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SunLit Interview: Ever the writer, even Gary Reilly’s fiction often focused on literary craft

"Jeremy Bannister" is just the latest award winner among the works of an author who shied from self-promotion

Gary Reilly was the author of 25 unpublished novels during his lifetime. Since his death in 2011, Running Meter Press has published 15 of them. Born in Kansas, he grew up in Colorado, where he attended college and, after a stint in the Army, devoted himself to his writing – though he never tried very hard to promote his work.

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 Mark Stevens, part of the team that has posthumously published Reilly’s works.


Can you tell us about the backstory with this title? What inspired Gary to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Mark Stevens: Well, I wish Gary was here to help me answer this one. Gary passed away in 2011. For those who don’t know, I’m the co-publisher of Gary’s works. My partner is Mike Keefe, who introduced me to Gary in 2004. I met Mike when I worked as a reporter at The Denver Post, where he was the editorial cartoonist for three-plus decades. Mike was right about Gary and me. We became good friends.

Anyway, I have no specific idea what inspired Gary to write this particular novel other than Gary really thought long and hard about the form, shape, and structure of fiction and that’s what “Jeremy Bannister” is all about. 

Gary poured lots of his thoughts about writing and plots into The Asphalt Warrior series, too. His main character Murph was a taxi driver and struggling novelist. And the novel Mike and I will publish later this year, “The Paradise That Lurks in Female Smiles, is about a writing teacher. 

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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.

And his trilogy about Vietnam features a character, Private Palmer, who very much wants a career as a writer after he returns back home (in “The Discharge”) but who clearly has storytelling on his mind throughout the first two novels. 

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Mark Stevens:  These are the opening five chapters. They set the scene with 10-year-old Jeremy Bannister dreaming of becoming a “big-shot novelist.” The start of the novel sets the tone, too, for Jeremy’s earnest (but somewhat) naïve approach to fulfilling his dream. Maybe Bannister is naïve, but what writer doesn’t approach the business wondering what it will take? 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Why do you think Gary used this particular format and approach? One chapter per page and each chapter the same number of lines?

Mark Stevens: I wish I knew! But “Jeremy Bannister” is a novel in the form of what’s called “Constrained Writing.” There’s a whole Wikipedia page devoted to the concept. 

Basically, you establish a restriction such as “write a whole novel without using the letter ‘e.’” Pretty hard to do! Gary had a playful side for sure (read The Asphalt Warrior series of nine novels if you doubt me about that). I think he liked the idea of giving himself a challenge. 

Why do you think Reilly never found an agent or a publisher?

Mark Stevens: Well, first of all, it’s important to note that Gary is hardly the only great writer who never found his way to publication. It’s a very tough business. 

Second, it’s important for readers to know that I’m only guessing here. When he passed away, in 2011, the whole independent publishing scene was just taking off. That would have been an option for him, I think, had he lived longer. It’s become a very robust and easy-to-do thing to get your writing out into the world. (That’s what Running Meter Press is doing—independently publishing Gary’s books. For the first five books or so, however, we were distributed by Big Earth Publishing.) 

But before Gary passed away, his priority was to go the traditional route of finding a legitimate, well-known publisher. I can’t blame him! He did query agents and publishers. But not often enough. And the rejections, clearly, stung. He clearly knew, as the subtitle of “Jeremy Bannister” calls it, “The Ups and Downs of An Aspiring Novelist.” Lots of hope. Lots of struggle. 

As the awards and recognitions have proved, Gary was very talented. “Jeremy Bannister” marks his sixth Colorado Book Award nomination. And many fine reviews from The Denver Post, National Public Radio, Booklist and more! 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

But Gary was not so good at self-promotion and self-marketing. That’s part of the process, to get out to conferences or get involved with writer groups that can lead to pitch sessions or, even better, direct introductions. Gary was social, but I think he kept his crowd size to a bare minimum. A few people at a time, say. 

