The Asphalt Warrior by Gary Reilly

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I typed, sounding like an over-eager freshman in my introductory English class. But it’s true. One of my earliest memories is typing up a story on our old Macintosh and then asking my mom how to spell our last name so I could put my name on it like a true author. It turns out, I had something in common with an uncle who I barely knew.

One thing we don’t have in common: the 70’s hippie hair/beard combo.

Gary Reilly was a writer. He’s written over 20 novels, 11 about a Denver cab driver named Murph and a couple of Vietnam memoirs as well. You haven’t heard of Gary Reilly? That’s because he was also a perfectionist. He rarely sent out any queries to agents, before June 5 of this year he’d only had one story published in an anthology titled, “The Biography Man.” Instead, Gary spent his time honing his novels. Bringing each paragraph, line and word to life and making it the best it could be.

In March of 2011, Gary passed away.

Realizing his time was running out to realize his dream, a dream we share, Gary gave his friends Mark Stevens and Mike Keefe permission to publish his novels. The first one, The Asphalt Warrior was published on June 5. Over 150 people attended the launch at the Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver and The Asphalt Warrior now sits firmly as number 3 on the Denver bestsellers list.

I just finished the novel last night and it was wonderful. It’s a glimpse into the life of an uncle who kept to himself, but he was a lot like me in many ways. Sarcastic, street-smart, he has a knack for connecting with people when all he wants is to be left alone. The writing is superb, it’s clear the years Gary spent editing and re-editing were well spent.

However, he never got to see his books published. He never got to find out how many people related to Murph, how many people can’t wait for the next installment, how many people really, truly loved his work. And as a writer, that scared me. For lack of a better term, it got my ass into gear. I want to see people’s reactions to my work and talk to them about theirs.

Basically, go read it. It’s well worth your time.

The Graveyard Book versus Johnny and the Dead (Spoiler: They both win)

A comparative essay betwixt…

Blelegh! I can’t even make myself write titles like that anymore. A feminist reading of…a Marxist reading of…nope. Not anymore. Not ever.

That being said. One of the big trends hitting juvenile (that’s read mostly by adults) fiction is kids hanging out in graveyards. With the upcoming movie ParaNorman it’s easy to see why this would be such an interesting concept to explore. If you put a bunch of teenagers in a graveyard at night it suddenly turns into a bloodbath, but if it’s a couple of ten year olds it’s suddenly amusing and cute.

I decided to read both Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Terry Prachett’s Johnny and the Dead. These authors have worked together before on Good Omens and I was curious to see if their approach to “boy in graveyard” was similar at all. Luckily, they were both very very different and both very very good.

Gaiman takes a fantasy-esque route where Bod (Nobody Owens) grows up and is protected by the graveryard. He’s gifted with special powers, such as being able to disappear easily, haunt dreams and scare people. The trick is he’s only safe when he’s in the graveyard, and what a boy stuck in a graveyard wants more than anything is to get out.

Pratchett’s novel is part of a trilogy. The old graveyard in Johnny’s town is going to be bulldozed and a built over. With a newfound ability to see and speak to the dead, Johnny has to convince his friends and the town that the graveyard has to be protected. The novel differs from Gaiman’s in that, while we spend most of the novel traveling along with Bod Owens, in Pratchett’s we are delightfully introduced to the histories and personalities of those occupying the graveyard. And they too want to get outside.

Both are quick reads, I tackled each in a day. Charming, witty and surprisingly uplifting both are well worth the read.