Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be bringing to you all a guest post courtesy of former pro wrestler and current author Matt Doyle.
Hello TTBG readers! By way of introduction, my name is Matt Doyle and I’m a UK based author, cosplayer, and blogger. Today, I am of course going to talk a little about my current novels, but I’m going to take a little detour first. You see, I’ve made a point of trying new things when I can. The way I see it, if you want to try something and there isn’t a good reason why you shouldn’t, then you should go for it. What this meant for me was that, back in 2001, I took a trip down to the NWA-UK training school and started training as a professional wrestler with a promotion called Hammerlock.
If you haven’t heard of the promotion, that may well be because they technically closed their doors some time ago now. Their impact on the UK wrestling scene is immense though, and they produced not only some of the wrestling world’s current finest, including Finn Balor and Zack Sabre Jr, but some of the best of the previous generation too, such as Doug Williams and Jonny Storm. It’s quite a pedigree, isn’t it? And believe me, it was a tough place to break in!
Back then, the training took place in a small building that was split into two sections. Just as you came in the door, you had a ring set up, and the other half was completely padded in the same way as most martial arts schools. A typical training session pretty much ran like this: the first twenty minutes was set aside for the warm-up, which was followed immediately by break-falls. Next, everyone sat in a circle on the padded area and we ran through shoot fighting. This usually began with a demonstration and learning session for various submission holds, takedowns and escapes, all taught legitimately. If you’re of the opinion that pro wrestling is entirely fake, then try to bear this in mind: a good training school teaches you to perform safely, but it also teaches you how to do things legitimately. The reason for this is that doing things this way allows techniques to double up as self-defence in the outside world. Everything that we learned in that regard had a basis in various MMA schools of training, including BJJ and Sambo. Once we finished the learning part, we would then be paired off in submission matches. Sometimes, these were fought as individual fights, other times, they ran in a winner-stays-on tournament style. The rules here were simple; Shake hands at the start, fight with the aim of submitting your opponent, no strikes, and shake hands again afterwards.
After we’d finished stretching each other, there would be a short (and I mean short) break for water, then we got down to the pro part of the session. This could be learning specific moves and sequences, working on improvising new escapes, or even working on short training matches on the mats. Towards the end of the session, we’d then move on to a mix of working on short interviews and ring based matches. Finally, we warmed down, and left. The sessions ran from 12:00 to 17:30, every week. And so, that was how I spent five and half hours every Sunday for about nine months until it came to trying out for a spot on shows.
That was a nerve-wracking day! They basically took a bunch of us who they thought may be ready, threw us into the ring with an experienced pro, and told us to work a match with no preparation. In the end, all of us trying out that day were deemed ready, and were set to make our debuts on a show three months later. Now, I was never all that big, and I certainly didn’t have proper ring gear back then. What that meant was that I, as a skinny teenager in loose spandex, had to step out in front of over 1,000 people and work two straight matches in a winner stays on super fight. The first was with a fellow trainee, and the second was with a guy that I’d never met before that had travelled down from Ireland for the show. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement.
It went well though. Looking back at the footage, I was clearly very green, but the matches were actually OK. From there, I started appearing more regularly on shows, usually in winner stays-on matches or royal rumble style bouts, but sometimes in one-on-one and tag matches. Eventually, I got some professional ring gear – a blue and white thing that made me look like a helmetless power ranger – and just kept going. I got to appear on the same show as some of my childhood heroes like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, appeared on a couple of American commercial releases, and had an awesome time overall.
In the end though, I left Hammerlock. I was training new starters myself by then, and so didn’t really get the time to work on my own character during sessions, which meant that a lot of guys that I started with were moving up the card while I was stuck in place. Then, I got injured and had to take several months out, by which time, the school had moved. With no car, I was stuck. As it happened though, another fellow Hammerlock worker was still local and was looking to open his own promotion. After helping him name the promotion (Riot Act Wrestling, or RAW for short), I ended up not only wrestling on his shows and helping at his school, but booking the first year and a half of the shows.
If you don’t know what booking is, it’s when someone picks the matches for each show. I was basically responsible for picking who would face who, what order the matches would run in, how they’d finish, and how long they’d go for. This was where I started to really learn a lot about structuring a story. You see, that’s what a show is: a story. And each match is a chapter. When you realise that, you start picking up how to create peaks and troughs for fans, and you learn how to build up to a satisfying conclusion. By watching these tales play out, I also got to finally learn the love/hate principal too. You see, if a wrestler is liked or disliked, the crowd will react, but they won’t be selling merchandise, and their face on a poster won’t sell tickets. If they’re loved or hated though, the fans will explode for them, buy whatever they’re selling, and pay to see them win or lose.
