On Friday morning Zach Hill passed away. Many of the regulars here probably recognize that name. Zach was one of my best friends. He was one of the members of Writer Nerd Game Night. He was a regular in the Utah writing scene. I know lots of you know him from his website as the Minimum Wage Historian.
A donation page has been set up for his young wife, Mackenzie here: http://gogetfunding.com/honor-a-fallen-friend-zachary-hill-memorial-fund/
Last Friday was supposed to be game night at my place. For all of us this is something we look forward to all month. I was writing that morning when I got a message from Zach’s older brother George that Zach had passed out at work, they’d done CPR on him, and rushed him to the hospital. My initial reaction was mostly disbelief. Zach is only in his thirties, didn’t have any serious health problems anybody knew about, and was a pretty healthy guy. George is back in Virginia and was getting this second hand, so maybe it was just me being optimistic, but I assumed it was some minor thing, probably not a big deal, and he’d be fine. I gave the rest of the guys a heads up that Zach was sick, but let’s cancel to be safe.
Then about fifteen minutes later George told us that Zach was gone.
It was a gut punch. I was stunned. We all were. There had to be a mistake. This was impossible. I told my wife, and then I just broke down. The rest of the guys did too. You’ve got to understand that Zach was the best of us, and I’m not just saying that today. He was the nicest, most genuinely kind, well meaning, well intentioned, upbeat, funniest dude you could ever ask for. The idea of a world without Zach actively making everything awesome was inconceivable.
I first met Zach about ten years ago. I’ve known George for almost twenty years. Then I met Zach’s twin brother Josh, when he got home from Iraq, and I met Zach shortly afterwards. Zach ended up moving out to Utah and we became shooting buddies. You’ll notice that in most of the pictures of Zach floating around the internet he’s either carrying a gun or a book (and probably wearing a taco looking cowboy hat and Elvis glasses).
Zach fell in with the Utah gun nut crowd. He had a love of oddball guns, and was pretty freaking good with a Romak. That’s how he got to know guys like Mike Kupari, Joe Chetwood, Dave Bridges, and Steve Ting. But he was also a nerdy writer too, so I talked up things like ConDuit and LTUE to him. Back east Zach had taken Orson Scott Card’s creative writing class, and he loved workshops. So he came along where he met the rest of the Utah writer contingent. And Zach was just such a personable, helpful type that everybody in that crowd came to love the guy.
If you’ve been following the outpouring of memories about Zach on FB over the last couple of days, you’ve probably seen references to him being a Warrior Scholar. Yeah, that wasn’t a joke. That was just Zach, but he was a Happy Warrior. This was somebody who in the middle of a huge gunfight started using a bad Italian accent and talking like Super Mario. Zach had that rare gift where he could go from steely eyed badass to class clown in the blink of an eye.
The scholar part is no joke either. I’ve never met anybody who had more of a love of history than Zach, and I’m including history professors and archeologists in that. Zach had a passion for history that was contagious. To give you an idea of what the Minimum Wage Historian is like, one time my teenage daughter had to write a history report about some topic, and most of the information she’d found about the topic so far was dull, grey, and overly academic. She mentioned this to our resident history nut, so then he specifically wrote a MWH article on the topic for her to use as a reference. 🙂
If you haven’t read his page, do it: http://minimumwagehistorian.com/ Zach was the voice of Gaspar Correia.
My kids loved Zach. My oldest daughter has been gaming with us for the last year, and I knew that it was going to be tough when she found out. They were both huge Japanophile anime nerds, and most of my daughter’s playlist of weird things like Baby Metal came from Zach. But I didn’t realize how much my eleven year old son looked up to Zach. He took it really hard. But looking back, whenever the guys came over, my boy would hang out with them as long as possible (eating the snacks Pat brought) until the grownups banished him. Plus, he has a sort of hero worship thing going on for the guys who were military vets, and my boy has a kind, soft heart.
It wasn’t too long ago that Zach met the love of his life. He and Mackenzie have only been married for a year, but during that time they were completely inseparable. If Zach came to something, then Mackenzie was by his side. She even came to game night. For the last few she just sat at my painting desk and painted minis (she has a ton of natural talent) while the rest of us played, but then last time we met at Steve’s house, so I just handed her a character sheet, and said congratulations, you’re a space pirate. MacKenzie is awesome. Anybody who knew this couple could see how much they loved each other.
I would really encourage you to check it out that donation link if you’re in a position to do so. Mackenzie is an amazingly strong person, but she could certainly use a hand right now.
Zach was a world traveler. When he was a young man he served an LDS mission to Sonora Mexico for two years. (strangely enough, it turned out he was in the same mission, at the same time, with Steve Diamond, and they didn’t realize that until they were eating tacos at my house and comparing my wife’s cooking to Sonoran street tacos) Then Zach went to Iraq twice. After he got home, in order to ‘clear his head’ he lived in Italy for a while and did the backpacking across Europe thing. Then he was in Utah with us for a while, but then Zach moved to Japan to teach English for six months. Then he came back to help out family in Virginia, where he met Mackenzie. I have no doubt that if he’d stuck around here longer they would have kept having adventures together.
