Saturday, July 5, 2014

Remembering Jory Sherman

Jory Sherman, one of the founding members of Western Fictioneers, author of hundreds of novels, friend of and mentor to countless writers, passed away on June 27.  We asked the members of WF to share some of their memories of Jory.
In February 1985 I went to a writer’s meeting in Branson  Ozark League of Writers because a famous  western writer was speaking. That day I met Jory Sherman and told him I’d written three western short stories and had them published. He handed me the entry form for WWA. Why I could not belong to WWA, but they accepted me and that started my acquaintance with Jory. He was a mentor and a great friend. Through the years that followed I sought him out for questions I had no answers for and he coached me on things I needed. We drank a lot of beer and solved many things. When he won the Spur his friends gathered up quite a lot of money for him to go to Billings—we knew he’d need it same for the Jackson trip.

When I first met him he drove a big mobile RV home and next time I went to see him he took me to lunch in an old beat up station wagon. Feast or famine Jory blazed on. He spent one winter in a fold out camper near Conway Arkansas and I didn’t know why he didn’t freeze to death. His wife told about them living in an abandoned chicken house and she worked in a poultry plant when they first came to the Ozarks.

But no matter where the coin fell he always came heads up. He always had time for his friends and knew many people in the industry—but his blustery ways cost him too. He was still Jory and my friend. I pushed hard for him to get the Wister award. He was truly a legend in the Western Writers and I finally prevailed last year with the help of many others to get him there. I had him and Chet Cunningham together in rollicking session last year. I wish I’d taped it. Oh well, time marches on but Jory left an indelible mark on the western publishing business. -- Dusty Richards
I first became aware of Jory Sherman's work from seeing his name on the Gunn series of Adult Western paperbacks. I read some of them and enjoyed them, as well as reading some of his traditional Westerns and liking them, too. Then in 1986 I attended the Western Writers of America convention held in Fort Worth, just down the road from where I lived. One of the first people I met was Jory Sherman. I believe Joe Lansdale, already an old friend of mine, may have introduced us, but that was nearly thirty years ago so I'm not sure about that part.

I remember the long conversation I had with Jory, though. It seemed like he knew everyone in the business, not just in the Western field. He had been friends with several famous mystery writers and had plenty of stories to tell about them and their books. He knew all the Beat poets from San Francisco in the Fifties and had been one of them. He had written for prestigious hardcover publishers and low-rent, fly-by-night paperback houses and knew seemingly every editor in the business. He had written house-name books that I'd read and enjoyed without knowing who wrote them. He was working on a book even while he was at the convention and had brought one of those newfangled computer gizmos with him so he could send it back to his office a chapter at a time via something called e-mail.

I think it's safe to say that after that conversation, I wanted to be Jory Sherman when I grew up.

Jory and I got together at many conventions after that. I was very pleased for him when he won a Spur Award for one of his novels and thought his acceptance speech was gracious and moving. At one convention I inadvertently said something that annoyed him quite a bit, but he was too big-hearted to stay mad at a dumb kid, so he forgave me and moved on and we remained friends. We lived in the same area for a while, and the last few times I saw him were at book signings, where we had the usual rewarding conversations about the business and life in general.

Jory and I never actually worked together, unless you want to count the fact that I had a hand in editing some of his books that have been reprinted by the Western Fictioneers Library. And I'd hardly call that work, since in the process I got to read some of his excellent early novels that I'd never read before. Over the years he's been an inspiration, an author whose work I always enjoyed reading, and most of all a friend. In all those respects, I'm going to miss him. -- James Reasoner
A few years ago, I was doing some editing for Rebecca Vickery and she assigned me Jory's memoir, BUKOWSKI AND ME about Jory's odd friendship with Charles Bukowski, a "beat" poet of the 60's. As was our way of doing things, I wrote to Jory and told him I would be editing his book before we published it. He wrote me back and told me very nicely that he had never needed an editor; and that, at one particular company where he'd submitted a book, the editor they'd given him wanted to change too many things. He had talked with the editor's superior and the young man had been taken "off his project". Well, that just scared the socks off of me--I didn't know Jory at all, or what kind of person he was. So, I wrote him back and told him I didn't intend to try to change his writing--I was just there to make sure there were periods and commas and so on.

