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RIP Sarah Jensen

I’ve told this story before but the only reason I’ve written four novels (one yet to be published) to this day is because I was dared to write one. It was in late October 2006 when a colleague approached me and asked if I was “doing NaNoWriMo” this year. I told her I didn’t know what NaNoWriMo was and she explained it was short for National Novel Writing Month, an annual thirty-day challenge to aspiring authors to finally begin and complete that novel they’ve always wanted to write. From November 1 to November 30, one is expected to put forth the effort to compose a 50,000-word novel; that comes out to an average of 1,667 words a day.

It sounded interesting but for two factors: I didn’t have a novel in me I’d been meaning to write, and November was just a day or two away. But she dared me and so I was off writing. That book, The Grave and the Gay, actually took three years to write and three years to rewrite; it was eventually published in 2012, and again in 2019 as part of my collection, Ancient Tales Newly Told. But it never would have happened had I not been dared. The person who put me on the spot, with every faith that I could deliver, was named Sarah Jensen. She died yesterday.

Sarah and I worked together for several years. She was an old-school grammarian, often flustered by the verbal liberties we marketing-oriented writers took to grab people’s attention and prompt them to act. But with a combination of bemusement and faint disgust, she put up with us. Her background included stints as editor of a poetry journal and columnist for the local paper in her beloved hometown of Ludington, Michigan. In 2016, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, her authorized biography of Tool main man Maynard James Keenan (a school friend of her brother’s), was published. My name made it into the “Acknowledgements” section of that book, as did hers in every one of mine—knowing she had proofread my manuscripts gave me enormous confidence in my work.

For years after she left the company where we worked together, we remained in contact via Facebook, a platform she had to be dragged kicking and screaming onto. Facebook is great at reminding you of your friends’ birthdays; sadly, it also is amazing at telling you quickly when a friend has died. Fare thee well, Sarah. I dare you to come back.

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