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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More from the August Tor/Forge newsletter:

Missing Jay Lake

JA Pitts copyright Janna Silverstein
By J. A. Pitts

I lost one of my very best friends recently and the hole it has left in my life has yet to close. It will take a while, I’m sure, due to the nature of the friendship and the powerful connection we had.

I’m a writer. I’ve been one nearly all my life. I remember falling in love with story from my very first memories. Jay Lake was a consummate story teller, whether on his blog, his short stories, his novels, or just over the phone. That was the first thing that clicked between us: craft and story. We shared a language, a secret mission, a vocation, and an obsession. We wanted to change the world with our words. And Jay was further along that highway than I, but there were plenty of times that we stopped and shared directions—where he would ensure I knew of the speed traps and the rough roads ahead. That was his gift, a willingness to share his life in all its raging glory, with anyone who needed a boost or a guide.

I’ve always had an image in my head of an open field with snow covered mountains in the distance. With this as a backdrop, I imagine my two best friends—Ken Scholes and Jay Lake—and me, with giant feathered Icarus wings straining upward in an achingly blue sky, wings beating toward the sun. Jay is in the far lead, his arms outstretched and his long hair flowing behind him as he dares to breach the heavens. Next is Ken, leaded boots falling away from him as his wings dip in a strong pull to thrust him skyward… and me, on the ground, struggling with the bootstraps, my wings poised and ready once I understand how to lose the artificial weights that kept me pinned to the earth.

This was a metaphor for our writing careers. Jay had already learned to stretch his wings and soar above the clouds by the time I’d met him. He knew what he wanted and despite the demons we all battle, had found his voice and was pushing as hard as his wings could go to get above the rim of the world and into the stars.

I always admired that about him. Now, don’t get me wrong, he struggled like the rest of us, but it was his clear vision, his dedication, and his driving passion that allowed me to love him.

Jay had given up much in his life to further his writing—everything from television to board games—expending every available moment on his blog, his relationships, and most of all, his stories. He was a man who did what he had to to provide for his family and yet found ample time to pursue his dreams.

And what dreams they were—clowns and spaceships, lost children and clockwork men. He had an imagination unfettered by social fear or societal expectations. If you’ve never heard him read one of his own works, you have missed a visceral experience. Whether it was barbecue in the old west with Satan himself, or the creepy and terrifying Goat Cutter, Jay had a way of pulling the strings of our fears and our loves and showing them back to us, like a still beating heart in the tight fist of his storytelling.

Everything he did shone with the light of his passion. He was a prolific writer, blogging and writing millions upon millions of words in his lifetime. I never understood how he had the time or even the brain space to put that many words down on the written page in a given time. His example pushed me to hone my skills, dedicate precious time to learning craft, practicing the hard things and generally reaching into the heart of the void to bring forth characters and stories that have altered lives.

And isn’t that the most glorious aspect of it all? Hell, I miss him and can’t say that I’ll never stop being surprised to find him gone from my life, but I also know he touched a lot of people. His words and his love have changed lives across the world, and that is exactly the dream he sought to fulfill.

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More from the September Tor/Forge newsletter:

Jay Lake In Memoriam

Locus Magazine
Written by Liza Groen Trombi, Editor-in-Chief of Locus Magazine

Jay Lake was something of a wonder in the genre community. He was an incredibly prolific writer, with a wild imagination and a versatile talent that allowed him to range freely in his fiction. He was also one of the most vibrant and generous people I’ve ever known.

His conversations were like his fiction, full of sundry, rich, and engrossing details about life. He told stories about his past adventures, his work, his daughter, of whom he was so proud and for whom he worked so hard. He would talk late into the night and had no inhibitions about telling the private and entertaining details of his life. He was passionate about the things he believed in, but he also tried to find wisdom in the world around him and that made him a kind friend and counsel. He befriended people easily and made clear efforts to “pay it forward” to the science fiction community.

As to his writing… In the short time from his first publication in 2001 till his death in 2014, he published ten novels, five collections, and over 300 short stories, with his first novel, Rocket Science, coming out in 2005. I remember Jay telling me once that while writing he always held the whole story inside his head—beginning to end. He described building that capacity to contain story from when he was first starting to write, working up from short stories to novelettes and novellas, and when he finally could hold a whole novel in his head, he seemed unstoppable. Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2008, he kept up a mighty pace. The first year he had chemotherapy, he wrote about a quarter-million words, despite painful and disconcerting disruptions to his ability to write. His final work, which, unfinished, will undoubtedly never see print, was a massive space opera trilogy, the Sunspin series, planned at over 600,000 words with 11 points of view and 25 significant characters, broken into three books each in three parts. In 2011, he told me, “Essentially I’m writing nine 60- to 80,000-word novels… What I’m really doing is giving cancer the bird.”

He left us a legacy of intimate details of his fight against the cancer that finally killed him, blogging about his experiences with cancer treatment and writing stories about grief and sickness. He and friends crowdfunded to have his entire genome sequenced, and then he made the data available to the public, the first time that has ever been done, in hopes that the information might help future cancer research. He openly described online the rollercoaster his life turned into once his mortality was brought close, to bring understanding to people who had never experienced cancer. An entire generation of the SF community watched his struggle with cancer on his blog and were brought closer together because of it.

