A few months ago I finally got around to reading, loving and reviewing Gary Reilly’s first published book, The Asphalt Warrior.
Book 6 in the series, Dark Night of the Soul is releasing this month. If you’ve become a fan of these books like I have, or if what follows intrigues you enough to dive in, the official launch event is happening Friday, November 21st at 7pm at the Lodo Tattered Cover.
I highly recommend adding this event to your calendar. Not only will the two publishers of Gary’s books (Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe) be there to launch and talk about Dark Night of the Soul and the amazing Gary Reilly, but Mark Stevens will also be launching his own book Trapline which is the 3rd book in his Allison Coil enviro-mystery series.
If you’re wondering why Gary Reilly won’t be at his own launch event, allow me to back up a bit.
A couple of years ago the reading and writing worlds lost one of their brightest stars, and the worst part is, we lost him before most of even knew to look for him. Gary Reilly died a mostly undiscovered genius, and I do not use the G-word lightly.
Like his Asphalt Warrior protagonist, Murph, Gary was a prolific writer of a vast trove of unpublished books. After Gary’s passing two of his closest friends inherited his literary estate and worked to publish his works posthumously.
Gary’s works have since received significant acclaim, not just from stray bloggers like myself, but also from major reviewers around the country.
Since Gary can’t be here himself, I scored a wee pre-release interview with Mark and Mike, his publishers, to talk about Gary, Murph and the Dark Night of the Soul –
Before I dive in – I will be starting Dark Night of the Soul this afternoon for my “Tuesday Twitter Read-Along” and will be live tweeting my thoughts and a few choice quotes as I go under the hashtag #ReillyDarkNight (What a punderful hashtag, amiright!?) I invite you to join the conversation. I’ll get going around 4pm today and will keep it up as I read throughout the week. If you want to join in real time 4pm-5pm Tuesdays and Thursday and after 9pm all week long are reliable times to catch me “reading out loud” on twitter. Once I’m done I’ll post a full review here as well as a final reminder to get yourself to Tattered Cover Lodo on November 21st to get your copy signed by Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe.
And now, the interview:
I know you’re both longtime friends of Gary Reilly, the author of The Asphalt Warrior series as well as The Enlisted Men’s Club– when did you each realize his genius? I ask, because his alter-ego, Murph, the Asphalt Warrior Himself, keeps all of his unpublished manuscripts (which are different from his unfinished manuscripts) tucked safely away in a big steamer trunk. How long did Gary keep his genius hidden from you?
Mike Keefe: I met Gary in a filmmaking class in 1977. It turned out that he and I were the only members of the class who were interested in creating animated short films. We collaborated on several and became friends. His passion for writing was revealed slowly over time. In the mid-90s he wrote a column for a humor/cartoon site I had on AOL. He penned an advice column in the persona of a cab driver. When that gig dried up, I didn’t know what he was up to for a year. Then he handed me a draft for the first of The Asphalt Warrior series featuring Murph, the character he developed online. Earlier he had begun to leak other manuscripts in every imaginable genre. I read them all and was amazed. So, to put a number on it, I’d say Gary did not fully reveal his genius to me for nearly ten years. But then I was in the loop for another thirty.
Mark Stevens: I met Gary in 2004. Mike introduced us because Mike knew I was working on writing fiction and thought I would appreciate Gary’s point of view. Gary and I started meeting for coffee and long chats about our works, so we traded manuscripts. At the time, I had three completed books. I started reading the Asphalt Warrior series and some other books, too. It was clear to me—immediately—that Gary was one of the most dedicated writers I had ever met. And that he was very, very good. Gary doled these out one at a time. It took me a couple years to read everything and catch up with everything he had written—some 25 books.
I am in desperate awe of Gary’s observations on life, the universe and everything. His writing reminds me a lot of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (minus the fantasy element) in that way – the wry, cynical observations on humanity and society that were nonetheless tainted with a hopeless amount of optimism for the species as a whole. Reading about Murph’s adventures as a Denver Cabby, you get the feeling that he’d like nothing more than to just throw in the towel, but every new interactions rekindles Pandora’s cursed hope that maybe this time things will be different. How similar are Gary and his alter-ego Murph in that sense? Was Gary the same sort of reluctant hero? Aside from winning that big mythical publishing deal, what were Gary’s aspirations?
Mark Stevens: Great question—and excellent comparisons! All I can really do is answer based on the many, many times Gary and I met and talked. All he wanted to do was talk about storytelling—movies, books, movies, books. And more. He channeled this fundamental paradox about his life into Murph. I really believe Gary had no ambitions to climb the corporate ladder. And the same is certainly true of Murph. Murph had a fundamental skepticism about that world, as evidenced throughout the books whenever he talks about his time working at the fictional Dyna-Plex, Murph’s sole gig in the world of white-collar work. Murph was bewildered by the function of large corporations—and questioned everything about their efficiency and effectiveness, just as Private Palmer in The Enlisted Men’s Club questioned the organizational efficiency of the U.S. Army. Yes, Gary had hope that a novel would sell. A few times agents asked for “partial” manuscripts and I could see Gary get his hopes up, for sure. Gary studied writing and storytelling more than anyone I’ve ever known. He thought about plotting and structure—and cared about those issues. And he was a copious, meticulous editor who had no problem combing through his manuscripts, as well as many written by friends or even friends of friends, dozens and dozens of times.
