Surviving on Meat Snacks, with Matthew Derby

PapirmassINTERVIEWS

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Reflecting on the most recent issue of Papirmass, which tells the stories of a couple who loses a child and a world where meat is the only available food, we talk to Issue 68 author Matthew Derby about loss, sliding down meat slides in a snowsuit, the rise of meat snacks, his predictions for the world’s future, and of course, what’s up next for him.


 

You describe yourself as “a writer and a designer interested in the place where those two disciplines meet.” Can you elaborate on what you’ve found at that intersection? 

Oh, is that something I wrote on my website? * checks internet * Yeah, okay. Well, in addition to writing, I work at a video game studio, and I think I was just trying to rationalize these two somewhat disparate crafts through some fancy language. And it is true that books are essentially designed objects (although it makes many people very uncomfortable to think about them as engineered or architected), and games are mechanical systems with a narrative dressing (which also makes some people uncomfortable). And I think there’s a lot of interesting terrain in the valley where design and narrative meet that’s still unexplored.
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“Books are essentially designed objects (although it makes many people very uncomfortable to think about them as engineered or architected), and games are mechanical systems with a narrative dressing (which also makes some people uncomfortable). And I think there’s a lot of interesting terrain in the valley where design and narrative meet that’s still unexplored.”

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You are the author of The Silent History, the first major exploratory, interactive novel designed specifically for the iPad and iPhone. How did that project come about? More specifically, how did such a new and radical concept get from the idea stage to actually existing? Charting new territory isn’t easy.

I’d been struggling for several years to write this “conventional print novel” — I think I was on my fourth draft. It had potential but it kept drifting all over the place and I couldn’t get a handle on it. I was feeling pretty much like total garbage. One night I got a call from my friend Eli Horowitz, who’d recently parted ways with McSweeney’s and wanted to know if I’d help him and author Kevin Moffett develop a digital narrative experience. This was tremendously exciting to me because it was a chance to merge narrative and design in a completely new way. He had the initial concept — an episodic story surrounding a generation of children born without the ability to speak or understand language — and we talked through the constraints and affordances of the intended delivery mechanism (iPhone/iPad). From there, we established the ideal length for each episode and the delivery cadence, and then we started writing. 120 episodes spanning 30 years in the world of the story. We worked really fast – I’d write a draft of an episode in the morning, send it to Eli, and he’d have feedback by the afternoon so that I could make edits in the evening. We worked like this every day for about eighteen months. It was challenging and amazing in equal measure.The two stories we have republished as a special Summer Reading Booklet for Papirmass originally appeared in your short story collection Super Flat Times (Back Bay Books: 2003), a wildly inventive depiction of a world that is disconcertingly similar to our own, enough to seem like a possible dystopian future. Do you think the stories in Super Flat Times relate to the world in the same way they did a decade ago, or has something shifted?

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The two stories we have republished as a special Summer Reading Booklet for Papirmass originally appeared in your short story collection Super Flat Times (Back Bay Books: 2003), a wildly inventive depiction of a world that is disconcertingly similar to our own, enough to seem like a possible dystopian future. Do you think the stories in Super Flat Times relate to the world in the same way they did a decade ago, or has something shifted?

Well, to me, the book reeks of the 90s. “The Sound Gun,” for example, feels really quaint. Non-lethal weapons? That is so Clintonesque. That brand of military research went right out the window shortly after the book was accepted for publication back in 2001. I think we’ve become slightly more ruthless in certain ways, although I never saw the book as dystopian. For me, it was a way of writing expressively about the present.

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Meat snacks sales have soared in the decade since ‘Meat Tower’ first appeared, becoming the fastest-growing snack food category in North America. Are we hurtling towards the world you envisioned in Meat Tower

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Is that true? * checks internet * Actually, looks like there are a few competing datasets. But meat snacks are always in the top three, so cool. Let’s go with it. I don’t think we’re in any danger of entering ‘Meat Tower’-like conditions until someone legit produces an apple made of beef. That’s going to be so wild. I hope I live to see that age.

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Your favourite meat snack?

Okay…I’m always embarrassed to admit this, because it makes it seem like I had some agenda when I wrote SFT, but I’m a vegetarian. I absolutely did not mean to write ‘The Meat Tower’ as some kind of bombastic screed about the meat industry. I just thought it would be clutch to have a big tower made of pure meat, and to have a little kid in a snowmobile suit slide down its surface. It wasn’t until some time after the book came out that someone described it as ‘pro veg.’ I think parables are a shit literary form and I’d rather huff a can of RAID than have someone think I was trying to teach them a lesson about what to eat.

If I did eat meat, though, I’d definitely vote for the Jack Link’s Jalapeño Sizzle Beef and Cheese combo stick or just the Hot Squatch Stick if combo packs aren’t valid.

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“Just get to an ocean and throw yourself in it. Not in a way that makes you dead. Just get some of that ocean in your mouth and let it toss you around and let the loss rattle around inside you.”

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The characters in your stories find various ways to cope with loss. Do you have any advice for the lost amongst us? 

Just get to an ocean and throw yourself in it. Not in a way that makes you dead. Just get some of that ocean in your mouth and let it toss you around and let the loss rattle around inside you. It won’t help much, but at least you’ll be in the ocean.

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What exciting projects are in your near future?

I am starting to write a new book. It’s about the most dangerous mall in America. It’s called “The Most Dangerous Mall in America.” That’s all I have right now. Don’t mean to get cocky or anything but I’m feeling pretty good about it so far. 

 

Matthew Derby is our August 2015 writer. See more at matthewderby.org