Aspiring writer, loving mother, and dear friend Chris Eldin took her life at age 46 after a long and baffling absence from public view. Her writing friends have only just now learned of the tragedy.
I met Chris on 16 December 2006. The reason I know the date is because that’s when she posted her Magic Gameboard query to Miss Snark’s Crapometer—breaking all of Her Snarkiness’s rules about what form a query letter should take. I had just started blogging that year, so Chris was one of my earliest friends. She shared her manuscripts. We skyped regularly. We talked about the industry: what good scenes are made of, the best agents to query, how to break through. How, oh how, to break through.
Her voice surprised me at first. Here I was, talking to the self-annointed Church Lady, of all people. To an avatar of a rhino in a thong bikini. To a community leader. And I expected something more . . . authoritative. Her voice was soft and disarming, even deferential. That’s not to say she didn’t have convictions, and didn’t press them. She listened. Whatever you were saying, no matter how much she disagreed with it, she listened, she took it in. Then she responded in that soft, genteel voice, almost in the manner of a southern lady, without the southern accent.
As funny as she was online, I never once heard her tell a joke. In person she was serious, all-business, get-the-job-done. To me, anyway. At the time, that’s all I wanted from my writing friends. At the time, success was equivalent to getting an agent. Chris was committed, at least as much as any other aspiring writer I’ve ever known, to punching a hole in the thick glass ceiling we perceived separated us from the agents who we perceived separated us from the fat-cat publishers who we perceived were squatting on mounds of advance money, thumbing their noses at us. Or so we perceived. There are agents and editors out there whose ears should still be burning.
She recruited me to work on Bookroast with her, and with Jason Evans, Phoenix Sullivan, Shona Snowden, Sarah Laurenson, and others. She’s the reason I know Juliet Grames, Brian Jay Jones (I hosted him!), and other cool people. She conducted online events; one of my favorites was a party for Evil Editor that generated hundreds of comments. Her blog was what I called a “crossroads blog,” a place everyone visited. Everyone who was anyone. Back when everyone blogged.
And then, one day, she went away.
I think I know why, because she spoke of her domestic troubles too, during those Skype calls. She apparently decided it was in the best interests of her children to withdraw entirely from the writing community. She was also deeply disappointed her books weren’t published. She didn’t pussyfoot around about that. She had written two; nobody wanted them. “Write a third,” I said. “I’m done,” she replied.
For every person who needs an intervention, there’s a point in her life when her friends need to actually intervene, to rappel onto her roof from a Black Hawk helicopter and storm her house, “Hut, hut, hut!”, bash in some doors and windows, beat up the bad guys—POW, KA-BLAM!—like Batman. Snatch the imprisoned maiden. Haul her to safety.
Key stirring symphonic music. Wide-angle pan of jubilant warriors silhouetted against a low evening sun. Hoo-ah! End credits.
That’s where I fucked up.
Chris withdrew from most of her community, including me, in late 2009, maintaining contact with only a few very close friends. Later she withdrew from them too. I wrote periodically, as did others, never receiving a reply. I wrote as recently as this year, unaware she’d killed herself last year. Unaware I was engaging in that wheel-spinning, shadow-boxing thing friends engage in when they’re trying to track down a ghost.
I find myself reminiscing about another time, a time when Miss Snark was still kicking up her heels and we were all still blogging, still visiting, still commenting, still nurturing a community. A time when we got together by the handfuls, by the dozens, sometimes by the hundreds.
It was a better time. Because it was less about marketing and promotion—back then—and more about making friends and being mutually supportive. Because social media—back then—was more about the community itself than the individual pipsqueaks who comprised it. Because Christine Elizabeth Eldin—back then—was still among us, making us laugh, pushing us, and herself, to break through.
So I’m hanging out in the northbound emergency lane of I-95 in Harford County, Maryland, just north of exit 85, around 8:45 p.m. on 9 August 2012. Seems like a good place to be, and a good time to be there. A Volvo parks on the shoulder. The female driver appears to write a letter, then steps out of her car. I race up from behind and wrap my arms around her. Locking her in an embrace. She turns her head and recognizes me. “Steve? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Taking you home,” I say. “Hundreds of your friends are waiting for you. And God knows how many more, strangers until now, who are eager to hear the sound of your voice.”
Stephen Parrish is the editor of The Lascaux Review.