The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Meet Archer Mayor

In Keene: Toadstool Bookshop, 222 W. Brook St., Saturday, Oct. 11, at 2 p.m.
In Milford: Toadstool Bookshop, 614 Nashua St., Saturday, Oct. 18, 11 a.m.

Archer Mayor on why, and how, he writes

By Kelly Sennott

If you think your single, full-time job is time-consuming, step into Archer Mayor’s shoes.

Granted, he is semi-retired, so his schedule is not as frantic as it once was. He still writes a book a year, but instead of working two additional full-time jobs, he has just one.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, he’s a death investigator, a job he obtained while writing his Vermont-based murder mystery series about a detective named Joe Gunther. He used to also work as a police officer and volunteer firefighter.
“I’m in my mid-60’s, and I’m learning to calm down a little bit, though I still have my woodworking shop,” Mayor said in a phone interview. “I don’t do well fishing. My poor wife. She asks me, ‘Wouldn’t you like to ride in a kayak?’ I’ve got to occupy myself. Paddling around with the loons just doesn’t do it for me.”
Mayor just finished his 25th Joe Gunther book, Proof Positive. Mayor writes quite a bit based on real-life experiences. This one stemmed from stepping into hoarders’ houses while on police duty. During one visit, “you literally needed a ladder to get to the top of the house,” he said.
Proof Positive starts with a death scene: Vietnam vet Ben Kendall had hid himself from the world after the war, and when they found his body, it was under masses of stuff. At first glance, it seems to have been a tragic, accidental death, but upon closer inspection, Joe Gunther realizes there was something else he wanted to hide.
Mayor often says he doesn’t write “who-dunnit,” but rather, “why-dunnit” novels. The question at the base of this story: How does a hoarder become a hoarder?
He interviewed scientists and psychologists to get their perspective. His book chronicles the results.
“I’m not a lecturer or a scholarly type. I don’t want to be boring. A lot of writers, when they learn stuff like I do, they stand up on a soapbox and they lecture you. I’ve always found that incredibly dull. So I tried this other approach, to mix it in with a story,” he said.
His practical experience in the field makes a difference in the execution. Mayor was the first crime fiction writer to win the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction, and his Joe Gunther books routinely receive acclaim by The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker.
Still, Mayor was a writer before he was an officer. He’d written about 10 novels before the cops finally knocked on his door and suggested he join the force. He’d spent so much time hanging around and interviewing the Vermont officers that he’d gained their trust despite their initial hesitance. Hollywood, Mayor said, doesn’t always portray them in the best light.
“I remember meeting a state cop early on and he said, ‘I hate you people!’ I said, ‘Really! What people are you referring to?’” Mayor said.
This particular cop had had bad experiences with writers. To gain trust and ensure his facts were straight, Mayor did something that would make most writers cringe: he asked the cop to read his manuscript.
“To this day, I have cops proofread every manuscript,” he said. 
Mayor doesn’t see writing as a job. It’s what he does to keep his mind working. He doesn’t have a regular writing schedule; the pager that hangs on his belt tells him where and when to attend to a death scene so he might fit writing in at 3 a.m. or at 3 p.m.
“I love doing it, so I don’t need to be dictated by a strict schedule. I can have fun doing it because I look forward to it. That’s what’s sustained me through all 28 books,” Mayor said. “Stephen King is a miracle. It’s a miracle he gets as much money as he does. Most of us don’t. … So you have to write what you love to write and what moves you deeply. It will enhance your writing, your brain, and it will make your product far more wonderful to read.” 
As seen in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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