Editorially Speaking

Food, Magic, and Mystery: Author Matt Wallace Dishes About His New Novella Series

We’re all looking forward so much to launching our new line of books this fall. We have some absolutely fantastic books to share with you. In October, for instance, we bring you Envy of Angels—the first in a new series by Matt Wallace. We locked him in a dark room and shouted some questions at him through the keyhole—that dude is dangerous when cornered!

 

Matt—tell us a little bit about your series. What’s it all about?

Food, magic, mystery, romance, diplomacy, the nature of good and evil, and a reasonable amount of knife and tomahawk fighting. It’s about ordinary people seeking and finding and thriving on wonders beyond the world we know, and the extraordinary not-quite-people who dwell there. It’s about the world of professional chefs colliding with the world of professional wizards. It’s about the fantasy archetypes and races you think you know twisted in ways that will make you laugh and make you cringe.

That’s the embellished marketing answer, of course. Although that doesn’t mean it’s not all true. But the more specific answer: the series is about Sin du Jour, a private catering company in New York with one client. That client happens to be a branch of the United States government that deals with the secret world of the supernatural co-existing with our own. Demons, ghouls, goblins, and things that defy easy classification. And that world has parties and weddings and birthdays and diplomatic functions just like ours does. Someone has to do the cooking. Which is exactly what occurred to me when I first started thinking on the idea. In every fantasy story I’ve ever read there’s food, and you never hear about the folks who prepared it.

What I saw in my head was your typical Manhattan catering and events outfit, only it’s a place where chefs work alongside alchemists and magic-users to create these amazing otherworldly dishes, where being a server or a bus boy is a mortal occupation undertaken by extreme sport adrenaline junkies and the terminally ill, where rather than hitting the local farmers’ market every morning for produce, the steward leads a team of elite covert operatives who risk life and limb battling magic and monsters to obtain the rarest supernatural ingredients.

Lena Tarr and Darren Vargas are best friends and two young New York City line cook in need of jobs who kind of wander into all of this unknowingly and become deeply embroiled in it. We enter the story and the world through them and then it opens up on the other folks working at Sin du Jour, all of whom have their own roles to play, challenges to face, and obstacles to overcome. There’s a lot more to their job and these little events than any of them realizes, and they’ll have to face that as the series goes on.

 

The first one—Envy of Angels—introduces the characters. Do you have a favorite?

That’s a tough question, said every author ever. But seriously, this series is composed of a huge ensemble cast of extremely diverse characters. It’s actually the largest cast of characters I’ve ever written in a single work. And I chose to attempt that in novella form, which gives me less than half the span of a novel to cover everybody per story. Because I’m not smart. But that’s also why it had to be a series. Well, that and it’s just a fun-as-hell world I wanted to keep visiting.

Lena and Darren are both very personal characters for me. Half of my family is Mexican and Mexican-American, and Darren draws from a lot of them. Byron “Bronko” Luck, the splashy ex-celebrity chef who now runs Sin du Jour, started out as just a function of the story, but he’s quickly become one of my favorites and there’s a lot of me in him. But I’ve always had a particular predilection for stories about elite units, whether they’re military or grifters or thieves. As a kid The A-Team were my heroes. You know, every member has their special skill set and function within the unit. Sin du Jour’s Stocking and Receiving Department is my first real creation in that vein. They’re the ones Bronko sends out to get the special ingredients, and it’s always a mission that turns into an adventure that turns in a series of disastrous misfortunes.

Ritter is their leader and company steward. I wanted to start with that archetypical dark and mysterious handsome guy thing and then add more interesting layers to it. Like, he seems to have an endless supply of helpful magical items at his disposal, but he isn’t a magic-user himself. What’s that about? His second-in-command is Cindy, a former Naval Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician. She’s definitely an ass-kicker, but she’s got my kind of sense of humor. Hara is what you’d call their all-purpose muscle. He’s this mountainous dude who rarely ever speaks. But when he does speak it’s to point out the difference between Ancient North Arabic and Classical Arabic languages. So you get the sense there’s a lot more going on there. Finally there’s Moon, who’s just a stoner with the uncanny ability to metabolize pretty much anything he eats. He’s also naturally resistant to most magical food-related curses. It makes him invaluable as a taste-tester/guinea pig, but that also means they have to put up with his personality.

The “team,” as they’ve already come to be known by me and my editor, are definitely the most fun to write, and coming up with their missions and how they execute them and everything that inevitably goes wrong is one of my biggest delights in doing the series.

 

You’re a hybrid author. Indeed, your most recent novella series was self-published. Why did you decide to go with a traditional publisher for this one?

