Okay, I promise not to turn this blog into a collection of eulogies, but it happens that it’s been a bad year for my extended SF Fandom family. I’m sure most people who are connected on social media and also are fans of Star Trek or Star Wars are aware that celebrated author A.C. Crispin has died. Ann is one of those people who helped me (and a lot of other people) along the way. She was also indirectly a part of Baltimore’s “Contact Crowd,” a group of writers and artists who gathered regularly in the 1970s and 1980s to produce the fanzine Contact, and later to contribute significantly to the ClipperCon, OktoberTrek and Farpoint conventions. I am therefore cross-posting this entry to the Contact blog.
Contact was the brain-child of my Mother-in-Law, Beverly Volker, and her sister, Nancy Kippax. Bev was renowned in Star Trek Fandom as an editor extraordinaire. (Nancy was too, but Bev was, shall we say, a bit more gregarious?) When Ann Crispin, then a young mother and Star Trek fan, decided to try to sell a Star Trek novel, she brought it to Bev. Although Bev never attempted professional publication of her own Trek fiction–she thought fan-published fan fiction to be purer in spirit than licensed fiction–she had a sense of character and story that was invaluable to a would-be pro writer. I wasn’t there when Ann spent Saturday evenings listening to Bev’s story notes, but I know that the result was Yesterday’s Son, the eleventh Star Trek novel published by Pocket Books (there are now hundreds), and arguably one of the best of them all.
My wife, Renee, was there. A child at the time, she recalled in a note to Ann last week:
I have known you since I was a young teenager – meeting you through my mom, Bev Volker, when you were introduced to and became part of the Contact crowd. This was the early years of your writing, before Yesterday’s Son was published and I remember you working with my mom (and possibly others in the crowd), who offered some editing of this first novel, bouncing your story ideas around. I may have some things wrong there, as being a kid, I was only peripherally involved, but I know that my mom was involved to the extent that she was part of the dedication page in Yesterday’s Son.
A funny story about that dedication: A few years later, around the time that the V series was popular and your V books were out, I was in high school. Various kids in my class were talking about V and the books, etc. and not even thinking, I said that I knew the writer. At that point, because of my many years of being in fandom and helping with conventions, I had met a lot of people, so it wasn’t strange to me. Of course, my classmates did not believe me, so I had to bring in Yesterday’s Son, with the dedication to my mom, to show them I did know you. Needless to say, it impressed them, and I was a little bit popular that day.
Ann didn’t mince words about Bev’s contribution to her work: “I owe her my career,” she told me in 2003, when she learned of Bev’s death.
But I don’t point out Ann’s thoughts about Bev to make my family look important. I point them out as an illustration of Ann’s character. As a young writer, she felt that someone else had helped her, had changed her life and made it better. In the classic tradition of science fiction fans, as urged by the late Robert A. Heinlein, Ann paid it forward, using her own increasing prestige in the field to help other young writers.
I was one of those young writers.
I first met Ann at a Clippercon in 1986 or 1987. I knew already that she was a friend of my girlfriend’s mother, and that said mother had helped her edit that first book. I’d read it before I’d met either of them. In those days, I read every Star Trek novel published. I was already friends with Howard Weinstein, who’d written the preface to Yesterday’s Son. I’d sat with him at the convention banquet the night before, and he’d regaled me with tales of his meetings with Harve Bennett as Star Trek IV was being produced. Howie is acknowledged in the credits of that film as one of a few writers consulted while the story was being developed. Howie was then the youngest screenwriter ever to work on Star Trek, and he knows a lot about whales.
Anyway, I was rushing hither and yon in my role as a convention gopher (I think I was assistant to the head of the Dealers’ Room) when Howie and Ann, waiting outside the hotel restaurant, flagged me down. They asked me to join them for breakfast. I told them I normally didn’t eat breakfast other than coffee. Howie insisted I come have coffee at the table with them, and then Ann, suspecting I’m sure that the real reason I wasn’t eating breakfast was that a college kid couldn’t afford hotel prices, insisted I order whatever I wanted, her treat. She couldn’t stand to see a kid go hungry. So I caved and ordered what was then ridiculously expensive French Toast for $8.95.
Now, understand, in 1986 or 1987, a college kid / Star Trek fan who wanted to be a professional author, placed in the company of two, count ’em two, New York Times-bestselling professionals, was going to talk about one thing and one thing only: “I want to publish a Star Trek novel!” In fact, I’d already outlined and begun writing one. Ann told me that that was a terrible ambition. It was very hard to sell a Trek novel–much harder than it was to sell an original novel. (Again, remember, it was 1980-something. That was true then. Now most of my friends who are selling are selling Trek, but not much original.) She urged me to create my own characters and do this thing right. And then she asked me the critical question: “So… are you any good?”
