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The Writer's Life

My Friend Jon Zech: The Resolution of a Writer’s Life

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.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


27 thoughts on “My Friend Jon Zech: The Resolution of a Writer’s Life

  1. What wonderful news! I first heard Jon read at Springfed when he won first place in the competition, and I have to say I was wowed. My first thought was “where has this marvelous writer been hiding?” He is gifted, and generous.

    Posted by Linda K Sienkiewicz | October 12, 2013, 1:25 PM
  2. I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, Jon’s books, filled with humanity, humor and timeless tales. His critique of literary works in their early stages are insightful, and valuable. He is a fine writer and human being, not to mention a mean Scrabble player.

    Posted by Nadia Ibrashi | October 12, 2013, 1:34 PM
  3. Thank you so much for this post, Joe!

    Those of us who know Jon “get” what an awesome – yet so humble – writer he is.

    Those of us who don’t, well, there is much to contemplate in your words about what is important in life.

    Linda Anger, DWW President

    Posted by Linda Anger | October 12, 2013, 2:00 PM
  4. Jon is a keen observer of life and a great human being. I feel honored to have had him critique some of my writing!

    Posted by arichaley | October 12, 2013, 2:28 PM
  5. There are a couple people who regularly comment on your posts, and Jon’s one I always look for. Thanks for telling us a little more about him, since I had no knowledge of his life. I will check out his work!

    Posted by fpdorchak | October 12, 2013, 3:11 PM
    • I agree. I always look for Jon’s comments, and the conversations between the two of you. I’m so sorry to hear about his illness. Peace and love to you both.

      Posted by Averil Dean | October 12, 2013, 4:07 PM
  6. Though I only know Jon from the pages of your blog, where I have often seen his comments (and the back-and-forth you and he sometimes get up to in taking apart important issues), I have often been impressed by his insights, and am sorry to hear about his illness. My father died of cancer which had been in remission (rather, “totally gone”) for about 10 years (according to doctors), and I can verify that it’s one of the least pleasant ways to go, if in fact there are any. No one could want this to happen, even to an enemy, and though Jon is your friend and not mine, I feel that he is a friendly soul whom I will miss seeing in your pages, and whom I am delighted to hear good things about, as you have provided today. Certainly I will want to follow up on his books. I hope he will know by the response to your post that he has made a profound impact on a good number of people whom he does not personally know, and I want just to say that I am one of them.

    Posted by shadowoperator | October 12, 2013, 3:14 PM
  7. Jon writes with heart. His work is honest, humorous, and especially good with dialogue. In his constant support of other writers, he is kind and insightful. He is a gentle voice. I’m grateful for his help and critiques. He is also one helluva fighter, and I thank him for the true courage he shows us.

    Posted by miriamagosto | October 12, 2013, 3:35 PM
  8. It is a pleasure to read Jon’s short stories and, even more so, to hear him read them in his sonorous voice. Our community of writers are inspired by his ability to fashion page-turning stories, gems that are destined to remain jewels for those that experience them.

    Posted by John D. Lamb | October 12, 2013, 4:10 PM
  9. Joe, thank you for writing such a lovely tribute to Jon. I am so, so sorry to hear that his illness has progressed. He is a wonderful person and a hell of a writer. His critiques have helped me more than I can say. One of life’s great pleasures is hearing Jon read one of his own stories in his marvelous voice. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to
    know him.

    Joan Elmouchi

    Posted by Joan Elmouchi | October 12, 2013, 9:06 PM
  10. I met some amazing writers when I joined the genre group and have learned a tremendous amount from all of you. Jon’s work in particular strikes a cord–but far more importantly, I’ve come to respect him as not just an amazing writer, but an amazing human being as well. Genuinely good people sometimes seem few and far between, making it all the more important to cherish them when they come into our lives, no matter for how long or short of a period of time.

    Posted by Helen Pattskyn | October 12, 2013, 9:18 PM
  11. I’ve always thought of Jon as the Thelonious Monk of literature–he knows how to allow the spaces in to fill the story. Some of the shortest and yet fullest stories I’ve ever read were written by Jon. The encouragement and help he freely offered new writers is a gift I will personally cherish for as long as I write.

    Posted by kestewart | October 13, 2013, 1:46 AM
    • Great comparison, Kevin. A lot of writers “data dump” the reader to the nth degree. Jon tells stories that require a bit of effort from the reader (but just a bit) — and those are my favorite kinds of stories. I, too, can vouch for the encouragement Jon has shared with others. It’s a genuine nicety everyone who knows him has received.

      Posted by Steve | October 13, 2013, 7:18 PM
  12. When I first read this, I was more than a little surprised. Gobsmacked, even. This? for me? And then I thought, hey wait a minute…or at least wait another six months or so. My lifetime warranty hasn’t run out yet! Look, look, I’m still here!
    Then my wife read it and we talked and I got an entirely new perspective. She threw me a big retirement party several years ago. I dragged my heels and objected to the hall (yes, she got a hall) and the décor (she and her sisters and friends treated it like a wedding reception.) I’m not a showy kind of guy. But she said, your friends want to see you, they want to celebrate. If not now, when? It was a great party.
    And now this. This touching, thoughtful gift from such a very good friend. So Joe was right and Rue was right and I’m very grateful that they are.
    I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. You know someone, or certainly will know someone who has gotten “The Diagnosis.” Three to six months. Six to twelve, if every treatment works perfectly. And after you shake your head and feel crappy for a while, do this thing that Joe has done for me. Gift them with acknowledgement that you really knew them. Do it publicly if you can. Celebrate not the impending end game, but the life that lead to it. This has deep meaning for me, and it will for them, and probably you as well. Do it while they can still hear it.
    Thank you Joe. Thank you very much. (And who knows, I still might make it to a meeting or two.)

