"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jeff Sherratt: A life well lived

I went to a memorial service today for an author friend of mine, Jeff Sherratt. I met Jeff a very few years ago at the Southern California Writer's Conference. He had just had his first Jimmy O'Brien mystery published by Echelon Press. Later that year, my first mystery, Freezer Burn, was picked up by Echelon.

So we had lots to talk about at book festivals and other author events. I used to tease Jeff that he could sell books to a corpse. I was almost not kidding - that man could talk. He was the kind of guy you could just hang with and not worry about running out of conversation. If you didn't have a tale to tell, he had plenty.

I have three stories to tell you about Jeff to show you what kind of man he was.

R to L: Pam Ripling, me, Jeff, Alyssa Montgomery

1. The Ray Bradbury Event. A couple of years ago, I got to not only meet Ray Bradbury, but I gave him an autographed copy of Freezer Burn. I blogged most of the story in this post - however, I left out one part. When Jeff heard that Mr. Bradbury's assistant was going to introduce me to Ray, he ran off and got one of his books to sign and give to Ray. At the time, I thought he was pretty cheeky to horn in on my action, and might have thought, briefly, about hitting him in the head with something to thwart his plan. I had to kind of fight him off just so I could get my picture taken and finish giving Ray my book.

Afterward, Jeff hugged me and apologized, and sounded as ecstatic as I felt. As I processed the scene later, I realized that my friend was having a Fan-Boy moment. He couldn't help himself from jumping in on the fun because, well, this was Ray Freakin' Bradbury. Giddiness overruled any sense of decorum.

How can you stay angry about that?

2. Newport Beach. I've been going to the Southern California Writer's Conference for years now, long enough to have made lots of friends. Still, every time I go, I feel a certain level of excited apprehension as I walk into whatever the venue. I have no explanation, but it's a weird, First Day of School feeling, like I'm not sure if the Cool Kids will laugh at my shoes or welcome me.

Yeah, I'm a nutcase sometimes.

The first year it was at the Hyatt in Newport Beach, I walked through the lobby on my way to check-in with Cricket at Registration. I was a little aflutter, trying to look calm but feeling nervous. There in the lobby, Jeff sat with his friend and editor, Mike Sirota. Jeff saw me, got up with a smile and announced, "There's my girl!" (Of course, a hug followed.)

All my apprehension melted away. Jeff's greeting was like coming home, comfort food, and warm fuzzies all in one. It was the one thing I needed and he was there to provide it.

Jeff doing what he loved best: signing books!

3. The Placentia Library. This past year, I asked Jeff and Michele Scott to be the guests at the Author's Luncheon that is hosted every year by the Placentia Library Friends Foundation. The theme was "Make Mine a Mystery" and I knew they'd both be dynamic speakers.

As the date approached, I was hearing from another author friend that Jeff was in ill health. Uh-oh. I called Jeff and asked how he was.

"Fine, fine, how are you?" he told me.

"I heard you weren't feeling well. Are you going to be okay to come to the luncheon?"

"Oh sure, I'm fine. I can't wait."

We had this conversation more than once. My other friend kept telling me Jeff wasn't well, I kept calling Jeff, and he kept reassuring me. When the date arrived, Jeff came with a portable oxygen kit by his side, along with his wife, Judy. That's when he told me he was on the list for a lung transplant.


Jeff and Michele, in deep discussion no doubt

That was Jeff. You didn't know he was in ill health. You didn't know he had a prosthetic leg. You didn't know he had any disabilities. (I'm typing this now with a headache so bad, I'd like to weep, and I feel bad admitting it. Jeff wouldn't.)

I've said this before, but the best thing I ever heard at a funeral service was a minister who said, "You write your own obituary by the way you live your life." Did I know Jeff well? I never met his daughters or grandkids, or knew where he went to school or everything about his life. But did I know the man? I think maybe I did. Exuberant, generous, curious, optimistic, driven, uncomplaining. He was a man who made me want to stop and ask if I really need to grouse about something, if I can't just write one more chapter, if I've told someone how glad I am to know them. He made me want to at least try to be a better person.

Good-bye, Jeff. I'm sure gonna miss you.

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