Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jay Lake, The City Imperishable, and Me.

So this was hard to write. I've been putting it off for a while.  A lot of people have written a lot of stirring obituaries and remembrances of Jay Lake.  That's not really what this is though. This is more about me. And it seemed pretty crass to write about myself in immediate wake of someone else's personal tragedy. So I waited, and I thought a lot  about stuff.  And then I ran into this picture online, and felt that I had to write  something. Amanda Downum took this picture at Wiscon 30. Thank you Amanda. You photo  helped get off my ass and down to the business of writing and remembering.

Jay lake started out as a colleague, and writer who I was hearing a  lot  about. And then a distant but regular convention friend.  And then he became an author that I published.  And then  he became a disappointed and frustrated author that I published. It was the first time that I had really failed as a publisher.  Sure, I had books that had done worse, but there were lower expectations for those books.  This was a book by Jay Lake... the shiny, up-and-coming-super-star short-story-writer that everyone was talking about. This was supposed to be his amazing commercial debut.  He  was going to be the next China Mieville. And it didn't happen.  And this was the first time I could point to a specific mistake I made that directly impacted the sales in a negative way.
One of the reasons Jay went with Night Shade was because we always put out really good looking books.  But Trial of Flowers had a disaster of a cover, and it was my fault. We were ramping up our schedule  and trying  to more books sooner, but our proccess hadn't changed, and we were still producing them the same way we had always done them. There were time pressures and new  artists to work with, and I was in charge of  it  all. And I failed him. It  was a simply adequate piece of art  with a mediocre to  solid cover design, but what really sunk it was somewhere in the communication between the Artist, the Cover  Designer  and Me, the color  profile of the artwork's tiff file got changed to something that wasn't CMYK, and it got sent  to the printer. And when it  came back, the color had shifted and looked terrible.  And  we didn't catch it until we had 5K copies in the distributors warehouse.

Jay never out-right confronted me  about it, but I knew  he wondered why his book looked so bad, while most of  the other Night Shade titles looked substantially better.  And I tried to make  it up to him by publishing a sequel to the book... with the hopes that  I could  turn the sales of the two books around some how. And Madness of  Flowers got  a pretty good looking cover that I was proud of. But I never got the series to take off. And due to some miscommunications  between me and my business partner (and conversatiosn between my businesses partner and a third party) Jay had an even worse experience with Night Shade the second time around.

I had asked to see an early draft of Madness of Flowers, because I wanted to give Jay a hands  on edit. I loved Trial, and was eager to try and make Madness the best it could be.  My partner Jason didn't know this was an early draft, and was complaining to someone about the bloated manuscript Jay had  turned  in. I think the word Unprofessional was used.  This  got  back to Jay who was understandably pissed off about the characterization. If there was one thing Jay was, it was utterly professional.  I had some tense  words with my partner, and I contacted Jay and apologized profusely, but the damage was already done.

We were never close after this incident, and I failed to find a bigger audience for the two City Imperishable  novels.  Jay moved up to a bigger publisher, and over the years he was cordial and professional towards me, but I never felt like I could make it up to him. I let him down. He was the first author who I felt I had failed... utterly failed.

For me, Trail of Flowers was the next Perdido Street  Station.   It was a smart, funny, baroque to the point of grotesque epic novel, filled to the brim with ideas, all executed  flawlessly. The characters were a diverse cast of hilarious over and under achievers.  I  loved that book, AND its sequel. There are passages from it that still haunt  me. There could  only be ONE reason why that book didn't take  off  and become a huge hit, and that  was because of  THE COVER, WHICH I HAD SCREWED UP...  Except....

I  remember having conversations with a reader at  Borderlands. He didn't know of  my connection to the book. We were just two fans talking about fantasy novels. And he said, "yeah... I kind of liked it, but it was just TOO MUCH...  to dark and graphic."

"Really?" I asked. "How  so?"

