Bewildering Stories Remembers Jerry Wright
with Danielle L. Parker and Don Webb
Danielle: I don’t want to write about my friend Jerry Wright in sadness, though I am sad. The last time Jerry and I talked, Jerry had to end the call to take his pain pills. He had emailed me he had cancer not long before. He called after that, and we spent hours talking, until my ear hurt.
And we didn’t talk about cancer. Jerry didn’t want to talk about that. He was a private person and the absolute opposite of anyone who would ever complain, even when he had a burden. He was a bit nervous, I think, when he first started talking, because he was afraid I would bring it up. But I understood completely. In his shoes, I’d have wanted to hear the voice of a friend, but not talk about my illness.
And so we didn’t talk about it. We visited dear friends we held in common: books. And I had such a wonderful time.
Now, I am sure there are fine, intellectual people who feel tremendous affection for, say, Salman Rushdie or James Joyce. I’m not saying Jerry or I haven’t read those and others on the High Literary Pedestal. Though I confess, Rushdie’s bizarre clown was not my thing, and I never tried more of his books.
Instead, Jerry and I invested our hearts in the stories we read when we were younger and more impressionable. And most of the stories were written by the great names in early science fiction. I still feel the thrill of the first Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein books I read.
And Jerry clearly could, too. As well-read in that genre as I consider myself, Jerry had read far more widely. I just couldn’t best the man, though I had fun trying. He recognized all the vintage authors I’d bought from the going-out-of-business sale of the local bookstore. Including the ones I’d never encountered before.
Bewildering Stories was a true labor of love for Jerry. He was proud of the community he and Don had formed. He was proud of the fact BwS had published the first works of many young writers, too. He knew the wonderful feeling that gave them.
Don: I had very much the same experience, Danielle. Jerry was a big, jovial man, an open, friendly sort, and he hated to complain, although he had many reasons to do so.
He was always extending a helping hand to people in need. At one point he drove to Montana to help an incapacitated relative mow his lawn. At least that’s the story I got; I suspected then and still do that there was a lot more to it, but Jerry, typically, would say no more about it than what he’d told me.
When Jerry came for his first visit, several years ago, he arrived on a February night. I greeted him with my trademark red snow shovel in hand. Safely indoors, he marveled to Dana at how much he and I were alike and how much we had in common. He exclaimed, “We’re brothers with different parents.” I replied, “I was just going to say that...”
Danielle: Jerry and I met in person at the 2009 Radcon. This was just after my mother had passed away from her cancer, and I was barely fit to appear in public. Glimpses of other happy mother and daughter pairs sent me in tears to ladies’ rooms. I’d also gained a huge amount of weight from stress, and wore my hair straight as a ruler for once, so I don’t think I looked like myself. But I felt someone give my hair a tug and I turned around, and there was Jerry. He knew me even from the back, though we’d never met in person before. I guess I can say we both instantly recognized each other, though I’d never seen him in the flesh, either.
Jerry was tremendously kind that day. He sat with me at the table, down from Patricia Briggs and beside an ancient John Dalmus, selling my lone book, the first edition of The Infinite Instant (now out of print). Understandably, Briggs and Dalmus were getting all the fans, and only a few potential buyers stopped by. I think I sold one book. I’d have been pretty miserable but for Jerry’s company.
So I guess that’s why Jerry was my friend. Yes, we enjoyed talking books. But Jerry was kind. He was one of the jewels of the world.
Jerry took the time to read every one of my novels, chapter by chapter, as I sent them, even when he was busy with work, family, and travel. He read most of The Nihilistic Mirror on his phone at airports. He even suffered through my first work, a YA fantasy best left in the garage where it is now.
He suffered the four-letter words that occasionally peppered the Minuet James sequel, though Jerry was an old-fashioned man who didn’t care for profanity. He agreed the language was appropriate in the context. Jerry was no prude. He didn’t say much about what he read, but he let me know when something was seriously off. He caught two of the sort of glitches that make a writer wince when a reader points them out. He was good with characters, too.
But really, what mattered most was he read the stories. It wasn’t just Jerry was a friend reading my stories. He was an editor whose judgment I trusted. At a time when I was (and still am) receiving so much indifference to my work, I might have given up writing if not for him.
