Krystle Matar
Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar

Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar

The Tainted Dominion Series
SPFBO 7 Finalist 2022

What led you into writing?

I can’t remember an exact moment when I started writing. Family lore says I started telling stories as soon as I can talk, but I can’t remember that far back! By the time I was a preteen, I turned to writing as a safe place to express myself in a world that felt like too much sometimes. Gender, sexuality, self-reflection—all of those things I could think about better with pen and paper, and eventually stories started to take shape. And the expression of those things are still in my writing, I think. It never went away.

How does a typical day look?

I am a parent of four children, and we live on a small hobby farm with small pigs, so a typical day is chaos! I squeeze writing around chores and cooking and school work by thinking obsessively about my stories while I’m doing all those things; that way, when I sit down to write, I already have a bit of a plan for what I’m going to tackle with the time I have!

In what ways do your characters test your abilities?

I think they test mine! I often joke that I’m not smart enough to write these books, so I’m lucky some of my characters seem to know what they’re doing.

I guess my serious answer is that I’ve known some of these characters a long time, and so I know how to push them really hard into territory that makes them or breaks them. You have to know what is most important to them in order to push them to the very edge of themselves; Tashué’s biggest value has always been family. He wants to provide for the people he loves, and when he can’t do that, he’s willing and able to get ugly in order to protect the people depending on him.

But if we’re talking magic, I just tested this so I might just babble about it. When writing Talent, I really wanted it to be something grounded in the natural ebb and flow of the world, something with limitations and a heavy cost if you don’t respect the danger of it. Talent is also a reflection of the person’s character; their personality shapes their Talent, but their Talent eventually shapes their personality, too. So for Tashué I tried to imagine who he was at his core. All-or-nothing. Impulsive, at times self-destructive. Unrelenting. His abilities would not be gentle or precise, nor would they be easily controlled. His Talent, when it quickens, will be an avalanche. All-consuming and dangerous, even to himself.

It’s going to be fun!

What’s your setup?

My setup, much like my life, is chaotic! There are six of us and the house is small, so I have a desk shoved into a corner and it has to do a lot of different jobs at once. Important things like holding the fancy whisky, and of course the nice fountain pens—oh and also my computer—oh and yeah there’s my revision binder… Did I mention it’s chaotic?

What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?

I read across a few genres and so I think it was inevitable that I tried to cram those genres into one book.

David Gemmell and Dennis Lehane (my absolute all-time favourites) are masters of building worlds deliberately and with incredible precision. Lehane is a contemporary writer rather than SFF but still he brings an incredible vivid setting to life no matter which city he’s writing about, and he has an amazing sense for exactly where and when to pepper in backstory so you always know exactly what you need to know for a moment to hit the hardest. Same with Gemmell, the late great heroic fantasy writer—his background as a journalist gave him a great sense for how many details a reader needs to understand what’s happening without tipping over into extraneous. (All in my humble opinion of course.)

And then that pacing, like I said. Lehane and Gemmell both nailed this incredible book math that always gets the exact same reaction out of me, no matter how long or short the book or story is. One third setup, one third “oh nooooooo I think I see where this is going, this is so stressful” and one third “OMG WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO ME!!”

Okay let me explain now.

I’m not talking so much about three acts; yes I know about three act structure, but the flow of those three acts varies from writer to writer if indeed they’re using it. Sometimes the whole book is full throttle from the moment you hit the first page, sometimes there are peaks of stress and valleys of incredible (but beautiful) stillness. But what Gemmell and Lehane both achieve is a gentle meandering at first to help you get situated. They give you a while to take in your surroundings and come to understand the world they’ve brought you to. The gently but effectively introduce the characters that you know you need to care about, and they hint at what the stakes are going to be. The second third rachets up all those stakes in a hurry, sucking you in faster, giving you a little less time to catch your breath. And then, that final third is so tense and so fast that I usually finish it in a single day, even if it’s still a few hundred pages! There’s no more time to stop and settle and there’s nowhere you can reasonably put the book down without DYING INSIDE. No more valleys of beautiful stillness, ONLY STRESS AND PLOT TWISTS AND GRIEF. And they always, always end in a way that you hate, just a little, because it really hurts, but you know in your heart of hearts that there was no other way to end.

Anyway that’s what I hope to achieve with my own writing 😀

What do you do for inspiration?

The real world is so incredibly inspirational. Since I have a specific time period that I write in, I like to poke around and gather interesting photos and articles and tidbits of information that helps me immerse myself in what life what must have been like at the time. I also watch a lot of documentaries, because I’m really interested in how people make stories out of truth. It’s the thing that unites every story—no matter how fantastical, no matter how far outside our lived experience, all great stories begin with a grain of truth, and all truths are subject to a little bit of storytelling as we express them.

But art is also incredibly inspirational. There’s something really magical about finding a writer that absolutely stuns you with their skills. It makes me want to level up. It makes me go, “I want to do that, but in my voice.” Because that’s the beautiful thing about storytelling, really. You could give the same prompt to 100 writers, and you would get 100 different stories. Sometimes the inverse is true, too. Sometimes I’m inspired by art that frustrated me, things that I felt could have been more. I get more of this feeling from TV and movies, since it’s easier to consume them in my spare time. I’ll watch things while I cook, for example, and often I’ll see something through to the end even if I don’t love it, because it gives me things to think about with how I would approach those themes in my own writing.

