Meet WotF Winner, Matthew S. Rotundo
Greetings fellow scifi lovers!
Since winning the Writers of the Future contest myself, I’ve made it an annual tradition to interview some or all of each year’s winners on my blog. It’s fun, it’s a nice welcome, and it’s a great way to meet new friends.
As always, I’m kicking off the series this year with a veteran, the wonderfully amiable, Mathew S. Rotundo, who won in 2009. I’ll start off by saying the Matt and eight other former WotF winners has contributed a reprint to our anthology, The Future is Nigh and it’s no exaggeration to say that it would be a bargain at $15 in hardcover, it really is that good. But enough of that.
Stuart: Matt, welcome! Thanks for dropping by.
Matthew: Thanks for having me!
Stuart: No problem. See, this is great, because we’ve hung out at the SWFA table at conventions and worked together on the odd project, but we’ve never really gotten the chance to talk. Tell me, and my many dozens of mostly loyal followers, who you are. Where do you hail from?
Matthew: I’m from Omaha. As in Nebraska.
Stuart: Home of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” Do you know the guy with the animals?
Matthew: Umm…yeah. More, where the corn is. But we have indoor plumbing, so we’re doing OK.
I’ve lived here all my life, actually, except that I was born in Germany. My dad was in the Air Force and was stationed overseas at the time. A month after my birth, he got transferred to Omaha, where he eventually retired. So unlike my older siblings, I never experienced the whole itinerant military lifestyle.
Stuart: Oh. I see. Corn. There is no underground bunker. We have seen no red switches. Just corn. Nothing but corn. I should explain to those who may not know, that during the Cold War, when we were afraid the world might come to an end next Thursday, noon, Omaha was home to the hardened headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. The millions of acres of crops are purely a cover (get it?)
Matthew: LOL, exactly! But you know, Stephen King spent part of his childhood in Nebraska, so really, how bad can it be?
Stuart: Well, um, he’s kinda–have you read his stuff?
Matthew: Yeah, well, I mean, aside from that whole “Children of the Corn” thing.
Stuart: So growing up in corn central, do you have any unusual hobbies?
Matthew: I play guitar. And sing karaoke. A lot.
Karaoke is kind of a sick obsession for me. I go at least once a week. I flatter myself that I’m pretty good. At least, I hope I am, for as much as do it. Otherwise, I’m just inflicting myself on random strangers.
Come to think of it, that’s awfully similar to the way writing works. Hmmm . . .
Stuart: I was gonna say… Okay, so let’s get right to it. You were in issue #25 of the contest anthology in 2009. What effect has the win had on your career?
Matthew: You mean besides the millions of dollars and legions of adoring fans?
Well, it’s possible I might be exaggerating. A little. But I suppose I got a small taste of celebrity out of the deal. I got nice write-ups in my local newspaper and my high school alumni newsletter. And my 25-year reunion came shortly after that article appeared, so the timing was quite fortuitous.
Stuart: Okay. I got none of that. Well, I was in the paper and on the radio, so okay. You may live. Actually, I’ve found it gave me a lot of cred at a time I really needed it. Not so much with markets, but with my family and fellow writers. You?
Matthew: Yeah. “Gone Black,” my winning story, has also proved to be one my most popular. I occasionally get fan mail for it, and I was once contacted by some aspiring Hollywood producer about a possible film option. Though that never panned out, it was kind of fun. I still mention my win in cover letters. I don’t know if it opens any doors for me, but it’s something I’m proud of, and something that editors recognize as a mark of quality. So there’s that.
Stuart: Sure. I had a meeting with the editor of a small press at Worldcon and she literally had to restrain herself from jumping out of her seat when I told her I was a WotF winner. I passed on her offer, though.
Looking back on “Gone Black,” how has your writing—or maybe your approach to writing—changed?
Matthew: Well, I’ve gotten better. Maybe. I hope.
