CRAIG W. CHRISSINGER
Author John Jos. Miller, 67, died January 5, 2022 at his home in Albuquerque NM. Miller was best known for his work in the long-running (since 1987) Wild Cards shared-universe series of original anthologies and novels, edited by George R.R. Martin.
John Joseph Miller (who wrote as John Miller, John J. Miller and John Jos. Miller) was born March 28, 1954 in central New York. He started reading the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs in his childhood and soon became a dedicated fan of science fiction, comic books, and movies. He attended the State University of New York, graduating in 1976 with a BA in anthropology. He then moved to Albuquerque to pursue a graduate degree in archaeology at the University of New Mexico and worked as a field archaeologist in England, New York, Colorado and New Mexico. He met his wife Gail Gerstner-Miller on a New York archaeological project in 1977, and they were married the following year.
While early attempts at publishing SF stories of his own were met with a succession of failures, Miller continued writing while in graduate school and finally had a story published in 1980. In 1981, he had a poem published in Nyctalops #16, a Cthulhu Mythos fanzine edited by artist Harry O. Morris. He was a founding member of the Wild Cards Consortium, contributing to 20 volumes of the series. In “Comes a Hunter” in Wild Cards 1 (1987) he introduced iconic characters Daniel “Yeoman” Brennan and Chrysalis. In Joker Moon: Wild Cards 29 (2021), Miller was responsible for finishing and revising Victor Milan’s story, “Fatal Error”. Dead Man’s Hand: Wild Cards 7(1990), was co-written with George R.R. Martin. Death Draws Five: Wild Cards 17 (2006) was released by iBooks about a week before the company closed down, and only a few hundred copies were distributed. It was reissued by Tor Books in November 2021.
Other works include First Power Play: Buck Rogers Inner Planets Trilogy Book 1 (1990); Dinosaur Samurai: Ray Bradbury Presents Book 3 (1993) and Dinosaur Empire: Ray Bradbury Presents Book 5 (1995), both co-written with Stephen Leigh; Witchblade: A Terrible Beauty (2002); Shades of Night, Falling: The Twilight Zone Book 1(2003); and forthcoming graphic novel Wild Cards: Ante Up!, co-written with Kevin Andrew Murphy. Under the pseudonym of Jack Arnett, he wrote Death Force: Books of Justice Volume 3 (1990). He contributed short fiction to several anthologies and magazines, His final story, “Don’t Look Back”, was about Negro league pitcher and Hall of Famer Satchel Paige in DreamForge #9 (2022). Miller also wrote comics, including an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s In the House of the Worm (2014). Miller published non-fiction and essays on book collecting, tropical fish, baseball, roleplaying games, and other topics, plus Wild Cards books Mutants & Masterminds: Wild Cards (2008) and Mutants & Masterminds: Wild Cards — Aces and Jokers (2010). Miller served as secretary of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America from 1996-1998. He also was a Fellow of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and an authority on America’s Negro league baseball of the 20th century. He was also a longtime fan of the New York Mets baseball team.
Miller is survived by his wife, Gail Gerstner-Miller, various in-laws, and many Wild Cards friends and authors. John’s death is a shock and very sad. We just saw him twice in November, in Santa Fe at a Wild Cards signing event and in Albuquerque for a movie night. We enjoyed hearing him talk about his experiences at the rat farm when he was a teenager, especially as he added new details. And Jessica and I were happy to drive up to Santa Fe to support John (and George, Melinda and Gail) for the event at the Jean Cocteau Cinema around the reissues of John’s Death Draws Fiveand Vic Milan’s Turn of the Cards. And while we didn’t get to see him in December, at least I was able to let him know that I was reading Death Draws Five and greatly enjoying the book and his humor in it.
He will be greatly missed, and our sympathies are with Gail and all his friends & family at this time.
MELINDA M. SNODGRASS
As one ages this becomes a depressingly more common activity. Writing up your memories of a friend and colleague who has passed away. It is my sad task to have to do it again. It took me a long time to process this one. I think the suddenness of the loss of John Jos Miller knocked me back for days.
And John’s passing sent me right back to thinking about how we lost Victor Milan just a few years ago because I first met John and Gail when Vic invited them to join our role playing group. John created and played wonderfully laconic and cynical characters, and it wasn’t long before he and Gail were hosting our games at their house. Lots and lots of games that usually went late into the night.
That gaming group, filled with writers, was our social life, and I remember driving through a snowstorm on icy roads because John had stepped up when Christmas dinner had fallen through at another friend’s. He made lasagna with Italian sausage for all of us, and it was one of the best Christmas dinners I ever ate. Eventually this gaming group spawned Wild Cards and John was one of the founding writers in our little story sandbox. He created so many memorable characters — Yeoman, Father Squid, Carnifex, Midnight Angel, and so many more, but especially Chrysalis. She and her Crystal Palace were such an iconic part of Wild Cards, and frankly I don’t care that she’d dead in the official timeline, I’d put that character and her bar in any TV show we might get to make.
He also gave us some of the most charming changes to our alternate history. John loved baseball and forgotten more than most people know about the sport. He knew there was a rumor that Fidel Castro had had a tryout for the Washington Senators so in the Wild Cards universe Castro never becomes a revolutionary leader. He becomes a professional baseball player and later coach. John collected first editions and loved laugh-out-loud-bad-movies. He had aquariums filled with exotic fish and took such delight in the giant snails that would laboriously climb the plants in the tank and then joyously launch themselves off the top to float to the bottom and then begin the process all over again. He and Gail loved animals and always had a house filled with cats and dogs (often named for baseball players).
John was an integral part of our Wild Cards world, and his loss will be felt deeply by all of us.
I learned a few days ago that John Jos. Miller had died suddenly. The shock of hearing that is still hard for me to process.
I’ve known John since the nascent days of the Wild Card series. John was part of the role-playing gamer group in Santa Fe/Albuquerque, of which many of the New Mexican sf/fantasy writer were a part, including George RR Martin. Though Denise and I lived in Cincinnati, that group of people were friends whom we saw fairly regularly at cons around the country. I knew John and his wife Gail via that route—both of them entertaining and friendly people. When George brought me into the Wild Cards fold in the mid-eighties, I started communicating with John regularly, as that was part of the writing process in that shared world series: you not only had to send the draft of any scene in which you used another person’s character to the creator of that character and get their approval (and revise until they were happy with it), but they had to do the same when they used your characters—and everything also had to pass muster with George as editor.
John, I suspect, wrote more stories for Wilds Cards than any of the group’s writers. That meant we were in touch frequently, either by phone, mail, email, or at conventions. When I was tapped to write a young adult series of books by Byron Preiss Visual, I asked John to step in as co-author on two of the six books, writing to a brief outline, and he did a remarkable job with those. John was (again, I suspect) a part of every Wild Cards book I was in, and he wrote one of the WC novels entirely on his own: DEATH DRAWS FIVE. John is also one of the five authors who have written for at least one volume released by each publisher of the series (the five, for the curious, are John, Michael Cassutt, Walton Simons, Melinda Snodgrass and myself.)
I’ll miss John terrifically: for his humor, his creativity, his writing, his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and comics and wild cards. My heart and all my sympathy goes out to Gail, the other half of a couple who always seemed to be very much in love with each other. John’s passing has torn another rift—a huge one—in the middle of the Wild Cards universe, for like Roger Zelazny, Ed Bryant, Steve Perrin, or Vic Milán, John can never be replaced.
Read something of John’s… because as long as people do that, he’ll never really be gone.
WALTON (BUD) SIMONS
John Miller died at the beginning of the year. I’m having a hard time taking that brutal fact in. I have a bad relationship with death, particularly when it’s unexpected, as John’s was. Every time death happens, it’s as hard, or harder, than the one before. In December Gilda and I lost two of our cats. They’d been a part of our lives for over 15 years. They were family. John and Gail particularly would know how hard that is. They have their own menagerie of beloved furry friends. So I was not in a good place when I heard the news about John. I’m still not. John deserves better words than the ones I can give him right now.
I joined the Wild Cards crew early on, not at the very beginning, but nearly so. The group felt to me like a family. Like any family it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but mostly it was great. There was so much creative energy. I don’t remember the first time I met John and Gail. I’m sure it was at a convention, but which one escapes me. I do remember how it felt when I met them. John and Gail are two of the most authentic people I’ve ever encountered. They are exactly what they appear to be, which is open and honest and interesting, so I was instantly at ease with them. Conversation was fun and lively, whether we were talking Wild Cards or something else. I’m not a big convention-goer. The ones I did attend usually had a group of Wild Card writers, and John and Gail were reliably there. I always looked forward to sitting down with them, doing some catching up, talking Wild Cards, and discussing anything else that cropped up in conversation.
The last time a saw John and Gail was at Bubonicon a few years ago. He and Gail took Caroline Spector and me out to eat on the last day of the con. The restaurant was unpretentious, but the food was good and the conversation was better. John was highly knowledgeable in many subjects. We never talked baseball, because I was a hoops guy, but we could go on about 50s sf movies for hours. Few folks knew more about those, even the obscure movies, than John. In spite of how smart he was (plenty) and the vast amount of facts at his disposal, John never talked “at” a person, or tried to lecture them. He just shared, often with enthusiasm, what he knew. After eating, we all went to the Miller’s house and talked some more. It was the perfect way to wind down a convention.
My last correspondence with John was just before he passed. I wanted him to look over a blog post I’d written relating to 50s sf film. He was interested and said he’d get back to me, but events prevented that from happening. Wild Cards is a family of sorts, as I said. We’ve lost authors before, and will continue to do so as the years roll by. There’s no overstating John’s contribution to the project. He had many stories and I read them all. Reading John’s work was always easy and fun, never a chore. I’ll likely start rereading his stories in the not-too-distant future. For now, a chair at the Wild Cards family table is sadly vacant. All I can do is take a seat next to it, close my eyes, and remember John, writer and friend.
It’s not just anybody that you would let kill off your firstborn Wild Cards character. John Miller was a special guy.
I didn’t know him before Wild Cards, but once we started working together, we hit it off immediately. John was easygoing, funny, conscientious, and a big baseball fan. Best of all, the guy could really write. He knew how to plot and how to make an action scene jump off the page, how to create characters that you instantly cared about, how to write lean, clean prose that practically turned the pages for you. Collaborating with him was a joy because he seemed to have no ego at all–he was there to serve the story, and he always did just that.
Thanks for the good times, pal.
I lost my good friend John Jos Miller this month and it sucks so bad I haven’t been able to come up with an evocative post about all the things I thought were wonderful about him.
John was an excellent human being and a great friend. I truly am at a loss. There’s a hole in the world today and it’s a lesser place now that he’s gone.
So, f*** death.
Also, go read his work. He was a dandy writer.
I can’t say much about John that hasn’t already been said by those who knew him for longer than I did. I will always remember him as one of the first of the Wild Cards writers I met when I started going to Bubonicon, and how encouraging he was. As others have mentioned, he created some of the most iconic characters in Wild Cards, and I was so pleased when he let me fill in the backstories for some of those characters. As the author of the RPG sourcebooks, he’s the guy we always went to with questions. The Godfather of Wild Cards, if you will. He was ubiquitous, and it’s going to be strange going to places where I always saw him and not finding him there. Rest well, John.
KEVIN ANDREW MURPHY
This is hard to write, but a couple weeks ago I lost a friend, a co-author, and a mentor: John Jos Miller.
John was one of the Wild Cards writers from the start and the first to welcome me into the crew after George inducted me. Also, he was the first of the Wild Cards I met in person when he and George came out to California for a San Diego Comic Con in the early 90s. We talked about my characters Herne and Cameo, who I’d first written for the Aces Abroad Wild Cards adventure for Steve Jackson Games, and having them become my main characters for the series. John borrowed both of them for his Carnifex storyline for Dealer’s Choice, and it was great to see them brought to life before I ever got to write them myself.
John and I continued to meet at conventions after that, and I loved getting to hang out with him and Gail. We also had long phone conversations going over our memories for minor characters to reuse for supporting roles, and we had a bit in common since he was an archaeologist and I had one of my degrees in anthropology specializing in folklore, so it was good to talk shop in related fields. John borrowed a lot of my characters over the years, and I in turn got to borrow his. I particularly liked getting to write his character Isis, of the Living Gods, and her daughter Simoon.
John was also a lifesaver as a collaborator the year I got wrecked by grief after my mom died. I couldn’t focus on revising my script for Ante Up, my Wild Cards graphic novel featuring my character Rosa Loteria, so John stepped in, finishing it, and masterfully fixing my third act troubles, adding a couple of his own characters and turning it into a full collaboration. John also took the job of approving graphic novel pages with our artist, Jon Sanchez, since they were both in Albuquerque.
The last time I got to see John in person, in fact, was after I went out to Santa Fe for one of our mass signings. On the way back, I met with John and Jon to have lunch and go over pages. Then I said goodbye to John at his house just as he was getting an archaeology magazine out of his mailbox.
I know it’s trite to call someone a gentleman and a scholar, but John was both, and more than that, a damned good writer and a friend.
How do you sum up a man’s life in just a few paragraphs?
How do you do justice to forty years of friendship?
John Miller died January 5 at his home in Albuquerque. John had been in ill health for some years, but even so, his sudden passing in the night was a shock to all of us who knew him. I had spoken to him just a few days prior, and seen him as recently as November at the signing party for the Tor reissue of his Wild Cards novel, DEATH DRAWS FIVE, at Beastly Books. He was the same old John, a little grumpy, not feeling his best, but always good to talk with. One of the other Wild Carders was in town and we were throwing a party, and I had called John to invite him up… but he did not feel well enough to make the hour long drive to Santa Fe. He even said he might have to give up driving entirely. We talked about me coming down to grab a dinner after things calmed down a little.
A day later, he was gone. He is survived by his wife, Gail Gerstner Miller, by all of his fellow members of the Wild Cards consortium, and by a large circle of friends here in New Mexico.
Most of you reading this probably knew John best for his work on Wild Cards, where he wrote as both John J. Miller (in the early days) and John Jos. Miller (later on). ((Ah, that name, that byline… John Miller is such a common name, our John was constantly being confused with other John Millers, to his continual annoyance. When he wrote comics, he was confused with John Jackson Miller, another comic writer. Amazon mashed his books together with those of another John J. Miller, a journalist for the NATIONAL REVIEW. Our John replaced his middle initial J with Jos. when that happened, but even that did not help. I urged him to adopt a more distinctive pseudonym a hundred times, but he was a stubborn guy, and his name was his name, so… ))
John… our John, not those other guys… was one of the original Wild Carders, the founding fathers (and mothers) who were with us from the start. His was the last story in the first book. In a world full of aces and jokers, he went his own way, and made a nat his viewpoint character: Yeoman, the yen archer, a hard-as-nails Vietnam vet seeking revenge on the crime lord who killed his wife. John had originally created the character for SuperWorld, the RPG game that preceded and inspired Wild Cards, but Brennan made the leap from game to page smoothly, and became one of our mainstays in those early volumes.
Yeoman was by no means the only character John created for the series. Aces, jokers, deuces, nats… he contributed as much to the series as any other writer. Chrysalis, the information broker with the transparent skin, our first iconic joker character. Wraith, librarian and jewel thief. SCARE agents Lady Black and Chrysalis (Billy Ray). Mother and her children. Father Squid was his, along with the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker. A hardcore baseball fan, he kept the Dodgers in Brooklyn by having Walter O’Malley draw a black queen and melt into a pile of sludge. He also short circuited the Cuban revolution by giving Fidel Castro a better curveball, so he became a Hall of Fame major league pitcher instead of a revolutionary. Later down the road, he gave us the Midnight Angel and her flaming sword, and John Nighthawk, born a slave, the oldest man in the Wild Cards universe. There were more… so many more… John loved the world and its characters, and his creativity was boundless. John probably created more characters and wrote more stories than any of the other forty+ writers who have contributed to Wild Cards over the decades, and gave us so many memorable moments. His credits included one-and-a-half Wild Cards novels: DEATH DRAWS FIVE, a solo novel reissued by Tor this November, and DEAD MAN’S HAND, a collaboration with yours truly wherein Yeoman crossed paths with my own character Popinjay to solve a murder.
Wild Cards was by no means the only thing he wrote. He published a number of short stories over the decades, and wrote half a dozen work-for-hire books for a variety of franchises, among them Buck Rogers, Dinosaur Samurai, and Witchblade. He wrote comics and graphic novels as well, including adaptations of some of my own stories.
