03 June 2018

Chris Kelworth

Do me a favour, and let's pretend I've been here all along, and the last few years on this blog haven't been a combination of absolute void and hesitant posts about plans I haven't followed through on.

I've been writing. I promise. And trying to figure things out, including myself. Details on that will probably pop up here and there, as I start posting a little bit more, but first, I want to tell you about my friend, Chris Kelworth.

You might have met Chris online at one of his blogs. If you ever did Nanowrimo, you might have done some of the word sprints he hosted under the Nano Twitter account (@nanowordsprints), or run into him in his capacity as Hamilton, Ontario Municipal Liason. You might, alternatively, have met him at Ad Astra or Can-Con, or one of several major speculative fiction writers' workshops. If you're part of the Roswell fandom, you might have read some of the fanfiction he wrote for the show, or listened to the podcast Illegal Aliens, that he co-hosted with his friend Claire.

I met Chris about a decade ago, through my local Nanowrimo region. He was the first writing friend I made in real life. Without exaggeration, I can say that he was the heart of our local writing crew. He passed away at the end of March. (March 2018, if you're reading this in the future.)

When I met Chris, I was just beginning to be serious about writing, and I was busy trying to figure out how I could make it a more regular part of my life. Taking on a big challenge that had a social aspect to it seemed like a great idea. (It still does—seriously you guys, do Nanowrimo, and go meet some writers!)

If you're not familiar, during the November challenge, the Nanowrimo site encourages writers to gather in person for "write-ins," meetings where you get together, take up a bunch of tables at a local library or coffee shop, and spend a couple of hours getting raw word count down. It's the most perfectly antisocial social gathering, and suited me just wonderfully, since it didn't force me to choose between hanging out with people and writing. Imagine doing both! At the same time! That's Nanowrimo.

At some point during that first November, Chris and I had a chat about how it might be nice to keep meeting and writing during the part of the year that is not November. For a while—a couple of years at least—the two of us met every other Sunday to talk about writing in general, about whatever we were working on, and to cheer each other on while we wrote.

After those first couple of years, other writers joined us. The core group has shifted, as groups do, but Chris was always a part of it, always interested in getting together with other writers, encouraging everyone to keep going, and to have fun doing it. He was never big on sharing personal details, but along the way, we got to know each other pretty well.

He always had more than one project on the go, and he seemed to flip back and forth between them with ease. He was the only person I have ever seen close a document on his computer, and say, "Well, I think that's enough editing on this story for now," and then switch to another project. I learned from him that I don't have to beat myself up if I don't want to work on a thing until my eyes bleed. He taught me that task switching is not only okay, it can be fun. It can be a bit of a life saver, too.

He took a lot of delight in what he was working on, often reading a sentence or two aloud if he thought they'd come out well, and watching for our reactions with a smile on his face. He was big on accountability. He would always stop at least once or twice in the course of a writing session and ask, "How's it going?" If one of us went into some detail about what we were working on, he would often pause for thought, and then say, "That actually reminds me of..." and head off into a description of some grand speculative fiction tradition, or some story he'd read, or some debate about fantasy plots he'd been thinking about. Whatever it was, I would always end up feeling validated, like we were all participating in something that was bigger than ourselves. (We were. We are.)

The last time Chris came to a write in, the very last time, the group of us ended up having a talk about Golden Age science fiction. His voice was a lot quieter than it once had been. He didn't have the energy to speak at his regular volume anymore, and he was only able to spend an hour or so with us, but he talked about stories, just the same way he always had. He cared about writing. He cared about the way stories work, and he happily shared his enthusiasm for his craft, right up until the end.

Chris was brave. He could be brutally shy, and had some difficulty in social situations, but in the years that I knew him, he went out of his way to be with people. He was a member of the Toronto Browncoats. He volunteered to be on committees and panels at writing conventions. He was active in online writing circles—he was a member of Codex, and an administrator of the writing forum that another member of our local writing group founded (Stringing Words).

As he was in the process of dying, we came to realise how many people knew him. He pushed past his own limits, in a way that was wildly admirable. He didn't complain about it: he just did it. If he hesitated, he didn't show it or talk about it. From where I was sitting, it looked like he just threw himself into things, enthusiastically so.

He worked hard on his writing. He signed up for online courses that he completed with gusto. He followed blogs and podcasts about writing craft. If you listened to any of the many Storywonk podcasts, you've probably heard his voice: he left more than one message that was included in episodes as listener feedback. He underwent formal training at some of the most rigorous speculative fiction writing programs out there: Odyssey, Kansas University's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop and Science Fiction and Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop.

He made progress. After a lot of years of writing and editing and submitting stories to magazines, he started to gain some traction. He published a few pieces. The last time he came back from Kansas, he told me that he'd pitched a novel idea to an editor or agent—I can't remember which—and she'd invited him to send her pages when he finished it. That book was about a generation ship. He was in the process of rewriting it when he got sick.

Chris turned forty-two during Nanowrimo 2017. He started the month in the hospital, during which time he was diagnosed with the illness that would take his life five months later. He still wrote 50,000 words that November. He managed to attend the party at the end of the month, and there, as he was addressing the group that he'd led for the last time, he told us that he'd really proved to himself that he could write no matter what.

Chris would want us to keep going has become a bit of a rallying cry among our little writing crew. There's no doubt in my mind that that's right. He didn't have anything approaching a bad temper. He was the very definition of an affable fellow. Still, I think if any of us drift away from our best effort, I can picture him looking a bit stern and asking us what he has to do for us to get some writing done.

We've tried. In his last days, we gathered around his hospital bed with our laptops fired up, and talked about what we were working on. It only seemed appropriate, to include him in that. It was important to let him know that we would carry on.

For me personally, Chris's passing is all about remembering the things I learned from him. To do the things I find difficult. To write. To enjoy the process. To work on a lot of things, and push them all forward, and keep trying.

I don't know if Chris really was the optimist he always seemed to be. He wasn't falsely chipper, but he certainly threw himself into his craft with what looked like the idea that all of his hard work would eventually pay off. You know what? It did. He had the beginnings of a career.

I'm not big on wishing things could be different. I try to accept what comes as it comes, but if I could change anything, I would love to be given the chance to see what might have happened next for him. I would have loved to see him publish a book, and another, and another.

It's a raw fact, and a difficult one, that Chris passed when he did. Forty-two is not very old. In writerly terms, for a lot of us, anyway, it's barely long enough to get your feet under you.

So take this for what it's worth; take it as a reminder. Time is limited. It's a good idea, if one is so inclined, to use it for the things that matter. If you're a writer, that means writing.

If you've read this far, which is to say, all the way to the end, thank you. xoxo

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