Saturday, March 23, 2024

Six Questions for… Matthew Castleman

Matthew Castleman is a New York-raised, Washington DC-based stage actor, writer, and theater educator with a strong penchant for Shakespeare and swords. He’s penned the Clone Chronicles middle-grade series under the name M. E. Castle and short fiction under his own name for Daily Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, Fireside Quarterly, Old Moon Quarterly, and of course, Stupefying Stories. He’s performed Shakespeare up and down the Eastern Seaboard and teaches acting and storytelling to many ages. He blogs about science fiction, theater, and whatever else comes to mind at

We caught up with Matthew recently and got the chance to throw a few questions at him.


SS: If you could change one thing about the way you write, what would it be?

MC: I assume answering with the word “better” is cheating, so… I would improve my ability to focus on a single project at a time. The imagination that gives me strange ideas and weird story threads doesn’t really have a valve. It keeps feeding me little ingots of the bizarre and I find myself being led off into the woods while what could be a perfectly good story sits neglected on the desk. I’d easily trade 20% of my raw word output for the ability to focus it 20% more.

SS: Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kinds of music or which artists?

MC: My go-to writing music is doom metal; bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard are in frequent rotation. Heavy, hypnotic, slow, repetitive, ominous. It’s loud enough to shut out the world but not fast or intricate enough to be distracting. The natural head-nodding pulse helps keep the words flowing, and the fuzzy minor and diminished melodies jive well with the kind of stuff I tend to write about. Recently I’ve been experimenting more with writing to rain sounds, when I really need to buckle down. Nothing beats an actual heavy rain outside, though.

SS: What feels like your best natural length for a story?

MC: I seem to be a short story specialist born a hundred years too late. I’m more a scene writer than a plot writer, so the more scenes need to be strung together the more strain I feel trying to build a bridge solid enough to properly support them. I’ve improved with practice, but I still feel it grating against my natural inclinations.

SS: Your book, Privateers of Mars: is there anything special you’re hoping readers will notice or appreciate in it?

MC: More than anything, I’m an ensemble writer. There may be a nominal or seeming main character in my writing, but all of my work of any significant length is about a group or a community first, and it is always their bond and ability to combine their skills that leads to success. I’m a tiny stick figure exerting a little pull on the massive lever of the contemporary and especially American illusion that any one person can do much of anything important all by themselves. Remarkable and interesting individuals are great; I obviously love characters with very distinct personalities and characteristics, but what makes remarkable individuals remarkable is how they use their remarkableness with other people to build bigger and better things.

SS: If you could snap your fingers and make one cliché, trope, or plot gimmick vanish, which one would it be?

MC: Building on the above: “I, Protagonist, am the Only Smart Person Alive. I drift through shuffling herds of numbed drones, alone in my understanding of how the world really works, pitying them through my cool guy cigarette smoke.” Note: I’m not against having a character who thinks like this, because we all think like this sometimes and maybe a lot of the time. It’s having the story at large vindicate this kind of thinking that’s the problem. It’s the difference between writing a character as the main character of the story and writing them as the actual main character of the world.

SS: Did you always know that you wanted to write genre fiction, or did you start out intending to write something else?

MC: I always knew I wanted to write genre fiction, though I should point out that ‘literary fiction’ is the ‘I don’t have an accent’ of genres. I don’t think that contemporary naturalism deserves the honor of not being a genre just because it’s the least exciting genre. Genre fiction is perfectly capable of both helping us examine the concrete and philosophical problems of our everyday lives, and being a needed escape vehicle to get us away from them for a while. Very good genre fiction usually does both at the same time. One of the points I always come back to when I teach theater classes is that stories frequently do more than one thing at once and rarely are the various effects a story can have on the mind mutually exclusive. I think that’s a lot of what makes them so engaging in the first place. If you want to write two different kinds of story, there’s a good chance you can do it with one story. Try it out, see what happens. And you can take that little phrase of advice and apply it to most things.

SS: Thank you for your time, Matthew. And now, if people want to see how you handle writing ensembles, here’s where we throw in the plug for PRIVATEERS OF MARS.



Meet Jacob Rhys: scoundrel, brawler, gambler, drunk, and licensed privateer working for the Free Mars State—until the authorities on Ceres seized his ship…

When shipyard engineer Valerie Morton found him a week later, face-down in a bar, she showed him the official report on what was discovered in his ship’s cargo hold. As Rhys read the report he began tapping nervously on the grip of his sidearm. Then he suddenly stopped tapping and looked up at her.
“I’m getting my command crew back together,” he said. “We are, handily, short an engineer. Do you have strong aversions to petty or grand larceny, extortion, card cheating, recreational and spiritual drug use, sexual practices that may involve recreational and spiritual drug use, and ubiquitous, often unnecessary violence?”

After a slight hesitation, Morton shook her head.

Rhys smiled. “Good. Welcome to my crew.”
What happens next? Join Rhys and rest of his slippery crew and begin the dark and dirty adventure of tomorrow today! If you liked COWBOY BEBOP, you'll love PRIVATEERS OF MARS!