Interview: Matt Zwartz talks about Small Mouth Demon
Matt Zwartz talks to NZ Booklovers about Small Mouth Demon.
Tell us a little about your novel.
Small Mouth Demon is, at its heart, a redemption story. The main character is a dissolute advertising creative who once enjoyed success, but when the reader finds him, he has lost essentially everything. Offered a financial and career lifeline creating a brand for a highly ambitious crypto start-up, he is introduced to a world of rich characters and crazy plot twists. Then, being crime, people around him start dying for no apparent reason (spoiler alert - there’s a reason).
What inspired you to write this book?
My own time working as a creative director in a crypto start-up provided the catalyst for this novel. I would have coffee with a colleague every day, and every day we would say to each other, “You could not make this shit up.” So while the book is clearly fictionalised, I drew heavily from that experience. Also, I’d been wanting to write the best debut novel I’m capable of since graduating from Whitireia’s post-grad writing programme in 2017. Small Mouth Demon is that novel.
What research was involved?
The research for this novel was extensive. As a former journalist, I cannot be satisfied with simply imagining procedures of which I know nothing. I extensively interviewed contacts in the New Zealand Police and was given a tour of Auckland Central Police Station (including the cells, which I had fortuitously not seen before). I had previously toured the Auckland Hospital Mortuary for a Metro feature on forensic pathologist Dr Joanna Glengarry, and the pathology and autopsy scenes were kindly sense-checked by her for accuracy in all aspects. The crypto theme also required meticulous research, including hours of interviews and Internet scrolling. Much of the rest is based on years of lived experience.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I started from a rough synopsis and developed from there. Some things changed, others stayed the same. I had to fit the book around commercial projects where possible, as the imperative to pay rent and eat does not disappear simply because one has foolishly settled on the ambition of becoming a successful novelist. Sometimes I would have whole days in my calendar, other times I could only find a few hours, but like any work, it’s just a case of grinding on. I tried to work at least a little every day. I wrote an initial 120,000 words, which was then edited over many drafts into just under 105,000. It’s still a lot of words all in a row, and a lot of conclusions to tie into tidy little bows.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
A good question. I cannot write without music, unless its poetry (which requires silence), and I find the whole art form of writing to be a very “musical” process. Apparently I have a form of synesthesia where I “see” words as music. Tone, cadence, syncopation, rhythm, harmony - these are all there in writing, particularly in the dialogue, and hopefully the reader can hear them, too. The music I was listening to when writing included a lot of 80s New Wave and classic rock. Tragic Generation X, really. If I were making the film and choosing the soundtrack, Depeche Mode, Blancmange, and Steely Dan would all make an appearance.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Golly. Hard question. Keanu Reeves might make a good Hawk, he has enough of the wastrel about him. Amy Adams or Jennifer Lawrence would make a great Mackenzie. Jon Goodman has the right size, shape, and bluster for Tad Rigby. I’d hope any eventual script would retain as much dialogue as possible from the book, which might be fun for the actors. There’s a scene where Hawk and Makenzie are talking about the great cities of the world, and Hawk tells her he’s never been to Rome, and she says to him, incredulous, “But you’ve been to Moscow?” He replies, “Let’s just say, most of my life has been occupied by the wrong priorities.” One agent’s rejection suggested it might make a better script (they were wrong).
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Finishing it? No - as a New Zealand writer, it was very important to me to write a uniquely New Zealand story, against a New Zealand setting. Crypto as a theme internationalises the work anyway, but I wanted to write about our way with the world, our landscapes, our cities, our people. My favourite part of the writing is always the humour. The dark black humour, as much as the action, is what tells the truth of the themes - the follies of greed and materialism, the perils of ego, the value of love.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I indulged myself in a post on Facebook telling my friends it was done. I cooked for Rebecca (the designer who so generously worked with me on the layout, cover, and formatting) and our partners. But I feel in many ways the real work is really only just beginning - promoting the book, and getting it into the hands of readers. I’m interested in finding ways to disrupt the marketing and distribution models to help make that happen. (Distributors looking for a finished book - call me!)
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I have been rereading Peter Temple lately. He’s one of handful of crime writers I really adore. I’ve read both “Truth” and “The Broken Shore” this year, and still marvel at his mastery over the form.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
It’s a juggle of commercial projects, promoting Small Mouth Demon, and mapping out the next novel. There is research to do for an epic trilogy of good versus evil, or I might work on a severe edit and polish of the crime manuscript I wrote at Whitireia. I also have most of a romance novel I could finish (don’t hold your breath).