"Well, the book  starts off  with a dwarf masturbating  to all tall person getting murdered and tortured for his gratification. Later that dwarf  is anally raped  in graphic detail, and the author spends  a lot  of time describing the injuries and sutures the dwarf  needs in his ass.   Then there's the main character.. the one raised and abused by the dwarf? He gets off by torturing people  in his  S&M Dungeon beneath his office...."

"I guess, when you list all those things back to back like that..." I said, trailing off.  Trail  of Flowers  was  a dark book.  It was filled with all kinds of  nastiness.  But I felt it was filled with a lot  of other stuff too, and the Nastiness  sort  of  mirrored the world I was living in...
US run Torture camps in Iraq  were on the news  every night...  So all the nastiness in the book seemed kind of  minor compared  to the atrocities that were happening every day.

In retrospect, I have to think that the horrors that were going on in the world around Jay as he was writing them had a direct impact on The City Imperishable books.  The the setting for those two books was the last remaining shell of a former imperial empire... the city was and its inhabitants were living in a past where they were the center of the world, while the rest of the world had moved on. It  was the crumbling remanent of a failed empire, filled by myopic and self important  citizens who didn't realize their  time had passed. It's  possible these books were attempts to make sense of the America that Jay was living in. I don't think they were ever evaluated in that context, and I didn't promote them or push them in that way either.  When you are in the middle of something, It's sometimes easy to miss the obvious.

And as the publisher, I didn't see the obvious... the obvious fact that while I loved the books, they were a bit far from the fantasy mainstream. Sure, the benchmarks were being moved to the dark and grim side of things... And since them, "Grim Dark fantasy" has become the new black.  But there are STILL a lot of readers for whom China Mieville is just too gross and icky.  The City Imperishable books are a bit further down the icky spectrum. They were too in your face, and gross and dark for a lot of fantasy readers at the time they were published. And that right there is another perfectly legitimate reason why the books didn't find a wider audience.  But the cover... man. That was on me.  I'm sorry Jay.

I ran into Jay at San Diego Comicon last year.  I had heard he was going to be there. We exchanged pleasantries, and I idiotically said "I'll see you later" when we parted, even though I knew I wouldn't.  When Jay first came down with cancer, it terrified me, because Jay was my age.  And he had a beautiful young daughter who needed him. He was a living breathing example of just how cruel and uncaring the universe is. Every time Jay won another battle, and pushed off cancer for another week, or month or year, I cheered for him. I quietly kept up with his battles via the internet. He generously shared his experiences with the world, and I was one of those folks who watched from afar.  I sent him a letter once... a long detailed letter that was filled with my fears of my own mortality. I told him what an inspiration he was. But it was a letter about my own insecurities, so I'm not surprised I didn't hear back from him.

When my own daughter was born, I  thought of Jay's daughter... who I had met once at a Night Shade launch party for Doug Lain's collection. She seemed like such an incredible little girl. Smart, articulate, filled with confidence and wonder. Even during that short time that I met, I could tell that one of the best things Jay helped create was his daughter.  And she was always at the center of Jay's life. Once again, Jay was an inspiration... in this case, he showed me what happens when you work hard at being the best father you can be.

Speaking of inspirations... There is an embedded little Easter egg... an anecdote about The City Imperishable books.  Jay never admitted it, but I'm pretty sure the character  "Jason The Factor" was based in part on my business partner Jason. The Jason in the book was an accountant and money changer and lender... Jason real life  handled  all  the accounting  and sent out all the checks for Night Shade.  Jason in the book had a kinky S&M  torture dungeon below  his office,.  Jason in real  life... well... maybe its too much information... but yeah. Jason liked it rough and kinky, and he had  been known to over share now and again, so I'm pretty sure Jay new about this side of Jason. Was the name "Jason" just a coincidence? Maybe. But I think Jay was a funny, savvy irreverent writer who packed a lot of different things into his prose.

