Vermont mystery author Archer Mayor enjoyed an intimate evening with guests at the cozy Terry Lodge located on Isle La Motte. It was a perfect moment for several Mayor fans-myself included-to observe the creative mind behind some of the best written detective fiction in the genre.
How did Mayor end up on a secluded island near the north end of Lake Champlain?
Well, it all began with his connection with Dr. Eric Buel, director of the Vermont forensic laboratory, who had been frequenting the quaint island lodge for years. Buel believed the lodge would make an gathering place for Mayor's select fans to meet and discuss the mysery novel and the writing craft.
Mayor mingled with lodge guests during and after a delicious dinner.
The author began the conversation by noting that he is not totally comfortable with public speaking. That fact didn't seem to matter; his relaxed candor and interaction with the audience naturally produced an evening of engaging conversation.
"It's all about ignorance and curiosity-I want to learn about what I write," said Mayor. "I do a lot of research with Eric. He is the real celebrity here, not just a scientist. He's the spaceman and wants to bust cases quicker than ever."
According to Mayor, Buel has become the new character David Hawk, which many readers will discover in reading the continuation of the popular series.
Buel and Mayor share ideas, and somehow Mayor makes the reality of the science through research come through his fictional plot.
"Having a tape recorder around scientists makes them nervous," said Mayor. "I do intensive research and get it clear in my head, but I just write with no idea how it will turn out. The nuts and bolts can't be shown. I'm like a closet air traffic controller and a huge editor since I started as one. I also use Nancy Aichele, my significant other, to bounce things off."
Mayor likes the carpenter metaphor.
"I'm like a craftsman. I burn through the mechanical process. It's an art, and art just happens. You enter the daydream-like state with a character and dialogue. I have a quirky sense of humor when I come up with my titles, and I want to show people working together that there is a purpose with my stories, as well as morals, which are not necessarily known when I begin.
"Every book stands on its own. I really do not know what it's like to read my books. Criminals do different things-for example, cocaine is found in a cop's aftershave, and forensic toxicologists have questioned this."
Mayor, with a history degree, began his career working two and a half years for a wealthy Texas family involved with oil and forestry. Their story embodied American history and led him to writing his first Joe Gunther book, "Open Season." He is now up to his twentieth in the series.
As many authors, Mayor is disciplined working a 14-month cycle; and because of his background, he brings out the history of his characters.
Mayor shared, "I was the youngest of six kids with bedlam and mayhem at home. I had to become a storyteller."
"My father, who died at 89, had us moving around a lot," said Mayor, "We lived in 30 different places since dad got fired a lot. My dad said, 'Never quit, always get fired.'"
While moving about so much, Mayor shared that he carried his imagination along. "You told stories to wow the socks off people and play it out before any fact checking was done."
This caught up with him while at the governor's mansion where he met five groups of people whom he told five different stories. It wasn't until that Christmas morning that his charade had been discovered as the others talked and learned about Mayor being a surgeon, lawyer, and so on.
Mayor began his career as a 1975 novelist scribbling a manuscript for University Tech generating about $1 million. At that point they kept him restricted in an office where he wrote due to boredom.
" I sent out a manuscript knowing it was trash the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd knowing I would be creatively rejected, but at least I asked for 30 seconds to ask why? Joe Gunther surfaced during my career as a historian."
Mayor, highly acclaimed for his Vermont-based series featuring detective Joe Gunther will be releasing his new book, "The Price of Malice", due out lthis autumn.
He said, "This story is two tales in one because half of 'Price' solves and concludes the subplot of 'The Catch'", his prior Gunther novel.
Mayor continued, "People ask me what should I do to get a book published, and I say, if it's your first book burn it."
"You need to analyze it, as if sitting in front of a piano. I'm an old fashioned journeyman and see book shortcomings, ambitions, and standards."
"I have this weird upside down and backwards career. I wrote first before working with the police. Most of the story is fictional, but the rest of it is scientific. My first affidavit had others killed with laughter since I wrote in polysyllables."
Mayor's first book came out in 1988 and had three books published the same year, two history books and one novel. "I quit my job not taking my father's advice."
Someone questioned if he kept a database of all of his characters, and Mayor replied, "No way. It's all here in my memory. Remember readers are storytellers; they get to run the movie in their heads and are capable of being creators."
Not only does Mayor write, but he also is a death investigator for Vermont's chief medical examiner, a deputy sheriff for Windham County (soon to be with the state attorney's office). Mayor's literary work won him the 2004 New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for best fiction-the first time a crime novel was honored.
Owners and innkeepers Cherie and Matt Bean have operated the Terry Lodge, "an inn to come home to on Lake Champlain" for over 23 years. The Beans are the third owners of this 1860 historic lodge overlooking Lake Champlain, which has seven bedrooms in the lodge, a four-unit motel, carriage house apartment, and a housekeeping cottage spread across approximately three acres. The lodge has been catering to vacationers and tourists for more than 70 years.
Another connection bringing Mayor to the Terry Lodge included next-door neighbors Lorri and Stephen Mank.
"We thought it would be so cool for Archer to come visit the lodge," said Lorrie Mank. The Manks inspired Cherie and Matt Bean to contact Mayor. Stephen works in Vancouver. While traveling, he loves reading Mayor's books which make him forget about travel hassles.
Another fan, Anne Zolotas, said, "This is very special. He draws me to our locality and makes me curious with his style and genre. I like how he treats his hero and how he gives sensitivity to women. Mayor really knows how to draw the reader into the process."
To explore the fictional Vermont crafted by Archer Mayor, see www.ArcherMayor.com. For more information about the Terry Lodge, call 928-3264, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com, or visit www.geocities.com/terry_lodge.