My Friend, Jay Lake

Ken Scholes Copyright Liz Ness
By Ken Scholes

This issue of Talebones runs both a little longer and a little shorter on quality than the last.

Those were the first of Jay Lake’s words I ever read. My third publication had just come out and I’d succumbed to the writerly pull toward Googling one’s self. I paused here. “A little shorter on quality than the last.” That made me a bit nervous but then I kept reading….

One story, Ken Scholes’ “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk,” brought me a sense of finality so strong I had to lay down the magazine and wipe my eyes.

What followed was my first ever rave review and I was so moved by it that once I wiped my eyes I tracked down that reviewer and sent him a thank you note. He responded with prompt cheer and more high praise for the story.

Not long after, I learned that Jay lived in the Northwest and was going to be at Norwescon. So while I was there, standing in line at a restaurant, I mentioned to Patrick Swenson (the editor of Talebones at the time) that Jay Lake was supposedly at the con and I really wanted to meet him. Patrick laughed and pointed to a crazily dressed, somewhat loud fellow behind us in line. “That’s him there.”

It was a match made in heaven. Or maybe a match lit in hell. It was one of those rare “just add imagination” instant friendships. Our muses got on well. So did our senses of humor. And as we got to know each other—and as I settled into the Portland area—we started hanging out more and more. For most of a decade, we ate lunch together weekly at the Barley Mill on Hawthorne. I do not know how many tons of Cajunized tatertots we ate, chased with an ocean of iced tea, over the years. He inspired—or dared, or cajoled, or solicited for anthologies—at least a third of my short story inventory. He dared me to take two of those short stories and bend them into Lamentation and the rest of the Psalms of Isaak. My checkered past as a former boy preacher fascinated him and he frequently referred to me as his spiritual director though we shared a very similar worldview as secular humanists. Though to be honest, most of his spiritual direction involved me offering advice and a listening ear around his love life. Still, I liked the title and was happy to be there for him.

He was one my closest friends.

Jay died two months ago after a long, hard, losing battle with cancer. Before he went, the internet exploded with testimonies of love and pictures of Jay out in the world being himself. It was an outpouring from our tribe the likes of which I’ve never been so close to before in my life. But I get why.

Jay loved people and spent himself for them. He helped a lot of writers find their way, find their voice, find markets and he entertained the masses with his words and with his playful way in the world. And he lived transparently, letting the world see him at his best and his worst. He even made his cancer an open book, inviting others to experience it through him and find something they needed—a connection to him, encouragement in their own illness or the illnesses of their loved ones, a sense of perspective. He cared and he did what he could do to help others along the way. And he told amazing stories. Turned loose with a blank page, Jay would fill it up out of the depths of who he was and, as his mojo increased with practice, he’d find a home for his words out in the world.

I’m still coming up out of the fog of this loss. It hit me differently—harder even—than some of the others I’ve faced over the last several years. The idea that he’s gone is unfathomable to me and my memories of him live everywhere. His books are in my den. Photos he took of my daughters hang on my hallway walls. And then of course, there’s the more direct contact. More than memory, something like time travel. Jay, in 2008, when he was first diagnosed…wrote me a letter.

It arrived last week.

I guess I checked out, the letter begins. Sorry, buddy. I love you.

There was more…logistics around writing stuff and funeral arrangements, things already nailed down in conversations over his six year fight with cancer. And then he closed asking me to keep an eye on his daughter and to love my wife and all my kids, both literary and human.

They surely won’t be the last words I read of Jay’s, but they are his last words to me and after I wiped my eyes from that sense of finality, I put the letter into my treasure box, high on the treasure shelf in the Den of Ken. It lives there now with my letters from Ray Bradbury and James Stewart and the other mementos I’ve picked up along the way.

There will never be another Jay Lake.

Oh, I miss my friend.

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From the Tor/Forge September newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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