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Andrew F. Gulli: Reveals the Backstory for No Rest for The Dead

An intimate look at how this amazing project began, how these talented authors eagerly accepted, and how the proceeds might help make a brighter future for those facing cancer.

Four years ago, I was having drinks with my friends Les Pockell and Susan Richman in a Greek restaurant, chosen more for its proximity to Grand Central station than for the food. I told Les and Susan about a project I had started working on, an anthology with several best-selling writers, and how my share of the royalties would go to cancer research since both my parents had died of that disease.

Les finished paying and slid his credit card back into his wallet. I could almost hear the gears turning. “If you want sales, Andrew,” he said, “turn this into a novel in chapters. I read one when I was a kid and it had a huge impact on me.” Then he walked off, raincoat in hand, to take the train home to Brooklyn.

Two years later, Les’s life was taken by cancer, which strengthened my resolve to make sure the serial novel was a best-seller. I must admit, however, that while working on this project, my sister and I have at times both shaken our fists at the heavens in frustration.

The first three writers I contacted were Tess Gerritsen, Jonathan Santlofer, and John Lescroart. Touched by the inspiration for the book, and without even asking if money were involved, they all signed on to contribute. You’ll see my name listed as the author of the prologue, but I never wanted to contribute to the book. I suspected my rather unknown name would look odd alongside the likes of Alexander McCall Smith, Sandra Brown, and Jeffery Deaver. But when it came time for John Lescroart to write the first chapter, he very forthrightly suggested I come up with something. I’d had an idea to write a novel about a woman convicted of—and executed for—murdering her husband and tossing his body in an iron maiden.

All sorts of themes were in my mind for that novel: capital punishment, revenge, alcoholism, and how past sins never seem to die. So I wrote a prologue and handed it off. My ego received a huge boost when John and the other writers were happy with my work. Best of all, John began taking my characters and giving them lives of their own. Who could ask for more?

But soon there was more—much more. Gayle Lynds, Marcia Talley, J.A. Jance, R.L. Stine, Kathy Reichs, Phil Margolin, and T. Jefferson Parker all got in on the act. The first batch of chapters revealed the makings of a book with plenty of action, yet also one that took the time to give readers insight into all the characters. Then, after deciding how the book would end, Jeff Lindsay, Sandy McCall Smith, Sandra Brown, Faye Kellerman, and Ray Khoury made excellent contributions.

However, the book grew to such an extent that there were several loose ends and even a few dead alleys. And there was no one to blame for it—to use a cliché, it was the nature of the beast. I have to say that the ultimate credit should go to my sister Lamia, my co-editor. She made sure the book made sense, and her sharp eyes found mistakes and inconsistencies that I or any other editor would have missed even if we’d read the book twice a day for ten years. Most importantly, she reoriented aspects of the book to increase the suspense and maintain narrative continuity, while making sure the writers’ voices and styles never suffered. During the initial phases of the book, before Lamia got her hands dirty with the editing part, the evolving plot had me frustrated and confused, and she was there to help me think things through carefully and logically.

Another great source of help, and someone who worked tirelessly on the book, was Jeff Deaver. Since he wrote two of the most pivotal chapters in the book, he was determined not only to make an excellent contribution, but also to make sure that everything made sense and, to use another cliché, to tame the beast. I’ll never forget the long conversations we had two years ago over the Christmas holiday, bouncing ideas off each other. I loved Jeff’s critical way of handling the book. Despite my panic, everything did make sense in the end and I realize now why Jeff can write two smashing thrillers a year that hit the NY Times best-seller list while remaining one of the true gentlemen of the writing community.

Also, my good friend the artist and highly talented thriller author Jonathan Santlofer played a great part in strengthening the book, at times he and I wanted to kill each other, but we agreed that our anger towards each other should never have an impact on our friendship.

And now, as I’m typing this, a finished copy of No Rest for the Dead lies on my desk. For the past couple of days, I’ve asked myself it if was worth it all. If buyers throng the bookstores and if we get thousands of orders on Amazon, then that will mean a lot of money will be raised to fight cancer. But in this economic climate, nothing is certain. Whatever the case, yesterday I received an email from our editor giving us the good news that the Bulgarians paid a record fee for the novel. I guess if you can make it in Bulgaria you can make it anywhere … at least, my Bulgarian art instructor will be proud of me.

So buy a copy of No Rest for the Dead. I challenge you to try to figure out the twist that these 25 top mystery writers have fathomed for you.

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