Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vermont's Premier Mystery Author Archer Mayor Announces CHAT

It's a short title, contrasty and "in your face," nearly as short as a text message. CHAT is Archer Mayor's 18th in the Joe Gunther police procedural series, and the scheduled release date is October 25.

At Mayor's recent visit to the St. Johnsbury Academy campus (English class, Forensics class, Lyceum Club), he said cheerfully that all's well with his world -- the new book is rolling toward production, he has a fresh contract with another publisher for two more to follow, and he's swinging into a detour that excites him: a World War II thriller that will probably take him to Burma and perhaps Japan for some on-site research.

Mayor has always admitted readily that he doesn't outline his books in advance, and that the plot twists and ending can surprise him. His 2005 Joe Gunther mystery, ST. ALBANS FIRE, had approached the halfway point and was getting almost stuck when an autograph seeker rapped at the door of Mayor's Newfane, Vermont, home. After scribbling his name in the profferred book, Mayor asked the visitor, "So what do you do, anyway?" "Oh," said the flatlander, "I'm head of an arson task force in my city." "Wow," Mayor responded, "you've just given me the second half of my book!" He took the notion and ran with it.

CHAT revolves around Internet crime, and number 19, now in progress, is set in the state of Maine. For these, as for ST. ALBANS FIRE and the 2006 book THE SECOND MOUSE, Mayor likes to soak up stories from the people at the front line of police and other investigative work. "Everyone loves to talk," he explains. "You just have to be respectful and not cut them off, and you have to carry an aura of trustworthiness" -- which includes being respectful in print, too, in the resulting novel.

In spite of not knowing plot details as he works his way along, Mayor notes, "I do know who dunnit ninety-five percent of the time. And the reason I know is, I want to know why they did it. Most of these people are not bad guys. They're the ones who should be driving around with a bumper sticker saying, 'It seemed like a good idea at the time!'"

He's physically writing for about three months of each year; the rest of the time is eaten by "doing the business of writing," like author events and meetings. Of course, he has a couple of day jobs, too, Vermont style: He works as a police office in Bellows Falls and as a state death investigator. When writing, Mayor's goal is five pages per day, and most of all, it's to create a solid, well-revised first chapter, which he uses as a springboard into the rest of the novel.

"Since I don't have an outline, starting strong with that hook is very important to me," he pointed out.

Don't ask him which mysteries he's reading in his own spare time, though; between the two police jobs and the murder writing, he escapes into other genres, and is currently reading an exploration of Australia, by Robert Hughes.

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