Now You See It . . . Now You Still See It

I’ve been preoccupied the last couple of months with uprooting from the Seattle area and relocating in central Oregon, trying to build a new social network, and doing a bit of work retraining. I’ll pick up the account of my trip with Lucius eventually. Until then, I may post brief recollections. When my father died, I dreamed of him nearly every night. His leaving was a real trauma. Lucius’ death was different, which I marked with short, intense grief and then resignation. Lucius moved on, as he generally did from close friendships. You had to expect it.

Emotionally, I experience his death partly as his kiss-off. This may not make logical sense, but then, we’re not very logical creatures.

I dreamed of Lucius exactly once, a couple months ago. I had gone to the house of a mutual friend — it wasn’t clear whom — and found Lucius lying low: literally lying down, and physically low but still acting feisty. His “death” had been a stunt, much like the times in later years that he got on Facebook and described an exotic trip he was taking, when he was actually writing from his apartment in Vancouver, Washington, or Portland, Oregon. (He did this to keep up a pretense of good health, and to discourage people from contacting him while he struggled, with increasing difficulty, to work.)

“I thought you were dead,” I told him.

“Nah, I’ve just been really sick.” He didn’t even bother to look sheepish, which was true to our relationship. A couple years into knowing Lucius I ceased to make an issue of his duplicity. I knew that he knew that I usually knew, and by unspoken agreement I didn’t get indignant and he didn’t act guilty.

I have not dreamt of him since. This encounter seems to have settled things between us: he’s not alive, but I don’t get to contradict him or make an issue of it. It’s the last straw.

I’m not indignant; it makes me smile, actually.

All that really has nothing to do with my real purpose here, so thanks for indulging me. Shortly after Lucius died, I relayed some writing advice of his on ( I’d been meaning to repost it here.

* * *


In a recent thread on LinkedIn concerning the expression “show versus tell” in fiction writing, many contributors insisted that showing is dramatizing information rather than relating it and gave examples of their writing where they used sensory detail. Lucius Shepard emphasized to me that the point is not showing versus telling. It’s leaving readers with the impression that they have seen. So the advice in the thread was on the mark but missed the larger point. One guy was criticized for using technical detail in dramatizing a plane malfunction, but for me the example worked because technical detail compels the reader’s attention up to a point, and focusing on it during a crisis teases readers with what they’re not seeing, and so makes them do the work of envisioning it themselves.

Lucius was known for his ornate prose, but he was also a very efficient writer. For him, writing was a magic trick, and creating the impression of having seen demands different sleights of hand. For instance, he would often try to open the reader up to suggestion and describe one thing and then say (tell) that another unrelated thing was like it. Lucius read me a passage to illustrate. I can’t quite remember it, but it seems it went something like this: “The building hall was shabby, the flowered wallpaper peeled back to expose stained plaster. The man in the elevator was similarly decrepit and unkempt.” He didn’t describe the man in the elevator, but you can probably see him anyway. Another trick he used in order to dispense with having to describe something was appealing to “common knowledge,” even if it wasn’t common at all, because the reader will do the work of imagining something if he thinks he should have it in his repertoire; for instance: “The painting rested in one of those antique gilt frames that seems to occupy the attic of everyone’s maiden aunt.” Sometimes instead of “showing,” you want to give the readers a subliminal nudge to do the work themselves.

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of
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3 Responses to Now You See It . . . Now You Still See It

  1. Dave Boone says:

    Nice. He was trying to help me with this literary story one time saying, “A literary story is shaped like this:” He made an inverted bell-shape in the air with his hands. “A genre story is shaped like this:” He made the reverse shape. I think the implication was that literary stories open out and have open-ended structures, whereas the opposite is true of genre fiction. It was a struggle for me to understand, but it spurred me to rethink the piece fundamentally and rewrite it. He sent it off to Playboy and it got a very nice note back, which he said was more than a lot of well-known folks received. Like you, Bob, I only dreamed of him once since he died and, though I can’t recall the dream, it somehow seemed to settle things and move them along toward acceptance. – Dave Boone

    • Was that “Lonesome Heartbreak”? Great anecdote, Dave. Thanks very much for sharing it. I like it for several reasons, not least that it shows what a tactician he was. He didn’t like to pander, but he knew how, and would in a pinch. And, of course, he did actually manage to sell to Playboy, too. Very canny guy.

  2. Tony Daniel says:

    All fiction is, ultimately, synecdoche.

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