Maine writer Gerry Boyle, a news reporter turned crime novelist, recently released “Once Burned,” the 10th book in his acclaimed Jack McMorrow series, which has now spanned 22 years. Like most novelists, Boyle shares a connection with the protagonist.
Boyle isn’t shy about his inspiration for Jack McMorrow, a New York Times reporter transplanted to a rural (and dangerous) slice of Maine. During his time in news writing, Boyle was a reporter and columnist for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. According to his website, this is what fueled his ideas for McMorrow’s cases.
“I enjoyed both hanging out with cops and sitting with inmates in prison visiting rooms,” Boyle said. “I learned that the line between upstanding citizen and outlaw is a fine one, indeed.”
Now 59, Boyle and his characters have aged together, and he’s enjoyed the growth. He lives in China, and with his wife, has raised three children. He also has no problem identifying with the baby boomer generation. A Vietnam veteran appears in his books – a character that Boyle said he spent considerable time on – and he believes certain generational markers shine through.
In the mid-2000s, Boyle changed it up, creating a new series focusing on Portland policeman Brandon Blake. Writing for the third novel in the Blake series is under way, and the 11th in the McMorrow series is due out next year from Yarmouth-based Islandport Press.
Boyle studied literature and creative writing at Colby College, and is the editor of the Colby Magazine. He said that when he’s not writing, he enjoys boating, bicycling, books, birding, and his family.
After the release of “Once Burned” this spring, Boyle attended a slew of events, but some are still on the horizon. On Sept. 20, Boyle will take part in the Pasco Lecture Series in Kennebunkport at the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library.
My Generation spoke with Boyle recently about his writing, and how his popular characters have changed as he’s grown older.
Q There are many crime novelists who started out in newspapers. What did your time as a reporter lend to your fiction writing?
A I was immersed in life and all of its dramas all the time. Reporting requires much more listening than writing and it’s listening that shaped my fiction writing. How people talk. How they think. Their hopes and dreams and despair. It was a wonderful experience.
Q Tell me about your columns for the Morning Sentinel. Did crafting these columns naturally spark ideas for books? How did you come up with your character Jack McMorrow?
A My columns did spark ideas for books. My time in courtrooms resulted in “Bloodline” and “Deadline.” My time with marijuana growers resulted in “Potshot.”
My time with street kids resulted in “Home Body.” All of my time with cops and criminals was an education I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. McMorrow came to life in that time – a New York Times reporter transplanted to my turf.
Q There were two long breaks for McMorrow between the release of “Home Body” in 2004 and “Damaged Goods” in 2010, then again prior to the release of “Once Burned” this year. How did those breaks affect your writing?
A Well, they were breaks from writing McMorrow novels but not breaks from writing. I wrote a stand-alone novel I haven’t published. I wrote the two Brandon Blake novels. I spent nearly a year working on a “Potshot” movie project that unfortunately didn’t make it to the screen, but still was a good experience.
Q With the Brandon Blake series, it was a different path for you in crime writing. What did you want to do differently with Brandon Blake?
A I wanted a chance to write a different protagonist. I imagined Blake, a young Portland cop with a lot of baggage in his personal life. He and I learn as we go. The character is different from me (McMorrow and I have much in common) and the books are written in the third person. I wanted a chance to get inside other characters’ heads and Brandon Blake has offered that.
Q Your books have spanned 20 years now. How have your characters changed as you’ve aged?
A I think McMorrow has gotten wiser, which is a good thing because he was pretty self-destructive in the first two or three novels. His luck would have run out. But I’ve grown up with these characters, so much so that I consider them pretty darn real. I’d say to myself, “I wonder what Jack is up to?” When I went back to writing McMorrow for “Once Burned,” it was like reconnecting with an old friend.
Q Do you think certain generational attributes ever make it into your writing?
A Being a boomer, my parents were products of the Depression and passed on those values to me. I identify with people who are downtrodden because I know it could happen to any of us. I look at success with a degree of suspicion. My dad used to say, “Pride goeth before the fall.” You get too cocky and you get hit by a bus. Also, I lived through the Vietnam War in my formative years. Though I was too young to serve, I have a very soft spot for veterans and have worked hard on my Vietnam vet Marine character, Clair Varney. He’s one of the smartest guys I know – a lot like my dad, who was a Navy combat vet of World War II and fought from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific. I think everyone in my generation carries something of “the Greatest Generation” with them.
Q How would you assess the overall reaction to “Once Burned” this year?
A Nationally, it was well received. As I make my rounds in New England, readers have been very excited and enthusiastic. Bottom line is they keep asking me to write another one.
Q What’s next for you, McMorrow and Blake?
A The 11th McMorrow novel, “Strawman,” will be published in spring 2016 by Islandport Press. I like it a lot. Jack and Clair find themselves in very serious trouble. The third Brandon Blake novel, “Port City Killshot,” is in progress. I have other projects in play, as well. So many books, so little time.