I became familiar with Matt Coyle when I found out that he and I would be sharing a Southern California Mystery Writers of America booth at the Tucson Festival of Books. He is also the recipient of the Anthony Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the world of mystery writers. His style reminds me of Raymond Chandler while his plots remind me of Ross Macdonald, always a good combination.
I see that you like Raymond Chandler. What about his writing inspired you?
First of all, the language and the rhythm of his writing. Philip Marlowe, his protagonist, is tied for first. I love lone wolf P.I. stories and Marlowe is about as lone as you can get. His distrust of authority and determination to do the right thing even if it goes against the law appeals to me.
You also like Fitzgerald. How has his writing influenced your style?
Probably his underlying sense of melancholy. There is a bit of that in my protagonist, Rick Cahill.
How did you find your own voice as an author?
I think it takes a while. I certainly hadn’t developed a voice in the first draft of my first book, YESTERDAY’S ECHO. Luckily, I had to revise it four or five times over the course of about nine or ten years before an agent took me on. By then, I’d become a better writer and developed a distinct voice.
Which is more difficult to write: the first or second book?
I’d like to say the first, but I’m not sure that’s true. Each book is difficult for me. However, I’ve come to trust my writing process, no matter how unruly it is, and feel good about the end product.
One of the points that resonated with me in your blog was that you enjoyed writing yourself into a corner. David Mamet, in his small book Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, mentions that when you see a writer who is lost in thought, troubled, twitchy, and tending to fly off the handle that he/she is experiencing a third act problem. How do you solve the backed-into-a corner-with-no-way-out type of issues?
I think I should have chosen my words more carefully. I don’t really enjoy being stuck in the corner-nobody puts baby in the corner-but sometimes that’s where I find the true essence of the story. My subconscious usually gets involved and takes the story in a direction that I may not have anticipated, but usually improves the story.
What have you learned about writing that has surprised you?
I didn’t understand when I started how, despite being a solitary endeavor ninety-five percent of the time, how much of a collaborative process writing is. You need someone, a group or a beta reader or two, to read your work in order for you to learn if the reader is reading the story you think you’re telling.
Many authors map out where they are going before they start. Do you need a map or do you simply follow where the story leads?
I don’t outline. I usually have a destination in mind and figure out how to get there each day in front of the computer. Sometimes I take some wrong terms, but I don’t worry to much about that in the first draft. It can take a while for me to find the true meaning of the story, so in the first draft I spew it all out. Usually, after the first revision I have something workable that I can polish into something worth reading.
Is it the characters that drive the plot for you, or is it the situations the characters find themselves in that moves your stories forward?
For me, character always comes first, but it’s a combination of the two. My protagonist, Rick Cahill is a P.I. I try to find an inciting incident that will cause him to emotionally connect to the case. The story is only interesting to me, and I think readers, if Rick is invested in the case and has something to lose. It may take a while to find it, but once I do I follow a logical progression for Rick to find the truth of the matter while erecting as many believable barriers as possible.
What is it about writing that makes you write?
It took me a long time to start writing and a long time to get published even though I knew from a young age that writing was something I was meant to do. Even though writing is a daily grind, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done with the talents God gave me.
How would you define your biggest success in your estimation?
Well, winning the Anthony Award was a big deal to me, but having a readership who follow me and care about Rick is pretty cool.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Thanks for allowing me to speak to your readers.