Shall I tell you about angels?
Words are the litmus paper of the mind. ― Terry Pratchett
I first heard about Terry Pratchett when I was on Jennifer Crusie’s yahoo group. Several people were fans, and whenever a new book would come out, they’d all melt down. I loved and trusted these women, so I gave the guy a whirl. I can’t remember if I picked up The Truth on my own, or if someone said “start here.” I think it was the latter, but I can’t be sure. In any event, it was my first Pratchett. I read about three pages and thought, “Are they all high? What the shit is this?”
Though I put the book down, other people I loved kept raving about the man, so eventually I resumed the book. Something magical happened about fifty pages in. His voice had permeated whatever resistance I’d harbored, and the jokes and bits of wit were now so thick on the ground I felt like I’d sunk through fog into a magic land of words. I firmly believe to this day Terry Pratchett’s books are like tea. You must find the right flavor, steep in it a bit, but once you’re addicted, all tea is wonderful and treasured, and nothing is ever enough.
Alas, today we find we must be content with what we have.
I was working when the tweet came through. @terryandrob doesn’t tweet much, but I tend to see most things that come through on that account, and I saw the announcement as it rolled through my feed.
We’ve known this was coming. Neil Gaiman’s post in The Guardian last year made me uneasy, as did reports Sir Terry had to leave an event due to poor health. I’ve known he’d had Alzheimers for a long time. I understood he’d go before any of us wanted him to leave. I didn’t realize until this morning, though, as those tweets rolled through and I shouted “No, no, no” at my screen before I began crying, how much I had refused to believe the day would ever come. I thought perhaps some miracle would happen, I suppose, or that we could just one more book, one more year ourselves into infinity. But no. The hourglass has run out. And here we are.
Sir Terry Pratchett is and will forever be my favorite author. He wrote my favorite book, Going Postal, and many of my favorite characters. He is the author I have read and re-read to the point that each book is like a pair of comfortable shoes I put on when I want to feel better or be reminded of great things. That said, I’ve saved several for this moment. Books to save for when I need to read something new. For when the new supply will end.
Pratchett’s work has crafted who I am for the past decade, and radically affected both my writing and my sense of what a story is. I’ll go to the mattress defending the truth that he’s as brilliant and rich as Shakespeare, as able to serve the peanut gallery as well as the ivory tower. He was the storyteller’s storyteller. He crafted rich banquets but served them up on comforting, mismatched china with chips around the edges. He could blown down critics with the force of his wit and sharpness of his pen, but he could also blow them a raspberry and indulge in horrible, groan-worthy puns and extended gags because it pleased him, and many of his fans, to do so.
He taught me, without ever giving me a direct lesson, how to shape a story. When to bob, when to weave. How to forge a character, from what ore to look for one. How to make a villain, though I still struggle with that one, for my own reasons. How to make a hero out of shoddy armor. How to build a world, not by the sparkle of its scenery but by the glow of the hearts of the characters within. He taught me how to follow my heart, but also how to spin my heart in a way an audience has agency. He taught me how to tell more than one kind of story. How to build a brand around something bigger and yet still focused. How to serve my readers as well as my characters. Serve them with my characters.
But mostly he made me fall in love with so many places and people and ideas that I never, ever tire of visiting them. Vetinari, Death, Gaspode, Angua, Tiffany, Granny, Nanny, Moist, Adorabelle, Vimes, Carrot, Detritus—I could fill a blog post with nothing but the names of characters I adore. He painted them so well I can’t bear to watch movies made of them, because they always fall short of the dazzling picture his own words create for me. He made me fall in love with his quirky, intrusive narration. Made me love absolutely everything so much that all I needed to make the purchase was his name on the cover.
I didn’t think I’d be able to do it so soon, but on my way to and from an appointment today out of town I listened to the first hour and some change of Going Postal on audio. It was far more a comfort than I thought it would be. I think largely because it reminded me he’s still here, right there in my favorite books. Because the magic remains, and will for all time. But I’m still sad. I’ll never get to stand at the back of an auditorium and feel the thrill of knowing the man who moves my heart and soul so much stands before me. That the brilliant mind that creates all those worlds is in the same room with me. I don’t know that I could have stood in line for a book to be signed, because I’d probably break down crying and embarrass us all, but now that’s not an option.
It makes me ache there will be no more stories. One more, I think people have said. One more? No. That’s not enough. I want so many, many more. I want them until I’m eighty. I want to stay alive with just enough strength to keep turning pages well past one hundred and keep them coming. I want to keep learning and discovering in new places. Today I grieve because the door has closed. Death has walked my hero across the desert. If I want new stories, I’ll have to close my eyes and hope for whispers on the wind.
Shall I tell you about angels, Sir Terry Pratchett? As Lord Vetinari told Moist Von Lipwig, the thing about angels is that they only appear once.
You were mine.
Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken? ― Terry Pratchett