Sunday, October 16, 2016

My friend Ed Gorman

I met Ed back in 2007, when my partner and I moved from L.A. to Iowa. It was a hard transition, and I’m not sure I would have been able to make it without Ed’s friendship.

I was a fan before I met him. When I was in high school in the late 80s-early 90s I became interested in paperback crime fiction, particularly 1940s-1970s stuff. A lot of the best stuff was coming back into print at that time, through publishers and imprints like IPL, Blue Murder, No Exit Press, Carroll & Graf, Quill, and of course Black Lizard. In 1991 I picked up The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited and featuring a story by Ed Gorman. This was my first exposure to his work. “Turn Away” has a devastating line that’s always stayed with me, about “the sheer simple burden of knowing the sweet innocent little child you loved was someday going to end up just as blown-out and bitter and useless as you yourself.” Ed could write lines like that, that went back and forth between anger and sadness and just tore you the hell up.

Ed was modest. Sometimes frustratingly so. Anything that was even close to self-promotion embarrassed the hell out of him. The first few times I hung out with him I told him how much I admired his work, complimenting him on specific books or stories. As he himself would tell me later, “I don’t take compliments very well.” He didn’t— he was always quick with a self-deprecating joke.

He talked to me about process a lot, though. He took writing seriously. It was a real job, and he read everything, looking for clues as to how to improve his own work, and structural models to study. I always thought this was interesting because to me, what always sticks with me the most is the emotion of his work. Yes, The Night Remembers has a terrific plot, but what I remember most about it is the feeling of utter sadness that hangs over it, and the connection that Ed establishes between the reader and the characters. In stories like “Such A Good Girl,” “Angie,” “Stalker,” and “The Long Ride Back” Ed makes your soul ache by illuminating the darkness that infects too much of life.

Even if you never met him, if you’ve read his books and stories then you have a good idea of who he was. His anger at injustice and his empathy with those who have been hurt by that injustice came through in his work. He could be cynical at times but he never hid behind cynicism.

He was a working writer, writing in just about every genre— literary, crime, mystery, horror, western, SF, comics. Under his own name and others. He did a lot of ghostwriting jobs, and had some hilarious stories about the pitfalls of that work. I’m not sure how he’d feel about me sharing any of those, though. I’ll tell you one: Many years ago he got the opportunity to write a book in a massively popular ongoing paperback series. They asked him to submit three sample chapters. He did so. In the first chapter a beautiful young woman in a bikini gets out of a swimming pool, and the massively popular series character notices the outline of her nipples against the fabric of the bathing suit. The editor called him. “He wouldn’t notice the woman’s nipples,” the editor said.

“Why not?” Ed asked. “He’s a man.”

“Because the mob killed his family!” the editor said. “He’s out for vengeance, not looking at women’s breasts!”

“But that was twenty years ago. Eventually, he’s going to start noticing women’s breasts again,” Ed said.

“No,” the editor insisted. “It’s not believable.”

“In every book this guy goes around with an arsenal destroying entire city blocks while getting revenge on the mob,” Ed pointed out. “Let the guy notice a woman’s nipples now and then.”

That particular freelance job didn’t work out.

Over the years Ed became one of my best friends— someone I could talk about anything with, who was always quick to offer emotional or professional support. As modest as he was, he was even more generous. If there was anything he could do to help, he was there.

I can’t believe I’m never going to talk to him again. Well, that’s not true. He’s not going to answer. Well, shit, that’s not entirely true, either, is it? I’ve still got his novels, stories, and essays. He said a lot through them, and through them he continues to speak. What I can’t believe what I’m having a really hard time processing right now is that I’m not going to hear his voice on my phone, or see him at the Lob (that’s what we called Red Lobster which, because of his cancer-necessitated dietary restrictions was one of his favorite restaurants) or get one of his angry political emails. I can’t believe it.

My partner and I had a lot of Lob lunches with Ed and his lovely and talented wife Carol Gorman. Ed told me many times how grateful he was to her— she was a crucial element of his survival throughout his sickness.

For as long as I knew Ed, he had cancer. There were times when we had to go months without seeing him while he underwent some new treatment. It always made me angry that one of the best people I knew had to go through all that. For Ed it was just part of life. He accepted it, dealt with it frankly. He always came back. He might look a little thinner at times, and have less hair, but he always came back. He’s not coming back. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m not going to see him again. He was one of my best friends and I’m not going to see him again. No more stories about his adventures in writing or the conversations he’d had with other writers. The way his mind worked in conversation was hilarious, jumping from one subject to the next, sometimes with a “that reminds me of…” but sometimes not, just time to talk about something else. Reality shows—politics—Anthony Mann movies—politics again—Lester Dent stories and so on. Conversations with Ed were hysterical roller coasters.

I’m so grateful to him for his friendship.

I’m also grateful to him for collaborating. We got two stories, a comic, and he let me adapt two of his works as graphic novel scripts. His trust in those projects means the world to me.

Ed’s health took a disastrous turn a couple of months back. The last time I spoke to him was September 5. He sounded strong. After a few calls in which he could only speak for a few minutes he sounded like he was rebounding. The conversation lasted about half an hour and was as much a roller coaster as ever. I let myself hope that he could beat that shitty disease back one more time, go back to Mayo for another treatment and get a couple more good years.

He passed away on Friday.

If you’ve never read his work, I’d recommend The Night Remembers (that edition also features another terrific book, The Autumn Dead), Cages, The Day the Music Died, and Shadow Games.

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