Interview with Matt Hughes, author of Downshift

Author, Matt Hughes

We recently corresponded with Matt Hughes in his southern France house-sitting gig, to interview him regarding the re-release of his sensational thriller, Downshift, available June 1.

Lorina: What was the inspiration for Downshift?
Matt: I wanted to be a crime writer and I had a publisher interested in signing me.  That deal didn’t work out in the end, but I was lucky to make contact with the late L.R. Wright, one of Canada’s finest mystery authors and a real mensch, who connected me with her editor at Doubleday.
Lorina: You have a background writing for both government and corporate bodies; was Downshift in some regards autobiographical, in the sense that writers generally write what they know?
Matt: It’s very autobiographical, based on my experiences as a journalist, cabinet minister’s aide, freelance speechwriter, screenwriter, and the inventor of the next big game after Pictionary.  The game was called Gender Bender (you can google it), and it almost made me a millionaire — until it didn’t.  Many of the elements of the plot — the platinum leaching process, the plot to unseat Bill Vander Zalm, the busted movie deal, suddenly finding myself broke instead of on easy street — are based on things that happened to and around me.
Lorina: In the character of Sid Rafferty you’ve created a somewhat desperate, almost amoral, yet enormously likeable character. One might even go so far as to say you’ve created the quintessentially Canadian character. Was this intentional or did Sid incarnate himself in the way many writers say their characters suddenly take on a life of their own?
Matt: There was a certain amount of self-incarnation.  The story was originally outlined as a screenplay, back when I thought I was retired from speechwriting at forty, because I was expecting to live on the royalties from my game. That was before Nintendo arrived and completely upended the games business within a matter of months, plunging me back into the scrabble for freelance writing work. 
As a screenplay protagonist, Sid would have been a tough, hardbitten character perfectly capable of solving his problems with a 105mm cannon.  But, writing him up as a novel protagonist, after the Gender Bender/retirement disaster, I found that grim humour kept creeping into the narrative, and he evolved into a character who talked a better game than he played.
Lorina: Geisel the Weasel has an almost Peter Lorre feel. In fact, the entire novel could be one of any of Humphrey Bogart’s films. Part of that feeling comes from the narrative voice you’ve chosen for the book. Were you in some ways channeling Bogie or that Silver Screen feeling?
Matt: I’ve always liked noir, always felt comfortable writing it. I had a decidedly noir upbringing, coming from a family that could be described by words like “fringe” and “shady.” Giesel is based on some of the people I ran into around the Vancouver Stock Exchange.
Lorina: Why call the novel, Downshift? I realize the term indicates a desire to disengage from the hurly-burly of Western life and seek a simpler, calmer lifestyle. But was there a double-entendre intended?
Matt: I liked the word. But, yes, it’s also a joke. Sid thought he was dowshifting from the hurly burly of the corporate and political worlds into a quiet life as a Vancouver Island screenwriter. Instead, he finds himself in desperate straits that get straiter and more desperate by the day.
Lorina: The novel flows along effortlessly, with a very polished narrative. Is this how Matt Hughes writes? Or is this the result of hours and hours of honing and polishing?

Matt: It’s how I write. I bashed it out in a couple of months, in between freelance gigs. I was working on the basis of outated information though: the old rule, from the days of slim paperbacks, that the easiest first novel to sell was a short one. After I had the deal with Doubleday, my editor asked me to add a few thousand words.

Lorina: There is to be a sequel to Downshift. Can you give us any insights as to what kind of pickle Sid Rafferty is going to find himself in Old Growth?

Matt: He gets drawn into the “war in the woods” between the BC forest industry and Greenpeace et al, compounded by the legend of  old-time union organizer Ginger Goodwin, murdered by a police assassin, and a dark family secret in the reclusive former coal-mining town of Cumberland, BC.  Also, Sid’s relationship with Mo hits a few bumps. I originally conceived the series as “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.”  Downshift is the meeting phase; Old Growth the losing.  If there’s ever a third, I’ll probably give Sid and Mo a happy ending

ISBN print 9781927400074 $23.99
ISBN eBook 9781927400081 $4.99
Available June 1, 2012

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