Fast forward to the middle of the book--a scene where, if a person had been there, everything would have made sense as it did in Jory's mind as he put it on paper. But there was a line missing that was crucial to having it make sense to the reader. What should I do? Leave it? Fix it? What? In the end, I highlighted it and explained why. I think there were only 2 or 3 other changes in that entire manuscript--punctuation, nothing more. When he wrote me back, he told me that he had run it by his wife and they both agreed that an extra bit of explanation was needed in that particular section. And he thanked me sincerely for catching it. During our correspondence about that book, I came to know him, and considered him a friend. I'm very thankful to Rebecca for providing me that opportunity. He was a wonderful human being and a consummate wordsmith. -- Cheryl Pierson

It was a privilege to meet and talk with Jory Sherman at the 2013 Western Writers of America conference.  What struck me most about him were his great intellect and his kind demeanor. -- Charlie Steel
I don't have a personal Jory story per se, but I think it's a great tribute to him that the last thing he wrote (or one of the last things) was his chapter for Wolf Creek 12: Stand Proud. Despite being so very ill, he honored his commitment, and finished his chapter. And most appropriately, the book was released only a couple of days before Jory's passing. -- James J. Griffin
Jory Sherman worked on one of my early books and improved it greatly. Through that and the times we spent talking at various WWA conferences, he also encouraged me, it made me a better writer and, I hope, a better person. I have tried to pass on his encouragement to others who are starting out. He will be missed, though I do believe his spirit will be with all of us forever. -- Jack Legg
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. 

I discovered, while reading through old emails while writing that blog, that it was Jory who suggested the name "Western Fictioneers" for our organization.  -- Troy D. Smith
I only met Jory a couple of times. The last time was at a book signing in Fort Worth, where a number of writers gathered around to listen to his stories about his long career. He kindly allowed Western Fictioneers to reprint some of his wonderful novels, including his very first Western, and I was proud to work on them. Jory will be greatly missed by so many. -- Livia J. Washburn
An era passed when Jory Sherman, one of the greatest Western Writers of all time, died. I can say that, because I am a Western writer, so I have enough of an inside perspective to recognize greatness when I see it.

All of my fellow writers who are my facebook friends will validate my comment. There will be many of you who aren’t writers, who may question the bold declaration. You have heard of Zane Grey, you say, and Louis L’Amour, and maybe even Larry MacMurtry….but who is Jory Sherman?

Jory was a man whose talent was the biggest part about him, it was bigger than his business acumen, it was bigger than his success, it was too big to be corralled in genre.

Sometime between fifty, to a hundred years from now, some historian not yet born, is going to do an in-depth study of the classical “American Western.” Westerns, he will say, were windows to the early days of the American frontier. The Western novel’s portrayal of good and evil, of courage and honor, of truth and myth, was the most identifiably American genre in all of literature.

It remains to be seen exactly how his study will be posted. Will there still be books? What type of electronic publishing will be the norm, in the year 2075?

Regardless of how the information will be posted there is no doubt in my mind but that the name Jory Sherman will be there. His writing was unique . . . it could portray the grit and grime of a grimy saloon in a dusty trail town, present characters so real you could smell them, describe gunfights so vividly you wanted to seek cover. And yet, the words, his words, were written with such poetic lyricism that they would not be out of place being presented in a Carnegie Hall reading by someone like James Earl Jones.

I met Jory in the 1980s at a writing seminar in Kansas City, Kansas. The publisher I had been writing for, Pinnacle, had gone under, stranding, and leaving unpaid many of their authors, including me. In this business you are always one contract away from being unemployed…and I was unemployed.

“No problem, Dick,” Jory said. “I can get something for you.” Remember, we had just met.

Less than a week after I went home, Jory called with an offer. That, as they say, was the beginning of a long, and personally rewarding friendship.

Everyone who knew Jory had “Jory stories” to tell. Jory, like just about every writer I know, had what…in aircraft navigation we would call “Compass deflection.” He tended to do things that were sometimes….just off the true track.

Here is an example. Several years ago, I arranged a big book signing to take place at Waldenbooks in Cape Girardeau. I invited 20 writers from all over the country, and of course, Jory, who lived in Branson, Missouri at the time, was one of the first people I invited.
“I’ll be glad to come,” Jory said.

The event took place in February. Two days before the big signing was to take place, we were hit with snow and sleet. But the weatherman promised the bad weather would move out the next day, so those who were flying in, or driving down from St. Louis, should have no trouble, and as it turned out, they didn’t.

But Jory called me that night. He was in Sikeston, so I invited him over for dinner.

“Well, it’s too cold to drive over, right now,” he said.

“Too cold to drive over?”

