From ce­real pitches to se­rial killers

Ver­don keeps the ad­ven­ture rolling

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - ELAINE LIES

John Ver­don was 65 and re­tired, read­ing a lot of de­tec­tive sto­ries and talk­ing about them with his wife, when one day she sug­gested he write one him­self.

He took her up on the chal­lenge, and Dave Gur­ney — a re­tired New York City homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tor just be­gin­ning his new life when mys­te­ri­ous let­ters start ar­riv­ing — was born.

The book was snapped up by a pub­lisher and came out in 2010 to rave re­views, and Gur­ney’s ad­ven­tures have con­tin­ued with two more books, the lat­est — Let the Devil Sleep — just out.

Ver­don, a for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive who re­tired at 53 and turned to fur­ni­ture mak­ing be­fore writ­ing, said he has been sur­prised and pleased by the re­sults.

“When I wrote the first book I didn’t even imag­ine it would be pub­lished. I had the time to do it, my wife en­cour­aged me to do it, and I wrote the first one hop­ing she’d like it,” he said, not­ing that the sug­ges­tion for more came from his agent.

“From that point on I think it kind of took hold of me, be­cause dur­ing the course of fin­ish­ing the first book I’d be­come close to and in­ter­ested in the char­ac­ters. So the idea of putting them in new sit­u­a­tions and be­ing with them again felt com­fort­able to me.”

As the new book starts, Dave has fallen into a de­pres­sion as the re­sult of in­juries suf­fered in his pre­vi­ous es­capade, but the reap­pear­ance of a se­rial killer af­ter a decade grad­u­ally rouses him to ac­tion.

Ver­don, who said he’d al­ways wanted to write but thought ad­ver­tis­ing was the only way he could write and make a liv­ing, said that one of the chal­lenges of car­ry­ing on with a se­ries is Let the Devil Sleep by John Ver­don (Crown, 464 pages,

$29.95) work­ing to keep the reader in­ter­ested.

“I’ve read both types of se­ries — se­ries about char­ac­ters that don’t seem to change at all, and then I’ve read oth­ers in which you grow old with the char­ac­ter and you watch their kids grow up and all that,” he said.

“I think they have to change and I think that mech­a­nism for change comes from the fairly hor­ren­dous things that hap­pen to­ward the end of each book.

“When I started writ­ing the third book, one of the things I had to deal with was to imag­ine: OK, here’s a guy who’s been shot three times a few months ago, where does that leave him?”

De­spite bring­ing out a book a year, Ver­don said he doesn’t rely on a de­tailed out­line but rather scrib­bles ideas down on in­dex cards when­ever and wher­ever in­spi­ra­tion strikes.

“I have two ball­point pens in my pocket be­cause God for­bid I should be mak­ing a note and one of them should run out of ink. I have two pens and have a dozen in­dex cards in the pocket of my shirt ev­ery day,” he said.

Ver­don then stuffs the cards in a manila en­ve­lope un­til the en­ve­lope starts to burst, at which point he takes out the cards, usu­ally by then num­ber­ing four or five hun­dred, and ar­ranges them on his din­ing room ta­ble un­til he starts to have a struc­ture of acts and then of scenes.

“Even­tu­ally I sit down at the com­puter and start ac­tu­ally turn­ing it into some­thing that looks like a novel,” Ver­don said, not­ing that he is a “care­ful” worker who usu­ally writes around two pages a day.

His ad­vice for as­pir­ing writ­ers is sim­ple: don’t wait un­til you’re 65 to start, the way he did, and stick with it.

“Over the years, when I was in the ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness, I’d start a novel and I never got more than 50 pages into it be­fore I lost in­ter­est,” he said. “So once you start it, fin­ish it.”

John Ver­don

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