He was a bit of an introvert, in my humble opinion (and most writers are good at being introverts). Yes, you can land an agent or a publisher if your works are outstanding, but you still need to get very, very lucky if you avoid that networking/schmoozing step. I once took Gary to a writing-related event and I could feel how uncomfortable it made him.  

Were all of Gary’s novels ready to publish?

Mark Stevens: The answer is “sort of.” They were certainly in very good shape. Gary wrote and rewrote his books. He polished and polished … and polished some more. He left most of them in fairly outdated electronic files, but most were easy to upgrade. A few took some work. 

Gary never really made it clear how he wanted his Vietnam trilogy to be organized, so we had to make some decisions there. And in one case, a big chunk of “The Detachment” was missing in electronic format. And the book we’ll publish later this year, “The Paradise That Lurks in Female Smiles, had no electronic file to go with it.  All we had was Gary’s hard copy. So a key member of the Running Meter Press team (my daughter, Justine Chapel) scanned the whole book and converted it to a document so we could edit. 

And for the last few years we have worked with an editor, Karen Haverkamp. She started editing Gary’s works with the 2016 release of “The Detachment. Karen makes sure that language in the novels meets a consistent style and precise editing standards. 

Another key member of the team is my wife, Jody Chapel. She has handled all the interior and exterior design for about a dozen of these books. We sometimes get artwork from others (Zits comic strip creator Jim Borgman did the cover “The Legend of Carl Draco”; artist John Sherffius created the pieces for the covers of The Asphalt Warrior series; Mike Keefe did the typewriter illustration for “Jeremy Bannister”). But Jody handles all the design after that and occasionally helps design the entire cover (such as “The Discharge,” “The Circumstantial Man,” and the book coming out this year, “The Paradise That Lurks in Female Smiles”). 

The last member of the team is Mike Keefe’s wife, Anita Austin. She handles ongoing management of Gary’s website. And I manage Gary’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

What has been the most fun aspect of publishing Gary’s works?

Mark Stevens: I truly enjoy it all. I love seeing the novels roll out and all the great reaction. Gary has a solid following now—and many amazing writers and artists have blurbed his books including Jeffery Deaver, Stewart O’Nan, Ron Carlson, Dan Piraro (the cartoonist behind Bizarro), Brad Newsham, Patricia Abbot, Chris Holm, Barbara Nickless, Michael Harvey, Keir Graff, Carter Wilson, Gwen Florio, Mario Acevedo, Wendy J. Fox, Art Taylor and many more. 

In addition, one of the most fun things I’ve done is help produce the audio books—the first five novels in The Asphalt Warrior series are on Audible and so is “The Circumstantial Man.” All are narrated by Michael Goldsmith and he is absolutely fantastic in the comedic role of Murph and as the highly troubled Pete Larkey. 

Tell us about the next book you’ll release from Gary’s collection. 

Mark Stevens: The next book of Gary’s we’ll publish is “The Paradise That Lurks in Female Smiles.” That title comes from a quote by Thomas De Quincey, by the way.  It will probably come out late this summer or early fall. Here is the premise (and no surprise that this novel is yet another vehicle that includes lots of Gary’s insights on writing fiction): 

“Charley Quinn teaches creative writing at a free university in Denver. His specialty is plotting. He doesn’t care for lyricism or poetry in the prose cranked out by his students, much to their chagrin. Charlie has rules about writing and he has rules about his life. But a new female student is about to challenge everything he thinks he knows. 

“Her name is Linda Hathaway. Her eyes glisten when she smiles. Charlie is transfixed. When Charlie discovers that Linda is only taking the class for fun, and not to learn how to write, the dynamic between teacher and student shifts. However, getting an accurate fix on what Linda really wants is an ongoing challenge. But Charlie is no less beguiled. Charlie is keenly aware of the unpredictability of bad decisions, but he can’t resist Linda’s mysterious allure. 

“He may think he knows the rules for writing. He might think he knows what women want. He thinks he understands the ‘awful truths’ about male and female desire. But Charlie is playing a whole new game. And it might turn dark.”



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