One thing that I learned from “Gone Black” was the importance of a good opening. Earlier drafts of the story were much longer—by about three or four thousand words. But a friend of mine pointed out that the opening pages, no matter how well written, were pretty much dead time. It took me a while to see what he was talking about. When I finally saw it for myself, I realized that I could remove a huge chunk of text and not impact the plot in any meaningful way. Most of that chunk came from the beginning.
Given that the original draft was over the word limit for the contest, I can safely say that if I hadn’t trimmed the opening of “Gone Black,” it never would have won.
Stuart: Good advice. Not just about openings, but about making every part of the story pull its narrative weight. What other advice do you have for this years’ winners?
Matthew: I have three pieces of advice:
1. Be ready to work. I spent a week in Hollywood and never got to the beach. I did manage to squeak in a tour of the Dolby Theatre (although it was the Kodak back then), and that was about it for my sightseeing. They will keep you very busy the rest of the time. You might think that things will slow down toward the end of the week, as the workshop comes to an end. You would be wrong. Those last few days will be the busiest.
2. Be open. You will be challenged to write a story in 24 hours. You will be tasked with interviewing a complete stranger. You will meet a bunch of new people. You might find the thought of doing these things a bit daunting. Embrace them. Your experience will be better for it.
3. Last and most important: Be in the moment. Your whirlwind week will be over before you know it. I already mentioned that you will be quite busy. Things really start to pick up the closer you get to the awards ceremony. You may feel a bit bombarded by all the details. You’ll be stressed about rehearsing your speech and hitting your marks, not to mention wondering about who is going to win the Gold Award. That’s OK. In fact, it’s normal. But amid all that clamor and distraction, make an effort to remember that the ceremony is basically just a big, fancy party, and you and your fellow winners are the guests of honor. Enjoy it. Savor it. As I said, it will all be over too soon.
Stuart: Excellent! Yeah, few of us will every have a couple of thousand people lining up for an autograph again anytime soon. And hang out at the bar. Scifi writers are the bestest, and you learn as much chatting over ginger ale as sitting in class.
Matthew: True. Very true.
Stuart: Matt, you also went to Odyssey, and I’m not even the slightest bit envious. No really. Don’t look at me like that.
Matthew: (casts evil smile)
Stuart: I know Odyssey is more craft, where WotF and Superstars are more business-focused. Any advice for aspiring writers on finding their way through the workshop landscape and getting the most bang for the buck?
Matthew: Workshops are certainly a big investment of time and money. As you’ve noted, different workshops focus on different aspects. Some, like Odyssey, are focused on developing craft. Others, like Taos Toolbox, are for more advanced writers. And still others, like WotF and Superstars, are more about the business aspects of being a professional writer. You need to know the differences between them and pick the one that best suits your needs and current situation.
Odyssey was a great experience for me. I learned a lot and even made my first sale there. But most important, I think, was the friends I made there. That, in my experience, has been the best part of the workshops I’ve attended.
Stuart: Truer words. It’s fabulous to have friends like you to call on and hang with, people I’d never have met, and would likely never have approached. I feel like I’m growing.
Matthew: There you go.
Stuart: So, what are you working on now? What do you want to achieve next?
Matthew: I’m working on Petra Rising, the third book in my Prison World Revolt series. The first two books, Petra and Petra Released, are already available in both print and ebook editions. In case, you know, anyone might be inclined to check them out. Interested parties should check my website for details.
The third book is progressing more slowly than I would like, so I haven’t had occasion to think much beyond it. This one will conclude a story arc, but I believe there are a lot more Petra stories to tell, should anyone be interested. For now, I’m just anxious to see if I can stick the landing.
Stuart: Well all right! I can’t wait to see how it turns out, and again, thanks for participating in The Future is Nigh, and for hanging with us today.
Matthew: Don’t mention it. Thanks for doing this.
There you go, folks. Matthew S. Rotundo a nice, talented guy, or so the owner of the kareoke bar has it. You can learn more and stalk, er, I mean follow Matt on the web at: