I have been struggling with this post for ten days now. The words come hard. Sometimes, no matter what you say, it does not seem enough. How do you sum up a man’s life in just a few paragraphs? How do you do justice to forty years of friendship?
John Miller died last week at his home in Albuquerque. John had been in ill health for some years, but even so, his sudden passing in the night was a shock to all of us who knew him. I had spoken to him just a few days prior, and seen him as recently as November at the signing party for the Tor reissue of his Wild Cards novel, DEATH DRAWS FIVE, at Beastly Books. He was the same old John, a little grumpy, not feeling his best, but always good to talk with. One of the other Wild Carders was in town and we were throwing a party, and I had called John to invite him up… but he did not feel well enough to make the hour long drive to Santa Fe. He even said he might have to give up driving entirely. We joked about how I might have to drive down to his place to see him henceforth, and talked about me coming down to grab a dinner after things calmed down a little.
A day later, he was gone. He is survived by his wife, Gail Gerstner Miller, by all of his fellow members of the Wild Cards consortium, and by a large circle of friends here in New Mexico.
Most of you reading this probably knew John best for his work on Wild Cards, where he wrote as both John J. Miller (in the early days) and John Jos. Miller (later on). ((Ah, that name, that byline… John Miller is such a common name, e John was constantly being confused with other John Millers, to his vast annoyance. When he wrote comics, he was confused with John Jackson Miller, another comic writer. Amazon mashed his own books together with those of another John J. Miller, a right wing journalist for the NATIONAL REVIEW. He replaced the J with Jos. when that happened, but even that did not help. I must have urged him to adopt a more distinctive pseudonym a hundred times, but he was a stubborn guy, and his name was his name, so… ))
John… our John, not those other guys… was one of the original Wild Carders, the founding fathers (and mothers) wh0 were with us from the start, and right through to the end. His was the last story in the first book. In a world full of aces and jokers, he went his own way, and made a nat his viewpoint character: Yeoman, the yen archer, a hard-as-nails Vietnam vet seeking revenge on the crime lord who killed his wife. John had originally created the character for SuperWorld, the RPG game that preceded and inspired Wild Cards, but Brennan made the leap from game to page smoothly, and became one of our mainstays in those early volumes.
Yeoman was by no means the only character John created for the series. Aces, jokers, deuces, nats… he contributed as much to the series as any other writer. Chrysalis, the information broker with the transparent skin, our first iconic joker character. Wraith, librarian and jewel thief. SCARE agents Lady Black and Chrysalis (Billy Ray). Mother and her children. Father Squid was his, along with the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker. A hardcore baseball fan, he kept the Dodgers in Brooklyn by having Walter O’Malley draw a black queen and melt into a pile of sludge. He also short circuited the Cuban revolution by giving Fidel a better curveball, so he became a Hall of Fame major league pitcher instead of a revolutionary. Later down the road, he gave us the Midnight Angel and her flaming sword, and John Nighthawk, born a slave, the oldest man in the Wild Cards universe. There were more… so many more… John loved the world and its characters, and his creativity was boundless. John probably created more characters and wrote more stories than any of the other forty+ writers who have contributed to Wild Cards over the decades, and gave us so many memorable moments. His credits included one-and-a-half Wild Cards novels: DEATH DRAWS FIVE, a solo novel reissued by Tor this November, and DEAD MAN’S HAND, a collaboration with yours truly wherein Yeoman crossed paths with my own character Popinjay to solve a murder.
Wild Cards was by no means the only thing he wrote. He published a number of short stories over the decades, and wrote half a dozen work-for-hire books for a variety of franchises, among them Buck Rogers, Dinosaur Samurai, and Witchblade. He wrote comics and graphic novels as well, including adaptations of some of my own stories.
