Writing at night for over a decade his debut novel, Yesterday’s Echo, was finally published in 2013. The wait was almost worth it as it won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, the Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction.
Matt’s second book in the Rick Cahill series, Night Tremors, was a Bookreporter.com Reviewers’ Favorite Book of 2015 and was an Anthony, Shamus, and Lefty Award finalist.
Dark Fissures (Cahill #3) was a finalist for the Macavity and Lefty awards and was a 2016 Top Pick for Bookreporter.com.
Blood Truth (Cahill #4) was a Shamus finalist, Lefty Award finalist, a Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Silver Award winner for Thriller/Suspense, and a top pick by Bookreporter.com for Best Mysteries of 2017.
Wrong Light (Cahill #5) was a Lefty Award finalist, a San Diego Book Award finalist and was nominated for a Shamus Award. It was also a top pick by Bookreporter.com for Best Mysteries of 2018.
Lost Tomorrows (Cahill #6) was a winner of the Shamus Award and the Lefty Award for Best Mystery.
Blind Vigil (Cahill #7) has been nominated for the Lefty, Barry, Macavity, and Shamus awards.
Last Redemption (Cahill #8) is now available.
His short story, The #2 Pencil, was a finalist for a Derringer and Macavity Award.
Matt lives in San Diego with his yellow Lab, Angus, where he is writing his ninth crime novel.
The San Diego Writers Festival Mystery Writer of 2021
When did you first know you wanted to become a mystery writer?
When I was about fourteen and my father gave me THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Raymond Chandler. It only took me about thirty years to realize that you actually had to write something to become a writer.
Can you describe your writing process?
Not really, but I’ll try. I don’t outline before I begin a new book. My protagonist, Rick Cahill, is a private investigator so I try to come up with a case that he’ll become emotionally attached to. That’s the only way to make things interesting for me and, hopefully, the reader. I want Rick to have to risk something in following the case to its conclusion. The goal is to have the situation as realistic as possible, but stretch Rick to his emotional and physical limits.
The process itself is a bit of a mess, but I’ve learned to trust it. It’s worked for five books and though it’s clearly broke, I ain’t fixing it. On the first draft I let the story flow out and explore things I’m pretty sure I’ll cut on revision because they often lead me to where I need to end up. Often, a sentence or a character will come to me and I drop them into a scene where they seem to have no place. This is my subconscious at work. I call this dropping anchors. Sometimes their meaning will come to me fairly quickly, sometimes it takes a while. And, sometimes they don’t work at all and I have to go back and pull up anchors during revision. Most of the time, though, the anchors lead to a deeper meaning in the book and they stay.
How long do you plan to write Rick Cahill novels?
I love writing Rick. I can’t imagine not writing him. He’s a part of me. The messed up part that reminds me that things can always get worse. However, I’m approaching the stage in my career where I have to consider writing other things. I plan to write a standalone or begin another series soon. I hope to be able to continue to write Rick for as long as people want to read about him.
Is each new book easier to write?
No. I wish they were. They all present their own problems and seem a waste of time somewhere during the writing. In fact, I think my process gets messier with each book. However, instead of a mess I now refer to the process as organic and that gives me some cache. One thing that has changed from the first couple books is that my first drafts have gotten cleaner. Still a mess, but less to clean up.
Who have been some of your writing influences?
The last three on the list have not only influenced me as a writer, but they’ve personally given my career a boost with book blurbs and some behind the scenes advice about the writing business.
Another writer I greatly admire is Megan Abbott. Her writing is so rich and lyrical that I get lost in her language. It also makes me realize that I’d better stay in my lane.
What do you like most about writing?
I generally find writing to be a tough slog. However, there are times when I find the groove, usually after a couple hours at the keyboard, and I get lost in the flow. Even when it’s tough, it’s the best way I can think of to put my god given abilities to work. When I’m at my computer, good day or bad, I know I’m doing what I was meant to do with my life.
What has surprised you most about writing?
A couple things: How giving the mystery writing community is and the amount of marketing I have to do on my own. Writing is a business and we are all competing for readers’ attention and booksellers’ shelf space, so it would make sense not to help your competitors. Mystery writers are the exact opposite. Most everyone gives of themselves to help a fellow writer on whatever level. We all want to make it to the top, but almost every one of us is willing to offer a hand up to the next writer.
I came into this business and realized I’d have to do a lot of my own marketing. I just didn’t realize how much. But, it’s part of the business of writing and I’ve learned to welcome its challenge and have gotten better at it with each book.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Stop aspiring and start writing. Write when it’s easy. Write when it’s hard. Get into a routine and write every day. Take classes to learn the basics of storytelling. Join writing organizations specific to your genre. Go to writers conferences.