In Chicago this past summer, I finally met my friend Jay Lake. I’ve known Jay and talked with him online for over two years, but it took World Con to finally get us in the same physical space. As expected, Jay was a delight. We also did a panel together, which I moderated. But he also told me about his latest cancer diagnose, and it broke my heart. Jay and I may not agree on politics and religion much of the time, but we share a common passion for people and helping each other and for community. We’re both bluntly honest about our lives in ways that can be both offputting to others and very vulnerable for us. Nowhere did Jay demonstrate this more than his The Specific Gravity Of Grief, a limited release novella from Fairwood Press about a protagonist’s self-discovery during cancer treatment.But if you asked him, I imagine Jay would tell you he wouldn’t have it any other way. And I find transparency to be immensely freeing myself.
While I have not yet read the Green books, I have heard people rave about them.
In the first novel, Green, Green’s father sold her to the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was trained as both courtesan and assassin. Instead of winding up as so many of her peers, Green takes a knife to destroy her own beauty, and kills her intended master.
In the second, Endurance, Green has won her freedom. Yet she is still claimed by the gods and goddesses of her world, and they still require her service. Their demands are greater than any duke’s could have been. Godslayers have come to the Stone Coast, magicians whose cult is dedicated to destroying the many gods of Green’s world. In the turmoil following the Immortal Duke’s murder, Green made a God out of her power and her memories. Now the gods turn to her to protect them from the Slayers.
In Kalimpura, the final book, Green is forced to leave Copper Downs for Kalimpura, where the maleficent Surali has overtaken the Lily temple aided by evil sorcerers and cultists. He’s taken hostage two children along the way and Green makes an oath to retrieve them. To do so, she must seek out Red Man, a mysterious cult exile and two special knives, all where caring for her own newborn twins.
Describe as epic fantasy “sensual, ominous, shot through with the sweat of fear and the intoxication of power,” this is not Tolkien but something else entirely.
I interviewed Jay a while back about his writing. Since he’s in cancer treatment and unable to do interviews and promotion, here are some excerpts:
SFFWRTCHT: Jay, how do your stories start? With character, question or situation?
Jay Lake: It varies how I start. Often it’s just with an image or a situation. Visual or language cue, maybe. I can gin up a story from a very small seed. It’s one of the pleasures of the craft for me.
SFFWRTCHT: Your prose is so dense and tight, how many edits does it take to get your sentences throw so much weight around?
JL: Believe it or not, a lot of that happens in the initial draft. Though a novel will have four or five passes.
SFFWRTCHT: How much did your exposure to “other” while growing up as the son of a diplomat effect your writing?
JL: I think growing up overseas in a diplomatic family is a huge part of why I became interested in writing the other. My entire childhood was made of ‘other’. The world is fractally, gloriously complex. Genre fiction re-opens those doors for me.
JL: Kalimpura is Green 3 and finishes out this story cycle with a logical close. But there might be more if readers and the market want.
SFFWRTCHT: Don’t you find inspiration comes from genres diff from what you’re writing, e.g. non-fiction?
JL: Absolutely. That’s why I try to read (and DVD watch) outside my genre. So I don’t grow stale. It’s also why I shoot a lot of photographs and seek out new people and experiences in real life.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you feel about writing/marketing across different genres?
JL: Writing across different genres seems a fine thing to me. I’m not wedded to Fantasy and Science Fiction, it’s just my first and best love.
JL: Cancer is everywhere in my writing, directly and indirectly, but I don’t think it has dominated Primary colon cancer was first diagnosed in April, 2008. Lung metastasis in April, 2009. Mistaken diagnosis of liver metastasis in July, 2010. I talk openly about the cancer because so many people don’t. I get more fan letters off my cancer blogging than off my fiction. It’s difficult to talk about it sometimes, but it’s also something I can give back/pay forward for all those who have loved me.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you work from outlines or let the story unfold as it comes?
JL: Outlines, for short fiction? Never. I “follow the headlights.” For novels, always. But the process changes every time. The outlines for Sunspin are fantastically more detailed than ever before. The Trial Of Flowers outline was five paragraphs.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you ever consider giving up the day job for full time writing?
JL: No. I need the steady income and the benefits. Cancer means I can never be a full time free lancer.
JL: My writing space looks like a MacBook Pro. I can and do write almost anywhere. As for software, I’m a dinosaur. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since it fit on the same floppy as the Mac OS, back in 1985/1986. Or maybe I was using MacWrite back then. But it’s been Word since forever.
SFFWRTCHT: When asked by other writers, what advice do you most commonly offer them?
JL: I like to tell new writers to “write more”. Whatever you’re doing, do more of it. Plus I’m a big fan of putting down the TV and the videogames. Nothing wrong with entertainment, but things that scratch your plot bump will keep you from writing. The question is: do you want to be a producer or a consumer?
SFFWRTCHT: Can you be both?
JL: Of course you can be both. We are all consumers by definition. But to be a producer, you have to shake off some of the habits of being a consumer. Another comment that comes up a lot is.”Publishing is meritocracy, but it is not a just meritocracy,” which is to say being good is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. Writing a lot to learn and grow is exactly how we succeed. Nobody is born a literary genius. You would expect to practice a martial art or a new instrument or a foreign language. Why wouldn’t you practice writing? And write new stuff. Don’t spend years laboring over your Great Work. Trust me, it’s not that great. Go write another one.
SFFWRTCHT: Can’t some consumption lead to inspiration? Read to write idea?
JL: Absolutely. It’s called filling the well. Imagine a chef who never ate anyone else’s cooking. But time is an issue. People complain they don’t have time to write, but they’re in WOW every night, or watching House. Or whatever. That’s a choice.
JL: Maybe another anthology or two on the horizon. Mostly I need to find publishers who want to work with me. I love editing anthos. Great fun. But the administrative side of it is tedious. And I don’t want to fund any more.
SFFWRTCHT: You’re amazingly prolific. Sometimes it seems like everywhere I turn I see a story or book you’ve written. Any advice about dealing with rejection?
JL: Yeah, the million bad words theory. I wrote and submitted regularly from 1990 to 2001 before making my first sale. Probably about 800,000 words of first draft before I broke in. At this point, I’ve probably written close to 3,000,000 words of first draft and sold over 2,000,000 of those words. I still get rejected all the time. More often than I get accepted, I think. Submitting fiction is kind of like dating. It helps to be cheerful and bullet-resistant. Did I ever want to quit? Lots of times. But I kept going. Because, well, this is what I wanted. And it’s been years since the last time I wanted to quit. Success is its own reward. It takes an inordinate amount of self-motivation to get this far, though.
Sadly, Jay tells me, he may not write any other books. All depends what happens with his cancer treatments. He and some well known friends are raising money to help pay for an experimental treatment which could save his life. You can donate here (21 days left): http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/Sequence-a-Science-Fiction-Writer/38705. Here’s a man who knows he may miss his daughter’s high school graduation, wedding and so much more. There’s also a documentary crew following him around to document his experiences with the latest bout of cancer, and you can support them here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1060155945/lakeside-0
But you can also support Jay by buying his books, so click here for Kalimpura. And if you pray, do keep him in your prayers. Regardless, thanks for your support!
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on multiple writing and editing projects. His 2007 book Mainspring received a starred review in Booklist. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his Web site at www.jlake.com
About Bryan Thomas Schmidt:
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.