This summer, Pride slides straight (pun intended?) into July! Rejoice! The Asylum is proud to
let the demons out, uh, that is, to bring you another round of exciting spotlights of some of the most exciting voices in the booksphere, authors, bloggers, both, and everything else.
Today we welcome Matt Doyle to the blog, who join us to share about out-of-the-box, mixed media writing formats. If you love peeking behind the curtain of a writer’s mind as much as we do, then get comfortable and read the fascinating details about Ailuros, Matt’s upcoming book and an exciting experiment on the multitudes of storytelling.
Matt Doyle is a speculative fiction author from the UK and identifies as pansexual and genderfluid. Matt has spent a great deal of time chasing dreams, a habit which has led to success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction. These days, Matt can be found working on multiple novels and stories, blogging about pop culture, and plotting and planning far too many projects.
Ailuros: Writing in an Experimental Format by Matt Doyle
Hey everyone! By way of an introduction, my name is Matt Doyle, and I’m a queer creator from the UK. I’m pansexual and genderfluid (any pronouns are fine), and I tend to work on a lot of projects at once. I love building cosplay, and recently rekindled my teenage love for building video games. Most prominently though, I write. A lot of my work at the moment is on Matt Doyle Media Dot Com, my pop culture site that takes a positive look at various forms of media including anime, books, comics, and games. I’m also an award-winning author, which is what I’m going to talk a little about today.
Broadly speaking, my work can be described as hybrid genre fiction with a sci-fi grounding and diverse protagonists. I tend to write characters that just happen to be LGBTQ rather than focussing on things like coming out, largely because that was what I wanted but couldn’t find growing up. I wanted to see stories where queer people were out and could still be the heroes (or villains). I wanted to see what was beyond the light at the end of the internal-confusion-tunnel.
Most of my stories have a sci-fi setting, which I blame on growing up with the likes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Farscape, and Ghost in the Shell. It doesn’t tend to be hard sci-fi, more of a sci-fi edge to tales that otherwise fit other genres. I actually get told that I write sci-fi for people that don’t like sci-fi quite a bit, which does make me smile. If I’m someone’s gateway into all the other cool stuff out there, I’m all for that. On top of a bunch of anthology appearances, my most popular work is The Cassie Tam Files. That’s a five-book series published by NineStar Press that blends crime noir and science fiction with a lesbian protagonist. One reviewer described it as like watching The Maltese Falcon and Bladerunner at the same time. Books two and three placed second and third respectively in their category at last year’s Rainbow Awards too, so I was super happy to be included among the winners there.
In September, I have something a little different coming out, which brings me to my main topic today: writing in an experimental format.
Why Get Experimental?
Ailuros was signed by Fractured Mirror Publishing and is tentatively scheduled for release in September. It will be appearing in eBook, paperback, and hardback format. It’s a hard book to describe in some ways. You see, I’m a big fan of books that try something a little different, like House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski and The Raw Shark Texts by Steve Hall.
We often think of books as gateways into the imagination, but still kinda view them as this static form of content. There are rules to how we’re supposed to write and though many authors will tell you they’re guidelines rather than hard and fast things, generally, people think of books and get a clear image as to how the story will look on the page. You’ll have standard sized paragraphs. You’ll avoid long sentences like that one I threw out a moment ago. The story will flow in a logical manner where, even if the timeline jumps, your eyes don’t. You read the words in order, and that’s that.
But what if it isn’t?
Books are visual. The words are right there for you to look at. They’re also auditory. You hear the words in your head in a particular way, or you listen to an audio book and hear them interpreted another way. When you look at visual and auditory art, there’s a lot of variances. Masamune Shirow is hugely different to Sandro Botticelli, though both are highly detailed and have a flare of their own. Iron Maiden and BTS sound completely different but both acts excel at what they do and mix things up when they need to. So, if other forms of art that have some crossover with how we process books can mix things up, why can’t books do the same?
Or that was my thinking with Ailuros, anyway.
I honestly believe that there is no one set way to tell stories. This particular story was one that I felt needed to be told in a less linear fashion. So, I set out to tell the story in the way that made sense to me.
How Is Ailuros Experimental?
Ailuros is a book that will be a vastly different story, depending on how you choose to read it. Two thirds of the book is written as a mix of prose and audio transcripts. These pieces tell the story of a group of salvagers working in a far future setting. Here, Ailuros is a holiday resort described as a microgravity Ibiza. Two of the salvagers, an AMAB genderfluid person named Alex, and their partner Josh, discover a part of the resort that had been jettisoned into space some years prior due to an unknown biological incident. Together with a makeshift crew from their salvager’s guild, they enter the abandoned unit and soon find that the biological incident involved a hostile alien lifeform. It’s basically a queer homage to one of my favourite films: Alien.
The other third of the book is written as notes on the core text. These notes reveal the main story to be the result of a simulation. In this world, set in the present day, a Governmental scheme known as the Ailuros Project has been launched. This aims to reduce crime by vaccinating people against specific negative emotions that are believed to increase the risk of criminal behaviour. These vaccines suppress things like jealousy and anger, and that’s all then let out in a VR sim at the end of each month. The simulation utilises some highly advanced – but actually real, though to a less advanced level – tech to populate the sim using your subconscious. The Government then analyses the events that play out to test if you’re likely to commit a crime in the near future. Here, Alex is part of the programme and, having found Josh may be cheating on them, they gave Josh their next vaccine dose and placed him in their sim. The notes are Alex attempting a loosely Freudian analysis of the story as a means to find out if Josh did cheat, and whether their relationship can be salvaged.
The interesting thing is the notes change the tone of the main story. If you just read the far future tale, the characters have clearly defined roles in terms of who is generally a protagonist or antagonist. When you read the notes though, it flips some of those, and the characters doing bad things suddenly represent things that mean them succeeding would be a better result for Alex and Josh.
So, you see, the story is non-linear. It also has a touch of metafiction to it because it acknowledges the fictional nature of the space story. But that isn’t the only way that it’s experimental. I’m going to focus on the physical editions of the book here, because they will look very different to the eBook. There are restrictions with the electronic format if you want to allow for accessibility options like text size changes. There’s also the fact that people read eBooks on lots of different devices, so doing what we’re doing with the paperback and hardback editions simply won’t work in that format. It will still work overall, because pop-up end notes are easy substitutes for the visual elements, but it’ll be a different feel.
The physical copies of the book are set out so that the far future story only appears on the right-hand pages. The notes appear on the left-hand ones, set to line up with the sections that they’re referencing. It gives the book a unique visual style that both stands out and also makes it easy to choose how you want to read. If you want to ignore the notes, you absolutely can by simply never looking at the one side of the book. Meanwhile, if you want the full experience, it’s easy to scan back and forth between the pages to pick up on what’s happening in the background.
It’s also worth noting that there are hidden paragraphs. Seven of them, in fact. These pieces of text are coded in the main body of the work, and if you find them, they alter the ending of both stories. Those hidden sections are important too. The book deals with the subconscious, and we do hide things in there. Things that we’re maybe afraid to say, or that we don’t even realise ourselves. With the nature of the story it made sense to expand that idea into the way the story is actually told.
So, there’s a lot going on. Ailuros should be a pretty unique read for people. It was also a very unique story for me in terms of how I had to write it.
Important Points And Challenges
As I’m sure you can appreciate, writing Ailuros was a challenge. I’ve never worked with this type of storytelling before, and it took a long, long time to get it up to scratch. There were some things that I viewed as especially important to include too and making sure I hit those points was my guiding focus as I wrote.
First, I wanted to allow some freedom of how to read the story. Even before the book was signed and we started working on the layout – all credit for which goes to the team at Fractured Mirror Publishing, by the way – I wanted this story to be something that you could read how you wanted. The far future arc had to be a complete tale that made sense and had a satisfying ending so that you enjoy it without reading the notes or looking for hidden text. The notes had to be sufficiently different enough to the main text to make them worth reading, and they too had to be their own complete tale, albeit one that relied on the other story existing. Finally, the hidden sections had to actually affect the other stories, making them worth finding if you are so inclined. We all enjoy different types of stories and we all read in different ways. This was my attempt at making this weird book accessible for as many people as possible.
Second, I wanted to allow for influences and subversions. I have no issue wearing my influences on my sleeve with this one. It’s an unfamiliar style of book, and I thought that having some familiar trappings taken from things like Alien would make it more comfortable for readers. At the same time though, I wanted it to have fun switching things up. So, there are tropes in this story that are the opposite of what we commonly see in mainstream media. It was a tough thing to balance, but I enjoyed doing it.
Finally, I wanted to keep it simple. Yes, I’m completely serious there. Despite the complicated way of presenting the piece, at its core, I wanted the stories to be very easy to follow. The themes had to be simple. The way things progress had to be straight-forward. This is a strange book, but that didn’t mean it had to be overdone.
Now, keeping those in mind was certainly part of the challenge in writing the book, but by far the hardest part was simply writing it. I had to write two stories at the same time, keeping in mind that they were really one story. Throw in weaving the hidden parts in at the same time, and I had a recipe for disaster. Being a natural plantser made it even harder. After all, I do plan, but I tend to let things wander as well.
The key for me was actually planning the far future story in detail, while keeping notes for the notes quite sparse. This meant I knew what had to happen in terms of the main story beats and had a guide to remind me what each character represents. I could then use that as a means to work my head around how each character should react to the obstacles that come their way. Keeping the interpretation intentionally loose helped too. I studied Freud at high school, but I’m no expert in his theories. I am more versed in his work than the character of Alex is though, so that gave me the opportunity to make sure Alex didn’t get everything right. After all, why would someone with no known background in psychology have anything but a base understanding of things like the Id, Ego, and Superego, right?
So, I went ahead and wrote the far future scenes first in each chapter. Then I wrote the notes. When it came to editing the book, I worked in the same order. Fix the main text, then fix the notes in terms of both quality and how the changes to the prose/transcripts affected them.
This book took longer to write than any other that I’ve worked on. It also went through the most personal edits. I think it was worth it though. I feel lucky that it was signed by Fractured Mirror Publishing too, because the team there really gets what I was going for and have been working super hard to make Ailuros the best book it can be.
Thanks for reading everyone! I hope this post gives you an idea of why I wrote this story, and maybe gets you interested in seeing how it turned out. It’s something that I’m really proud of and I truly want it to find its audience. If you want to keep up with me and my work you can catch me on Twitter (@mattdoylemedia), and my website (https://mattdoylemedia.com). If you want to see more about Ailuros specifically, you can visit the mini site for the book (https://mattdoylemedia.com/ailuros). The mini-site is ‘in-universe’, so you can read up about the Ailuros Project and follow along with a prequel story for the present-day notes in the form of weekly blog posts.
Cheers again everyone, and hopefully, I’ll catch some of you out there hanging around my various outlets.
If you’d like to get in contact with Matt, you can find them on social media:
Check out Matt’s latest series, The Cassie Tam Files!
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