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Simon emerges from illness with mystery novel series

By Staff | Dec 15, 2009

It may have taken him more than a decade to emerge from a debilitating disorder, but Matthew Simon rebounded from his bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with more than just his health.

He came out of it with the idea for a series of mystery novels, the first of which has recently been published.

Simon’s book, “The Chosen Few,” is the first in a series featuring super sleuth Max Lovely. The whodunnit novel set in Boston features the seemingly sluggish detective with surprising powers of perception, a dangerous overabundance of empathy and a strange assortment of friends.

The author from Fort Myers spent more than 12 years bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which was initially diagnosed in 1990.

“I was lucky in that I was diagnosed fairly early. A lot of people are misdiagnosed,” said Simon, 49. “For many years there was a widespread misunderstanding of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A lot of doctors still don’t believe it’s an illness.”

Simon explained that the condition began as flu-like symptoms. Gradually, his discomfort turned to pain, which increased from minor weakness to extreme pain.

“It was very much like having the flu, but without the fever,” he noted. “For me, I suffered from an extremely overreactive nervous system, which made me very hypersensitive to bright lights and certain scents.”

For example, Simon could not watch television or listen to the radio for more than 60 seconds because of the illness. Certain smells, ones he used to find pleasure in, would make him sick. He couldn’t go for a ride in a car due to motion sickness. As a result, he spent more and more time in bed, suffering with an overwhelming silence he begged to go away. He wished for nothing more than for his life to return to normal.

But during those years of forced silence, the Max Lovely series evolved as a form of internal entertainment.

“I was literally lying in bed all day, so I began to think up these little stories in my head,” Simon said. “I would then type those stories, about five minutes at a time. And as I began to feel better, I could do a little more each day. It took me a long time to complete my first book.”

As a teenager, Simon used to visit Sanibel during vacations with his family. Back in the late 1970s, the author remembered the islands as a special place he enjoyed spending time.

“It was very rural, mostly underdeveloped and very beautiful… very different from New England,” said Simon, who returned almost yearly until he moved to Southwest Florida on a full-time basis in 1994 due to his illness.

With his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome slowly going into remission, Simon finished writing an editing his first novel, “To Die For,” in 2000. Not too long thereafter, a literary agent showed an interest in assisting him get the book published. However, a publisher couldn’t be found.

“My agent told me that my story was good, but it could be better,” he recalled.

As Simon began to write again, the story which would eventually become “The Chosen Few,” he relapsed and fell ill once more. However, he recovered and began to pursue getting his story noticed by publishers and agents.

He posted his second novel on CreateSpace, an Internet-based site for aspiring writers. Again, his book drew the interest of an agent, but this time a publisher agreed to a print-on-demand deal for Simon’s work.

Already laboring on his next novel, titled “That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of,” Simon keeps busy appearing at booksignings (his most recent being on Dec. 16 at the Sanibel Island Bookshop) and thinking of more mysteries for Max Lovely to solve.

“I never really considered myself the type of person whose imagination would allow for writing fiction novels, because I’m not that creative in an artistic sense,” he added. “This is a whole different direction for me, and I find it kind of interesting to see where it’ll go. I didn’t know I had it in me.”