Rediscovered: Ed Gorman and a Book That Could Have Been

Noticed that today is Ed Gorman Day across the web.

After a long battle with cancer, Gorman died on October 15. I spotted immediate tributes by fellow writers such as Bill Crider and James Reasoner. The appeal of his fiction got a good blurb from Brian Drake.

I knew of Gorman mostly because he started Mystery Scene magazine, and I picked up an anthology or two he edited. Maybe someday I’ll do a burst of reading in his backlog, but then I always associate him with the “quiet” school of writers in his era — like Charles Grant or Bill Pronzini — and I never cared for that style. He thought Pronzini’s Blue Lonesome was a masterpiece, and as anyone who cares to read my review of it from December 1995 will see, man, do I disagree. The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece. The Burnt Orange Heresy is a masterpiece. The Prone Gunman is a masterpiece.

I got a call from Gorman once, after my book Willeford came out late in 1997.

He liked it, and had the idea that I could do a series of articles on other writers such as Willeford for Mystery Scene — the little writers or “forgotten” writers who never get covered (or didn’t in that day).

He’d pay a penny a word — or perhaps it was as much as three cents a word, but it was definitely a pay rate that would have been understood in the pulp era.

And if I did enough of the articles, then I’d have a book.

I wasn’t bothered by the penny a word rate — for a lit survey, not so bad. I’ve had at least a couple of essays on writers that have cleared well over a thousand each, but most earn out around $100 or so, if that. The book collecting the set might have sold 100 copies, maybe 200 — if it plowed through a run of 500 or more, I’d have been amazed.

For a second or two I believe I can say I actually considered the idea.

But what I said was something like, “You know, I appreciate the offer, I do — and if you had gotten to me twenty years ago, or fifteen, I probably would have said Yes.”

I understood the time it would have consumed — to do the job Gorman grasped from Willeford that I ought to be able to do, I would have had to read the complete inventories of Gorman and some of his contemporaries, and PBO writers such as Peter Rabe and a hundred more — or at least ten or twelve, enough for a book.

A lot of work, something someone with the inclination really should write. Paperback Writers. The Dirty Dozen of the Paperback Jungle. They Had Typewriters and Used Them.

But me, what I had in me at that point was Willeford.

And unspoken at the time, although I thought about it later, was the fact that I didn’t do a book on Willeford simply because he had been neglected or because he emerged from the paperback original market. All those angles were interesting, of course, but I did the book because I thought — and still think — he was a great writer.

If I began to drudge my way through the idea, it could have become hackwork — and the fact that I am lazy has saved me from producing the usual body of hackwork you see from some of my contemporaries in the litcrit arena.

So Gorman and I chatted a bit more about Willeford, and before he rang off, he said, “Some time I’m going to have to explain to you why Blue Lonesome is a masterpiece.”

I guess my review of Blue Lonesome got around. . . .

“Sure,” I said, but we never picked up that thread. But in memoriam Ed Gorman, let me repeat: he thought Blue Lonesome was a masterpiece.

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