Who Wants To Live Forever?

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At the time I had finished eight books, all unpublished.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than the kids who were then 1 and 4, more than my husband who would be left alone – was that I was dying with my work unpublished.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  He lived long enough and he had confidence enough to take his long-unpublished manuscript, Temporary Duty, and put it out there for people to buy.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.*

45 responses to “Who Wants To Live Forever?

  1. 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.

    Guilty as charged.

    I’ve come face to face with my own procrastination recently and it’s kicked me into high-gear, authorially-speaking. My current mantra is work my ass off this year so next year can be one of the best yet.

  2. It hit me when you were in the hospital and were dying as a non-writer.
    I had that experience. In 2003 I had four half-finished novels, several poems and one short story published in a literary mag, and I was dying. It hit me that I may not write again. It hit me that I had been playing around with writing and would never get noticed. I write a weird combination of fantasy and supernatural (horror).

    Ric- rest in peace –

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. masgramondou

    Thank you Sarah for introducing me to him via email. I knew him even less than you but I liked what I saw and I definitely liked TDY. It’s not a bad legacy. Neither is Kratman’s comment that he was making enough from it that Social Security wanted some money back.

    Of course there’s a catch. I got to see where the sequel to TDY was going, more or less. Unfortunately he never got to finish it so I guess we never will find out how it all ended or what other ideas he ahd for that world of his.

    • “Of course there’s a catch. I got to see where the sequel to TDY was going, more or less. Unfortunately he never got to finish it so I guess we never will find out how it all ended or what other ideas he ahd for that world of his.”
      *shrug* get a hold of his notes, write it, or rather finish writing it becaue he’d gotten started on it hadn’t he? Edit it for typos and publish it.

      • I hope Mr. Locke’s estate can find a suitable literary executor who can entrust his notes for a sequel to another Human Wave author to finish it.

        • That was my husband’s hope too. he was very much looking forward to the sequel. Never having met Ric it didn’t hit him personally, but he laments not getting the sequel.

          • masgramondou

            Well I have the first 2/3rds of it. Roughly. But all that means I have all the bits where he builds stuff up and none of the denouement/exciting climax etc.

  4. I’d say he was out there, starting his exploration of every nook and cranny of the known universe, going at ludicrous speed with his hair on fire…but you fire doesn’t burn in the oxygenless vacuum of space so at least his hair isnt on fire. I don’t think he’d have enjoyed the burning sensation anyway. 🙂

  5. Who Wants To Live Forever?

    Connor MacLeod of Clan MacLeod. And Queen.

  6. Robin Roberts

    Wonderful tribute to Ric.

  7. I’m sorry to hear this. I was at Fencon last year, but I don’t recall if I met Ric or not. I’m going to buy a copy of his book.

    I’ve thought frequently about dying before I’m published. You summarized my thoughts better than I could. Thank you.

  8. My deepest condolences.

  9. Sarah, you keep this up and your greatest legacy might not be the books you have written the those you have encouraged others to write. That might not be a bad legacy at that. Keep up the good work. I might even get off my own fat butt someday.

  10. Lately, I’ve been thinking of dying before being published, too. (More a function of age than crisis, though.) As someone who aspires to membership in the tribe, I’m glad to have heard his story.

    And I’m very sorry for your loss.

  11. I’ll miss Ric – he was a frequent commenter on the first blog that I contributed to: a milblog, back in the early days of blogging. Which was around 2002, and one of the very first ones to get linked to Instapundit. There are quite a few of the early bloggers and commenters who have died in harness, as it were. I’d start a list, but it’s actually kind of depressing. It’s so very peculiar sometimes – to ‘know’ and consider someone as a friend, and yet never have met them in the flesh.

    I am glad that Ric got his book out there – and that he was able to create and bring out his characters, and make them real, and vital. It’s a kind of magic, you know – to put down words on a page and make out of them a person, who lives and breathes in the imagination of readers. I think of the characters in my own books – one or two of whom actually made readers stop for a quiet weep when they died in the course of the plot. I did that – I made them real enough that people cared very deeply about them: Dr. John and his Elizabeth, who crossed half a continent together and loved with a mad passion although they had been married for years; Carl — the fearless Comanche fighter with a heart of sweetness, who gave himself up to his enemy to protect his family, and the indomitable Margaret, who outlived all of her family … but never surrendered to despair. These characters will go on as long as my books are in print, or in an e-reader file.

    And with luck, they will provide a nice income for my daughter and my neiphews and nieces for a good long time.

  12. I would not want to… specially with a low paying job. (just an aside to be on the lighter side of the serious argument) Forgive me.

  13. Physical immortality – yechhh. Even if I remain forever at my physical optimum. Other kinds of immortality have been sought forever. It is a good day to die (and an even better day to make the other guys die.)

    One of the pleasures of Bernard Cornwall’s tales of Uhtred of Bebbanburg is their depiction of the Norse view of the afterlife: Valhalla for those who die in combat, the worm pit for those who die abed.

    • I don’t recall if I checked the Notify box. It would be nice if WP had a way of telling users whether they are “following” a post. Add that to the long long list.

