In 2015, I was a newly registered NetGalley member looking for books to establish my ratio when I came across a gem of a book titled The Short Drop. Little did I know that this unassuming book would become a top read of my entire year, and that I would recommend it to anyone who would listen. Last month I had the pleasure of reading Poisonfeather and continuing with the series; I’m such a believer in Gibson Vaughn and his band of misfits that I asked author Matthew FitzSimmons to join me on the blog with a completely spoiler-free Q&A on all things related to his books and writing process. If you missed my reviews previously, I’ve included The Short Drop and Poisonfeather here for your convenience. I’m also offering a special package with both books as a giveaway (INTERNATIONAL!!!) to one lucky follower who may have wanted to jump in and catch up with Gibson Vaughn’s shenanigans. Click HERE for the giveaway and read on for the interview!
Could you tell us a little about yourself? Are you a full time writer? What has your journey included on the way to becoming a published author?
I am, as of June 22nd 2015, a full time writer. That was the last day of teacher meetings after the sale of The Short Drop. That was an emotional day. I’d spent twelve incredibly years teaching English literature and theater at a small private school in Washington DC, and it was difficult to leave behind. Teaching was an amazing job that combined all of my passions. Where else would I be able to talk about great books, direct a play, and coach the varsity basketball team to victory all in the same day? I’d written a novel in my twenties that hadn’t gone anywhere and also killed my love of writing. I really credit my years of teaching for rekindling my desire to try again.
The Short Drop was your debut novel in 2015 and took Goodreads by storm. Characters Gibson, Jenn, and Hendricks became quick favorites which truly brought your book to life. Could you give us some insight on where their inspiration came from?
I’d written a heavily autobiographical novel in my twenties. For a lot of reasons, the last thing I wanted with The Short Drop was to write about myself again. I wouldn’t say that Gibson Vaughn is the anti-Matthew FitzSimmons, but I did set out to make him different than me – he’s younger, his background is vastly different than my own, and I am not an expert in the things in which he is an expert. I’ve loved the challenge of stepping into this twenty-eight-year-old’s shoes and to see the world through his eyes.
Jenn Charles grew out of conversations with a friend who’d served in the Army. In 1999, she’d been stationed in Sarajevo with SFOR. One of four women deployed alongside thirty men, she talked about how she’d adapted to life in a very male dominated environment. It became very critical to me as a male author to get Jenn right, and that she not be a stereotypical female character that men are sometimes guilty of imaging. She’s one of my favorites so I hope she rings true.
Dan Hendricks evolved from one simple idea – I wanted a character who would have very little patience with Gibson Vaughn or his shenanigans. In many ways, Gibson is his own worst enemy – all the talent in the world, but time and again shoots himself in the foot. Life damaged to the point that bad decisions seem like good decisions, and hardwired to repeat them. I worked with students like Gibson Vaughn, and it was frustrating to know that they would make things harder on themselves no matter what I did or said. Dan Hendricks is the voice of that frustration and is a composite of several teachers who I’ve worked with.
Poisonfeather is book #2 in the Gibson Vaughn series and takes place shortly after where The Short Drop left off, yet has a different feel. Could you discuss your thoughts and intentions on why you chose to write about a completely separate adventure for Gibson instead of immediately continuing your initial plot?
This is a difficult question to unpack because for me, this is the continuation of the plot. However, I know that there are storylines in The Short Drop that deserve to be addressed, and in time, they will be. I have plans for all of these characters, but they will not all be in every book. To do so, I fear, would court writing to a formula. It would risk predictability and nothing is worse than a predictable thriller. For that and other reasons, it felt important that Poisonfeather be a different book than The Short Drop. To introduce new characters that would expand and enrich this little universe. I also know that for much of The Short Drop, Jenn Charles and George Abe had run the show. That was necessary and by design, but Poisonfeather allowed Gibson to step forward and lead a team of his own, and placing characters into new dynamics is important to growth.
You have stated book #3 will get back to continuing the original storyline set in The Short Drop. Can you give us any spoiler free tidbits on what to expect? Are there plans for future books in the series?
I’m currently under contract for five Gibson Vaughn books, which is both exciting and a little daunting. I have an outline for all five and am halfway through Book 3, which is due in February and should be released in the fall of ’17. It will be called Cold Harbor, and if you were paying attention during The Short Drop that should give you a big hint what it might be about.
Your books are extremely well written and intricately plotted. Do you have a particular method or strategy to keep everything in order and flowing properly through to the end?
Thank you! As a former teacher, I’m a bit of an Excel cultist. I keep spreadsheets that track chapter length, character appearances, plot points, etc. It helps me to visualize the structure and flow of the story. If I see a logjam forming, it allows me to move pieces around and keep things moving. It’s been a lifesaver at times.
What’s one weird/random/embarrassing fact about yourself?
Portrait of an Author… as a lanky eight-year-old. Feel free to avert your eyes.
Matthew FitzSimmons is the author of the bestselling first novel in the Gibson Vaughn series, The Short Drop. Born in Illinois and raised in London, England, he now lives in Washington, DC, where he taught English literature and theater at a private high school for over a decade. You can purchase both of Matthew Fitzsimmons’ book on Amazon HERE.