It’s a theme that occurs over and over in writing, and especially in horror. From “I Know What You Did Last Summer” to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and beyond, the resonance of guilt made manifest is a theme that is near and dear to our hearts. Matt Schiariti’s Words With Fiends takes a familiar theme and makes it not just high-tech, but makes it pop-culturally significant by incorporating it into a game to which we all, at one time or another, have been addicted. The story itself is not over-long—something around 10,000 words—but those words pack a punch and offers the reader a glimpse into a soul tortured by guilt. Morgan has done a bad thing, but it doesn’t, necessarily, make him a bad guy. There’s a lot of grey in the story and that’s great, because there are many situations in life that are equally grey. We all start out slightly shadowed, and it is a testament of what we choose to become as to whether we turn from light or turn toward it.
I don’t want to spoil the story. While it quickly becomes clear just what evil this not-so-bad-guy has perpetrated, it’s in Morgan’s reaction to it that we see the essence of who he is. After the events, his Words With Friends app begins to play a game with him—an unknown player reaching into his psyche and stirring the pot of his guilt. Morgan becomes a man haunted—no one will find out. How could anyone find out? Only, well, the story quickly devolves into Morgan’s self-induced madness and frantic efforts to keep hidden what should be kept hidden. But, you know how this story goes….The moment he begins meddling, all is revealed. His panic is palpable—you can feel his heartbeat, the way his breathing changes, his hands clenched around the steering wheel…. But, refreshingly, it does not exactly end like you think it might, and using a wonderful play on the words, the ending twists and turns in all the best ways of horror.
But, I mentioned “Urban Legend” in the title. Yes. Can’t you just hear it? “You’re playing what? Oh, man, I knew this guy who knew this guy who had this cousin who had a friend who got some weird, screwed up thing happen with that app—ghosts, dude…voices of the damned…” While we would all like something we’ve written to worm its way into society’s collective consciousness in such a way, Schiariti’s story is written with such an air of authority and depth as to lead the reader to believe in it wholeheartedly. Yeah, I’ve heard of that guy… That guy who had that happen. Yeah. You haven’t heard the story? Unholy hell, let me tell you—
Or … maybe I’ll just let THIS guy tell you. I’d like to welcome author Matt Schiariti to A Diamond in the Dark. Matt has graciously agreed to an interview AND, he’ll be giving away two copies of his book to lucky comment makers, so please leave a comment for a chance to win! Win what? Well, let’s start out with an excerpt from Matt’s book to get you in the mood …
From: Words With Fiends: A Short Story
The liquid changed color from amber to a russet brown as it spread across the polished wooden surface, magnifying the intricate grains. It flowed, seeking its own level with gravity’s help, and meandered closer to the edge of the bar, enveloping the pale white coaster as if it was hungry. Or like it was trying to smother it.
Morgan reached out with a trembling hand and righted the highball glass which lay on its side. He snatched his smartphone up and away, saving it from certain electronic death by alcohol poisoning.
“Don’t worry about it, Morg. It’s just a spill. Watch your phone.” The bartender produced a towel as if by magic and began cleaning the displaced three fingers of Johnny Walker Black before it could mar any more surface area of his gleaming bar top.
“I got it,” Morgan said, pocketing his Droid. “I guess I’ll be having another after all.”
“Coming right up.” The bartender and owner, Walter — a 40-something black man with short, graying hair and deep laugh lines—filled a fresh glass with three fingers of Scotch. “On the house.”
“Thanks, Walt. You’re the man.” Morgan balled his hand into a fist and, when he was sure the quaking had subsided, pulled the glass to his lips and sipped.
“Everything alright, Morg? You look a little out of sorts tonight.”
Walt, like most bartenders, had a preternatural gift for empathy. The stereotype almost made Morgan smile. Almost.
“Yeah, I’m ok, Walt,” Morgan said and sat the glass down on the now pristine mahogany bar. “Just been a rough couple days. You know how life can be.”
Walter noticed a young kid, probably a college senior, Morgan thought, raise his ale glass from the end of the thirty foot bar. The bartender nodded and held up a finger. “You let me know if you need anything, ok?”
