You’ll be missed, Jay

June 1st, 2014

My old and dear friend and fellow science fiction writer Jay Lake has finally succumbed to cancer following six years of battle. I’m a little numb about it. I had a good cry last year when he got his condition changed to terminal and the experimental treatments seemed like a longshot.

I’m in China right now, working with a friend on some astronomical research. The last time I saw Jay in person and had the time to have a lengthy discussion was in Beijing in 2009. We both just happened to be there and got together for an evening.

I first met Jay in 1992, I believe, in Austin, TX, where we were both wannabe writers years before we’d get anything published. While I attended Clarion West for six weeks in the summer of 1994, Jay remained in Austin and wrote a novel. It turned out to be a novel he couldn’t sell at the time, but it impressed the hell out of me. Jay always read quickly, wrote quickly, and was wicked smart and well educated. I knew that if he got the quality of his work up, he’d be a force in the field. I was right, because that’s what he became, both socially and professionally.

Jay also had a sick, twisted sense of humor that I much admired. I had one straight-laced girlfriend too easily offended who nearly left a restaurant over something he said, and made me promise she never had to socialize with Jay or my writer friends ever again. Big surprise, the girlfriend didn’t last. She’d never have survived “the long night of the gas giant” anyway…but that’s another bigger-than-life story I’d never have had without Jay. I won’t share it here now, but rather keep it to myself, and smile thinking of it and Jay’s central role.

We shared an editor at Tor in the wise Beth Meacham, taking our own paths to novel publication that ended in the same place just as we started in the same place. My favorite book of Jay’s is probably Green. I have the two sequels (Endurance and Kalimpura) on my kindle and will read them this week or on the flight home. He’d probably be ticked at me for linking to amazon, who do seem to find ways of negatively affecting writers as they play negotiation hardball with publishers, but they did lock me in with the kindle.

I was very happy that Jay got to attend my Launch Pad workshop in 2008. That meant a lot to me. And I was also very happy we got to reprint his terrific novella “The Stars Do Not Lie” in our Launch Pad anthology.

Even though Jay and I didn’t get to see each other much the last few years, I always felt close to him through his daily blogging. He shared so much of himself there, warts and all. Jay was always fascinating and inspiring, even if his honesty about our medical system was tough to look at. And while I don’t think he always succeeded 100%, Jay tried to be open-minded and listen and discuss ideas with people that had different perspectives than he did — a general policy of engagement that too few seem to embrace today, instead favoring their own echo chambers.

I loved my friend, and the world is lesser place today without him.

His example makes me want to be more energetic, more productive, more engaged, more day seizing — even about the little things. I remember him writing once about how Peter Jackson splitting The Hobbit into three movies likely meant he wouldn’t get to see the end, and Jay was right. Live now, live well now, because there’s no guarantee you’ll be around for a scheduled end in the distant future.

I’ve been struggling to find writing time given my scientific career and my social life. Jay didn’t struggle. He made the effort, every day. He had a daughter, a full-time job that involved regular travel, daily blogging, a full convention schedule, cancer the last six years, and he wrote a quarter million plus words of fiction annually. If Jay can do that, surely I can at least do a half Lake, or a quarter Lake, on the fiction side, can’t I? As I said, Jay was inspirational, and will continue to be so for me. Jay knew he was leaving this life with a rich body of literary work, but he’s left much more than that with us, and I hope he knew it.

I’ll miss him very much.

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