Today we're talking with Matt Williams, author of Jak Phoenix.
FQ: Are you a lifelong fan of science fiction? Which authors and books inspired your writing in particular?
I’ve enjoyed science fiction as long as I can remember. The thought of there being more to the universe than the day-to-day operations of our planet has always captivated me. I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek, always craving a large helping of action and adventure with my sci-fi.
Ian Fleming, Douglas Adams and Elmore Leonard are a few of my favorite authors and I would say a healthy dose of each of their influence can be found in my writing. I started writing Jak Phoenix around the same time I was on my second run through of the original James Bond novel series, so much of the action and pacing is heavily influenced by how Ian Fleming would so expertly move the story from calm to breathless. Not an influence you’d expect in regards to a space opera novel, but I think it works. In addition, Shadows of the Empire, a Star Wars novel by Steve Perry, is one of my favorite sci-fi books. Adventurous and fast paced – right up my alley.
FQ: Where did you first get the idea for Jak Phoenix?
Jak Phoenix came about after I decided to buckle down after a night discussing story ideas with one of my best friends. I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was and do more than talk about how we would change this or that in movies we had watched. Above all else, I wanted to write a story that I would love to read. Jak himself was the guy I wanted to see. The imperfect everyman.
FQ: Jak Phoenix is the kind of guy I think many men wish they could be, or at least, be for a day. Do you imagine yourself, at times, living out Jak's life?
I do every day. There would be positives and negatives though. The negative aspect of being Jak Phoenix would be the refusal to conform to regular society, even in the very least. In the galaxy of Azore’s Crown he’s a hero, at least among the people he associates with. In real life, the nearest equivalent would be driving around in a shabby houseboat, picking up garbage to make your living. The downside would be the poverty…the upside would be the freedom. Unfortunately, in real life you have to budge, at least a little. One of the things Jak struggles with is what to do with his life. That is something I can say I have definitely thought about more than once.
FQ: What was the most enjoyable part of writing this story? What was the hard part?
The most enjoyable part of the story was the character creation and dialog. Above all else, I wanted this to be dead on. It also became very enjoyable trying to ensure the right amount of humor was being injected at the right time without watering down the action scenes. I wanted to make sure it was funny when it needed to be, but when there was danger, it was serious business.
The hardest part was overcoming my fear of showing what I had created to others. I’ll always remember the nervousness I experienced while waiting for my fiancée to read an early version of my first chapter. Scary, but rewarding.
FQ: Is there one character with whom you identify in particular?
There is a bit of Jak in me with a mix of Baxter in there too. I gave Baxter my technology skills while Jak, for better or worse, inherited my procrastination and slacker skills. Jak’s need to make light of serious situations is something that hits home with me. Life is too short to be troubled too often.
FQ: Which one of the various villains did you most enjoy creating/writing about?
Villain-wise, I enjoyed writing about Murdock the most. Everyone has met that one person who just seems to always be one step ahead. He is smug, pretentious ad arrogant, making it easy for anyone despising those traits to find a common enemy with Jak.
FQ: Jak Phoenix is light and fun. Were you deliberately trying to avoid morals, messages, and metaphors, which are common in a lot of science fiction?
That was the goal from day one. As I started out, more humor than I expected began to creep in, but the goal had always been to take the adventurous part of a story like Star Wars and elaborate on that. In recent years my interest in sci-fi has waned due to the doom and gloom in modern stories that always need to be “dark,” and “gritty.” There is enough of that in everyday life. Other writers are doing an amazing job at this, but I’ve come to the point now where I need something more upbeat. Jak Phoenix is pure escapism and I’m proud to admit it. It’s a pulp space opera tale anyone can pick up and enjoy, even if they haven’t gone beyond Star Wars and Star Trek in their science fiction repertoire. If there is any type of message in Jak Phoenix, it is to be yourself, take things in stride and realize there is more to life than jobs.
FQ: Do you have more adventures planned for Jak?
Absolutely. I am several chapters into Jak Phoenix 2 as we speak. Book two will explore some of the repercussions for the events in the first novel while flipping things around, testing Jak’s friendships and outlook on life. Of course there will be plenty of explosions, gun battles and chases as well.