My mom called the other day to give me a piece of bad news. Johnny Quarles died early Sunday morning.
You likely haven’t heard of Johnny. He published his first novel, Brack, in the late 1980s. I went to his first booksigning and was wowed by the line of people snaking around inside Enid’s Oakwood Mall, waiting to get his signature. I was in my early 20s at the time and that made a big impression. A few weeks later, depressed and needing some advice, I looked in the phone book and found that Johnny’s number was listed, so I called him.
He had no idea who I was, but that didn’t matter. I was another writer in a place he’d been not long before, and that was enough. We had a good, long conversation on the phone, then he invited me to his house. I recall pulling into the driveway and seeing his truck with the personalized license plate that said BRACK. His wife, Wendy, was very gracious about having a strange kid in her house and left us to talk that time. On later visits she’d sometimes join us.
I once got to sit down with Johnny, in his house, and do a very long interview for the newsletter of a writers’ club I belonged to after moving to Oklahoma City.
He gave me a recommendation to his agent, and the phone number of his publisher at Berkley Books. Neither panned out for me; I wasn’t ready for that. But Johnny belived in me. That first time I called him and told him I’d written a book, he interrupted me and asked, “Have you started another one?” I told him I had, and he told me that made me a real writer.
Johnny published seven novels in the traditional manner. Brack, Varro, Fool’s Gold, No Man’s Land, The Spirit Trail, Shadow of the Gun, and Treachery. He became pretty disillusioned with the publication of Shadow of the Gun because the publisher changed his preferred title — The Gunny — and used a cover he didn’t like. Treachery felt like he was just going through the motions of fulfilling a contract, and after that he quit writing for print publication. He published some other titles as audio book and, as the above article says, wrote for TV. Most of what he wrote was in the Western genre, but it’s good writing. Too often books written for the “men’s market” suffer from poor writing, but that was never the case with Johnny. I’d read his novels over Louis L’Amour any day.
Sadly, most of Johnny’s novels are out of print. If, however, you happen to run across one in a yard sale or used bookstore, you’d be doing yourself a favor to pick it up and give it a read. He was a fine man and a damn good writer. I’m really sorry I fell out of touch with him over the past decade or so.