Jay was one of the first friends I lost because I was his publisher. He wouldn't be the last.  And my experience  with Trail... and the reception it received  from some  readers and reviewers... That was an important lesson... about being honest with one's self, editorially. Aesthetic blinders can cause you to misread the marketplace, and make sales predictions and promises that you just can  meet.  But that experience  with the cover.... That  was  the one that really haunted  me.  For  a while  it didn't help... it caused  me to freeze up, put things off  and ignore obvious problems. Being the one guy, ultimately in charge  of and responsible for everything... It was pretty overwhelming at times. Its  one of the reasons Night Shade started hiring staff, and paying people  to be responsible for stuff.  Which led to new sets of problems and stresses.

But there  were many instances...  where, at the last minute, I shit -canned art that just wasn't right, and found something else... or  I didn't settle on a mediocre design... or I just kept working it over and over until the right combination of artist, and concept and design appeared.  I  didn't want to be the guy who destroyed someone's career  with a bad  cover... Because I had felt I had  already done that once, and once  was enough.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Drop by Dennis Lehain

The Drop by Dennis Lehain is an interesting cultural artifact. It seems to be a novel, but its a pretty short one. It seems to be the basis for a movie that Lehain wrote.  The packaging on the galley trumpet a movie tie in cover for the book.   Is this book a novelization of the script? Or was the script based on this novel?  A little bit of digging reveals that the script was based on a Lehain short story, and the novel is a novelization of the script, combined with bits and pieces of an earlier novel that Lehain started and stopped.

Ultimately, the books bastard parentage doesn't really matter. Its a gripping, focused little narrative that packs a lot of punch.  There is an efficancy of prose and plotting, with lots of embedded hints and foreshadowings. The characters are drawn well, and often in sharp contrast to one another. Even a couple of throw away thugs have nicely detailed physical and psychological characteristics (The brothers "10").

Like a lot of successfull crime writing, the drop is about broken people living their lives as best they can. Some are trying to make their lives better... and sometimes these journeys of redemption are kicked off by random happenstance.

Making hard choices, and Making choices you have to live with, but sometimes can't.  This seems to be the thematic Core of The Drop. Lehain's gripping, yet starkly drawn character sketches fill out a modest plot that is less concerned with who done it and more concerned with putting humpty back together again. So yes... that does make it the perfect little crime novel... a novel that would not seem out of place on the dime store racks, next early 20th century crime noir masters like Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis.

My only complaint is that this book will have a movie tie in cover, instead of some retro-pulpy-noir piece of awesome, the way Hardcase Crime does... Maybe the limited edition hard cover will feature some throwback artwork? Hopefully?  One can dream...

A Goat In White Van

I first discovered the work of John Darnielle via his band, The Mountain Goats; Specifically, their album Heretic Pride. That album combined a mix of literary and pulpy pop-cultural influences that immediately spoke to me, and suggested that John Darnielle and I were, if not kindred sprits, then at least drinking deeply from the same cultural wells. I spent the month after hearing this album trying to tell everyone I knew about this "new" band I had discovered, only to learn that 1) everyone had already heard of them, 2) their two upcoming shows in San Francisco were already sold out*, and 3) John Darnielle was so damn cool that he was in a video by one of my favorite hip hop artists... Damn, even Aesop Rock had already heard of John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats..

So when i discovered that John Darnielle had a novel coming out, I moved heaven and earth to get an advanced copy. Actually, I just asked the manager at the bookstore I work at to ask for a copy from the publishers sales rep, but that doesn't properly convey the level of anticipation, or frantic desire on my part, so lets just stick with "moved heaven and earth." I was finally going to be out in front of the John Darnielle cultural curve. Finally!

The galley of  Wolf in White Van has one of those designed covers that is positively blinding. I get what they are trying to do... but I don't think it does the book any favors. It's clever in a way that established best sellers can have clever covers, but IMO, this is not the cover you want on a debut novel. I hope I'm wrong in this regard, because this novel is brilliant, and deserves to find a very large group of readers.

The novel is a slow, stately reveal of a character, Sean Phillips who has suffered a horrible disfigurement.  As we move forward through the narrative, Darnielle reveals more and more of how and why the chacrater ended up the way he is. There is a complex flesh back structure combined with a meta-narrative of sorts that is related to a mysterious game called Trace Italian. This game, and various bits of the characters past emphasize yet again that Darnielle and I have been drinking the same cultural kool-aid for a some time.