Don: Your experience reflects in practice the concept of Bewildering Stories as I first proposed it on the Analog forum, eleven years ago. Jerry felt the same as I, and he brought to it the means and knowledge to create the website.
From then on, Jerry ran the machinery and, in Year 2, I began Cyrano’s The Other World. To expedite updates, Jerry gave me site access, and I eventually became in effect the Managing Editor. Jerry had to do a lot of arm-twisting to make me accept the title, but I finally agreed that he was right: “Copy Editor” was misleading, and Jerry was quite happy to let me take on the job.
In that same year, 2004, I climbed the steep learning curve required to modernize the original website’s format. In the process we made a good team and had a lot of fun with what would have otherwise been a daunting task.
At one point he played a practical joke on me with a headache-inducing surrealistic logo. “Hey, Jerry,” I had to say, “we’re ‘Bewildering’ Stories, not ‘Gone Plumb Bonkers Stories’!” He laughed and said it was the sort of thing Spud might have done. And as always, Jerry kept the ship afloat in sometimes stormy technical weather, and I kept the sails full. Between us, BwS could finally go places.
Since then, I’ve tried to maintain the spirit of decency that Jerry infused into BwS from the beginning. For example, when it comes to those famous four-letter words, our policy is that the characters in your novels can cuss a blue streak if you feel they need to; they just can’t use two particular words. I’ve often had to invoke that rule at BwS. And Jerry was right: the result has always been an improvement.
Jerry put his early and current reading to good use by regularly posting book reviews. He kept up a torrid pace at one a week for a long time. As a kind of tribute, I asked Martin Kerharo and Ian Donnell Arbuckle to compile the links for a Reviews page. Thanks to them, the original version went on line in 2004, and it has been updated quarterly ever since. It still carries the notice “Reviews are by Bewildering Stories publisher Jerry Wright unless otherwise noted.”
And, Danielle, your own reviews have, in their own way, kept up the tradition Jerry initiated. What he started and others have furthered has long since become a Reviews page to reckon with as a reference resource.
Jerry’s lifelong dream was Bewildering Press. He wanted it to do for novels in print what Bewildering Stories does for short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Ill health robbed him of that dream.
And illness was not the only thing. A publishing house, no matter how small, is no one-man job. As publisher, Jerry had to field submissions and correspondence, complete the legal paperwork, do the bookkeeping and, most importantly, edit texts and cover art for the print shop, Lightning Source. Those are full-time jobs for at least two people.
Both Jerry and I had full schedules, and he just couldn’t handle it alone. His habitual stoicism and refusal to complain did him a disservice; he was stretched far beyond his limits. He already had a day job as an electrical contractor. Eventually he was recruited for a better position, one that had him flying all over the continent to give workshops on electrical installations in construction.
After he had to spend a night in the Denver airport, I told him he should take a sleeping bag as carry-on luggage. The idea was less far-fetched than it sounds. And one can only cringe to think what all that stress and an airport diet did to his health.
On his last visit to Guelph, when he was giving a workshop in Toronto, he told me he would be starting a position teaching electrical construction at a community college near his home. He was very happy and relieved. But even at the time I could tell Jerry was fatigued. I chalked it up to the strain of travel and work, but now I wonder if he wasn’t already ill and just didn’t know it yet.
Danielle: My father and I visited Jerry in person at his Moses Lake home. He was in pain, could not swallow, and was unsteady with his cane, but he insisted on going out to the local Denny’s with us. He was a scrapper. He gave the cancer fight his best shot, and having been through that with my own mother, I know there is no more terrible solitary battle, with its poisonous chemo, its weakening radiation treatments, and its eventual loss of hope.
But though I will remember his courage, two things I’ll remember most about Jerry: he was a genuinely kind man. And he was fun to talk to. God bless him.
Don: I think that’s already happened, Danielle. Jerry was an inveterate optimist. The opportunities he took were sometimes beyond his ability to fulfill; nobody can do everything. And we never know where things will lead; that’s beyond any individual’s horizon. Rather, Jerry and I knew and adhered to one basic principle: we need each other. And now, eleven years later, we can say he was there when he was needed, right at the beginning.