Remembering J.

Today’s post takes us briefly away from Old Bones back stories. I’ll return to those presently, but something has come up to nudge them aside for the moment.

I’m a little late to the party on this; I blame my sporadic social media presence. Nonetheless, late or not, I heard the news today that my old friend, editor and mentor, J. Richard Jacobs, has passed on, and I felt it warranted an interruption of the regularly scheduled programming.

I chuckled to myself as I wrote that, knowing it would rub J the wrong way. As a staunch and vocal atheist, terms like ” passed on” held little meaning for him. “I haven’t passed on,” I imagine him correcting me, “I’ve died. Kicked the bucket, if you prefer.”

An author, an editor, a creative mind in the same stratosphere as the Asimovs, Heinleins and Bradburys; a small and unassuming man who stood tall among the literary giants. 

I met J many years ago, back when he was merely ancient. He came with a reputation for being a no-nonsense, curmudgeonly type, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my delight, J turned out to be a very pleasant, no-nonsense curmudgeon, and we bonded instantly. 

My first correspondence with J was in regards to a story I’d submitted for one of his Twisted Tails anthologies. As busy a man as he always was, he replied to me almost immediately (a trait he maintained the entire time I knew him) and was very kind in his assessment of my fledgling work. He accepted that piece and numerous others over the years. I was always more than happy to supply him with stories whenever he needed “a few more to round out the book” as he put it.

As busy as he always kept himself, there were always so many projects just beyond his fingertips that he wanted to pay attention to. His drive to produce more work, in a number of platforms, always gave me a kick in the pants whenever I felt lazy or uninspired. I’m sorry he won’t get to see Heaven Help Us All, a round-robin collaborative novel he orchestrated, brought to life. But I understand it will see the light of day, and those of us who participated in its creation will have one final attachment to our old friend.

I regret not having the chance to work with him more than I did, but I’m grateful for the stuff that’s out there with both our names on it.

Beyond our collaborations, J was always there to lend advice or suggestions along my path. He’d already accomplished more than I ever will years before I even knew who he was, but to me and the countless others who had the privilege of knowing him he was always just J, never too old or accomplished to learn something new. He had a sharp eye for detail and was always quick to point out flaws in an illogical viewpoint. 

He gave freely whatever he had to give, and I frequently sat under the learning tree and took all of it in that I could. I don’t know that he had too many enemies out there – rare for a man of his age and conviction not to, but there you have it – largely because he had a non-confrontational way despite his closely-held beliefs. He wasn’t unwavering, but you sure had to come with a convincing argument. 

All of this to say, J was a good friend and a good man who will be missed by all whose lives he touched, however briefly. It was my pleasure to call him my friend, and the science fiction world – not exclusively, but especially – will mourn his loss.

Farewell, old friend. I’d say ‘until we meet again’, but I know you’d scoff at that, even if you smirked as you did. I hope the joke’s on you and there really is something else out there beyond this mortal coil. Think of the stories you could tell…

Speaking of stories, here’s one last one. On Friday, I was standing in a parking lot with my wife, Sheryl, when a car passed us. When the passenger turned his head to look at me as they passed, I noticed he bore a remarkable resemblance to J, and I said as much to her. Just now I reminded her of the incident and the coincidence of having to write this today, to which she replied “Maybe it was him.” After threatening for years to find a way to come to Canada for a visit, maybe he finally found a way.


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