Gerry Boyle here. My friend Kate Flora graciously invited me to write something to coincide with the launch of ONCE BURNED, the new and 10th Jack McMorrow novel, to be released by Islandport Press next week. The book is about arson. The need to keep on writing these stories is burning, too.
This has been on my mind these last few weeks. I turned in the manuscript for the McMorrow No. 11, STRAW MAN, last month. Since then I’ve had plenty to do—a revision of an Irish crime novel (co-written with my Irish daughter, Emily Westbrooks), my Colby Magazine work, a quick trip to the Southwest, cleaning up the yard after a long Maine winter, getting the boat ready for the season, hanging out with family—but I feel unsettled.
A little jumpy.
Hard to sit still.
I wasn’t sure why until last week when I was doing an interview with Caroline Cornish, for the WCSH television show 207. Caroline asked me how I keep coming up with ideas for McMorrow novels after 20 years. I don’t recall my response. But I know now what I should have said: “How can I help it?”
The truth is that writing a mystery series is like a relationship. It is a relationship, with a character who may be the person—imagined, yes—you spend as much time with as any actual person. You are inside that protagonist’s head. You’re thinking about their life. You’re with them in very dangerous situations, and you’re with them in their quiet moments as well. You invented them, and their significant others, their cast of supporting characters, and if you get lucky, and readers keep reading, you’re with them until death does you part.
If you get very lucky, you’ll go first.
It’s a little whacked. I mean, you could be writing literary novels. You could be writing poetry. You could be writing your memoir. Instead, you’ve tied the knot with this one person, and that person is in constant trouble, turmoil, physical danger, and at psychological risk. You need them as much as they need you. Or maybe more.
My main man is McMorrow, the rogue newspaper reporter who for 20 years has been exploring the minefields of Maine. He and I go way back, to when I was a cub reporter and he was the jaded veteran late of the New York Times. I gave him raison d’etre and in return he took me under his wing. He’s one interesting guy, I think. Tough, principled, vigilant in his determination that the truth be revealed and justice served.
His best friend, Clair, is a Marine, a Vietnam veteran, ex-special forces philosopher. His wife, Roxanne, works with troubled kids and keeps her most troubled kid, McMorrow himself, from going over the edge. She’s the second-strongest woman I know.
So here we are, me and McMorrow. Joined at the keyboard, which might as well be the hip.
I have no trouble coming up with ideas, no more than McMorrow has trouble picking battles. When I’m not with him, I have this uneasy feeling (see above) that he’s out there without me. And I hate to miss a minute.
Of course, I could be writing these books for myself. I’m fortunate that I’m not the only one who finds McMorrow interesting—a real blessing, that.
It’s not something you do lightly. I thought that as I read Brenda Buchanan’s nice post here about joining the ranks of mystery novelists. All those years of work. All those hours with someone you’ll grow very close to over the years. All those near-death experiences you share and learn from. Best of luck to you both.
Brenda made reference to Robert B. Parker, the wonderful writer who taught her in college and was a big help to me when I was starting out. Parker died very suddenly, at his writing desk. It was very unexpected and devastating to his family and friends and many thousands of fans. But he was spared one thing: he didn’t have to part with Spenser, his fictional counterpart for more than 30 years.
That sort of parting is difficult to contemplate. So I’m not. In the words of Ruth Rendell, who died last week, wrote wonderful mystery novels all of her life, “I couldn’t do that.” Writing, Rendell said “is essential to my life.”
So on we go. ONCE BURNED is about arson and revenge. STRAW MAN is about guns and true faith. The next one? We’re mulling. For me and McMorrow, it’s full speed ahead.
Love this post, Gerry. How can we not get ideas is such a good answer, especially when, as you have, you’ve lived with a character for so long and know his character, his past, and his questions.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
So true, Gerry. I was never able to let go of my Face Down world and now have the opportunity to return to it with a spin off series. Not quite the same, but Lady Appleton is still alive and well in the new books and functioning as an important secondary character. The ideas for more books and stories? No end in sight.
Gerry, as you know I am so glad Jack is back. He is one of my all-time favorite protagonists, and Clair and Roxanne win my prize for most wonderful, believable supporting characters. Though I am new at this, I understand the sense of being joined at the hip with an imaginary person who lives in an imaginary world. I dream Joe Gale’s dreams sometimes.
I wish you tremendous success with Once Burned, and am delighted to know Straw Man is waiting in the wings.
Look forward to your launch party next week!
Thanks, guys. We’re all in the same writers’ boat, but wouldn’t have it any other way. Bring on the books. Bring on the party! May 13, 5-7 p.m., Maine Beer Co., Freeport. Come by and take a well-deserved break.
I would love to be there to toast you and Jack, but have a previous commitment that evening. Vive McMorrow!