Friday, January 20, 2017

Interview: Ed Gorman (from 2007, annotated and updated)

Ed Gorman was an underappreciated writer of commercial fiction. His novels are thoughtful, complicated and often illuminated with a bleak melancholy that never fully overtook the story due to an understated humor and a grudging admiration of humanity. Grudging because it was the humanity—weakness, ambition, sorrow, perseverance, strength—of his characters that both betrayed and buoyed them.

Mr. Gorman died in October 2016 leaving behind a legacy of more than 150 published novels in a career spanning more than thirty years. He wrote in multiple literary genres, including crime and mystery, suspense, western, horror and science fiction. What is likely his last novel, Backshot (1902), was published in 2015. The following interview was conducted and appeared at Saddlebums in October 2007. It is annotated with additional detail about the books and stories that are discussed. The additional material is identified with brackets. The questions are in italics.

I’m impressed with your works overall diversity. You have successfully written in the western, mystery, horror and science fiction genres. Is there a specific genre you most prefer to work in?

Mystery and suspense, I suppose. But I’ve worked in horror and science fiction with great pleasure.

I want to talk a little about your publishing history, what is the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?

I wrote a lot of stuff for men’s magazines in the Sixties and Seventies. I could never come close to finishing a novel until I met Max Allan Collins who gave me two great pieces of advice—look at each chapter as a story and never look back until you’ve finished the book. Then worry about revisions. I finished Rough Cut and shopped it around. Agents felt that the narrator was more psychotic than the villain. I sent it to St. Martin’s Press where it was fished out of slush and bought. This was 1983.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Probably around age eight. The nuns fed me Jack London and I discovered Ray Bradbury on my own. After reading those guys I never faltered in wanting to be a published writer.

Most of your western fiction is non-traditional. You seem to use many of the same elements as one would find in a crime novel. Is this an effort to move away from the traditional western, or simply expand the definition of what a western is? Do you think these novels would be more popular if they were marketed as a western mystery rather than a traditional western?

I think you have to find a special angle to sell crossover books. Steve Hockensmith with Holmes on the Range brought something fresh and exciting to the crossover and has been very successful for doing so.

Is there a book, or a few books, that you have written and are particularly proud of?

My favorites are The Autumn Dead, Blood Moon, The Night Remembers, and Cage of Night in suspense; Wolf Moon and Ghost Town in westerns.

[Editor’s note: The Autumn Dead (1987) is the fourth (of five) novels featuring part time security guard, actor, and private eye Jack Dwyer. An omnibus edition of The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers (1991) was published by Stark House Press in 2015, which included an Introduction I wrote.

Blood Moon (1994) is the first (of four) novels featuring consultant and former FBI profiler Robert Payne. These novels are a mixture of suspense and crime and are some of Mr. Gorman’s most entertaining novels.

The Night Remembers is the first and only novel featuring aging private eye Jack Walsh. Heavy—wonderfully so—on working class angst, it is one of Mr. Gorman’s most melancholy stories, which is saying something. It is included in the Stark House omnibus mentioned above.

Cage of Night (1996) is Mr. Gorman’s best horror novel. An expansion of his 1995 short story, “The Brasher Girl,” it is a tightly developed masterpiece of psychological suspense.

Wolf Moon (1993) was a paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal that had elements of the western, horror and crime genres. Ghost Town (2001) is one of ten novels Mr. Gorman wrote for Berkley between 1999 and 2006, and one I haven’t read.]

Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure?

On my nightstand presently I have the Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner, Ten Stories from Detective Aces pulp magazine, a history of the Homefront during World War Two and a huge volume of the original Jonah Hex comic book stories by Michael Fleischer.

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?

Mine is the last generation that really grew up on westerns. I saw them in the theaters and on television and I read them in comic books and paperbacks. Writing them came naturally. I owe Bob Randisi a lot for first getting me published as a writer.

What are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

Max Brand, Elmore Leonard, Loren D. Estleman, Clifton Adams, Dorothy Johnson would be a few of them.

If you could bring back the work of one western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?

I’d bring back six or seven of the best Clifton Adams novels.

