I'm heartbroken to have to share this with you. Lucius Shepard is dead.
Lucius was a good friend and a hell of a great writer. His curse -- and the reason that he wasn't a hundred times better known -- is that he had a special brilliance for short stories and novellas but found it almost impossible to work at novel length. It's a brutal business trying to earn enough money to keep oneself alive writing only short fiction and the occasional article. But through a combination of hard work, prolific output, and artistic brilliance, Lucius managed to do so. I stand in awe of that.
There must be a thousand stories out there about Lucius. He was a heavy drinker and, back in the day, a legendary user of drugs. You only had to meet him once to know that he was haunted by personal demons, though I never did learn what they were. Yet he had a great, though dark, sense of humor, and was a mesmerizing storyteller. And he had a kind streak. I remember him urging me to consider teaching at Clarion West: "It's a heartwarming experience, Michael, helping these young writers. It makes you feel like Mr. Chips."
But there was also that darkness. I was in a bar drinking with Lucius once when a friend expressed her wish that she knew what came after death. Lucius turned around and stared at her in astonishment. "You want to know happens? They dig a hole, they dump you in, and then they shovel dirt over you. End of story. Reincarnation? Think worms." You probably had to be there, but take my word for it, it was a hilarious performance, delivered with the emphasis and timing of a great actor, and self-mocking to boot. But it was also a good example of how clearly and steadily he looked at those aspects of existence he found appalling.
Lucius was a major American writer. He leaves behind a large and distinguished body of work. My own personal favorite is The Dragon Griaule but others will favor Live During Wartime or The Golden or . . .
But I'll stop here. Not because there isn't a lot more to be said but because it depresses the hell out of me to have to say it. Instead, I'll tell a minor story of my own: Years ago, I was in the West Village with Marianne in the White Horse Tavern, a place best known for being Dylan Thomas's favorite NYC drinking spot. Marianne's wine and my whiskey arrived and I raised my glass in a toast: "Here's to a very great writer who used to drink here . . . Lucius Shepard! 'Fifteen grams, I believe that's a record.'"
Go in peace, compadre. We're all the richer for your life and the poorer for your loss.