Friday, September 13, 2013

A FAREWELL TO ANN CRISPIN


For the second time in less than a month I find myself writing in memory of a lost mentor.  On September 6, 2013, noted science fiction author Ann C. Crispin lost a two-year fight with cancer and died at the age of 63.
 
As A.C. Crispin, she wrote the first STAR TREK pro novel to hit the NY TIMES bestseller list (Yesterday’s Son, a sequel to the classic TREK episode ALL OUR YESTERDAYS).  She built on that success with two other wildly popular Vulcan-themed TREK pro novels, Time for Yesterday and Sarek.  In addition, she gave Han Solo a new love interest in a STAR WARS pro novel trilogy and wrote pro novels for the television shows ALIEN and V.

Despite being named a Grandmaster by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers in 2013, Ann created her own worlds as well, with the seven-book SF Starbridge series aimed at younger readers, and the Witch World series (with Andre Norton).

Science fiction writers knew Ann as a Regional Director, then Vice President of the Science Fiction Writers of America for a number of years.  But it was as co-founder (with Victoria Strauss) and lead watchdog of Writers Beware!, an organization created to protect writers from scammers and fraud, that scribblers of all genres owe Ann a huge debt of gratitude.

Before Ann and Victoria founded Writers Beware! in 1998, there was no one place to go to check out agents or publishers, to learn about all the ways you might be exploited as an author and to find out how to protect yourself.  There was word of mouth, of course, and there were a few good books.  Writers Beware! gave writers a place to check out iffy agencies and schemes that seem too good to be true.  Ann and her partner, Victoria, were tireless in their pursuit of the bad apples out there who tend to spoil the publishing barrel.  Victoria has vowed to carry on the good fight in Ann’s name.

Of course, a few lucky people have Ann to thank for a much more direct impact on their careers.  I consider myself to be one of them.  For many years, Ann taught a writers’ workshop at the Shore Leave STAR TREK convention in Towson, Maryland.  Shore Leave is the biggest fan-run con in the country, and it is heavily writer-oriented.  Peter David, Harold Weinstein, Kathy Rausch, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and others are frequent attendees.  The dealers’ room is home to plenty of fan fiction publishers, including Orion Press, publisher of my early TREK novels and short stories.

A couple of years in to my Shore Leave experiences, I got brave enough to sign up for one of Ann’s workshops.  This was no commonplace act of idle curiosity.  I’d seen Ms. Crispin charging up and down the crowded convention hallways, her curly red hair flying in her self-created breeze.  People scattered before her like wind-driven leaves.  They approached her with trepidation.  She was a Force To Be Reckoned With.  And I wanted her to read my useless drivel?  Ulp.

I didn’t feel much better after the general workshop session.  Oh, yes, she was funny and smart and her presentation was to the point.  I learned vast amounts about how to put a story together.  (Most important lesson and one I’ll never forget:  story is all about giving your protagonist problems, the more the better.  Now every time I see a movie or read a book where it seems the writer is just piling on the poor hero, I think of Ann.)  But she didn’t tolerate stupid questions—or worse, stupid answers.  And, God forbid that you would try to defend an indefensible position—fifty pages of dull exposition, for example.  She would cut you to ribbons along with your boring tale.

So I was sweating my individual critique session. (And, yes.  Ann gave individual critiques.  She read all of my 100-page TREK novella for the very reasonable price of this workshop.  I still can’t believe it.)  But I needn’t have worried. She told me the story was “perfectly publishable.”  Not that the powers that be would publish it.  My female lead was too strong—the editors would accuse her of being a Mary Sue.

Of course, Ann had to explain to me who and what Mary Sue was—I’d never heard of the term at the time.  But my lone wolf trader Captain Kate Logan, though not a Mary Sue, was definitely a strong female character—she had to be to capture the attention of Jim Kirk.  At least my rejection from Pocket Books now made some kind of sense.

I took another workshop from Ann the following year and submitted a little SFR short story of my own called “Rose-Colored Glasses.” This critique wasn’t such a success, at least I didn’t think so at first.  Ann called me out on a detail of life in the nursing home where the story was set, and then she made this momentous comment:  “You have a real talent for writing romance.”

I’m sure my face turned Security red.  Romance?  Really?  Well, okay, all my TREK novels had a lot of romance and, well, this story was a romance, but, it was supposed to be science fiction.  Hey . . . wait a minute!

I have to say that Ding! moment was a while in coming.  I shook my head over that romance comment for a long time.  Not until nearly a year later, when I discovered the idea of time travel romance in Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander books did I figure out the connection.  Yeah, I’m slow like that.

But all of a sudden the science fiction plot I’d been working on made much more sense—as a romance.  And Unchained Memory came to be.  When I’d finished the manuscript, I took it to Ann for a once-over.  She pronounced it ready for prime time, even suggested an agent and allowed me to use her name in introduction.  Although that didn’t lead to a contract, I’ll always be grateful for the encouragement.

One year at Shore Leave Ann dragged a young woman into the Pro Writers’ room all flushed with excitement and introduced her as a former graduate of one of her workshops who’d just sold her first book.  She was so proud of her, and the newbie writer was speechless with joy.  I’d always hoped one day I’d be in that girl’s shoes.  Now I won’t have the chance. 

There are others I carry with me, though they are no longer on this plane of existence.  Ann joins them now, and I hope she’ll still have the chance for a little pride in my accomplishments one day, thanks to the gifts she gave me.

Cheers, Donna

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your memories, Donna. Sad news, indeed, but I have no doubt her legacy will live on.

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  2. Yes, thank you for sharing. I used to use Author Beware all the time and had no idea who was behind it. Thanks!

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  3. We have really lost a light in this world. Thanks for your writeup--it was nice to get to "know" her from your perspective!

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