RIP, Lucius Shepard

I just learned that Lucius Shepard died two days ago.

I haven't had much contact with him in a long time, but Lucius's week was one of the high points of my Clarion West experience, so that's what I'm going to write about here.

For me, the first week of Clarion West was pretty good, but the next two got progressively worse. By the end of week three, I was just about ready to give up and go home.

And then Lucius showed up.

In preparation for the workshop, he'd read (if I remember right) every story that every student had written during the first three weeks of the workshop (call it fifty stories), plus every story that we'd included in our applications (maybe another thirty stories). By the time he arrived, he knew our work better than our fellow students did.

He quickly became central to life in the dorm, as far as I could tell. I was staying with a friend, outside the dorm, but every time I came by, he was holding court in the lounge. Usually playing poker or cutting cards, usually winning. I couldn't afford to play, but I watched sometimes. He was always friendly.

In class, he gave great advice. I wrote a story that week that he said good things about but said I needed to take it further, and he rewrote a page of it in his inimitable style to show me what he meant. (I wonder if I still have that somewhere.) It wasn't my style, but he wasn't saying “rewrite it the way I would,” he was saying “rewrite it to be better in these ways, and here's an example of how to do that.” And he was right, and after Clarion I rewrote it to be better.

That was also the story that featured people from another world who called themselves elves. And Lucius asked me why I'd called them elves, and I said, you know, like Tolkien's elves. And he told me: “I don't want to see Tolkien's elves, I want to see Hartman's elves.” I was irritated with him for that; from my point of view at the time, elves were elves were elves. Tall magical people who live in the woods and do medieval stuff; of course they're elves! But I later started to understand what he had meant—among other things, don't be satisfied with generic copies of common tropes, and don't use common-trope names if you mean something different—and that's one of the few specific pieces of advice from Clarion that I still remember and still have cause to quote to other writers.

At the end of his week, I stopped by the lounge as he was preparing to go. And he said goodbye, and then he said “Let's get emotional,” and he gave me a big hug.

I only talked with him a few times after Clarion. We were never close, and I haven't said more than hello to him in years. I can't remember when I last saw him; I didn't even know he'd had a stroke last August. And even at Clarion, I know that he handled some things badly.

But I'll always remember him as a remarkable man and as a kind and generous and inspiring teacher. I'm very sad that he's gone.

Here are some links that might be of interest:

Farewell, Lucius. We'll miss you.

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