    Posted by jonzech | October 13, 2013, 1:57 AM
    • Jon is someone I would call wise. His insight- in both his writing and in life- is quiet, and small, and powerful. He is humble and good hearted and so grounded. When we moved, when I had no one here to turn to, when I felt disconnected from humanity, from community, set loose- he is one of the people I missed the most. His way of putting things into perspective. His gentle guidance, his feedback on my work, and reading his work, and hearing him read his work, in his particular, melodious voice. His enthusiasm for all things literary. His humor. His stories. You and Jon and Mirie gave me so much. When all I wanted was to grow as a writer, and to grow a literary community, a supportive space for lonely writerly souls to gather. Where we could learn from each other. All of you gave me that- you nurtured, inspired, encouraged. And you gave me hope. It always felt like Jon believed in me, and in my work, even when we disagreed. So much compassion and strength- and passion! Always reminding me that one light ignites another. I have not shared my work with anyone since I moved. Yes, I lost all confidence. But also I placed so much trust in Jon, and Mirie, and you. This is a beautiful post. I appreciate the idea of saying what we feel, right now. I’m so happy that he is published, and has gained recognition for his remarkable talent. He knows people, and he knows story, and he follows his intuition. And, as he is prone to reminding me, if only by example, it is that simple. And that elegant.

      Posted by gwendolyn jerris | October 13, 2013, 6:00 AM
  13. Heartbreaking story. It’s wonderful his legacy will live on through the contest.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | October 13, 2013, 11:46 AM
  14. When I first joined the group, Jon’s words of encouragement meant a lot to me. Later, his gentle criticisms meant even more. I have always been impressed by the sheer humanity of Jon’s work. A comment he made recently about inhabiting the character for days at a time was very illuminating.

    Posted by michellemorouse | October 13, 2013, 1:14 PM
  15. Centuries ago Jon sat beside a fire and told a story. Centuries from now Jon will tell more stories. It’s who and what he is, or at least what part of him is. And Jon past, present, and future nod with wisdom and smile, and whisper, “so it goes.”

    Posted by Stewart Sternberg | October 13, 2013, 4:29 PM
  16. Jon is one of my favorite writers. We “met” through blogs years ago, and I was thrilled when he finally started submitting his stories for publication. My heart breaks over what he, and his family, are going through now, but am so glad to see he is getting some of the recognition he deserves.

    Posted by Rebecca K Sterling | October 13, 2013, 7:42 PM
  17. I haven’t known Jon for very long, but I’m lucky enough to be in the same crit group. His podcasts and novels have graced our world with wisdom, humor and hope. Thanks for all that and more, Jon!

    Posted by Veronica Dale | October 13, 2013, 9:37 PM
  18. Bless you Jon Zech — I look for your words here every Saturday morning.

    Posted by Teri | October 13, 2013, 11:38 PM
  19. Now look what you’ve done. I have an objective; a goal. When I’m able to get upstairs to my office/studio for any period of time, I’m going to start recording my ass off. I’ve got a whole catalog of stuff, a little has been published, or posted or shared in various ways, but maybe only 10-15% of the pile. I’ll slap them up on podomatic or wherever and maybe they’ll be found one day.
    Good stuff: The radiation seems to be working in that my bones/joints etc are down to mean pain instead of screaming pain…today was best in a long time. Chemo, few side effects yet (the one that worries me is that last time I lost my voice to a whisper for a month or two.
    So thanks for all of your thoughtful words and memories. Make me feel better than a five star review.

    Posted by jonzech | October 14, 2013, 12:38 AM
    • What a great idea. There’s nothing like the power of the spoken word, especially when one has a speaking voice like yours. Try not to go crazy with the Russian accent though :-).

      Posted by jpon | October 14, 2013, 9:34 AM
  20. Thanks everyone, for taking the time.

    Posted by jpon | October 14, 2013, 9:34 AM
  21. I’m touched by the Jurmungandr affection — overwhelmed, really. For the past six months I’ve been managing my step-father’s business (mom died last year) and both went the way of cancer — but we had no clue. I mention this not to draw attention to any loss I might be feeling but to say how important this is for me to hear these things. Jon, looks like I’ll have to pay attention to another writer; Joe, thanks for putting this out there.

    Posted by Robert Hoffman | October 14, 2013, 8:17 PM
  22. Thanks for posting this, Joe. I’ve been impressed by Jon’s writing energy since I first met him two years ago. He seems to have no trouble remembering that writing requires writing, as opposed to thinking about writing. I admire his commitment just as I admire his insightful and often very funny work.

    Posted by M Stromberg | October 20, 2013, 7:30 PM
  23. A lovely post for a lovely person, talented reader, lively critiquer and darn good writer — Jon’s one of those rare dudes who doesn’t suck on any level.

    (FYI, you can find both of his books to date on Amazon. God’s Wife is here and Buck & Tangee is here. They’re both worth checking out, for real.)

    Posted by Dora Badger | October 27, 2013, 4:36 AM

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