The character, and settings spoke to me as painfully real, in ways that remind of of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I recognized the painfully awkward and lonely protagonists of Wolf in White Van, and the interior worlds they inhabit. I recognized the flat surfaces of the external wold they try to live in, and the tentative joy when those exterior worlds sometimes take on three dimensions.

There is nothing overwrought or purple about Darnielle's style, and nothing twee about his plots and characters. There is a simple intensity, and a playful reveal of details that engenders the feelings of a burgeoning romance and courtship. We the reader are slowly finding out more about Sean Phillips and the world he inhabits... and like many romances, there are no guarantees we are going to like Phillips when we finally learn all of his secrets, but the journey is memorable and exciting.

I was very impressed by the narrative's continuous parade of MacGuffins and solutions to the core mystery of the novel. There was an intensity to the novel's slow reveal that belied the skeletal plot. And the meta story telling embedded in the Trace Italian game expertly interwove and suggested relationships between character motivation and author intentionality, and served as a possible Rosetta Stone to some of the novels questions. The culmination and final reveal of the novel exploded with an emotional inensity equal to that of some of Darnielle's best songs.

This is a character driven novel, with a minimal plot. And as I suggested, the tension in the novel isn't about what is going to happen, but a slow reveal of what has happened, and why.  Frankly this is a tough type of narrative to pull off, but I think Darnielle manages it expertly. Given that the frisson of this work involves organically discovering the mysteries embedded in the character's life, I would urge readers to dive right in, and avoid reading summaries and plot descriptions. Its an amazing novel, and I hope Darnielle continues to prose writing. His earlier effort in meta-textual prose/rock criticisms, Master of Reality is on my to read pile, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Wolf in White Van comes out in hardcover in September of this year.

*Six months later, the Mountain Goats returned to San Francisco and played the Filmore. I got tickets the day they went on sale. The funny thing about this concert was that they played almost exclusively from Heretic Pride.  The audience kept calling out for songs from their extensive back catalog, and the Mountain Goats kept playing tracks from the new album... it felt like the show was just for me, because I didn't know any of the older material... but I knew every track on the new album by heart.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Raging Against the Cages of Our Own Unhappiness

I decided I need to start writing these things again, because it seems like I've only been writing when someone dies. And that's a piss poor reason to write something down.  It's all regrets.

As one ages, it seems like life is full of them.  Small ones. Big ones. Some regrets are like a piece of corn stuck between your teeth... annoying, and recognizable, but something you can live with. Other regrets haunt you like a demon-ghost from a Joe Hill novel. It's the curse of aging -- though I suppose there are some people who aren't introspective enough to have regrets of the sort I'm talking about.  Either way... whether it be from a long life, or from introspection, regrets are a queer sort of badge of honor. If you don't have them, you either haven't had much of a life, are a thoughtless idiot, or are dead.

But what got me putting fingers to keyboard today was an afterword to a novel. Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box is a novel filled with Rock-N-Roll. And in the afterword of the deluxe limited edition published by Subteranian press, he talks a little bit about his rock-filled youth.  And he says something that resonated with me; "...for a whole subculture of lonely, angry, imaginative kids, loud music is the hammer they use to bash at the cage of their own unhappiness"

I remember listening to a LOT of loud music... much of the music described in this afterword of Heart Shaped box is music I listened to as a teen. I had a very loud stereo system that I had lovingly cobled together from purchases made with saved birthday and Christmas monies. I had a few hundred slabs of vinyl to go along with several more hundred CDs, because I'm that damn old, and because middleschoolers should not be allowed to join the Columbia House Record of the Month Club (I think I'm still paying off that bill). I remmeber most of the album covers. And while I don't remember the songs consciously, if one comes on randomly in the background, I will find myself singing along to the words, which have been hidden away in my brain for over 30 years, randomly escaping when a song comes begins playing.

