My name is Matthew FitzSimmons. I live and write in Washington DC, where I taught high school English for a decade before writing The Short Drop.
The Short Drop debuted on Kindle first in November and in paperback on December 1st. It’s the first Gibson Vaughn novel and centers on a cold case involving a childhood friend who disappeared ten years ago.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, my first love was theater and film. After college, I moved to New York and did an internship at Playwrights Horizons on 42nd Street. From there, I directed my first play and worked as an assistant to a series of directors and producers. One of my roommates (of whom there were many in that period) was a writer, and I caught the bug from him. When NYC had finished breaking my heart, I fled for high ground and thought, in my infinite naivety, that writing would surely be easier than theater… cue laugher.
How did you get into writing?
The first piece I attempted was a stage adaptation of Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. Let’s just say that I didn’t fully grasp the complexity of copyright law, and it certainly never saw the light of day. After that, I spent several years working on my great American novel, which proved to be neither great nor especially American. I think, charitably, it could be described as uncommercial. Uncharitably, it could be called derivative navel gazing with some nice bits here and there. By the time, I realized the novel wasn’t salable my love of writing had withered. I hung up my pen and found a respectable job. I didn’t write again for over a decade but gradually the hunger returned, and I began noodling around with a blog (that no one read) and short pieces (that no one read). I was perfectly happy about the fact that no one read any of it, and then in a monumental act of hubris I began the book that became The Short Drop. And I swear that I never intended for anyone to read it either. Gratefully, that proved not to be the case.
When and where do you write?
Since the acquisition of The Short Drop by Thomas & Mercer in 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to write fulltime. I write six days a week from seven until four p.m., after which I generally need a nap if all has gone well. I live in an apartment building and when the weather is nice, I write on the roof. Otherwise, I’m at my desk. I’m too much of a people watcher to hazard coffee shops.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
I think this probably changes at different phases of one’s career. Having just submitted my second book to the publisher, the hardest part was learning to write to someone else’s deadline. Writing the first book, I had the luxury that no one cared about it besides myself. I could have tinkered with it forever had I so chosen. Of course, at the time that felt like the hardest part but now I find myself missing the vacuum of zero expectations. Book Three will no doubt present an entirely unforeseen “hardest thing.”
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
I fear developing fear as a writer. That may sound glib, but what I mean is that writing professionally is still very new to me – I signed my first contract only a year ago. Things have moved so fast that fear has not been a luxury I’ve had time to indulge. I’m sure there are many things that I ought to fear but so far I’ve been too busy to pick them out. Fear isn’t a very productive motivator, in my experience, so I hope I can continue in my naïve, cotton candy ignorance for a while yet.
Are you an outline writer or a discovery writer?
A little of both – I like to think of myself as a “road trip writer.” By which I mean that I know my final destination, and I know the sights that I’d like to see along the way. However, I leave a lot of flexibility to “discover” detours along the way because I don’t always know how I’m going to get where I need to go.
How much research goes into your books?
A wonderful amount. There’s an old adage that goes, “write what you know.” I prefer to write what I want to know. One of my favorite parts of writing is how willing people are to share their expertise with me. I’ve learned so much and met so many brilliant and fascinating people along the way.
Describe your latest book to our readers
Poisonfeather is the second Gibson Vaughn book and picks up about six months after the events of The Short Drop. Life appears on the upswing for Gibson whose dreams of a simple, quiet life are upended when a pivotal figure from his past asks for his help. It seems that a disgraced but unrepentant Wall Street financier, in the final months of his prison sentence for bilking his clients of hundreds of millions of dollars, has given an ill-advised interview to a magazine. In the interview, he arrogantly hints that the government never found all his money. To set things right, Gibson must find the money before the financier is released from prison.
What was the inspiration behind it?
The main inspiration was to not write the same book again despite it being a second book about Gibson Vaughn. I imagine that when writing a series (early days for me yet), it can be hard to avoid falling back on the formula of previous books. I think the laws of diminishing returns can begin to set in. Since I hope Gibson Vaughn will be around for a while, it felt important that Poisonfeather not attempt to repeat the structure of The Short Drop. Time will tell if I was successful in that.
What have been some of your favourite scenes to write?
The scenes when I know the necessary outcome, but have not the faintest idea how to get from point A to point Z. The rush when I discover the answer is incomparable. The final act of the new book was a succession of such scenes so it was an exciting if exhausting couple weeks of writing.
If you were stranded on an Island and you had one book to take with you, what would it be?
A really good how-to manual on how to survive while stranded on an island.
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Accumulate a pool of diverse, trusted readers with perspectives other than your own to share your writing. Help them trust you; trust that you truly want their critique and not merely a scratch behind the ear and a cookie. Then learn to listen to them – not slavishly, but seriously. Listen when a female veteran tells you that you are botching a major female character. Put your ego aside and listen.
Gibson Vaughn returns in this fast-paced thriller, the follow-up to the bestselling The Short Drop.
From behind bars, a disgraced Wall Street financier has arrogantly hinted at the existence of a stolen fortune that by all rights should not exist. But if it does, Gibson Vaughn has vowed to return the money to its rightful owners. He’ll have to stay one step ahead of a horde of ruthless rivals who also have claims on the fortune. And behind it all lies Poisonfeather, a secret that just might get Gibson killed—or worse.