I retired after making it into my tenth year of professional wrestling. Between niggling injuries, a changing landscape, and the worry that I was causing my kids, I simply couldn’t continue. So, I bowed out with one last match and started concentrating on my writing. The thing with this is that a lot of what I learned in the wrestling industry still applies, especially the love/hate principal. Think about it. Have you ever read a book that you enjoyed, but never re-read? Most people have. But what about the ones that you go back to time and time again? If both those books are by different authors, which author are you likely to pick up another book by?
When I write, I like to take readers on a journey, just like I did with the shows that I ran. And my aim is to create characters that people will love or hate. I want my heroes to frustrate you with their flaws but leave you wanting to see them succeed, and I want my villains to make you long to see them lose. Of course, just as some people prefer a good brawl and others want a technical masterclass, people’s taste in books varies. So, I try to do things a little differently each time. To give you an idea about what I mean, I want to talk a little about my two primary series.
The Cassie Tam Files is a series of cyberpunk/crime noir novels about a Chinese-Canadian PI living and working in a near future city called New Hopeland. Built on Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert, the city was supposed to be a shining example of technological advancement, but is now a pit of crime and corruption. The first book, Addict, was released this year by NineStar Press and follows Cassie as she investigates the death of a Virtual Reality Junkie. The police ruled the death to be an accidental overdose of synthetic stimulants and, despite the deceased’s sister being certain that they were wrong, Cassie takes the case believing that it will be easy money. The more that she digs though, the more that she sees that things just don’t add up.
I wrote the book after binging on Blade Runner, The Maltese Falcon and L.A. Confidential, so that should give you a good idea of tone. I got to throw in some cool tech concepts too, like VR business models, advanced AI pets and technology based shapeshifting as a coping mechanism for stress.
As the only POV character, Cassie has to carry the entire narrative, so I took great care to make her well-rounded. Her sense of justice is likable, and her toughness gives her a cool edge. At the same time though, her more awkward, self-conscious moments are relatable, especially when she realises that she’s beginning to fall for her client, the deceased’s sister Lori. Despite these positives though, she has enough flaws to keep her from drifting into a sea of done-to-death characters. She’s judgemental, sometimes severely so, and remains stubborn, even when she can see that it’s going to land her in trouble. I’ve dropped an excerpt from the first chapter below:
I always did like Venetian blinds. There’s something quaint about them in a retro-tacky kinda way. Plus, they’re pretty useful for sneaking a peek out the front of the building if I feel the need. That’s something that you just can’t do with the solid, immovable metal slats that come as a standard in buildings these days. That said, a thick sheet of steel is gonna offer you a damn sight more security than thin, bendable vinyl, so I keep mine installed. Just in case.
Another round of knocking rattles the front door, louder this time than the one that woke me.
The clock says 23:47, and the unfamiliar low-end car out front screams “Don’t notice me, I’m not worth your time,” which makes for the perfect combo to stir up the paranoia that the evening’s beer and horror-film session left behind. This is my own fault. My adverts are pretty descriptive in terms of telling what I do: lost pets, cheating partners, theft, protection, retrieval of people and items, other odds and sods that the city’s finest won’t touch…I’ve got ways to deal with it all. That’s right, I’m a real odd-job gal. The one thing that I don’t put in there are business hours. The way I see it, even the missing pet cases usually leave me wandering the streets at half-past reasonable, so what’s the point in asking people to call between certain hours?
More knocking, followed this time by the squeak of my letter box and a voice. “Hello? Cassandra Tam?”
It’s funny, really. For all the tech advances that the world has made, no one has been able to improve upon the simple open-and-shut letter box. I stumble my way through the dark and wave dismissively at the frosted glass. The light switch and the keypad for the door lock are conveniently placed right next to each other on the wall to the right of the door, so welcoming my apparent guest is a nice, easy affair. The lock clicks a moment after the lights flood the room, and I pull the door open.
“Cassie,” I say, turning and skulking my way back into the room. “Or Caz. Drop the Tam.”
I hear a sniff behind me, and the lady from the letter box asks, “Are you drunk?”
“If I pass out in the next five minutes, then yes,” I reply, turning the kettle on. I’d left it full, ready for the morning, but I guess this is close enough. “Take a seat at the table. Would you prefer tea or coffee? I’d offer beer, but since I reek of it, I guess I must’ve finished it.”
Footsteps creep unapologetically across the room, and a chair squeaks on the floor. Good. If you can’t deal with a snarky response to something, don’t say it all, and if you can deal with it, then as far as I’m concerned you don’t need to apologise.
“Coffee,” the lady says. “So, do you always see potential clients in your underwear, or is it just my lucky day?” Her voice has a slightly playful edge to it, but with a sarcastic kick to round it off.
