The man whose writing single-handedly pushed me "over the edge" into the world of writing has passed away. I learned of Stepan's passing a few days after the fact. I am still saddened. Stepan was a great writer - I published his work two times as an editor (in fact, Stepan was the only author to appear in all four volumes of Ministry of Whimsy Press's World Fantasy Award-winning Leviathan series). His writing was quirky, a touch cynical, funny, and whimsical. Those who met him know that Stepan's personality was reflected in his work. The writing world lost a good writer. The human world lost a good person.
Stepan's first influence on me came when I picked up a copy of his Philip K. Dick-award winning novel, The Troika. I was generously gifted a copy of his short fiction collection, Danger Music, by Jeff VanderMeer. Stepan was gracious enough to sign them both. He later sent me a copy of his longer collection, Dossier (signed as well) and his cartoon collections Life on Earth and Common Ectoids of Arizona. In my experience, Stepan just wanted to share everything. I've met few people as kind and giving as he was.
I had the privilege of spending some time with Stepan and his wife, Kia, at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC back in 2003. I remember him as always smiling, even when he was squelching his inner cynic with a good laugh. I came to view him as unassuming, yet theatrical (he did children's puppet theater in some capacity or another, and I could see why). I corresponded with him from about 2001 to 2007 or so. Then life got in the way and we lost contact, which is much more my fault than his.
I miss Stepan. In hindsight, I wish I had kept contact with him. He was the kind of person who could brighten up your day just by being around, and heaven knows I could have used that from time to time. I owe my writing career to Stepan. His work started it all. And though he did only a little in the way of mentoring, his work inspired me and continues to inspire me.
One last thing that Stepan sent me some years ago was a 3-ring binder containing his unpublished novel Burger Creature: The First Volume of the Burger Creature Saga, including "A Synopsis of The Burger Creature Saga" and a series of drawings showing the various characters in the book. Here's Stepan's synopsis of the 1st book:
THE PLOT IN A NUTSHELL:
Novel one: BURGER CREATURE
Part one: THE BURGER WALKS AMONG US
Lily Cook, a sweet young burger-franchise cashier, discovers and animate beef patty and raises him to humanoid adulthood in a matter of weeks. he has french fries for hair and pickle slices for eyes. She names him Burger Creature and falls in love with him. But after a single night of wild cosmic burger sex, he's kidnapped by two sinister corporate thugs in a black sedan - representatives of Bennett Foods and the Burger Planet franchise.
Part two: CURSE OF THE LIVING FOOD
Lily abandons her life in Tuscon Arizona and roams the roadways in search of her ill-fated boyfriend. Meanwhile in Colorado, at a research-&-development facility of Bennett Foods, Burger Creature is held captive. He grows into a giant, but despite his size, he's severed at the waist and decapitated. Everything below the neck is transported to the research labs of two other R-&-D unit. Lily allies herself with a trio of Japanese spies who steal the head from Bennett Foods, then ditch Lily and keep the head for themselves. Luckily Lily has new allies waiting in the wings - her friends from Tuscon.
This gives a taste of Stepan's wackiness, but some of his writing had a decidedly Literary bent to it. For example, "The Minutes of the Last Meeting," a novella, which appeared in Leviathan 2, is an exquisitely written historically-based science fiction piece about what would happen if Czarist Russia were to develop a nuclear bomb. Stepan's breadth of writing was pretty amazing.
Behind the clear plastic cover to the bindered Burger Creature is a note from Stepan. It reads:
Confused? Put upon? Adrift in a fallen world? Read this book?! It solves everything.
It just might, Stepan. It just might . . .
Rest in Peace, my friend.