Interview: Jem Matzan, Author and Narrator

Folks, please give a warm welcome to Jem Matzan to the blog today. He’s a narrator of several books in Laurence Shames’s Key West Capers series as well as having written and narrated his own novel, The Hero. Today he has given us an entertaining look behind the curtains of such an artist. Enjoy!

What decade from the last century would you pick to have been a teenager in?

I was a teenager in the 90s, which I hated because it seemed like everyone was obsessed with being as counter-culture as possible, which meant rejecting everything “old” no matter how good it was. I’d just discovered The Doors and Pink Floyd, though, so it was frustrating that all the popular music was the melodically-challenged slacker chanting of “alternative rock.” So the music was terrible, but the movies were great. I think I would have had more fun in the 1980s, though. When I was a kid it seemed that teenagers had a better time than I did only 6 or 7 years later. So much of American teenage culture got locked down, locked out, and put on rails in the 90s, and it hasn’t stopped getting worse since then.

If you could, what book or movie or TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

The Sopranos, because it needs to be watched carefully at least three times to get everything. There’s so much more you see the second and third times through — subtle hints at things to come, actors playing more than one role, David Chase cameos, Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero’s ghost in the mirror at Tony’s house…

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

I don’t think most books would make good games. However, back in the early 1990s there was a game called Betrayal at Krondor, which was a unique RPG based on Raymond E. Feist’s “Riftwar” fantasy series. There was nothing bad about it, and there hasn’t been another game like that since (except maybe the pseudo-sequels, which I didn’t play). Ironically, the Riftwar series was based on the D&D world that Feist and his friends built and LARPed with in the late 1970s, so Betrayal at Krondor was actually a game based on books that were based on a game. (I just checked to see if his books are in audio; only a few of the more recent ones are, plus some foreign language versions of the first Riftwar book. Anyway, one of his narrators is Richard Ferrone, who narrated some of Larry Shames’ “Key West Capers” series, which I’ve narrated/produced four of. I didn’t even need Kevin Bacon for that!)

Who are some of your favorite book villains?

Of the ones I’ve narrated, I like Charlie Ponte from the “Key West Capers” series. Partly it’s the voice I did for him, partly it’s that he’s a bad guy, but not truly the villain. He’s also got a lot of great lines that were fun to perform.

Of books I’ve not narrated… I don’t really know, because I haven’t read any fiction recreationally in years. I do so much professional reading that it just seems like more work. I never liked hardcore villains, though, they seem unrealistic. When I was a kid, cartoon villains were always after “power” and that never made sense to me, especially when they were already in charge of a gang or an army. True villains are in search of fun, stimulation, status bestowed by unreachable gatekeepers, a self-image that lives up to some unattainable fantasy.

If you couldn’t be a writer or narrator, what would you chose to do?

I would have been a software engineer. Computer science was the direction I was heading in high school, but back then it was still a niche profession that used archaic languages, mostly for machine control, finance, and other high-end computing stuff. It wasn’t very exciting — nothing like today.

I applied to go to film school in my junior year of high school, but my grades weren’t good enough I guess — I truly hated school and couldn’t wait to get out and be free. At the time that was devastating, but now I’m glad I didn’t waste all that money on something I could more quickly and easily learn for free. I’m amazed film school even exists anymore, now that everyone’s got a good-enough movie camera on their phone, and easy access to decent video and audio editing software.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

Self-promotion isn’t a very successful strategy, I think. My strategy is: be seen and heard as often as possible, interact personally and positively on social media every day, and only talk about my professional work when there are new releases or when something substantial happens. When you spam the world, you have to get increasingly louder and more ridiculous over time. I’d rather tone it down, be human, and just let people know when I’ve got something new to read or listen to. I’m anti-hype; unfortunately, we live in an age of overwhelming hype.

If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

I’d rather talk to them one on one or in a smaller group, but… Bert the Shirt from the Key West Capers books, Allan Quatermain, Spock, the Alec Guiness Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Larry Darrell from The Razor’s Edge.

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

I’ll give you two:

Last year at the Audio Publisher’s Association Conference, I sat down at lunch with a table of people I didn’t know, and got involved in a conversation about crossing over from audiobook narration to other forms of acting. We were all wearing nametags on lanyards, but they often flipped around so you couldn’t see who was who. About 10 minutes into the conversation, this one really tall guy who was being really protective of his voice in the loud room (wish I’d done that, too) mentioned that he was trying to get into TV work and had been in a few shows, but going back and forth to LA was a bit of a hassle. Then someone at the table asked who someone else was, and we all turned our nametags around and introduced ourselves, and I discovered that I’d been talking to Simon Vance. In general I’m not a big fan of any other narrators, but he’s the one exception. The introduction hit me in mid-chew of something I was eating, and with a partially-full mouth I’m all like “zomg, Simon Vance, I love your work! I used your performance in Dracula as a vocal model for characters in a few books.” And he kind of looked down and blushed and seemed surprised, and I realized I’d just acted like a huge dork and made him feel uncomfortable. If you’re reading this, sorry about that, Simon! I only acted like a dork because it caught me by surprise. If I’d recognized him when I sat down, I wouldn’t have blubbered like that.

