Between the Lines: Matt Bell's "Scrapper"

Dec 4, 2015

Author Matt Bell
Credit Elijah Tubbs

Detroit was once a bustling city, filled with people and noise, and activity. Today, Detroit has entire blocks of abandoned houses. Writer Matt Bell puts his fictional character Kelly inside these abandoned houses, searching for scrap metal treasure. But what he finds is entirely unexpected.


Bell's newest novel is Scrapper (SoHo Press, 2015). “Kelly is scrapping in an abandoned house and he goes down into the basement to get the metal that would be there. And he finds a young boy named Daniel who is ten or eleven. He’s been kidnapped and has been held in this basement for three days.”

Kelly becomes something of a local hero as he rescues the young boy. But when he continues a relationship with the troubled boy after his return home, the mystery of the kidnapper’s identity only deepens. Past traumas in Kelly’s own life surface, adding more twists and turns to the story.

Bell is an Ann Arbor native but currently lives in Arizona, where he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University. He's also the author of In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, a Michigan Notable Book, and an Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year); How They Were Found; Cataclysm Baby; and Baldur’s Gate II. His work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Tin House, the New York Times, Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, The American Reader, and many other publications.

Credit Soho Press

Bell says writing Scrapper was difficult in many ways, as he entered the mind of his main character.

“Kelly’s a heavy person who does some dangerous and unlikable things,” Bell says. “One of the ways that I generate characters is to both see them with some things you share and also to get the character to a place where he is taking some actions you wouldn’t take. As soon as they start doing that, they become unknowable a little bit. Their motivations are no longer your motivations. It was pretty heavy material to spend time with. But if you are going to ask a reader to inhabit that space, it seems that you should fully inhabit it yourself first.”

Bell wrote Scrapper while living in Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He finished the manuscript during the winter, putting six to ten hours of writing into it almost daily. Over his writing career, Bell says he writes to be more present in his life rather than to escape from it. Because of that, he has been sometimes been called a “brave" writer.

“I wanted art that made me feel more present in my heart and mind,” he says. “It's difficult to say things that people don’t want to hear. It’s difficult to look at things when it’s easier to look away from them. There has to be courage in bearing witness.”

Bell’s second book to be published in 2015 is Baldur’s Gate II, a story interwoven with the characters of the popular video game. Bell says he enjoys exploring the combining of the art of literary storytelling and gaming.

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