Today I found out that Cort McMeel passed away. That he took his own life this weekend. I don’t have all the details and I can’t speak to it as eloquently, or intimately, as his great friend Les Edgerton, who paid tribute to Cort earlier today.
What I will say is that I’ve been corresponding with Cort for the past few years, that my good friend Leah Chamberlain, a classmate and colleague from my days at Cardiff University’s writing MA, put us in touch after being taught by him at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. She had long edited my writing when I was out in the cold, and when she met Cort and worked with him she decided that we had to start a dialogue. Cort read my work and emailed me out of the blue, and he was earnest and passionate and bloody wild in his opinions on what he’d read. He encouraged me to send him more writing and to strike up a back and forth about our work.
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my writing career to have found a handful of mentors and supporters that have helped me grind out the days and get through the darker hours of the night. It started with Al Moritz at University of Toronto, Lindsay Clarke at Cardiff University, and since then I found another mentor in Cort and, just this past year, in Tamas Dobozy. There is something pretty special about connecting with another writer on a serious level. It is extremely rare and it happens in a very intense and immediate way. I still look up to all of those writers I name, and I try my best to mention them whenever I can, and keep them informed about any and all progress I make, because I don’t know that they realize how significant their support was when I was broke and starving and Goddamned lonely. All of those men that I mentioned have said something at one time or another to keep me from putting my head through the wall and to encourage me to keep writing. Cort was among the best of them, and I’ll miss him very much.
Cort was a publisher and editor, responsible for excellent literary journals like Murdaland and Noir Nation. He was a proud father and husband. He was an excellent writer and had his novel, “Short,” published a few years back to wide acclaim. He reached out to mentor me when he had absolutely no other reason than the fact that he liked my writing, and he wanted me to keep at it. He didn’t ask me to read his book and he didn’t brag, but he talked about his plans often. To get into a position to publish and support good authors, young and old, anyone who had some truth to lay out. He told me who to read and to keep on going, to aim ferocious at the truth of things, at real writing, at honest narrative. We got along because I felt the same way, and thought the same things about writing. It’s just that he was a much wiser and smarter man than I, and he knew more by leagues, cared more for literature as a whole than I knew how to. Over the years we knew each other I called the man ‘brother’ in my emails and I felt it in my guts. Cort could see far down the road. And he talked some sense into me at a time when I was awful low and told me to keep going down that road. All the way.
We’d been in close contact over the last year to talk about the novels we were working on. They were both centred around fighters, MMA fighters, and he wanted to swap books and tear each other to shreds until we got to the real meat of things. Cort helped publish a segment of my novel, “Work,” in the inaugural edition of Noir Nation: International Journal of Crime Fiction, and he’d finished reading the full manuscript a little while ago. I’d read the draft of his novel, “Cagefighter,” and was eagerly awaiting the final parts of it. They were very different books and that made it all the more interesting. I know he thought my book too focused on the family aspect and all the sappy stuff and he wanted more of the blood and guts, the fighting, what it really meant. His book focused hard on the mechanics of the fight, on the game, on the real blood and guts of it. I hope to see it published. I hadn’t spoken to Cort on it for a little while, and I guessed he was busy with all the things that life throws at you. I had his book in my hand this week and was going to email him again, but I didn’t.
The last I’d heard from Cort was in later January when he said he’d have notes on my novel very soon. Not long before that he’d sent me a quick message about the book. Again, just at the right time. And just the right thing in his mad, shorthand way. Just to let me know he hadn’t forgot:
Hardcastle–Halfway through…had some shit going on so got delayed…Im freaking really luvin it…more later..but you should be proud…
This meant a hell of a lot to me, I promise you. It sure does right now.
Cort. I regret that I didn’t get to talk to you more about your book, man. Or about anything else at all. I felt your words in my bones when we talked writing and I’ll do my best to keep fighting and get the novel out and keep going. Try to make you proud. You were a great mentor to me when I was taking a lot of punches and I’ll never forget it, brother.
For anyone out there who reads this, please do as Mr. Edgerton asked in his tribute and consider buying a copy of Cort McMeel’s novel “Short.” All of the royalties will go to his wife and kids and you’ll get to better know that man I’m talking about. And he was a great one.
Rest well, Cort.