A month ago, my good friend Melissa Mia Hall, author and book critic for Publishers Weekly, guest blogged for me (see blog below). Unbeknownst to either of us at the time, these would literallly be the last words she ever wrote.
Unexpectedly, tragically, way too soon, Melissa passed away from a massive myocardial infarction the next week. Do any of those modifiers do justice to her passing? Of course not. The long and short of it is that we will miss her.
A beautiful writer, Melissa had 75 or so of her short stories published, many in major anthologies. She also edited an anthology, Wild Women, which included the likes of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Margaret Atwood, Erica Jong, Alice Walker, and yours truly. Putting together an anthology is never easy, but Melissa had a knack for weaving the stories in and out to make for a seamless read.
Well known in the book-critic world, Melissa reviewed steadily for Publishers Weekly, and we all looked forward to her insightful Q&As from new and established authors. She had a knack there too—asking the questions that broke open an author, bringing out depth and creativity and a richness that was so far advanced from what most interviewers are able to evoke.
Because with Melissa, words and stories and books were her passion. As they are for so many of us in this field. Of course, many writers get into this in order to become “rich and famous,” especially in an economy gone south. But the true writers, those of us who are in it for the love of great writing, feel the pull of Rilke’s only question: “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night, must I write?” It is for the love of these words that we live and breath and have our meaning.
And that summed up Melissa’s life—it was one in which words and her friends gave breath to her being. She was most happy when she could couple the two 🙂 Melissa met another friend and fellow author, Laurie Moore, two years ago when reviewing Laurie’s first novel, Woman Strangled—News at Ten, for PW. The two became fast friends after that. It was Laurie who took soup over to Melissa the night she died, as we thought her nausea came from not eating. But that was the impact Melissa had on folks—from a review of a book from a first-time novelist she didn’t know, to that author bringing her nourishment years later of another kind. On a similar note, I noted with bittersweet sadness that Alice Hoffman signed Melissa’s online bereavement book. Melissa would have smiled at that, being such a fan of Hoffman’s books for oh-so-many years.
We never know the folks we touch. We can only stay true to our natures, and write the best we can write, helping each other along the way. Melissa of course answered positively to Rilke’s question. I knew her in the most silent hour of her night, and write she did. She would want the rest of us to do the same.
So, in honor of Melissa today, go write something beautiful. And as you do so, feel her smile upon your shoulders, and the touch of her magic wand to your words . . .