Monday, May 28, 2012

Lessons from Gary

Earlier this year Mark Stevens shared much of the following information with me. When I learned that publication of Gary Reilly’s first book in the “Murph” series would soon be celebrated, I invited Mark to share this very special story on Chiseled in Rock. ~ Janet Fogg


Gary Reilly
My pal Gary Reilly never took for granted the power of a good story to entertain. He loved being amused.

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.

Gary wrote 20 novels over the next 34 years, including 11 novels about a Denver cab driver named Murph and, among many genres, two of the finest Vietnam-theme novels I’ve ever read. (Gary had served as a military policeman in Qui Nhon, a city on the coastline halfway between Saigon and the DMZ.)

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 I was duly impressed with his dedication to the craft and started reading his entire stack of unpublished manuscripts.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:

One of the things that I wanted to discuss with you...was the idea you had a couple years ago about putting the Murphs on a website and sending codes to agents and so forth. I told you I wanted to think about it first, but now that I have cancer I do not know how long I will be around, and the fact I have wanted to put Book #1 on the net, I wanted to ask you what the logistics of that whole idea consisted of. I was leafing through my Murphs over the weekend and thinking that these books are worth getting out to the public in some manner, even if it means forgetting traditional publishing and experimenting with internet publishing, that vast and unexplored area...I think it's realistic to say that traditional publishing is out as far as my body of work is concerned, but I would like readers to have the opportunity to enjoy Murph. I think it's time to get a serious dialogue going on this, and I would appreciate your input.

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.

Keep writing.

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.

Gary won’t be around when Murph goes public but thanks to Gary’s three-sentence will, my pal Mike Keefe and I were given permission to publish his works. We formed Running Meter Press and, based on the quality of the Murph stories, quickly made partners with the venerable Big Earth Publishing in Boulder. (They fell in love with Murph, too.)

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.


Patricia Stoltey said...

This is such a touching story. I sympathize with Gary's desire to just write, and am so sorry he didn't live to see his works published. How kind of Mike and Mark to follow through for him.

Thanks for posting this, Janet.

Shannon Baker said...

Gary is lucky to have friends like you.