Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Cocoon

Matt Coyle presents Yesterday's Echo

A board member of MWA-Southern California, Matt Coyle reminds us he owes part of his writing career to Raymond Chandler. But insiders know it is the inner starch and talent that makes a good writer.

In his debut novel, Matt pulls us right in with his first sentence: "The first time I saw her, she made me remember and she made me forget."

How could we not read on?

Then he gives us a picture of his future writing with his last sentence: "Now strangers come to me with their problems and I try to solve them. I do it for money, not for love. it's easier that way. Fewer people get hurt."

This writer will want you to do what I'm going to do when I finish this intro… run out and buy his next book!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Last May marked the long awaited (by me) launch of my debut crime novel, Yesterday’s Echo. It was a lifetime goal achieved and never would have happened without the help of many people, most of whom I mentioned in the book’s acknowledgments. But I never would have had the chance to thank anyone if I hadn’t been willing to break out of the comfy confines of the Cocoon.

I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was fourteen when my dad gave me The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. The hard part was actually doing the writing and that didn’t really start in earnest for about thirty years. I’m a slow starter. However, even when I buckled down and consistently put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I still had a lot to learn.

Being a fledgling author is a fun and exciting time. You’re finally doing something you really enjoy and, dammit, you’re pretty good at it. You start each day reading over the literary gold you spun the day before and realize that you’re home. You’ve found your niche. If you stay with it, you’ll have a draft in around a year, give or take. Then it will only be a matter of time before your brand new novel is on the bookshelves between Connelly and Crais.

Or so I thought. But why wouldn’t I? I read what I’d written every day and it was genius. The couple members of my family whom I’d let read the book even agreed with me. Now they might have just been happy that I’d finally started writing instead of just talking about it, but they wouldn’t lie. Would they?

Still, I’m Irish and with that comes self-doubt. So, I decided that before I quit my day job and found an agent to get me the big contract, I’d better vet the work with a professional. Let someone outside the warm, snuggly, cocoon of my family and myself read what I’d written. That is the point of being an author, isn’t it? To have strangers read your work?

So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego taught by Carolyn Wheat, mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently Carolyn wasn’t that good of a teacher because she failed to recognize my genius. I was shocked and disappointed. I’d paid good money and I got some flunky as a teacher. It was a beginner’s novel class and most students never really began writing so my stuff was on the whiteboard each session. It was ugly. Carolyn asked me questions that I’d never thought of, like what does your character want in a scene and what is he thinking.

It took a while, but I started to realize that Carolyn wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t a genius. It hurt. I’d jumped out of my cocoon and let strangers see my work and been slapped in the face. Hard. I lost some of that confidence earned writing in anonymity. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t good enough and never would be. But after I stopped feeling sorry for myself (in just a few days… okay, a month) and started revising through the Carolyn’s prism, the book got better.

Then I joined a writers group and exposed my work to other writers. Like Carolyn, they tore the work apart and helped me put it back together. Stronger. After years of tearing and mending I finally felt that my manuscript was ready for an agent and then a publisher. Ten months later Yesterday’s Echo was on the bookshelves somewhere between Connelly and Crais.

Writing in a cocoon will make you feel good. Breaking out of it might get you published.

Matt Coyle


  1. Thanks for stopping by, Matt. I'm in the middle of Yesterday's Echo and it just gets better and better!! Thelma straw

  2. What I REALLY REALLY meant to say.... was.... I'm reading it for the SECOND TIME!!!!! tjs

  3. Matt, Carolyn was one of the first people I met in MWA. You are mightily fortunate to have had her wisdom, but the REAL hero here is you. You persisted. You stayed with it. I am fond of saying the human persistence is the strongest force on the planet. I am certain that is true when it comes to getting published. Congratulations!

  4. Thanks, Annamaria. I'll tell Carolyn you said hello. She heads the writers group I'm currently in.

  5. Tell Carolyn I said hello, too. How I would love to have a post from her for the Crime Writer's Chronicle. Tell her that.

  6. Hi Kate,
    Will do. I'll see her Saturday. I'm pretty sure she'd be interested.