Treasures

At the end of Worldcon last year, my friend Bill Trojan died. Most folks in the field had met him at one point or another. For years, he ran a large bookstore in the dealers' room at conventions—Escape While There's Still Time Books. He also chaired a number of conventions. If you lived on the West Coast, then you definitely met Bill because he was always at cons, attending parties, attending panels, and just generally having a good time.

I miss him more than I can say, but he did go out the way that he would have wanted—at the end of a very good convention, among his friends. No lingering illness, no horrible emergency room visits. He was here one moment and gone the next.

Leaving my husband Dean Wesley Smith, who is the executor of the estate, one gigantic mess. You see, Bill collected books and he was a book dealer. He was also a hoarder. So he had one three-bedroom house full of stuff, and one two-bedroom apartment full of stuff. (He rented the apartment when it became impossible to get from one room to another in the house.)

Hoarding and collecting are not compatible skills, even though they sound like it. The pile in the corner might be old grocery bags and receipts, but you can't just chuck it out, because in the middle you might find a $500 paperback.

It took from August 23 to December 8 to clear out most of the stuff and move it to a location that wasn't falling down, had heat, and had been cleaned in this century. (I'm not kidding.) Now Dean's going to have to figure out what to do with it all, how to disburse it according to Bill's will, and then figure out what to do with all the various things we inherited.

I helped a tiny bit in the packing and moving—not one-tenth what Dean did. But I found that the superhero name I had given myself in the last column—Distracto-Girl—really fits. Because when I had to deal with a wall of books (covered in cobwebs and years of dirt), I wanted to sit down and read that one. No, that one. No, that one. Right Now.

Everything that Bill had that had value was not only cool, it was mega-cool. And it was more than I could absorb in a lifetime, let alone an afternoon. The entire history of the science fiction field hid in that dilapidated house. Half the history of the mystery field existed there as well. From the magazine with Stephen King's first published short story to signed Agatha Christies (unfortunately not the first British editions, but still), from more Ian Fleming than I knew existed to every pulp magazine ever published, Bill's house was a treasure trove of lost lore—some of which I'll never get a chance to peruse because it goes to another beneficiary.

But what I have seen so far makes me realize that the house and apartment held another treasure. Bill. He knew the history of both fields inside-out, backwards, and upside down. I'd ask him questions when I was working on things about the history of the field, and I know he was Dean's go-to guy on collectibles, but I never realized how much Bill knew until he was gone.

Not only that, he preserved (in whatever imperfect way), things that were rare or unusual or precious, even if they weren't always valuable. These items were often little flagstones on the footpath to the future.

If you read Stephen King's first short story in its original publication, you can see glimpses of the King to come. But at the time, he was just like any new writer—a mixture of good storytelling skills, mistakes, and obvious problems. Compare that to 11/22/63 and you can see the trajectory—how one writer grew into the other.

I find such things fascinating.

Bill did too. But more than that, he preserved such things.

And he's not alone. Collectors all over the world do the same thing. Libraries can't carry everything. Neither can museums. So collectors step in. Sometimes they open their collections to others. Sometimes they keep the collection private, like Bill did.

In his wallet, we found a handwritten list of the things Bill needed to round out his various collections. When I met him, the list was pages long. By the end of his life, it had become one small pocket-sized notebook sheet of tiny scrawl listing exceedingly rare things.

Of course, he kept up with the new as well. He was dreading the future, though. He hated e-books. You couldn't bag them and put them on a shelf. He worried that fine books would disappear.

I wanted to show him an article I saw just recently in the New York Times, about the ways that publishers are continuing to make books relevant. One very important way? Making paper books beautiful again. Putting extra expense into the paper itself. Added deckle edges. Designing lovely end papers.

Bill would have loved that. He would have loved knowing that the things he valued about books would remain and maybe improve. If he'd only waited a few months.

If he'd only waited a few years.

Bill's treasures will go to their rightful new owners. But the true treasure in Bill's estate—Bill himself—is lost.

At least we're able to look through his life's work, and see its great value. He managed, all by himself, to preserve the history of two marvelous genres of literature.

And that is something I hope my old friend was very proud of.

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