PW Talks with Archer Mayor by Louise Jones
PW: What's your background?
AM: I'm a global bum. I've lived all over the world, in 30 to 40 places. My
mother is Argentine, my father was born outside Gloucester, Mass. My work
background is nothing if not chaotically peripateticjournalism, editing,
historical writing. What sew it all together are the twin engines that fuel me
as a writerignorance and curiosity. I never write about what I know, but what
I want to find out about.
PW: Why do you write mysteries?
AM: I wanted to make a living as a writer and pragmatically if there was a
chance to do soand statistically there isn'tmysteries were a viable market
then [the 1980s]. Mysteries were no longer about good or bad guys and car
chases, they were about human beings who happen to be good or bad guys, and what
they do. I don't like pure puzzle mysteries. I like mysteries about
three-dimensional human beings who interact. When we can't make sense of the
real world, we read a form of literature that's the same thing, but with a
beginning, middle and end where the good guys win. It helps make reality more
PW: How much research do you do?
AM: A lot. I have a habit that continues to this day of poking my nose into
interesting things. I feel most comfortable writing about a real world that
exists. If I say I want to do something and the expert says you can't do it
technically, I ask how I can. I've never met anyone who wasn't happy to help me
PW: Why did you set the Joe Gunther series in Vermont, and does that make
you a regional writer?
AM: Without a permanent home, I needed to come home to my father's New
England roots, best personified by Vermont. It's where I found my narrative
voice. Reviews of my early novels said my strength was that I was a good writer
writing about Vermont. Now that the sales are improving but I'm not a
bestseller, they say it's because I'm a "regional" writer. It's
unfortunate because Vermont can be treated as American society in microcosm in
certain aspects. We lack cultural and racial diversity which could enrich the
books, but given those differences, Vermont has a structure that is more easily
described because it's a small state.
PW: Where is the series headed?
AM: My primary goal is that the series never becomes stale. I think people
should write scared instead of writing safe. There's no reason to sever the
Brattleboro root, but the next book, Flatland, is set in New York City. It's
different in that it's a third person narrative with Willie Kunkle as the main
character. Joe will step in later in the book. I wanted to write about Willie
because my readers tell me that he's becoming more important to them. He's the
dark side of Joe. Joe all by himself is too good to believe and Willie too bad
to be a cop. Together they make a complete person.
PW: Have you thought of writing a nonseries novel?
AM: Right now it would be foolish to do that. My readers have certain
expectations, I don't want to leave them high and dry, and I can do a lot within
the context of the series. It would be fun to explore other types of writing if
I could get off of the rigorous schedule I'm on. I write a Joe Gunther novel
every yearwith all the attendant research and publicitybut I'm also part
of my community [Newfane, Vt.]. I'm a town constable, captain of the Newfane
Rescue Squad, an interior attack fire fighter, moderator at the village of
Newfane annual town meeting, on the board of trustees of a nearby hospital, and
I've applied to join the state's assistant medical examiner program this fall.
My wife and daughter tolerate me with generous grace.
Reprinted at Warner Books with permission from Publishers
Weekly. Reprinted at BookBrowse with the permission of Warner Books.