Matthew M. Bartlett on Rangel, Independent Publishing, and the Horror/Weird Renaissance

Matthew M. Bartlett’s debut short story collection, Gateways to Abomination, was a critical success, drawing praise from some of the top names in the underground horror and weird literature field. In addition to selling numerous short stories in books like High Strange Horror, Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, and Xnoybis, he’s also self-published the bizarre, creepy, and charming meta-work Anne Gare’s Rare Book and Ephemera Catalog, as well as The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, which chronicles his ever-expanding witch-cult mythos.

Next up is Rangel published by Dim Shores. Mr. Bartlett was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project and his upcoming work.

What is Rangel? Does it connect to the mythos you’ve built up in your previous work?

Rangel is the story of a Leeds native, Gaspar Bantam, whose sister Rangel goes missing around his tenth Halloween. When the story starts, he lives in LA, but feels something drawing him back, 30 years after her disappearance. It does connect pretty directly to the Leeds mythos.

How did you come to the idea for the book?

I saw a call for an Autumn-themed anthology, and I’d had in my head this idea of what a Leeds Halloween parade would look like. Ages ago on Livejournal, I’d written a paean to autumn in New England. So I had the ending, and I had the beginning. I originally started with a group of teenagers making a pilgrimage to Leeds just to see the notorious parade.

I did submit the story to the anthology’s publisher, but then I took another look at it and found it wanting. I reworked and rewrote until it became a better story. Ultimately I had to withdraw it from consideration, which I felt bad about, but by the time I was done with it, it had changed significantly from what I’d originally sent in.

What challenges did you face in completing this work?

I felt the story needed a jolt of horror in its middle. Rangel BodyNothing was coming to me, until one day I was in the restroom of Thorne’s, a kind of oddball city mall in downtown Northampton. A man came out of a stall and started going on and on about people taking pictures in restrooms. He followed me out of the restroom, through the mall, and down the street, doing this running monologue, until finally something diverted his attention. Not long after, I came up with the scene the story needed.

What has working with Dim Shores been like?

Wonderful. Sam Cowan is very committed to putting out a good product. He communicates every step of the way, with suggestions, edits, and updates. His enthusiasm is infectious. Dim Shores is a press to keep an eye on.

Your work has earned a lot of attention in the new wave of weird literature. What authors working in the field today inspire you, or should people keep an eye on?

As far as contemporary writers who inspire me, I’m hesitant to leap into a list, for fear of leaving anyone out. Let’s just say that the term Weird Renaissance, which I believe was coined by Scott Nicolay, is on point: there are a lot of writers of the Weird working now, each with a unique vision and a voice. It’s a great time. As far as new writers to keep an eye on, I suggest seeking out work by Tom Breen, who is just starting to have stories published in anthologies, including Broken Worlds from a press called A Murder of Storytellers. I’ve known him for a long time, and the work he’s shown me has just blown me away. It deserves a wider audience.

Your work has a very particular, lyrical style—it’s at once compelling and disturbing. How did you settle on this approach?

It just comes out of me that way. I wish there were more I could tell you.

You’ve struck a balance between self-publishing and working with magazines and publishing companies. What are your thoughts on the different ways writers can reach readers?

Author photo courtesy of Dim ShoresI will never disparage self-publishing, because it got me through the door. But it’s limiting, and it’s still looked at askance, rightly or wrongly. Ultimately I’m firmly behind small presses. They have a passion for the genre. Sure, there are good small presses and bad small presses, but a little research will tell you all you need to know.

What projects do you have in the works?

Well, I’ve got a sort-of-sequel to Gateways to Abomination that I’m very excited about. It’s called Creeping Waves, and it’s a longer book, with longer stories, but also includes tales written at the same time as the material in Gateways. I’m currently working on stories for a Dunhams Manor Press hardcover entitled The Stay-Awake Men, a more traditional story collection.

Will we see work from you outside of the weird / horror genres?

Never say never, but … never. Horror is in my blood; it has been from a very young age.

What advice do you have for aspiring weird fiction / horror writers?

Read daily. Read deep into the genre and read widely beyond the genre. Write every day, even if some days it’s just a paragraph. Always seek to improve. And, lastly, learn how to conduct yourself on social media. It’s a tool that can help you or destroy you, and how you use it is all on you.

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