Gary had the ability to subject himself to the storyline and analyze why it worked. (Or didn’t.) He wrote a treatise on story structure.
Gary also wrote fiction. In 1977, he published a short-story called “The Biography Man” in The Iowa Review. It was later included in an anthology of the best writing from magazines and small presses. “The Biography Man” was Gary’s lone publication credit, but failure to land an agent or a publisher didn’t stop his production.
I met Gary in about 2004. I was duly impressed with his dedication to the craft and started reading his entire stack of unpublished manuscripts. The “Murph” stories, in particular, struck me as utter gems. I fell in love with the character and with Gary’s style. Gary, in turn, was an enormously valuable editor and mentor to me.
To my surprise, however, Gary queried agents and publishers only occasionally. He would go for months without marketing his works. I would push and prod him. I suggested he get involved in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I wanted him to meet other writers and make connections. I knew his chances of getting lucky, so to speak, were better at a writers’ conference than sitting at home editing and rewriting another “Murph.”
I encouraged him to publish the first “Murph” adventure electronically and for free—and just see what might happen. No matter what tack I tried, Gary’s approach didn’t change.
On November 15, 2010—four months before he died—Gary wrote me the following email:
I'm currently reading David Copperfield. I just finished all of Proust. I'm trying to get as many of "the big books" read before I dive into The Big Sleep.
Gary didn’t have the “joiner” gene. It just wasn’t in him. He decided on having a “serious dialogue” a bit too late. He died on March 10, 2011.
Writers need alone time (lots of it!) but today, unless you are the reincarnation of J.D. Salinger or strike lightning like J.K. Rowling—you need to get out there and mingle.
You have to meet, pitch, confer, have a coffee or have a drink. You need friends. You need advocates. You need readers. You need to meet agents in person, chat with editors. You need to sacrifice some writing time and pour it into networks—real ones with real people reading your words and giving you useful feedback. Sure, not always. Cold queries still work, but so do lottery tickets.
A new writer friend put it this way: “Having talent allows you to get in the game. Whether you are successful or not depends on a lot more than whether or not you have talent.”
One thing is for sure—agents and publishers aren’t wandering the streets and knocking on random doors in hopes there might be a writer hiding inside banging away at a computer.
National distribution starts Tuesday, June 5 with the publication of Murph #1, The Asphalt Warrior. (It will be free as an e-book for the first three days, too: June 7, 8 and 9.)
If you’re around, come to the Lodo Tattered Cover on Tuesday June 5, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. (1628 16th Street, Denver, CO). We’ll celebrate release of Gary's book The Asphalt Warrior, and afterwards, head to the Wynkoop to raise a toast to Gary, to Murph, and to friends.
By Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the current president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of two Colorado mysteries, Antler Dust (2007) and Buried by the Roan (2011), which is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.
The Asphalt Warrior will be available June 5, 2012 at The Tattered Cover and wherever books are sold. You can learn more about the book at The Asphalt Warrior, on Facebook, or on Twitter @Asphalt_Warrior. Murph #2, Ticket to Hollywood, will be released in December 2012 or January 2013.