A CONVERSATION WITH MATT COYLE
Hi Matt, I
It’s been a while since I’ve read your Rick Cahill series, and what I like best about your work is that even though there has been an absence, I am immediately taken to a character I like and know. I am sure my readers feel the same. Thanks for speaking with us:
At the beginning of this work, you warned you would skip ahead a bit in time from your other work. Is this because of not wanting to bring Covid into the story or more due to the child?
It was strictly for the birth and development of Krista. There was a scene I needed at the end of my last book, LAST REDEMPTION, where I wanted her to be a certain age.
Quote: “They don’t hand them out like face masks at a hospital during the pandemic.” Was this placed a third of the way into the novel to reinforce this timeline?
Not specifically, but it didn’t hurt. I’ve mostly avoided Covid in my books, but don’t want to pretend like it didn’t happen.
At the beginning of this book, we are given a great deal to worry about: Rick’s bout of CTE (Chronic //traumatic Encephalopathy), his fear of emotional abuse with his family, most specifically his wife and baby, his fear of possibly not living longer and thus missing his daughter’s life, and the possible rift between him and his wife. The investigation we know he will come up against is almost of secondary importance for the reader at this point. Do you feel having a solid and intriguing character (protagonist) is as important, if not more so, than the actual investigative plot?
Absolutely. For me, character always comes first. The first thing I think about when I start a Rick book is what emotional stressors is he currently dealing with in his personal life and how will getting involved in a case make them even more difficult to work through. Of course, I also try to make the investigative plot as exciting, interesting, and realistic as possible. How that plot intersects with Rick’s personal life is what I enjoy writing the most.
Being a reader of Blake Synder’s Save The Cat usage in screenplays, I got a laugh out of your character literally saving a cat. How important was that scene since your character was once suspected of murdering his wife (although proven innocent in one of the series books)?
A lot of the time, I bring Rick right up to the edge of being unlikeable. I’m sure some critics would say I’ve crossed over more a few times! He can be manic, violent, and makes mistakes other private detectives don’t usually make. But aside from being an animal lover in general, he’s a protector of the innocent. And once he gets involved in a case or a situation, he feels personally responsible for all innocents involved, human or beast.
Many writers write their novels as if seeing each chapter as a scene. Do you outline this way? Do you outline before writing, during, or after?
I don’t outline. As I mentioned earlier, I start with what is Rick battling in his private life and think of a rough idea of a main plot, being able to see the inciting incident, a hazy ending, and a plot point or two along the way and then I just get inside Rick’s head. About two thirds of the way through the first draft, I make a list of things that need to be in the story. And they may change from draft to draft.
Just before the climax of the novel, your protagonist rises in conflict both emotionally with his family and physically with the investigation with almost equal importance. This is slightly different from some structures that come to a high physical conflict and leaves the emotional conflict more for the denouement—intricately planned? Has this become the Matt Coyle style to watch for?
I don’t think about it much. Maybe I’d be a better writer if I did. However, for DOOMED LEGACY, the physical conflict had to be intertwined with the emotional climax to be able to put Rick where I wanted him to be at the end of the book.
How important is this to noir more than another type of genre, like a thriller?
I would say very important, but I think rock-ribbed noir writers and readers might not consider my books true noir. Even with a title like DOOMED LEGACY, my books may not be bleak enough for a noir purist. I just try to write the stories I want to tell, while I work out some of my own inner turmoil through Rick.
You are known for your award-winning detective fiction in a hardboiled noir style. Have you wanted to move to other genres, or do you plan to stay with this winning series? I
I’m writing Cahill #10 right now. After that, I am going to write something different. Crime, of course, but probably in third person and not completely lone wolf private eye fiction. I have an idea I could really run with, but for reasons I can’t get into and wouldn’t really be able to explain if I could, I may not write it just yet. But, I will be writing something new, whatever it is, in 2023.
Tyler Dilts in a review of Yesterday’s Echo, said in comparing your work to Chandler’s art of noir: Perhaps the way Coyle most honors Chandler’s legacy is the same way Chandler honored Hammett — by never allowing the influence of the writer he’s emulating get in the way of the story he’s telling. An author’s style is their signature. How do you work to keep to the purity of your voice and narrative?
That was a very nice critique by Tyler which will forever hang on the mantlepiece inside my head. Voice is that nebulous thing that is hard to explain (at least for me) but you know it when you hear it. Chandler and Macdonald, who I read as a teenage and in college, certainly have had a huge influence on my writing. However, voice takes a long time to develop. I think the best thing that helped me develop a voice was being rejected by literary agents for years and years. It took me ten years to get published from typing on an IBM Thinkpad with a floppy disk drive to seeing my book on the shelves in 2013. Along the way, I got over 75 rejections and ignores. I revised the book that would become YESTERDAY’S ECHO, eight or nine times. All that time and revision forced me to develop my own voice without really concentrating on it. Just working the muscle almost every day for years enabled me to develop my own uniqueness.
Not a question, more a comment. What I like most about reading this series is that your story is deep with craft and strong themes and offers an intriguing puzzle for both the protagonist and reader to figure out. What I love….is Rick Cahill’s humanity.
That is one of the most satisfying comments I’ve ever received. It great to hear that I’m accomplishing what I’m trying to. Thank you! Make room on the mantlepiece, Tyler.
Thanks or taking the time to chit-chat, Matt. I look forward to your next book.