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The Sirens of Suspense




Mark Stevens is the author of the Allison Coil Mystery Series including Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011) and Trapline (published Nov. 8, 2014). Buried by the Roan was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Originally from the Boston area, Mark owns his own communications and public relations firm in Denver. He spent many years as a reporter (The Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post) and television news producer (The NewsHour on PBS) before doing public relations for school districts and the Colorado Department of Education. He is married to high school art teacher Jody Chapel and the couple have two grown daughters.

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Gary Reilly’s website: www.theasphaltwarrior.com/


“A writer can become obsessed with the peripheral rituals of writing—such as sharpening pencils or visiting the Grand Canyon—when he should be focused on the most important part of writing, which is leafing through Writers Market and making lists of agents who don’t charge reading fees.”

That’s Murph, the Denver taxi driver, unpublished novelist and fictional creation of Gary Reilly.

Gary was my writing pal. We spent years working together as unpublished novelists. I joined the ranks of the published, in large part due to Gary’s editing and insights, in 2007. Gary, however, remained unpublished when he passed away in 2011 (far too young). He left behind 25 novels, including 11 featuring the funny and frustrated Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph.”

Gary wrote in all genres—he wrote several noirs in the pulp style of James Sallis, say, or Jim Thompson. He loved Patricia Highsmith, too, but also Dickens and Proust.

My friend Mike Keefe (former editorial cartoonist at The Denver Post and recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize) introduced me to Gary so, following Gary’s death, Mike and I formed Running Meter Press to publish Gary’s novels posthumously. Proceeds go to Gary’s longtime girlfriend—the person who made it possible for Gary to write.

And write.

So far, so good. All five novels featuring “Murph” have hit the Denver Post best-seller list (two at number one) and two (Ticket to Hollywood in 2013 and Doctor Lovebeads in 2014) were finalists for the Colorado Book Awards. Gary, a bit of recluse and not comfortable in big crowds, would have flipped at the spiffy awards ceremony in Aspen. The sixth novel in the series, Dark Night of the Soul, comes out in eleven days—on Nov. 21.

Gary understood the frustration and dilemma of the frustrated writer like many writers—and channeled it all through Murph.

Herewith a sampling of Murph’s insights—and Gary Reilly’s wit:

From The Asphalt Warrior:

“I’ve written a lot of novels over the years. My greatest ambition in life is to be destroyed by fame.”

From Ticket to Hollywood:

“After I got out of the army I had four years’ worth of GI Bill money available that I could use to go to college. Somehow I managed to stretch it out to seven years, probably because I was never very good at arithmetic. And since I wanted to continue doing nothing, I majored in English and subsequently got sidetracked into trying to become a novelist because my Maw once told me that novelists got paid to do what most people learned to do in grade school, which was to write sentences. I have since read a lot of how-to books trying to find out what the ‘trick’ to writing novels is. It took me ten years to learn that the trick is getting paid.”

From The Heart of Darkness Club:

“I have some bookshelves in my apartment that are built out of old novel manuscripts. The rest are brick and plank, the way hippies and broke people do it. I’ve written a lot of novels since I was in college, but I use only manuscripts that have absolutely no hope of ever being published to build the bookshelves. I use them in place of the bricks. Admittedly bookshelves made out of paper are not the most structurally sound things on earth, but neither are my novels.”

From Home for the Holidays:

“I’m not going to describe in detail the dinner and the lively conversations among the aunts, uncles, sisters, and evil brother. Just think of a Norman Rockwell painting with two turkeys on the table. If that doesn’t work, read ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce. It’s a fine short story. Joyce didn’t lose his way as a writer until he tackled novels. Been there.” (A quick note: Gary was published once during his lifetime. His short story, “The Biography Man,” was published by The Iowa Review in 1978 and later included in The Pushcart Prize anthology in 1979.)

From Doctor Lovebeads:

 “In one of the many how-to books I’ve read over the years, I was told that a novelist ought to write what he cares about, and since the only thing I care about is TV, I tried to come up with a plot about a television. Then one night while channel surfing, I happened across a movie called The Twonky (1953) starring Hans Conried. It was a story about a talking TV. Leonard Maltin gives it one-and-a-half stars. The upshot? There went my TV novel. But this is one of the oldest stories in the book of novels. As soon as a writer thinks up a story line, someone else has already beaten him to it.”

From Dark Night of the Soul:

“I turned off the TV and sat down in my easy-chair and closed my eyes. This is how I always begin writing a novel. I do absolutely nothing for twenty minutes. It allows me to ‘let go’ of the consternations of the day and make room for the free flow of ideas. It’s sort of like Transcendental Meditation except that instead of saying a mantra I envision each of my problems as a helium balloon that I release into the air where they rise into the stratosphere and pop! After my mind was empty, I started thinking about money. I did this deliberately. It’s an integral step in the process of devising plots, since I write for money. It inspires me to greater heights of creativity. I am always suspicious whenever I meet a writer who says he doesn’t write for money. Why would anybody not do something for money? I can’t think of a better reason to not do something.”

Of course Murph has insights into many other issues that his failed writing career. Despite his personal pledge to never get involved in the lives of his fares, he’s routinely getting tangled up.

Gary may not have been published during his lifetime, but he left behind plenty of evidence that he didn’t often get distracted by the “peripherals” of writing (like visiting the Grand Canyon). He was a dedicated, smart writer who poured it all out.



IS THERE AN AUTHOR YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? Tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of TRAPLINE by Mark Stevens and DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL by Gary Reilly (U.S. entrants only, please.)



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