Gary Reilly's 25 Unpublished Novels: How a Great, Late Writer Lacked This One Necessary Thing to Find Writing Success in His Lifetime

The late Gary Reilly wrote 25 novels in his lifetime, but it wasn't until a year after his death that the first ones started to get published to enthusiastic acclaim. Mark Stevens shares what caused this disconnect and how others can avoid Reilly's fate.
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There was one thing about the writing business that the late Gary Reilly didn't get. But that thing had nothing to do with writing. I know those first two sentences appear to be contradictory. But they're not. 

And I'm here to encourage you—if you're also making this same mistake—to fix it. If you're not making the same mistake, you might need this reminder nonetheless. We can all get better at everything we do, right?

(Rewriting book one of a book series.)

Let me explain.

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Gary Reilly and the Early Promise

Gary Reilly was a writer. He was a writer like nobody else I've ever known—and I've had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of writers from well-published to unpublished. I've been active in writing groups for several decades now—Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Mystery Writers of America (I was on the national board) to name two.

But, again, Gary's writing story was unique.

Gary had one short story published in his lifetime. In 1977, he sent a short story called "The Biography Man" to the prestigious Iowa Review. It was published in the Fall 1977 issue alongside the likes of Ian McEwan, William Kittredge, and Ron Hansen. (The fiction editor was Robert Coover; one of the contributing editors was T. Coraghessan Boyle.)

The same story was re-published the following year in The Pushcart Prize Anthology (Vol. IV) alongside John Updike, Mary Oliver, and Jane Smiley. For your first short story out the door, that's pretty good company.

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Build Your Novel Scene by Scene

If you want to learn how to write a story, but aren't quite ready yet to hunker down and write 10,000 words or so a week, this is the course for you. Build Your Novel Scene by Scene will offer you the impetus, the guidance, the support, and the deadline you need to finally stop talking, start writing, and, ultimately, complete that novel you always said you wanted to write.

Click to continue.

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Gary Reilly and the Sole Publication Credit

I met Gary 2004—27 years later. And at that point, "The Biography Man" remained his sole publication credit—despite the fact that Gary had finished 25 novels over the intervening years.

When we met, as two guys interested in fiction, I read that short story. It was incredible. I also started reading Gary's novels. And, well, the proverbial jaw hit the proverbial floor.

How could this guy not be published?

The friend who introduced me to Gary was Mike Keefe, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist at The Denver Post. Both Mike and I knew Gary's works were high quality, utterly original, and showed tremendous range. There was humor. Fantasy. Sci-fi. Suspense. A multi-generational All-American saga. And three novels based on Gary's experiences before, during, and after the Vietnam War.

Getting Gary Reilly Published

Mike and I also both knew, as Gary's health started to fail in 2010, that we needed to come up with a plan to publish Gary's works. Mike and I could not imagine going to our graves knowing we had done nothing to help Gary's works see the light of day.

(It's never too late: On becoming a writer at 50.)

Gary passed away in 2011. In 2012, we started publishing Gary's works.

The first books we published were in The Asphalt Warrior Series—a series featuring the comic adventures of Gary's alter ego Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. "Murph."

The reviews started pouring in. Booklist called Murph "a truly original fictional creation." A book reviewer on National Public Radio called the series "huge fun." The Denver Post called Gary Reilly a "master wordsmith." The second book in the series, Ticket to Hollywood, was a finalist for The Colorado Book Award. So was number five (Doctor Lovebeads) and number seven (Pick Up at Union Station).

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When we published one of Gary's standalone novels, a suspense tale called The Circumstantial Man, none other than Jeffery Deaver (50 million books in print) raved: "Rarely do a natural gift for storytelling and an enthralling, lyrical style come together in a single author, but that's unquestionably the case with Gary Reilly. As I read this unstoppable novel, I couldn't help but think: What a truly unique voice and approach to fiction."

Deaver compared Reilly's work, astutely, to Cormac McCarthy and Thomas McGuane. The Circumstantial Man was also a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and so was the standalone fantasy novel The Legend of Carl Draco, published in 2019.

The One Thing Gary Reilly Lacked

In a review of The Circumstantial Man, The Denver Post wrote, "A remarkable mystery—clever and sly." And the review concluded with this line: "You can't help but wonder why no one sought to print it when Reilly was alive."

Yes, why?

Because, I believe, Gary lacked one thing. A network.

(4 networking strategies for authors who hate networking.)

He would occasionally send out queries to agents. He would occasionally send out queries to publishers that were open for submissions. But he sent these out intermittently—and he would get discouraged at the rejections.

Gary was a great guy. Conversation was easy. He had many stories to tell and he would love recounting the plot of some late-night B-movie he had stayed up to watch.

But he didn't put himself out there, into the writing community. He didn't join writers' groups and he didn't go to writing conferences. One time I dragged him to a free workshop sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and I could feel he was uncomfortable sitting in a room with 40 or so others. I won't play armchair psychologist, but Gary was better off in a coffee shop with a friend or two—not big crowds.

Gary poured his energy into writing—as 25 unpublished novels proves. But he clearly wanted to be published. He helped me polish and improve my first novel after I found my first publisher—and he was thrilled when it did well. As his health started to fail, Gary raised the idea of posting his novels to the web or doing something electronically, but he really didn't have the energy to make it happen.

10 Ways to Avoid Gary Reilly's Fate

So, my conclusion? Ten thoughts:

  1. Get out there. Meet other writers, meet lots of agents, meet lots of editors. (They are, in turns out, people too! Get over those nerves.)
  2. Get comfortable talking about your writing.
  3. Get comfortable expressing confidence in your writing—explaining why you chose the stories to tell and what kinds of readers you want to reach. 
  4. Get comfortable describing your writing career and where it's going.
  5. Know your market. And read, heavily, in your genre.
  6. Become an expert in your genre—or sub-genre.
  7. Review books in your genre. Reach out to writers you like with personal notes.
  8. Get comfortable selling yourself—as a person first, writer second.
  9. Get comfortable asking writer friends for introductions to people they know—editors, agents, copy editors, marketing people, social media experts, etcetera.
  10. Make network a verb in your life.

The Non-writing Part of the Writing Life

It has nothing to do with the words on the page or the exciting story you are committing to prose, but it has everything to do with writing: You are going to need a network.

Yes, there's the occasional story of a reclusive novelist who emerges out of nowhere and is handed a big fat contract for his or her forged-in-isolation masterpiece. But it's the exception, not the rule.

Help others and ask them for help. Tap them for everything they know. When you're ready, you'll be glad you did. 

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Learn more about Gary Reilly and his now-published books at TheAsphaltWarrior.com.

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