NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — At the Northborough Free Library on July 11, Southborough author Steve Ulfelder and Boston author Kyle Darcy opened the book on their stories and the craft of writing.
"I’ve wanted to write serious mysteries since I was 8 years old and read my first 'Hardy Boys' book," Ulfelder told the crowd of mystery lovers.
Of course, it wasn't easy. Ulfelder ended up making his career in journalism while dabbling in auto racing on the side. It wasn't until about 2000 when Ulfelder, a recovering alcoholic, visited an AA meeting that gave him the idea for a story that he just couldn't let go of.
"When people come into AA meetings, they've got problems," he said. And so, he came up with the character of Conway Sax, a former alcoholic auto mechanic who helps members of his AA group solve their problems — often by any means necessary.
It was a slow process; in fact, Ulfelder wrote two Conway Sax novels that were rejected before his third, "Purgatory Chasm," was published. ("You get better at writing novels by writing novels," he said.) Focusing on Sax as he attempts to learn the truth about the death of an AA group member who he never quite liked but felt loyal to all the same, the book earned heaps of praise among mystery circles. It was a finalist for the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America for distinguished work in the genre.
For Darcy, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, the hardest part of his book was not writing it — it was living it.
Darcy's book, "Under Current Conditions," is based on true events in his life after he fled the violence in Northern Ireland for Boston. As Darcy described it, a friend met an untimely death that, as Darcy later discovered, was not an accident.
What followed was a story of kidnapping and subterfuge that Darcy felt he had to write.
Many in the audience had already read their books, so both authors answered questions about the process of getting published and the troubles facing this embattled industry.
Darcy, whose book enjoyed success at first — including making it on The Boston Globe bestseller list — talked about how sales took a turn for the worst when Borders went out of business. Ulfelder discussed the economics of selling ebooks, and how it was far worse for his profits than selling hard copies.
But for all the difficulties they face getting their books to the masses, the authors did not forget to mention those who helped them along the way. Ulfelder credited his editor, whose experience in publishing helped her to perfect and eventually sell his book. Darcy also talked about having a particularly close relationship with his editor — she is, after all, his wife.
Writing may be a solitary activity but getting published is another matter. "You need a team," Darcy said.