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.