Editor’s note: Our Tall Tales contributor, Mark Stevens, is the author of “Antler Dust” and “Buried by the Roan.” “Buried by the Roan” is a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Award. Both books are on the shelves at Telluride’s own Between the Covers Bookstore, 224 W Colorado Ave, Box 2129.
Those are the words of creative writing instructor Joe Nigg from the University of Colorado at Denver. He’s talking about my pal Gary Reilly, who passed away fifteen months ago.
Fiction was the air that Gary Reilly breathed. He cared about stories and he cared about how stories are put together more than anyone I have ever met. When he died, he left behind 20 novels, including 11 comic novels about Denver taxi driver Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph.” When Gary died, he also left behind a three-sentence will. (Fairly terse for a guy who liked to write.) One of those sentences gave me and my pal Mike Keefe (who spent 36 years drawing editorial cartoons at The Denver Post) permission to publish his works.
Gary Reilly’s first book—and the first of all 11 Murph novels—comes out this month: The Asphalt Warrior. Ticket to Hollywood is right behind it. Doctor Lovebeads is in the queue, too, and more. Let me tell you, Murph is a piece of work. He has two goals in life. One is to earn only enough money to keep his simple world afloat. His second goal is to never get tangled up in the lives of his passengers. He’s not very good at either.
Reading a Murph story puts you in a very special place. I believe Murph is an antidote for our times. He is anti-materialism. He is low maintenance. He is very smart and well read but has no need to reveal that fact. He’s humble and he very much wants to be alone. The situations he encounters start small and simple and soon Murph is tangled in a deep and sticky web. The untangling is hilarious. “Funny as hell,” says Nigg.
Utimately, Murph is a human being and human beings help each other. So Murph is the reluctant hero, pulled into the undertow of society where he must deal face to face, one on one with others. Ultimately, he can’t help himself. Murph lives in the city, thrives in the city and probably knows in his heart he’s bound by his own code to help others, just as Gary (who was my writing coach and close-in editor) did for me. We had many fine laughs together.
The Murph novels were in such ready-to-publish shape that when I showed them to an acquaintance with the mighty Big Earth Publishing in Boulder, we were quickly invited to be part of their empire.
“Readers will gravitate to Murph, who quite simply makes the world a better place,” says Big Earth vice-president Linda Doyle.
During his lifetime, Gary Reilly did get published—once. A short story called “The Biography Man” was picked up by The Iowa Review and won a Pushcart Prize. It was first published in 1977 and anthologized in 1979. After that moment of limelight, Reilly went underground for the next three decades to work on his prose and refine his craft.
I met with Gary frequently over the course of his last seven or eight years (I’m not quite sure of the year we met). We’d meet at Café Europa on South Pennsylvania St. in Denver. He called it Europa State University. We would spend hours talking books and stories and writing. I tried to encourage him to market and network. He would occasionally send out a query to an agent or a publisher. His heart wasn’t really in it.
Gary Reilly was also the only writer I know who didn’t try to sell anything.
There’s lots more information at www.theasphaltwarrior.com and look for The Asphalt Warrior wherever books are sold.
Here’s to you, Gary. Murph lives!