In a year of already three deaths, I was hoping to not have to write another one of these again for a while. Though the present memoriam is not for someone who was as close to me as my grandparents or my mentor and friend, Bill Baker, the death of C.J. Henderson (on July 4, 2014) still came as a shock. I didn’t know him very well, and though he never remembered me from a previous encounter, our creative paths seemed strangely entwined. Not to mention, he gave me a few pieces of helpful advice over the years, and I was there with a roll of tape when he needed it most.
H.P. Lovecraft was perhaps out first connexion. Though I have never read a story of Mr. Henderson’s, I became aware that he was one of the leading writers who continued to write stories in the Cthulhu Mythos. I have had a few Lovecraft stories published myself, though I am not a leading Lovecraftian by a long shot. Both of us, however, site the New England writer as one of our influences, but that wasn’t the full extent of this connexion; it was merely the catalyst.
I was inexplicably given C.J. Henderson’s contact information at the 2008 New York Comic Con (my first convention as a professional). As I remember, this was because I had a Cthulhu piece (the still popular Horror Beyond the Door) and comic sequence in my portfolio, and the person offering said information felt he was someone I should contact. I did, though neither of us could figure out why as, in C.J.’s words, he wasn’t “a publisher or even an editor” (I still have the e-mail). However, being the kind man he was, C.J. complimented me on my black and white work and wished me luck.
The next year, I met him in the flesh at the Big Apple Con (my first convention as an exhibitor). I remembered him, but my story about contacting him over our Lovecraft-connexion only vaguely rang a bell. Still, he was happy to talk (as C.J. always was), but he was just then having trouble attaching something to the front of his table. As it happened, I had his fix! I rushed down the aisle (my table being on just down it on the opposite side) and came back with my white, Pearl-brand, artist tape. I told him to use as much as he needed, and he accepted it graciously.
Afterwards, we talked a bit, and he gave me some advice about how to set up my table and what items I should display and sell. He also talked about himself, his writing, and how he enjoyed doing conventions not only because it helped supplement his income (he worked full-time as a writer) but that since the job of a writer is such a lonely one, he enjoyed being out amongst people and fans. He certainly had the personality for it, and I afterwards embraced that very same mentality.
Later, he stopped by my table to check on how I was doing and complimented some of my work. Then, much to my surprise, he talked up my art to a woman who passed by, just before leaving. It resulted in a sale (one of my first). I was ecstatic and humbled. I thanked him at the end of the con. Though we exchanged information our “relationship” remained designated to an occasional like or comment on one of his Facebook posts until I saw him again just before Christmas this past year.
Surprisingly, the last time I saw C.J. Henderson was at the Art Garage in Montclair, New Jersey for the reception of the last group show I did with them (Fan-tastic). I had seen his posts about being diagnosed with cancer, so I wasn’t surprised to see him a little thinner and with less hair than usual. When I approached him, he admitted that he didn’t remember me, but said not to take it to heart. The cancer treatments were messing with his memory, amongst other things. In fact, he said that was the first public appearance he had done in a long time.
We talked for a while again. When lamenting my lack of writing time since starting my teaching job, he said that he always tells people “if you want to do something, just do it.” (That’s great advice!) If nothing else, you can always write while eating a sandwich at lunch. He also introduced me to Michael H. Hanson, creator of the Sha’Daa series and founder of the Fictioneers (of which I soon after became a member). I met his wife (whom he had spoken about when I met him years before), and I purchased two books from him, signed, with the intention of finally reading his work (once I’d polished off this massive vampyr anthology, The Vampire Archives (ed. Otto Penzler), which I’m still only halfway through–I read slow).
In the months following, I continued to show my support by liking and offering words of encouragement on his posts about his battle with cancer. I only wish I could have offered him more and that I had gotten a chance to know him better. You see, C.J. Henderson was a likable man. He was kind, generous, and approachable and had a great (albeit quirky) personality. All fine qualities to have.
For the little time I did know him, I’m happy I got that much, and for the advice and assistance he gave me, I will always be grateful. The world has lost a genuinely good man. All we have left are the words he left on the page. Perhaps it’s time to open up my signed copy of Degrees of Fear and Others. Maybe there’s still more I can learn from him. Certainly we all can by the way C.J. Henderson lived his life.