Ed Gorman died.
While I wasn’t surprised, I was shaken.
He had been fighting cancer for years and I’m guessing he was just tired.
He was a good man, simply said. All the superlatives fit him and all are well deserved, but in the end, his life and work and all the rest come down to that; he was a good man.
In the days after my heart attack, February 18, 2001, I received all kinds of phone calls and emails and letters and whatnot wishing me a speedy recovery and best of all possible worlds. It was nice to open a batch of those every day and realize my world was a bit larger than I had consciously thought about.
(Though it was odd to be asked by an editor wearing San Jose Sharks jersey if my heart attack was a publicity stunt…doubly so considering I had nothing out at the time that would have benefited from such a well thought out and not at all expensive…$38,000 for twenty-four hours in cardiac ICU…stunt.)
In the course of getting all these letters and cards and all the rest, I got a box (and yeah, for a few seconds, I thought I was in Jack Ketchum’s 1994 story, ‘The Box.’). I remember sitting on the west-facing porch in Denver and just staring at the box for a few minutes.
It had Ed Gorman’s address and his handwriting.
During the year previous, Ed and I had gotten to be decent friends…by which I mean we talked on the phone often and via email constantly. I never actually met the man face to face. He didn’t much like leaving his home.
So getting a package from this man I was just getting to know both freaked me out and made me feel like a kid at Christmastime.
Inside? Obviously…books. Like every book he had published going back to the 17th century or something. Westerns, crime, mystery, horror, a virtual guided tour of his novel output over the previous 20 years.
I sat there on that porch for the next six weeks, slowly mending back to health, and read every word. Yeah, the man was an amazing writer, when he was at his best he was straight up better than damn near anyone else writing. His plots were well paced and his characterizations deft and incisive, and it was an incredible experience reading that much of one writer in that short of a time (the literary version of binge watching Narcos or something on Netflix).
But what made that box, and those books, even better than the delicious words on the page was the fact that this man, who knew me only from emails and phone calls and my own writing, cared enough to package up a library and send it.
He was a good man.
From his blog, August 22, 2008:
“Last week I started rereading 2000 Miles To Open Road by Trey R. Barker. We had in common…the fact that we were both going through the early stages of battling cancer. Trey’s experience was brutal. But the cancer diary he kept is one of the most eloquent and articulate pieces of real life I’ve ever read. Happily he’s doing well now.”
I offer that not as some pat on my own back but to illustrate that even as he was trying to help a young writer by promoting my work on his blog, he was conscious of the things that make us all human. We had exchanged emails back and forth about our battles with cancer and he laughed at some part of ‘The Cancer Chronicles,’ because he lived through the same indignities.
Elizabeth Engstrom, another of my favorite writers, had also had some battles. Where Ed started with thyroid cancer in 2001, he soon moved into multiple myeloma. Liz and I shared melanoma, and we spent many an hour emailing back and forth about the nightmare.
I found myself thinking about that box of books yesterday when I heard the news about Ed. The wonderful simplicity of a box of books touched my soul as deeply as a black-hearted bastard like me can be touched. I remember sitting there for what felt like a lifetime just slowly reading each word on the front cover, then moving to the back cover, then soaking in the artwork, then the reviews and blurbs in the first few pages, then moving on to the next book. It was probably two hours before I even settled in and cracked the spine on one.
I still have most of those books, though some have become worn from constant rereading. And quite a few of them have long underlined passages and highlighted sections, as would any regular text book from which someone wanted to learn.
I have learned much from Ed Gorman and suspect that learning is not yet finished.
Thank you, Ed, for everything. Godspeed and just think about all the time you have now to read now….