Friday, July 4, 2014

Remembering Jory Sherman

Troy D. Smith

Last Saturday evening I arrived at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to visit my daughter and her family for a few days. Within minutes of checking into my hotel, I received some bad news- my friend Jory Sherman had passed from this mortal coil. It did not come as a surprise- Jory had been wrestling with serious health issues for years, and just a few days earlier his son had announced Jory was refusing to take anymore treatments and was just coming home to spend the time he had remaining him with his family. Nonetheless, I was struck hard by the news; I thought the world of Jory.

He was such a fascinating guy. Not only was he a novelist (and Pulitzer nominee), he was also an accomplished artist and poet. It showed in his work, too; every piece of prose he did was also a painting, also a poem, all at once. I loved his stories, it seemed that in his career he had known virtually everybody. Of particular interest was his long friendship with the poet Charles Bukowski- beginning in the 1950s at the height of the beat poetry movement in San Francisco. Jory wrote a memoir about that friendship that I highly recommend:

In the late 1990s I was just getting started as a writer in the western genre, having been at it then for four or five years. There was an online magazine edited by Taylor Fogerty called American Western that published several of my short stories and poems, and gave me some much-welcome attention when I was first nominated for a Spur in 1998. Taylor had a sort of message board, where western fans could actually interact with some of their favorite authors; I was technically in the latter category, but I was a star-struck fan when I got to actually communicate with so many people whose work I had loved for years, including Jory Sherman. The friendship between the authors who participated in that little venture outlived the online magazine itself, and morphed into an informal group of writers that we called The Campfire, who were in near-constant communication with one another about writing, the genre, and just life in general, and continued to do so for years. We started as about ten or twelve writers who'd been featured regularly at American Western, and our number gradually doubled. Eventually, in 2010, The Campfire was the nucleus for the formation of a new writers' organization, Western Fictioneers. Jory played a large role in the discussions that arose in planning that organization (which has, since then, become quite a success.) In fact, in an email on March 23, 2010, Jory recommended the name "Western Fictioneers" (and, in a reply, Bob Randisi -who had suggested forming the organization -recommended we call our award "The Peacemaker.") In the last couple of years Jory has received the lifetime achievement award from both Western Fictioneers and Western Writers of America.

That group of writers known as The Campfire has been a unique group. Many of its members knew one another personally through membership in WWA, but many did not. (We lost another original member of that group, Ellen Recknor, in February of this year.) I have met most of those original Campfiristas (as we called ourselves) "in the flesh" in the intervening years...but I never have been in Jory Sherman's physical presence. Nonetheless, he and several others I have not actually met "IRL" have for years been on my list of close personal friends. I have one story in particular about Jory that demonstrates what kind of person he was, and why he has meant so much to me (aside from the fact that I love his work.)

About ten years ago I was going through a very painful divorce. Among the various things I lost (and by no means at the top of the list) was my computer. I was struggling to provide for my then 12-yr-old daughter and myself, and times were very hard. The only way I could even check my email was at the public library. Jory asked why I had been so scarce lately, and I told him my situation. I few days later I got a package. He had sent me a laptop and a printer, and a message that said "There go your excuses, now get to work." He refused to let me pay him for the stuff when I had the money later, and refused to let me return them. He insisted that, instead, I give them to some needy writer who needed them, which is what I did. He also sent a copy of his newest book- I have several autographed and inscribed Jory Sherman books, but that one has a special place on my shelf and in my heart.

I used that laptop to write my blues mystery novel Cross Road Blues.

Only a few days before Jory passed on, I had finished editing his chapter in our most recent Wolf Creek book STAND PROUD...I wrote the final chapter, and had his character Roman Hatchett and mine, Seminole scout Charley Blackfeather, share a quiet moment after the climactic shootout to talk about courage and the importance of having a big heart and trying to make the world a better place. Because Jory had those things, and imparted them to you by the osmosis of his words, and the world is a better place for having held him.

I will close with a link to Jory's blog, and an especially evocative piece...


  1. A great talent has passed but leaves behind a legacy of work and friends that will remain for a long time. Thank you for sharing your story. Doris

  2. A wonderful tribute to an incredibly generous man, and I'm glad he was able to end his days as he chose to. I also had no idea that he had a connection with Bukowski.

  3. Troy, you know my reaction when I read Jory's chapter in Stand Pround. It's beautiful and emotional, and at the same time, full of action. A work of art. Your tribute to him is also beautiful. It seems as if he evoked the best from his friends--and he had a lot of friends.

  4. A fine tribute to a great writer.