What Was I Thinking?

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. And I want to tell you about my new assignment. In 20 years of writing mystery novels, it’s a first.

My new publisher, Islandport Press, has asked me to write introductions to my early books, which Islandport will begin reissuing this fall. This is a great thing, as anyone who has been in this business for a while will tell you. After a couple of decades the early books get scarce. And if you’re writing a continuing series, in this case my Jack McMorrow novels, that’s a problem. A new series book is a tougher sell if the early books are out of print.deadline

So thank you, Islandport Press. Those introductions are on the way.

But I’ve never written retrospectively about  any of my books. This assignment called for me to get them out and reread them, including time spent staring at the jacket photo of me with brown hair and a cherubic look. Okay, maybe just the brown hair.

The assignment also calls for me to try to recall writing these books more than 20 years ago, and to ask myself: what was I thinking?

I don’t know about you but I’m sort of a forward-looking writer. The next chapter. The next book. The next series, even. I don’t presume that readers have prior knowledge so I tend not to refer to earlier books in later ones. Just a matter of taste.

So not only had I not written about these early titles. I hadn’t dwelled on them of late, either.

This is a little embarrassing to admit. Sometimes I do a book talk and I look out and I see someone with a copy of the first or second book and I get a little nervous. Will they ask me about some small plot detail? Will they bring up a minor character by name? Will I be left standing there like the flummoxed kid in the spelling bee? (Could you please repeat that character’s name in a sentence?)

BLOODLINEThey say hindsight is 20-20 but only after it’s in focus. And that’s what I’ve been doing, in between writing a new book: refocusing on work I did early in my career.

I won’t keep you too long here, but a few observations:

* I don’t recall a moment where a muse visited, and the plot was revealed. I do remember deciding to start to write a novel and then refusing to give up until it was done.

* I don’t recall where the characters’ names came from, not specifically. McMorrow? I didn’t know any McMorrows when I came up with that one. I vaguely remember deciding to go with a Celtic surname. But McMorrow’s partner, Roxanne—where did that come from? Hard to say. Maybe I should have kept a journal, but hey, I was busy writing a book.

* I do recall the places that inspired the settings, wonderful towns like Rumford, Maine, a fascinating steam-belching paper mill town that provided much of my early education.

* I do recall the inspiration I got from mysteries I was reading then: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Very early Dick Francis. The first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript. I decided I had to try this myself, on the chance that some of the magic in those books would rub off.

* And— this is important for writers in the early stages of this effort— I remember that when it came to writing a book, I just plunged in. No hesitation or calculation. No consideration of markets or the hot theme of the time. Just the seed of an idea that turned into a story. We’re storytellers, after all. Nothing more.

*Lastly, I remember the thrill of getting the news that somebody wanted to publish my first book. I wasn’t crazy after all. It was a long slog but it actually worked. Many books followed but none of them replicated that moment. What a rush. Think of that, you first-time writers. That moment makes all of it worthwhile.

So back to work on my intros for DEADLINE and BLOODLINE. Writer of 2014, meet the writer of 1990. We’re not the same people or even the same writers but we’re glad to get reacquainted.

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6 Responses to What Was I Thinking?

  1. MCWriTers says:

    It’s an interesting challenge. When I go back, I find I don’t want to change the stories, but oh dear, the technology! It’s an interesting retrospective to see how your writing has changed and your characters have morphed over time. For me, writing a character in her early thirties, I realize that she’s aged a few years while I’ve aged twenty.

    I still like early Parker and Francis better than the later books; same with Tony Hillerman. Our challenge is to bring out new strengths to the table while not losing what made those early books publishable.

    Good luck with the project, and Yea! for Islandport.

    Kate

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  2. Linda Lord says:

    Best wishes, Gerry. (and I too like the early Parker and Francis books best – even if Parker is a Colby grad.)

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  3. Barb Ross says:

    What an interesting perspective and journey!

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  4. I so agree with your observation that you plunged in… that is so true, and I am thankful that I was so ignorant of the whole process when I started. Now it is harder to take risks — I guess because I know more, but I’m trying not to let that stop me.
    On another note– have you gone for a ride yet? We went out on Sunday…

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  5. Suzette says:

    I am on book eighteen, I think, and I still just plunge right in. I do try to make an outline but it rarely ends up anything like I originally thought due to research material or some other factor such as a brilliant idea that over shadows the original theme of the book. Sometimes they work out alright and other times I just finish it to get it off of my desk and move on to another project. Later I think of things I could have done to improve the book but as it is already published there isn’t too much I can do to it after the fact. Do you ever do that? Once a book is finished and published, you begin to think of things you could have changed or done differently?

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  6. John Clark says:

    I can tell you that you are still attracting new fans here in Hartland.

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