Aaron Lemke had only been writing for a short time, but he'd already found his voice.

By 20, he'd written several short stories and three novels — nearly all in the science fiction genre. While ignored or rejected by publishers, he was undeterred. And his parents have no doubt that Lemke would have continued writing, refining and creating stories.

So what, then, do parents do to honor a smart, creative, funny son whose writing career was ended by his death? Publish his book, of course.

On May 1, what would have been Lemke's 26th birthday, Beaver's Pond Press released "The Hub: A City Amongst the Waste," a dystopian novel of humanity's struggle to survive 300 years into an uncertain future.

"What better legacy for Aaron, you know?" said Lisa Lemke, his mother. "And we felt that just fit Aaron and fit our situation."

Said Aaron's father, Jonathan Lemke: "This is a special club that you join. There is only one way to join, and no one wants to be in this club because it's the worst thing that can happen when you lose your child."

Jonathan and Lisa Lemke met at truck driving school in the 1990s, but went their separate ways. They stayed in touch, however, and eventually became a couple. Their love was forged driving over the road together for a year and a half in the late 1990s.

"I like to tell people that's how you know your relationship is going to last," Jonathan said of sharing the driving with Lisa in 1996 and 1997. "Then, she had to stop driving all of a sudden, because we had a surprise."

Aaron was born in 1998.

"You're not going to be a mom and dad and have a baby in the truck," said Lisa.

Jonathan's trucking career lasted only five more years, cut short after he developed partial complex seizures. "And just like that, at 26 years old, I had to find a new career," he said.

He found stability and satisfaction in plumbing. Now assistant coordinator for St. Paul Plumbers Local 34, he trains journeymen and master plumbers through the union's continuing education programs.

Lisa, who went to college to study computer forensics, has had a varied career. For the past year, she's worked for the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.

Aaron, too, spent years searching — although writing was always at his core.

After graduating from high school, the already prolific author knew he needed to find his way in a bill-paying world. For nearly a year, he tagged along with his dad to plumbing jobs in North Dakota and Iowa, working as a helper and making good money.

But something about it was unsatisfying. Jonathan left his son at a job site while he went to the Twin Cities to teach a class. When Jonathan returned to pick up Aaron from the site, his son told him how the other workers treated him differently.

"Different how?" Jonathan asked Aaron.

"They give me respect because I'm your son. But I haven't earned it," Aaron said. "I have to find my own way."

A pivot

Aaron decided to finish "The Hub," the book he'd started writing in high school, and moved in with his grandparents in Fergus Falls, Minn.

While he was putting the finishing touches on his novel, Aaron also was recovering.

While visiting St. Paul in 2017, he was mugged. Police found him wandering the streets one night. He'd suffered a traumatic brain injury, his parents said. He was 19.

He moved to an apartment in Moorhead, Minn., and was working at a warehouse, while also submitting his novel to publishers. Most, Lisa said, didn't respond. One wrote "a nice" rejection letter.

That year, Lisa said, was "wonderful." The Lemkes' only child made frequent trips to see his parents in St. Paul. Or they drove to Moorhead to spend time with their son.

Aaron was unsatisfied with his job. One day, he told his parents that he wanted to join the Marines. Would they be willing to cover the last months of his lease in Moorhead so he could enlist? They agreed.

Aaron "was exercising all the time." He'd made friends with several others getting ready to join the Marine Corps. He'd sold his furniture and planned to sell his car for a nest egg down the road.

But he'd also hit his head again — and was having problems with his left eye and leg. His parents urged him to get medical attention. He feared having to repeat the battery of medical tests he'd already passed upon enlisting in the Marines and refused.

His parents planned to spend one more weekend with him before he headed to boot camp in California. On Oct. 13, 2018, a week before their son was to join the Marines, he died.

Officials said he'd shot himself. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.

But there was no note. No indications Aaron had been depressed. In fact, friends in his Marine Corps cohort said he'd only expressed excitement for what was to come.

There was also this: "Aaron had a cerebral cortex hemorrhage," Jonathan Lemke said.

That likely meant Aaron would have been experiencing a series of strokes as seizures, his parents said. Knowing this, they have a hard time believing their son knew what he was doing in his final moments.

While Aaron may have pulled the trigger, Lisa said, "I cannot accept that he intentionally killed himself."

A way forward

It took several years for the smoke to clear from their heads, Lisa said. They began talking about a way to memorialize their son. They considered building a house for charity, and other causes. "But it didn't feel like Aaron," she said.

While on a walk late last year, they decided to publish one of his books. They picked "The Hub" because that's the one Aaron had pitched.

They wanted a local publisher, someone they could meet with and talk to. They found Beaver's Pond Press, a St. Paul house that helps authors self-publish. A week before Christmas, Beaver's Pond owner Lily Coyle agreed to take on the project.

Beaver's Pond has published 1,000 independent authors over 25 years, she said. The Hub "is a solid work in the genre and has a very compelling back story." Aaron Lemke, Coyle said, had talent.

Preserving Aaron's voice was a priority, said Laurie Buss Herrmann, managing editor of the project. That can be difficult when the author cannot work with the editor. She credits Aaron's parents for their diligence. Aaron, she said, "had a great eye for detail, suspense."

Everyone involved in the book — from proofreaders to designers to printers — committed to publishing by Aaron's birthday, Coyle said. Available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart, she knows it will sell.

The Lemkes paid $15,000 to make their son's novel real. If the first press run of 1,000 copies sells out, another 1,000 will be made. Profits from that second printing will go to charities in Aaron's name, Jonathan said.

Reading "The Hub" "makes me smile," Lisa said. "Because it's like he's almost there."

Where to find help

Families can find mental health information and resources for crisis care on NAMI Minnesota's website, namimn.org. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor.