Originally a part-time independent filmmaker and screenwriter, Matt Kurtz decided to narrow his creative energy to focus more on short stories and future novels. Liberating his imagination—and not having to worry about keeping things within a low budget—he spent the last few years honing his craft by writing short stories that have been published in numerous anthologies. His own collection of work entitled Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 1 is currently available in paperback and on Kindle. When not working his day job, he’s busy editing his first novel to release later in the year.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
You got it. I’ve been a lifelong fan of horror. As a kid I wanted to be a special make-up effects artist so I could make monsters for a living but never really pursued it beyond high school. I studied film in college and eventually wrote and directed a feature film shortly after graduation. Ironically, it wasn’t a horror film, but a dramatic-comedy! I had written a lot of horror scripts (both feature and short) and eventually transformed that love of storytelling to prose. So I feverishly wrote short stories and eventually got a bunch published in various anthologies and magazines. Once the rights reverted back to me, I decided to make my own collection and Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 1 was born. It’s the first in a (planned) four volume series.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like to read, watch movies, and hang out with friends. Also like to haunt used-bookstores and DVD stores, looking for the rare, out-of-print stuff at a bargain price.
What’s your favourite food?
I love all types. But to make it somewhat interesting, I’ll say a plate of calamari, especially when they throw in a bunch of the squid tentacles! Isn’t it amazing how just about anything that’s been deep-fried in batter can taste great?
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Laugh all you want, but Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger from Rocky III, especially the lyrics, “Don’t lose you grip on the dreams of the past, you must fight just to keep them alive.” It’s all about not giving up and to keep on fighting. Plus, hearing that song makes me want to drop whatever the hell I’m doing and either go run in the street (nowhere in particular) or punch slabs of meat!
Tell us a dirty little secret?
I follow the five second rule when dropping food on the ground.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Hey, stupid…smoking doesn’t make you look cool!
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren't sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
Well, I was recently laid off from work for about four months. In between looking for a job—which was a full-time job in itself—I wrote a novel that I’m now editing. Writing helped keep my sanity during that long period because I did something constructive (instead of watching bad daytime television while waiting for someone to call with a job offer).
Who are some of your favourite authors?
For short stories? Hands down—Robert Bloch. I simply adore his writing. Reading his stuff is like sitting beside the rocking chair as your grandpa tells you a scary tale on a cold, rainy night. It’s like comfort food—fills your belly and makes you feel satisfied. A close runner up in the short story department would be Clive Barker. The Books of Blood…need I say more? As for novels, I’ll go for anything by Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Richard Matheson, Joe Lansdale, Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, and Jeff Strand.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Well, I’m close to finishing Joe McKinney’s Inheritance and I think I found a new favourite author. I’m really, really digging it and plan to check out his other stuff. On the other hand, I was disappointed with Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. I think my expectations were just too high for that one.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
I can’t narrow it to a favourite, but I can tell you the movies I love to re-watch and the books I plan on revisiting. For novels: I Am Legend, McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour and They Thirst, King’s Salem’s Lot and The Stand, Strand’s Wolf Hunt, Keene’s Ghoul, Bloch’s Psycho, Ketchum’s The Lost. As for the movies: The Howling, The Thing, American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, Creepshow, Pumpkinhead, Hell Night, Fright Night, The Fog, The Shining, Black Christmas (original), Rosemary’s Baby, all the old Hammer films, and the Amicus anthologies (Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, etc). I love those anthology movies because they’re like a short story collection. If one story is bad, they’re short enough that you’re already moving on to the next one.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would it be?
When characters decide to split up “to cover more ground” while searching for a missing friend. Or when a character hears something in the murky woods (or from the other side of the dark house) and they call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” As if whoever—or whatever—that’s sneaking up for an attack is going to stop and politely answer them.
Which fictional character would be your perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
I’d like to have Michael Gallatin from McCammon’s “The Wolf’s Hour” living next door. He’s a spy, a werewolf, and, more important, the good guy. A James Bond with fur and canines…how cool is that? The neighbourhood sure would feel safe with him in it. As for the person I’d hate to have next door? That would be the numerous redneck characters from any one of Edward Lee’s novels…especially ones that have large power drills and keep licking their lips as they stare at my head.
And if you had free range what fictional character would you like to write for?
Clive Barker’s private investigator Harry D’Amour. It just seems like such a rich area to expand on with all his dealings in the occult. Each case could be its own novel or short story.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
There’s enough variety out there for everyone, from “quiet” horror to the extreme stuff. Besides, if you don’t like what’s currently being published, go back and read the classics. Or discover some “new” older author and his work. I recently “discovered” Hugh B. Cave and his pulp horror tales. Wonderful stuff.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing horror fiction right now?
Not so much horror fiction, but fiction in general. And that’s with authors self-publishing and not proofing their stuff before releasing it to the public. I self-published my collection Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Vol. 1, but before doing so, I browsed Amazon for other self-published stuff to get a feel for the competition. Using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I saw some awful stuff while reading their first few pages. There was one “author” in particular that, by page two, I counted over a dozen spelling errors such as Granbfather instead of Grandfather. C’mon! Talk some pride in your craft, jackass! That’s the crap that gives self-published authors a bad name.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Yep. I grew up on Fangoria magazine and bought it religiously. When my very first short story (“Hunger Pangs”) was published in an anthology, they reviewed the book online and singled out my story for being too long and “telegraphing its urban-legend ending from miles away.” Fango slammed me! A devoted reader since childhood! But that same story was singled out and praised as a favourite in other reviews. You can’t win them all or be thin skinned about things.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Outlining…but I have to do it. I need a road map when writing or I’ll be 50,000 words into my story and say “oh, wait a minute…I should’ve had this happen on page ten instead” (which would spin the entire tale in a completely different direction).
