Jay Lake passed away today. It was no surprise to anyone aware of who he was. His long, losing struggle with cancer was well known throughout the universe of speculative fiction writers and readers, and I am among many thousands who will mourn his passing as a friend, a colleague, one of the best men they have ever known.
At my very first big SF convention, Denvention 3, otherwise known as World Con 2008, I met a host of amazing, talented writers, most of whom were farther down the path than I was. Among them was Jay Lake, a long-haired, fast-talking punster with a shirt that looked like it was on fire. Over drinks and conversation, he discovered that I was living in Omaha at the time, a destination to which his day job took him about once a month, and he was gracious enough to invite me into his circle of Omaha friends. Each of his trips to Omaha would include a pizza get-together that was known as the Omaha Beach Party, and it was there that I got to know him.
Even then, more than five years ago, he was fighting through one of his first bouts of cancer.
Having dinner with Jay Lake meant being on one’s toes. The puns and witticisms flew so fast that you could take a moment to cut your calzone and be left two or three jokes in the dust.
His was one of the sharpest, most incisive minds I have ever encountered. He was one of those people who operate in gears a few orders of magnitude beyond most other people, and that is reflected in his fiction, which tears along at breakneck pace and just dares you to try to keep up.
He was one of those writers who could sneeze and three thousand words would hit the page, good words, the kind of productivity that leaves the vast majority of other writers suppressing their envy.
At World Fantasy in San Jose, California in 2009, Jay was the toastmaster, and it was there that I was introduced to his Guerilla Cheese Party, a phantom event he hosted at various conventions that featured hosts of exotic cheeses. He called it “guerilla” because it could show up anywhere at an undisclosed location. At that party, I was treated to the musical stylings of Ken Scholes, Jay’s good friend and fellow writer, with his guitar and harmonica. The pinnacle of that performance was Ken’s rendition of U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” sang as if in duet by Queen Elizabeth II and Bob Dylan. Ken and Jay are the perfect example of how great men often come together. I can only imagine the anguish Ken has felt over the years of Jay’s long struggle.
In spring of 2012, I invited Jay to my Science Fiction Literature class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and he was gracious enough to take time out from his job to come to class, where we spoke at length of fiction writing and time travel stories, and he charmed my students just like he charmed everyone who met him. He also showed them his tattoos, inscribed on his flesh as badges of honor for how many times he had faced cancer and survived.
It was soon after that the cancer came roaring back for the final battle it would ultimately win.
Last year, I had the honor of attending Jay’s birthday party in Omaha, hosted by the Omaha Beach Party. It became an event I will never forget, complete with Darth Vader, an escort of stormtroopers and an Imperial Guard from the 501st Legion, who all jumped at the chance to honor Jay at what was likely his last birthday party. One would never know from looking at him–recently regrown hair notwithstanding–that there was anything at all wrong with him, except for the inevitable onset of weariness. It was the most strangely joyous and sad and bittersweet event I have ever attended.
Jay was my friend and an inspiration to me as a writer, and this is how he touched my life. The world is less worthy place without him in it.