      • 'nother Mike

        Ho, ho, ho…

        First, follow madgeniusclub — depending on your settings, you may find this in the lower corner, upper side, or who knows where, but set it to follow.

        Second, go to http://wordpress.com/#!/read/edit/ — you can get there by going to wordpress.com/ which will promptly turn into http://wordpress.com/#!/read/following/ and then clicking on the Edit List heading between Blogs I Follow and the frame showing Blogs I Follow with postings from them. Or go directly. You will see a list of wordpress lists that you are following.

        This lets you set “Get new posts by email” (YEAH!) and “Get comments by email” (AHA!)

        So now you don’t have to post a comment just to get comments by email. Just sign up and watch the mail pour in.

        Or not.

        • *cough*

          Apres moi, le deluge is not where I’m trying to go. (Actually, reading WP in Chrome I have noticed the tool bar atop the page has a “Follow” option which I have risked checking. Whether I will regret this only time can reveal.

          • 'nother Mike

            I think the second step is what turns on the comments. In other words, the following just gets you primary posts, while going to their dashboard and clicking send comments also gets you the responses.

    • Ummm – just the guys actually – I have no idea where the Norse women went unless the kitchen.

    • Where the brave live forever … http://youtu.be/AadCYlJ4Csc
      Says nothing about kitchen duty, although sisters are mentioned.

  14. I waited too long to buy Temporary Duty, but I did manage to read it before I learned Mr. Locke was sick. He was a better writer than this world deserves. We must all become a little better to make up for his absence.

  15. I only met Ric here, and only recently, but he seemed like a pretty likable guy. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better. Except for a couple of real screwballs that showed up yesterday, I’ve found that most of the people that comment here are good people I’d be happy to call “friend”, especially the host. Beautiful tribute, Sarah. Thank you.

  16. Wait, wait, wait, what? D: No…. 😦

  17. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    Requiescat In Pace.

  18. another thought, comment on Ric. I’ve started going back through his catalog of blog posts. Ric was pretty good, succint, well spoken. I suspect though that if I’d read it before he passed and started a conversation with him about it, our back and forth over one of his blog posts this past..August.. a commentary on an article of the best 100 books in scifi/fantasy….it would have been…vastly entertaining. 🙂

    • If only for 2 things. I disagree with his opinions on certain of the books int he list and in the cases of some books on the list all I can say is…Jeebus you people couldn’t come up with something better?

    • the best 100 books in scifi/fantasy? I s’pose it depends on your definition of “best”, don’ it? 100 most significant, mebbe. 100 best? I ‘spect my list would be very different from Sam Delany’s best, but I would not argue one of us was righter than the other.

      One of the things age brings is recognition that “my favorite” and “the best” have no necessary overlap.

  19. Well – this has certainly made me want to push forward my fantasy writing career sooner than I’d anticipated. I’m not ashamed of being in the erotica writer’s tribe, but my first love is fantasy and though I claim (or would like to claim) citizenship in many tribes, fantasy is the one I want my bones to rest with.

  20. The tune in question:

    • Heh… Also a big part of Lukyanenko’s Night Watch novel, although you’d never know it from the translation.

      (When translating the first book, which was full of fannish references and had a big “soundtrack chance as divination” motif, the translator was instructed to remove all “dated” pop culture references. Which meant pretty much all of the funny fannish stuff was gone, plus most of the Western and Russian lyrics and soundtrack. There were a few Russian song lyrics that the translator didn’t realize weren’t original, and those were left in — but without credits! It was a weird, weird thing.)

    • The song has been playing in my head since I saw the title of this post, but that is the most exquisite rendition of one of the most beautiful and haunting songs I have ever heard. Thank you for linking it.

  21. Ric was in town one time and came to visit us. I remember him sitting at our dining room table. His looks reminded me of my Dad. I don’t remember what we talked about for the few hours he was there. Friend stuff. Life. Politics. Baen’s Bar and books. His plans — which at that time, iirc, had nothing to do with him becoming an author.

    He sent me a copy of Temporary Duty for critique. It’s still sitting in my inbox, a reminder to read it. I never got around to commenting on more than the first few chapters. There’s always time to get around to doing things for a friend.

    Until there isn’t.

    I knew weeks ago we were going to lose him, and going fast is better than lingering in pain, but . . . damnit. This f*cking hurts.

  22. I knew Ric from his online posts and then met him in person at FenCon last year. From what little time I spent with him, he seemed very genuine, likeable, and intelligent. He actually asked me to be one of his first readers for his newer writing, but I declined, telling him that I was too busy trying to finish my own short stories for anthology deadlines and also spending the rest of my time looking for a full time job since I’d been unemployed for the last month. I regret not getting to know him or his writing better when I had the chance. His success with Temporary Duty is a shining example of what can happen when we resolve to finish our work and throw it to the masses ourselves. He shold stand as a great example to writers everywhere, that it can be done, and done well, with just rewards.

  23. Ric convinced me to self-publish. Ric convinced me to pull my book out of a five year holding pattern with one publisher and move forward, and as a direct result, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007J6DPPA will appear in trade-paper on September 15. I thank him for that.