Memory is a weird thing. I don't remember what I was angry or unhappy about. I mean, there are the general things like "nobody likes me" or "I'll never get laid"... But I had a small group of friends that I got along with. And weirdly enough, I sort of kind of managed to get laid in the summer between my junior and senior year of highschool after meeting someone at a George Thorogood concert, while spending the summer in Minnesota with my natural father. So clearly my life wasn't Terrible.

But man. I was angry, frustrated and alienated pretty much all the time. hormones and whatnot... the usual cliches can be pointed at.   I remember thinking a lot about suicide in the 6th grade... Mainly I remember because something I wrote in a school journal got back to my mother, and she had a pretty serious and heavy intervention in her young sons life. So it never really got much beyond the idle "scribblings in a notebook" phase of suicidal thoughts.

I remember describing myself as Melancholy... eventually I found a great self-involved first-love tragedy in college to get really weepy about, so that helped. I think maybe my personality and/or view of the universe demanded that my first love be a tragic one.  It was pretty clear in retrospect that we weren't very compatible. But I manged to drag that train-wreck of a relationship out for almost 3 years, and flunk out of college in the process.  Sorry about that, A.  I'm sure you weren't a terrible person. I Hope your life went well. Etc etc.

I remember a line in a Nick Cave monolog, where he described his early life in the punk band The Birthday Party. He said something to the effect that it was a lot of work, being angry all the time.  This is very true. And the anger, frustration, and (in my case rage) of adolsence is an all-consuming rage that is simmering in the back of your consciousness all the time, infecting everything.

Maybe the trick of growing up is to somehow forget about it. To ignore it, at least for a ittle while. The slights, the dissapointments. The frustrations. The self loathing, and the loathing of others... if you can just, for small periods of time, forget that stuff - maybe thats what it means to be an adult?

I had an extended period of re-adolesence. Post 911 america reawaked my inner rage-demon, and I found myself crying and screaming and getting angry pretty much all the time. I probably came closs to having a stroke, as at one point my blood pressure was 140 over 220.  They took my blood pressure in my other arm, because they thought maybe a clot was causing the blood pressure in one arm to be abnormally high.  That kind of blood pressure is a symptom of some serious rage.

Speaking of Rage... that novel by Richard Bachman (AKA Stephen King, AKA Joe Hills father) was one that I read in middle school. It's an interesting perspective, being young, and looking up at characters who are older than you*. I remember being fascinated/terrifed by the novels depiction of highschool life, and at the same time I was weirdly comforted by the confirmation of my basic expectations of life, and school -- that highschool would be just as shitty and awfull as middle school and grade school had been for me,

The protagonist being institutionalized at the end always had a strange kind of appeal... If you just flip out and do something horrible, then you no longer have to worry about anything/everything. I do clearly remember thinking, even before reading Rage, that maybe, just maybe, being hospitalized or imprisoned wouldn't be all that bad because all the social pressures that seemed to be rearing up and intimidating me would be removed. A simpler life. Rage (the novel) was an articulation of that particular preadolescent fantasy... Of course I clearly didn't understand that institutional life is just more of the same kinds of social pressures, just in a pressure cooker, and deformed to something even uglier than your average middle school/highschool terror dome.

The movie Fightclub seemed to have been a movie created just for me. If you don't get why the movie worked, or what its appeal was, than you never experienced the rage and helplessness that many, many people have. It was the cinematic equivalent of Loud Rock Music. Of course, Fight Club was like Milton's Paradise lost... It reveled in the exploits of the devil, and got the reader all fired up by identifying closely and clearly with the anti-hero protagonist, but the narrative was wrapped up in a neat little bow that said "But that's crazy, of course, and you shouldn't do that." It's the narrative technique that wraps up all socially acceptable anti-hero pornography.

A person's reactions to Fight Club, and to the Columbine shootings are a perfect Rorschach test. I totally understood the impulses behind the murderous actions of those lost, angry teenagers. I and a lot of my post-college friends kind of shrugged and said "yeah... I'm surprised shit like that doesn't happen more often."  And then, tragically, it did start happening more often.  I was always surprised to find there were people who just didn't understand what compels angry young teenagers to do what they do. Clearly those people did not grow up listening to Suicidal Tendencies "Institutionalized."

