Terry Pratchett and a Vest Full of Stars

I've told this story before. But it bears repeating, given the death of Sir Terry Pratchett today. The author was mourned by more than his friends and family; he was mourned by the many readers who loved his work and had the honor of meeting him and being charmed by him, as I was, on one of the more nervous days of my life.

In 2007, I attended a convention where the famous Terry Pratchett was the guest of honor. I was a nominee for an award and much consumed with my own panels, making sure there were people on the booth in the dealer's room, assisting my friend with her book release, and other such convention business.

On Saturday, Pratchett had been scheduled for a signing one hour before me. Only one hour, which meant that by the time he was done, the line still stretched to Spain. There were a handful of us supposed to go on after Pratchett, which is a bit like scheduling a bar band to follow the Beatles. Fearing a riot, the powers that be kept Mr. Pratchett in place and moved the rest of us into a nearby ballroom.

I ended up next to Selina Rosen of Yard Dog Press, which always guaranteed snark. Selina and I had a long-standing threat of arm-wrestling dating back to my first nomination for the Darrell Award. It's a long story. The details don't matter; what matters is that we were so bored we finally arm-wrestled. And she kicked my ass. As anyone who has ever met Selina could have predicted. (As I tried to move her arm, she asked, "Are you trying? For real?" It was just sad.)

We had a few wanderers in and out, and I sold a book to a guy who made the fatal mistake of eye contact. Occasionally Selina stuck her head out into the hallway and yelled to the crowd waiting in the Line to Spain: "We will sign Terry Pratchett's books! No waiting!"

All weekend I had heard about Terry Pratchett, and the gentleman I was dating at the time was an enormous fan. I didn't know his work well enough to be starstruck yet. But he was so incredibly popular that he was basically this unseen force moving about the convention in other areas, with a wake of eager fans.

Evening fell, and I entered the banquet hall, nervous in my new cocktail dress and clutching a tiny good-luck charm. I decided to be optimistic and selected a table near the front that had some empty chairs. I was unaccompanied, as my gentleman friend was manning our table during the banquet. I asked if the seat was empty at the table near the front, and a friendly older gentleman in a black suit with subtle, sparkly stars imprinted on the vest assured me that it was.

I got the surprise of my life when he spoke in a wonderful British accent and someone referred to him as Terry.

Yes, I had dinner with Terry Pratchett.

We had a lovely time, conversation about the writing life and convention travel over chicken that was not actually made of rubber. At one point, Terry Pratchett said he'd been doing some reading about Tennessee, in particular the famous "body farm."

Blank looks all around, except me, because I know all about the body farm! They leave donated corpses out in various terrain to observe how they decay, to help students learn forensic techniques. Terry Pratchett and I talked at length about how weird and cool it is, while the others looked at their baked chicken as though it had suddenly turned over nasty.

"The thing I found strange," Pratchett said, "is that when they are finished with it, they give the body a proper burial. But none of them knew him in real life. What, exactly, do they say over him? 'Thank you for rotting for us'?"

I laughed myself silly.

Less than an hour later, I won the award. When I stepped up to give my brief speech, Terry Pratchett was clapping for me. It was one of those lifetime high points.

It was only months later that Pratchett announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He insisted publicly that it should not be treated as a funeral, and I tried not to do so. But I remembered that dry wit and marvelous curiosity, and I was angry at a disease that would take that away from him before it took his life. He had a rich and wonderful life, yes, but he was only 66 years old when he died today. He should have had another twenty years of weaving tales, folks. I lodged an official protest with the universe.

I never saw him again, and never got to thank him for helping a nervous young author relax and laugh over dinner, award or no award. He was a true gentleman, a fine writer and we are all the poorer for his loss.

I hope he is now free from the shackles of disease, and wherever he is, he wears a vest full of stars.


  1. Wow....that is beautiful, what a wonderful meeting....and you got me all leaky again. *hugs*


Post a Comment