Leighton Gage, a Personal Remembrance

At Bouchercon in Indianapolis in 2009, Leighton Gage moderated a panel called Murder at the Edge of the Map. The other writers on the dais included Yrsa and Stan. Since my first novel, out just a month, was set not only far away, but long ago, I was anxious to hear what other, more experienced writers had to say on the subject of stories set in exotic locations. The meeting room was packed with people.

Leighton showed the audience a bracelet he wore, made by a Brazilian Indians, that was a charm to boost one’s creativity. I remember wishing I had such a thing, but I was too shy to introduce myself to Leighton, much less ask him where I could get one. Had I been more courageous, I have no doubt he would have sent me one, if not taken his off and given it to me on the spot. That was the kind of man he was: generous, giving, helpful, encouraging. But I did not know that yet.

Several months later, out of the blue, an email from Leighton arrived in my inbox. He had searched me out to tell me that he had read City of Silver as part of his service on the Edgar Awards jury for best first novel. He had been disappointed that the book had not garnered a nomination, and he was talking it up on internet chat rooms because he knew how difficult it is to get a good book noticed. He invited me to Murder is Everywhere to do a guest post. He stayed in touch, always encouraging, open, warm, and charming.

Then, one day, we found we would both be in Italy at the same time. He came with his friend Jes to visit me in Florence. We had two days to eat good food, drink good wine, and talk writing, books, the biz, life. In those days, Leighton learned of my husband’s Alzheimer’s disease. One of the things I confessed to him was that my weekends were lonely, when I was caring for David on my own and when the love of my life could no longer be a companion. After that, on Fridays Leighton would write me an email posing a subject for discussion, usually one having to do with writing fiction. Then, through the weekend, he would keep me company in long written conversations.

In the past few days, with comments here on Murder is Everywhere and on Facebook, it has become clear how many people Leighton befriended in just such ways. It’s impossible to fathom how he had the time to do all that while being a loving husband and father AND writing such wonderful books—one every year.

The people Leighton gathered around him are themselves a warm, welcoming, affectionate bunch. They are generous and bring out the best in one another. They are different from Leighton and from each other in many ways, but not in all the virtues one would desire in a colleague and friend. He brought out in others what was wonderful in himself. It seems a magic trick, but he performed it. Then he gave us one another.

My gratitude and love and admiration are Leighton’s forever.

Annamaria Alfieri