The business portion of my apartment comprises entirely of a small open-plan room separating my kitchen from my living room. And by open plan, I mean an allotted space that encroaches on both territories but is conveniently large enough to house what I need. Or, in other words, a table, four chairs, and nothing else. Since filing went near entirely digital, filing cabinets have pretty much become obsolete, so the two that I found dumped outside the building when I bought the place currently live in my bedroom, and contain a mix of quick access work stuff and personal files I’d rather not have floating on the net. Most things, though, I store electronically, the same as everything else.
I rarely use the business table to eat, read, or any of that junk, so until this evening it’s been entirely empty for a good few weeks. The lady sitting there now is studying me, I can see, and probably wondering if this was a mistake. Whatever she may have expected, a Chinese-Canadian gal of average height in a cami top and a loose pair of sleep shorts most likely wasn’t it. For what it’s worth, though, I’m studying her just the same. She’s a lithe-looking thing, dressed in a casual pair of jeans and a plain black fitted top under a leather jacket. If the metal plugs running down her shaven head like a shiny, rubber-tipped Mohawk weren’t a giveaway for what she is, the light scarring punctuating the outer edges of her pale blue eyes certainly would be. She’s a Tech Shifter, and like most of her ilk, she looks like a punk rocker gone cyborg.
The Spark Form Chronicles was my first series, and is set in the future during a two-day card tournament. The players are treated like major sports stars and the shows are set out like wrestling events with big entrances, backstage interviews, and rivalries playing out. To spice things up though, the pro players have dangerous spinal implants that allow them to play at high speed while the battles are acted out for the live audience by holograms. In a way, the books are my love letter to my 90’s childhood, but set out for adults. The main story is about five of the combatants; as we follow them through the two days, we learn not only why they play, but why they behave the way they do. We also get to see how each of them is effected (both directly and indirectly) by the existence of Carnival, a holographic anthropomorphic wolf/rabbit hybrid that claims to be alive. WICK covers day one of the tournament and ends on a cliff-hanger. CARNIVAL picks up where WICK left off and covers day two and the aftermath thereof. GIFTS is a follow-up novella set six months after CARNIVAL.
This self-published series features five different POV characters, and I’ve tried to present a good variety therein. The idea was to give everyone someone to get behind, be it the hyperactive defending champion John Forrester, permanently grumpy veteran Connor Ford (picture Jeremy Irons dressed as Ric Flair), the defiant Fahrn Starchaser, self-conscious and tragic teenager Meera Thorne, or the genius that’s scared of failing, Lana De La Cruz. Interestingly, Carnival is the string that ties everyone together in one way or another, but she never has her own chapter, so everything that we learn about her is through the eyes of others. She’s kinda like Dracula in that way. As a preview, here’s an excerpt from chapter one of WICK:
JOHN FORRESTER – 10:58
The outside of the E(E)SFC is pretty nice, you know, as far as large but pretty ordinary sports arenas go. The new statues either side of the main entrance are pretty funky. No idea what they’re supposed to be though. They look like some sort of bizarre four dimensional something or other. Well, not really four dimensional. An artist’s rendition of a three-dimensional representation of a four dimensional … I dunno, mess. But a cool mess, that’s the main thing. It doesn’t really matter how bad something is, as long as it’s cool.
I take another quick glance at my watch. Two minutes to go. The doors are already open, at least to competitors like myself, but I have to time this just right or I forfeit the game. Carnival may be at the other side of the building, but she’d know if I cheated. Plus, there’d be no fun in that. No-no, no head starts for me. I shall just have to be content with dancing back and forth in front of the strange statues and waving to the fans as they pass outside the gate. Being a non-discriminatory sort of guy, I also wave to the people who clearly have no idea who I am. I really don’t know which ones make me smile more, the ones that look confused or the ones that shoot me looks of pity.
Time check. And I’ve been foiled by the evils of ‘the mysterious gust of wind that blows your hair into your eyes’. I always loved the look of long hair. It has that vintage rock star feel, ya know? I can’t think of a single video where the wind machines swoosh it across the guys face and obscure his vision at an inconvenient time though. Nope, I don’t think there has ever been even one hit song about not being able to tell the time because the wind has a vendetta against shoulder length hair.
That’s OK though. What was that old saying? The hand is mightier than the naturally occurring inconvenience? And so, with a quick turn and a flick of my wrist I vanquish my foe, just in time to see that I’m now … fifteen seconds behind. Whoops.
Ah well, can’t be helped.
I grab my bag from beside the four-dimensional mess on the right and bound through the main doors and up to the reception desk, where I face obstacle number one, ‘staff who follow the rules’.
“John Forrester! Welcome back champ,” says ‘man in suit with rebellious red tie worn surely for no other reason than to stand out from his black tied compadres’. And so begins the search and chat formalities that comprise the opening stage of the game. While I’m trying to find a way to speed through the process, Carnival will no doubt be facing her own set of challenges. Or repeated singular challenge anyway.
