Not a Blog

Words For Our Times

April 23, 2022 at 9:48 am
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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

Farewell to a Friend

January 15, 2022 at 6:01 pm
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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 sad

Three and Seventy

September 20, 2021 at 9:19 am
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I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?


I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

((with thanks to T.S. Eliot))

Current Mood: melancholy melancholy

Farewell to an Ace

August 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm
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I am very saddened to report that we have lost another of our Wild Carders.

I received word yesterday that Steve Perrin, the writer/ creator who gave us Mistral, her father Cyclone, and the ace reporter Digger Downs, died at his home in California.   I am told that he died painlessly in the night, from an atrial fibrillation.

Steve had been part of Wild Cards since the beginning… BEFORE the beginning, actually… though he never actually wrote a story for us until the triptych in our latest volume, JOKER MOON, which just came out.   I am very pleased that he was at least able to see his story in print and hold the book in his hand before he passed away.   But his contributions to the series went way, way beyond that one tale.   Steve was a game designer, a mainstay at Chaosium and other game companies, and was one of the creators responsible for such landmark RPGs as RUNEQUEST and CALL OF CTHULHU.   He was also the writer and designer for SUPERWORLD, the role-playing game that inspired Wild Cards.   Without his game, there would never have been a Wild Cards series.

I first “met” Steve when both of us were in high school (me in New Jersey, him in California), writing amateur superhero stories for the ditto’ed fanzines of the fledgling comics fandom of the 60s.   I met him the same way I met Howard Waldrop  (who was also writing for the same fanzines) — through the mails, and in the lettercols and comments sections.   He was a very prolific writer, turning out far more stories than me and Howard combined, and creating dozens of characters… among them, the very first African-American superhero of the Silver Age, the Black Phantom… who made his debut in a fanzine well before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came up with the Black Panther.

Perrin was also one of the founding members of the SCA, and loved games.   He was a big DIPLOMACY player, as I recall, and later on, with high school and college behind him, he made his career designing and writing role-playing games.   There was none better.  I have no doubt that if he had decided instead to write for Marvel or DC, he would have been just as successful.

I never actually met Steve in person until the worldcon in San Jose in 2002, but we kept in touch, off and on, over the decades.   He was a true ace, and all the gamers out there will miss him, as will our Wild Cards readers, and his fellow members of the WC consortium.

Current Mood: sad sad

Words For Our Times

May 5, 2021 at 6:49 pm
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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

What’s Up, Doc?

April 29, 2021 at 4:26 pm
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Come June, I won’t be able to play cards with Nelson Algren any more, I guess.

I am very pleased and proud to announce that my alma mater, Northwestern University, will be presenting me with an honorary doctorate at this year’s commencement, on June 14.   Here’s the official announcement about the event:

https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2021/04/commencement-gwynne-shotwell/?utm_source=nnow_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=commencement

This year’s commencement will be virtual, so the presentation and my acceptance will be taped.

It is hard to believe that it has been half a century since my own commencement from Northwestern, in 1970.   Where have the years gone?

If I could go back in time and tell 1970 Me that this would happen one day, he would never have believed me.  (On the other hand, 1970 Me believed that one day he would vacation on the Moon, so… he may have written science fiction, but predicting the future was not his strong suit).

 

 

 

Not A Blogging

April 13, 2021 at 4:39 pm
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Way back when on LiveJournal, when I started this column or journal or whatever it is, I called it my “Not A Blog,” because I could see that regular blogging was a lot of work, and I didn’t think I had the time to devote to it.   I was late on a book even then, though I do not recall which one.  I figured I would just make posts from time to time, when I had an important announcement, when the mood struck me, whatever.

Somehow, though, over the decades, the Not A Blog became a blog, and what I had intended as a occasional pleasure and a way to stay in touch with my readers has become a Blog (ironically, at the same time as everyone else was abandoning their blogs for Facebook and Twitter), complete with a sense of obligation.   And when a lot of stuff happens very fast, I fall further and further behind.

