on the project at all? Will you be involved in any way?
MM: Yes, that’s right! 20th Century Fox has acquired the film rights for CyberStorm, in what I am only allowed to describe as a “major” move deal. This is quite an amazing thing (I think—I’m still slightly shocked!) for a self-published book, just a few months old, to be bought for a major film. It is still early days, however, and I don’t know exactly what my involvement will be, or even if the film will get the rest of the funding it needs—but it is exciting!
MP: Based on your official website, it’s clear that you are working on, or will be working on, sequels for both novels. Do you have any other stories in mind for the near or distant future?
MM: Atopia and CyberStorm both explore fields that I’m deeply passionate about. My first love, however, was artificial intelligence—it was what I studied in college, and my first job was at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines. My next novel is going to explore the impact of artificial intelligence, the extent to which we’re already surrounded by it, intersecting with a deep-dive into financial systems—all wrapped up, of course, in a world-ending apocalyptic thriller. This is the sequel to CyberStorm.
Beyond that, I’ve got a book planned to explore artificial life, another one planned on animal-human chimeras (wrapped in a Weather Wars battle book that will become another series), and an amazing first contact novel with a unique twist (which, again, is designed as another series). A lot of writing to get done!
MP: How can the SF Signal community help support you and your future projects?
MM: It would be great, if they pick up a copy of CyberStorm or Atopia, to leave a review—this is the best way (apart from buying books, of course!) to help support self-published authors. If they want to follow the action of the movie project as-it-happens, they can “like” my Facebook author page.