Dark Faith: Invocations Devotional — Jay Lake

Posted by on Jan 9, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments

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Dark Faith: InvocationsJAY LAKE lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His books for 2012 and 2013 include Kalimpura from Tor and Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh from Prime. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

Jay is the author of the story “The Cancer Catechism.”

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Who are you?

I’m Jay Lake. I was born and raised overseas in a US diplomatic family, and now live in Portland, OR. I’m the parent of a teen-aged daughter, I’ve been a professional SF/F writer and editor for over a decade, and a professional cancer patient for almost five years. In my capacity as a parent, I’ve faced all the usual struggles and more, especially at the intersection of parenting and serious illness. As a writer, I’ve won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as being a multiple nominee for the World Fantasy and Hugo awards. As an editor, I’ve won the Audie for Best New Work for METAtropolis: Cascadia. As a cancer patient, I’ve been fighting Stage IV colon cancer with multiple metastases since 2008. I’m not terminal at this point, but the long-term prognosis is quite poor.

Tell us about your story.

“The Cancer Catechism” is an attempt to use the language of faith and ritual to talk about the experience of being a cancer patient. Medicine in general and oncology in particular are very ritualized for a variety of both formal and informal reasons. Oncology carries more of a load than many medical specialties because of its oddly non-deterministic nature, and the view that many oncologists and patients have that attitude is an important component of healing. My goal for the story was to communicate the deep anger and frustration of an illness that claws one back again and again from the brink of healing, while not losing sight of the framework of familiarity (or even hope) that keeps one sane in the face of a slow decline into inevitable mortality.

How does your story tie into the concept of faith?

As above, faith as a structure. I, myself, am a thorough-going atheist with a relentlessly empirical worldview. At the same time, I recognize the importance of faith for so many people’s lives, including my own. So my story takes on the notion that there are no atheists in the foxholes. To me, it’s almost the reverse—the foxholes are overflowing with atheists. For those of us with safe, privileged middle class existences such as I have enjoyed through most of my life, there aren’t many more places challenging to faith or evocative of the Problem of Evil than an oncology ward. So perhaps the best way to comment on my story in this context is that it examines faith as structure, rather than as substance.

Every year, Maurice Broaddus throws a convention in honor of himself (Mo*Con). How do you feel about this fact?

Well, I do the same. It’s called JayCon, and falls on or near my birthday every June. So go, Maurice! More of us should do such a thing. After all, if you don’t make a fuss over yourself, who else will?

Excerpt from “The Cancer Catecism”:

ii: I have faith that my body will do its best to marshal my immune system against these invaders from within, but I also surrender myself to the tender ministrations of the scalpel and the loving embrace of oncological poison that the days of my life shall be filled with terror, nausea and fatigue.

Oncologists must take classes in how to deliver difficult news. Their medical specialty is as devilish and soul crushing as a loaded pair of casino dice is to a drunk’s last dollar. You can see the distress in the doctor’s eyes as she comes into the room, not quite meeting your pathetic attempt at a frank gaze.

You’ve promised yourself you’ll be open, accepting, strong enough to deal with whatever comes. The blood work was no big deal. The CT scan with its strange bodily warmths and curious surges was almost entertaining. The PET scan was just strange, like a B-list superhero’s origin story writ mundane. The colonoscopy, well, the less said the better, but at least it didn’t hurt. The best way you’ve been able to describe that procedure was as resembling a small budget alien abduction experience.

Tests, tests, tests, to prove that it’s really all okay.

You’re young. Sort of.

You’re healthy. Mostly.

You have the love of family and friends. At least, that’s what they tell you.

Whatever this is, you will get through it. Whatever this is, you won’t let it beat you out of all those precious moments that you’ve suddenly realized make up your life.

“I’m sorry,” she tells you, finally locking eyes with you for a moment. “It’s definitely colon cancer. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any metastasis. The bad news is it appears to have interpenetrated the colon wall, which means the disease has spread past the original site. I’ll be referring you to a surgeon in the Digestive Medicine group for a resection. After that, we’re probably going to have to prescribe a course of chemotherapy.”


Buy Dark Faith: Invocations from one of our retailers.

Look for our next devotional post on Friday, January 11th when Nick Mamatas gives us a sneak peak of his story “The Big Blue Peacock.”

Also, check out Katerina Stoykova-Klemer’s devotional about her poem “The Most.”

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