Tuesday, April 30, 2013

andrew j. offutt (1934-2013)

Today's news of the death of fantasy author andrew j. offutt comes to me as half of a very strange coincidence.

Last week on eBay, I scored a small stack of Tom Reamy's deluxe 1960s-'70s fanzine TRUMPET, which I'd always wanted to know more about; they arrived yesterday and I was surprised to discover that my old friend andy had written a column for them. When I say TRUMPET was deluxe, I mean photo-offset and art and writing by the best in the business at that time. Even their letters column was illustrious. And I have to say, I hadn't really thought of andy in years. I read andy's columns and enjoyed them; one of them was illustrated with three pictures of the young fellow he must have been at that time, and they brought back memories of his direct and wily gaze and that impressive Kentucky colonel voice he had etched into ordinary sinew with decades of intensive and unusual reading. ("I've read all of Havelock Ellis," he boasts in one of these columns.) It had the ring of Civil War-era courtliness and Jack Daniels, though I'm told by mutual friend Joel Zakem that his prefered brand was Maker's Mark.

I knew of him because he contributed to other fanzines produced by friends of mine; I sent him my first fanzine, THE HYDRAULIC PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH #1, which looked like absolute crap, yet despite my flat-out lack of credentials, he agreed to write something for my second (which I called APPLES WOOFER #2) -- a very amusing, character-driven overview of the then-current (1972) horror movie scene. This makes him not only the first professional writer I ever met or knew, but the first one I ever presented in print. Either one of those distinctions would make this blog entry kind of a heavy one to write, and I can assure you, especially given yesterday's coincidence of discovering those early columns and those pictures of him in his youth, this is a heavy piece to write.

We met at the 1972 Midwestcon -- he, his wife Jodie and the kids known as the "offuttspring." I was 15 or 16 and, when I expressed an interest in his work, he took me to his hotel room and showed me a book full of the paperback porn he wrote under other names. I wish I could have bought them all, but I could only afford HOLLY WOULD by John Cleve, which he said was the best of them. The only other title I remember from the box was BLACK BUCK, WHITE BITCH -- a title he hated, imposed on another of his aliases by his publisher (my first-ever awareness that writers weren't always on ideal footing with their publishers, or vice versa). His first hardcover was about to be published at that time, and I remember Jodie excitedly sharing with me her handsome husband's first-ever dust jacket and author's photo. andy's forte was sword-and-sorcery, which was never mine, so I never did read much of his work, but I remember him as a strong and razor-sharp personality, a devil and a hedonist and an eccentric in the best of all those terms, and someone who had the stuff of genius in him. He was a verbal gymnast and he communicated to me the joy of writing for a living.

Did he make full use of his genius? I leave that for his steadfast readers to decide. But I can tell you this: When I started watching TRUE BLOOD in its first season, his son Chris was the show's story editor, and I could see a LOT of the andy I remembered in Stephen Moyer's original performance as Bill Compton. I wrote about that here, at the time. Chris didn't stay with the show and Moyer's performance changed -- and not for the better, if you ask me.

During the year or two when I regarded andy as a mentor, he used to sign his letters to me "peace/out, ajo." Peace/out to you, andrew. Thank you for your kindness to the younger me, and for showing me this path.

Update 5/3/13: I'm appending this obit from Andy's hometown newspaper.

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