Matthew Rossi interview about his new novel, Heartless
Matt Rossi, he of the Queue, the Warrior’s column, one half of Know Your Lore, and countless Breakfast Topics as well many a podcast has penned yet another supernatural thriller. The sequel to last year’s Nameless, Heartless continues the story of Rhode Island natives Thea and Thomas as they explore their powers and their relationship while facing down the latest supernatural threats coming after them and their friends.
Rossi stopped madly typing tin foil hat theories about WoW lore long enough to answer a few questions about the inspiration behind the series, what draws him to the characters, and what’s next for the franchise.
Note: Some spoilers for Nameless.
Q: What inspired you to begin the series?
A: Way back in 1994 I wrote a story about a man with no name who did weird magic things. It got published by Fantastic Metropolis in 1999, and that story (Solis Invicti) is sort of the seed of the Nameless series.
The original idea kind of haunted me over the years and I tried several times to finish it, but my alcoholism, depression and a lot of personal setbacks kept me from getting it written. Chris Roberson (publisher of Monkeybrain Books, who published Things That Never Were) encouraged me to finish it but at the time I was just too destroyed personally to work on it. But after I married my wife Julian, I started thinking about the idea again. I decided to go back to the well for NaNoWriMo last year to see if I could get it finished finally.
Q: What was the biggest surprise for you as the series began to take shape?
A: There’s literally nothing that happened during the writing process that didn’t surprise me. Thea was a completely different character in the 1995/6 draft of the book. She wasn’t a main chartacter, just someone Thomas knew from his past. Thomas wasn’t even named Thomas – in the original version of the story after his parents died he used the ritual to try and raise them from the dead, with disastrous results that cost him his name. (Writing a book with a nameless protagonist was in fact the biggest hurdle I had to finally realize was holding me back.) Joe and the original, nameless protagonist had a brief affair before he died. Morgan, Billy and Byron were COMPLETELY different, to the point where the current version of Bry is wholly unrecognizable compared to Byron as he existed in the first draft.
I’d honestly have to say that discovering that Bry even existed, that she was who she was, counts as the biggest surprise in a whole field of them. There’s very little remaining of the original story in the current version.
I also hadn’t intended Thomas and Thea to fall in love. It just happened.
Q: What is it about Rhode Island that makes it an important part of the books?
A: Well, a few things. If you know anything about Rhode Island, you know it’s a place of contradictions. It’s very small (around 3000 square kilometers), the 8th least populous but second most densely populated state. It was the last of the 13 original colonies to ratify the Constitution. In fact, they didn’t want to join and burned a British vessel in 1774.
I grew up in Rhode Island, born there, lived there until I was 20. Rhode Island made me who and what I am, and I wanted to play around with that.
Secondly, there’s a reason Lovecraft came from Rhode Island. The place is capital W weird. It has its own language, which superficially resembles English, and people will just kind of ignore things there that would throw other states into complete anarchy. The Mayor of Providence once got arrested for beating his wife’s lover with a fireplace log and he got reelected as soon as he got out of jail. (Ah, Buddy Cianci, there’s a man who deserves a series of horror novels about him.) I could list weird scandals and strange political corruption coming out of Rhode Island all freaking day. How many other states managed to get suckered into funding an MMO that never delivered to the tune of 75 million dollars?
I wanted to talk about the places I know, the places I grew up in, the places that made me and that people don’t really know about.
Q: What inspired you to write a sequel to Nameless?
A: Oh, mostly the characters. I wanted to see what they were up to. I mean, it’s one thing to meet someone and fall in love with them. But what happens after? What do you do next? Falling in love is one thing but staying in love, making a life, that interests me. The idea of these broken people coming together to heal each other, support each other… I found it worth writing about.
I mean I could write entire books about these people. Bry alone, I could probably do a couple of books about her. And I had a few new characters I wanted to introduce as well. I think the villains of Heartless are less purely evil than Dassalia in Nameless, and that makes them interesting. I did try to make Dassalia more than a stock villain – she had reasons for everything she did, she wasn’t a cartoon character – but in the end she was too far gone to save.
Q: What did you want to accomplish with Heartless?
Tell a good story, visit with the characters, talk about something I don’t see a lot.
A lot of stories give you the happily ever after. Characters meet, fall in love, beat the monster and they’re together. And that’s great, there’s nothing wrong with it. But for me, I’m interested in the after. I remember a few years back some editor at DC Comics said he didn’t want heroes in relationships because there’s no drama in it.
