Writing Advice from Lucius


Lucius, Dave Boone, and I took a road trip from Seattle to the World Fantasy Convention in Monterey  many years ago. I bought a copy of Lucius’ collection The Ends of the Earth while I was down there. On the way back through Grant’s Pass, I pointed out a hill that I’d hiked up when I was a kid, and Lucius remarked that the hiking seemed a pointless thing to do. We argued about it a while, and he picked up my book and wrote me this note inside:

For Bob,
Writing is not about experience; writing is from experience.
Writing is not about hiking up the hill; it’s about not having to hike up the hill, about having foreknowledge of the hike.
An historian can stand on a battlefield and picture what has happened; a good writer should be able to stand there and feel what has happened, even though he has no knowledge of the place.
I think you can succeed at this, but you will have to make sacrifices.
What those sacrifices are, I can’t say.
Whether or not you make them is up to you.
That’s the deal…
Writing is not about the truth; it is a reinvention of the truth.

Lucius Shepard was the most challenging friend I’ve ever had. He was an incredible pain in the ass at times, but he was very generous too. He knew the value of his friendship — he knew he was a genius — and he made you pay, because he didn’t want fans close to him; he wanted friends, without condition, an unrealistic hope from anyone. Was he just selfish and sociopathic, or was he deeply wounded and mistrustful from his father’s abuse? He always let the question hang in the air. Most people did not care to pay the cost of his longterm friendship, and I can’t blame them. Like writing, his friendship entailed sacrifice. He demanded favors and constant attention; he’d arbitrarily test your loyalty. Over time, he would return the favors with spectacular generosity, but only a fool would rely on that. I was not friends with the writer; I was friends with the man: profane, bighearted though often mean in his criticisms, and wittier than anyone I’ve ever met. We almost parted in acrimony several times. I’m glad we didn’t, that we remained close, to the end. He needed someone to love him unconditionally, and I did the best I could. It was draining, but I’m very sad it’s over.

(Thanks to Rob Wexler for the picture; I don’t know what we were looking at, unfortunately.)

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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