Last year around this time I stumbled upon a book in a local store that I thought looked like it might be a good read. I had never heard of either of the authors, which turned out not to be too surprising as neither of them had ever published a work of fiction before. The book ended up impressing me so much that I wrote a review of it, and then emailed the authors a link to the review via the contact information at their web site and suggested we do an interview when they had the time.
I received a very exuberant reply back from one of the authors – I believe he offered to wash my cat and walk my car or some such nonsense – he was so thrilled with both the offer and the review. It was only then that I got my first indication that there was more to their story than just two novice authors publishing their first novel.
I don't know how I first learned that Robert Scott's co–author of The Hickory Staff was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but Jay Gordon, Robert's father-in-law, died less then a month after my review was written. In October, when I first contacted them, Robert had told me that Jay wasn't doing well and probably wouldn't last for too much longer. He died on November 18, 2005.
When a person has ALS and they have reached their final days, you almost hope for their sake that the end comes soon and easily so their suffering is minimal. Those feelings are mitigated, of course, by your empathy for the hardship the family goes through at the loss of a loved one, but it was still difficult not to feel some sense of relief that Jay didn't have to linger.
Of course what I felt wasn't really material as he wasn't my family member and friend. Robert had been kind enough to send me a death notice when Jay died, and after sending off a quick note of condolence, I moved on to other projects for a bit and it wasn't until the new year that Robert and I connected again to conduct the interview.
The disease and Jay both played integral parts in the creation of The Eldarn Sequence as it was Jay's diagnosis that encouraged him to pursue his dream of writing a fantasy trilogy. Robert came on board to help with the project as co-author and they divided the work equally between the two of them. Jay wasn't just some passenger along for the ride – he pulled his own weight all the way through the process.
At the time of our first emails, they had just completed the first draft of the final book, book two, Lessek's Key, was about to go into editing, and The Hickory Staff had just been released. Jay had pretty much just made it under the wire. We like to believe that stuff like this can happen – the parent waiting to die until the child is able to return home to say goodbye – but as often as not, it doesn't happen and there is no happy ending.
Over the past year I have had the opportunity to exchange many an email with Robert as we talked about our mutual love affair with writing; I was nursing my first novel to completion and he was finalizing book two for publication and then beginning the rewrites on book three. I don't think I can begin to understand the roller-coaster of emotions he has been through over the past couple of years. But during all our conversations what amazed me is how he has not lost his wonder and gratitude for what he and Jay were able to accomplish in the time they had.
This past summer Robert did me the great favour of sending me the galley proofs for Lessek's Key, book two of the sequence, so I could do an early and exclusive review. It was not only fun to be able to read something before the rest of the world, but I had never seen galley proofs before and that in of itself was interesting. Who knows, it might be the only time that I get to hold a set in my hands.
Earlier this week my official review copy of Lessek's Key showed up from Robert's Canadian distributor, and I had a decidedly ulterior motive for ordering it. Aside from the fact that it is much easier to read a novel when it's bound and not in loose leaf, there was the matter that right on the top of the back cover was an excerpt from my review of The Hickory Staff. It didn't have my name on it, but it did say Blogcritics.org, which was pretty okay, too.
There really is something about British publishers, isn't there? The quality of their publications from the binding inwards is so much superior than so many of our hardcover publishers. (I've ordered the last two Harry Potter books direct from Bloomsbury because of that. They're not available in the U.S. because they are different from the American version, as they have not been translated into American English from the British English.)
I love the feel of a really well-made book in my hands – it has a certain heft and feel to it that is missing in a paperback or even a trade soft cover (soft cover books the size of hard covers and nearly as expensive). Even the paper is of a higher quality and feels like it has substance. You could have published anything and it will be given a certain air of dignity just by the way it has been presented.
I had been expecting to see my review on the back cover, but I was stopped cold by the acknowledgement page where he thanked me along with two others for helping to tell Jay's story. I felt like a bit of a fraud for a couple of seconds, but I also realized that to say anything along those lines would be an insult to the memory of a man whose achievements I admire. In point of fact, I didn't write that often about Jay, but I did pose questions in my interview with Robert that got him to talk extensively about their relationship, how the whole project came about, and what form Jay's contribution took as the ALS stole his muscles.
I remember reading some of Robert's answers and having my breath knocked out by the effort Jay had exerted to ensure this project's completion. If I exerted half that focus and energy, I'd be finished not only with the series I'm working on but also the next four books that I haven’t even thought of yet. I also realized there was something that needed to be made clear to anyone who knew about Jay's condition – these are not well-written books for a man with ALS, they are good books written by good writers.
Imagine trying to type if your whole body has carpal tunnel syndrome and you might have some idea of how Jay's muscles must have felt. I live with a chronic pain condition, and any time I feel the least bit down or feel that any part of my life seems a little too much of a struggle, I think of Jay.
I don’t give myself that bullshit of "Gee, if he could do that why can't you?" That smacks a little bit too much of the 'why can’t you be more like your brother or sister' that parents lay on miscreant children. Instead I allow myself to be inspired by his example of dedication and application to what was most important to him. He looks to have tried to go out with as few regrets as possible, something we can all strive for.
The Hickory Staff and Lessek's Key represent the first two thirds of The Eldarn Sequence. Well written and finely crafted, they are a credit to the genre and a pleasure to read. In reality that's all you need know about them. The best epitaph that I could probably write for Jay Gordon is he was a damn fine writer. No ifs, ands, buts, or qualifications allowed.
I wish I had known him.