I’m often asked who my favorite writers are. This has always been a difficult question for me to answer because I tend to think in terms of favorite works, rather than favorite writers. For most of my life, I was an avid science fiction reader. Unquestionably, my favorite sci-fi book was Frank Herbert’s Dune. In fact, the first three books of that series were my favorites. But outside of the universe of Dune, I didn’t really care for any other of Herbert’s work. There were some, though, whose works were almost all enjoyable to me. Robert A. Heinlein was one such author. As an actual writer, it’s easy to point out flaws common to most of his works, but he always entertained and his books were all page-turners. Outside of that genre, Tom Robbins is another favorite, though if I’m honest, I really have to limit that to his first five novels.
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I’d meet any of my writing “heroes” in my life. Herbert and Heinlein were both long dead before I was ever published. I suppose I might one day meet Robbins, though it would be easier if I lived in Seattle. Then again, he’s not exactly a young man, anymore, so it’s increasingly unlikely that our paths will cross. And let’s face it, writers in general aren’t exactly gregarious creatures. They’re not the easiest people to meet.
But sometimes, life tosses you some coincidence. In 2005, I was attending the annual awards banquet of Northern California Publishers and Authors. The speaker at the banquet was Persia Woolley. I knew her name, though I’d never read her work. But I almost had.
In my early twenties, I went through a period of being very into Arthurian legend. And one day, at a bookstore, I was deciding between Persia’s Guinevere trilogy and two books by Parke Godwin. In the end, I chose the latter, Firelord and Beloved Exile.
I knew Persia and Parke were friends, as Parke thanked Persia in the acknowledgments of one of his books. And as luck would have it, after giving her talk at the banquet, she sat next to me at my table. We struck up a conversation (she’s a warm and lovely lady) and I happened to mention my fondness for Godwin’s books. (Firelord, by the way, would be my favorite non-science fiction novel.) My novel, One Nation Under God, won several awards in that year’s contest and I gave Persia a copy of it before the event ended.
To my shock, a few months later, I received an email saying, “I’m about a quarter of the way into One Nation. This is one hell of a book.” The email was from Parke Godwin. Persia had given him the book.
Obviously, I was stunned that the author of so many books I loved, including one of my all-time favorites, was really enjoying my work. Naturally, I replied almost immediately.
We exchanged a number of emails and, eventually, met in person. Turns out he lived only about 40 miles from me. Over the next couple years, I drove up to visit several times, Persia joining us on a couple occasions. And throughout, we emailed frequently.
As you’d expect, we talked about his work a lot. I told him that Firelord was one of my favorite books of all time, and was stunned to learn that it wasn’t even a book he wanted to write. His publisher told him they wanted a King Arthur book, as they were currently “hot.” He told them he didn’t want to write a King Arthur book. But he did it, anyway. So the book I held so dear was, amazingly, not something that came from his heart.
Parke – or, Pete, as he preferred to be called – was a courteous and entertaining fellow, with a streak of wild Irishman, and I greatly enjoyed our talks. Persia told me once that Pete really enjoyed my visits, too, which pleased me, of course.
Neither of us were truly at our best during the time we were acquainted. I was in a creative rut and dealing with moderately severe depression. Pete helped me with encouragement and compliments on my work. I wish I could have helped him, but his problems were beyond my influence.
I do have Pete to thank for one pretty major thing. In 2009, frustrated with my day job and lack of financial success in writing, I enrolled in graduate school to become a mental health counselor. For a year and a half, I worked full time and went to school full time. But halfway through the degree, I was going a bit nuts. Because all my time was devoted to those two things. I had zero time for writing.
I emailed Pete and vented about this. He replied, “What do you REALLY want to do with your life? If it’s writing, go for it; if mental health, go for that.”
Days later, I withdrew from school and immediately slammed out a serious amount of writing on Reckoning. I wrote and thanked him for the advice… and for reminding me of who I really am.
Pete wasn’t in great health, though. And as it continued to decline, my visits became less frequent. The last time I saw him, which was the first time in a few years, was in October of 2011, when Pete was one of the guests of honor at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego. It was a heartbreaking meeting, in fact. His health had deteriorated badly, as had his memory. He didn’t recognize me, at first.
In 2012, largely due to his cognitive decline, he was moved to an attended care facility. And on June 19, 2013, he breathed his last.
I do wish I’d visited him more frequently. But I’m grateful to have known him at all. RIP, my friend.
And to all my readers, please do check out his works. The man truly had a gift.