“I rode my motorcycle over from Branson. I was in sleet and freezing rain, all day.”

“Good Lord, Jory, why did you do that? Why didn’t you come in a car?”

“I thought it would be fun,” Jory said.

There is no doubt in my mind but that, right now, Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Owen Wister, Max Brand, and yes, even Ned Buntline have taken Jory in hand, and are introducing him to Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickock, George A. Custer, and all the other Western heroes who real, or in composite, graced the pages of Jory’s novels. And folks like John Wayne, James Arness, and Gary Cooper have joined the party.

The world has not gotten smaller because Jory died. The world was made larger because he lived.

Jory, my friend….keep a pot of coffee going for those of us who will see you again, some day. -- Robert Vaughan
Sometime back in the 1990’s, a western Ezine called American Western made its appearance. Part of this publication was a message board where huge western fans could chat with their favorite authors. One of these was Jory. Shortly after this Ezine shut down, I received an invitation from RJR to join the Campfire, a small group of authors who appeared regularly in American Western. I was the only non-author at the time. While a member of the Campfire I started writing book reviews of various members books, including Jory. I always sent the author an advance how my review would look. Jory told me I was giving to much of the plot away in his review. I revised that review and after he approved it, I sent it out. Later when I started writing I took a course Jory offered called Help 4 Writers. Once a month we received a short story written by Jory. I still have a few of those that I occasionally refer to. I was honored in 2002 when Jory dedicated his book Sunset Rider to me and sent along a signed copy. When I sold my signed book collection, Jory’s book is one three I kept. Jory was always there to answer  my questions and offer his advice and help. I will never in my life time be the writer that Jory Sherman was. But then, who will? He was a master wordsmith, painting vivid pictures with words that when you closed your eyes, you could vision the scene he was writing. Jory Sherman is, as the saying goes, “A man to ride the river with.”  Les Williams
  I met Jory in 1982 at WWA in Sante Fe. I had been reading his GUNN books and corresponding with him while creating my Gunsmith series. By the time I got to Sante Fe 6 of them had been published.  He was the first person I met when I got there, and while I spotted him from behind I knew it was him immediately. No., I'm not psychic. On the back of his leather belt it said "Jory Sherman."  I spent a little time with he and Charlotte, and met their son Mark.

  I went to every WWA from 1982 to 1991.  In '85 Jory was the host in Branson, Mo.  He picked me up at the airport in his motor home, and together we picked up J.T. Edson and a few other folks at the airport.  I got to know him better in Branson, along with Charlotte, and spent a lot of time drinking beer in his motor home, since at the time Branson was in a dry county. Jory was also generous enough to make sure I was included in some newspaper coverage of the convention that week.

  A few years later I did a panel at a Romance Writers Convention in NY, with Jory and Lou Cameron, who created the Longarm series. Lots of testosterone there.

      I give Jory credit as a friend and as a mentor.  After 1991--after having seen him at WWA 9 years in a row--we saw each other sparingly.  He skipped a convention, I skipped a convention. But a 32 year friendship is a 32 year friendship.  I got to see him a few times over these past few years, and while his health was failing, he was always still Jory. Bigger than life. Maybe a little more mellow.

   Oh yeah, a good piece of advice he once gave me. I had a character named Sherman Jory appear in one of my Gunsmiths. He was a powerful rancher and in one scene he had sex.  Next time I saw Jory he had read the book. He told me he wasn't mad (in fact, he thought it was funny), but in the future if I was going to use somebody in a book as a character I should clear the behavior with the namesake first because if he'd WANTED to he could have SUED me.   

  A 32 year friendship is a 32 year friendship  Now there's just a big hole. -- Robert J. Randisi


  1. Great memories about a great writer.

  2. A beautiful tribute to one of the finest writers.

  3. You can't read this without a tear in your eye. A wonderful telling of the man behind the works we as readers have enjoyed. The man may no longer physically reside with us, but the memories and works will remain long after. Thank all of you for sharing the memories. Doris

  4. Only met him once. Wish it had been more. Love the tributes. Wish there were some way to match what Jory has done, if only in the field of human kindness.

  5. Thanks to all for sharing your memories of Jory. He lives in the hearts of his friends and, therefore, continues to reach those who never met him.

  6. What a lot of great memories here. I'm sure there are many more "Jory stories" out there. If anyone has one, I hope they'll share it here in the comments!

  7. Excellent tribute, he was a writer's writer, a legend and loved how he'd put me into the pages reading his books.