June 12, 2014 — My friend, mentor, and tormentor Lucius Shepard’s been gone three months now, gone and not coming back, unless he keeps his promise to make a supernatural visit, revealed in a lightning flash outside the bedroom window, my cat hanging limp in his teeth. As I’ve written elsewhere, we stayed in close contact since we met in the summer of 1997, when he taught the second week of the six-week Clarion Writing Workshop I attended. Lucius lived in view of the Space Needle with two roommates, Dave Boone and Bill Tuttle, on the upper floor of a yellow clapboard two-story with white trim. Since he didn’t have to leave town after his week, he was able to attend all the weekend parties.
I didn’t stand out for him, I think, not until we were leaving the third-week party at Greg and Astrid Bear’s house. Les Howle had driven up out front, and he’d just opened the door to take the passenger seat. Lucius was six-four. “Ursine” probably best describes him in his later years. He bulked large and had a thick beard and tromped heavily around his apartment. (Dave Boone relates how Lucius once answered a knock at the door, to be confronted by a man and his little girl, neighbors from downstairs. “See,” the man told his daughter, “he’s not a monster.”) As usual, when facing any vehicle smaller than a Humvee, Lucius paused before trying to cram himself inside, and thinking this might be our final meeting, I said, “Thanks, it’s been an honor.” He cocked his head and really focused on me then. It made me apprehensive. A rueful smile quirked his mouth. He didn’t say it, but he might as well have: “Prove it.”
Lucius began calling soon after the workshop ended. We had lunch a few times and saw movies together. I’d quit my editing job at Wizards of the Coast at the beginning of the year with the intention of getting back in after Clarion West and after I’d finished a novel. The novel wasn’t going so hot; neither were my attempts to get my job back. “You’ve got to take yourself in hand,” Lucius would say on the phone while my attention was divided by the busy orcs and dwarves of a video game. In late August over beer — I had a beer, but Lucius had a Diet Pepsi — and burgers at the 45th Street Alehouse, we exchanged story ideas. We sat in the middle of the room. Sunlight streamed through the windows, backlighting Lucius, who preferred the view into the gloomy interior. He shared a tragic Russian fable; oligarchs would bid on a perfect rose, and one hopelessly enamored of a beautiful prostitute would spend a fortune on the rose in an act of futility. Three years later he’d finish something like it and get it published in F&SF as “Eternity and Afterward.” I told him about the Lovecraft anthology I was managing and my novel-in-progress involving AI-driven combat armor whose life-support systems would eventually subsume the wearer. He shook his head. “You’re really not that kind of writer; you want to write this pulp stuff, but you’re a realism guy, not a genre guy. How old are you?” I told him twenty-eight. “Time’s ticking, man. This is your life. You’ve got to get busy.”
In December, after I’d been turned down by Wizards of the Coast for rehire and by Microsoft for a major editing gig, Lucius called with a proposal. He led up to it, hearing out my employment woes, keen on the fact that my schedule was wide open. “Say, Spin Magazine commissioned a long piece from me. I need a driver to take me through the Southwest over New Year’s. You want to do it.
“This will be good for you.”