Many people from Bridgeport, Connecticut, (the state’s largest city) have known John Gilmore for years, especially people in law enforcement and politics. At his calling hours I recognized a former mayor and a former state senator as well as a successful writer among his mourners. I had only known him for about seven years, though I first encountered him about twelve or fifteen years ago.
For close to twenty years I have been a judge of the Literary Contest at the annual Trumbull Arts Festival in nearby Trumbull, bordering Bridgeport on the north. The writing is usually competitive and the prizes are fairly decent. Indeed, hardly anyone gets paid for poetry any more, and few get paid for short stories. Trumbull’s prizes and publication in its annual Pen Works collection is pretty positive for writers nowadays.
Because I teach high school English, I usually judge one of the high school categories, but one year I judged adult fiction. I may have been assigned that category because one of my children had submitted something that year in the high school fiction category.
Of course, the entries are anonymous, but one short story in the group I had really stood out. Looking back, it was probably one of the best ever submitted to the arts festival. The author was John Gilmore. He would win prizes in other years as well. One of his prize winners, “The Jordnaeros,” is available on Amazon.
I got to know him when I joined my wife in nonfiction writers’ group at the Trumbull Library led by author Charles Slack. Charlie, a former reporter, has actually made a living as a freelance writer. I was active in that group for three years until I got too busy with work to keep up with it. John was one of the best contributors to the group, but probably missed one out of three meetings because he was working late or out of town.
John’s book Cocaineros Duel came out four years ago. He had shared many of the chapters with the group, and my wife and I both got a kick out of reading the final product. The main character in the novel has Bridgeport roots but has relocated to Belize to get away, except that his problems follow him south.
A woman is murdered. He is a suspect because the murdered woman has stolen the identity of an ex-girlfriend of his. The story involves the FBI, the Belize Army, the CIA, and drug dealers. John said that it was loosely based on a Bridgeport figure who got involved in some rackets in Central America. There might have been at least a little of John McAfee in it as well.
I had the privilege of reading a draft of John’s latest book. It did not have a title. I called it “Murder in the Circus City” to myself. As much as I like Cocaineros, the second novel was better. It involved such an interesting and varied cast that only someone like Gilmore could bring them together in a story.
There was the highly educated and ambitious museum curator. (The murder takes place in Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum by its most famous display). There was the Gold Coast millionaire with his powerful connections. (If you don’t know Connecticut’s Gold Coast, I am sure Wikipedia mentions it somewhere). There was the millionaire’s now-aging trophy wife—it seems as though wife #1 died in Europe under mysterious circumstances.
There are people in the horsey set. Another group devotes itself to the study of P. T. Barnum. (The circus impresario served as mayor of Bridgeport among other things). There is a young man struggling with mental health problems who is staying at a homeless shelter. Another character is loosely affiliated with motorcycle gangs. There is a very territorial police chief who has his own private police force. Some of the action takes place at a gin mill known to locals but not outsiders. And there is the mayor and his chief political advisor.
The main character is the same one who starred in Cocaineros Duel. He is back in Bridgeport trying to revive his detective business and at least trying to make peace with his mother-in-law who blames him for her daughter’s death.
There is also a subset of characters in rural Vermont where some of the action takes place. Gilmore got this part right, too. My mother’s family is from Vermont, my parents are now buried there, and over the years I have spent a lot of time there. He knows whereof he writes.
Of course, he got Bridgeport just fine. I have lived in the area for thirty years and married into a large Bridgeport family. John Gilmore is one person who not only knew all such people but could bring them together.
Other readers who live outside Fairfield County, Connecticut, will get a kick out of his story as well. Many people can visualize once-prosperous industrial cities that have seen better days. The action in a couple of chapters happens on Interstate 95. Even people who have only passed through Connecticut on the way to Boston or New York can probably visualize that complex of highways that pass through Bridgeport.
I hope his heirs make an effort to get this story published.
Since I have been blogging, I have only had one other In Memoriam posting, and that was a brief one for Tom Clancy. Clancy, of course, wrote about twenty novels over thirty years and had become an industry with films, video games, co-authored nonfiction, and other products with his name.
John J. Gilmore was more like the rest of us. He worked hard to make a living and to discover the truth in his job as a journalist. He retired for a year to relieve stress, and then worked in public relations and was kept very busy with that.
I know he had other stories in mind. Maybe if he had lived in good health for another twenty years, he could have become Connecticut’s Michael Connelly. We will never know.
This is a sobering thought to me. John was about my age. I, too, have worked most of my life since I was eleven. I would like to write more, but I still have to pay the taxes and keep the house warm. Will I ever have the chance to write everything I would like to? Or see the things I have already written picked up by commercial publishers?
In the 1980s someone conducted a study to determine the occupations with the highest and lowest stress. My chosen occupation, which I love and which keeps bread on the table, was second only to air traffic controller for stress. I suspect that John’s health problems were largely stress-related. John, I get it. Is there a place for people like us who want to write but have other priorities?
Alas I reminded of the Scripture:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit?” Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15 NKJV)
John, we did know you as a reporter, one who dug deep, guarded his sources, and could be trusted. But those other stories that you were already narrating in your brain? Johnny, we hardly knew ye.
P.S. The title slug names him as John J. Gilmore with his middle initial. That is the name he wrote under so that no one would confuse him with the noir nonfiction writer (e.g. The Black Dahlia) with the same name.