From 2001 until 2011, I was pretty clear about what was making me angry all the time; The atrocities being commmited in my name by my country's millitary. Or at least I thought thats what it was. Tellingly, I spent most of that time not speaking to my natural father. His alcoholism pushed buttons in a way that finally compelled me to just cut him out of my life, so i had a host of unresolved shit, swirling around, and an excuse to act out in anger. I mean fuck... if you weren't angry during the Bush regime, you weren't paying attention.

That's a paraphrase of something I heard in a documentary about The Weather Underground; Do I understand why people strap on suicide vests, or blow up buildings. Yeah. Moral indignation and outrage are excellent things to wrap one's rage and unhappiness in. I used to joke that if it wasn't for internet flame wars and the release that my heated online rhetoric gave me, I would be up in a tower with a sniper rifle, because HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THE WORLD AROUND YOU, WHY AREN'T YOU FURIOUS??!!! And while true to a certain extent, when I said shit like that.... I was totally channeling my inner 13 year old.  I was channeling that young me, who didn't know how to ignore the constant white noise of pain, and anger and rage and unhappiness that is a part of our human condition.

I don't know if one state is inherently better than the other... being able to shut off the noise?  It certainly seems necessary if you are trying to raise two small children. I don't want them to be filled with rage. I want them to be happy. I don't want them to be ignorant of the world around them, and I hope they grow up and try and make the world a better place. But if all they are is happy, I won't complain. Because being a slave to your rage isn't any way to live.  I struggle with the small stuff every day.

I get irrationality and disproportionately angry all the time. And when I do so I make the people around me unhappy and uncomfortable. I count backwards a lot. sometimes from 10. Sometimes from 100. Sometimes my mind races along and is wrapped up and turning in circles. I replay conversation, and hash out imaginary conversations with people, trying to justify my rage or anger or overwheling sadness and helpnessness... trying to convince myself that these racing hormones and flowing endorphins are real and justified and I'm NOT FUCKING CRAZY, JUST ANGRY LIKE ANY RATIONAL PERSON WOULD BE. And when I'm in that state, I count backwards a lot to try and shut down my mind, and try to get it out of the groove that it is stuck in.

I think that loud angry music of my youth was the counting backwards of my middleagedness. I'm reminded of a quote that resonated with me in my angry youth. "It's better to Reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." You know, that classic quote from mythologies greatest rebel, Lucifer The Morning Star. In writing this, I feel a little bit like that character from pulp fiction,  who has been quoting that Ezekiel verse his whole life, but when he tries to make a significant lifestyle change, he find himself reevaluating the meaning of the quote.

If Heaven is happiness and a perfect world, perhaps the price of achieving that perfect happiness is too great.  Maybe I can let go of my anger and rage, and just be content ruling over hell -- an imperfect place with problems and ugliness and frustrations -- but a place where I am not a slave to my rage. In order to achieve heavenly perfection, I have to be a slave to my emotions, and never be satisfied with what I actually have.  I'm reminded of another quote that has also resonated with me. "'Perfect' is the Mortal enemy of good enough."

Perhaps this seems a bit like settling for less, or for justifying failure, but snarky critiques like that seem very adolescent. Is almost-heaven good enough? Every individual has to decide for themselves.

Yours in introspective rage,

*For example. Did you ever watch the Movie Bull Duhram?  The Costner character seemed SO COOL when I saw the movie as a teenager... world weary, yet wise, and wry and funny. When I watched the movie for the first time in 30 years, my reaction to the character was very different: He seemed to be an angry, jealous frustrated jerk who spouted platitudes while pretending to be the Buddha. Maybe that's the genius of that movie, and other narratives like it. The character can be both things to the same reader/viewer, at different times of ones life.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lucius the Story Teller

Lucius was a great story teller. To have spent time with him was to have the boundaries of reality and narrative merge into something magical.

