Many years ago the famous author Terry Pratchett was going to do a reading in the city where I lived at the time, Seattle, Washington. You had to reserve seats for the reading, though the tickets were free. My husband and another couple among our friends wanted to attent, so we reserved seats and planned to attend together. Specifically, the other couple was going to show up at our place in a Seattle neighborhood about 2 miles from the venue where Mr. Pratchett was supposed to speak, and the four of us would drive over together.
Each of us had at least one of Mr. Pratchett’s books we intended to bring with us to ask him to autograph.
We discussed the reading and our attendance plans on several mailing lists associated with the science fiction shared universe ‘zine that I was Editor-in-Chief of and that many of our friends were members of either the Editorial Board or the non-profit Corporate Board of Directors overseeing said fanzine.
So on a particular Saturday afternoon my husband and I were waiting for two of our friends to arrive at our door so we could all pile into one car with the books we wanted autographed and drive to the nearby University for the reading.
There was a knock at our door. I opened the door expected to see the two friends we were expecting. Instead, another friend of ours (who was also involved in the sci fi project as a writers of stores, an illustrator of stories, a cover artist for the fanzine, and a member of the editorial board). I opened my mouth intending to say, "Oh, you’re coming to the reading, too?"
But before I could say that, our friend, Chuck, said, "I think I’m having a heart attack, and I wasn’t sure what to do, so I came to ask you guys."
Now, at this time Chuck lived only a half mile from the place where Mr Pratchett was scheduled to read, and only 3/4 of a mile from the University District Hospital’s Emergency Room. But instead of heading to the nearby Emergency Room, our good friend Chuck had gotten on a bus, which required him to change buses halfway through, and took the four mile trip to the duplex where Michael and I lived over in the neighborhood of Ballard, Washington, to ask us what he ought to do about a heart attack.
We bundled him into our car, scrawled a quick note to our other two friends, and headed over to a different Emergency Room that was barely half a mile from the place we lived at the time.
It turned at that Chuck was correct: he was having a heart attack. There were various things the doctors wanted to do before they would let us take him home.
When our friends arrived at our duplex (this was back in the late 1990s when none of us had cell phones so I couldn’t sent a message to tell them what was happening), the note had somehow blown off the door. So they waited a while for us to re-appear, then the went to the Pratchett reading, and afterword, one of them asked Mr Pratchett to give her an autograph that said, "To Gene: Where were you, you bum? Terry Pratchett."
Chuck was, indeed having a minor heart attack, so my husband and I hung out in the hospital lobby until the doctors decided our friend was physically stable and we could take him home.
Now, while the decision to get on a long bus ride that required a transfer to get to some friends to ask what he ought to do about a heart attack very much sums up some parts of Chuck’s personality, in all fairness I have to point out that he took important and wise actions related to the health situation afterward.
For years Chuck’s primary source of income had been as a administrative person for a comic book distributing firm, and the rest of his income was supplemented by writing, illustrating, and editorial work he did for several small comic book publishing companies. After this incident, Chuck went to remarkable lengths to find a steel foundry that was doing business in Seattle, and took a job that involved a lot of physical activity at the foundry, so that he wasn’t spending every day sitting at a desk. This move prevented him from having any more cardiac events for some years after this.
In addition to being the single most prolific writer, artist, and editor of the Tai-Pan Literary and Arts Project (of which I had the honor of being editor-in-chief for about 27 years), Chuck was involved in lots of other projects: he had a patreon, he had is long-running comic strip Mr Cow a fantasy comic book series, Champion of Katara, and the related fantasy series Felicia, the Sorceress of Katara.
Chuck was also–hands down, no arguments–the very best person to read a story aloud. When, at our monthly writers’ meetings, some people had a scene, or short story, or chapter from their own work in progress to read but were feeling trepidatious about reading it aloud for critique, Chuck frequently volunteered to read there stories. And even with zero-prep time, Chuck did the very best voices.
In my opinion, his writing deserved to be read by a much larger audience than found him on the various venues he published his work on. Similarly, while I am extremely happy that I own several of his story illustrations and book covers (hanging at various places around my apartment), I think that a much larger audience should have seen his stuff. And I absolutely wish that many, many more people had gotten to hear his voice talent.
Many months ago a mutual friend (Chuck’s best friend, and a writer who is one of the few people I put in the same category as Chuck), informed several of us that Chuck was experiencing health issues but only wanted a very limited number of people to know the details.
Chuck continued to attend our monthly Writers’ Meetings for a while, but had communicated to me that he didn’t want to talk about his health situation with others. So it was only very recently that I was able to tell many of our acquaintances what was up. And when my husband and I headed into the nearby hospital this weekend for a round of sitting with him, I was convinced that there were going to be several more days of us spending part of the day sitting by his bed and either reading messages from friends far away, or talking about some story ideas I had for his universe (with his permission I had written a Christmas Ghost Story set in his Champions of Katara universe, and had discussed a few other ideas in very broad terms.)
This is not the first time I have sat at the bedside of someone I knew and loved who was heading toward what the doctors all said was the end. But on Saturday I was still very naively thinking that I would get to sit at his bedside on the the next several days I had committed to.
So I was talking about one of my silly story ideas set in his universe, trying to keep a familiar voice sounding in the room no matter how unconscious he was, when he just…
I knew that he had a Do Not Resuscitate and a Do Not Intubate Order on file, but I still (having been programmed by many years of movies and TV shows), expected something more urgent from the medical people when I pressed the red button and told them I thought he had stopped breathing.
But Chuck was gone.
A lot of our mutual friends and acquaintances have shared more interesting and illuminating stories than the one I shared above about Chuck and his many idiosyncracies and talents. I should try to see how many of those are available on line to link to.
But while I’ve been thinking about Chuck, and what he means to me, I’ve thought about a phrase more that more than one of our mutual friends have used: referencing his gentle humor. And while I’ve talked about how for years he got me again and again every month with his deadpan pretending to not know what I was talking about when I asked if he had a story to read for our monthly Writers’ Meeting, I realize that "gentle" only scratched the surface.
Chuck had a wicked sense of humor, but his humor was also always kind. I think that we, as a species, don’t always fully appreciate just how valuable kindness is, nor do we always recognize how uncommon kindness is. I, personally, am fundamentally a snarky, flippant, irreverent, and impudent a personality. Chuck was extremely clever and sharp-witted–and sometimes even impudent–but his satire and felicitousness were never cruel or biting.
Chuck was always kind.
And I think that is what is leaving the biggest hole in my heart right now. Yes, I wish I knew how several of his stories in progress would have ended if he had had more time, but I’m mostly going to miss his kindness.
Over the years I worked with him, Chuck would sometimes sign his work "Chuck Melville" but other times sign it much more formally "Chas P.A. Melville." I asked him more than once which he preferred and why. The only time he didn’t give a deflecting humorous answer he said, ‘Chas is the writer. Chuck is the artist."
So I tried to follow that guideline when his work appeard in the publication I was editing ever since. I still don’t know what precisely his two middle initials stand for. One of his sisters revealed one of the initials in a posting on his Caringbridge site. I’m willing to let the other initial remains a mystery.