I’m getting very tired of writing obituaries, and Ric Locke’s was one I particularly didn’t want to write.
I met Ric Locke less than a year ago. Objectively, we spent a few hours together – hard to say who was stalking whom – at Fencon in Dallas, and we’ve corresponded irregularly since, mostly about writing and publishing matters.
Subjectively, he was a brother of mine, closer than my blood brother in one thing at least: we had an all-consuming shared experience which made us kin.
It is very hard to lose a sibling you barely got to know. On the other hand, he died where he belonged, and not far away from kith and kin, in a strange land: he died as he was meant to be – a writer of science fiction.
Indulge me if I mention that sixteen years ago now, I was in the hospital with what turned out to be a weird from of pneumonia, but which at the time was “undiagnosed nasty” which wasn’t responding to anything and from which I was expected to die.
At the time I had finished eight books, all unpublished. (I had started a lot more.) What fretted me at that moment, more than anything – more than fear of dying at 33, more than the kids who were then 1 and 4, more than my husband who would be left alone – was that I was dying with my work unpublished. Worse: I was dying as a non-writer.
The writer-thing starts like that. You feel that you belong with them: with the writers you admire. Particularly in science fiction and fantasy, where we’re a tribe within a tribe, an isolated group inside an isolated group. You look at them, there. And through all your doubts, through all your certainty you’re not that good, you yet feel certain they’re your people. You belong with them. Reading them only increases your feeling, until it’s so overwhelming that it seems odd to you no one else knows about it.
And that was perhaps the greatest problem, sixteen years ago. I was dying far from my tribe, a stranger in a strange land. They wouldn’t know I existed. They wouldn’t mourn my passing. My words and my worlds would die with me, not mix in with the rich lore from my ancestors: Heinlein, Asimov, Simak. My words and my worlds would die, and never appear again as a glimmer in the DNA of the field.
Ric was spared that. He lived long enough and he had confidence enough to take his long-unpublished manuscript, Temporary Duty, and put it out there for people to buy.
Ric, as a man, seemed a decent enough person. He was witty, funny, and gracious enough not to blow up at the small-press writer at the con who insisted there was no money in indie, when I think Ric had earned in royalties in a month what the man made from a whole book.
He was also brave. That’s what I want you to remember.
I remember being where he was: the place where you feel your work is publishable, but every door is still slammed in your face. (I was right, as Ric was. Some of those books are now published.) You know you are a writer, but no one else knows it.
It’s a terrible place to be, and it makes you doubt who you are and what you can do. The demons of insecurity gather round whispering, “It’s human, but is it art?” (Or even story.)
That was the experience that bound Ric and I. We knew about those long years in the dark.
But he was brave. Braver than I might have been. I’ll never know, because I broke in before I had a chance to do what he did, which was to step out of the dark into the light and to say “I am a writer. I’m a Science Fiction writer. These are my people. These are my tribe. I am worthy. I belong with them.”
And he was right.
Now Ric is gone, but Temporary Duty isn’t. His world, his thoughts, his characters, have joined the collective consciousness of the field. In the way this field works, bits and pieces of it will surface, here and there, forever. Years from now, I’ll be reading a Human Wave Science fiction novel and go “That’s Ric Locke. That’s Temporary Duty.” Like recognizing an ancestors’ eyes in a new born baby, it will keep a bit of him alive forever.
And besides, every time you open his book, every time you read it, he’ll be alive again and speaking.
He had much less time than he expected or we hoped for. But in the last year and half he became one of us.
He’s gone, but he’ll live forever. He died, but he died in the arms of his people and has joined his “ancestors” in science fiction writing.
It’s the best mortal man can aspire to.
And he left us a legacy too: you, out there, you with the ten manuscripts under the bed or moldering in your closet – do you have the courage to put them up? Nothing is standing between you and the light now, but your own cowardice. Do you think you belong with us? Stand up and be counted.
Do you want to die isolated and have your worlds die with you? Or do you want to live forever?
*Witchfinder tomorrow. I’m simply not up to it RIGHT now. Sorry.*