The second one was a long time ago, at one of the last Star Trek conventions before they kind of fizzled out for a while in the late 90s. The featured actors were Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips from Star Trek: Voyager, a NASA astronaut who piloted two space shuttles, and Robin Curtis, who played Lt. Saavik in Star Trek 3 and briefly in 4, and a smaller role in a two-part episode of Next Generation. Overall, it was a pretty good show. I have to say that the actual astronaut was the most fascinating of the bunch, but the actors were pretty cool with the exception of Peter Mayhew, who we were told would not speak to anyone in the autograph line and no one should attempt to make eye contact with him. Anyway, Robin Curtis was first or second on stage, and did her speech on life and Star Trek. She shared the obligatory horror story about Rick Berman, trivia about the Saavik character, and finished by saying that she’d recently retired from acting and moved to a small town where she’d enjoy her hobbies and take lovers half her age. Well, the small town she’d moved to was only about an hour away from me, and I don’t know if I was half her age at the time, but she was about 42 and I was in the vicinity of 22… so I had one of those moments of panicked inspiration where I saw an opportunity for something marvelous, but it was such a big risk in front of a crowd of about 1500 people. While I was deciding whether or not to risk it, she said she’d take questions from the audience and without even thinking, I raised my hand and stood up. I was the first person to do that, so she pointed to me and said, “You, right there. Hi!” I said, in my projected theater voice: “About those lovers half your age…” there was a chasm of silence in the auditorium, then after about two seconds, the whole place burst out laughing. I think even Peter Mayhew laughed. When she’d caught her breath, she asked my name, we exchanged small-talk, and then she said I was cute and she’d talk to me after the show, to which the crowd “Oooohed.” Then she moved on to other questions, and the other featured actors. I did talk to her after the show for about 10 minutes, but I guess I wasn’t all that impressive up close, because I didn’t manage to get a date with her. I still have her autograph, though. And Peter Mayhew’s — he’s a nice man, just very shy in front of crowds.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)?

I’m not really in obstacle course condition right now, so I wouldn’t be very competitive. But if I were to choose a teammate for something like Ninja Warrior, it would be Bruce Lee. He had the perfect body composition and kinesthetic sense for that kind of thing.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

The upcoming project I’m really excited about is titled “Money Talks,” written by Laurence Shames. Back in 2007, Donald Trump’s people approached Larry’s people about ghostwriting a series of novels under Trump’s name. Larry thought about it, met Trump, talked to people who’d worked for him, and said “No thanks.” But then he got to thinking about what might have come of that scenario, and wrote a fictionalized version of it as a murder mystery novel in which the villain is a Trump-like character named Robert Maxx. It’s sort of like a cross between Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and The Great Gatsby (if you switch Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan). Back then it didn’t catch on, but it’s got some new life now that Trump’s in public office, and I’m hoping the audio edition will ride that wave. There are lots of new voices to develop in this project, and I’m really looking forward to starting it.

After that, I’m taking a bit of a break so that I can finish writing at least one of my own books. I have three book projects that have been almost done for several years, and I feel like I need to complete one of them this year.

Places to Stalk Jem Matzan

Website ~ SoundCloud ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Audible ~ GoodReads

Book Blurb for The Hero

The Hero is a work of impressionist adventure fiction set in a desolate, postfeudal civilization. When the charismatic leader of a merchant guard crew is killed in a senseless accident, his designated replacement decides to fulfill a promise to the late captain by quitting the crew and finding his surviving relatives in a remote village. Instead of a quaint valley settlement, the new captain finds a decaying town on the verge of collapse, an old landlord who appears to welcome its decline, and a thriving stronghold of highwaymen fresh from murdering what remained of the merchant guard crew. As the valley’s mysteries unwind and the tension escalates, the captain’s mental condition begins to deteriorate as almost-forgotten memories begin to connect with horrible realities.

Amazon ~ Audible

Book Blurb for Tropical Depression:

When Murray Zemelman, a.k.a. The Bra King, pops another Prozac and heads to the Keys, he has nothing much in mind beyond a quixotic hope of winning back his first wife, Franny, whom he dumped years before. But when he forms an unlikely friendship with Tommy Tarpon, the last remaining member of an obscure Indian tribe, another plan also starts shaping up in his fevered brain. Why not open up Key West’s first casino?

Why not? Well, how about because the Mafia, in league with some of the nastiest politicians you will ever meet, is determined to kill anyone who tries? Somehow, Murray, Tommy, and Franny didn’t think of that until they were in way too deep. Laugh along as they improvise a manic and ever more desperate campaign to keep their casino dreams – and themselves – alive.

Amazon ~ Audible