May 2013 marked the long awaited (by me) launch of my debut crime novel, Yesterday’s Echo. It has been a dream come true and 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 ass 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 were put on earth to do, 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, a short matter at that, 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 sort of the point of being an author, isn’t it? Hopefully, at some point strangers will read your work and they’ll have opinions.
So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego from a mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently she 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 chalkboard each session. It was ugly. The teacher 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 the teacher wasn’t that stupid and I wasn’t such 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 few weeks) and started revising through the teacher’s prism, the book got better.
Then I joined a writers group and exposed my work to other writers. Like the teacher, they tore it apart and helped me put it back together. Stronger. It took years of tearing and mending before I knew, that, finally, it was ready for an agent and then a publisher. Ten months later was just last month and the publication of Yesterday’s Echo.
Writing in a cocoon will make you feel good. Breaking out of it might get you published.
Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California, battling his brother and sisters for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. Yesterday’s Echo is Matt’s first novel. He drew from his days in the restaurant business and his extended family’s law enforcement background in creating this book. Matt lives in San Diego with his wife, Deborah, and their Yellow Lab, Angus.