A Phone Call from Ed

October 18th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Ed and Carol Gorman

Around forty years ago, I got a phone call. I was in my basement office in the middle of something, but I answered it. There was no caller ID then, though I wasn’t getting all that many phone calls, anyway.

This very distinctive, friendly but strangely shy voice identified himself as Ed Gorman. He lived in Cedar Rapids (about sixty miles from my home, Muscatine) and was a writer himself, although he told me this in a modest, dismissive, almost embarrassed way.

Any call from a would-be writer sent up a warning signal. I had already been at it long enough that I was getting calls from local and area writers (and sometimes farther afield than that) wanting help that usually consisted of reading their book and/or giving them advice on getting published.

But this call didn’t seem to be like that. Ed Gorman was calling specifically to tell me how much he loved my QUARRY novels. At that time there were only four of them, published in 1976 and ‘77, and while the stirring of a cult reputation for the books was out there, this was different.

This obviously very literate, self-effacing, intelligent man knew all about the books and really, really liked them. He had been compelled, he said, to give me a call about them – which was something he’d been thinking about doing for a long time.

We talked for about an hour, and hit it off, both having rather dark senses of humor, but then he rather abruptly said he had to sign off. He had something he had to do. I asked him what, and he said, “I’m getting married in half an hour.”

In a way that’s all you need to know about Ed Gorman. He was a writer who wanted to tell other writers that he admired them, and why. He was funny and quirky and uniquely Ed – that he had chosen to call me out of the blue about QUARRY right before he was off to get married to the beautiful, wonderful Carol, seems so very wrong and so perfectly right.

We began talking on the phone regularly – so regularly, and for such long conversations, that I used to get in trouble with my beautiful, wonderful wife about the phone bill. I learned that Ed had been primarily a literary writer, with short stories appearing in various publications of that sort (it was much later that he revealed he’d also written short stories for low-end men’s magazines). He said he wanted to branch out into novels.

As he came to know, and as I have said before in public, one of my proudest accomplishments as a writer was helping turn Ed Gorman into a novelist. He particularly took to one piece of advice. I said, “Think of every chapter as a short story. That won’t intimidate you – after all, you’re already a short story writer. And, anyway, with a chapter, you need the same coherent beginning, middle and end as a short story.” Very soon he sent me a novel.

It was good. There was a problem with the ending that I told him about, and he took it well, and gratefully. Then I learned he had thrown the book away and started over. I felt terrible about it, and for the only time in our friendship, I balled him out. I am someone who never throws any piece of writing away, a chronic recycler, and what he’d done appalled me. But he was impulsive and eccentric and his own harshest critic, so his action was as in character as it was rash.

Ed and Carol visited Barb and me in Muscatine, and we did the same with them in Cedar Rapids. Carol and Barb are writers too, very good ones, so the conversations over the years were four-way, not the boys over here and the girls over there.

It took me a while to learn that Ed rarely traveled, and that he was in fact something of a hermit. Because we both lived in Iowa, and had writing styles that were not dissimilar, I for a time had the honor of being accused of using “Ed Gorman” as a pseudonym. What a writer that would make me.

“Is it true,” people would ask me, “that you’ve actually met Ed Gorman?” I actually had.

The thing is, being around people made Ed nervous. This still strikes me as strange because he made his pre-writing-career living as an ad man, PR guy and also writer of political speeches (politics being a lifelong interest, even obsession).

Stranger still is how charming and effortlessly social he was on the telephone. Scores of writers are bound to now come forward and say how well they knew him, but admit that they never met him.

I saw him quite a bit, at least comparatively speaking. With Carol and Barb, we met at restaurants; he and Carol came to book signings of mine (he very rarely did his own); we did a number of appearances together (doing Q and A as well as signing, at the late lamented Mystery Cat in C.R. and elsewhere). For a number of years Barb and I, and writers Bob Randisi and Marthayn Peligrimas, would meet Ed and Carol for quarterly get-togethers at the Ox Yoke Inn in the Amana Colonies. These were lively, frequently hilarious bitch sessions about the writing life. Bob was a great friend of Ed’s (they started Mystery Scene together), and is a great friend of mine. Writers know a lot of other writers, but mostly it’s friendly acquaintances. Bob, Ed and I were real friends.

