I’ve Lost Another Friend

Sally at the Bubonicon Tea

Last Friday, one of my best friends, Sally Gwylan, was hit by a car and killed.

Many of you know Sally’s work, even if you didn’t realize it.  If you’ve read one of my novels in the last ten or more years, Sally was quite likely one of the beta readers.  If you read my new Firekeeper books, Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, Sally was the copy editor.

Copy editing is one of those jobs that can ruin a friendship.  Last week, I explained that the job of a copy editor is.  Copy edit is when someone goes through the manuscript and nitpicks it to death.  A good copy editor catches little inconsistencies, asks weird questions, and makes certain that how you punctuate is consistent.  The copy editor also puts in notes for the people who will be formatting the book.

Sally was amazing.  She liked the quirks of punctuation rules.  She was patient with my inability to hyphenate consistently.  We had great chats about optional commas.  She loved looking up obscure data points.  I always felt my books were secure in her hands.

Sally was such a talented copy editor that she did copy editing for other writers, including Carrie Vaughn.  So, if you’ve read some of Carrie’s small press works, you’ve also read Sally’s work.  She also work-shopped over the years with many of New Mexico’s writers, and you’ll find her listed in their acknowledgements, too.  One of the things Sally planned to pursue after retirement (she worked for a law firm doing data control) was copy editing and proofreading.  Now she’ll never have the chance.

Oh, and Sally was a writer in her own right.  The same perfectionism that made her a perfect copy editor made her quite possibly the slowest writer in creation.  Nonetheless, she completed and sold several works of short fiction: “Salt” in Infinite Matrix (2002), “In the Icehouse” in Asimov’s (2003), “Rapture, Parts 1 & 2” in Strange Horizons (2004), and “Fleeing Olsyge” in Clarkesworld (2018). 

She also indie pubbed a Depression era alternate history novel called A Wind Out of Canaan, about a runaway from an abusive home coming to the realization that she’s gay.  In her journey, Philippa joins a group of hobos and, while with them, accidentally stumbles onto the fact that there are people from another world on Earth, and that their activities may have a great deal to do with the severe changes in the weather, and some of the political movements of the time.  It stands alone, more or less, but Sally was working on a sequel.

I’m talking about all these dry things because I’m hiding from a grief so huge that, if I admit to it, it’s going to swallow me whole.

Sally and I met over twenty years ago at a party at Walter Jon Williams’ house, sometime in the late 1990’s.  I’d moved to Albuquerque in late 1996.  In 1997, I started my first garden.  I had a lot of questions, and whenever I’d ask one, the one asked would inevitably end with, “I think that’s what I’d do, but Sally Gwylan would know.” 

So, I went up to her, introduced myself, and thus started a discussion about gardens, and weather (especially wind and rainfall).  She did know a lot, having been a market gardener for a while. She also gave me the tubers for my Jerusalem artichokes, known to some as “sunchokes.”  Our garden chats only stopped this week, because she wasn’t here on Monday for our usual call.

We talked about other things, too, of course.  Books and movies.  Gender identity.  Animals, wild and domestic.  Hobby activities.  Each week we blocked out an hour and a quarter for our call.  It was rarely enough.

I also helped Sally build her house, quite literally.  Usually when people talk about building a house, they mean they’ve hired contractors to do so.  Not Sally.  She built hers with adobe mud and straw.  She took living off the grid seriously, but managed a very tidy lifestyle with a solar panel for electricity, water she hauled from town, a composting toilet, and propane for cooking and to run her fridge.

Sally loved figuring out how things worked.  Unlike me, she did her own formatting and cover design for her e-books.  She sewed or retailored (on a treadle machine) clothes for herself.  She built her solar oven.  And the toilet.  And a water-wicking system for her plants.  Many of our conversations were about her building projects.  The most recent was figuring out the most efficient way to do laundry by hand.  (Why?  Because she hated how the machines at the laundromat left her clothes smelling.)  She was delighted to report that a standard salad spinner worked pretty well as a “spin cycle.”

