Jay Lake, Remembered

I can’t actually remember when it was that I first met Jay Lake, which is an unusual thing for me. I can often tell you the exact time and place I met most people I care about, from my oldest friend Kyle (on the bus on the first day of second grade) onward. I suspect my memory of meeting Jay is more diffuse because I first knew so many people who knew Jay, so that by the time we had our first meeting it felt, by commutative property, that I already knew him. I’m racking my brain here and coming up with nothing. From the point of view of my memory, Jay just was.

The picture above, taken at 2013’s Nebula Awards Weekend, was one of the last times I saw him in person. In case you’re not clear what’s going on here, he’s attempting to taste my brain, and I am both alarmed and intrigued by the attempt. Because, you know: Jay. That’s him. A big goof in a Hawaiian shirt.

In between the nebulous start of our friendship and that brain tasting. I am happy to say I got a good amount of quality time with Jay. We shared many conversations about writing and the sf/f community and other things. We collaborated together on a project. I blurbed one of his books. He and Elizabeth Bear instigated the Campbell Tiara, which I was honored to be the first (but not the last) to wear. Indeed, “instigating” is a thing he did a lot of, both for good and for fun. I was happy to be an occasional participant of the instigations.

He was my friend, in short. In moments like these I always feel like I need to be careful about overstating the friendship; I don’t want to claim a special status. So many more people are ahead of me in the line for Jay’s affections, starting with his partner, and his daughter, his family, and then moving down the line. Nevertheless we were friends, and there was mutual affection. I am happy to have shared in his life in the amount I have been able.

Of the many things I admired about Jay, his ability to write, in astoundingly huge gouts, was chief among them. He had nine novels and three hundred short stories published during his career, during which he also maintained a full-time job and, alas, had to fight against the cancer that would eventually take him from us. It’s not necessarily a smart thing to compare one writer’s process with another’s, so I never compared my output to Jay’s. But one thing I did do, whenever I was having a little pity party for myself about how hard my writing life was at the moment, was to remind myself of Jay’s work ethic, even in the face of everything he had to deal with. Writers write.

Jay was an excellent writer — the winner of the Campbell award and a nominee for the Hugo and the Nebula (among others) — and he was a person who was open about so much of his life. When it came to his cancer, it was no surprise that he would write about it and write about it nakedly, chronicling what seemed almost every aspect of his fight with the disease with a lack of personal vanity. Jay never painted himself a noble sufferer as far as I could see. He was pissed that he had cancer, angry about what it was taking from him, and apprehensive about the end of the only life he would have.

He was, in a word, human about it. I like so many others in science fiction and fantasy read these posts — not only because Jay offered them like signposts, letting us know where he was in his journey, but because, I think, Jay was asking us to stand witness to his life. I tried to be the witness I thought he was asking me to be. I think many of us did.

Now the witnessing is over and Jay is gone and there is a life complete. It is a good one, as far as I can see. Jay was and is a man of complexity; my picture of him is incomplete and narrow but hopefully not less true because of it. I’m happy I am his friend and glad for the times I had with him. I’m glad he shared part of his life with me, through his writing and through his company. I’m glad he shared part of his life with all of us.

Goodbye, Jay. You are remembered, and loved.

33 thoughts on “Jay Lake, Remembered

  1. So very well said, John.

    I met Jay in the briefest of contacts, but he stunned me with his kind recollection of me two years later, right in the midst of his fight with cancer. He was then, as the first time, fun, funny, and possessed of a rapier wit. I met him a few times subsequently, and always he reaffirmed that assessment. What an amazing, wonderful person.

    I feel his absence already.

  2. I first met Jay at a Norwescon in about 2000, I think. Huge personality, in a Hawaiian shirt, but never the kind of overbearing personality that ‘larger than life’ people can sometimes manifest. He was very kind. We saw each other over the years and corresponded. I share your views on bearing witness.

  3. “I tried to be the witness I thought he was asking me to be.” That’s exactly how I felt, and what I did. Jay knew me only through the briefest of email correspondences; I knew him through his many words, both fiction and on his blog. The sense of loss is out of all proportion to our actual contact, but no less real for that.

