The only piece of fiction 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 were published during his lifetime.
Since 2011, Running Meter Press has published 13 of his novels. Eight are from his series of comic novels about a Denver taxi cab driver. There are many more to come.
Of the 13 published so far, five (“Ticket to Hollywood,” “The Legend of Carl Draco,” “Pickup at Union Station,” “The Circumstantial Man” and “Doctor Lovebeads”) were finalists for the Colorado Book Award.
Born in Arkansas City, Kansas, Gary Reilly spent his early years in Kansas and Colorado in a large Irish-Catholic family of seven brothers and sisters. The family moved to Denver where Gary attended parochial high school, graduating in 1967. After discharge from the U.S. Army, Gary majored in English at Colorado State University and continued studies at the Denver campus of the University of Colorado.
The following is an interview with Reilly’s publisher, Mark Stevens.
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?
I wish Gary was around to answer that question! I was Gary’s friend for about the last seven years of his life (Gary died in 2011). I got to know him fairly well. But I couldn’t begin to guess the specific inspiration for “The Legend of Carl Draco.” Gary’s tastes in fiction—both reading and writing—were wide-ranging. He loved a good superhero story and he enjoyed science fiction and fantasy, too. I think with Draco he wanted a superhero who was humble and self-effacing. For those who know taxi driver Brendan Murphy from The Asphalt Warrior series, or Private Palmer from Gary’s Vietnam Trilogy, those traits are going to be very familiar. Among the dozen or so novels that we have yet to publish (among the 25 or so novels Gary left behind when he died), there are others that are also fantasy and what you might call adventurous science fiction. Writing in this genre was clearly something Gary enjoyed.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
Well, it’s Chapter 1. So it provides a quick way to see Carl Draco as an ordinary man and also as a superhero. We see him grabbing a drink in a bar. We get a sense of how he lives, moves, and sleeps. We quickly get a feeling that he has enemies, might have someone following him. And, quite suddenly, we see him do something far from the ordinary. We know we’re in for a ride.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
My hunch is that Gary did zero research for this novel, other than consuming 1.5 zillion pulp novels, B-movies, and sci-fi television shows. Then, he put the basic elements of a good story through his own personal storytelling interests and filters, giving a superhero genuine moments of humanity and self-doubt during a cross-country race against a powerful foe. Can I take this opportunity to encourage readers to admire Gary’s prose style with this story? Readers should let Gary’s writing voice sink in. It’s much different here than in Gary’s other works. It’s rich. The sentences might extend beyond “normal” rhythms. But watch Gary’s sharp eyes capture these scenes—and Carl Draco’s supernatural essence.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
I know Gary polished and worked on his books over and over until he was satisfied. He was a big believer in tweaking and touching-up elements of his stories so they were as effective as possible. He frequently reworked his unpublished manuscripts. I don’t think he considered any of it “a challenge” as such. He enjoyed writing more than anyone I’ve ever known. I remember Gary letting me read “The Legend of Carl Draco” and I remember giving him some feedback on this story, but as much as I can remember this is the version I read, right down to the big finish in the mountains of Appalachia.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I don’t have a clear picture of when Gary wrote—but clearly he wrote many hours a day. He left behind 25 completed novels when he passed away. Twenty-five. Some are on the shorter side, but some (yet to be published) are full-blown sagas that run hundreds of pages. “The Detachment,” book two of the Vietnam Trilogy, is 150,000 words or nearly double the length of a regular novel. Gary was born to write. I believe he had to write. And, had he lived another twenty years, I think he would have produced another 25 novels, even if he never attracted the attention of a publisher.
What’s your next project?
This July—in fact, on July 17 at The Tattered Cover (Colfax store) in Denver—Running Meter Press will launch the ninth and final installment in Gary’s humorous Asphalt Warrior series. The new book is called “Varmint Rumble.” Three other titles in the Asphalt Warrior series have been Colorado Book Awards finalists—”Ticket to Hollywood,” “Doctor Lovebeads” and “Pickup At Union Station.” Last year’s standalone suspense thriller “The Circumstantial Man” was also a Colorado Book Awards finalist. And now, Draco. That’s five nominations—and three different genres—out of the 13 books we have published so far. Maybe “Varmint Rumble” will also make the cut. We are just happy that Gary’s works are finding readers. By the way, thanks to The Colorado Sun for all you do promoting the local writing community and also thanks for the opportunity to chat about the late, great Gary Reilly. Anyone who seeks more information should head to www.theasphaltwarrior.com.