LUVERNE, AL –-(Ammoland.com)- Of all the thoughts ever put onto paper, those that acknowledge the passing of a friend must stand as the most difficult to express.
When your career centers on the production of prose, it is expected that your thoughts should be the most eloquently expressed and delivered of all friends and family of the deceased.
When the dear departed was a member of the brotherhood of the pen, a likeminded wordsmith, the challenge to honor him with words can be rather daunting. Nonetheless, as I clear my eyes of tears I will attempt to do my very best to honor a fellow scribe with my modest words.
I met J. Guthrie (James, but no one called him that) in Wyoming several years ago during my first coyote hunt. Despite the calendar reading June, it was cold, damp, and windy as we went about our ‘set-ups’. Anyone who has hunted in the foul weather has likely come to appreciate the experience of a well earned adult beverage upon returning to the lodge, cabin, or base camp.
It was over a few adult beverages that Guthrie and I got to know each other. Although I feel certain J. had bourbon, I cannot testify to it. I, on the other hand, sipped a Johnnie Walker Red, neat. The bar was not well appointed enough to have Walker Black label and sometimes you have to rough it.
Anyone who knew him will attest to the undisputed fact that J. Guthrie was a grand storyteller whether in print or in person. A spinner of yarns and tales, those who only read J’s words cannot appreciate the joy derived from a live performance. J. could captivate an audience and was a welcome addition to any gathering.
With most all meetings of professional writers and gun scribes, eventually the conversation will turn to work related matters. That is to say, it becomes a mutual bitch session about which editors are the best and worst with which to work. Some might call it peer counseling. Whatever name you give it, it’s always good to know you are not alone with your frustrations.
During our discourse, J. let slip that he’d been anonymously reading and editing the work I’d been submitting to a certain publishing house. It seems the publisher had contracted him as an outside source to pick up the work load of their in house staff.
At least two, possibly three, Walker Reds into the evening I asked what the hell gave him the right to judge or edit my work?
To his great credit, J. suppressed an initial urge to go on the defensive and tell me to get bent. For a second or two the upper room of the Elk Mountain Hotel was silent. The few others in the room attempted to become one with the furniture.
Unlike the vast majority of gunwriters, Guthrie was a college educated journalist and he dropped some wisdom on me that I am now sure was gleaned from a journalism professor many years before.
“Even Hemingway had an editor.” J. said firmly and let it sink into my oft thick skull.
The conversation continued and we retired as new friends.
That particular hunting trip to Elk Mountain, Wyoming included a cast of characters and events that would be brought up for years after. J. and I attended other writers’ events and industry gatherings and shared even more adult beverages and stories. We had numerous mutual friends.
A week, perhaps ten days at the most, prior to his untimely death we spoke on the phone for nearly an hour. It’s a cruel irony that one of the topics of our conversation was the death of another friend of ours. We talked about hog hunting and the fact that he’d be missing the NRA Annual Meeting this year, as he already had a hunt booked.
J. liked to joke that he was just a good ol’ boy who spent his time killing God’s creatures and was lucky enough to get paid to write and talk about it.
During what turned out to be our last conversation, I confessed that since our first meeting I had used his Hemingway line numerous times. We laughed and J. commented quite seriously on what a difference a good editor can make to a writer’s work. Recalling that first trip, J. and I fondly reminisced about the nasty weather conditions, the hunt and how a friend of ours was driven from his room by a ghostly apparition.
As I sit in solitude composing this tribute to my good friend, J. Guthrie, I like to think that perhaps he’s up there in Heaven right now talking with Ernest, engaging in peer counseling over the editors they loved and hated. I hope they’ll save a seat for me, and that the bar up there will be well appointed with Johnnie Walker Black.
Paul Markel c 2012
Follow Paul Markel at Student of the Gun.com .