It’s like I told Jo. Well, I call her Jo. Most of you know her as J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter and a couple of other novels, including a mystery that she tried to foist upon the gullible reading public as—get this—something written by some nobody. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. Ha.
Well, there may have been with The Cuckoo’s Calling, which left Rowling in the unenviable position (if you’re J.K. Rowling) of not knowing whether people buy her recent books because they’re good or because she wrote Harry Potter, one of the most phenomenally successful series of books since Dickens. I mean, talk about sleepless nights. Make a kajillion dollars and wonder if you’ve really been affirmed as a writer. Or gamble the kajillion dollars on the chance that people do like you for more than Hogwarts.
Jo, I said. Don’t do this.
But then I said it many years ago—1991 to be exact. I get a call in the newsroom of the Morning Sentinel newspaper in Maine, where I was a columnist at the time. A British woman, by the accent. She said she had a problem. I said, “Take a number.” She said, “No, really. But I hope you can help me.”
I said, “No promises.”
So she told me she was a writer. She’s had two series of books going. One is about a school for wizards, and all these wizard kids get sent there and have adventures. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” She said, “I’ve got another one. It’s a mystery series set in Maine. This reporter from the New York Times is exiled to the boonies and has all these adventures.”
“Harry Potter,” she said.
“I don’t like it,” I said. “How ’bout something like Jack McMorrow?”
“I love it,” Jo Rowling said. “But there’s a problem. Who’s going to believe an unemployed young woman, writing these books in a cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, knows anything about Maine?”
“Probably nobody,” I said.
“That’s where you come in,” she said.
Well, you see where this is going and where it went. Rowling needed a real reporter to stand in as the author of her Jack McMorrow mystery series. I said, “Okay. On one condition. That you never try to publish the wizard thing.”
Well, she promised. Fingers crossed, apparently. But Rowling’s Jack McMorrow series was launched, with me as the nominal author. The first one, Deadline, did pretty well. (Rowling does have a way with words). And then she just kept cranking them out. Bloodline. Lifeline. Potshot. (I told her I didn’t like the line thing. You’re right, she said.) Borderline slipped in. Then Cover Story. Pretty Dead. Home Body. Damaged Goods. And her last McMorrow novel, Once Burned, in the pipeline.
I kept up my end of the bargain. Book signings. Interviews. It was fun, for a while. But then the deceit started to weigh on me. How do you lie to friends and family and readers? When do you write all these books, they’d ask? Oh, I squeeze them in, I said.
But it wore on me until a couple of weeks ago, when I’d had enough. I called her. I said, “Jo, I can’t keep living a lie. This is crushing me. The world needs to know that you wrote all of these Gerry Boyle mysteries.”
So Jo (AKA J.K. Rowling) agreed. I could finally reveal that these McMorrow mysteries weren’t written by a newspaper reporter in Maine, scuffling around courts and jails in down-at-the-heels mill towns. They were written by a woman in Edinburgh with a gift for storytelling and a great imagination. I mean, you’d think she’d actually walked these Maine streets, driven these Maine back roads. It’s uncanny.
So tonight, for the first time in many years, I’ll sleep easy. The weight is off my shoulders. The truth is out. (That’s Gerry Boyle. AKA J.K. Rowling. The books are available on Amazon and at your local bookseller.). I was wrong about the wizards but I know I’m right about this.