March 21st, 2014

More About Lucius

I met Lucius Shepard over thirty years ago, at WorldCon in Chicago.  And then, every couple of weeks after that, the phone would ring and a deep voice at the other end would say, “Hey.”

The calls were funny, serious, intense, sarcastic, sometimes deeply surreal.  “What are you up to?” I asked once.

“I’m teaching rabbits to read,” he said.  “A is for Apple, B is for Broccoli, C is for Carrot, that kind of thing.  You have to use vegetables as examples, or they won’t get it.”

Or once, when he asked me what was happening, I said, “Not much -- I got a haircut.”

“On purpose?” he asked.

Or the time when I heard a knock and said, “Just a minute -- there’s someone at the door.”  I went to the door, got the mail or whatever it was, and came back to the phone.  “You still there?” I asked.

“I was just wondering what I’d do if you screamed,” he said.

Sometimes he’d read from stories or reviews he was working on, or sing songs he’d written back when he was in a band.  Once he recited the speech of Hamlet’s father’s ghost in a deep shivery voice, and I actually felt my hackles rise.  (His father had forced him to memorize it, and other classics.)

We talked about movies and books and television shows, about feminism and war and violence and politics, about trips he’d taken all over the world, about our childhoods.  We disagreed a lot, but we agreed a lot too.  During the first Gulf War we both watched the same footage on CNN, looking on horrified as our country pounded another country into dust.

I got the strangest, most wonderful presents from him: Indonesian carvings, a hand mirror that screamed when you looked into it, a picture frame made out of flattened tin cans from some Latin American country.  When I was depressed he’d recommend funny movies to go see.  When I was down because of a bad review he’d make fun of the review, or sometimes even the reviewer.  “You’ve got to keep writing,” he’d say.  “You’ve got to write something they can’t ignore.”

People said he exaggerated his experiences, and maybe he did, but there was a deep bedrock of truthfulness in him: he had absolutely no patience for posers or hypocrites or sycophants, or for people being lazy and not doing their best work.  He could go straight to the point, cutting through nonsense as if it didn’t exist.  More than once he gave me his opinion of someone or something and turned out to be absolutely right, even though I’d argued with him at the time.  He saw clearly what was happening to this country, and he tried to fight against it in his writing.

He was full of contradictions.  You wouldn’t think, looking at his long hair and rumpled clothing, that he could write the most beautiful, intricate, lapidary prose.  He got awards and respect from all over the globe, but none of it went to his head, none of it changed the way he thought of himself.

He was a huge person, with outsized appetites, Rabelaisian.  And he was huge in talent, in the impact he made on the field.  I was so lucky for all those years to get those calls -- and, fortunately for me, I knew it at the time.  His absence is going to leave an enormous hole in my life.