The man was all about stories. Big tall tales.  He liked to poke fun at the science fiction community for having dried up and cleaned up... "You think SF conventions are crazy now?" he asked me rhetorically...  "Back in the 80's there was all the booze there is now, but lots of money, and lots of drugs!  King's agent would leave bowls full of pills out at World Fantasy Room parties....  I once did cocaine off of William Gibson's nebula award."

Truth? or bullshit? Or some combination?  It's hard to know.  He told me about smuggling heroin from Afghanistan back through Europe... about stowing away on a freighter and getting off in Vietnam during the Vietnam war, and getting high in time square porn theaters during he 70's. He had  a great story about having buried a stash of heroin in the woods, only to come back for it later and find a bunch of cub scouts camped out where it was buried.  More stories... Hilarious stories. Tall tales, from a man who was larger than life.

Lucius once wrote an entire novel, and then had his computer crash and lost all of it. He re-wrote it from memory.  He cavalierly dismissed the hassle, (which cost him two years of writing) by suggesting "That's okay. It was better the 2nd time around. I only remembered the good bits." This book was A Handbook of American Prayer.

He lived close to my former business partner, when Jason was in Portland and Lucius was in Olympia. I knew I had finally become a legitimate editor and publisher when we were buying illicit drugs for one of our authors. I felt like a character out of one of Lucius's tall tales.

Lucius Shepard turned me on to the writing of Kem Nunn. That in itself would have been worth a lifetime of small favors and friendship.

I'm proud to have published several books by Lucius, and prouder still to have sent him on a west coast author tour. When he hit San Diego, my 21 year old sister was his driver, bringing him from airport to hotel and to Bookstore, and back again. He asked her if she knew where he could score some acid, and asked me the same question when he got to San Francisco.

When Lucius stayed at our apartment, he would watch martial arts fight videos with my wife and talk about various forms of martial arts.... He was a huge fight fan. Marital arts. MMA, Boxing... all of it, and a huge fan of college football, and those topics were ones that he would expound upon at length on the old Night Shade message boards.

He was a monster on those message boards, and the internet in general, filled with passion and fire and rage. We survived the Bush Regime together. Knowing there was someone who was just as frustrated and filled with anger about the state of the world as I was  made me feel less alone in a crazy-bleak-fucked-up time.

He often let his passions get the most of him. I remember when Kage Baker swore off the internets after she got into a huge flame war with Lucius about the catholic church. That was a weird week.

He wrote a movie review column for F&SF, that were collected up by wheatland press. They demonstrated a depth and breadth of knowledge about both world cinema and Hollywood that would put most self described cinephiles to shame.

When I knew him, he was always in poor health, but he always affected a cavalier and easygoing attitude about his troubles.  When his poor sight made it difficult to read what he wrote, he would simply INCREASE THE FONT SIZE... I would get manuscripts set in 66 point font. He never complained... or if he did, it was part of a story and narrative, so it didn't SOUND like complaining.

His writing was divine. He experimented and screwed around with format and style. He had keen insight into the human condition, and we was marvelously noncommercial in his choice of subject matter and format.  And, according to him, it was all a lucky accident that he became a writer at all.

He told me a story about how it happened. He was in a very bad place, and watching a lot of evangelical preachers on television.  He said he was in such a bad state, that he would stand up, and lay his hands on the TV, in order to better commune with God, or the preacher or whatever.... looking back, he wasn't sure WHY he was doing it... He just had a memory of doing it.

His wife  at the time submitted an application on his behalf, to the Clarion writers workshop without his knowledge... "Go out there and write, because you're going to go crazy if you stay here" was how he characterized her words and actions. At Clarion, he met legendary SF editor Terry Carr. Carr was editing a line of debut novels at the time, and asked Lucius if he had any novel length projects in the works. Lucius said he lied his ass of and made something up on the spot. After leaving the workshop, he actually wrote enough of an outline and sample chapters to convince Carr it wasn't BS, and the rest was Science Fiction History. 

Was this origin story a little to neat, and perfect?  Perhaps. But it's the story he told me.

Fuck-it-hell-Lucius. I'm going to miss you, and the world is a much poorer place with you not in it. Tell me just one more story...  I'll believe every word.