One of the best things about being a crime fiction writer is being part of the crime fiction community. I count my friendship with Matt Coyle, the Anthony Award-winning author of the Rick Cahill mysteries, as a particular highlight--although you'd never know it to hear us banter with one another.
He's got a new book, DARK FISSURES, coming out on December 6, just in time for your holiday gift giving needs. Tell 'im I sent you.
HW: DARK FISSURES is the third book in your Anthony Award-winning Rick Cahill series. Tell us what it’s about.
MC: Rick is in a tough spot as the book opens. He’s now working solo as a P.I. and about to be foreclosed upon by the bank. He needs money quick and takes a case trying to help a woman prove her husband was murdered and didn’t commit suicide as ruled by the Medical Examiner and backed up by the police. Unfortunately, the [dead] man had been a cop under Rick’s nemesis, police Chief Tony Moretti, who suspects Rick may be responsible for the missing part of a missing person.
HW: Rick Cahill is a man deeply haunted by his complicated past but in DARK FISSURES, he manages to creep forward just a little. Understanding he’ll never be truly free, is Rick finally ready to leave his past behind? Perhaps more importantly, will his enemies let him?
MC: I’m glad you noticed he’s moving forward, even if you had to measure his progress with a magnifying glass. There’s hope. I’ll probably stop writing him if he ever becomes truly healed.
Rick will always have enemies. He’s good at making new ones.
HW: Rule breaking is an integral part of a P.I.’s stock-in-trade, and Rick’s not adverse to breaking a few rules himself when the situation calls for it. But in order to keep his demons (internal and external) at bay, he operates his personal life under a strict code of ethics. In DARK FISSURES, he reluctantly strays from it. Was this a deliberate choice on your part to develop his character or did the choice evolve organically as you wrote the book?
MC: Rick is deeply flawed and sometimes fools himself about his conduct. However, I didn’t intend for him to break the rule I think you have in mind. Secondary characters grow as I write them and force themselves deeper into the story. That’s what happened with Brianne Colton. She’s talented, beautiful and capable. She needs Rick’s help with the case, but doesn’t need to be emotionally rescued. That appeals to Rick. I think his decision to break a rule is a healthy choice and, in a way, aids in his need for emotional rescue.
HW: While your books are masterfully plotted, I think, at heart, they’re character driven. So with that in mind, how would Rick answer these questions from the Proust Questionnaire: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
MC: Emotional weakness.
HW: What is the trait you most deplore in others?
MC: Being unjust…if that makes sense.
HW: For the craft geeks among us: DARK FISSURES is a well-plotted and fast-paced mystery that deftly juggles a couple of different story lines. Do you plot your novels in advance?
MC: Thanks for the compliment. I don’t outline. I find plotting the most difficult part of writing mysteries. I start with an inciting incident and then Rick’s and other characters’ decisions drive the action. Although DARK FISSURES is only my third book, I’ve been writing Rick for fifteen years, so I have a feel for how he’ll react to certain scenarios. I try to pick ones that will cause the most chaos, both plot-wise and emotionally.
HW: DARK FISSURES is a hard-boiled P.I. novel but there’s some police and FBI procedural mixed in. Hell, you’ve even managed to incorporate some mixed martial arts. How do you conduct your research and how important is authenticity? (Remember, it’s okay to say if you make shit up. I know I do).
MC: Authenticity is very important to me, but I’m not a research junkie. I generally only do as much research as I needed to make a scene or character seem authentic. That’s not to say that the only research I so is what comes out on the page. I try to talk to experts in their field and use the one or two things that makes the scene ring true. Of course, I’ve gotten things wrong a couple times because I didn’t do enough research.
HW: I know book one in the series, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, took many years to write and several drafts before it was published. Has your process changed over the course of writing the next two books in the series? Does it ever get easier?
MC: My process has probably gotten even more loose than when I started, but I’ve learned to trust it. That has been a big key for me.
I’ve found my first drafts have gotten a lot cleaner. I throw a lot less stuff out. However, the process itself is a mess. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Sometimes I’ll toss something into a scene that bubbles out of my subconscious. I may expound on it right away or come back later when my subconscious tells me what it means. I call that dropping anchors. Sometimes the anchors give the story and emotion a lot more depth. Sometimes they have to be pulled up and discarded on revision.
DARK FISSURES was probably more difficult to write than the first two because of the way NIGHT TREMORS ended. I had to deal with backstory from that book to satisfy my continuing readers but not spoil things for first readers. A delicate dance that I think I pulled off.
HW: What do you consider your greatest strength as an author?
MC: I think it’s being open to any possibility. Thus, the anchor dropping above. This can lead you into many corners that you have to work very hard to get out of and make the book better. However, it can also lead you into a corner that turns into a box that doesn’t work and costs you a few days of valuable writing time. It’s a dangerous, but exciting way to write. And, although I’ve had my doubts in every book, I still trust the process.
Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California battling his Irish/Portuguese siblings for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. He knew he wanted to be a crime writer as a child when his father gave him THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Raymond Chandler.
His debut novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, and the Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. His second book, NIGHT TREMORS, was named a top pick for 2015 by Bookreporter.com. and was a Lefty, Shamus, and Anthony Award Finalist. DARK FISSURES, is the third book in the Rick Cahill crime series. Matt is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and lives in San Diego with his Yellow Labrador, Angus, where he is working on the fourth Rick Cahill crime novel.