See, this is a race. It’s an obstacle course too. At my end, I have to go through the checking in process, the everyday interactions with staff and colleagues, all the little things that make up a normal day but slow you down when you’re trying to get somewhere. It’s a challenge for me, because while I probably could speed a lot of things up, I can sometimes get carried away with verbal detours and quirky small talk and end up letting things drag on far longer than I intend, much like this train of thought right here. Yup, time may fly when you’re having fun, but it’s not near as quick as Carnival when she has an open run.
Lucky for me, an open run is one thing she’s not likely to have. It’s the first day of the tournament, so most of the staff will have arrived early so that they can check everything is up and running. Plus, the race officially started at eleven, so I’d put money on the vast majority of the other competitors already being here too. Which means the corridors should be fairly active, which is great, because her challenge is to reach our changing room without being seen.
It’s actually quite dangerous too, because if she were to be seen, then we’d both potentially be in a lot of trouble.
Not to worry though. She’s not been caught yet, not once in the last three years, not here, or anywhere else.
Obstacle number two is ‘staff that keep you informed’ and I’ve somehow ended up wrapped up in that one before I even clear the first obstacle. Which means that I don’t get an early opportunity to make up some ground. On the positive side, I am getting a verbal run down of my schedule for the day. Apparently, I’m expected to be filming my interview for the requestable content thingy in a little over an hour or so. I guess I’ll have to get changed pretty sharpish. And what’s that ‘Mr doesn’t want to leave me to my own devices’? My match is on last? Well I knew that already. The defending champion always closes night one.
I’ll be closing night two as well. Losing just isn’t an option. Not for me, and not for Carnival.
I finally clear obstacle two somewhere around halfway to the finish line and quickly pick up the pace, breaking into a jog as I turn the corner of one corridor and start heading down another. Being able to pick up speed like this is a new experience for me. Last year, the spare Data Wick in my bag weighed me down a lot more than I expected so I made sure to gut it before packing this time. The shell is pretty strong, but it’s definitely the insides that give it the weight. I’m sure there are plenty of techys that would have heart attacks seeing the mechanical carnage back home but rendering it useless really isn’t a big deal. No one knows it’s just a spare other than Carnival and me, and it’s really only here because a competitor turning up without a Data Wick would lead to a whole bunch of awkward questions so it’s kinda essential for me to carry it with me until the I reach changing room. That’s cool though, pretending is fun.
Another corridor goes by and I speed past several obstacle threes, ‘the friendlies’, giving them just enough interaction to satisfy their needs, while I try to get a clear picture of where I am. I know where the changing room is because I’ve requested the same one every year, so I’m kinda running on auto pilot at the moment. The problem is, I know that I’m probably way behind Carnival right now, so I need to figure out a short cut if I’m gonna win.
There’s no prize for winning. Actually, no, there is a prize. If I win, she doesn’t taunt me. She does sulk though. Which is kinda cute. Not cute like the chibi version of her from the Spark Force cartoon, or the cuddly-plushie-thingy they made of her after my first tournament win, just, you know, cute. And pretty amusing. But then, so are her taunts. So I don’t really lose, even if I lose. Which sounds ridiculous in my head.
I glance down another corridor as I sail past, then remember four corridors later that I probably should have turned there and cut through one of the interview rooms. I guess I could double back. Ah, but if the interview room isn’t empty then that would probably take longer.
No, I think I should probably just keep going.
I’m nearly there now anyway. It’s pretty clear too, which means I’m still in with a shot, so I give myself a little internal cheer, mostly because the tongue-in-cheek self-adoration of a mock-narcissist is harmless fun, but also because an external cheer risks drawing the attention of stealth obstacle threes hidden behind closed doors. It takes until I finish pointing out to myself that that last part isn’t as paranoid as it actually sounds to realise that if it’s clear at my end, it’s probably equally as clear at Carnival’s end, and she’s a fair bit quicker than me so …
I round the last corner and sure enough, there she is, casually leaning against the door to our changing room. She tilts her head towards me with a big toothy grin, pushes the door open and walks inside, moving just slow enough to make sure that I catch the triumphant flick of her tail.
I bet she’s been there a little while, just waiting to make sure that I see her snatch the win.
I let out a nice big laugh and trot up to the now open door, smiling happily as I prepare myself for Carnival’s inevitable decrees of victory.
And so ends my long-winded ramble. I hope you all enjoyed this quick dip into my spandex-clad past! If you want to know more about me or my books, please feel free to drop by my site www.mattdoylemedia.com! There are pages for each of my books, and a ton of reviews of everything from books and comics to anime and video games.
Thanks for reading!
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