Q&A with Bobby Matthews, author of Living the Gimmick
By J.B. StevensAugust 5, 2022
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Bobby Mathews, an exciting up-and-coming author. His new novel Living the Gimmick ($14.95 paperback and $4.99 eBook) was released last spring and is getting rave reviews. His follow-up, Magic City Blues, is due later in the year—both from Shotgun Honey.
J.B.: Bobby, thanks for speaking with me, it’s an honor. First things first, can you tell me about yourself?
Bobby: I’m always happy to chat. About me, I’m not quite an Alabama native—I was born just outside Augusta, Georgia—but I got to Alabama as soon as I could. So I’m a native Southerner, although my work took me to New York for a year after 9/11 and a two-year sojourn in Wyoming after that. Over the course of a varied and often weird life, I’ve been a journalist, PR flack, bartender, paralegal, and investigator, and now I find myself as a journalist again… something that I wasn’t really sure would ever happen again.
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve begun writing fiction seriously, producing a number of short stories that have found homes in outlets like Rock & A Hard Place, Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression, Trouble No More, and various other magazines, anthologies, and websites.
J.B.: It sounds like you’ve been around the block, and all that living sounds like great grist for the fiction mill. You’re killing it with the short work, what about your longer stuff? Can you tell me about your recently released novel?
Bobby: Can I ever! Living the Gimmick is both a love letter to the territory wrestling days and a noir murder-mystery that, I think, satisfies on both levels. Imagine if the most famous pro wrestler on the planet was publicly murdered, and his best friend had to navigate the current “sports entertainment” world in order to find the killer. As I was writing it, I had one publisher in mind: Shotgun Honey. Shotgun Honey felt like the perfect place for the book, and I am very glad that Ron Earl Phillips agreed with me.
J.B.: Shotgun Honey is putting out some really fun reads. I loved their recent Nick Kolakowski release. Your new one, Living the Gimmick, sounds as fun as can be. Is any of it based on reality, or is it pure fiction?
Bobby: The funny thing is that wrestling and wrestlers in the territory days were so over-the-top and outlandish that most publishers would make you tone down the violence, the drama, and the escapades in order to make the book more believable. Those guys didn’t “play a character”… they lived their gimmicks, which is where the title of the book comes from.
Folks ask if I based the wrestlers on anyone “real,” and the answer is kinda-sorta. Ray Wilder, the murder victim at the heart of the story is purposely reminiscent of Ric Flair and all of the other Nature Boys (Buddy Rogers, Roger Kirby, Buddy Landell) who had that outlandish personality, and he’s named for Ray “the Crippler” Stevens. I took parts of different gimmicks and melded them together for various characters in the book… same with many of the events depicted in the books. There might be incidents that were the seed of an idea, but in the writing of the book, those things grew into something that was uniquely their own.
J.B.: You’re selling me on these characters. I’ve never been a wrestling fan and now I want to know more about Ray, which is the sure sign of a skilled author. I imagine you’ve been at this for a while?
Bobby: I started writing fiction in my teens, and I had some early success. I didn’t have the drive or purpose to sustain that success, though. I was very frustrated for a very long time, however. I never had the success I thought I should have, although I didn’t understand that I was often getting in my own way. I stopped writing and subbing for probably 10 years after my first book, which was self-published, sank into the void without even a ripple left behind.
I decided in December of 2019 that I was going to give fiction another shot. I got my first acceptance in January 2020, and since then I’ve had 25 stories accepted or published, written two novels that sold, and I’m now the co-editor of a charity anthology that will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative.
J.B.: Well, you went from zero to sixty pretty dang fast. That’s an impressive resume considering you re-started so recently. Your first run was back in your teens. Were you a crime-guy back then? Have you always been a mystery/noir devote?
Bobby: It was a gradual move for me. I originally enjoyed horror and westerns, and my gateway writers were Louis L’Amour and Stephen King. I still love King’s work and buy everything he puts out in hardcover if possible. John D. MacDonald was also an early favorite, but an outlier. But I always loved the TV show Spenser: for Hire. When I realized that it was based on a series of novels by Robert B. Parker, I found a copy of Chance—by chance, no less—at my local Walmart. From there, I read everything by Parker that I could get my hands on.
Parker led me to Donald Westlake, who became my literary idol. Westlake never wrote an awkward sentence, and his varied output—series and standalone—really inspires me today. He was a true professional in every sense of the word, writing more than 100 novels. Some of them are clearly better than others, but none of them are bad.
Westlake led me to Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block, and Block led me to Charles Willeford and Ross Thomas and Gar Haywood. It was a winding road to crime fiction, but all of those writers were an education.
J.B.: Walmart is also where I find most of my new reads. Speaking of new reads, who are some of your favorite writers working today?
Bobby: I will read anything that S.A. Cosby writes. He has captured the South in a way that no one else has, and it’s phenomenal. He’s a generational talent (although he’s too modest to say so). Nikki Dolson is an absolutely great short story writer, and the work she does is second to none. Peter Farris is tremendous, and I hope he finds the same level of success in the U.S. that he found in France.
Mark Westmoreland is incredibly readable. Never a lazy verb, never a wasted word. I think he’s just scratched the surface of what he can do, and that’s even though he wrote what I think is the best indie crime novel of 2021, A Violent Gospel. Libby Cudmore does dark mysteries where the violence is often off the page and the emotional subtext is deep and affecting in ways that you just have to read to understand. C.W. Blackwell is tremendous, and William Soldan is probably THE best writer currently not signed to a Big 5 deal.
Paul Garth is one of the young masters of noir. His outlook on the page is damn bleak. And yet he has the skill to make you root for doomed characters. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about his story ‘The Hope of Lost Mares.’ Incredible work.
J.B.: Bobby, it’s been a journey. Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Bobby: I’m really, really fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I’ve got a good publisher, and I’ve got good and supportive friends in the writing community. I’m thankful, more than anything. And hey, before I go, I feel like I should talk about one other guy I know — J.B. Stevens is like the five-tool baseball player. There ain’t a thing he can’t do, from writing humor to crime to literary fiction and anything in-between.
Appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, man.
J.B.: And thank you for ending the interview by discussing how great I am. Other interview subjects, take note. All you readers, make sure you check out Living the Gimmick.
About Living the Gimmick by Bobby Matthews:
When retired pro wrestler Alex Donovan sees his best friend, former world champion ‘The Wild Child’ Ray Wilder, gunned down in the street, he’s drawn back into a world of spandex, spangles, and spotlights in order to find the killer. As Donovan digs deeper into Ray’s life, he realizes that the list of people who wanted Ray dead seems endless.
Battling his aging, failing body, Donovan feels honor-bound to avenge Ray’s death when no one else seems to care. His guilt over escaping the wrestling business to build a new life when Ray couldn’t – or wouldn’t – drives him to find the killer, no matter if it’s friend or foe.
Living the Gimmick uses the backdrop of pro wrestling in the 1980s and its current climate to examine the strained bonds of a lifelong friendship and how an all-too-real abuser can exist without scrutiny in a showbiz world full of fake tough guys and choreographed fighting.