The dude had a quick wit. If you read the Drowning Empire, Writer Nerd Game Night serials, Zach was the voice of Shintaro, farmer/philosopher. Most of the funny bits were Zach being Zach. Basically, he would slip and say the most out of character, modern things, we’d all laugh, but then Zach would double down, and come up on the fly with some super outlandish explanation of “how in Sparrow lands…” that modernism was actually in character. For example, he once told somebody “that was a dick move.” We laughed, but oh no, you see in Sparrow Lands there is a treacherous vine known as the Dicku Weed, and it will ensnare and trip travelers, so when one of your friends does something that messes with you, that’s a “Dicku Move.”
Yes… He kept that sort of thing up for two years. 🙂
Zach loved tabletop war games. He started out with Warhammer. Currently he was playing Infinity and Warmachine. The last game of Warmachine I played was against Zach. My mercenaries beat his Convergence, but only because he got his heavy infantry stuck in rough terrain. The last game of Infinity we played his Nomads were kicking my butt (except for Scott the Scotts Guard who was like friggin’ Rambo). He was a mini painter too. His Convergence scheme was awesome. He was just multitalented like that.
Mike Kupari has known Zach about as long as I have. They were like brothers. I talked to Mike on Friday, and both of us were absolutely wrecked and trying not to cry on the phone. When they decided to have a memorial dinner for Zach on Sunday night, Mike left Pueblo, Colorado, and drove all the way in the snow to get here in time. Mike used Zach as the inspiration for the archeologist Zach Mesa in Her Brother’s Keeper. The taco hat and giant sunglasses? That’s a documentary right there. He started out as a minor character, but he just kind of stole the show and became one of the stars. That’s the power of Zach right there.
I used him as a character in Grimnoir too. He was the kind of person that if you know him, you pretty much have to use him as a fictional character at some point. Zach is the guy who did all of my interior artwork for that series, and since it was revealed in Warbound that the art was all organic and ‘in world’, it made sense to just have Zach be the future seeing artist.
The funny thing is that when I saw Zach’s portfolio, he could do all sorts of different art. When he first gave me some roughs from Hard Magic, I really wanted it to have that fast, rough, 1930’s pulp, ink drawn feel, so my direction was NO! ROUGHER! NO! FASTER! MAKE IT LOOK RUSHED! And Zach kept on making the art quicker and pulpier, until it was what I envisioned. Fast forward to the sequel. I think I’ve still got four months before the deadline, so I’ve not even shown it to Zach yet to get started. I think we’ve got tons of time. Then because one of the distributors wanted to put it on the cover of their catalog, Toni wanted to move up the deadline to now. Okay, no problem. Book is done… Wait… What about the interior art? Uh…. We have two days. Oh crap. So I call up Zach, hey buddy, got a favor to ask of you… You know that art work for the sequel? Yeah… I need it by Tuesday. Yes. This Tuesday… Yes… I know you haven’t read the book yet and you have a real job. I think he might have called me a Dicku Weed, but Zach, being Zach, got the file, read the book, and cranked out the art in a couple of days. The funny thing is, at no point during my art direction did I have to say ‘make it look rushed’ this time around. He came through and saved my bacon.
I watched Zach grow as a writer. This is a man who was prolific, fast, and had a work ethic. Every project he tackled was better than the previous one. He self-published a bunch of books and was from the Learn By Doing school of thought. He was on track to really make it as an author. He’d just sold a short story to Baen, and it is going to appear in the upcoming Freehold anthology.
Zach had just finished another novel manuscript, and he was prouder of it than anything he’s ever done before. Pat Tracy and Julie Frost were in his writer’s group, and they were reading this latest book he went, and last night Pat told me it was excellent, and the best thing Zach has written. His brother Josh has the manuscript now, and he’s going to finish Zach’s editing pass, and then kick it over to Zach’s writer friends to take a look at. We are going to make sure it sees the light of day. When that book comes out we are going to Book Bomb the hell out of it, like no other Book Bomb that has come before.
Steve Ting and Paul Genesse organized a memorial dinner for Zach. It was last night. Josh came out from Virginia. Mackenzie was there. I met Zach’s mom for the first time. George came in via Skype. It was a big gathering. Josh laid down the rules, this was a celebration of Zach’s life, no weeping, no moping, and everybody have fun, because that’s what Zach would have wanted. And we did.
The only place they could find to host a giant group on Sunday night was the Market Street Grill. Zach was a Mountain Dew addict. So many people asked for Mountain Dew in his honor, but they didn’t serve it, so the management went to a grocery store and bought a bunch of Mountain Dew so we could have a proper toast (that was very classy of them).
It was wonderful seeing all of these people come together to remember one of the greatest men we ever had the privilege to know. Zach truly brightened the lives of everyone around him.
You don’t need to say you’re sorry, or offer condolences to his friends. When you’re talking about somebody like Zach, we were lucky to have known him. If you have somebody like Zach in your life, then you are fortunate. Cherish them. Love them. Enjoy life. Because they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Again, here is the donation link to help out his family. Please check it out: http://gogetfunding.com/honor-a-fallen-friend-zachary-hill-memorial-fund/