Robot Coal, now published on the Martian Magazine website (and previously available in the Martian Issue 5 anthology), is partly an homage to a writing friend that I never got to meet.
The iron jaw grates as it fashions a broken grin.
I first encountered Paul R. Hardy when he critiqued my story, Glory Whales, on the Critters writing forum. His critique was smart and insightful, and I came to look forward to his comments whenever I put up another story for critique. Paul himself was an excellent writer, and I eagerly anticipated reading the early versions of his stories, returning the favor of a critique.
We exchanged emails beyond just the critiques back and forth. When I needed a quick turnaround on a story I was readying for a submission window that was rapidly approaching, I reached out to him and another writer whose stories and critiques I’d also come to appreciate on Critters. They both stepped up for me, and The Consequential Effects of Practiced Penmanship eventually became my first story sale.
There was a lot of back and forth with him on a couple other stories, where he kept pushing me, asking hard questions and forcing me to make the story better. One of those, Shattered Hand, went on to become my first sale to a professional story market. (And the other, The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun, subsequently sold as well.)
I knew he had health problems, which sometimes played into his critiques. In Golden Rays the main character resists an extensive medical intervention. Paul kept at me to come up with a solidly believable reason for that reluctance, telling me that he’d have undergone the medical intervention of that character in a heartbeat.
Paul had left Critters and moved to the Codex writing forum once he got his first professional story sale. I followed a few months later. He continued posting his stories for critiques in that forum, and became a valued member of the community.
So it was with shock that I read in a Codex post that he had passed away in December 2020.
I retired in late 2019 and some international travel was on my agenda across the next few years. The UK was near the top of the list, where I looked forward to meeting Paul face-to-face (along with some other UK writers). Unfortunately COVID crashed down around us and all those plans were put (and still are, for me) on hold.
Paul was instrumental in making me a better writer, my journey to successfully writing and selling SF and fantasy short stories would have been much harder without him.
RIP Paul R. Hardy