Saturday, June 30, 2018

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

Most writers can trace back their desire to write to one person.  It could be a teacher or parent who encouraged them.  It could be a bad writer, which made a reader say "I could do better than this!"

If they're lucky, they are inspired by a good writer. We lost Harlan Ellison, a very good writer, this week. Harlan was the one who inspired me to become a writer.

I'm not blind to Harlan's many failings. But by and large, he's an admirable role model. He wrote hundreds of published short stories. He moved to Los Angeles and became a highly-paid script writer.  He won more writing awards than anyone else I can think of.  While many writers are rather dull speakers, he was a raconteur -- people paid him to talk on the lecture circuit.  And he rarely (if ever) backed down from a fight, either physical (despite his sort stature) or in court.

Work long enough in this business and someone will screw you over.  I once wrote an article on beer for a magazine that never paid me.  I sighed, made a note never to deal with those people again, and moved on.  Harlan told a story about being stiffed by a magazine in New York City.  He claims he stormed into their office, created a distraction, then stole a typewriter to cover his lost fee!

Of course, Harlan Ellison never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  I have no way of knowing if he really did steal a typewriter.  Harlan was a fabulist.  I once heard him talking at a college for two hours, and during that time he contradicted himself at least three times.  But if people are going to pay you for public speaking, you damn well better have some good stories.

Look closely at that photo of a young Harlan above.  (He was 84 years old when he passed.)  Harlan is writing at a typewriter (as far as I know, he never upgraded to a computer).  But look at where he's writing: in a store window!  Yes, for publicity, Harlan sometimes wrote in the front window of a bookstore, in full view of passers-by!

Now, I can concentrate and write in a library.  I can write in a cafeteria or coffee shop.  But a store window?  I don't know if even I could do that.  And it's academic now...there are so few bookstores left.

I wish there were more bookstores left.  (Hell, I wish automats were still around, too -- I loved those places.)

But most of all, I wish Harlan Ellison was still with us, healthy and writing and fighting the good fight. And I bet the scores of young writers he inspired feel just the same way.