I said I didn’t know. Today, I would not say that. Now I’ve seen what else is out there, and I’ve decided, yeah, I’m any good. Maybe not very good. Probably nowhere near great. But yeah, I’m any good. (Don’t let the preceding example of atrocious grammar fool you.)
So she asked, “Have you written anything?
Well, yes, I had done a half-dozen fanzine stories.
“Would you like me to read one for you?”
Advice to young writers: If a bestselling author offers to read your work, the answer is always “yes.” This does not happen often! In fact, I’d suspect that this was the only time in history it had ever happened, if I didn’t know Ann’s generous nature. She did this a lot. But, if it happens to you with some other bestselling author, say “yes!” Or at least do what I did: Say “I–(Gulp)” and then run as fast as your feet will carry you to grab a copy of the fanzine that contains your story. Oh, yeah. It’s 2013. You don’t have to run. You an whip out your phone, fish out your story in Dropbox, and email it to the author’s phone.
Ann read my story that day. Here’s another case of “doesn’t happen often.” If a bestselling author does offer to read your work, don’t expect him/her to read it that day. Only someone really, really special will do that for you; and they don’t make too many people who are that special.
That evening, Ann came to the hotel room that Starlog editor Dave McDonnell and I were sharing, fanzine in hand, and delivered her critique. Although she pulled no punches, she was very, very considerate of my feelings. She asked if I was okay with Dave (for whom I was about to start writing) heard her comments. She was concerned that I was drinking my Coke “nervously.” (Elmore Leonard, of course, would have disapproved of the adverb, but, dammit, if A.C. Crispin used an adverb, it was perfectly placed!)
The thing I remember the most was that she said, “This isn’t a story. I won’t let you call it a story. It’s a collection of angst.” Many would say that phrase still describes my writing. I wasn’t sure I agreed with everything she said, but I tried to take all of her advice to heart. Today, I know I don’t agree with some of what she said; but that is neither here nor there. What’s important, then and now, is that New York Times-Bestseller A.C. Crispin cared enough about writing and writers to ask a young writer if she could read his work, to carefully formulate criticisms of that work, and to encourage that young writer to keep writing. She didn’t have to do that. There was no portion in it for her. But she was paying forward the gift that had been given to her as a young writer. I know she did this for quite a few others, and that she was sometimes brutal in her criticism. She did it because she cared. Because she wanted to see new writers succeed, as she had succeeded. That’s why she took on a leadership role in SFWA. That’s why she worked so hard on “Writer Beware,” a campaign to educate writers and prevent them from being ripped off by unscrupulous publishers.
Credit where it’s due, Howie Weinstein also offered to read my work. He wouldn’t read fan fiction, though. He thought I should try to sell a Trek novel, and he wanted to see my pitch for one. I think he read at least two full outlines and countless sample chapters before he said, “This is ready to send to Pocket with my blessing.” I never sold a Trek novel, but I learned a helluva a lot about writing. Don’t let that fool you, though. The fact that the first two novelists I met were willing to help me that much does not mean it’s a common occurrence. It means that Howie, like Ann, is a really special person. If you’re lucky enough to know two authors like that, you’re one of the luckiest people alive. And, guess what? I know a lot more than two authors like that. I’ve got a lot of paying forward left to do. Hope I’m up to it.
I last saw Ann at Shore Leave this year. We didn’t wind up on any panels together, but she did do one with my son, Ethan. It was an author’s perspective on Star Trek: Into Darkness. Ethan was there, not as an author, but as a representative of the generation of fans to whom the film was aimed. At one point, Ethan commented on the importance of “guy love” in the Kirk/Spock relationship. That friendship was the central theme of Contact. Ann called out loudly and proudly, “Thus spake the grandson of Bev Volker!” I think she was pleased to be sharing the table with a member of Trek Fandom’s third generation, all grown up. I know his Mom and I were pleased to see them up there together. Renee says:
Flash forward 30+ years, to this past Shore Leave, and you’re on a panel with my son, Ethan, and the subject of the Kirk/Spock relationship comes up, and from what I was told, he held his own, which prompted you to say something about the legacy of his grandmother, Bev Volker. What a fitting full-circle moment. I loved hearing that story! Proof that all of our legacies will continue into future generations based on what we’ve contributed!
Ann told me about her illness, confidentially, a while back. I really hoped and believed she would beat it. She didn’t. Well, she did, actually. No human can beat death in the sense that she actually lives forever. The only way to beat death is to create something that outlives you, and to plant your memory in the hearts of future generations. Ann certainly did that.