And then of course you need some time to breathe. Some time outside, or some time to do a craft with your hands, or some time to cook a meal that you’re proud of. This time and space gives your emotional core the chance to take the ingredients of inspiration—true facts and stunning and/or disappointing art—and let them blend together into something that is truly reflective of you, and it seems to me that’s the art that resonates best with people!

Legacy of the Brightwash
“It had already been a long, exhausting day when the girl’s body washed up on the bank of the Brightwash. Tashué Blackwood trudged up the street, feeling the weariness in every part of his body. His station house had always been short-handed, but since one of their Regulation Officers died, everyone was working to the very limit of their strength. Some days he scarcely knew what time it was, what month it was, hours and weeks blending together into a trek through the city, knocking on doors, asking questions, filing endless stacks of paperwork at the station house.”  More

What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?

It always comes down to love. It doesn’t matter how bleak or hard or ugly our lives are, it’s love that has the power to save us and redeem us. Familial love, romantic love, parental love, love of the community—it can heal us and guide us through the darkest moments. It gives us something to hang on to when it seems like we have nothing. It can give us the courage to stand against impossible odds to protect what we believe in.

And in some cases, it can be our demise.

That’s really powerful stuff.

How do you wind down?

Winding down? What’s that!

Family time is probably my best chance to breathe. We have a lot of property and a great way to spend a whole day outside is by lighting a bonfire in our big firepit, having a few beers, maybe cooking something over the flames.

What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while designing your world/setting?

Something that I grapple with is setting the familiar against the strange. It’s why I was drawn to the Victorian time period specifically; in a lot of ways, this period comes very close to how we live our lives now. Cities were getting very dense and technology was progressing to start to make big replacements, and industry was growing at a fast clip, and travel was becoming possible in ways it hadn’t been before. But it’s still over 100 years ago, and so things were also very different. It gives me a chance to push the boundaries of where we are now vs where we were then—but it’s also secondary world, so I get to make some of my own rules especially in regards to inclusiveness.

So then, my challenge becomes the balance between all that. For example, this was the era of grave robbers for medical research. Seriously. The Burke and Hare murders of 1834 were two men killing people to make money from selling their corpses to a lecturer who was researching/demonstrating human anatomy. Incredible leaps and bounds were made in surgical knowledge, but the methods they used to get there were sometimes incredibly shady, or downright murderous, and those stories are SO fascinating. But also, I have magic, so how might that thirst for knowledge be different? If people don’t trust magic users, what might the rest of the population do to arm surgeons with knowledge so that people don’t have to depend on magic-based healers? Playing with history by adding magic has been fun, but also very challenging. Sometimes I don’t feel imaginative enough! But mostly I love finding wild true stories like this; it gives me fuel for new ideas!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve recently made a switch to audiobooks so I can read while I’m cooking. I miss keeping up with what writers are doing! So thanks to audio, I’m reading Daughter of No Worlds by Carissa Broadbent, and that book is absolutely sweeping me away. It’s so beautifully written, and the magic is fascinating, the worldbuilding it seamless. I love all of it. I wish there were more hours in the day so I could get it finished!

What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?

My best advice is community. Find people who understand you, people who believe in you when you’re too tired and too discouraged to believe in yourself. Find people who are willing and able to challenge you, and push you into levelling up and honing your skills. Find people who are willing and able to tell you that you’ve done enough and it’s time to rest. This writing thing might seem like a solitary venture, but it’s not. Our stories are a reflection of ourselves, yes, but also they are an act of community. An act of love. Find your people and you’ll do more than you ever imagined possible when you were on your own.

Tell us about the book you’re promoting.

LEGACY OF THE BRIGHTWASH is something like Romantic Grimdark. The worldbuilding and the plot is dark and heavy and violent, but the emotional core is about love and community and how we have the power to save each other from our own darkest places. It’s the book of my heart and soul, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the reception it’s gotten so far from the community. Thank you, everyone, who have been helpful and supportive and welcoming and so incredibly loving. Love you, friends.

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Krystle Matar

Krystle Matar

Krystle Matar has been writing for a long time, but things got serious when Tashué Blackwood walked into her life, an amber-eyed whirlwind. When she isn’t arguing with him or any of his friends, she parents and farms. She has a lot of children and even more animals and one very excellent husband.

Read about Krystle

Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar
Tashué’s faith in the law is beginning to crack. Three years ago, he stood by when the Authority condemned Jason to the brutality of the Rift for non-compliance. When Tashué’s son refused to register as tainted, the laws had to be upheld. He’d never doubted his job as a Regulation Officer before, but three years of watching your son wither away can break down even the strongest convictions. Then a dead girl washed up on the bank of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated. Where had she come from? Who would tattoo a child? Was it the same person who killed her? Why was he the only one who cared? Will Tashué be able to stand against everything he thought he believed in to get the answers he’s looking for?

Read Tashué - Day 1

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