Before he embarked on his writing career, penning such stories as the epic fantasy novel Savage Legion and the Sin Du Jour urban fantasy novellas, a young Matt Wallace worked as professional wrestler, and even went to wrestling school. Now he’s bringing his past and present together in Bump (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), a new middle grade novel about a 12-year-old who goes to wrestling school to become a luchador. In the following email interview, Wallace talks about what inspired and influenced this story…besides the obvious, of course.
Photo Credit: © Edward Earl Newton
For starters, what is Bump about?
It’s about a 12-year-old girl named MJ who is dealing with a lot of sudden and tragic changes in her life, and is feeling adrift and isolated as a result. She’s moved with her mother to this new neighborhood, and quite by accident she learns her new neighbor is a retired luchador who runs a wrestling school. For the first time in a while MJ feels a spark towards something, and finding wrestling helps her figure herself out and deal with grief and bullying. That’s why when a threat against the school surfaces, MJ is ready to fight to defend it.
Where did you get the original idea for Bump, what inspired it?
I attended pro-wrestling school as a kid myself, not much older than MJ is in the story, and that time and those experiences were very formative for me. When I thought about writing a book for kids, my first, telling a story about a kid attending wrestling school and figuring themselves and their life out through learning about the wrestling business just made the most sense to me.
Why did you decide to make it about luchadores as opposed to professional wrestling or Olympic wrestling? Or a completely different sport, for that matter?
The American style of pro-wrestling is definitely mixed in there and prominent in the story, but I’ve always been a fan of and grew up with lucha, and had the privilege of training with and wrestling many luchadores in my career. I also grew up near the border, and most of the kids in my family, with me as the exception, are the children of Mexican immigrants. So are my nieces, who were very much the model for MJ, the protagonist in Bump. I wanted to write about wrestling in the context of them connecting with part of their heritage.
Your publisher says that Bump is a middle grade novel. But your previous books — which include the urban fantasy Sin Du Jour novellas and the fantasy novel Savage Legion — were for adults. Do you think adults who enjoyed your other books and are fans of your writing style will enjoy Bump as well?
I would hope so. I think the same heart and sense of action and adventure and character is in there. And I personally as an adult love plenty of media created for kids. I still watch old episodes of WMAC Masters and Ghostwriter. I enjoy books by authors like Eoin Colfer that are written for a young audience. I hope folks who’ve read and enjoyed my adult books will give my middle-grade work a shot.
Speaking of your other books, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Bump but not on anything else you’ve written?
Greg van Eeekout’s Voyage Of The Dogs had just come out when I was beginning to work on Bump, and Greg is a friend, so I read and studied his approach to middle-grade fiction a lot. It was really helpful and inspiring. Also, I just love dogs, and it’s a novel about dogs in space.
What about non-literary influences; was Bump influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because the story kind of reminds me of those movies where people would put on a show to save the orphanage or the local community center: The Blues Brothers, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo…
That’s definitely a vibe, yeah. And The Blues Brothers is actually one of my favorite movies. I was very much feeling The Karate Kid when I wrote Bump, while trying not to let it become The Karate Kid. But as a bullied teen who loved wrestling and martial arts that movie was obviously a huge deal for me. I love that whole franchise. And Cobra Kai, which is brilliant.
Prior to becoming a writer, you worked as a professional wrestler. How do you think that experience influenced Bump?
I mean, if I hadn’t been a pro-wrestler or attended pro-wrestling school I can say for sure I wouldn’t have written Bump. Even as a lifelong wrestling fan. Writing about the business of pro-wrestling, especially something as esoteric as a pro-wrestling school, is just such a unique thing and I don’t think you can really envision or understand that part of wrestling unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. I might’ve written about being a pro-wrestler, but I wouldn’t have set any story in a school.
As I mentioned, you previously wrote a series of novellas called Sin Du Jour, and your novel Savage Legion is the first in a trilogy. Is Bump the first book in a series as well?
There aren’t currently any plans for a sequel or a series. The new middle-grade novel I’m working on is an entirely different thing. But I would love to return to MJ’s world and the world of Victory Academy. I have a lot of ideas for other stories. I would love to follow MJ through her progression as a wrestling student and then becoming a pro herself. It all depends on how people respond to Bump and if there is a demand for more stories. But I’m ready.
Also, while I have you, do you know yet when the sequel to Savage Legion will be out and whether it will be called Savage Legion II: Electric Boogaloo? Because I have bad news about that suffix.
You really like that Electric Boogaloo joke, huh?
The current plan is for the second book in the Savage Rebellion series to come out at the end of July, and it is titled Savage Bounty.
Going back to Bump, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has there been any interest in turning Bump into a movie, show, or game?
There hasn’t been any interest in optioning Bump for other mediums. Yet! But I think Bump would make a fantastic television or streaming series. I could see it being live-action or animated, in fact. I feel like the series format works really well for a young audience, and I love writing for television besides.
If Bump was going to be made into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as M.J., Mr. Arellano, and the other main characters?
I would love to see Esai Morales play Mr. Arellano. La Bamba is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’ve always thought he was such an amazing and underrated actor.
And if someone wanted to make a Bump game…?
I am a big tabletop gamer myself, so when I think of Bump being a game, I would definitely see it as a board game. That would be a fun one to design. My buddy Nathan Long is a passionate and talented board game designer. I’d probably get him to do it. But if I had to pick one medium for the adaptation, I’d still have to go with a TV series.
And if that happened, would you want to write the script like you did for the TV shows Stranger Things and Evolution Of…?
I would absolutely love to write a pilot for Bump as a series and be heavily involved with the writing of a show like that. I’m also a screenwriter and TV writer, as you pointed out, and it’s something I actively want to get back to doing in my career and am pursuing as we speak.
Finally, if someone enjoys Bump, what novel of someone else’s about a wrestler would you suggest they read next and why that? And double points if it’s a middle grade or young adult novel.
Late last year I read that Kokila has acquired a middle-grade novel by Celia C. Pérez called Tumble, about a young girl reconnecting with her estranged family who are all luchadores. So it sounds very much in the Bump wheelhouse, but it’s an OwnVoices book, which mine isn’t. I’d definitely recommend people check that out when it releases if they’re interested in wrestling-related books for kids.