Interview : Matt Ruff

Réalisée par :mail
Date :février 2008
Allan : Hi Matt, the first question I will ask is the usually first question: can you say us more about you and about your career?
Matt : I decided I wanted to tell stories for a living when I was 5 years old, and spent my childhood and adolescence teaching myself to write novels. By the time I got to college I was ready to work on something that could actually be published. I wrote Fool on the Hill during my last two years at Cornell University. Alison Lurie, a novelist who was one of my English professors, helped me find an agent, and I sold the book just a few months after I graduated. I’ve been writing full-time ever since.

Allan : In France, this month is published “Bad Monkeys”… What were your mind when your editor first tell you that you will be translated in French?
Matt : This is actually my third novel to be translated into French, so it’s not quite as exciting as the first time you «break through» into a new language, but it’s always fun.

Allan : And do you have some exchange with the translator (for example, for some clarification) ?
Matt : Early in my career, I would sometimes get letters from translators with lists of questions, but with the advent of the Internet, this has become less common. These days, if translators are confused about an idiom, it’s usually faster and simpler for them to go online and ask other translators for help.

Allan : Before asking you some questions about the books, I want to know what is your “avis” about the SF literature in the US: Is it easy to live when we are author or Is it as difficult as in France?
Matt : It’s never easy to make a living in the arts, but I think American authors do have some advantages. The obvious one is that there are more English-language readers, although this is counterbalanced somewhat by the fact that there are more writers competing for their attention. Also, American authors commonly have literary agents looking out for their interests – I’m told that the agency system does not (yet) exist in France.

Allan : Bad Monkeys is translated as I have said previously this month (in fact the 7th of February) : How can you present it to our visitors ?
Matt : It’s a story about a woman named Jane Charlotte, who is arrested for murder. She tells police that she belongs to a secret organization that fights evil. Her division, which hunts down and kills especially evil men, is nicknamed «Bad Monkeys.» The police don’t believe her, and put her in a room with a psychiatrist to find out whether she’s crazy or just lying. The novel is her telling the story of her career with Bad Monkeys.

Allan : Do you prefer that we say about it that “Bad Monkeys” is a “Polar” or a SF books?
Matt : I think it’s both. One of the nice things about being a writer at this point in time is that genre boundaries are starting to blur…and interesting things happen when they do.

Allan : I first find that you go farer on the paranoiac attitude than George Orwell’s Big brother does… Your world is so frightened, all we do is visible! Have some proofs of this reality? I hope no 
Matt : You know I can’t comment on that without getting us both in trouble.

Allan : How do you have such a crazy idea?
Matt : Believe it or not, the initial inspiration came from the TV show South Park. There was an episode where the South Park kids went to the Costa Rican rainforest, and at one point Eric Cartman was hitting a monkey with a stick, screaming «Bad monkey!» It struck me that this would make an interesting title for a novel, and so I asked myself what the story would be about. Eventually I decided that «bad monkeys» would be a euphemism for very bad people, and a nickname for a special division that hunted them. The rest of the story grew from there.

Allan : This book explains the life of Jane Charlotte, a young woman that we suspect to be a criminal. Gradually, we discover a new “world” in witch some organisation punish bad people : Do you think, it is a good idea to do the Justice oneself?
Matt : No, I think vigilantism is one of those things that works much better in fiction than in reality (although in Jane’s case, it doesn’t work so well in fiction, either).

Allan : We have the feeling that we read a story about the Good and the Bad, and the border between the two is not so neat… As in the real life?
Matt : No, it’s not a neat border, but I do think that at least some of the time, you can tell which side of it people are standing on.

Allan : The end is surprising… Do you have this idea from the beginning or does the story keep is own life during the writing period?
Matt : I always knew how the story would end. I wanted Bad Monkeys to be the kind of mystery that you could still enjoy even when it was a mystery no longer—where you could go back and say, «Ah, here’s a clue that I didn’t realize was a clue.» To make that work, I needed to know where I was going from the start.

Allan : What are your other projects ?
Matt : Right now I’m working on a new novel called The Mirage. I’m not ready to talk about the plot, but it will be very different from Bad Monkeys.

Allan : What can we wish you?
Matt : «Good luck» always works.

Allan : What will be your last word? (For this interview of course).
Matt : Clowns. Scary Clowns.

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