Jim Crumley died this week and those of us who place value on literature suffered a great loss. I can say that I knew Jim, but I can’t say that I knew him well enough to know whether or not he would remember me. He was my instructor in a course of Detective Fiction at the Yellow Bay Writers’ Conference on the shores of Flathead Lake in Montana in 1990. I was and remain a devoted fan and would-be writer of the hard-boiled detective genre. Jim was a master of that genre and the degree of his accomplishment place in the first ranks of great American writers. I’m not saying anything new, but “The Last Good Kiss” may be the last good American novel.
I drank with Jim and Bill Kittredge, who had known Jim forever it seemed, and Martha Elizabeth, who I think had met Jim pretty recently, and most of the rest of our class and the woman who became my wife, all of whom were meeting Jim for the first time. But, I remember, accurately or not, that it seemed as if Jim had known each of us all equally long. I suppose that quality was in large part what made him a great writer.
We talked. We talked about a lot of things: writing, of course, books, naturally, drinking, obviously, ourselves, what else. And we drank. One night, we heard a line that if it had been written would have probably been edited out as improbable nonsense: “There’s no more beer.” There wasn’t. We had drained every last drop at the conference center. And so we did the only logical, but not necessarily the most sensible, thing. We all piled into cars and drove up the road to the Sitting Duck, where the talking and drinking continued. Yes, we were living one of Jim's books.
I was falling in love with a woman who’d come to the conference. But was falling in love in the messy, emotion riddled way I (and many others, but I’m not them) did. In addition to advice on writing and sharing stories about a bar near Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, where I had grown up, and Jim had an ex-wife and kids, Jim and Martha gave me advice on the immediate affair of my heart. They knew what they were about and, maybe, I was a good student. I pursued her after we got back to the City and now we’ve been married for going on 15 years. It’s a good thing Carrie doesn’t know anything about Milo or Sughrue, because our life together too many times seems to be an episode from one of their cases. Or maybe, she does know, and just lets me fool myself into thinking she doesn’t. However that may be, much of my life came about because I went to a writers’ conference and was taught by Jim Crumley. Here’s to you, my friend.
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