Monday, March 3, 2008

Janet Kagan

Janet Kagan died last Friday at her home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey. She was a good friend and a good writer, too. Janet had been seriously sick for quite some time and unwell for years before that, but when the crisis came, it came on fast. She was placed in hospice care and died almost immediately after. She’d expressed a desire to go quickly, so for this small favor her friends should all be grateful.

As you can probably guess from the flatness of what I’ve written so far, I’m pretty broken up about this. Everyone who knew her is.

Janet was bright, witty, bubbly, and fun to be around. She and her husband Ricky threw some of the best parties ever. If you’ve ever read any of her work, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what a positive, upbeat person she was.

All of which is to say that Janet would have hated the morose tone of this posting. So, instead of going on in this vein, I’m going to post a piece of flash fiction I wrote for her, years ago, at a convention. She’d confided in me that she’d detected a theme in my fiction that she found very disturbing, and I’d told her that it simply wasn’t there. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I have this strange gift for detecting patterns in other people’s fiction. I can see it everywhere. I’m never mistaken.”

“Except in this instance,” I said, smiling.

I expected the conversation would simply end in this impasse. But unhappily (and uncharacteristically, too – this may have been the first sign that Janet’s health was declining), she decided that she had insulted me and nothing I could say would convince her otherwise.

Musing over this the next morning at breakfast, I hit upon the expedient of writing a piece of flash fiction which would make her laugh and so set everything right again. So I did, and she did, and for the longest time everything was.

Here’s the story that convinced Janet that we were still friends:

Like the Boiled Eggs in Isaac Asimov

She hadn't wanted the gift.

Janet Kagan had simply woken up one morning and there it was: the ability to detect patterns in other people's fiction. Things like the giant cheese wedges in Norman Spinrad. The Barney imagery in Joanna Russ. The shaved mice in Larry Niven.

Which was why she was where she was now – running in blind terror down a long and Harlan Ellisonesque alley while the misshapen shadows of her pursuers leapt and capered on the walls.
It made no sense whatsoever to her that they wanted to kill her. But they did. She knew that. It was as clear as the references to the Trilateral Commission in the novels of Samuel R. Delany. Janet stumbled against a trash can, sending it crashing noisily to the ground. She fell, and struggled back to her feet, and ran.

There up ahead – a wall! With a sickening lurch in the pit of her stomach, she realized that she was caught in a cul-de-sac.

There was no way out. She could no more hope to escape than she could avoid seeing the encoded messages to Libyan terrorists in the Xanth novels of Piers Anthony.

In despair, she stumbled to a halt.

Her pursuers, seeing she was trapped, stopped as well. A menacing form stepped out of the shadows. It was the head of SFWA's crack team of assassins, James Morrow himself. He had a lead pipe in his hand. His eyes glowed red, as if he were one of the myriad werewolves informing his own fiction.

Behind him were more shadows, deformed, unsightly. Writers all.

"God damn it," Janet cried in anguish, "I wasn't even an English major!"

And then they were upon her.


Now she’s gone. Rest in peace, Janet. God bless you. Hot jets.


1 comment:

RL Maiden said...

Lovely, Michael. It made me smile, too.--Ronnie