Once he figured out the best way to be a writer was to just get on with it, Albuquerque’s Victor Milán never looked back.
He had already churned out some paperback adventures when his first hardback book, a Western titled “The Night Riders,” was published by Doubleday in 1979 under Milán’s Keith Jarrod pseudonym. He was 24 years old.
Between that time and his death on Feb. 13 at age 63, Milán wrote, alone or with others, under his own name and several pen and publishing house names, scores of novels and stories. He might have written more if he had not gotten off to what he considered a slow start.
“At first I thought I had to learn to make a living some other way, that you couldn’t be a writer first off,” Milán told an Albuquerque newspaper reporter in 1979.
Armed with a keen intelligence and an unfettered imagination, he worked in genres ranging from Westerns to mysteries and historicals to men’s adventure novels. But from the start, Milán wanted to be known as a science fiction writer, and it is in the world of science fiction and fantasy that he found his home.
He was an integral part of New Mexico’s tight-knit science fiction/fantasy family and a persistent presence at Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s annual science fiction convention. He died at an Albuquerque hospital of pneumonia after a struggle with cancer. A celebration of his life will be at Bubonicon 50 in August.
Midnight at Vip’s
In August 1985, when I was a reporter with The Albuquerque Tribune, I interviewed Milán just before his novel “The Cybernetic Samurai” arrived in bookstores. He thought the book would mark a turning point in his career, because he believed it appealed to a broad audience.
“It’s the old story of a computer taking over the world, but this time the computer’s a good guy,” he told me.
Certainly, “The Cybernetic Samurai” is one of his best. And if it didn’t catapult him into the big time, it didn’t slow him down, either. His most recently published novel is 2017’s “The Dinosaur Princess,” part of Milán’s epic fantasy series set in a world where knights ride dinosaurs into battle.
He was also one of the founding writers of the long-running “Wild Cards” series of shared-universe novels penned by 30 or so authors and edited by George R.R. Martin of “Game of Thrones” fame and New Mexico science fiction writer Melinda Snodgrass.
Snodgrass, who writes for both print and TV, including work for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” credits Milán with saving her from the legal profession and helping her become a writer of fiction.
“I met Vic, appropriately enough, in the science fiction section of a little (Albuquerque) bookstore where I was working to earn some money before I started law school,” she said.
Milán and Snodgrass hit it off and hung out together as Snodgrass completed law school and her first years of law practice. He introduced her to his science fiction and fantasy writer friends, a circle she found infinitely more interesting than her colleagues in the legal system.
“I told him I wanted to be part of his world,” Snodgrass said. “He said, ‘I bet you could write if you tried, and I’ll help you.’ And he did. I’d write and he would look at it and make notes, and we’d meet to go over these notes at midnight at the Vip’s Big Boy on Fourth Street.”
She said midnight at Vip’s offered a vantage point for viewing an array of fascinating people and quirky incidents.
“Vic sort of taught me to watch this cavalcade of humanity go by, because you never know when you can put it into a book,” she said. She credits Milán for reshaping her life.
“I hated being a lawyer,” Snodgrass said. “I thanked him when I visited him in the hospital. I told him, ‘You gave me my life.’ ”
Spelling Bee winner
Milán was born in Tulsa but moved to New Mexico when he was 7. In 1968, he won The Albuquerque Tribune Spelling Bee and represented the city at the National Spelling Bee that June in Washington, D.C. In the national competition, he was knocked out by “emery,” which he spelled “emory.” I bet he hated that. He was way too smart to get tripped up by a five-letter word.
He was the student commencement speaker at Albuquerque Academy, from which he graduated in 1972, and he received scholarships to attend Yale University. He attended Yale for a year and attended the University of New Mexico for a year.
“It didn’t feel comfortable. It didn’t work,” he said of his college experience during that 1985 interview with me. “I decided if you want to be a writer, you should try writing, which I did. And it worked.”
Milán was a writer – first off and forever.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie Reed Jr. at 823-3916 or firstname.lastname@example.org.