I can’t believe it’s been months…
I was incredibly shocked and saddened on April 10 to learn that on April 2 we lost our friend and colleague Joel Ross after a brief illness. It came as a complete, terrible surprise. It has taken me some months to wrap my mind around this loss. One of my oldest fellow-writer friends, Joel was the kind of guy you couldn’t wait to see again at the next convention. As it was, we saw each other all too seldom. But at least we’d recently managed to meet three years in a row: World Horror Phoenix in 2004, World Horror New York in 2005, and World Fantasy Austin in 2006. I never realized those meetings would take on the cloak of “fond memories” so soon, and so suddenly.
Joel was one of the first and best friends I made in the business. We met in 1992 at the first Stoker Awards weekend I attended in NY. Joel was the kind of guy you might see only once in a while, but when you did it was just like you’d been hanging out the whole time. I wish we’d attended all the same conventions, but I enjoyed being with him at those where we intersected. We spent an awful lot of time standing around, commiserating as writers are wont to do. We faced our rejections with sympathetic companionship and a fair amount of griping. He beat me into print with his first novel, Eye for an Eye (Leisure Books), which I enjoyed very much. It drew on his first-hand experience with psycho killers such as Son of Sam, due to his work as a therapist with the New York state prisons. It was a supremely effective thriller, but carried with it a fair amount of social commentary between the lines. I was looking forward to his next novel. Alas, now we will never have it.
I have such fond memories of a Saturday night in late 2006, at World Fantasy in Austin, when Joel and Regina and I went out for a nice dinner. It was so much fun, and so rare a time spent together in the midst of an otherwise busy con schedule. Who knew it would be the last time I’d ever see him? A great memory, but now rendered terribly bittersweet…
Joel and I always exchanged holiday cards, and when I didn’t get one from him last year I just figured he was busy or that he’d cut back as so many people had. Anyway, it never occurred to me to write or call to see if he was all right… Of course he was all right – just busy. You always figure everyone you know will always be there. Until they aren’t.
This is completely true: A few days after April 2, I was scanning spines on one of my many, many bookshelves and I spotted Joel’s novel, Eye For an Eye. In that fleeting way we sometimes have, I thought about him: “Wonder what Joel’s up to?” Unfortunately, I didn’t know he was already gone from our lives when this happened. And I wish I’d thought of him a month earlier. Hell, even a week earlier. I wish I’d thought of it earlier, and called. Or written a quick note. I wish I had let him know I was thinking of him, even if he didn’t want me to know about his illness.
Missed opportunities, the signposts of loss.
Joel and I had a solid, if loose, friendship. I wish we could have hung out all the time, because I know we would have been even better friends. And I know we – all of us — take altogether too much for granted in life. And now I miss talks with Joel I should have had. Maybe that just wasn’t part of the friendship we had — maybe it was too loose. But I always looked forward to seeing him, and I’d hoped last September he would come to Vegas. Then I hoped he’d consider attending the same convention later this year. The weight of “too late” is hard to take.
What a great guy Joel was. And how terrible it feels to write about him in the past sense. It shouldn’t be allowed. Damn it, this really hurts. I have been deeply scarred by a friend’s death before, a scar I didn’t even acknowledge for years. And now I feel the same sense of loss and futility with that great guy Joel. I’d give anything to be able to tell him he meant a lot to me. I probably never gave him that impression. Because Joel would always be there. Except now he isn’t. I’ll never forget him.
“No one leaves you / when they live in your heart and mind…” (Marillion)
Joel is in my heart and in my mind, and he always will be. His loss is felt and always will be felt by his many friends… and we will all be poorer for his absence and the loss of the work he still had in him.
Here’s to you, Joel. A great writer and human being. An even better friend.
December 12, 2010