I am Joe’s Gunther

15 09 2008

Archer Mayor is a author who lives in Newfane, VT.  While he publishes travel articles for a number of magazines, he is best known for his series of police procedurals, or perhaps mysteries, based on the character of Joe Gunther.  His 19th novel in the series, The Catch, will be published late this month.  Joe is a stalwart, and, to use Archer’s adjective, is quite stolid.  The series has been published since 1988, and many of us here in Vermont have at least five of his books on our shelves.

A couple of years ago, the first twelve novels in the series fell out of print.  Archer’s relationship with his publisher suffered, for every author knows the butter on his bread is his backlist, and he was able to purchase back the rights to his books.  Since then, Archer formed a partnership with Elaine Sopchak to form AMPress, and they have republished these twelve books themselves.  To make it better, they have thought “Local First” by finding designers and printers locally, and they are distributing them to the many independent bookstores in Vermont and beyond.

Earlier this past winter, I received a call from Jody Petersen, who I met while doing commentaries for WNCS in Montpelier.  Jody has her own recording studio and business now and was looking for a reader.  I’d not worked with her before, but Liz did, and I thought it would be cool.  She was auditioning a few locals for a project and wanted us to read a chapter for the audition.  “Who’s”, I asked.  “Archer Mayor’s”, she said.

Archer Mayor!  I’d been buying his books as Christmas reading for Liz for years and years.  I’d read a couple, but not nearly the number Liz had, and certainly not the first.  But we had it on our shelves, and like a good little actor I studied up, rereading the first chapter a few times and then reading on to see what happened, so I could fake my way through a conversation about the story if need be.  What was cool about the project was that of all his books, only one or two had been recorded, and those by the BBC.  No one had ever recorded the first twelve, and so Archer and Elaine thought it was time to reintroduce Joe Gunther via audiobook, especially since they got to control the whole project.  Sweet.  So I made it to the studio in mid-February and a couple of weeks later, I got the call.  I actually got an email from Liz who got an email from Elaine who didn’t know we were a couple until after they had made their choice.  “They thought you nailed Joe.”  And so I did.  Jody and I spent the early spring recording “Open Season”, the first Gunther mystery.  I finished in late May.

The thing about Joe, in this book, is that the reader is privy to more personal information about him than in most of the others.  Mayor structured Joe to be the conduit, and a fairly “boring” one at that.  He is frequently wrong, dangerously so, and humanly patient, sometimes to a fault.  Reading him (the story is in the first person) raised some great issues about how to read a first person book, because there were so many other characters as well.  Should they be read in Joe’s voice, the character’s voice, or what have you?  We opted for the characters, and most of them were a blast to do.  One or two were VERY hard to pinpoint and get consistently, but in the end, I think Jody and I squeezed them out well.

So now the book is nearly available. This product, too, was a local first production, from the writer to the producer to the voice to the studio to the packager and designer.  At last, the first chapter is available on Archer’s site, and the full book will be available soon.  We have some certain goals to meet to see if there is another to do — will it be received well?  will it sell enough copies? — so I don’t know if I’ll stay the voice of Joe Gunther. It would be outrageously fun if I did…

We’ll know soon.

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