A Voice Silenced – Jay Lake 1964 – 2014

Joseph E. Lake, Jr. / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0Photo Credit: Joseph E. Lake, Jr. / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

I never met Jay Lake, the closest I came was spying him across the lobby at Worldcon in Chicago in 2012. (His Hawaiian shirts are hard to miss). I can’t even say I’ve read his work extensively. Despite having several of his novels lined up on my to-be-read shelf, I’ve only ever read two of his 300+ short stories.

I stumbled upon his story “The Righteous Path” one day in 2009 while reading an SF anthology called Time After Time – Edited by Denise Little. It was one of those stories that make you sit up and take notice. The prose was sparkling, the premise unique and I was just floored. I immediately took to my computer to look him up and write him an email. From that day forward I became a fan of Jay’s and not just for his writing.

On his blog he talked openly of his ongoing battle with cancer (He was diagnosed in 2008) and his writing. He was a generous and giving individual and judging from the outpouring of tributes to him today you know he touched a lot of people over the course of his life.

Jay’s work ethic was something to behold. Even in the face of ongoing treatment he was prolific. It was hard to whine about your own “bad day” when here was this guy dealing with all of this and still making time to write.

Unfortunately Jay wasn’t able to overcome his illness. Toward the end, his updates on his blog became less frequent as the disease and treatments escalated leaving him with little energy to function. When word came last week that he had entered hospice care, we all knew the end was finally near.

It’s always sad when someone so young passes – Jay would have turned 50 later this week. Not only was his life with his family and friends cut short, his voice has also been silenced. I’m thankful for the legacy he has left us and I’m confident that people will continue to discover his writing in the years to come.

When writers die in their prime, I can’t help but wonder what might have been. What else might have they gone on to write? On one hand it’s me being selfish as a reader. Wishing I could spend more time listening to their unique voice, their vision, their dreams/nightmares. On the other hand, it’s me as a writer facing my own fear of not getting an opportunity to share my visions with readers. Jay was only 4 years older than me and much further along in his career. How much time does any of us have in this world to make our mark?

A couple of years ago I saw Canadian musician Rich Aucoin in concert and he performed a song called “It”. One line repeated in the chorus is “We won’t leave it all in our heads”. It made me think that as a writer the challenge is always to get your own thoughts on “paper” and out into the world. It became a bit of a mantra for me. When we die the unfinished stories, the fragments, the works in progress die with us. Our voices are silenced.

Today we mourn the passing of Jay Lake and the loss of his voice and vision.

Some Other Tributes to Jay Lake around the Net: