York lost one of its literary luminaries over the Memorial Day weekend. Charles F. “Chuck” Miller died following a brief illness. He was just 62.
Chuck was born and raised in Columbia, PA and spent the bulk of his professional life in Lancaster, only having moved to Springettsbury township about 10 years ago.
Starting in the 70s, he produced a series of science fiction-themed conventions. These weren’t the conventions that are popping up today, as they were geared toward readers and serious science fiction types (although, truth be told, they were still populated by the nerds of the day).
He moved on from that to form a publishing company geared toward the horror and science fiction genres. As a publisher he worked with a stable of writers and artists that included Stephen King, Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance (pretty big names at the time). He was nominated for a Hugo Award (which is still a VERY big deal). And he was presented with the World Fantasy Award (which is a bona fide HUGE deal).
The publishing world changed and Chuck changed, too. This time, he opened a comic book shop, Big Planet Comics, based in Lancaster. He split his time between his shop and setting up at conventions–science fiction, pulp magazine and horror–up and down the East Coast, where he peddled his books and magazines in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington…and back again.
It was the early years of the new millennium that Chuck took the plunge and moved all the way to this side of the river. He still traveled to the conventions, mostly, but not exclusively, in Hunt Valley, MD. He’d be at Renningers Antique Market in Adamstown most Sunday mornings (early, early…as in 5:30 AM; done and packed up by 9:30 or 10). He’d haunt the book sales of the local libraries. But most often your best chance of catching him was wandering around the stacks at The York Emporium, shelving books or, in his own way, growling at the customers.
We called him “grumpy cat.” He’d sit on the sofa, drinking coffee, and opine about the state of current science fiction or horror (nothing, in his opinion, was quite as good as was the movie Gorgo). And we loved it.
When I first came to The York Emporium, just about 10 years ago now, I was pretty hungry to get dealers to come in and rent space. I had set my sites on Chuck almost from the start, thinking (rightly, as it turned out) that Chuck would give the shop an air of legitimacy. I asked him, about 3 months into my tenure, if he would. He looked at me straight in the eye, shook his head and said, simply: No.
We weren’t ready for him yet.
It took a little more than a year, but he did finally come in. And he did add a touch of class to the joint.
He was my mentor. I flattered myself to think he was my friend. And I miss him.
Someday, if I am lucky enough to wind up where the all good little book peddlers go, I sincerely hope that he will be saving a place for me at the table.