At Terry Beatty’s wedding some years ago, Ed – who loved Terry and his work – made an unprecedented move by attending the reception. I might be slightly overstating, but Ed was damn near the life of the party. Laughing, chatting, circulating. I was astonished.

Later I asked him, “What happened to Ed Gorman, the guy who can’t stand being in even the smallest crowd?” He told me he’d been a nervous wreck at the reception, a total screaming mess inside. I had witnessed an amazing performance.

Once, responding to my efforts to get him to a Bouchercon, Ed told me didn’t like driving long distances because he’d once been in a car crash. I asked him why he didn’t fly there. He said he’d also been in a plane crash. I asked him why he didn’t take a train. He said he’d been in a train crash. Asking him why he always took the stairs in tall buildings, he said he’d once been in an elevator when it fell. There’s also a story about an escalator, but you get the drift.

Was he kidding me? I’m not sure. Really I don’t think so. He was a self-described bundle of neuroses, yet as grounded a writer as I’ve ever known. He worked hard and well and fast, and never compromised his craft and art. Now and then he would rail on about some writer whose work he disliked, but never in public, and no one had more generous, enthusiastic things to say about other writers and their work than Ed. Mystery Scene was in part about getting writers who were otherwise being ignored their due by way of articles and reviews. He worked with Black Lizard and founded Five Star to get books and writers back into print.

I think it’s fair for me to say that no other writer in our genre ever did more for his brother and sister writers.

In 1992, around Thanksgiving, I got a double career whammy when my DICK TRACY contract was not picked up, and my Nathan Heller novel contract was unexpectedly cancelled. I shared my woes with Ed. Suddenly I had short story assignment after short story assignment from Ed and his great friend, Marty Greenberg. Ed and Marty keep me afloat for six months while I regrouped. They were also responsible for turning my wife Barb into a writer, largely with assignments for stories in the CAT CRIMES anthologies.

Ed, of course, had a dark side. This came across as black comedy for the most part, and I heard for many decades his prediction that we were nearing the end of mystery-fiction publishing. It was over! Sometimes his gloom got to me, and Barb would say, “Were you talking business with Ed again?” I started making a habit of making him laugh when I could see that he was letting bleakness get to him. Of course, we’d always laughed together, each an easy mark for the other.

He was always complimentary about my work and gave me glowing reviews, and he was the first to really recognize any value in QUARRY, and he kept that up over the years. Surprisingly often, he would call and say that the day before he’d re-read one of the books, and make my day with effusive praise. I’ve never had a phone call like that from anybody else.

If for some reason you’ve never read Ed Gorman (which I doubt, if you’re coming to this blog), I have always been partial to the Jack Dwyer series, in part because I got to read the first one, Rough Cut, in manuscript. His horror novels, as Daniel Ransom, are first-rate. He was a terrific western writer, as well – Guild is a favorite of mine. The Poker Club became a good little film, though not as good as the source. And he was the best short story writer of my generation – seek out his collections.

In the last twenty years or so, I talked less with Ed on the phone – though still fairly frequently – as e-mails and blogs kicked in. His voice always had something apologetic in it, like he was afraid he was interrupting. He never was.

Those phone calls – and a phone call was where it all began – are precious to me now in my memory. How we laughed and laughed. What I’d give for another call from Ed right now. Me and a hundred other writers. But I’m the only one he called on his way to his wedding.

* * *

Here’s a nice write-up of the sixth episode of QUARRY.

And another on the same subject.

Jon Breen, writing one of his rare EQMM columns, has nice things to say about ROAD TO PERDITION and its sequels as well as the QUARRY novels. Like Ed Gorman, Jon was an early booster of the series and my work.

All about the composer behind the music on QUARRY.