  4. Gods, Norwescons past, yes. I miss Jay and I thank you for the tribute. I am even now buying a florid Hawaiian shirt in his memory. It will be my Jay shirt. And (since it’s your blog and not mine, I will self censor) F— Cancer.

  5. Almost six years ago, right after the conclusion of Denvention, the 2008 Worldcon, I extended my western trip by taking a flight to PDX, largely just to take in the sights, and of course, visit Powell’s Bookstore. When I got in to my hotel, I noticed that one of Powell’s suburban locations was having a book-signing; Jay had just published Escapement, the middle book in his Clockwork Universe.

    I attended the signing, and had a couple of books signed, and had a very friendly chat with Jay. I then expressed a certain amount of geeklust after the POP display that was on the table (a poster of the Stephan Martineire cover of Escapement, with a John Scalzi blurb at the bottom). Jay quite graciously gave me the poster, and even signed it to boot, which of course put me in geek heaven. I remember fretting about how to get it on the plane home; I ended up having it shipped home by FedEx. It now hangs on the wall in my living room.

    I’ve since acquired several more books by Jay, and I am sort or glad that I haven’t read all of them. Reading new (to me) Jay Lake books and stories will make it seem like Jay is still with us.

    Rest peacefully, my friend. May your family and friends find peace as well.

  6. I met Jay for the first and last time back in January. Like you, by the time I met him I already felt I knew him and already considered him a friend. Don’t worry about “overstating the friendship” or “claim[ing] a special status,” because Jay had a way of making all tens of thousands of us feeling we had a special friendship with him.

  7. “I tried to be the witness I thought he was asking me to be.” Yes, though I never met him, when I discovered his cancer blogging, that’s exactly what I felt. Some of what he wrote was really hard to read, but I thought, the least I can do is to be a witness.

  8. I never met Jay; we’d hoped he and Lisa might be able to visit London en route to a con, and we’d sorted out the wheelchair to get him round the British Museum. The BM has probably the largest hoard of treasure in the world, from just about everywhere in the world, plus larger objects like a Greek temple and an Egyptian tomb chapel; if anyone could form a synthesis of that vast array it would be Jay.

    But life intervened, as it has a nasty habit of doing, and all I can do now is extend my condolences to Lisa, his family and his friends. Lisa acted with great kindness and generosity of spirit in putting updates on his blog for his readers at a time when it must have added to the weight on her shoulders; I am grateful to her, and I know that many share my gratitude.

    He will be greatly missed but his literary legacy lives on. I see from the Tor site that there are still works in the publishing pipeline; in the meantime I’m going to start by re-reading Green and go on from there.

  9. I have not had the pleasure of reading anything by Mr. Lake–he’s been on my reading list for some time, but like many voracious SF/F readers, my list is so huge it takes ages for me to get to anything in particular. But I have seen some of his posts about his struggle with cancer, a subject raw and close to my own life experience. And I’ve seen the impact he’s had on the fandom community, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. We’re diminished by his loss. :(

    Many, many condolences to his family, friends, and fans.

  10. Reblogged this on Laura’s Word Press and commented:
    I never met Jay Lake. I stumbled across Green when it came out in trade paper in 2011, and loved it. Aside from reading the sequels and other books by Jay, I started following his blog.

    It was at times heartbreaking to read about his travails with cancer. Yet he was also inspiring with his battling spirit (always with a degree of cheer, even when it must’ve been bravado). When he crowdfunded the sequencing of his genome and registered for NIH drug trials—the NIH loved that he had the sequencing done, what an opportunity!—he won even more of my admiration.

    When we learned that the trial treatment did not work as hoped, my heart sank. Having watched my father die a couple of years ago—an experience that still haunts me—I felt all too keenly what would be next.

    By all accounts, Jay was much loved by his many friends. I loved him virtually, through his blog, and through his dreams shared in his books.

    49 is too young. Fuck cancer.

