A Lucius Shepard Fan and Collector's Site
His fiction was awarded or nominated numerous times for honors such as the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Kurd LaŖwitz Award. He was awarded the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award in 1985. He attended the prestigious Clarion writers workshop in 1980.
Lucius Shepard's passing in early 2014 inspired tributes and rememberances from peers, publishers, friends, and fans. Lucius was active on the social network Facebook, so the Lucius Shepard Facebook page (and across Facebook in general) captured initial reactions to the news. Blog posts and longer form tributes followed, on the web and in print, notably in the May 2014 issue of Locus Magazine, which included a full obituary and appreciations by Shepard's peers and collaborators, including artist JK Potter, whose arresting and original images have often been paired with Shepard's fiction.
Locus Magazine's obituary describes Shepard's work as having "typically incorporated SF, fantasy, and horror, often in the same piece." An introduction to an interview by Jeff VanderMeer for the Weird Fiction Review website, identifies Shepard as "one of his generationís best writers of weird fiction." (The editors VanderMeer included the story "Shades" in their definitive anthology The Weird, "a unique and unflinchingly weird ghost story that also serves as a commentary on the devastation of war.")
In a September 2013 appreciation, author Laird Barron wrote:
"When speaking of Lucius Shepard, youíre speaking of an author who deserves the attention of a scholar or a critic. Because, when speaking of this author, youíre talking about a man who has produced a body of work since the 1980s that is prodigious in volume. A body of work critically lauded for the intensity of its vision and the complexity of its treatment of cultural values, its commentary on morality and violence. ... He ranks among the most tireless and consistently excellent authors of the North Amercan canon of science fiction and fantasy. It is a matter of record. If you examine that record--the awards, the chorus of critics who avow his importance, the volume of his output over three decades--it is plain weíre looking at the CV of a writer who stands shoulder to shoulder with the Wolfes, the Disches, the Tiptrees, and the Bradburys."
Shepard's influences can be difficult to discern--in part because there seem to be so many, in part because some of them could be considered obscure. Quoting Barron again: "Shepard has absorbed and repurposed the influences of so many classical artists, from Borges to Delany, that he has accomplished what all geniuses ultimately do, and that is to create his own microgenre."
Quoting again from the 2012 WeirdFictionReview.com interview, on the topic of influences:
Weirdfictionreview.com: What weird writers did you grow up reading? How did they influence or not influence your writing?
Lucius Shepard: I read Tolkien when I was a kid, also a few random books like A. Merrittís The Moon Pool, but they didnít make much of an impression. I didnít really like Tolkien. My father forced me to read James Branch Cabell, which almost ruined me for fantasy. ... Most of my independent reading tended toward non-fiction travel books, mostly old ones, which are definitely weird by any definition, and adventure fiction, but I managed to sneak in a good bit of Jack Vance--with his ornate backdrops and lowlife picaresque heroes, he fired up my imagination. Then there was Lafcadio Hearn, the author of Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. He was an ex-pat who lived in Japan and even published a good portion of his fiction under a Japanese pseudonym. The exoticism of his stories fascinated me and the awkward baroque-ness of his descriptions frustrated me--even at an early age I could almost see how to make them more precise. My genre reading in childhood and my teens was limited, so these men remained my strongest influences."
"An Introduction to Lucius Shepard," by Katherine Dunn, from the March 2001 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.
The Lucius Shepard entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is a worthwhile career-spanning overview.
Robert P Kruger has published a series of rememberances of Lucius Shepard, including the piece "Writing Advice from Lucius". I love this quote from the inscription quoted in the essay:
"Writing is not about the truth; it is a reinvention of the truth."
Movie reviews by Lucius Shepard published by Electric Story
Tributes and Rememberances
Roundtable on Lucius Shepard, published in Locus Online
"Goodbye Storyteller", a rememberance by Spencer Cawein Pate
A discussion thread with rememberances and photos, including a fellow musician and friend from Shepard's pre-publishing days
Interviews with Lucius Shepard
Clarkesworld interview between Lucius Shepard and Jason Ridler, "Expatriate Writer of Exotic Tales" would make a great tagline for this site! I love that it is Shepard's own description for himself, offered late in life. (2010)
WeirdFictionReview.com interview between Lucius Shepard and Jeff VanderMeer, "The Weird and Lucius Shepard" (2012)
The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction interview with Edward Morris, republished on BizarroCentral.com (2013)
Nightmare Magazine interview between Lucius Shepard and E.C. Myers. (2013) The interview is short, but includes this memorable quote, describing the experience of writing the story "The Ease with Which We Freed the Beast" (also published in Nightmare Magazine). The quote demonstrates Shepard's ease sharing difficult personal details. To use a favorite Andrew Vachss phrase, Shepard was one of the Children of the Secret, which I believe is a big reason why his fiction speaks to so many at such a deep level:
"Stories just come to me, sometimes over a period of years, sometimes over a few days. Iím not into self-analysis, so I donít explore their origins, but in this case it was obvious. I was an abused child, and a very angry teenager and young man. I donít think Iíve ever gotten over being angryóso in this case I was more or less blending some autobiographical stuff with fantasy. When I was a kid, I believed anger was magic of a kind, power, and I wanted to convey that feeling in the main character. I got angry when I was writing it."
Free Fiction Online by Lucius Shepard
"Vacancy," in Subterranean Magazine (Winter 2007)
"Sylgarmoís Proclamation", in Subterranean Magazine (Spring 2009)
"The Flock", published on the Subterranean Press page for Five Autobiographies and a Fiction
"The Taborin Scale", in Subterranean Magazine (Summer 2010)
"The Ease with Which We Freed the Beast," published in Nightmare Magazine
"The Jauguar Hunter," published in Infinity Plus
"Delta Sly Honey" radio play from the BBC, in the form of a YouTube video
Early- vs. Late-Period Lucius Shepard
I have been fascinated by the diverse feelings that Lucius Shepard fans have about different periods of his career--which seems easy to divide into "early" and "late" periods, as Shepard took something of a break in the 90's, somewhat in the middle of his thirty-year publishing activity. Broadly speaking, I have detected three sentiments, at least: those who really like Shepard's earliest work, but somehow feel he lost his focus as time went on; those who discovered Shepard later, and who have a stronger feeling for his later work; and those who discovered him early and followed along the whole way.
This is not to say, of course, that one point of view is more correct than the other, or that readers who have a strong feeling for the full breadth of Shepard's career are somehow more true to his legacy. My point in bringing this up is more for the benefit of totally new readers who will encounter these strong feelings expressed in various blog posts, appreciations, and reviews--and also for future critics and editors, who might be seeking to make some sense of Shepard's career.
I like this summation from Ben Peek, a writer, fan, and friend who knew Shepard personally, from a March 2014 appreciation:
"Shepardís body of work often felt to me to be divided into two camps, that of the eighties and early nineties, and that which came after a break, in the late nineties until now. The early work, defined by novels like Green Eyes and Life During Wartime, and collections such as The Jaguar Hunter and The Ends of the Earth, did not seem as focused in its intent as the later work to me. At times, it felt very visual, as if the strangeness of his worlds held him captive, and this is probably best examplified in the excellent novella, ĎThe Scalehunterís Beautiful Daughterí, in which a woman enters the body of the huge and comatose dragon Griaule, and discovers the life within it. There is a hallucinogenic quality to it, one that while still present in the later work, feels more prominent in the first half of his career, as if it were often guiding and informing his work, and not merely a part of it."
In an appreciation published at about the same time as Mr. Peek's, writer Matthew Cheney wrote:
"It was in the new century, though, that Lucius Shepard got really, really good. His work deepened, darkened, thickened."
The sentiments make a very interesting juxtaposition with this quote from an introduction reviewer Paul Kinkaid added to a review of the collection Five Autobiographies and a Fiction that had originally appeared on SF Site:
"...around the time that the story ĎBarnacle Bill the Spacerí won a Hugo, I began to feel that some energy, some engagement, had gone out of his writing. I suspect Shepard felt the same, because for a few years there his career went into abeyance. By the time it revived, I wasnít following him with the same devotion I once had shown. He was still an extraordinarily fine writer, and there were still good stories, but they felt thinner to me than the earlier pieces that had made his name, as if he had stopped being a star and settled for being a very good character actor. Too often in the stories I did read, I felt that he had exchanged lived experience for filmic experience."
Who is right? Who is wrong? Thinner, or thicker? I do not know and would not presume to say. I tend to be in the third group, who has followed along throughout Shepard's career and not suffered any memorable reading disappointments in that time. To me the diversity, and passion, behind these perspectives says everything that needs to be said about Shepard's overall body of work. It is clear that readers, editors, publishers, and critics of the future will have to continue to debate the question of early- vs. late-period Lucius Shepard.
Shepard himself explained things a bit in a 2004 Bookslut interview:
"At first, when I was writing, I really just was writing. I didnít have any expectations. Thatís probably one reason that I took a break. I was getting a lot of offers to do things that I didnít want to do. Someone even offered me a Conan franchise. I told them Iíd do Conan the Intellectual. I just was confused and I wasnít liking what I was writing. Now I think I have some expectations that were engendered during my gap. I know what I want to write. I know what I like. I can relegate doing money things with doing the things that I want to do. I kinda went unbalanced during the first go-round. I donít know what expectations I have: hopefully, to make a living and to do some good work."
I can't resist adding this response by Shepard to a question by Charles Tan in a 2008 interview, revealing that Shepard may have been his own harshest critic (I can relate):
"The biggest difference between my writing 20 years ago and now, I donít write as many terrible stories. I've learned not to go down so many wrong roads. Iím more precise with my language and I have a larger emotional palette. I use less adjectives, and Iíve learned to use adverbs. I donít write quite as descriptively as once I did (thereís less emphasis on sensory detail) but thatís by choice and I do a much better job at evoking psychological nuance. Thus my characters are more well defined though where they are at any given moment is less so. Iím not proud of anything Iíve written and Iím downright ashamed of quite a bit. I aspire to be proud of something someday."
Collins' For Boys and Girls
In a post in the Bear Alley blog, author Steve Holland fills us in on Shepard's earliest work, written as a teenager:
"[Shepard] was a youthful contributor to Collins' For Boys and Girls, later renamed Collins Young Elizabethan. Shepard's story 'Pasture for a Horse' was the winner of the Overseas Prize for the paper's short story contest in 1953. By the time the story appeared the following year, Shepard had already been a growing star in the paper for around 14 months.
His final tally was four short stories and four non-fiction pieces: 'We Meet a Native' (June 1952), 'Camp Greenville' (January 1953), 'Fidgets' (September 1953), 'Florida Island' (October 1953), 'A Journey to Cuba' (May 1954), 'Pasture for a Horse' (August 1954), 'Losing and Finding Fidgets' (September 1954) and 'The House in the Woods' (January 1955)."
Please check out Steve's full post for additional background on Lucius Shepard's true birth date. Did Shepard fudge his birth date when he became a professional in order to help hide this early work? Is anyone aware of interview sources where Shepard discussed it? One has to wonder whether bad memories were connected to the writing of these childhood stories, given his early, unfortunately harsh, tuteladge in literature.