Two music tracks from QUARRY can be heard here.

QUARRY is one of the best new shows of the season, it says here.

More QUARRY praise.

ROAD TO PERDITION is on the list of highest-grossing R-rated comic book adaptations.

Finally, here’s an article about the young director of photography of QUARRY.


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13 Responses to “A Phone Call from Ed”

  1. Bill crider says:

    We won’t see Ed’s like again.

  2. Mike Doran says:

    Ed Gorman – The Most Unforgettable Character I Never Met.

    But you did.

    Consider yourself envied.

  3. Ed Morrissey says:

    Please accept my deepest condolences. Mr. Gorman was a true gentleman.

  4. Brian Drake says:

    If it hadn’t been for Ed Gorman, I wouldn’t have discovered Nate Heller. Somebody, I’ve forgotten who, gave me a copy of the first Black Lizard anthology for Christmas one year, and in the introduction he mentioned your name, and then there was “Scrap” featuring Heller in the middle of the pack. Well, after that, I was hooked. Of course if it also hadn’t been for Ed, I wouldn’t have discovered the Gold Medal writers he wrote about so affectionately, and I grabbed every anthology he published, and that shaped my own writing, getting me away from Fleming and Pendleton pastiche and into real life and the stuff I saw on the streets growing up. I could go on. I didn’t know the man, but his work means a lot to me.

  5. Max Allan Collins says:

    Ed was the best, most widely read writer I’ve ever encountered. He knew mystery fiction inside out, and he shared with me his great love for Mickey Spillane and Rex Stout, among many others. But he also knew science fiction inside out, and he had read all of the classics and literary novels from all sorts of eras, and bestsellers, too. I suspect he was a speed reader, but maybe he was just obsessive. He was film literate, too, though sometimes controversially. He never cared for John Ford, for example, with the exception of THE SEARCHERS. He loved Robert Ryan — his favorite screen actor. My head is as filled with his opinions about popular culture as my own (simplified by our many, many areas of agreement). One area of disagreement: he didn’t like the Beatles but loved the Stones. I always told him he didn’t have to choose.

  6. Fred Blosser says:

    Al, a wonderful tribute. I spoke with Ed about four times on the phone in the MYSTERY SCENE days. For the past few years we kept in touch by email, mostly to commiserate about the sad state of politics and culture in Tea Party America. He had rebounded so many times that I thought he was invincible. I’m sorry he and I never met personally, dammit, although we came close once.

  7. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, Fred. I too thought he was invincible.

  8. Patti Abbott says:

    A lovely piece. Thanks for sharing it and your times with Ed.

  9. Christopher Mills says:

    I worked with Ed on a few things twenty years ago; he was always very good to me and I love his writing. Although we hadn’t spoken in a long time, I still feel a profound sense of loss. Thanks for sharing your reminiscences.

  10. Dennis Lynch says:

    I live in Cedar Rapids, but only got to talk to him once, by phone. I’m involved with the local science fiction convention, ICON. I heard that he had been an SF fan in his youth and used to commute to cons with Roger Ebert. I called to invite him to be a guest at ICON, to talk about his days in fandom. He gently turned me down, saying his interests had changed and that he didn’t do cons any more. That seems to line up with what you said in this nice tribute article.

  11. Lynn Spaight says:

    Thanks for telling such a great story. Ed would always talk about what a great writer you are. We all miss him.

  12. Judy Barnett says:

    Enjoyed reading this. I’m sure many of us who spent a lot of time with Gorman use “Gormanisms” in our daily speech. My adult children (who never met Ed) speak in “Gorman”. He will be missed. He was a wicked fast writer, mercurial, and outrageously audacious. I loved working with him and his copy.

    (Worked with Ed 1976-1981 at an ad agency where he was chief copy writer/producer and I was an art director.)

  13. Jon Breen says:

    Al, this is much the best remembrance of Ed I’ve read. Some really interesting insights about his reclusiveness. If he didn’t really exist, no one could possibly have invented him. The whole world of mystery fiction feels the loss.