Jason Mather is a resident of Greeley, Colorado, and a graduate of University of Northern Colorado, where he majored in music. He is a free-lance musician and a full-time kennel worker. He lives with his wife Heather, his daughter Hannah, and Grandma Frieda and his six dogs: Gizmo, Kaori, Ellie Mae, Daisy Belle, Bailey, and Brodie. Shadow Life is his first book.
Your new book Shadowlife is set in a trans-humanist near future where resurrection is possible and it is difficult to know who to trust. Which elements of our current society did you keep for your story and which did you replace?
The state of the world in Shadowlife is my take on where our current society could arrive in the near future. There is no intention for it to be either dystopian or utopian. It has simply continued to move on, and bring both the good and the bad with it. There have been some upheavals. The federal government has been reduced to a kind of transit authority between city-states. The city-states are where the power lies, and each city is a power unto itself. They are expected to govern and provide for their populace with only the resources within their own border, or through trade with other city-states. It is not a perfect system. Corruption is still evident, and no city-state can provide for its population perfectly. All citizens are given tracking chips while still in the womb, a situation that has both positive and negative repercussions.
The primary thing that the world of Shadowlife retains is continued human error and imperfection. The world is intended to be a believable evolution of where humanity is today. Technology continues to develop, to both solve and create new issues, and people remain people, completely recognizable to us in this age, but dealing with developments and technologies that have yet to arrive in our time.
Obviously, no one could know where we will actually be in the near future, so any attempt to predict is merely a flight of fantasy on the creator’s part. Any technology presented is simply to further the story and nothing else. The world will move on.
In process, writing and music are very different. Music is a performance, an act of extroversion. Musicians playing together must keep their awareness outside of themselves, taking in as much information as the brain can handle. Every little change or difference in the performance needs to be marked and processed by all the musicians. Playing a piece of music with a large group is as close to actual telepathy as the human mind can get. It is an attempt to lose one’s ego and individuality in a larger gestalt. The rush can be amazing.
Writing is the opposite in many ways. There are very few pursuits more introverted than the act of sitting at a keyboard and telling yourself a story. Every decision is up to the creator, and the decisions do not often feel improvisatory. Writing can be a grind, and its rewards much more subtle, particularly because it is not always assured whether a writer’s creation will even be seen or enjoyed by anyone else.
A musician is an entertainer, and much of the enjoyment comes from the reaction of others. But a writer is their own primary audience, and the pleasure in writing comes from creating something personal that resonates with the writer themselves.
Musicians are most often playing other people’s creations. They did not create the music, they are the vehicle through which it is realized. A writer creates an entire universe from their own mind, and populates it how they see fit.
So, music and writing are different pursuits, but they share similarities, and I draw on many of the same sources for each. I am a very visual thinker. I see music visually. Songs tell me stories, sometimes abstract, sometimes very specific. My favorite pieces of music play entire movies for me while I listen to them. One example I can give is the first movement of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. I do not know what Shostakovich was trying to say when he wrote it, but I have always seen something akin to Lawrence of Arabia whenever I listen to it. I see the shimmering sands, the desert battles, the triumph and despair.
When I write it is also visual. I often feel like a reporter observing a scene. The scene plays and I try to describe the events as best as I can. This can feel like I am not in control of these events, and I welcome this feeling, because it tells me that I have created characters real and complex enough to act on their own. I am not trying to imply that creating a story has any kind of exterior creative force, just that it can feel that way.
I am struggling to make any kind of a decision as to which act of creativity I prefer. They are like my two children. Each different, each equally loved. Hopefully this will not be considered a cop out.
And as a follow-up to that question, what type of music do you enjoy and what instruments do you play?
At the risk of sounding like another cop out answer, I most often answer that question by saying I like good music. I do not know what I am going to like before I listen to it, and as I have gotten older I have been trying to become less and less close minded to giving anything a shot. I certainly have my favorite musicians and songs. My classical training has given me a lot of access to the great classics. I am a huge fan of string quartets by almost any composer you can name. I love piano music in almost any genre. I listen to a lot of Jazz. Miles Davis is a favorite of mine, as is Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, John Coltrane. All the greats really.
