Sitting in the cab of the TW-10 Ford tractor, I cranked the volume on the radio to hear it over the sound of the machinery running behind me, churning out freshly chopped grass. I was just in time to hear Jack Barry introduce his guest for the next segment. He was an author. But not just any author. A VERMONT author.
His name was Archer Mayor.
Over the past three decades, Mayor has published 29 detective novels revolving around his all-too-human hero, Joe Gunther. The series is a wonderful examination of Vermont’s nasty underbelly, and it lacks the universal popularity it deserves. Mayor, after all, knows that of which he writes, working in various capacities as a death investigator, a Windham County Sheriff’s deputy, and a volunteer EMT and firefighter.
In short, Archer Mayor is really damn cool.
The first book in his Gunther series, Open Season, was published in 1988, and Mayor’s put out a new one annually since his second book, Borderlines. Gunther’s most recent adventure, Bury the Lead, was released at the end of last month.
In the summer of 1990, Mayor was busy promoting the release of Borderlines. Part of his marketing plan included an appearance on “The Jack Barry Show.” That plan most likely didn’t involve blowing the mind of a 15-and-a-half year old farm kid, but that’s exactly what happened that morning.
Even at that age, my world was small and fairly sheltered. Growing up on a farm, with the nearest decent-sized city an hour away, no cable TV, and no transportation that didn’t require parental involvement, I hadn’t been exposed to much. Certainly not as far as the arts were concerned.
I had no idea that local bands were a thing. I assumed that what I heard on the radio encompassed the scope of musical output. Same with film. Whatever there was for movies, they were made in Hollywood. And as for books, well, I loved to read, but my assumption was that books were only available at the WaldenBooks at the mall (plus those weird romance novels at the Grand Union and P&C), and they were all written by people from somewhere else.
Archer Mayor shattered my notions of what someone living in my little state could
achieve. And it wasn’t the idea of fortune or fame or things of that nature. Over the course of Barry’s chat with Mayor, I got the sense that the author was not driven by these things, but rather by the desire to tell stories of a world he had a deep understanding of.
What struck me most, though, was that if a guy from Vermont could write a book and get it published, maybe other people were doing the same thing. And maybe I could, too.
Since then, lots of things have kept me connected to Mayor. His novels, of course, but also much more than that. As a reporter, I had the opportunity to interview him myself a couple of times. Total fanboy moments that took every bit of professionalism within me to keep the conversation on track. And I’ve seen him around. This is, after all, Vermont, and it’s pretty easy to see someone around. I mean, I stood in line for a urinal behind Luis Guzman once at a movie theater. Celebrity encounters don’t get more personal than that. But I digress …
The biggest connection that I have to Mayor, though, is the mental and creative one I made to him while sitting in the cab of the old TW-10, listening to him talk to Barry.
This past summer, I completed the second draft of my first novel. It took nearly 30 years – years of working through anxiety, depression, and a near-total lack of self-confidence and self-compassion; years of writing as a hobby and professionally as a newspaper reporter and editor – but I did it. And a big part of why I pushed through and continue to push is because of Archer Mayor.
On that summer morning in 1990, Mayor unknowingly reached through the tractor radio, connected a mental power takeoff shaft to my brain from his, and set me in motion. And over the decades of growing up, through all the wonderful and terrible things implied therein, that PTO has kept me moving forward, spilling out words on the page. Sometimes in massive clumps, sometimes a mere bit of chaff.
In some form, always writing.