John had the worst luck of any writer I have known, though. His first sale, to FANTASTIC, came out in the final issue; the magazine folded after publishing it. So did Kitchen Sink Press, later on. And iBooks, which published John’s novel DEATH DRAWS FIVE a week before they went bankrupt. Only six hundred copies ever managed to make it to market. And then there was the time another publisher sent the advance for John’s novel to another John Miller, who cashed the check. The mistake was theirs entirely, and the other John Miller lived in Indiana rather than New Mexico, but it still took our John half a year to get paid. (Giving birth to the saying familiar to all Wild Carders: “Don’t buy the couch.” For the past decade or so, he was writing an original novel all his own, a period horror/ SF tale called BLACK TRAIN COMING. He never finished it, though he had been laboring on that one even longer than I’ve been working on THE WINDS OF WINTER. His declining health the past few years slowed him down considerably, sad to say.
Still, for all the setbacks and struggles and frustrations, John persisted. He was a writer, and that’s what a writer does.
John and his wife Gail were two of the first friends I made when I moved to New Mexico at the end of 1979. They were part of a gaming group that met weekly in Albuquerque, an amazing, creative, half-mad gang whose numbers included Walter Jon Williams, Jim Moore, Victor Milan, Chip Wideman, and Melinda Snodgrass. Parris and I were welcomed into their fellowship, and soon found ourselves addicted to role-playing, staying up to dawn at John’s house or Melinda’s to play MORROW PROJECT, PARANOIA, GURPS, CALL OF CTHULHU, and… eventually… SUPERWORLD, with me as gamemaster. Thence came Wild Cards, and days that shall live in infamy. Dr. Tachyon, the Great and Powerful Turtle, Fortunato, Peregrine, Modular Man, Golden Boy…
There is so much I could say about John.
He was born in upstate New York, and worked on a rat farm.
When he was younger, he was an athlete. Softball, racketball, handball. And he loved baseball with a passion. The Brooklyn Dodgers till they moved away, then the Mets. I am a Mets fan too. We had that in common, and we’ll always have 1969 and 1986.
(Every writer has stories they never get around to writing. John had one such. On his way up, Babe Ruth played briefly for a minor league team in Providence, Rhode Island. John had this great idea for a story called “Howard and George,” wherein Babe meets H.P. Lovecraft on the streets of Providence, and both men’s lives are changed profoundly by the meeting. It could have been such a wonderful story, and John talked it about often, but never got around to writing it. Breaks my heart. I wanted to read that story).
He was a collector. Books, comic books, baseball cards.
He and Gail loved animals. They had tropical fish, poison arrow frogs, lizards… and dogs, and cats, and dogs, and cats. So many dogs and cats. John was a big guy and could sometimes seem gruff, but he had a soft heart where animals were concerned. He refused to watch movies or TV shows where an animal was killed. And whenever a cat needed a home — as Vic Milan’s did after his death — John was always there to take them in.
He served two years as secretary of SFWA. One of the better secretaries SFWA ever had.
He wept when Roger Zelazny died.
He loved bad movies. He and Gail used to have Bad Movie Night at their house once a week. They introduced me to some truly terrible films, the kind that are so bad they are hilarious.
He was an expert on baseball’s Negro League, its history and players. His last published story features Satchel Paige.
His academic background was in archeology, he went on many digs, but he gave up a promising career as an archeologist to write science fiction.
He loved rock music, especially the Grateful Dead. Gail and John joined Parris and me twice for Dead concerts down in Mexico, trips we will never forget.
Whenever I had a barbeque in the back yard, John would turn up with a big crockpot of his famous baked beans, best I ever had.
And… and… and… there is so much more. Memories. Stories.
It really has not sunk in yet. Part of me does not really believe he’s gone. Part of me still thinks that if I picked up the phone and dialed his number, he’d answer. Then I could drive down to Albuquerque and we could go out for Mexican food and a bad movie.
John was one of the good ones. A good writer, a good guy, a good friend.
Wild Cards, and the world, will not be the same without him.
Current Mood: sad