I wasn't a big reader of Feintuch's books, but I do remember him very fondly. You see, I first met him because he beat me for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
Feintuch's first three novels came out in 1994 and 1995, meaning that he had made a rather big splash by the time the 1996 World Science Fiction Convention, L.A.con III, rolled around. So when I found myself on a ballot against him, I figured my chances of winning were low.
Nomi and I went to Worldcon anyway -- my first -- and I sweated through my very first Hugo ceremony. (You can read a fuller account of my experiences in the article Worldcon, the Hugo, and Me from the fanzine Mimosa 19, published in November 1996.) When they announced Feintuch as the Campbell winner, I was naturally disappointed, but I knew that it was rare for a writer to win in his or her first year of eligibility. So that took a little bit of the sting off the loss. (And, in fact, I won in my second year.)
At the so-called Hugo Losers party, I approached Feintuch to congratulate him and to ask if I could see the Campbell plaque. Feintuch was a large man, well over six feet tall, but he was also a shy man, and he seemed nervous when I approached. I distinctly got the feeling that he was afraid I was planning to beat him up for winning the Campbell. Instead, we both exchanged a few gracious words, and he let me admire the plaque.
The next morning, Nomi and I were surprised to discover that Feintuch was on the same plane as we were, since it was first landing in Detroit before continuing on to Boston. Feintuch was delighted to see us, and during the flight he kept coming over to our seats to chat about life and writing. He gave us a signed copy of his first novel, Midshipman's Hope, which I still have.
I honestly didn't give him much thought until two years later. I was sitting in a cafe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, having coffee and tea with a former student, when I thought I recognized Feintuch at another table with someone. But, I kept telling myself, that couldn't be Feintuch, because he lived in Michigan. However, I noticed that he kept looking over at me. Finally, I walked over to his table and said, "David Feintuch, right? Michael Burstein. You beat me for the Campbell two years ago." It turned out that Feintuch had gone to Harvard Law School and had chosen to visit friends in Cambridge on his way back from Bucconeer, the Baltimore Worldcon. We spent a few minutes chatting, and then went on our separate ways.
And sadly, that was it. I never saw him again, and I probably wouldn't have thought about him again had I not just heard about his death this past weekend. And I'm sorry he's gone, because I would like to thank him for the comment he made when he went to the stage for his Campbell plaque in 1996. He held it in his hands, looked at it as if he still couldn't believe he was receiving this award, and said, "I'm glad it's not for the Best Young Writer."
Feintuch was 52 years old when he won the New Writer award, twice as old as I was at the time. Which meant that he was 50 years old when his first novel came out. He spent his life trying over and over to get published, dreaming of becoming a science fiction writer.
And although it took him half a century, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
A message of hope for us all.