Once you get to know Det. Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation and his team, you won’t forget them. As someone who lives just down the road a piece from his office in Brattleboro, Vermont, I can tell you the locals sleep better knowing Gunther and crew are on the job.
Here’s the short version of Archer Mayor’s bio, lifted from his webpage:
Mayor—who was brought up in the US, Canada and France—was variously employed as a scholarly editor, a researcher for TIME-LIFE Books, a political advance-man, a theater photographer, a newspaper writer/editor, a lab technician for Paris-Match Magazine in Paris, France, and a medical illustrator. In addition to writing novels and occasional articles, Mayor gives talks and workshops all around the country, including the Bread Loaf Young Writers conference in Middlebury, Vermont, and the Colby College seminar on forensic sciences in Waterville, Maine. In addition, Archer is a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, the publisher of his own backlist, a travel writer for AAA, and he travels the Northeast giving speeches and conducting workshops. He also has 25 years experience as a volunteer firefighter/EMT.
Archer writes one book a year, launching each one in the fall, before the holiday book-buying season. His next mystery, Paradise City, is scheduled for release in October.
The city in Paradise City is Northampton, Massachusetts, which sits in a region stretching roughly from Brattleboro VT to Springfield MA, dwarfing the population of the entire Green Mountain state. The story involves police from the fictional Tucker Peak VT, Northampton and Boston, as well as points in between. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “stings, surveillance, and interrogations all play a part in the effort to uncover a sophisticated, ruthless criminal operation. Fans of this first-rate procedural series will be satisfied.” (For the complete review, go here).
This interview was conducted on February 2, 2012.
How important is place to your novels, and why do you base them in Vermont? First, it’s where I live. Second, it’s a small state.
I like the miniaturization. The more layers there are to remove [in the solution of a crime], the clearer it is how everything works. How the hell do you function when you have a bad guy and layers and layers of government [like we see in Law and Order]? You could choose to ignore those layers -- and some writers do -- but I think that’s too bad.
Is the character Joe Gunther or the way he operates unique to Vermont?
You'll notice that Joe always works as a team player and what he does is custom fit to Vermont, as it should be, but the procedures and protocols he follows are not unique. The police practices that he employs in Vermont change slightly in New Hampshire and Maine, for example, then a little more as you go away to other parts of the US. A Los Angeles cop could find his way around these books, though. No problem.
How do you keep your characters fresh?
They are their own characters. They’re alive and well, in my head. Joe and Gail and Sammy and Wally are real people, to me.
My exposure to these folks is year in and year out. I’ve known them almost 30 years. They are not extraordinary, but real people with real habits and I just chronicle their passage through life. Some of them do extraordinary things -- but don’t we all? – but these are not superheroes. I don’t need to stretch to give them life, I just have to be relatively consistent.
Will Joe Gunther and friends age as the series builds?
The characters will evolve slightly as is natural to every character but, no, Joe Gunther will never age.
Do you use your own experience in your books? How much are they based on real people and events?
I use some real names because people I don’t always know offer them to me [through auctions I run on my website]. My work gives me exposure to reality, heightens my understanding of situations and people, but I don’t transplant the details of an actual case.
People kill each other all the time. I have no interest in exploiting [real situations in which] people are still very upset. That seems cruel to me.
I write murder mysteries. I have a place to park things [I experience or learn through my work] but I’m not a historian. I make up my stories, but there can be cross references that don’t compromise confidentiality.
Do you use social media?
I have a website, but find Facebook and Twitter intrusive and costly in terms of time. I’m a private New England guy, but I understand that if I don’t use [social media], people are not going to buy my books. So, I have a love/hate relationship with all of that. If in fact I do hit the big time, I’ll shut the door if I can. I find it rude that people expect me to be anything but a private person.
What do you read?
Right now, I’m reading a book on Roman history. I don’t read murder mysteries. I don’t want to curl up with a mystery at the end of the day. I’ve had enough, so I read a lot of history books. I also like obscure books but I don’t get to read much. I don’t have time.
How do you maintain your privacy and sell books at the same time?
This is a world in which [a writer] can no longer behave like J.D. Salinger. He’d go broke today. So, you’re on Facebook, you tweet. We’ve entered a new world, the writer holds himself directly to the reader and the publisher is less a part of the relationship than ever.
How do you manage to write a book a year and still work at two jobs?
The reason I have three jobs is I’m broke like everyone else. [With three part-time jobs], I don’t have any benefits, so I work without a safety net. That means I have to work consistently.
What advice do you have for new authors?
Anybody can get published. Now the question is, how do you get noticed among readers? People say, I’ll just self publish then go out and create buzz. Right! How?
It used to be that about 60,000 titles published were published a year, but now it’s over a million. Only a tiny percent receive any marketing money. What about other 99 percent?
All that seems to matter today is the marketing. Isn’t that sad? Quality writing seems to have been forgotten. What about good copy editing, syntax and story lines? Writing is supposed to be music for the brain, not garbage that has to be sold.
I’ll never run out of things to write about. I’m engaged in a project with te Vermont Tourism Bureau to forge something for our mutual benefit. I sat down with them the other day to see what we could do together and, in 10 minutes, we came up with 45-60 names of local sites Joe Gunther has touched. He has covered the state like a bucket of water!
[See this story on CNN for details.]
How did the 2011 flood affect you?
I was working a criminal case and needed access to something in Wilmington and couldn’t get there. I’ll definitely do a book off the flood, maybe for next year.
For more on Archer Mayor and his books--
Website and blog: http://www.archermayor.com/