With the friendly barman off serving other customers, Morgan was left with nothing but the muffled sounds of traffic navigating the slushy winter roads outside and his own thoughts for company. He peered out the large window, noticing the sun was already setting, casting the bloated snow-clouds in brilliant shades of purple and orange. He also noticed the neon yellow MISSING sign being stapled to the telephone pole just outside the establishment. Morgan didn’t even need to see the picture clearly to know who the homemade sign featured. He knew the face by heart. He’d seen so many of the signs that the image was seared into his retinas. He’d tried to avoid them. Tried…and failed.
Finishing the Scotch and ordering up another seemed like the next logical step to Morgan when the man posting the MISSING sign turned and met his eyes. Morgan turned quickly away, afraid that the young, thin man with the shoulder length blond hair would decipher his every thought, decode his very soul, and find them both severely lacking .
The glass reached his lips and Morgan closed his eyes, letting the curative effects of the Scotch coat his throat and settle in his stomach, wrapping him in its warm, smoky grip.
He closed his eyelids hard enough to see stars.
A night like tonight.
His cell phone vibrating.
A wave of dizziness overcame him and he opened his eyes, his vision wobbly. He took a Menthol Light from the pack in his trench coat pocket and made to light it.
“Yo, Morg. You know you can’t smoke in here, man.” Walter was hovering over him with a deep frown on his face.
When the hell did sneak up on me?
“Man, where you been the last six years. No smoking in bars in Jersey. You know that.”
“Right. I’m…I’m sorry. I dunno what I was thinking.” Morgan’s voice was beginning to slur. The Scotch was taking quicker effect than he’d realized.
“You’re sure you’re ok?” Walter said, his scowl replaced with a look of concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Really. This Scotch is kicking the shit out of me tonight for some reason. Sneaking up on me like a son of a bitch.” Morgan forced a fake smile, hoping that it was convincing. It felt anything but.
“Maybe you should head on home. Get some sleep.”
“I’m not an alcoholic, Walter.” He shocked himself with the testiness that seeped into his voice.
“Never said you were, man. But I think you’ve had enough for one night.” As if to put a period on the end of the conversation, Walter collected the empty glass of Johnny Walker and the coaster.
“You’re right. I’m sorry for snapping at you.” Morgan filled the vacated space with a fifty dollar bill and stood up. He wobbled and put a hand on the smooth wood to steady himself. “Guess I have had a bit too much.” He shrugged into his trench coat and then checked his cellphone. An icon consisting of a black W stamped in the middle of a lemon yellow tile, shone like a beacon on the screen.
Words With Friends
He clicked on it.
Your Move With Diane!
He smiled in spite of himself, mostly due to his self-acknowledged addiction to the mobile scrabble game.
She’d played ZOOS for over 100 points.
“What’s the matter? Something happen?” Walter said.
“No. Words with Friends.” He held up the cellphone. “My girlfriend kicks my ass all the time but I can’t help myself. I’m a total addict.”
Walter smiled. “You and everybody else these days, it seems. Remember that fiasco with Alec Baldwin?”
“Have a good one, Walt.” Morgan made for the doorway, the cold winter’s night, and his warm townhome.
“Hey, you’re not thinking of driving are you?” Walter yelled after him. “I can call you a cab. Just leave your car here overnight. It’s safe.”
“Thanks but I’m good. I’ll walk. Do my head some good. Car’s in the shop anyway.”
“Yeah? What happened?”
Morgan stopped with one foot out the door. After a pause, he said over his shoulder: “Hit a deer.”
See what I mean? You can see the characters, the situation, and it’s like you know this guy who knows this guy who knows this guy’s COUSIN … But, while you let that marinade in your mind, let’s welcome Matt Schiariti to A Diamond In The Dark!
Amy: Welcome, Matt! It’s great to have you here. Now, I need to ask—what sparked the idea for this story?
Matt: I was actually playing some Words With Friends right before dinner and a thought popped into my head: ‘what if you were playing this and it started to get all screwy and dark?’ Then the title popped into my head. I love titles that play on words. It seemed like I was on to something when the idea wouldn’t leave my mind.
