The only piece of fiction that he wrote that was published during Gary Reilly’s lifetime was a short story in 1978.
“The Biography Man” was published by the Iowa Writers Review and later picked up by the Pushcart Prize Anthology (1979). From that point until his death in 2011, Gary wrote 25 novels. None made it to print.
Since 2011, Running Meter Press has published seven of his novels. Six are from his series of comic novels about a Denver taxi cab driver. The seventh is the first of the novels Gary wrote around his experiences during the Vietnam War. There are many more to come.
Mark Stevens, who was behind the effort to public Reilly’s work, writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series, five novels that feature the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and surrounding communities of Glenwood Springs and Meeker.
Mark is former Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and is president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter for Mystery Writers of America.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
First, I need to introduce myself. My name is Mark Stevens and I’m the co-publisher of Running Meter Press, a company formed to publish the works of the late Gary Reilly.
“The Circumstantial Man” was the 12th book of Gary’s that we have published (with about another dozen fully-finished novels to go) since Gary passed away in 2011. Four of those twelve novels, including “The Circumstantial Man,” have been named a finalist for The Colorado Book Award. What inspired him? It’s hard to say. In general, Gary loved storytelling in many forms and I happen to know around this time he was keenly into noir, including the works of Patricia Highsmith and many others.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Gary had boatloads of writers he admired. He was a big fan of the beat writers—Jack Kerouac and that crew. But it’s so hard to make a list of writers Gary loved.
He was a voracious consumer of stories across all genres.
He also wrote across all genres—humor, sci-fi, fantasy, crime fiction, and straight-up literary fiction, too. He loved pulp fiction and would often prowl the used bookstores on South Broadway looking for gems. He was one of the most enthusiastic readers I’ve ever met.
I’m not sure he focused on a handful of writers as much as he was always curious to check out writers he didn’t know. I know for a fact he appreciated anyone who made the effort to write fiction, which happened to include me.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
I think this excerpt is a perfect example of Gary’s ability to parse lives down into specific moments of decision-making.
“The Circumstantial Man” is very much about the little decisions throughout the course of a day that can put someone in increasing levels of jeopardy—and also goes to the heart of a common fear about life in general: Am I doing the right thing? Should I be doing this now—or that?
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
Obviously, I can’t speak for Gary. I wish I could. I think he wanted to emulate a certain style of storytelling—a compressed timeline and a strong interior voice propelling a story forward.
He wanted to make readers squirm. There’s an old adage in crime fiction that you take your protagonist, stick him high up in a tree, and throw rocks at him. This is intended as a metaphor to describe that you need your main character to be in a high degree of jeopardy.
In “The Circumstantial Man,” Gary puts divorced loner Pete Larkey through a grinding day of poor decision making and then, literally, puts him up a tree and starts throwing rocks at him.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
So I would venture to say that Gary didn’t struggle to write anything. He never came to me with plot problems, for instance. We met for coffee many, many times over the seven years I knew Gary before he died and he never seemed to struggle with the storytelling side of things. His weakness was in selling himself and marketing his works—thus the 25 completed but unpublished novels when he died.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
I know this sounds a bit crazy, but Gary (I believe) didn’t do much research. Of the 25 novels, 10 are humorous novels about a cab driver named Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph,” The Asphalt Warrior.
Gary drove a cab in Denver for many years so I think it was easy for him to pull stories from those experiences and encounters. Three of the other novels published to date—”The Enlisted Men’s Club,” “The Detachment,” and “The Discharge”—are based on Gary’s experiences before, during and after the Vietnam War.
Again, Gary drew on his own memory of the powerful moments that stayed with him. Gary had a vivid imagination and some of his stories, such as “The Legend of Carl Draco,” which came out in 2019, are pure fantasy/fables and required no research.
What project are you working on next?
Running Meter Press plans to publish the ninth novel in The Asphalt Warrior series next summer. Readers have begged us to keep this series going; they want more Murph!