Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Lucius Shepard

Beautiful Blood
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
A few months after Lucius Shepard passed away, in March of 2014, my copy of Beautiful Blood arrived in the mail from Subterranean Press. This last novel, along with his book The Dragon Griaule, a collection of six stories (also from Sub Press), completes the tale of the 750-foot-high, mile-long dragon that has been in perpetual sleep for thousands of years -- but whose dark spirit gravely influences the inhabitants of the villages built around and on the dragon itself.

Typically, I would have written a "Books Received" blog post on More Red Ink to capture these two newly acquired titles. And yet...here it is more than a year and a half later, and I'm still struggling to write a Lucius Shepard blog post. I have a couple pages of hand-written notes on my desk, Notepad files saved to disk... Yet I'll snag any piece of an excuse to do anything else but write this blog post. For whatever reason that I have yet to pinpoint, this is just one of those posts that has become difficult for me.

The Dragon Griaule
Cover Art by J. K. Potter
In an obituary posted on March 20, 2014, on BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow described Shepard's work: "its originality, its dazzling language, its hardbitten and hard-won verisimilitude." Beautifully written, stylistic, provocative, hard-edged -- read any review of Shepard's work and you'll find words such as these used to describe his writing.

Lucius Shepard is one of the very few writers whose work requires that I always keep a dictionary to hand, because of the inevitable word here and there that I must look up.

If his work is not being used in literature and writing classes at the university level, then academia is truly short-sighted (or maybe just too caught up in the distant past, rather than the present).

During my eight-year stint (1999–2007) as an editor with indie publisher Golden Gryphon Press, I worked on three Lucius Shepard books, plus another of his stories that was included in a fourth book, an anthology. I still have most, if not all, of our email communications going as far back as 2001. Reading through these emails recently was definitely a trip down memory lane...and made accepting that Lucius is no longer with us even more difficult.

In 2002 I had been working on a new line of limited edition chapbooks[1]: Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds had been completed but not yet published, and Howard Waldrop had also committed to providing chapbook story A Better World's in Birth! -- so I hit up Lucius Shepard for a chapbook story as well. On September 23, 2002, he sent me the story "Maceo" for consideration. When I told him the maximum that I was able to pay for the story, he responded the very next day: "Unfortunately, [this amount] doesn't help me. I'm trying to raise a lot for my charity in Honduras and I've already been offered fifteen hundred for this and turned it down. So, sorry. But thanks for reading it...."

I didn't know anything about Lucius's charity at this point in time and I didn't feel it was appropriate to inquire via email, so I waited until we had a chance to chat in person. I don't recall if it was at the World Fantasy Con, or OryCon, or another con, but when we did meet (in a hotel bar, naturally), I asked. Lucius told me how the poor locals deep dive for pearls and over time they suffer the bends sufficiently enough that it permanently affects their health. The money he makes from writing goes to pay off customs officers, dock workers, and the like so that when his donations arrive (wheelchairs, for example), they get to their intended destinations. He spoke of the organization required to pull all this off and that he pretty much handled all the wheeling and dealing in Honduras himself.

I just shook my head in awe; it was hard for me to imagine Lucius working so hard in this fashion to help others in the form of a charity -- not that he wasn't capable of doing so, but given how he publicly defined himself, I was simply caught off guard. I was already working with Lucius on another project, and this is an excerpt from the mini bio that he provided me:
He has taught Spanish at a diplomatic school, owned a T-shirt company, worked as a janitor in a nuclear facility, and as a bouncer at a brothel in Málaga, and “beat his brains out” as a rock musician.
Somehow, that description just didn't fit the role of a charity worker....

[Update 10/21/2015: Who's looking after Lucius's charity now?]

Anyhow, this request for a chapbook story from Lucius led to a discussion about his two hobo stories -- "Over Yonder" and the unpublished "Jailbait" -- along with his Spin magazine article on the Freight Train Riders of America. All of which eventually led to the publication of Shepard's collection Two Trains Running, from Golden Gryphon Press in 2004. But that's for another blog post.


[1] You can read a bit more about my work on the limited edition chapbooks -- and how my query to Charles Stross for a story set me on the path of Stross's Laundry Files series -- by checking out this link on More Red Ink.


  1. Marty- Whatever happened to 'Christmas In Honduras' ? Ken

    1. Hi, Ken,

      Thanks for your comment. I'm not personally familiar with Shepard's nonfiction With Christmas in Honduras, but what I can glean is that is was scheduled for publication in July 2014 from Thunder's Mouth Press. I'm guessing two things happened: Lucius's illness(es) throughout last year and the prior year affected his ability to write; and even if the work was complete, it probably got caught up in various legal/estate issues. Undoubtedly the book would have been a great read, given Lucius's ability to convey, in writing, his experiences in Honduras. Hopefully we'll see it's publication in the near future.

      - martyh

    2. Ken, Here's hoping that you are notified of this Comment response. See David Gaughran's Comment below, and my response as well.

      - martyh

  2. I just received an alert from Amazon that Christmas in Honduras is now in stock. I don't know if that's an error or not, but I'm going to try and find out (and doing some Googling led me here).

    I spoke with Lucius online in Feb 2012 because I was researching a novel on Lee Christmas, and trying to get a copy of Christmas in Honduras. I *think* what happened was Perseus bought Avalon and Thunder Mouth Press was either folded or put on ice. The editor who had worked on Christmas in Honduras moved on, and the new editor... well I'm not exactly sure what happened but I think the new editor wanted changes and Lucius wasn't happy with the new direction that editor wanted to take the book and he withdrew it.

    But maybe something has been figured out, because I got the impression that the book was pretty much done.

  3. David,

    Thank you for your most kind response. I checked on Amazon, and sure enough I found a current listing for With Christmas in Hondorus from Thunder's Mouth Press. What's very interesting is that the book shows a publication date of July 14, 2015 -- and yet it's available for pre-order. Go figure. Anyhow, thanks for the head's up on this; I have already placed my order. Let's just hope the book is, indeed, forthcoming.

    Cheers, and thanks again.
    - martyh