KJ Scrim: You newest book, Raven’s Quest was just released in December 2017. How does it feel to see a project come to fruition?
Matt Bille: This always feels great to a writer because it means you can start the next project or turn full attention to one you’ve left in limbo. I and my wife/coauthor Deb tried to bring back C.S. Lewis-style fantasy adventure with an underlying Christian/family theme, and I think we nailed it. Readers will let us know.
KJ Scrim: You write both fiction as well as non-fiction. In your creative process, how are they different? Similar?
Matt Bille: That’s an interesting question because I write science and history, both of which require that you research from the origins of idea on through the latest developments or, in the case of space history, the most recent declassifications of documents that may have lain in government vaults for decades. With nonfiction, I’ll craft each chapter as a go along, with all documented information included or reference. With fiction, I do some research at the start to know what’s possible, but then what matters is getting a whole, coherent story down. If I need to know what brand of snowmobile is most popular around Lake Iliamna, I don’t need that right now, I can use a generic name and fill it in later.
Characters are different because you have to invent them instead of borrowing them from history, but there’s still an overlap. The antagonist in Apex borrows a lot from wealthy adventurer Steve Fossett, only with no ethics.
KJ Scrim: You have been a former Air Force Titan II ICBM commander, an extra in the film 1941, along with many other endeavors. How have these influenced your writing? (feel free to use any other examples).
Matt Bille: Everything in life helps you write. My most acclaimed nonfiction, The First Space Race, wouldn’t have been possible without the time in the Air Force. I’ve always been a space geek, but Titan training included learning, in painstaking detail, all the components of a rocket and its support infrastructure. When it was time to write the history of the first satellites, I could look at a diagram of an old rocket and explain its features to non-engineers like myself. A film or TV extra doesn’t learn much about the production process, but it does teach you to think of the whole scene, the way the director must, and not just the actors in the foreground.
KJ Scrim: Do you have any "self-help for writers" books that you use regularly? How do they help? Please share your list of your top 2 or 3.
Matt Bille: For novelists, find an old one called How to Write Best-Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz. The industry has changed, but the principles haven’t. Maas’ The Fire in Fiction is the best of his many books, or so it seems to me. If you are not by nature a strict grammarian, you need Elements of Style. You can break grammatical rules in fiction, but you must know what they are. King’s On Writing is valuable for King’s discussions of how to focus on the basics of your story and minimize the “fluff.”
Matt Bille has been writing since he was 16 when he sold a little humor piece to his local newspaper, then went on to publish his first book, Rumors of Exsitence, in 1996. Matt has been with PPW since the 90’s and has only missed two conferences since he became a member. He had his great moment in nonfiction, when he offered Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson a copy of The First Space Race at a symposium and Tyson replied, “I have that.”