I am hugely behind right now, and the prospect of trying to catch up is feeling increasingly oppressive.

My life has become one of extremes these past few months.   Some days I do not know whether to laugh or cry, to shoot off fireworks and dance in the streets or crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.   The good stuff that has been happening to me has been very very very good, the kind of thing that will make a year, or a career.  But the bad stuff that is happening has been very very very bad, and it is hard to cherish the good and feel the joy when the shadows are all around.

If any of you read the stories about me on the internet, you will know my good news.   I have a new five-year deal with HBO, to create new GOT successor shows (and some non-related series, like ROADMARKS) for both HBO and HBO Max.  It’s an incredible deal, an amazing deal, very exciting, and I want to tell you all about it… although it seems the press has already done it.   There are stories in all the trades.   You can read about it there.    (These days I almost never get to break any news about myself, the Hollywood press is always ahead of me.   Some of their stories are even accurate).   I will blog about it, I expect, but not today.

On the other side of the coin… well, I am now fully vaccinated, hurrah hurray, that’s good.   However, I have now lost six friends since November.  (Only a couple to Covid.   Alas, I am old, and so are many of my friends.   Valar morghulis, I guess).   And a seventh friend, a very old and dear friend who has been a huge part of my life for a long time, is in the hospital, very sick, recovering from surgery… at least we hope he is recovering.

Honestly, it is hard to dance in the streets even for the deal of a lifetime when another loved one dies every two/ three weeks, and that has been going on for me since November, when my longtime editor Kay McCauley passed away.

There’s lots more going on as well.   Meow Wolf stuff.   Railroad stuff.   Beastly Books has reopened, but the JCC is still shuttered.   The Jets traded Sam Darnold away.   I am going to be leaving my cabin in a couple of months.    I am close to delivering  PAIRING UP, a brand new Wild Cards book.

I will tell you about some of this, I guess.   But not today.

Current Mood: tired tired

Violence in Turkey

March 28, 2021 at 3:45 pm
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My dear friend Sibel Kekilli — Shae, for all you fans of HBO’s GAME OF THRONES — emailed me recently to alert me to some distressing news out of Turkey.   (Sibel is German, born and raised in Germany, but of Turkish descent).    Turkey, under the Erdogan regime, has officially withdrawn from the Istanbul convention that combats violence against women.

Here are the details:
https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/20/europe/turkey-convention-violence-women-intl/index.html

Sibel herself has first hand knowledge of what it means to experience violence, and she has long been an advocate fighting violence against women all around the world.   She is not only an amazing actress (she gave Shae a depth the character never had in my books), but a very brave woman, and a true hero.   I admire her immensely for all she has done, and continues to do.

And I would like to echo her message to the women and girls of Turkey:   Selam Ve Sevgiler.

Stay strong.

 

 

Current Mood: determined determined

Words For Our Times

March 23, 2021 at 8:12 am
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Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

Good News and Bad

March 8, 2021 at 9:23 am
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I got the first shot of Covid vaccine last week, I am relieved to report.  The Moderna vaccine.   Second shot scheduled for the end of the month.

Parris has also gotten her first shot.

That’s the good news.

And it does seem that we are finally turning the corner on the pandemic.      We are not out of the woods yet, but I am cautiously hopeful.

The bad news, of course, is that I have lost five friends since November.   Not all to Covid, though that was a factor in some of the deaths.   Death is part of life, I know, it waits for all of us, valar morghulis and all that.   Even so, this is too much too soon, and it has been hitting me hard.  I have friends who struggle with depression, but I have never been prone to such myself… at least not the kind of depression that requires medication… but it is hard to stay upbeat and focused when you are suffering so many losses so close together, blow after blow after blow.

Fuck you, Grim Reaper.   Stick that scythe up your arse and leave my loved ones alone.

Meanwhile, I do my best to lose myself in work.

 

 

Current Mood: angry angry