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 understandable.
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 out.
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.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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