The mystery drawer
I'm not the most organized of people. My idea of cleaning up is to stuff things into boxes and drawers and forget about them. As long as the surfaces are clear, who cares?
The middle drawer on my desk has not been opened for a long time. Years. The reason is simple. It won't open. I have so much stuff jammed in there that it is now impossible to open without first beginning to pull out some of the material that has swollen to monster size. Last night, for no particular reason, I thought maybe I should find out what's in there.
Well, one of the things inside was a single glove. I have no idea why a glove is in there. Same with a stapler and same with a bottle of aspirin and same with a half empty bottle of Pepsi. For the most part the drawer became obstinate because of all the papers I'd crammed in there. I spent two hours going through them.
There's a story from Variety that quotes a producer who'd just won the Academy Award pledging that his next picture would be "Ed Gorman's beautiful novel Moonchasers." Famous last words. There's a letter from an old girl friend who wrote to tell me that she'd finally bought one of my books and that she "enjoyed it but it is the sort of thing most people could write if they put their mind to it." She is apparently not the forgiving sort. There's a fax from my family doctor asking me to call her at five o'clock. As I recall this is when I learned that I'd been diagnosed with my first cancer, thyroid. Then there's the letter from an old friend of mine who was obsessed with this girl in college who would never go out with him. The letter details how, shortly after he turned forty, he finally got the job done when the Chicago group of our class got together for an informal reunion. And much much more.
Most joyously there are an even dozen photographs of my first two grandkids when they were little more than babies. The photos are now on my wall and their beautiful faces are beaming down at me at as I write.
And there are letters from writers. Bill Gault, Steve Marlowe, Richard Prather in one group and Peter Rabe, Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong in another.
The longest letters are from Dorothy. I had written her and asked if she'd be interested in writing a few autobiographical pieces for Mystery Scene. I mean my God think of her career. I didn't hear back from her for some time and then this long letter showed up. She hadn't been familiar with either the magazine or me so she did a little checking out. A friend gave her two issues of MS as well as my novel The Autumn Dead. She liked the magazine very much and then wrote "I try t keep up with new writers. I recently read Lawrence Block (not really new I realize) `When The Sacred Windmill Closes.' It's a new classic. Wonderful. And then I read `The Autumn Dead' and I was really taken with its depth and its compassion and its heartbreak. Both these books show that there's a new turn coming in mystery fiction." I sent her few more. She liked all but one. I remember her saying it was "too cynical for its own good." She told great stories on the phone. My favorite was an incident that had happened the day before I called. Somehow she'd bumped her head and fallen to the floor. Her daughter lived nearby and stopped by. She found her mother on the kitchen floor, blood pooled around her head. Her daughter was naturally frightened. On the phone Dorothy said: "Oh, hell, you kids get so excited about things." The autobiographical pieces she wrote for the magazine were excellent. God I liked Dorothy.
Sweet Charlotte MacLeod and I used to talk all the time on the phone. We were certainly an odd couple, her one of the the leading cozy writers, me still hawking the old Gold Medals. Reading through her letters last night I realized that we rarely agreed on any book, we just liked each other. She always made me laugh. My favorite story of hers was about the time when she went to see the Three Stooges film in Boston. She was seventeen, just down from her tiny home town and enrolled in art school. Her room mate said that the Stooges were filming at the ice rink. They hurried there to see them. Charlotte said that the Stooges swore so much (it was freezing) that she learned more dirty words that morning than she had in her entire life.
This group of Peter Rabe's letters dealt mostly with two novels of his he'd written over the past two years. He wanted my opinion and any ideas I had for marketing them. He'd also run an idea for a new Daniel Port book by me, sort of bringing Port into the eighties. The idea was very very cool. One of the letters references the trip to Cedar Rapids he hoped to make. He'd take the train. He liked the idea of the trip itself. Another reference was to the cough he'd been fighting and his plans to go to the doctor. He would soon find out that he had terminal lung cancer, which was coincidental because less than a month earlier he'd been telling me how good he felt after having given up smoking years earlier. He said he'd had a hell of a time quitting. The end came fast. He went to a laetrile clinic in Mexico, the same thing Steve McQueen tried when he'd run out of options. I talked to him there and he was in great spirits. But when I called back a week or so later I was told he was in LA. They gave me the name of the hospital and I called but when I mentioned Peter's name the nurse's tone changed abruptly and I knew he was dead. I sure wish we'd been able to meet. BTW those two novels of his I'd read. He sent me a quick note days before his death asking me to keep them and try to sell them for him. I sent them to five publishers. I got amazingly good feedback but no sales. Once again Stark House comes to the rescue. Next year they'll be bringing both of them out in a single volume.