This hasn’t been my experience at ALL. Being married to Julian, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of struggle, drama, story to be had about people in relationships. People change and grow and your relationships either grow with that change or they die. Being in love and being married isn’t the end of anything. It’s just the start.
Q: What is your favorite kind of mythology to pull from when dreaming up foes for your characters to fight?
A: Oh man, I’m a packrat. There’s a fight in Heartless that I really love where one of the characters invokes Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek mythology, a heroine from Robert E. Howard’s work, CL Moore’s Jirel of Joiry and a Celtic goddess back to back to back. I don’t know that I could say I have a favorite. There’s stuff I know better – I’m conversant enough in Norse and Greek Mythology and I can usually pull something Celtic out when needed (especially the Irish stuff) but what I don’t know I can research.
But to me the world is constantly spinning new mythology. I’m not really a fan of the ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ Campbellian archetypes but I do like to pull from movies, TV shows, comic books, novels. I pitted a classic four color hero against Lovecraft’s biggest name at the end of Nameless and I went even bigger for Heartless. A hint – I put Tolkien up against Lucas.
Q: What are you trying to explore with Thea and Thomas?
A: Well, it’s not just with them, but in their case it’s that idea about love stories – that being in love, falling in love is just the start. Love can be a beautiful, wonderful, life affirming thing, or it can rip you in half and leave you bleeding on the ground. Love isn’t safe. It never has been and never will be. T&T work because they’re both strong in different ways – they support and compliment each other, but they also fight, they don’t always agree, they get frustrated and irritated and horny and demanding and passive aggressive. Because being in love doesn’t put you into a hive mind, it doesn’t make you suddenly stop being who you are.
All the characters deal with love in some fashion. The big villain of Nameless, Dassalia, is all about wounded love, loss, the pain of it. How it can warp you, rip you up. She does awful shit and keeps the cycle of abuse going because of what she suffered. Seria and Joe both explore different kinds of love, sibling love, a first love, Seri’s awful relationship with David and how she works her way through it. Bry, Morgan, even Jimmy touch upon that idea.
I was talking to my wife about the book and she even pointed out that the vampires explore aspects of that.
Q: How has the evolution of Bry surprised you?
A: Oh Jeez, that kid. Everything about that kid caught me off guard. I didn’t even know Bry existed until I was writing Nameless and I came to the scene at Thanksgiving and Thomas started rebelling at the idea of killing the monster that attacked them, and I didn’t know why. So I let the scene play out and suddenly there’s this KID and I had no idea what to do.
I though Byron was this throwaway character and then there’s another scene later in the book with Joe and Bishop and suddenly there’s Bry, this little person I didn’t even know was there just eating chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and saying “I am this” and I just had to accept that statement. Bry is a big part of Heartless. Growing strong enough to overcome what she went through, realizing it’s part of who she is and what she’ll be and using it, finding a way to love her family is all part of who Bry becomes and I didn’t see any of it coming.
Q: What’s next for this family of mystical misfits?
A: If Nameless is about finding a way to move forward and Heartless is about what happens after you do, Faceless (the book I’m working on now) is about stepping up. T&T have done a lot in a few years. They’ve grown a lot, but up till now they’ve still been living in a bit of a bubble, and the bubble is popping and they’re the ones who popped it. Now comes the big question – what do you do with the rest of your life? Who do you become? How do you take responsibility for what you’ve made happen? Are you willing to accept the price of taking the reins and making the decisions?
I could write T&T forever. I have a story in mind for them in their 40’s, married for decades, with Bry as a 30 year old and the rest of the family dealing with life. Bishop and Evvie have a lot of unfinished baggage to deal with, there’s a lot I could do with Joe in particular. Seri is sort of this super responsible pillar of the extended clan, but in her heart she’s got that same wildness as Thea, that same power and potential. If Seri ever loses control, someone’s going to burn.
I even know about Jimmy Williams’ first real love and how much that costs him.
Essentially I could write these guys forever. I haven’t even mentioned Stuart, who I like a lot in a complete sad sack sort of way.
Heartless is now available on Amazon for $3.99.
The prequel Nameless is also available for a limited time price of $1.29 if you want to jump in from the beginning.
If you want updates on when Faceless will be published, sign up for our writer’s collective email newsletter.
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