We have a special feature today – an author being “interviewed” on behalf of another author! Please welcome Mark Stevens as he talks for fellow author, Gary Reilly.
Intro: Well, Mysteristas, first I’d like to say that this is Mark Stevens answering on behalf of the late, great Gary Reilly. Gary passed away in 2011 and I miss him just about every day. He was one of my most valuable writing mentors and a real inspiration, not only for the fact that he left behind twenty-five amazing novels (all unpublished) but because he gave so much of his time to help others (including me).
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Mark: I think Gary was one of the biggest book omnivores I’ve ever met. He read it all because he loved anything with a story. He loved the variety, in fact. He was open to anything. He loved the pulp paperbacks, he loved the big-name fiction writers, although maybe not James Joyce of Ulysses era. He wasn’t a modernist. Gary liked stories that moved and went somewhere. He liked a good plot and I think he had a real thing for the beat writers, Kerouac and Ken Kesey. He loved a good cheesy paperback, too, and a bit of science fiction. He also liked Patricia Highsmith. I was surprised Gary didn’t know Patricia and I’m proud to say I turned him onto her stuff (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train, and many more). I believe The Circumstantial Man was largely inspired by reading Highsmith. It’s got the trademark style of psychological suspense and a kind of Everyman quality to it: this could happen to anyone! Gary pulled it off, I do believe. Well, check the advance blurbs and starred Booklist review if you think I’m bragging about my friend.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Mark: I LOVE this question and that’s because it goes straight to the heart of Gary. I would say the theme is being alone in a crazy world. Gary’s characters are often loners. But here’s the thing—they know they move through the world in a way that requires lots of human interaction. And when those interactions invariably happen (okay, every day) Gary’s characters end up doing the right thing. Or, well, trying to do the right thing. Gary’s most famous creation was Murph, the star of eight Asphalt Warrior novels to date. Murph is a nickname for Brendan Murphy. Murph drives a cab in Denver. He has two goals in life—one is to earn as a little money as possible. He wants to keep his simple, bohemian life afloat and that is all. He wants to write novels (Murph is a failed novelist) and watch “Gilligan’s Island.” His second goal in life is to never get entangled in the lives of his passengers, but he is ALWAYS getting entangled in the lives of his passenger (and always ends up doing the right thing). In Gary’s Vietnam series (three books) based on Gary’s life before, during and after the war, the main character is Private Palmer and, again, Private Palmer really wants to be left alone and not get scooped up into anything bad, particularly the war itself. Ironically, in the third book, Private Palmer is back in Denver dealing with post-war stress and uncertainty and he thinks about becoming a taxi driver and he goes down to apply for a license and is soon on the streets of Denver as a cab driver. Right before our eyes, we see Private Palmer become Murph. Not surprisingly, Private Palmer also wants to become a writer and in the third book, The Detachment, has a near-brush with fame and a big-time Hollywood contract. That almost happened to Gary in real life and Gary exploits that heartbreak in The Detachment and he used again in the second Murph novel, too, Ticket to Hollywood. Yes, “alone” is Gary’s theme. Well, one of them. He mostly wanted to entertain. And we’re all alone, aren’t we? When it comes right down to it? We’re all alone. Gary understood that essential fact about who we are.
How long have you been writing?
Mark: Here’s a great question about Gary. I fully believe Gary started writing when he came home from Vietnam, in the early 1970’s. There is no way he could have recalled all the details that show up in his Vietnam trilogy had he not started writing then. And he never stopped writing, right up until a few months before he died in 2011. So the answer is “forty years.” And in those forty years, Gary produced twenty-five (25!) novels. And was never published. He kept writing and writing despite getting zero encouragement from publishers. He had only one bit of success in his life when it comes to publishing his work and that was one short story he sent to The Iowa Review. It was published in the Fall of 1977. It was called “The Biography Man” and it was such a good story that the Pushcart Prize anthology reprinted it the next year. (That’s quite an honor). So, “forty years.” I still run into writers who complain about having been writers for four or five years and nothing to show for it and I just say, “keep writing.” Gary wrote because he had to. Gary wrote because he had stories to tell. And he told them beautifully.