Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Past Master

Charlie Brown's recent passing somehow dredged up a memory I hadn't visited for years.

1977, Miami Beach, Florida, the 35th World Science Fiction Convention, "Suncon," held in the somewhat decadent Fountainebleu Hotel, over Labor Day Weekend. It was my first SF con, and I was a two-story pro -- neither of which had been published yet.

Once I arrived, I was taken under Hank Stine's wing -- Hank being a somewhat infamous writer in the field who had done an X-rated book called Season of the Witch, about a man sentenced to live in a woman's body. If you can find a copy of the original paperback, from the late sixties, it'll set you back a couple hundred bucks, minimum. Available as a e-book from

Hank had moved to Baton Rouge with his wife, who had family there. He and I met after he gave a talk at the local library. I was an SF wannabe writer who showed up at the talk, and shortly thereafter, when I sold my first story, Hank was the third guy I called to gush about it.

(Hank, now "Jean Marie," later went on to demonstrate that the man-trapped-in-a-woman's-body notion was very much a personal story. He became she, after some hormones and -- one assumes -- knifery. Hank had also been a Scientologist. At the next Worldcon, in Phoenix, Hank hired me to write a novella for Galaxy, at which he had become the editor. He was a character. I went to visit him on a hot summer's day once and he opened the door stark naked, and stayed that way through the visit. I didn't bat an eyelash. Ted Sturgeon used to practice nudity at home, but before I met him ...)

Um. Anyway, Hank took me around to the pro parties, since I was one, albeit new and shiny, and I got to meet some literary heroes, none of whom looked like I thought they would. (Later, I met Avram Davidson, and he's the only SF&F writer that I could have picked out of a crowded room unmet, because he looked exactly as I pictured him.)

Miami Beach in those days was a little shabby and needing a makeover, and there was enough marijuana in various room parties to stone Jakarata, with some left over for New York City.

One morning I awoke early and, before it got too hot and muggy, went on a wander. I walked for an hour, this way and that, no direction, nor goal in mind. Eventually, I came to a hole-in-the-wall diner and decided it was time for breakfast. I was probably three or four miles away from the con hotel, and since I wasn't on any panels or autographings or anything, in no hurry to get back.

Place was a greasy spoon, and I went to the counter and sat next to a funny-looking guy who had a head that looked like it belonged on a body three sizes smaller. He wore glasses, was balding, and in his early to mid-sixties, I figured.

He looked over and saw my convention badge pinned to my T-shirt. Since I'd never been to one of these things before, I didn't know that you should take it off before going out into civilization. Anyway, the old guy introduced himself: R.A. Lafferty.

Holy shit! What were the chances of that? A random wander in Miami Beach and wind up sitting next to one of the best writers in the field in which I wanted to make my mark?

We chatted over breakfast, and I confess I can recall almost none of the conversation. A couple of years later, he had a stroke, and pretty much retired from public life, suffering another, worse stroke in the mid-90's, passing away in 2002 in a nursing home in Oklahoma. Hell of a writer, and doing stuff nobody else was doing.

I had more amazing adventures at the con, culminating in the flight home, which took place in the beginnings of a hurricane that caused our jet to make three passes at the runway before we were able to land, in a driving rain and wind that was, well, the beginnings of a hurricane.

Lafferty. If you haven't read any of his stuff and you are fan of weird SF&F, give him a try.

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