You also write mysteries, and it seems there has been—both historically as well as today—a significant number of authors who do good work in both genres. Do you think there is a relationship between the mystery and the western that promotes this crossover, or is it simply the economics of professional writing?

Again, I think it’s generational. You don’t find many—or any that I can think of—of the Thirty-somethings writing westerns and mysteries today. Loren is the last of the breed. He’s in his Forties I think. And he’s one of the all-time best, too.

[Editor’s note: Loren D. Estleman continues to write and publish Western novels. His latest is the fine The Long High Noon (2015).]

The mystery genre is thriving, but many believe the western is in decline. What do you think about the western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

I’ve been asked this a couple of times. I wish I had some wisdom on the subject. But I don’t. To me cops replaced cowboys.

Okay, now let’s get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

My current novel is Fools Rush In. This is my take on how small town Iowa responded to the Civil Rights movement of the early Sixties. I have another novel called Doom Weapon, the last in my Cavalry Man series coming in paperback from HarperCollins. It’s probably out now though I haven’t seen a copy. In the Spring I have a St. Martin’s novel called Sleeping Dogs, a political whodunit. I used to write speeches for [a] congressman. Lots of anger in this book.

[Editor’s note: Fools Rush In (2007) is the seventh (of ten) novels featuring small town lawyer and private investigator Sam McCain. Mr. Gorman told me he planned to write another title in the series, but due to illness and then his death in 2016 it is unlikely we will ever see the planned title.

Doom Weapon (2007) is the third (of three) novels in the Cavalry Man series featuring Federal Agent Noah Ford. These novels are westerns, but the stories and character always reminded me a little of Sam McCain, which is a great thing.

Sleeping Dogs (2008) is the first (of four) novels featuring political consultant Dev Conrad. Mr. Gorman mentioned it is laced with “[l]ots of anger,” which is true, but there is also humor and a very nicely rendered traditional mystery. Similar to the Sam McCain series, Mr. Gorman planned to write another Dev Conrad title, but likely never finished it due to illness in the final few years of his life.]     

Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?

My next novel will be in the suspense realm. I never talk about work in progress.

[Editor’s note: This novel was the paperback original, The Midnight Room, published by Leisure in 2009. A serial killer story that departed from the standard—blackmail, revenge, class struggle—featuring a vividly rendered dark cast of victims and demented but uncomfortably human villains.
It is Ed Gorman’s final suspense novel capping a successful body of work in the genre that includes Run to Midnight (1992) and Now You See Her (1993) as by Chris Shea McCarrick, Shadow Games (1993) Cold Blue Midnight (1996), Black River Falls (1996), Runner in the Dark (1997), The Silver Scream (1998), The Poker Club (2000).]

I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could choose any project to work on, what would it be?

That’s a good question and you know, I have no idea. My best stuff seems to have just happened without much planning on my part. I wrote three or four novels that were part of a Big Plan to increase the size of my audience. I think they were adequate, one of them I like, but somehow they weren’t as much fun to do as the work that somehow seems to get done on its own.

[Editor’s note: The “Big Plan” books were The Marilyn Tapes (1995), The First Lady (1995), and Senatorial Privilege (1997). All three were published by Forge. Each of the novels, except Senatorial Privilege, have been released in ebook form, which makes me think Mr. Gorman thought very little of it.]

A few of my favorite Ed Gorman novels:


Unknown said...

Man, do I miss Ed, and not just is books. I'd love to talk to him about politics right now.

Stephen Mertz said...

A superb appreciation of a superb writer.

Todd Mason said...

Excellent, Ben, but where are your favorites?

michael said...

One of best friends told me he had been diagnosed with myeloma last night, which made think of Ed. So I was glad to see your great interview. Ed lives a huge void which I have been trying to compensate by getting all of his books I can find on Amazon. I have most all of the ones you have listed below and loads of great reading time to look forward to in Ed's company. My favourite is still the Sam McCain series. Thank you very much Ben.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Terrific interview, Ben. This inspires me to read Ed Gorman in earnest. I'm going to save this interview and refer to it every time I plan to read one of his books.