My friend Jon Zech is a writer. I think that of all the things he could be known as, this is the one he would pick.
Jon is very sick right now. He has knocked cancer to the canvas several times in his life, but like all things evil, the disease never relents, never compromises. It keeps coming back, and this time it is winning. One of the tumors presses on his sciatic nerve, causing immense pain despite the medications. He can barely walk now, and has already informed our writers’ group that he probably won’t be able to attend anymore. Such is Jon’s courage that he talks about it openly on his Facebook page. Like every good writer he does not shy from the truth. Therefore, neither will I.
He has asked his friends not to treat him any differently, knowing the likely outcome of this situation, and mostly we haven’t. Sympathy is not something a writer tolerates well. But it would be wrong not to speak now, while Jon can still appreciate what we have to say. In our culture it’s common to wait until too late to praise someone, to keep the bios stashed in the file cabinet. So rather than ritualize this episode of life, let me personalize it this time.
Jon worked for most of his life with the Michigan Secretary of State. But in his spare time, he wrote. Mostly short stories—lots of them. A couple of books. He participated in writers’ groups for at least twenty years before he joined his current one. He loved writing and still does. But as for many people, responsibilities came first—to his wife, LaRue, and to family. To career and coworkers. To the public he served. He never thought much about publishing his work or finding an agent. He wrote for the love of the story.
Once he retired a few years ago, he began submitting some of his work. Right away he received an Honorable Mention in a Glimmer Train contest. He’s entered our regional art organization’s annual contest in prose for the last couple of years: he won once, and received an honorable mention. His first published story didn’t happen until two years or so ago, a journal with the august name of Splickety—not exactly a household name—but to hear the excitement in Jon’s voice when it happened is to understand the joy and pride one feels when someone else says of your writing, yes, it’s good. Since then Jon has become a favorite author at Short Story America, a prominent journal based in South Carolina, placing stories in their last two annual anthologies, and even flying down there to do a reading at their annual conference.
But maybe what Jon is best at is teaching other writers the intricacies of craft. He’s taken many beginning writers on—usually without telling the rest of us—and helped them develop their voices.
With all that it becomes clear that Jon could have been a writer of note, a name in literary circles, had he sought publication early on. But his life was never about what could have been. It has always been about what is. And what is, is that Jon Zech is a friend who has lived, and continues to live the writer’s life.
A couple of weeks ago, in recognition of Jon’s dedication to writing and writers, our mutual friend Nadia Ibrashi suggested that the Detroit Working Writers honor Jon by naming a contest after him at their 2014 conference. Last week, the board voted and made it official, and next May the organization will host the Jon Zech Short Story Award. It’s well deserved, not so much because he’s not doing well, but because of all those writer things mentioned above.
Most of you don’t know Jon. Maybe you’ve seen a comment or two of his on this page. If you’d really like to get to know him, check out the two books he has available on Amazon. Maybe drop him a line to say, yes, they’re good. Like any writer he would appreciate that.