I found out that Robert Jordan just died this week, at 58, after a long hard fight. He wrote the Wheel of Time series (among many other things).
I feel differently about this news than I did when I heard about Madeleine L'Engle. When I heard that she'd died, I felt sad in a somewhat selfish (and unrealistic) way, in that I would have liked to have met her -- I think I would have liked her very much personally. I don't know that I would have gotten along with Jordan personally (I don't think I ever really thought about it), but I know I would get along with his characters, and that's saying something.
Whatever I think I would have felt about him upon meeting him personally, I owe him a debt of gratitude for writing books that I thoroughly enjoyed every time I read them (and some of them I read a number of times). His characters are real; if Heinlein was right, and there is a world where fictional characters live beyond their authors because of the love and loyalty of their readers, then Jordan's characters are there. His world was so detailed and so well put together, that it feels like a place that I could go visit anytime, like it exists outside of its books. To be able to conceive and convey like that is a form of magic for which I have a deep respect. I can't imagine being able to write like that; hell, I can't even convey what my real world is like with any grace or style -- I can't imagine creating a world first and THEN having to tell people about it. I know that his work will be missed by thousands of people, many of whom will now try to figure out what was going to happen in the last book of the series. Whoever tries to finish it, I know it won't be the same without his authorial love for his world.