We’re heartbroken to learn today of the death of G.M. Ford. Jerry died on December 1st according to his partner-in-crime Kathleen Skye Moody. We know he was born on July 9, 1945 in Everett, MA. At this time, we do not know where he was living when he died, or the cause. He was 76.
Jerry was an early customer of the shop. He and his dear friend Arnie would stop in on weekends to chat, chew the fat, buy some books and complain about the quality of the books he’d been reading. He’s laughingly say that he could write a better book, and Bill would say sure, sure, Jerry, sure you could. He would threaten to do it and Bill promised to give him his first signing if he got it published.
Pretty soon, he’d say that he was writing one, then that it was finished, then that he had an agent and the agent had sold it. We were left to swallow and hope it was good. Son of a gun – it was.
That was Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?, and, of course, Bill and Tammy and I loved it. Just like Jerry, it was funny and smart and one-of-a-kind. The release date was set for May 1995. We were thrilled to set up a signing. But then an odd thing popped up. When Bill saw the publisher’s proposed dust jacket, he frowned at it said something to the effect that a brown paper bag would be better. Bill, you see, being an old bookman, had clear thoughts about book promotion… And lead us to the idea of making our own dust jacket to celebrate the book and the premiere signing.
It took off with a life of it’s own. 200 numbered, signed and dated copies, dated and signed on the date listed on the dust jacket. We weren’t sure how it was going to work but, boy did it. We found ourselves doing something similar for the next seven books – the next five Leo Watermans, and the first two Frank Corsos. It was a big production and great fun. Jerry admitted that he was in no way a collector but I think he was bemused and gratified that so many fans, from across the country, demanded to have the same number of their limited editions, year after year.
If you don’t live in the Puget Sound area, you may not get the joke of the first book’s title. One of “The Boys”, the drunks that acted like Leo’s Baker Street Irregulars, asked that question in the book, taking the waterway for a woman’s name. His second book also had ties to another geographic spot, Concrete, WA. Jerry didn’t want to get locked into a title gimmick that he would regret so he stepped it sideways. Instead of original, Set in Concrete, he used Cast in Stone.
There came a time when he grew tired of battling his publisher over titles. He wanted to call his third Leo The Pigeon Shit Shuffle. Strangely, his publisher declined to use it. We did. His fourth book, his homage to Nero Wolfe, was to be A Steak in the Action, but the publisher wanted something shorter and punchier, so it became Slow Burn (not for our dj). For the fifth, he refused to give it a title and allowed them to pick one. We used his working title, Whatever #5.
By 2006, Jerry had seemed to have retired Leo Waterman, and he left Frank Corso in Blown Away in 2006, pleading for help with a bomb wired around his neck (Jerry was gleeful at the ending, happy to have used that odd, true 2003 crime that was at that time unsolved but that he remembered!) After that, he began writing stand-alone thrillers and then began publishing through SPECTRE (Amazon) as so many local authors were doing. We explained to him that we couldn’t sell books from them and I think he felt we’d turned our backs on him. The last signing we had with him was in 2008.
He would still drop in to chat. He’d find a reason to come down to Bakeman’s for lunch and spend some time with us. And then, when we were occupied with customers, he’d wander out, often without saying goodbye. It always felt as if we’d see him again sometime. Until we didn’t.
We’re not ones to bring religion into the shop but, if there is an afterlife, a heaven, we’re heartened to think he’s there swapping stories with John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout (two of his favorites). And we hope that he’s wandered into that Big Bookshop in the sky to say hello to Bill Farley, a man Jerry dedicated Black River to as “master of all things mysterious and bookseller extraordinaire”.
Gerald Manson Ford.
Thanks, Jerry. It was wonderful!