By: Carly Corfman
It’s 4:50 a.m. and his alarm begins to chime – the all-familiar default tone of “Radar.” He swipes it off and begins his ascent into the kitchen, where he grabs a cup of coffee. The earthy smell of Breakfast Blend automatically fills the room, and he’s thankful once again that he prepared the pot the night before. He takes a fresh cup and settles into his chair in the office, flipping through his favorite newspaper comics – now all online – until 5:00 a.m. when he begins to write.
This is Bobby Mathews’ daily routine as an author and full-time digital copywriter at Strong Automotive Merchandising. Before the kids get up at 6:00 a.m., he writes between 1,000 and 1,700 words, repeating the process every day until the project is done.
Bobby’s writing career began over 15 years ago. Originally from Enterprise, Alabama, Bobby has written stories in areas all across the country. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bobby spent a year in New York writing feature stories about people trying to reclaim their lives. He spent the next 2 years in Wyoming managing a local newspaper, “which was the longest decade of my life,” he said. After six years in Georgia as the managing editor of various newspapers, Bobby returned to Alabama, following the tornado on March 1, 2007 that hit Enterprise High School. He worked for The University of Alabama, spent time freelancing, and also dabbled in public relations. All of his experience led Bobby to Birmingham, and then to SAM, where he continues his passion for writing through a different avenue.
“I knew that I wanted to be a writer from a very early age. There was a point where I had to decide if I wanted to be a writer, or if I wanted to write.” Bobby said it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of being a writer, moving to a romantic city, and living the stereotypical life of an author. “But at the end of the day, it’s better to have planted your rear-end in a chair and written a thousand words, rather than concentrate on wearing a fisherman’s sweater and finding six-toed cats,” he said. “It took me a long time to figure out.”
Since “figuring it out,” Bobby has written and sold two novels, published 27 short stories, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice. He was also a finalist in 2021 for the Derringer Award, an international award for short mystery/crime fiction.
Bobby’s first book, Living The Gimmick, was published in May of 2022 by Shotgun Honey, a company that specializes in crime fiction. The book is a murder mystery about professional wrestling between the 1980s and the modern world. “I didn’t know what I had when I wrote the first chapter. It took me about a month to write this 60,000-word novel, but I had written the first chapter about eight years before I finally came back to it.” The book touches on areas of the Me-Too movement and how it’s sometimes impossible to really know the people we’re the closest to.
On February 24, Bobby’s newest book will be released – Magic City Blues. The murder mystery is built around the idea of a land swindle involving the Carraway Hospital property. It was written as an homage to Robert B. Parker, an author who has had a big influence on Bobby’s life – so much that he named his younger son after one of Parker’s main characters, “Spenser.” Bobby discovered Parker’s books in his early 20s after graduating college. Magic City Blues is a mixture of Parker’s influence and the writing of Donald Westlake, who Bobby considers “one of the best writers of the 20th century.”
Additionally, Magic City Blues features some of his favorite spots around Birmingham like Eagle’s Restaurant, the now-closed Pale Eddie’s Pour House, Saw’s in Avondale, and The Collins Bar. He talks about the Vulcan statue on one side of the city and the statue of Electra on the other. “In some ways those statues are like a great lost love. Or, you can look at it like there’s one side of the city that’s ready to build something, and the other side’s ready to throw-down.” Bobby was able to incorporate historical pieces of Birmingham as well as current facets of the city’s personality. “It may not be your version of Birmingham; however, it is a version you will recognize.”
Bobby says one of the best opening lines in crime fiction comes from a 2001 novel called Firebreak. “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.” Bobby said it’s such a great opening line because “you have to find out what happens next.”
“I think that’s one of the interesting things about writing crime. It’s not necessarily the crime… because crime is in many ways mundane. It’s always unfortunate. You hear it on the news every night. What makes a story to me is the reason why. Because that’s where it’s different – the reason why it happens. What drives a person to that desperate point,” Bobby said.
On February 25 at 6:00 p.m., Bobby will do a live reading of his new book among other authors at Noir At The Bar. The event will be hosted at the Red Cat at Pepper Place, where copies of the book will be available for purchase. Several New York Times best-selling authors will also be participating.
Bobby is grateful for the time he’s already spent at SAM, and he appreciates the chance to work with such talented and unique people. “I feel incredibly fortunate to do something that I love in writing crime fiction, having my books published, and widely praised. I also feel incredibly fortunate to work for an organization that recognizes my talent, my drive, and offers me the opportunity to use that talent in a way that Strong does,” he said.