  11. One of my fondest memories of Jay: as Toastmaster at a WesterCon a few years back, where, as you say, he was being a big goof in a Hawaiian shirt, and “instigating” hilarious hijinks… He had a foam sandwich-board suit (pun definitely intended) with the foam cut and painted to look like giant pieces of toasted bread. Various people, during the course of the weekend, took turns wearing this “toast” costume, and (of course) being bossed around by Jay in his role as the Toast-Master. :-)

    Oh, and tie-dyed socks… can’t forget the tie-dyed socks!

    ‘bye, Jay… :-(

  12. I said this on Jay’s page but, it’s worth repeating. I did not know Jay except for his books. I did know his dad who chaired a committee I was on. I followed his blog every day. He was, like you John, a pretty consistent blogger. I have to admit that some of his cancer blogs made me gag a little but, I always read them. I loved Mainspring and his more recent series.

    He allowed all of us into his illness without an iota of self-pity. His courage in face of his debilitating and fatal cancer was profound.

    Jay had a great soul. His talent and his daily observations on life will be sorely missed.

  13. I only met Jay once, in a corner of Potlatch a few years ago. It was the first con I’d ever attended alone, and he made me, at my most shy, feel welcome. I’ve followed his blog ever since, and, like everyone else, kept hoping that some sort of non-divine intervention would save his life.

    As someone said over on his blog, my heart sank when I read that he was having trouble swallowing, because that was one of the final things that happened to my dad 21 years ago just before he died, too.

    People simply shouldn’t be allowed to go before their time, especially the good ones. And Jay was emphatically one of the good ones.

  14. Thanks for putting into words what I’ve struggled to articulate (to myself) these past few years. I followed his cancer struggle with great ambivalence — it felt like intruding because I didn’t know him so well as many others. Often I felt I should look away out of respect. And of course it was a very hard thing to read. But I did feel like he wanted the world there watching, maybe being with him in some way. Witness is exactly the word. He was very brave.

  15. You transformed something sad into something beautiful and let the echo of your friendship illuminate our hearts. You have my condolences on your loss.

  16. I too found out about him through Metatropolis, and have read a couple of his short stories since. Going to make it a point to buy his novels now, because regardless of what happens after we die, we live on in whoever remembers us or remembers things that we made, and I’d like to visit all the worlds that he made.

  17. Thank you John. I got to meet Jay two years ago when he came to Columbus and invited everyone to meet him for dinner. I was very glad I had a chance to meet him. My condolances to his family on their loss.

  18. Jay Lake epitomized keeping it real with his cancer. He told it to us straight. Unless you have seen someone suffer from a slowly declining terminal illness, you have no idea how awful it is. TV and the movies sanitize what its really like to ‘enter your terminal decline’ (as Jay Lake put it). Many times people try to put a positive face on their illness because not surprisingly no one wants to be seen at their worst. Then we can pat them on their back and tell them how great they look ,etc… make them (and ourselves) feel a little better about this.

    It took alot of courage to post what he did. To admit how hard it was for him and his family. How he was angry. We all would be.

  19. Thank you for sharing your friend so well. The world is a better place for having had him in it.

  20. AmyCat — we met Jay when he was Writer GOH and Andy and I were Fan GOHs at BayCon 2005. We were firm and fast friends from that point forward.

    I was thrilled to build the Giant Toast costume on his behalf for Westercon in 2007… it was just the sort of whacko plot we were always cooking up, and those are the sort of things I will hang onto in my memories of Jay.

  21. While my best friend was dying of the same kind of cancer that Jay had, I read Jay’s blog to see how he was handling it all – how he was facing the same fears that my friend had to face and what choices he was making. It helped me. I am really thankful for the frank way both he and my friend spoke about it. My condolences to Jay’s family and friends.

  22. I have little to say that hasn’t been said better by others.

    Since my relationship with Jay exists entirely on the spectrum of author -> reader (I’m on the reader end of that spectrum), my main impression of him is through his writing, both fiction and blog. I had hoped for a medical miracle making possible the completion of Calamity of So Long a Life and the rest of his Sunspin books. The shorts set in that universe were captivating. There is now a hole in the universe where these stories should be.

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