Chris Waddington, my old editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and now a happier man in his belovcd New Orleans (even though Katrina flooded his house) emailed to tell me that our mutual friend Gatz Hjortsberg died at his home in Livingston after a “short illness” i.e. pancreatic cancer (it’s a bad one; it’s the one that took down Bob Jones after he survived prostate cancer.)
As I said to Chris, our friendship was cordial, but not particularly close. Still, we were part of the same Montana scene and went to the same parties, where Michael Katakis would groan “Oh God, Gatz and Bodio are both here — nobody else will be able to get in a word.” Probably true, and I think they’re all the better for it. He was always known as “Gatz”, never Bill or William, apparently because of a youthful infatuation with the work of Scott Fitzgerald, especially The Great Gatsby. Besides, he wore all those cool hats.
He was utterly intrepid.He was one of Pat’s boys” at Sports Illustrated, and his first assignment was to ride a BULL.He did it, too.
Gatz was undervalued as a writer of books, perhaps because he was a writer of genre books in a literary field. He followed his friend Tom McGuane to Livingston from grad school, because McGuane was the only writer he knew who fished. Among the schools he attended was Stanford, where like McGuane, he was a Stegner Fellow; that is, someone whom Wallace Stegner abused. This was good company to be in; among the other people Stegner called bums, hippies, beatniks, and worthless were Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, and the lesser known but fascinating David Shetzline, who wrote one of the only two good novels I know of about forest fires. Among Gatz’s books were the dark fantasy Alp and the darker sci- fi Gray Matters in the early years, and the Mexican thriller Manana recently. But his best knows was Falling Angel , which was made into a movie starring Mickey Rourke. He also wrote Nevermore where he wrote the following wonderful inscription in my copy:
He also wrote a puzzling biography of “Poor Old Richard” Brautigan, which took him about 14 years and was rejected by its first publisher. In the end it ran to 862 pages, any 100 of which were brilliant. I can’t help but think that Richard’s own words might apply: ” In this world, where there is only a little time to spend, I think I’ve spent enougth time on this butterfly.” *
No matter. Gatz Hjortsberg was a gentleman and a writer, and he will be missed.
*The quote about the butterfly is a close paraphrase. I’m not going to look it up at this hour!