There is not a genre of music I can think of that I do not like something from. I definitely have my preferences, but I encourage myself and everyone else to just try a bit of everything and try not to pre-judge or feel embarrassed about what you do and don’t like. JS Bach is amazing. AC/DC kicks ass. They are very different, but I do not consider one more worthy of listening to as long as you enjoy what you are hearing.
My primary instrument is the Tuba. I play the Tuba at a professional level. Twenty-five years of practicing will do that. But my favorite thing to play is my classical guitar. That instrument has been something I’ve always just played for myself. I am, at best, an intermediate level player, but I enjoy playing something where my part is the whole song, and I can sit by myself and do whatever I feel is best for the music.
Most trained musicians end up with some skill on a handful of instruments. I can play some drums, some piano, Trombone. But the Tuba and guitar are my primary sources of expression.
You work with animals and have 6 dogs – what can we learn from our canine friends?
Hand on my heart, I truly and honestly believe dogs are better than humans. In fact, If I were to stop and make a list of the best creatures on this planet, I might be able to slide humans into the top ten, but probably not. To anyone who thinks that humans are the most amazing creature on this planet, my one word response is “whale.”
I spend a lot of time with dogs. I have six of my own, and I work at a dog boarding and daycare facility, so I have thirty to sixty more friends to hang out with on any given day.
Dogs are loyal. They forgive, even when they shouldn’t. They accept, and they live in the moment. Dogs can lose a leg or an eye or go deaf and they simply accept it as the state of things. I know that some of this is due to a lack of understanding because of less complex thought processes and a smaller brain. But my life has continued to improve the more I try to emulate these traits.
On your website, you divulge that you are a big James Bond fan and have even shared a short story you wrote. What is it about Bond that interests you and has that influenced Shadowlife?
Shadowlife started as a Bond story. I was trying to come with an idea that I could turn into a novel, and my wife suggested to me that I should try writing a Bond story, just as a way of getting going. The essential adventure aspects of Shadowlife are very like a Bond story. But when I sat down to write Shadowlife, I struggled with writing a superhero story. The main character became more of an everyman, and I enjoyed putting someone less capable in the middle of the circumstances.
I am a huge fan of James Bond. I like the movies, even the ones I know are not very good. But I like the books even better. Ian Fleming’s Bond character is a more romantic and tragic character then is normally portrayed in the films, though the recent films with Daniel Craig have gotten closer. Fleming’s original Bond is not the carefree ladies’ man that is portrayed in the movies. He’s a thug with enough intelligence to hate what it is that he excels at. He wants a normal life, and a loving relationship, but he rejects these because he doesn’t think he can have them, so he plays the rogue as a protective measure.
The story I wrote was an attempt on my part to give Bond the happy ending he’ll probably never get.
What is your favorite (read) book and why?
My favorite book is Catch 22. I have read it more than a dozen times. I read it every year around December. The more I read that book the more I start to think it’s not really satire, or, if it is, it’s just very slightly over the line from normal. It’s such a deceptive book. I read it and laugh all the way through, but so little of what is happening is actually funny.
I love Catch 22 for a number of reasons. I love Yossarian. I love his cowardice. It’s hard to think of another book where I can root so strongly for a coward. I love how Joseph Heller spins everything into a contradiction, from the major themes to individual sentences. I love it because it keeps me humble. No matter how successful I might become as a writer, I can’t conceive of being able to craft a masterpiece like Catch 22.
I want to believe that Yossarian successfully escapes at the end. In my mind, this is what happens. It’s why I’ve never read the sequel.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet?
Please see previous question…Just kidding. The book I dream of writing is the one that finally hooks my daughter and makes her love reading as much as I do. I don’t really know what that is yet though.
I wanted to recap a question during my live interview on Facebook, when asked what kind of music I would use to score a movie version of Shadowlife. I mentioned the Japanese composer Yoko Kanno as the person I would pick to do the score. The variety and quality with which she creates always astounds me.
As far as the style, I see my story as being set solidly in the realm of noir. I hear smoky music, slippery and sultry, muted trumpet and tenor saxophone. Punctuated strings. But, as is also a noir tradition, the music would be used sparingly, for atmosphere and not for punctuation. A good movie score knows the value of silence, and I hear a score for my story that knows when not to play.
Click here to listen to the live interview on Facebook.
More about Shadow Life
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Webpage: Jason Mather