For those of you who are part of my generation, that means you probably grew up gawking at the wildly provocative covers of all the tabloids like I did, eager to sneak a peek at all those outlandish stories conjured up to sell consumers on a variety of conspiracy theories. These days, those tabloids feel like a remnant of a time when we dared to dream that Elvis was vacationing at the pyramids in Egypt or that the elusive Bat Boy was really out there, scaring unsuspecting visitors to Central Park and the like. So, if you’re like me and you tend to enjoy what I call “wildly imaginative” journalism, I highly recommend giving Mat Thorne’s novel Dial M for Mutants! a read, because it did a great job of transporting me back to yesteryear, and it also features some really fun creature aspects in its story.
Daily Dead recently interviewed Thorne about his first novel, and he discussed the inspirations behind Dial M for Mutants!, keeping the spirit of the tabloids alive through a special Instagram account he’s created, and more.
To grab a copy of Dial M for Mutants! for yourself, you can purchase it HERE.
So, what was the initial inspiration behind the story of Dial M for Mutants!?
Mat Thorne: I was neck-deep in writing a dark fantasy/horror novel that was really sucking the life out of me. It was set in a vast world with lots of characters and some really dark storylines… and I knew it wasn’t a world that I enjoyed being a part of. Especially during Covid, when the real world was becoming increasingly bleak. So I stepped away from it and really thought about the kind of book I would actually enjoy writing. I thought of all the things I loved (mysteries, underdog stories, creature features, etc.) and started to see a way they could all fit together. I loaded it with things I knew from firsthand experience, like photography and journalism, and centered it around something I always found fascinating: trashy supermarket tabloids. Once I had the bones laid out, I started working on the story, but my goal was always to write a novel that I would love to read.
I think it’s interesting that you set this during a time when tabloids were really raging, and I kind of miss seeing Bat Boy stories greeting me at the checkout when I go to the grocery store these days. Was there something particular about the early-to-mid-’90s that in your mind made for an interesting backdrop to this story (I think that also gave me some X-Files vibes, too)?
Mat Thorne: I think it’s important to have a good feeling for when the book takes place. I’ve never really enjoyed stories that take place in an undescribed “present.” I think it’s boring. So I knew I wanted to lock in on a time period and make it a subtle part of the story. I followed my own advice about sticking to things I knew and loved, so the mid-’90s were a perfect fit. I really miss the ‘90s. They felt like simpler times. No smart phones, no social media. Lots of arcades and shopping malls. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I really like Buck, who feels like an artifact of a different era (there’s something about that I really relate to), and I really enjoy Betty, too, and I very much enjoyed their working relationship in Dial M for Mutants!. To me, there’s something inherently fun that comes from that kind of generational clash. Can you discuss creating these characters and how their back-and-forth relationship in this story really drives the narrative?
Mat Thorne: I’ve always been a sucker for misfits, especially when they have to band together. Mismatched misfits, what’s more fun than that? So, I wanted Buck and Betty to have very different perspectives on the world and very different ambitions, but ultimately I wanted them to form a strong friendship. I love it when the clash between people becomes the bond. When one person’s weakness and another’s strength complement each other. It’s the basis of all strong relationships, I think.
It was also important for me to show an untraditional friendship with no romantic or sexual undertones. I always hated it when books or movies tried to force a romantic subplot. It always felt awkward to me, so I made it a point to avoid it entirely.
I don’t want to get too specific because I don’t want to ruin things for potential readers, but there is a monster at the center of the mystery of Dial M for Mutants!. Were there certain classic monsters that inspired you wanting to tell a monster-centric story here?
Mat Thorne: I’m a massive fan of creature features, they’re my absolute favorites. It would be impossible to name all the ones that have inspired me, because they all have! And I’ve burned through hundreds. I’d say a few movies that come immediately to mind would be The Fly (1986), From Beyond (1986), and The Void (2016). For books, I’d say The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft, The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and Pet Sematary by Stephen King.
Because this is your first book, what has been your biggest takeaway from your experience writing and releasing Dial M for Mutants! into the world?
Mat Thorne: It’s funny, I thought there would be this great sense of accomplishment and relief (and celebration!) when I finally published the book, but I didn’t experience any of that. I felt like I took the very first (tiny) step in the right direction, but that the journey has only just started. It would be silly to be too proud of that. No one celebrates when they get the car out of park and into first gear!
Any future plans for more books, or are you just relishing the feeling of getting Dial M for Mutants! released for now?
Mat Thorne: Oh yeah, lots of plans. Too many, probably! Recently, I’ve been working on some Instagram content for The Midnight Extra (which is the tabloid where Buck and Betty reluctantly work). I’m hoping it can get a little traction and act as a way to keep people engaged in the world in the short term while I work on the longer form content. I’d love to have regular release windows for future adventures with Buck and Betty, kind of like how Goosebumps was published when I was a kid. “Goosebumps for grownups” has always been a mantra for me, so I’d love to try and follow that model.
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