Beneath the Surface – Interview & Giveaway!
How many of you can say your friend is a published author? Well, now I can! My high school classmate, Matt Hebert, published Beneath the Surface last year and gave us Tipsies a chance to read/review the book as well as offer a signed copy to giveaway to our readers! Now, let me first start out by saying I am not
a) into YA novels like Michelle and
b) not into dystopian fiction.
I’m the girl who reads non-fiction, historical fiction and Harry Potter/Outlander as my go-tos.
But honestly? This book is SO interesting and I had a hard time putting it down. The amount of detail in this book is crazy and it has that weird feeling that it like, actually could happen (unlike say the Hunger Games. We all know the Hunger Games is my daily struggle to not snack all day). I would liken it to a little Divergent (totally basing this off the one movie I saw) mixed with Animal Farm ( which was one of my fav high school reads!) Beneath the Surface is a YA/dystopian/science fiction-that-could-be-all-to-real novel that follows Sembado, a teenager living in an underwater society after a nuclear fallout. The place initially sounds pretty ideal, but Sembado begins to discover that things aren’t always what they seem and you can’t trust everyone. I don’t want to give too much away, but the book will leave you ready for more – which thankfully, the next book will be released this summer!
Now, onto the interview with the author, Matt!
Tipsies: Can you give our readers a brief synopsis of the book and about yourself?
Matt: Sure. First off, Beneath the Surface is a fun read. That’s what I like most. It’s a lot of action and adventure with some real growth buried underneath. The inner story is about the main character, Sembado, and his experiences as he sheds his vapid, pampered lifestyle (against his will) and is thrust into the middle of a secret war between a faction of truth-seekers and a totalitarian regime.
The story, its characters, its setting, and its plot are an amalgamation of ideas that date back to my childhood. I started writing the book in 2004, but some of the ideas have snow-balled since the 90’s!
T: What inspired you to write a YA/dystopian novel set in the future and with such a unique setting?
M: So this goes back to the accumulation of ideas. First, when I was about 16 years old (2003) I had this idea that I wanted to write what I thought would be a very clever political allegory a la Animal Farm about the world events at the time. What I came up with was a very terrible list of pseudonyms for then President Bush, Vladimir Putin, etc. Even at the time I recognized it as terrible, and I continued to refine it. Those original ideas are what you see in the journal pages early in the book. I updated some of the current event references just before publishing, but I tried very hard as a 27 year old to make sure to preserve what was very genuinely a teenager’s words in an effort to add authenticity to the journal pages. Next, in terms of setting, I owe all of that to Bellevue West High School. The clerestory windows around the top of the common space and cafeteria at the school drove my imagination to see bright tropical waters filled with dolphins and other manner of sea beasts. I soon smashed the political allegory and sub aquatic theme together with the post-apocalyptic concept adding purpose, function, and backstory to an underwater complex.
T: One of my favorite things about this book was all of the detail! How difficult was it for you to build this world and how long did it take you?
M: The details are my favorite part! I often discover the specific colors, smells, or characters’ faces just as I am writing them. It’s almost as if I’m reading it for the first time. Start to finish this project took 10 years, but most of that was occupied by life: six years in college, getting married, buying a house, yada yada yada. Book number two in the Surface Series, Breaking the Surface, will only have taken a year when completed. I owe most of that to momentum and the fact that most of the world and characters have already been established.
T: Another thing I love about this book is that the story line is oddly believable. Did you have to do a lot of research to make more believable, than say the Hunger Games novels?
M: I really like to keep both sides of my brain active, and I’ve always been interested in the boundary of the brain where cognition transitions from fact to fiction. For example, it is very easy for most people to imagine a 5 to 6 foot tall person. That is very concrete. Conversely, it is also easy to imagine a giant, as long as it is some fantastic height, say 50 feet tall. The giants sits on houses, can picks its teeth with a spear, etc. But there’s some gray area between the two that I am very curious about. What about a person who is unbelievably tall, but only just that. Like 8 feet tall. It’s that weird place where the fun happens. I think the Hunger Games is the 50 foot giant. A civil war documentary would be the 6 foot tall person. I wanted my story to be the oddly believable 8 foot tall person.
T: The names of your characters are so interesting and unique. Where did you draw inspiration from for them?
M: Some come from my old video game avatars. Others are completely spontaneous. Most of the time I will just sit there and grind a name out from scratch based on the emotions it evokes and how I want to think or feel about that character. I also like to make new twists on old favorites such as Kreymond instead of Raymond. That one started as a video game avatar. I could not tell you the first time Sembado came to be. It seemed so simple, and a lot of people find it very intuitive. It also lends itself to variations of traditional nicknames like Sem or Semmy in the way that Samuel might. And yes, I’ve already doubled checked that it doesn’t mean something rude or offensive in another language.
T: The next book is out this summer, did you always know you wanted to write a series?
M: No, I didn’t. I have other projects I would love to have started by now, but this beast of a plot arc has taken over my life! By the time I really started pursuing publishing for ‘Beneath the Surface’ it was very apparent that this story could not be a one and done scenario. And not to sound jaded, but I’ve really grown tired of trilogies for trilogy sake. The Hobbit movies? Really? I prefer the goofy 70’s cartoon version. On the other hand, if this story wants to be three or four or eight books then I guess I’ll find out. For now the Surface series is three books with the very real possibility of more. Heck, maybe even a prequel?
T: Who are your favorite authors and what authors inspire/influence you?
M: Believe it or not, but I don’t read that much. I read a lot as a teen. I enjoyed all of Harry Potter books, The LoTR, and the Hobbit (several times). Anymore I find I only have time to create. And in the last year I’ve whittled my creative pursuits down to writing, cooking, and home/yard renovations. My creative outlets are very important in maintaining my sanity and balance.
T: Do you plan on writing additional books or genres, outside of The Surface series?
M: Oh yeah! My most urgent pursuit outside the Surface Series is a biography/tell all of my father’s youthful shenanigans in Northern California. Think Forrest Gump meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’ve also started a murder mystery at a federal dam, as well as a fictional autobiography by a southern woman. There are several others, but those are the most developed concepts.
T: You’ve been writing since we were in high school together, do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
M: I did start ‘Beneath the Surface’ at (Bellevue) West, and shared the very early concept in our Spanish class to a very critical reception! But I’ve actually been writing since I could work our family’s electronic word processor. I can’t remember if I was four or five, but I’ve always enjoyed sharing ideas with others to entertain them. My advice is to practice your taste. I can often tell if something I do sucks before I’m done. But don’t throw it away! Tweak it. Work it. That’s how this silly story came to be a series.
T: What is the best advice that you have been given on following your dreams and staying true to yourself as an artist?
M: Well, for heaven’s sake do your own thing for your own reasons! If you want to join a writing circle or something similar do it for you, and not because you think that’s what a writer is suppose to do. If you were really meant to create you will know it when you receive the unnerving, unnatural inspiration that keeps people up at night and makes them late for work the next day. This might sound ridiculous, but stop worshipping “the greats” and do your own thing!
Matt very graciously offered our readers a chance for a signed, paperback copy of Beneath the Surface! Just enter below for your chance to win.Facebook contests by Rewards Fuel
You can find Matt’s series at some of our fav book retailers:
For more information on Beneath the Surface:
*Thanks again to Matt for his time on this interview and for the books for us Tipsies and one of our awesome readers. We were gifted the book but all opinions are our own!