Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lenny Kleinfeld on Leighton Gage.

Leighton Gage (May 13, 1942--July 27, 2013)

The first good friend I made in college was a guy I met on the film committee, where we booked movies to show at the student union. He was also a projectionist. We were hanging out in the booth one night while he was screening Maltese Falcon. He asked if I'd read the book. When he found out I hadn't read any Hammett, he told me I had to read all of it. And then all of Chandler. A few days later he gave me a collection of the Continental Op stories.

In 2000, when he was in his early 50s, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given three months to live. He went fifteen.

In 2003, when writing my first novel, I named the protagonist after him.

The book failed to sell to the majors. In 2009 it was published by a tiny outfit that mainly sells to libraries. About six months later I got an email from someone named Leighton Gage, who said he was on the  Edgar nominating jury for best first novel. He was outraged he was the only one to vote for my book, and wanted to let me know that, after the awards were announced—he was very scrupulous and fair-minded—he would go online and push the book. He wanted me to know in the meantime the work was appreciated by a fellow author.

What a guy. We began to correspond. Early on I asked if Leighton Gage was a pen name, a pun on Late Engage, because he'd become a novelist later in life. You could hear the chuckling in his response. And it turned out we both loved Portugal, and fado music. Leighton became the best friend I've had that I've never met; we had a digital-Victorian, epistolary relationship. The one Bouchercon I attended was one he missed.

He was of course better than his word. He invited me to blog on MIE, and he posted guest blogs and chat room comments doing everything he could to push a first novel by a complete unknown, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do.

In addition to being floored by Leighton's generosity, I was grateful to have a correspondent so intelligent, so perceptive, so polite, considerate, so in love with his family, so deeply infused with saudade at the memory of the daughter he lost in Lisbon long ago, and just so fundamentally decent, that knowing him, even at a distance, was a seminar in what an adult is supposed to be; a subject at which, at age 64, I'm still grading out at no more than C-. 

And I really enjoyed his novels.

This winter Leighton said he was going to be at a convention in Chicago this summer.  I immediately responded I'd be there no matter what. I was looking forward to taking Leighton and Eide out for an epic dinner. 

He was having trouble with his stomach. The symptoms kept getting worse. His ailment kept getting mis-diagnosed. After too many months, it was finally identified as pancreatic cancer. 

Leighton began chemo. He wrote that he hoped he'd bounce back in time to make it to Chicago. I didn't write back that that wasn't going to happen; even if the chemo worked, it was going to be a heavy version that gives you a thorough poisoning and butt-kicking. But the odds were the treatment wouldn't work; it's a disease that's usually fatal by the time it's advanced enough to be diagnosed.

Yesterday another good friend, a good man, died, hard.  I can't imagine what such a profound loss means to Leighton's family, and to friends who actually got to meet him.

Made me cry. My wife too. 

Lenny––in for Cara on Tuesday

12 comments:

  1. Lenny, some people got an Edgar nomination out of that process, You and I got a friend in Letghton. If you aske me, we won the MUCH. BETTER prize.

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this story. I thought highly of Leighton , mostly from reading his books and from grandchild beauty photo competitions also over the internet. I am deeply saddened and grieve for his family which meant so much to him.

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  3. Leighton was a writer by whom I was lucky enough to be "schooled". The great thing about him was that he didn't act as if he were giving you an education, but simply extending a hand, to connect writer-to-writer. I talk about the lesson Leighton shared; it's become a favorite wrench or pliers in my writer's toolkit. I am deeply saddened that others will miss his influence. It will live on in his books.

    Lenny, thank you for this piece.

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  4. I'm remembering one of the last times I saw Leighton - in Paris. We were at the bistro fronting Gare du Nord, a platter of oysters before us, and he whispered, cool, calm and collected - almost offhand, to me - 'my son-in-law, who's sitting next to you, worked in Intelligence, you might want to bend his ear'.
    I did, thanks to Leighton. A nugget of gold turned into a rich vein - and a book. How I owe him. But that was Leighton, cool, calm and collected on the exterior, warm and passionate for truth and others on the inside. I miss him.

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  5. To All--

    Thank You, and/or You're Welcome, whichever's appropriate to your kind comments.

    Cara--

    Fascinating comment about Leighton's son-in-law.

    The international itinerary of Leighton's previous career made me wonder if the advertising gig was a cover story, and he was CIA. Pouring a couple of bottles of wine into Leighton and asking him about that was a minor one of the many reasons I was so looking forward to finally getting to meet him.

    --Lenny

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  6. Lenny, beautifully written. I did get to meet Leighton and was flabbergasted that, at that meeting, he actually knew who I was as we had only communicated through group forum discussions. His books were beautiful, as was he. I, too, cry for what might have been.
    Kathy

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  7. Lenny, Leighton had a gift for friendship that is far too rare. Reading comments posted since he died, it is extraordinary how many of us, who never had the opportunity to meet him, believed in a relationship that was based on an exchange of ideas and interests. He had an amazing life that ended much too soon.

    We got into a discussion about writers who were not James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark. I had been posting reviews on Amazon, including Leighton's, and he suggested I start a blog. If Leighton thought it was a good idea, I figured I should give it a try. So I started Murder By Type because Leighton believed that every writer deserved a reader and if only one person read the blog and was led to their new favorite author because of it, the blog served its purpose. Leighton thought your book, Lenny, was wonderful and he led me to it. Leighton wanted people to read Shooters & Chasers because he knew we would enjoy it as much as he did,

    Someday, in another life, I will have the opportunity to meet him. In the meantime, I, too, will miss him.

    Beth

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  8. Godammit, Crowley, now I've got another lump in my throat.

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    1. I haven't been able to swallow since he left. What does it say about a man who had such an impact on people who knew him without ever meeting him?

      Perhaps, because his family saw his suffering, they understand that letting him go was a sacrifice they had to make for his sake.

      Beth

      Beth

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  9. Well said, my friend. Leighton greatly admired your work, and this post is a testament to his judgment.

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  10. Beautiful remembrance, Lenny, and Leighton would have gotten a laugh out of the digital-Victorian epistolary relationship. Beautifully described.

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