I feel like Gary breaks a lot of the “hard and fast” rules of writing, but he does it in such a way that it works. For example, his plot centers around literally nothing, as in, Murph’s desire to do nothing, or at least as little as possible to survive. I love the subversiveness of that, of having the protagonist’s goal be the attainment of actual nothingness. It felt very Buddhist to me. Did Gary have a spirituality that played into his creation of Murph on that level? Do you think his subversion was intentional?
Mike Keefe: I don’t see Gary as spiritual in any way that would pigeon hole him into one discipline or another. He was an individual and developed his unique personal take on human existence. I would agree that his way of thinking resembled Buddhism in some ways. Nothingness in Murph’s world is simply different. I can’t imagine, for example, the Dalai Lama channel surfing for re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.
Gary’s books are incredibly character driven. While the plot is there, and the pacing is solid, it really is the characters that kept me turning the pages, you can just feel his absolute love for his characters even while he puts them through hell. Where do you think that love came from? Did it spill over into his interactions with people in the real world? Some of the best writers I know are complete misanthropes, but they LOVE their characters, did Gary fit that mold? Do you think his writing was more of an escape, or a reflection?
Mike Keefe: Murph and Gary are nearly identical characters. For the most part, Gary avoided social contact. He had friends and loved ones who resided in mutually exclusive universes. Still, he was an incredibly generous soul as Mark will tell you. If you were a writer, he gave you his complete and devoted attention, trying to help you hone your craft.
Do either of you have a favorite passage or line from one of Gary’s books that you’d like to share to whet reader’s appetites and give them a taste of Gary’s style?
Mark Stevens: Here are a few favorites. So many to choose from.
The Asphalt Warrior
On the day that I applied for the job as a corporate writer I brought along my English diploma. I had heard on the street that corporations preferred to hire people with college degrees. I didn’t believe a word of it because I didn’t place any value on college degrees—the fact that I had one proved how much they were worth. But the fact that I didn’t believe corporations were impressed by college degrees indicated that I was wrong about corporations. My inability to interpret reality correctly has stood me in good stead over the years.
Ticket to Hollywood
I never tell another taxi driver that I’m a taxi driver. I usually call Yellow Cab or Metro Taxi, I rarely call Rocky Cab for a ride. I do this because I like riding incognito. I ask the drivers inane questions about cab driving: what’s it like, how much money do you make, is it dangerous, do you ever have weird experiences? It’s a “game” I play, although I assume psychiatrists have a technical term for it.
The Heart of Darkness Club:
One thing I had learned in college was that if you ever had a question about truth, reality, or the meaning of existence, read a novel by Albert Camus. Pretty soon you’ll be so baffled you’ll forget the question. (For those of you who never served in the army and subsequently faked your way through seven years of college, “Camus” rhymes with “Shamu” [the killer whale]).
“All my life I have wanted people to think I was normal. My batting average is about .500 if you divide the world into people who know me, and people who wish they didn’t.”
Home for the Holidays
A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.
Dark Night of the Soul
I had been up the previous evening thinking about trying to write a novel, and nothing drains a writer more than thinking about trying to write. A lot of it has to do with the energy it takes to not watch television. Not watching television is like going to a bar and not drinking. That’s as far as I can take the analogy, because I’ve never done that.
Mark, you’re a writer and Mike, you’re a political cartoonist – now you’re both also publishers. How has this experience changed your views of the publishing world? How sharp was the learning curve?
Mike Keefe: After he made his wishes clear in his will, there was not a moment’s hesitation on our part to get Gary’s work out to the public. Gary’s backlog was a treasure chest. Mark and I were pretty much naive about the nuts and bolts of publication and we are still learning in this ever-changing environment. But one thing is clear: If you want to publish, you can do it, one way or the other.
Mark Stevens: Publishing is complicated and hard. We’ve been fortunate to have tremendous help from Big Earth in Boulder and our publicists, JKS Communications. But there is a lot that goes into putting a high-quality book out there and finding readers. It is lots of fun, but lots of work. More and more, I appreciate all the folks in publishing at every level—writers, editors, agents, artists, designers, publicists, you name it.
I recommend Gary’s books to almost all the newbie writers I meet. His observations and wit are truly inspirational, not to mention Murph’s determined ability to write without hope of ever getting published. As I understand it, Gary was originally holding out for that mythical traditional publishing deal. Now that you two have taken the reins and seen such remarkable success with these books, do you have any advice for new authors just getting into the business regarding the choices between independent publishing, small press publishing and traditional big house publishing?
Mark Stevens: Simple: shoot high at first, then recalibrate. I say “go for it.” Query the best agents you can find. Go to conferences and meet agents. Introduce yourself. Buy them drinks. Tell them about your work. Get them to read your stuff. Try this approach for a couple or three years—or as long as you feel like you want to keep going. If you get good feedback, use it! Make changes in your stuff. Keep writing better books. If that doesn’t work, look for a small or independent publisher. Do the same thing—in other words, work it! And if that still doesn’t turn you into a published author, start to look for the self-publishing route. Gary was finally open to an alternative route to publication about a year before he passed away. It was too late. There aren’t too many days that I don’t wish he had chosen this path earlier, so he could see the tremendous public reaction to his works.
Me again –
I agree, I never knew Gary personally, but his writing makes me wish I’d had the opportunity. His books are close, intimate portrayals of the human condition. They are positively littered with humor and wit. And for my fellow aspiring writers – they are a true treasure trove of inspiration, style and know-how, not to mention stubborn perseverance.
I cannot recommend Gary’s books highly enough and I am looking forward to diving in to his newest offering this afternoon. I encourage you all to come join the conversation at #ReillyDarkNight and start getting excited for the official launch at Tattered Cover!