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Torturing someone (especially a child) in explicit detail. There was a scene an Edward Lee novella (can’t remember if it was The Pig or The House) where two characters were torturing this young woman and it went on…and on…and on. I had to put the book down and walk away. I read for escapism and torturing someone is just shit that I don’t care to examine when reading for entertainment. If I want disgusting details of what one person is capable of doing to another, I’ll watch the evening news.
What do you think makes a good story?
Great characters. If you love the characters, you’ll go on any adventure with them and be concerned when they’re put in jeopardy.
How important are names to you in your books?
The only thing that I really pay attention to is to try to have their names not all one syllable, especially if they begin with the same first letter. No Rick, Ray, and Roy all in the same story. Too confusing!
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
A quiet room or a set of headphones.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Never give away your stuff for free. I’m not talking about an Amazon promo or contributing a piece for a charity anthology, but submitting your short story to an anthology where its publisher won’t even give you a contributor’s copy as payment. I admit that I gave away stories when first starting out just so I could see my name in print. But those “for the love” or “your payment is exposure” bullshit anthologies are just preying on new writers. They don’t do anything to promote the book. Their only promotion is soliciting new writers into sending in stories, accepting those stories (no matter how mediocre they are) in order to quickly fill up the table of contents. Then they rely on those contributors to buy multiple copies of the book to pass out to friends and family. Just like everything in life, you’ll gain confidence in your work the more you do it, and then value it and not give it away for free.
What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?
Nothing has really been said about me (yet), but I’ve seen other writers complaining on Facebook that whenever they run into people they haven’t seen in a while, they’re often asked if they’re “still doing the writing thing?” I think that question, to any writer, is the equivalent of saying “You’re not rich like Stephen King so why do you even bother?”
How do you market your work?
Since this is my first solo collection, a book of only my stories, I’m figuring it out as I go. So far, I’m working on getting the book reviewed for blurbs and posting about its release on the numerous Facebook pages devoted to Kindles, books, and authors.
What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Getting a good book cover! Forgot what Grandma said about “never judge a book by its cover”. After posting the cover for Monkey’s Box of Horrors on numerous Facebook pages, I had complete strangers comment on how cool the cover was and that they were buying a copy because of it! They had never heard of me, but there they were buying my book because it had an awesome cover! I immediately took a screen cap of their comments and sent it to the cover’s artist, Gary McCluskey, so he would know that people loved his artwork. I think its all about the first impression. You take pride in your work, people will pay attention.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
Well, again, since my published output has only been short stories, I’ll pick a character from one of them. I’d probably say Dookie Boy, the villain from a horror parody called “Don’t Go in the House! (Because Being Indoors, No One Will Hear You Scream)!” He’s basically a hulking, man-child, psychopath, whose only words are “Clean Me…” Now what he means by that is…well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out (and that tale will appear in the future collection Monkey’s Butcher Block of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 3). But Jeff Strand, who wrote the introduction to the anthology the tale originally appeared, said (in that intro) that his reaction to the story was “Dude, what the hell is the matter with you?!” Since Mr. Strand is one of my favourite authors, I wear that as a badge of honour.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Again, from another short story, I’d have to say the main character of Gene in “Finger Cuffs” (which appears in Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 1) I find him less appealing because, well, he’s a child molester. Enough said, right? But he gets his just desserts in the end…literally.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I’d have to say the short story “Deadline” (also appearing in Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 1). It’s the one story of mine that really gets singled out a lot. Many reader reviews said it was truly scary and how it gave them goose bumps. And that’s simply music to my ears!
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Probably the drabbles (a story told in exactly 100 words—not one word more or less) that I had published. Once I got the book and gave my story a read, I groaned and quickly put it back on the shelf. I felt like I sacrificed the story by trying to meet the prerequisite 100 word count.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Well, again, I only have one book available and that’s the short story collection Monkey’s Box of Horrors – Tales of Terror: Volume 1. But I do think that’s a great sampler to see if you might prefer the main course, which is one of the novels I’m currently heating at a low temperature to serve later in the year.
What are you working on right now?
The second volume in the Monkey’s…Tales of Terror series. Once I get that released, I’ll finish editing one of the two novels I’ve written. It’s time to get a novel out there!
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? Would you like your ten million dollar book advance in cash or as a check?
And what would be the answer?
Either will be just fine, thank you very much!
Find out more about Matt by following the links below
Beware…As Monkey Unleashes His Menagerie of Horrors Upon the World! From out the box crawls tales of terror and the macabre featuring demons, ghosts, psychopaths, creatures, boogeymen, creepy crawlies, and so much more! A dozen previously published horror tales from author Matt Kurtz—now collected in one terrifying tome for the very first time! Witness the Terror as…A woman staying late at the office quickly realizes she’s not alone when the power goes out and something lurks within the darkness… A boy investigates the sunken graves at his local cemetery and soon comes face to face with the burrowing monstrosity responsible for it… A wife fleeing her criminal husband on an isolated stretch of road wrecks her car within miles of an insane asylum—where its bloodthirsty residents have recently escaped… A father tries to frighten his two sons into good behavior but gets his own terrifying lesson in fear… A man speeding home for his son’s birthday party collides with pure horror when something ghoulish scuttles into the high-beams of his vehicle