Amy: So in the whole which came first, the story or the characters, idea?
Matt: The story for sure. I had the idea for getting the word game involved, then I knew how I wanted things to resolve themselves. The characters and their back stories came as I started typing it up.
Amy: Let’s talk influences. Who are your favorite writers?
Matt: Ohhhh, so many. Ken Follett, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Karina Halle, Kim Harrison, Travis Thrasher, Brian Freeman, Arianna Franklin, Deb Crombie, Peter F. Hamilton…I’m sure by the time this is posted I’ll have thought of even more favorites and kick myself for not having mentioned them!
Amy: Oh, brilliant! My friend Sarah turned me on to Arianna Franklin. She’s awesome. That’s a great list. What does your family think of your writing?
Matt: They’ve been pretty supportive! They know I’m a big reader and I’d always kicked around the idea of writing something. It wasn’t until last year (almost a year to the day in fact) that I actually started to write my own original stories. I’d actually gotten a short story published as part of anthology last fall. The story is Hollow and it’s part of the Apocalypse 13 anthology from Padwolf publishing. I opted to get paperback copies instead of monetary payment for it and I gave them to my immediate family as Christmas gifts! LOL. Everyone was pretty happy about it.
Amy: This is a question I seem to ask a lot, so I’m going to ask it of you, too. What about music? Do you have favorites or a playlist that you listen to while writing?
Matt: I actually don’t list to music when writing…believe it or not.
Amy: What about past influences growing up in southern New Jersey? Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Matt: Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. I will say that nothing in Words With Fiends has actually happened to me! But I guess on a deep level, they must have. We’re just a summation of our experiences, right? This may have nothing to do with the question, but I really don’t even read much straight up horror. I do read some, but it’s only a fraction of what I’ve read, although I have been reading more of it lately. So I don’t know where all the darker stuff comes from. I’m sure Freud would have a field day analyzing all of that 😉
Amy: What about your reading history? I mean, Jeremy on Top Gear always asks his guests about their “car history,” so I feel like I should be asking authors about their “reading crush history.” So, who were your faves when you were growing up?
Matt: I used to love The Box Car Kids and Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid. Those and comic books! Batman, Avengers, etc. I didn’t read all that many books until I hit high school. The Hunt For Red October came out in the theater and I was on a Tom Clancy kick for a good long while after that.
Amy: Words With Fiends was so much fun to read, I can tell it was fun to write, too. That’s the nice thing about reading stories that are well-told. So, I’m thinking this won’t be the last we hear from you. What future projects do you have planned?
Matt: The ‘biggest’ one would be an upcoming Urban Fantasy novel I’d written in the spring of last year. It’s been to several beta readers and I’ll be starting final edits on it soon. I’m excited and nervous about it. Keeping people’s attention with a short story is one thing, but to do the same through 340 or so pages? That’s another thing entirely =) Anyway, if all goes well that should be landing on e readers in 4 to 6 weeks. My blog will be the information hub for that once I get a cover image. I’m thinking some contest for ARCS, etc, etc. The entire prologue is actually up on my blog as I type this. I’m still continuing to write short horror/dark fiction stories and I would like to put out my own collection of them one day. I have two ‘in the can’ so far and ideas for quite a few more. I’ll get on those after I’m done editing my UF novel. I’ve also written another short story for Padwolf publishing that will be in an upcoming anthology of theirs as well as one that I have YET to write for another one of their anthologies. Then there’s ANOTHER book that I’d written last year that’s in the hands of one of my beta readers. That’s more of a life story/contemporary romance of sorts with a bit of a supernatural twist. Of course, I have ideas for a bunch of other books but they’re just that at this point: ideas! But you’re a writer so I don’t have to tell you it’s better to have too many ideas than not enough 😉 In any event, I hope to assault e readers with more of my work in 2013!
Awesome! And if your interest is piqued and you want to give Matt’s story a read (which you really should), you can find it here:
Also available in the itunes store
And, if you want to get to know Matt Schiariti and hang out with him (which you really should), you can find him all over the place here: