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How to Talk to Lucius Shepard
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spot_02Sure, Lucius likes to be complimented. Don't be afraid, walk right up and tell him how "Surrender" raised your political consciousness. Explain why you couldn't stomach high fantasy anymore after "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule." Tell him how LIFE DURING WARTIME changed your life. Writers love the thoughtful praise of careful readers.

So there you are, standing at the bar maybe, and you're looking up at him and you're thinking, Jesus, what a bear of a man, six foot five and imposing as hell, even though he's got this friendly smile because you've just told him he's the rock and roll Joseph Conrad, the Stephen Crane of the Cold War, and that always you buy two copies of everything he writes, one for reading and the other for investment purposes and you want the conversation to go on but you don't want to sound like a sycophant and he's waiting for you to say something and he's Lucius Shepard, ferchrisakes, what does a guy like him want to chat about?

Believe it or not: sports.

For instance, ask him what happened on May 31, 1983. It's Game Two of the NBA finals, Boston Garden, Lakers versus Celtics. LA has rocked Boston with a win on the parquet in Game One and are threatening to steal this one too. Everyone in the house knows that if the Celts drop both home games, the series is over. With fifteen seconds left the Lakers have a two point lead and the ball. All they have to do is run out the clock, only James Worthy makes a no-brain cross court pass. Celts guard Gerald Henderson swoops out of the pack, picks it off, sprints down court and lays it in -- tie game! Boston wins in overtime 124-121. Lucius's agonized scream is so loud that it shatters the TV screen. In a rage he stalks off to the room where he writes and starts scribbling in his notebook. Twenty-seven hours later, redolent of sweat and coffee, he emerges with the manuscript of "Salvador." It's about soldiers high on combat drugs who fight a dirty little war in Salvador, where magicians can exact a terrible revenge on invaders. It is his first great story.

Or maybe try April 15, 1985. On that day Thomas "Hitman" Hearns fights Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight championship of the world. This is one of the most amazing fights in modern history, a non-stop brawl from the bell. Lucius is watching it live in a closed circuit theater with a friend who hasn't seen much boxing. The friend can't believe it, no human being can withstand this kind of punishment. They flail at each other with a ferocity that stuns the even the most knowledgeable fans. Even Lucius. The fight is in Vegas, more than a thousand miles away, but even at this remove, the scent of danger wafts off the screen. The friend doesn't know whether to cheer or panic. This isn't about money anymore or a belt; it's about survival. Finally it is over.

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