Ever since I got the word last August that Parke Godwin’s health and faculties were in decline, I knew I was going to have to write this post sooner or later. It was perhaps selfish of me that I wanted it to be later. Much later. I had dreams of receiving one more of his witty letters, finished with that flourish of a self-caricature he always drew after the closing, even though we’d long since switched to email and those caricatures were gone. Then I thought of my father in law, who I loved dearly, telling me, not too long from the end, “I’m so tired.” I understood what he meant then, though I tried to pretend that I didn’t. His body was just worn out and it was time to go, and it was the same with Parke Godwin. “Pete” to his friends, who were legion. I was proud to count myself among them.
I found Pete because I’d found Fantastic Stories the year before, back in my fervent reader and very beginning writer stage. The September 1977 issue contained “The Lady of Finnegan’s Hearth” by Parke Godwin. I’d never seen the byline before, but I loved the story and wrote a letter to the magazine saying so. Much to my surprise, Pete wrote me back to thank me for the letter. I remember thinking that it was cool to get an actual letter from an actual writer, but that was all. Then he followed up with “The Last Rainbow” (later to be expanded to novel length) and I wrote another letter, which prompted a reply from Pete, only this time he asked me a specific question, so I answered, and he answered that, and when the smoke cleared we’d been pen pals for over thirty years, even though “pen pal” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Pete was a mentor, a father-figure and, when needed, a dutch uncle.
Stephen King tells a story about the newspaper editor who taught him to write by, essentially, teaching him what to cut. I’m no Stephen King, but Pete did the same thing for me. He took one of my early efforts, rewrote the opening, and told me why he’d done what he’d done, though it was crystal clear from reading one version then the other why he’d made those changes. His version made an Entrance, did its job, and then got off stage, where mine simply stood there, blinking like an actor who’d forgotten his lines. Pete was what he liked to describe as a “reformed actor,” and he understood narrative. He could do “cut your heart out” and hysterically funny scenes with equal aplomb, and often in the same story. Whatever I know about dramatic tension and how to cut a scene to its essentials, I learned from him. My faults are my own, but the good stuff, whatever it might be, began with what I learned from him.
I was a long way from alone in this. Pete was unsparingly generous with his time to his friends, and he had a lot of friends. Which makes it rather amazing that he also produced a very large and varied body of work. There’s his Arthurian series (FIRELORD, BELOVED EXILE) his Robin Hood series (SHERWOOD, ROBIN AND THE KING), his comic series (WAITING FOR THE GALACTIC BUS and THE SNAKE OIL WARS), his collaborations with Marvin Kaye (THE MASTERS OF SOLITUDE, WINTERMIND, A COLD BLUE LIGHT), and a lot more. You can find a more complete list at ISFDB , and you really should. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you’re in for a treat. And if you are, there’s likely something here you didn’t even know about.
Pete won the World Fantasy Award for “The Fire When it Comes” back in 1982 and was a Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention in 2011. There are more books to be released posthumously, and I’m looking forward to them. What I was really looking forward to, though, was just one more of his wonderful letters.