Our friendship’s native habitat was at conventions; as a result it has not fully sunk in for me that I won’t have any more long, late-night conversations with him, or run into him at a party, or be swept into a crowd of laughing people in a hallway with him at the center. We’ve all seen a huge outpouring of affection and remembrance for Jay since his death, but his work as a SF writer, as an anthologist, an essayist, his contributions to the field, and the impact he had on the community will not go away. His works will live on and be read, and we will remember this exemplary writer and friend who lived his life fully and left us a legacy of story. Vale, Jay.

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More from the August Tor/Forge newsletter:

Starred Review: Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake“Lake’s command of language is strong and sincere, and his stories of everyday heartaches, filled with secret fears and self-delusion, whisk readers from inner geographies of mind to limitless gulfs of space… his fans and friends may find some comfort in the hope that his words will live on forever.”

Jay Lake’s Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the July 18 issue:

The prolific Lake’s death in 2014, after a long, harrowing, and very public battle with cancer, gives extra weight to these 32 epitaphs. Lake’s command of language is strong and sincere, and his stories of everyday heartaches, filled with secret fears and self-delusion, whisk readers from inner geographies of mind to limitless gulfs of space. Lake’s characters emotionally embody the doomed heroism of Nordic gods sneering at grim fates, finding bittersweet redemption in dark byways of human ignorance. Reality is shattered when an alien controls a hardened mercenary’s dreams in the darkly romantic “Last Plane to Heaven: A Love Story.” Cynical humor greets oblivion in “The Speed of Time.” In surprisingly intelligent space opera (“Permanent Fatal Errors”) and a visit to the City Imperishable (“Promises”), revelations eschew oversentimentality for moral complexity. “Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names” injects pathos into the Cthulhu mythos, questioning identity and raising hackles. Malevolent faeries face metaphysical annihilation in a dying young woman’s cancer cells in “Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors.” And in “The Cancer Catechism,” Lake discovers faith in the inevitability of death. As he states, “In the end, words are all that survive us”; his fans and friends may find some comfort in the hope that his words will live on forever.

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection will be published on September 16.

Goodreads Sweepstakes Roundup: 9 Chances to Win

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben TrippBlack Ice by Susan KrinardCrossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan
Enter for a chance to win Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake on GoodreadsMortal Gods by Kendare BlakeThe Severed Streets by Paul Cornell
The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. BelcherTruth Be Told by Hank Phillippi RyanTut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P. J. Hoover

Goodreads Sweepstakes: Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

About Last Plane to Heaven: Last Plane to Heaven is the final and definitive short story collection of award-winning SF author Jay Lake, author of Green, Endurance, and Kalimpura.

Long before he was a novelist, SF writer Jay Lake, was an acclaimed writer of short stories. In Last Plane to Heaven, Lake has assembled thirty-two of the best of them. Aliens and angels fill these pages, from the title story, a hard-edged and breathtaking look at how a real alien visitor might be received, to the savage truth of “The Cancer Catechisms.” Here are more than thirty short stories written by a master of the form, science fiction and fantasy both.

This collection features an original introduction by Gene Wolfe.

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends August 27)

Also, don’t forget to check out our other sweepstakes!

Tor Books Announces Programming for Phoenix Comic-Con 2014

Once again Tor (Booth# 646) continues our wildly popular *in-booth signings and giveaways, offering you a chance to meet your favorite authors up close and personal and pick up free books.

Friday, June 6th

Saturday, June 7th

  • 2:00 pm Tor Booth (#646) Signing: John Scalzi, Lock In
  • 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Creating Your Fantasy World
    Peter Orullian
  • 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm Microsoft XBox Panel
    Peter Orullian

Sunday, June 8th

  • 12:00 pm Tor Booth (#646) Signing: Cathrynne Valente, Deathless
  • 2:00 pm Tor Booth (#646) Signing: Melanie Rawn, Touchstone

Make sure to follow @Torbooks on Twitter for up to date information and last minute events!

*All Tor Booth signings are on a first come first serve basis and while supplies lasts. Limit one book per person.

The Week in Review

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

Tropic of Serpents

  • We’ve gotten in Todd Lockwood’s cover art for Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan, and it’s just gorgeous. So Tor.com decided to make some free wallpaper for anyone who wants to download it!
  • There’s a new Humble eBook Bundle! The bundle includes Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, and more!
  • Author Jay Lake has been dealing with cancer and the fact that he’s dying. And he’s doing it his own way, by hosting his own funeral before he dies. JayWake will be held on July 27th. See the link for more details.
  • We knew Robert Jordan was a fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Apparently, he was enough of a fan to request a signed copy from Martin’s editor. There’s some fun commentary about series length in there.
  • Last but definitely not least, will you be at San Diego Comic-Con? Come say hi!

The Tor/Forge newsletter went out this week! Check out these fascinating articles from our authors:

And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!