by Alexis den Boggende, Connections Intern
On November 2, crime novelist Archer Mayor visited Roger Williams University. In his talk, Mayor discussed his writing process, how he became a successful novelist, and what it means to be a writer, as well as how we answer the question: what is writing all about?
Mayor is the author of the acclaimed Joe Gunther detective series, a police procedural series set in Vermont. Tag Man, the 22nd book in the Gunther series earned a spot on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011. Mayor, an enthusiastic and lighthearted man, began his talk describing how he began writing murder mysteries and detective novels. He started out as a professional historian, and explained that if anybody wants to create, to pursue a career in art, such as writing, they must work hard for it, even if it means taking on multiple jobs. Mayor explained that the reason he began to write is that he was interested in asking the question, “Why do we do what we do?” and in the sociological and anthropological aspects of humanity. He delved into why we as humans enjoy reading about murder, about mysteries, about darker material. “There’s no explanation on why we love them,” Mayor says. “It’s everywhere–newspapers, on TV. It’s all around us. It’s our reality. It reflects our instinctual impulse from birth to be aggressive to one another.” In addition, Mayor explained that because of the law, we suppress these desires and are forced into good behavior. He is fascinated by the instinctual inclination for humans to be aggressive, and further investigates these aspects of humanity through writing crime novels.
Mayor then began explaining his writing process, beginning with the question every writer has asked themselves: What is writing all about? “Writing,” Major says, “is practice, practice, practice. It’s a flat, rocky road of incompetence. Writing your first book is like your first bike ride. You have to keep practicing in order to master it. Writing is a learning curve.” Mayor spoke about how being an overnight success is not always a good thing. “You can damn yourself that way,” he says. “Being a one-hit wonder…you restrain your one, true inner voice.” He explained that failure can be rewarding–but a writer must keep at it if they fail.
Mayor discussed the process of researching for his crime novels, including being able to create a good, solid relationship with local police departments. He stressed that it is necessary for him to be embraced by the law enforcement community, and to build a strong trust between himself and the law.
To close out his talk, Mayor spoke of his views on fiction, and how creating good fiction allows the reader to lose themselves in the pages. Writing eloquently enough that you and your reader disappear into the story is Mayor’s advice for aspiring fiction writers. “Don’t write for the money,” Mayor says. “Bring us back to us with your story. Be engaged in storytelling. Let your reader lose themselves in a fictional daydream–that’s good storytelling.” He also addressed how writers must understand their sense of place while they write–and how he finds his. Mayor explained how he moved around a lot as a child, having lived all over, never staying in one place more than four years. Because of this, he found that his nomadic upbringing allowed him to be sensitive to people and places. “When you write, write with cadence. Write with sound, with eloquence. It will enhance the character and the culture that you’re filling your reader’s head with.”