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Deadline and the Birth of Jack McMorrow



In preparation for the release of his final Jack McMorrow mystery Hard Line coming this June, we asked Gerry to tell us his journey to becoming a published author, how his first novel Deadline rose to success, and where the building blocks of his iconic Jack McMorrow character came from.


 

Gerry Boyle - Creating Jack McMorrow and his World


In 1979 I returned to Maine after a stint in New York City, where I had tried my hand at the business of book publishing. For a few weeks I’d sat in a windowless room high in a Midtown skyscraper and read other people’s book manuscripts. I was supposed to decide whether they were worth publishing. I performed my task halfheartedly. I realized I didn’t care about other people’s books. I wanted to write my own.


So by mutual agreement with my employer, I ended my book-publishing career and headed north. Back in Maine, home of my alma mater, Colby College, I scoured the job ads and came across one posted by a weekly newspaper in the western part of the state. The Rumford Falls Times wanted a reporter. I’d never been one, but I could read and write, and I liked to talk to people. I drove over to Rumford, which I’d never seen but knew as a paper-mill town on the Androscoggin River. As the car crested the rise on the road into town from the south, I was awestruck by what I saw. At the center of the three-street downtown, white clouds of steam rose from towering stacks. Logs were piled nearby, the jumble of tree trunks looking like toothpicks in the distance. Trucks loaded with pulp logs idled in the wood yard, waiting to be unloaded. Gigantic loaders pivoted. Steam billowed high into the sky like a nuclear bomb had detonated. The town, built on an island in the river, was sidled up to the mill, the community clearly existing for one purpose: to make paper.


It was marvelous. Better yet, I was hired. I covered town government, general news, even a little sports. And, more importantly, the police blotter. The seed for this novel, Deadline, was planted.


Very early into my six months at the Rumford Falls Times, I concluded that the town was shrouded by more than steam clouds from the mill. The townspeople were welcoming and helpful, but I felt there was a deeper layer to the place that I could never quite grasp. People had histories that went back years and generations. These backstories—some illustrious, some dark and grim—were rarely talked about, especially with a newcomer. And the relative isolation of the town and region could, on a bad day, turn it claustrophobic. The result was a place that was intimate but vaguely threatening, beautiful but sometimes scary. And wonderful fodder for a mystery novel. 


I used it as the basis of the fictional town of Androscoggin, and placed it securely in the rugged landscape of western Maine. I peopled it with small-town characters, including the newspaper editor. His name was Jack McMorrow. He had been dispatched by the New York Times to write about a far-flung place on the edge of the western Maine mountains. He was so intrigued he stayed on. And, like me, he soon realized that there was much more to this Maine mill town than showed on the surface. In McMorrow’s case, the unknown threatened to be his undoing. 


After I’d left the weekly newspaper to take a job at the daily Morning Sentinel in Waterville, I sent my manuscript to a half-dozen literary agents and publishers, three of each. I got six rejections, mostly positive. There is much to like in your novel, and if you change this, rewrite that . . . I was happy with Deadline the way it was, so I ignored their advice and instead printed out one more copy on my dot-matrix printer and sent it to a small publisher called North Country Press in Belfast, Maine. The proprietors and sole employees of the press, Bill and Linn Johnson, said they liked it very much; not only that, they wanted to publish it, and pay me for the privilege.


I remember hanging up the phone and sitting in stunned, dumb-grin silence while the newsroom clattered all around me. I felt like screaming, dancing, sprinting around the room. I didn’t do any of that, but I did sign the contract and send it back before they could change their minds. They didn’t, and Deadline was published in November 1993. It received strong reviews in the New York Times, Washington Post, and beyond.


I was amazed that the wider world was so eager to read the real-life crime story I’d made up, set in small-town Maine. Deadline, which I’d started writing on a portable Smith Corona electric typewriter, turned out to be the start of the Jack McMorrow series, including the fourteenth and final novel, Hard Line, to be published in June 2024. I hope you enjoy meeting McMorrow and, like me, are fascinated by this wild part of Maine, which remains to this day a mysterious, magical, and sometimes dangerous place.



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