John had the worst luck of any writer I have known, though. His first sale, to FANTASTIC, came out in the final issue; the magazine folded after publishing it. So did Kitchen Sink Press, later on. And iBooks, which published John’s novel DEATH DRAWS FIVE a week before they went bankrupt. Only six hundred copies ever managed to make it to market. And then there was the time another publisher sent the advance for one of John’s novel to another John Miller, who cashed the check. The mistake was theirs entirely, and the other John Miller lived in Indiana rather than New Mexico, but it still took our John half a year to get paid. (Giving birth to a saying familiar to all Wild Carders: “Don’t buy the couch.” For the past decade or so, he was writing an original novel all his own, a period horror/ SF tale called BLACK TRAIN COMING. He never finished it, though he had been laboring on that one even longer than I’ve been working on THE WINDS OF WINTER. His declining health the past few years slowed him down considerably, sad to say.
Still, for all the setbacks and struggles and frustrations, John persisted. He was a writer, and that’s what a writer does.
John and his wife Gail were two of the first friends I made when I moved to New Mexico at the end of 1979. They were part of a gaming group that met weekly in Albuquerque, an amazing, creative, half-mad gang whose numbers included Walter Jon Williams, Jim Moore, Victor Milan, Chip Wideman, and Melinda Snodgrass. Parris and I were welcomed into their fellowship, and soon found ourselves addicted to role-playing, staying up to dawn at John’s house or Melinda’s to play MORROW PROJECT, PARANOIA, GURPS, CALL OF CTHULHU, and… eventually… SUPERWORLD, with me as gamemaster. Thence came Wild Cards, and days that shall live in infamy. Dr. Tachyon, the Great and Powerful Turtle, Fortunato, Peregrine, Modular Man, Sewer Jack, Bagabond, Golden Boy… and John’s own Chrysalis.
There is so much I could say about John.
He was born in upstate New York, and worked on a rat farm.
When he was younger, he was an athlete. Softball, racketball, handball. And he loved baseball with a passion. The Brooklyn Dodgers till they moved away, then the Mets. I am a Mets fan too. We had that in common, and we’ll always have 1969 and 1986.
(Every writer has stories they never get around to writing. John had one such. On his way up, Babe Ruth played briefly for a minor league team in Providence, Rhode Island. John had this great idea for a story called “Howard and George,” wherein Babe meets H.P. Lovecraft on the streets of Providence, and both men’s lives are changed profoundly by the meeting. It could have been such a wonderful story, and John talked it about often, but never got around to writing it. Breaks my heart. I wanted to read that story).
He was a collector. Books, comic books, baseball cards.
He and Gail loved animals. They had tropical fish, poison arrow frogs, lizards… and dogs, and cats, and dogs, and cats. So many dogs and cats. John was a big guy and could sometimes seem gruff, but he had a soft heart where animals were concerned. He refused to watch movies or TV shows where an animal was killed to advance the plot. And whenever a cat needed a home — as Vic Milan’s cats did after his death — John was always there to take them in.
He served two years as secretary of SFWA. One of the better secretaries SFWA ever had.
He wept when Roger Zelazny died.
He loved bad movies. He and Gail used to have Bad Movie Night at their house once a week. They introduced me to some truly terrible films, the kind that are so bad they are hilarious.
He was an expert on baseball’s Negro League, its history and players. His last published story features Satchel Paige.
His academic background was in archeology, he went on many digs, but he gave up a promising career as an archeologist to write science fiction.
He loved rock music, especially the Grateful Dead. Gail and John joined Parris and me twice for Dead concerts down in Mexico, trips we will never forget.
Whenever I had a barbeque in my back yard, John would turn up with a big crockpot of his famous baked beans, best I ever had.
And… and… and… there is so much more. Memories. Stories.
It really has not sunk in yet. Part of me does not really believe he’s gone. Part of me still thinks that if I picked up the phone and dialed his number, he’d answer. Then I could drive down to Albuquerque and we could go out for Mexican food and a bad movie.
John was one of the good ones. A good writer, a good guy, a good friend.
Wild Cards, and the world, will not be the same without him.