Author Bio: Matthew Arkin lives and works in South Pasadena. A critically acclaimed actor, an acting teacher, and a recovering attorney, he attributes his skill for crafting dialogue and creating characters to his more than forty-five years of experience on stage, television, and film, and to reading approximately one suspense thriller per week since he was a young child. His love affair with New York City, as well as his experiences as a former attorney and victim of cult abuse, allow him to approach Zach’s story with a high degree of depth and realism. For more information, visit www.matthewarkin.com.
In the Country of the Blind is the first novel in Arkin’s Zach Brandis series. “A dead body is a lousy way to end a first date.” When Zach Brandis walks Cynthia Hull home, the police are there and her roommate is dead. Maybe it’s because Cynthia is beautiful and vulnerable, or maybe it’s because the cops rub him the wrong way, but Zach steps in to shield her from their persistent questions. In the days following, Zach finds himself increasingly tied up in knots over the case, and what starts as simple curiosity may end up putting the ex-attorney in grave danger, as he learns he must always keep one eye open.
In the Country of the Blind was designated a SELF-e Select title by the staff of Library Journal and is now available at participating libraries nationwide. The Los Angeles Public Library congratulates Matthew on his award—let’s hear a bit more about him and his winning title!
In the Country of the Blind is a great example of a classic detective mystery novel. Do you have favorite authors in the genre that influenced you?
I’ve been addicted to series detective fiction since I got hooked on The Hardy Boys at the age of nine, although I like to think that my taste has evolved since then. Lawrence Block, author of the Matthew Scudder series, made a huge impression on me. I’ve read just about everything he’s ever written, including his terrific books on writing. His book, Spider, Spin Me a Web really helped me out when I was getting started on Blind. Other current writers whose work I devour are Lee Child and John Sandford. As for old timers, John D. MacDonald was big influence. I think fans of his Travis McGee series will recognize how this plays out in the life of my protagonist Zach.
This is the first book in a planned series—did you know you were starting a series when you began writing In the Country of the Blind?
I planned this as a series from the start. I once read an article about Star Trek that said no one watched the original series for the plots; they watched it because they wanted to hang out with Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the crew. I think that’s true, and as a result, I spent a lot of time working on the characters surrounding Zach, and his relationships with them. Travis McGee has Meyer, Spenser has Hawk and Susan, Lucas Davenport has Ruffe Ignace. Zach has Sally, Keneally, Collaci, Mr. Pui, etc. All of these characters will continue to play a part.
You do such a great job of weaving the legal and police procedures into the novel. In the acknowledgements you reference several people who helped you with this background information—can you describe the research process you went through?
A lot of the legal details in the book came from my own practice of law prior to my quitting to pursue other things. I also had the benefit of growing up in New York, going to law school there, and then working there both as an attorney and an actor. So like Zach, I have a wide web of connections to people in all walks of life who were more than happy to help me out. Many of the characters are based on friends and acquaintances, and they were more than happy to vet details for me. Also, the Internet is a beautiful thing, not just for primary research, but also for reaching out to experts. There’s a sake expert in Japan who was generous with his time. On the details of the autopsy, I knew how I wanted the fight to play out that killed the victim. Although we never see that fight in the book, I wrote it out and sent it to a forensic pathologist I met on line, asking, “How would the autopsy report read for someone who died like this?” He wrote it out in the right language, and then Zach gets to work backwards from that report to figure out what happened.
You describe New York City with such great detail and affection in this book. We have to ask--any plans to bring Zach to LA for a future installment?
I’ve actually been wondering myself if Zach would come out here. I lived in New York when I wrote the book, and it’s such a strong character in the book. I’ve been living in LA for six years now, and I’ve worried about keeping details about NYC current as I work on the next book. Zach himself is such a New Yorker as well, so I’m not sure how he would fare out here. He’d lose all of the knowledge and connections that give him the advantages he has as an investigator. As a result, I think he’ll stay in New York. But I’ve recently been kicking around ideas for another character who lives here, and embodies Los Angeles the way Zach does his hometown.
Do you have any advice for first time authors attempting to finish their first novel? Do you have a daily writing routine?
The hardest thing about writing your first novel, I think, is just believing that you can do it. It’s such a large, daunting project, and at first the ending seems awfully far away. Consistency of effort is the key. If you sit down every day and write 500 words, and that’s really not that much, at the end of six months or so you’ll have a sizable manuscript.
As to my routine, I try not to worry about daily output. When my other work demands allow for writing time, I make myself sit in front of the computer each day for an hour and a half or so. If I write something in that time, great. If I don’t, great. Some days nothing comes, some days there’s a deluge. It’s all the same. Sometimes things have to stew in your subconscious before they’re ready to come out, so the days where you don’t get anything down, or maybe just one or two sentences, are just as important as the days when you blast through five pages.
When writing In the Country of the Blind, did you complete multiple drafts? Did you show unfinished versions to friends or beta readers for feedback?
I worked my way through a second draft before I showed Blind to anyone. Then the first people I asked for feedback were my best friend from college, who’s an author, editor, and publisher, and another editor with whom my mother, also an author, has worked for years. After their feedback, I put it through another draft that resulted in the cutting of one major character (who will show up in the next book). After that, I submitted it to an agent, who signed me and gave it to her editor to be worked over again. With those notes, I cut over 30,000 words, which I think really improved it.
The self-publishing industry has really exploded, especially in e-books. What advantages and/or challenges do you see in self-publishing your work?
Initially I was committed to finding a traditional publisher, but then came to self-publishing after parting ways with my agent over issues of creativity. An interested publisher wanted changes made to the book that I felt gutted its soul, and would actually have forced me to change the very things my agent lauded when she initially took the book on. I guess for some the smell of a sale trumps artistic integrity. At that time, my college buddy recommended self-publishing because he felt it’s the wave of the future. And I think he’s right. The SELF-e program itself, and the inclusion of books like mine in libraries shows that the stigma of self-publishing is fading.
Self-publishing also allows you to build your own following, and keep more control over your work. The challenge is in building that following. But even if you’re picked up by a traditional publisher, you still have to shoulder that work, unless you’re one of the few that they decide to get behind in terms of marketing. And that’s pretty rare.
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