Key images that come to mind when I hear the name "Nicola Griffith":
Limes squeezed dry down the neck of a Dos Equis bottle--
An impromptu tango danced to bad Muzak with Kelley while waiting (interminably) for a hotel elevator in Boston, 1989--
Sitting crosslegged on a chair before an enormous IBM Selectric in a sweltering summer heat, composing a love story (which promptly went over everybody else's head during the workshop)--
A large-eyed, pleasant face suddenly appearing before me while I worked on someone else's story, and the quiet inquiry "I thought I'd bug you today, if you don't mind..."--
Playing rhythm on empty soda cans during a cobbled-together jam session--
The smug, self-satisfied, slightly hazy, and deservedly arrogant expression on the day of her wedding to Kelley--
Other details. Too many to catalogue, but a collection so self-consistently diverse as to give motile substance to the idea of Being Centered.
I've been in awe of Nicola since that first week of Clarion in 1988, when we met, and she, in turn, met the New World. Her first story was polished, incisive, and coming from a sensibility that demanded serious consideration and challenged any latent preconceptions we might have brought with us. Several of us had come from relatively staid, ordinary backgrounds, and I'm sure we imagined ourselves potential literary radicals--I did--and some of us may have thought we even walked the walk that went with the talk. But Nicola came from that unexplored territory of outre politics and alternative ethos and had breathed the rarified air one finds on The Edge. She knew. We weren't likely to fool or impress her with our pretense. I don't know if I would have written different stories--or simply written them differently--if Nicola hadn't been there, but I'm sure she influenced my choices. She certainly provided some of the best feedback.
I wrote a story during Clarion about friendship and loss. I left certain elements intentionally vague, partly to gauge the responses of the group, but also to avoid the trap of too-easy labelling (oh, it's that sort of story, is it?), because the important part of it was the friendship, regardless of the gender or the politics or the sex or anything else that it might have, could have addressed (and which, I'm sure, in the minds of many, it does address, whether these issues are actually in the text or not).
Nicola got it.
Somehow she was one of the last in the circle to have her say and after all the carping about my failure to define the relationship of the characters or even their sexes in any clear sense, she looked around at the others, then directly at me, and said "This story is about the love two friends have and coming to terms with losing each other. It's about friendship. I understand what you're doing here. I think it's beautiful. Don't change anything."
I had already decided, but if I hadn't then that moment would have nailed it for me--I would always respect, appreciate, and, yes, love Nicola Griffith. She told me the truth and she understood something about me that only the closest of my friends knew. I suppose you could say that Nicola saw right through me, but she didn't. She saw into me and stopped when she found something worthwhile. And that's the thing to keep in mind about her, in all considerations. She values truth equally with love and joy. It shows in her work, certainly, because she does what is most important in fiction--she tells the truth.
After Clarion, she went back to England. It was hard for her because she had met Kelley then and knew they would have wait and work hard to be together. Perhaps it had been presumptuous of me, I didn't know at the time (but I knew she would tell me if I were), and I had never before made an overseas phone call, but I called Nicola. I think it genuinely astonished her. I didn't want to lose touch. I think she was pleased. I called Kelley, too. I can't think of the one without the other, I couldn't even then, and of all the people from our workshop, I have formed the strongest bond of friendship with them. Nothing is gained without risk and perhaps the risk wasn't very large anyway, but there's no way to know until you take it, and either lose--or gain.
The gain has been incalculable.
Recently, Nicola and Kelley had us as guests at their house in Seattle for a week. They showed us around, fełted us, and shamelessly--and with ample forewarning--attempted to seduce us to move there. We were quite taken with Seattle and they did a firstrate job of boosterism, and were we ever to move it would certainly be there, but I have to wonder if Seattle would be half so nice a place if they weren't there. I think not. I think, in fact, that without them, very much more than a single city would be diminished by their absence.
Of course, this is a personal opinion, one I hold as an irrevocable truth and more significant than any other meter by which the value of the world might be measured. In the end, though, it is the personal that matters most and everything else is just so much bailing wire, scotch tape, and plumbing--necessary and unlovely without the pleasures of friendship and the beauty of life well-perceived. We each of us must decide what is important and build our world accordingly. If we're very lucky, someone like Nicola and Kelley are part of that world.
I feel very lucky.
Thank you, Nicola.