Even in her late sixties, Sally was energetic.  She rescued her cat, Horace, in the middle of rush hour traffic out on I-40.  Horace had been hit, and she got him to the vet.  Later, when one leg failed to heal properly, she sewed him booties to protect his paw.

The picture above is from the Tea at Bubonicon, where she always worked backstage, helping Pati Nagel make tea.  At some point, she’d excuse herself to go participate in one of her other passions, “shape note” or Sacred Heart singing.

Okay…  That’s about all I can manage without breaking down.  Again.  Thanks for listening.

This Year’s Jerusalem Artichokes

16 Responses to “I’ve Lost Another Friend”

  1. amandajoyr Says:

    Sending love, Jane. She seems like such a wonderful friend and light to the world. Thank you for sharing her with us!

  2. James Mendur Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  3. pauliwarren Says:

    I have also lost a dear friend to a car accident. Although not as close a friendship as yours, the pain was very great. May your heart heal as you remember how wonderful was her presence; what joy she brought to the world.

  4. HelixRook Says:

    Grief is never easy. It comes in waves, the ebb and flow, intense or dull. Even if you barely knew a person, the grief of the loss can still hurt. Having the years together as friends as you did, it shows the love between you.

    Grief is different, person to person and loss to loss. How i mourned my maternal grandmother was not how I mourned my paternal grandfather. It wasn’t that I loved either any less, it was just different. Is it the circumstances? Being in the room with one or merely hearing about the other? With the first, I stopped writing. With the second, I started drawing. I picked up writing again when a coworker I barely knew passed. We had few interactions, but enough that he helped me to pick up a passion I’d let slip.

    So what you need to grieve. Whether it’s writing to an audience or to a void, talking or screaming into the nothingness around you. Grieve because of love. Grieve because of what was lost, and remember her. Because that’s the best thing to honor her, is to remember her.

  5. Lauren C. Teffeau Says:

    This was a loving tribute and highlights so much of what was special about Sally and what our community has lost. Deepest sympathies.

  6. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss of your dear friend. It sounds like the world is much poorer for her absence… certainly your part of it is. The pain of loss… i don’t know what to say. If it were possible, I’d just give you a huge, long hug and cry with you. I wish you heart healing and much love.
    Julie

  7. Julie Rohwein Says:

    What a lovely picture you paint of your friend. And what a terrible loss. I hope that the memories you have will be a blessing to you over time.

  8. William Paul Says:

    Beautiful spirit is what comes to mind when I hear about her life and how she lived. I didn’t have the chance to meet Sally, my connection is through my wife Amy who worked with her for many years. Somehow (I probably know how) I was greatly moved by our loss and I am overwhelmed by this tragedy but I feel assured her beautiful spirit can go home. We will miss Sally greatly.

  9. @JayDzed Says:

    My condolences to all her knew her, her passing is a loss to us all.

    May memories of her bring more joy than pain, and sooner than you believed possible.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, Jane.

  10. Jane Says:

    A beautiful tribute! I’m sure you’ll miss her for many Mondays to come.

  11. janelindskold Says:

    Thank you everyone… I read every comment and loved them all! Much, much appreciated. (And I’ll keep reading new comments, but I wanted people to know I’d seen these.)

  12. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    My condolences🕊🕯 Thank you for sharing those great memories. 💌

  13. Louis Robinson Says:

    I was crafting a somewhat silly response to ‘optional comas’. Then I remembered _why_ you were writing:

    Condolences! And a big hug, but only if you think it’s appropriate [as we don’t actually know each other]

    • janelindskold Says:

      Thanks for the offer… I’ll take a digital hug, and be glad that there’s someone out there who gets into optional comas. I see I have a typo to fix.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        I spent a quarter-century working in medical systems, and #1 daughter is an ICU physician. I’m quite sure she’d tell us that a coma is never optional.

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