Matt K Turner - Family, Technology and Accidental Heroes
Matt K Turner already made a name for himself writing screenplays, but with GENESIS he proves that he is capable of gripping and engrossing sci-fi thrillers as well. We had a chat with him about the importance of family, what it was like writing his debut novel and what snakes and cherry pie has to do with searching for truth.
Please give us a short introduction to GENESIS
Genesis is a sci-fi thriller about a man whose perfect life unravels as he begins to suspect he may be a fabricated human being manufactured by a bio-tech corporation that will stop at nothing to get him back.
GENESIS is a debut novel - how has the experience been so far?
Terrible. Just kidding. I’m having a blast in proseland. I grew up reading a lot. Science fiction and fantasy novels were the first medium to fully capture my imagination--much more than television or even movies. So I had always wanted to write one, but I was intimidated by the prospect. The authors I admire have spent so many years refining their craft. The amount of time they spend researching their subjects and commit to writing each novel seemed beyond what I could manage while maintaining my career as a screenwriter. But Genesis was an idea that I just had to write as a novel. I wanted to explore what was happening in Aiden’s head at a depth that can only be done in prose.
It was scary at first, then liberating once I got into a groove. Screenwriting is all about being concise. You need to convey the most information with the fewest amount of words so you’re always spending a lot of effort on the specific craft of brevity. In a novel you have the opportunity to stretch your legs, go on tangents, and explore inner thoughts. It’s the opposite of screenwriting so at first it was like I was suddenly running through a giant poppy field as The Sound of Music played in the background. It was glorious. But then I realized no one wants to read ten pages on my musings about the sugar content of breakfast cereals. So I tried to find a balance somewhere in between the wide-open nature of prose and the brevity of screenwriting. I can spend a chapter getting into the backstory of a character that you can only allude to in a screenplay, but I also try to keep things moving and paced up like a screenplay.
What do you think is the most terrifying about discovering you may not be who you always thought you were?
You could say that life is self-discovery. Some of us spend a lifetime figuring ourselves out, “finding ourselves” if you will. When we’re young, we’re building up who we are, creating the person we want to become. By the time we become adults, we’ve put a lot of effort into that persona. Our identity is our life’s work. So taking that away from someone? I can’t think of too many worse things to do to a human being. You’ve robbed the person of their foundation. They’re a brick house sitting on sticks.
You are most well-known for your involvement in the ABC drama, The Family and for penning the script for the brilliant comedy, Family Weekend. Have you managed to stay away from the word "Family" in GENESIS?
I’ve managed to stay away from the word, but the idea of family will probably invade all my work because I believe it’s such an important part of life. Aiden and Ever decide to start a family at the beginning of the novel. You could say that’s what the whole story is about. Two people struggling to stay together through near insurmountable odds because they want what we all desperately need--a sense of family. Be it by blood or just really great friends, family is an essential part of being human. In our accelerated lives, I’m afraid we forget that sometimes. I know I do. I have a wonderful family at home, but I have to get this done or do this other thing. Meanwhile, there’s people risking everything just have what many of us take for granted.
Why do you think does knowing the truth matter so much to us humans?
We humans aren’t very comfortable with the unknown. It scares us because we always assume the worst. What’s in that dark hole? Probably a poisonous snake. Or it could be a cherry pie! We don't know, but until we find out it’s not a snake we are going to be uncomfortable. So yeah, the great existential search for truth is really about snakes and cherry pie.
Your book contains some very cool tech ideas that are just outside of what humans can do today. Where did you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is all around us. We’re living in science fiction. Every day we are using truly incredible technology and we barely take notice. My garage door opener has Wifi for F’s sake! That’s why I dig near future science fiction. These technologies are just around the corner. They will happen. Most of them, at least. We are already printing organs. Body modification is real. I read about what’s happening now and leap to the next logical step. I’m just pushing ahead a few years. The future is going to be nuts, but we won’t notice because it will just seem like normal life.
Aiden is what you may call an "accidental hero." What appeals to you about this type of hero?
You have to wonder about someone who wants to be a hero. They’d probably be pretty annoying (always wanting to take the shortcut through the dark alley and such) and at the very least, hard to relate to. People do heroic things when life calls upon them, but we don’t walk around “heroing” all the time. I think most of us like to think that when the time comes, we’d put ourselves at risk to help another person. And many do. That’s one of the great attributes of human nature that confuses Sydney. It’s not logical. It’s instinct. Something deep inside us. We’ll risk our lives to save a stranger, but we won’t make small daily sacrifices to save the entire planet. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s being human. We’re full of contradictions. We’re complex and wonderfully weird.
GENESIS is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller. How did you manage to keep the sense of urgency and danger throughout the book?
The pace in the novel comes from my experience writing screenplays. I’m used to keeping things moving at a certain speed. When writing screenplays you’re always writing in a “this happens because of that” mode, rather than a “this and then this” mode. The current scene is always propelled by the something before it. Many novels are much more meandering, which is great for them. You have to do what is right for each novel. Because of the type of action-oriented novel I was trying to do with Genesis, I chose to lean a bit towards my screenwriting background and create something that read like an action film, only with much more emotional depth and humor.
Many readers say that GENESIS made them think. What, would you say, is the underlying message in this book?
Good science fiction reflects upon our current world. It could be hundreds of years in the future, but it makes us think about what we humans are doing currently. So I hope Genesis gets people to think a bit about the world right now. How we treat people. The relationships we have. I don't want to say the book is about this or that because I don’t want to close any doors that readers might go through on their own. I’m just trying to tell a good story that I hope sparks some thought. The message is up to the reader.
Say GENESIS gets a movie adaptation, which actor would you picture as Aiden and why?
If Genesis got a movie adaptation, I think the role of Aiden would great for the type of actor who doesn’t normally go for big budget action flicks. It’s the kind of role where he would have a chance to show range and deal with complex emotions all while kicking serious ass and showing off his six-pack abs. What actor wouldn’t want that?
How did you manage to make the Sci-Fi part of the book so believable, without getting too technical?
For me, the “science” part of science fiction is just a tool to tell a story that couldn’t be told in the present. It’s a tool to open up the story creatively. So I try not to get caught up in the tech too much. I think when the tech is easy to digest, we can concentrate on the important things like story and character.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m focused on screenwriting again. I’m developing a few tv pilots and a feature. But I’d love to come back to the Genesis world as soon as possible. I planned Genesis to be the first of at least three books. I have a good idea of what’s to come and I’m really looking forward to writing those books.
Where can our readers interact with you or find more of your work?
The Family’s season has wrapped on ABC, but I’m sure it will be available on a streaming service soon. Family Weekend is currently streaming on Netflix.
I’m hanging out on all the usual social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and my own site has a mailing list that readers can join to stay up on what I’m up do next.