I was so sorry to hear last week that Kit Reed had died.  she was one of my favorite authors–and had been since I was thirteen and first read her brilliant short story, “The Wait.”  It was the most frightening story I had ever read.  It left a lasting impression on me, and from that moment on, I was on the lookout for Kit Reed stories. When I found them–stories like “The Judas Bomb,” “Mr. Da V”, and “On Behalf of the Product–they were just as good as “The Wait” and, in their own way, just as frightening.  The fear came not from slasher gore or creepy atmospherics, but from the feeling that she was telling you the truth about the world–and that truth was what you’d been afraid it was.

Kit didn’t use the usual trappings of horror.  She used harmless things like housewives and day care centers and visiting moms, small towns and celebrities and magazine ads to terrify you.  And make you think, really THINK about things you thought you understood.

Like in her novella, “Songs of War,” about an actual war between the sexes, in which the women of the town take to a military encampment up on the hill and prepare to do battle.  It was written at a time when there were lots of women’s rights stories being done, and “Songs of War” has been called a feminist story.  But that doesn’t really cover it.  She was also writing about mixed allegiances (one of the women keeps sneaking back into town to fix dinner for her husband) and misplaced loyalties and  how volunteers (no matter in what conflict for what cause) always think the war’s going to be noble and exciting and easy–till it turns into something else altogether.

Kind of like Kit’s stories.  When you’re reading “The Food Farm” or “Pilots of the Purple Twilight” or “Automatic Tiger,” you think at first it’s about the cult of celebrity or the plight of military wives or the dangers of wish fulfillment.  But Kit always has bigger fish to fry, and, as you read, you realize the story’s also about culpability or grief or losing your soul.  Or something even deeper than that.

Short stories aren’t the only thing Kit did.  She also wrote sardonic, provocative novels like FORT PRIVILEGE and MOTHER’S NOT DEAD, SHE’S ONLY SLEEPING and suspense novels like TWICE BURNED and GONE under the name of Kit Craig, and she was a journalist, winning the New England Newspaperwoman of the Year Award twice as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she taught writing workshops at Wesleyan University.

But her true genius lay in her short stories, which ranged from funny to horrifying to infinitely sad.  My absolute favorite (except for “The Wait” which is in a class by itself) is “Great Escape Tours, Inc.”  It’s about a group of senior citizens who go on a field trip to the past where they’re promised they’ll be young again.  And they are.  But this is not COCOON, and the tour promoters neglected to say how young they would be or what would happen if they missed the bus back.  Only Kit Reed could have written that story–or thought of it.

Most people never get to meet their heroes.  I was lucky.  In 1998, I was asked to write a foreword for a collection of Kit’s stories called WEIRD WOMEN, WIRED WOMEN.  It was one of the great honors of my life.  And a couple of years later, Sheila Williams, my editor at ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, called to tell me Kit wanted to have lunch with me when I was in New York.  “Oh, frabjous day, callou callay!” as Lewis Carroll would say.

“You have to promise me you won’t act like a crazed fan,” Sheila said.  “She thinks of you as a colleague, not a fan.”  Which was ridiculous–she was my hero!–and I wasn’t sure I could keep from gushing all over her, but I promised to keep the fawning to a minimum.
Kit took us to lunch at her elegant club, and I was concentrating so hard on behaving that I don’t remember anything about it except the heavenly macaroons we had for dessert (long before the whole French macaron craze swept New York.)  Nor do I remember anything we talked about except for her saying they were about to lose the macaroons because the chef who made them was leaving, and she didn’t know what she was going to do without them.

But I remember the conversation was delightful and that Kit was exactly as witty and smart and kind as I had thought she would be.

Later on I got to see her at several conventions and discovered she was as big a fan of the BBC series PRIMEVAL  as I was.  We had a number of great conversations about how well-written and cleverly plotted it was, and we also talked about politics and children and everything else.

I wish we’d had the chance to have more conversations and that I’d gotten to know her better.  And been able to communicate (without sounding like a gibbering fan girl) how wonderful I thought she was and how much her stories had inspired me.  To say I’ll miss her and her unique voice as a writer is the understatement of the century.  I don’t know what we’re all going to do without her.

Connie Willis

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