You folks paid me. And this is where you’d insert one of those bracketed “laughs” like in a transcribed audio interview. But no, seriously, I’d feel dishonest not at least acknowledging I’m being asked this question by an arm of my publisher. The absolute truth, however, is the decision was not at all based on business or money. I was quite content putting my own stuff out. In fact, I’d become very disillusioned with publishing altogether several years ago and stepped away from the whole thing. I still loved reading and writing fiction, but I had no interest in publishing. I came out to LA and I’ve been writing for film and television since 2010. I only started releasing fiction again when I poked my head up and saw that the technology and the landscape and really the whole business had changed, and seemed to be evolving much more rapidly than I could’ve guessed. There are just so many more options now, and the audience is starting to really get hip to them.

As far as signing with Tor.com, as soon as I heard about the novella project I was intrigued. I spent 2014 writing and digitally releasing a five-part novella series, SLINGERS. The SFF novella, especially in series form, is a format I love and one in which I’ve long seen potential, especially when it comes to the digital market. But I didn’t think mainstream publishers would go near it, especially original novellas. Novellas tend to be viewed by mainstream authors and publishers as ancillary content to novels. Which is incredibly shortsighted and limiting, in my opinion. And then I talked to senior editor Lee Harris about Tor.com’s plans for the line and it was all pretty much exactly what I would’ve created given the opportunity. I’m really surprised and impressed. The type of content and authors they’re signing, the way they’re treating them as proper standalone books, and the way they’ll be releasing the novellas is exactly what the format needs. It’s innovative and forward-thinking in a way that really cleansed my traditional publishing palate and made excited about the process again.

I’m not going to get all grandiose and call this “the future of publishing” or whatever, but I genuinely believe what Tor.com is doing is part of the future of publishing, and there’s no way I wasn’t going to get in on that kind of action. And I’m not regretting the decision. I’ve genuinely been having a blast working on this series with the novella team, and I’m excited as hell to see where it goes.

 

There are a lot of food and cooking terms in Envy. Lots of research, or are you a secret foodie?

Oh, I am a living-out-loud foodie. Food is one of my lady’s and my passions. I also love cooking. I hold with Robert Rodriguez’s maxim, “Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to fuck.” I came up in New York City, and I had the chance to hang out around a lot of high-end kitchens and a lot of very talented chefs and pick up a few things. Los Angeles, where I live now, is also obviously a phantasmagorically amazing food city. The world of food and chefs and professional kitchens is also incredibly dramatic and interesting to me. I’m a huge fan of Poppy Z. Brite’s Liquor series of novels. I’ve always wanted to write something about food, or at least heavily food-centric. Unfortunately my story ideas tend towards wilder SFF and have never really lent to that subject. When I came up with the idea for Sin du Jour it was just perfect. It allowed me to bring the food world into mine and do it my way. But despite the magic and monsters this series is still very much for people who love food. Sin du Jour isn’t just for fans of urban fantasy, it’s for folks who dig Top Chef and Iron Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Because I’m one of those people, too. The thing I like most about these books and this world and these characters is they bring together so many different elements I love. And I really hope reading audiences of many different stripes are able to relate to and enjoy it in their own ways.

 

Envy of Angels, the first book in Matt’s Sin du Jour series, will be published in ebook, print-on-demand, and audio formats on October 20th, followed by Lustlocked in early 2016. Find Matt online at his website or on Twitter @MattFnWallace.

 

“This fucking guy. What the unholy fuck is this story? What heinous fuckery did I just read? The one thing I wished after reading this was that I was actually Matt Fucking Wallace and therefore the one who actually wrote this story, but I’m not, so fuck him. If you can, do me a favor — just scratch his name off this and put my name on. Because it’s funny and fucked up in all the best ways and the fact I didn’t write it chafes my undercarriage.”
–Chuck Wendig, author of Blackbirds and Zer0es

“Envy of Angels is one of the most original urban fantasies I’ve read in a damn long time. Angels, demons and the New York restaurant scene. It doesn’t get any weirder than this. Matt Wallace is an author to watch.”
–Stephen Blackmoore, author of Dead Things and Broken Souls

“Envy of Angels is exactly the breath of fresh air I didn’t know I needed: darkly funny, sweepingly inventive, and just plain fun to read. Every time I thought I got the hang of this book, the next turn took me someplace even more breathtakingly weird and wonderful. Buy it. DO IT NOW. It’s the only way we can force him to write a dozen more of these!”
–Andrea Phillips, author of Revision

“No one makes me think, ‘Dammit, I should have thought of that!’ like Matt Wallace. The Sin du Jour series is something I read with equal amounts of envy and delight.”
–Mur Lafferty, Campbell Award winning author of The Shambling Guide to New York City

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