My Visit With Harlan Ellison

The Legendary Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison left the earthly plane on June 28, 2018. He was a beyond-prolific writer and legend, and probably one of the most notorious contributors to the Now Write! series. When I consulted film industry friends on approaching Mr. Ellison about contributing to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, the response was invariably, “Don’t bother.”

Harlan’s philosophy: “We’re all stupider than we should be.”

Harlan had a reputation for being, er, um, ah, difficult. He once sent a dead gopher to a publisher (an incident he recounted with glee during my visit.) He’s also known in the entertainment industry for being lawsuit-happy, most famously settling out of court with James Cameron over Cameron’s admitted use of one of Harlan’s Outer Limits episodes for TERMINATOR.

Despite the warnings, I was undaunted in my quest to include him in the book. Still, I was a little surprised when he graciously agreed to allow a reprint of an article he wrote in the seventies, with the new addition of a writing exercise that would make it fit for our Now Write! format (
“First, There Was The Title” in the Theme and Meaning chapter.)  

I honored his specifications – including the registered trademark symbol after his name – and we never had a problem.

After the book came out we had a phone conversation in which he gave me a lot of good advice as an editor. He then invited me to his home for a face-to-face visit – an offer I couldn’t refuse.



“Harlan’s home, high in the hills above Sherman Oaks, is a work of art and a wonder to behold. My meager talent at tippy-tapping out words falls far short of coming to grasp with the idea of the concept of describing Harlan’s home. Even Ray Bradbury would pause and frown in thought. This is Ellison Wonderland, and evidently, it has undergone a re-christening, as Harlan’s address, as listed in _Contemporary Authors_ Vol. 46, New Revised Edition, 1995, reads ‘The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, CA.’”

(Quoted from his website, where you can find a lot more Harlan FAQs.)


He had suffered a recent stroke, and I found Harlan physically weak, but mentally quite strong. He wasn’t able to give me a tour but still allowed me to roam his domain, which really is a work of crazy art: the décor and mind-boggling collections of books, art and kitsch, custom ladders, odd-shaped rooms, secret entrances and Aztec exterior made this a fitting home for a one-of-a-kind eccentric genius like Harlan.

These pictures can’t possibly do it justice, but may serve to give you some idea:

his office


Harlan can quote from his thousands of stories and books, as well as rattle off how many of each glass, knife, comic book or action figure he’s collected. Despite his recent stroke, the man’s mind remains sharper than a steel trap, which he claims is both a blessing and a curse. I believe him.

During several hours of candid conversation we hit it off better than I expected, including an in-depth discussion of philosophy and relationships.

I learned he had a close friendship with Robin Williams, who he said was too gentle and kind to ever be at ease in the cutthroat entertainment industry.

dean5He spoke glowingly of Roger Dean, designer and artist best known for fantasy posters and album covers for conceptual rock bands, and who shared a common experience of suing James Cameron – in Dean’s case it was for his paintings being the inspiration for much of the look and feel of AVATAR.

PW-SR-0813Harlan also introduced me to Pen World Magazine, which we both sort of drooled over before his lunch arrived. I had been invited to stay but didn’t want to wear out my welcome.

Harlan is a true character, a bit of a curmudgeon, definitely not the type to suffer fools. I’m grateful he didn’t deem me as such – it was a surprising and memorable visit indeed!

Now Write! Editor, Laurie Lamson

FYI: there’s a Harlan Ellison YouTube channel.

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Reviews

Post your comment below and/or write your own review on Amazon.

Unknown“With more than 80 contributors covering various aspect of speculative fiction, there is bound to be something for everyone.”

“…Whether you’re looking to write the next HUNGER GAMES or conceptualize the next installment of American Horror Story, the newest Now Write! installment will set you on the path to meeting your goal.

“…Although many of the exercises found in this latest collection are quite useful and provide immediate gratification, other tips and tools are more low key, perhaps going for a deeper wax-on, wax-off Zen approach.

“With more than 80 contributors covering various aspect of speculative fiction, there is bound to be something for everyone. Now go write!” Renee C. Fountain, New York Journal of Books

booklist logo“Previous editions of the Now Write! series have focused on nonfiction, general fiction, screenplays, and mysteries. It was inevitable it would get around to SF and fantasy, and why not? As the book’s contributors point out, there are a lot of unique challenges to writing in these genres. The dozens of essays here—some by notables including Harlan Ellison, Joe R. Lansdale, and Simon Clark—tackle such subjects as freelancing for sf TV series; writing interspecies romance; building an internally consistent system of magic; creating a compelling but believable villain; creating a television series; tapping into the most common human fears; and much more. …”. – David Pitt, Booklist

Geeks of Doom“…Everyone has a different method of achieving their goal and it is my opinion that there is something here for everyone. If you are looking for someone to tell you how to become successful then here is the book for you. Every one of these methods is tried and true, at least for the person presenting it. Will it work for you? That depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which is your dedication the craft.

There is no better book, that I have read, that gives so much advice from so many people. I truly hope you seek this book out, it will give you guidance at the very least. Or perhaps it will do more, inspiring you to greatness! Editor Laurie Lamson did a spectacular job gathering together this group, they all bring something unique to the table. So having said all of that, write on, my friends. Write on.” – Geeks of Doom


NWSFFLogoOnlyMeet the fascinating authors, screenwriters, TV writers, graphic novelists and poets who contributed insight and exercises to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. 

Sample Exercises

When the World Turns to Shit, Why Should I Care? Character Arc in Dystopian Stories by Raymond Obstfeld (download now.)

The author of more than forty books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry as well as more than a dozen screenplays, most of which have been optioned. He completed a YA novel The Time-Reaper’s Tattoo, Hallmark bought his script A Little Christmas Con and he contributed to the Veronica Mars reboot.

Read Raymond’s guest post: Poems That Move.

Surprise in the Twenty-Fourth Century by Scott Rubenstein (download now.)

Scott wrote thirty produced episodes for television including Star Trek: The New Generation, Cagney & Lacey, Hunter, MacGyver, Night Court, Nine to Five, and Diff’rent Strokes. Aside from also being a story editor on three shows, he executive produced the award-winning documentary NOT AFRAID TO LAUGH and the short film Peacock Blues for Showtime. He taught for ten years as an adjunct professor at California State University, Northridge and USC.

Make it Real by J. Michelle Newman (download now.)

J. Michelle Newman is a writer, editor and literary consultant with a background in strategic planning. She is shopping her first novel, A Deception of Crows, inspired by her wild adventures working in commercial real estate in the mysterious kingdom of Wall Street and beyond. Michelle is completing her first historical fantasy novel, Mistaken Knights, in addition to a collection of surreal short stories.

All Contributors – with site links if available:

Mario Acevedo

James G. Anderson

Piers Anthony

Steven Barnes

Aimee Bender

Glenn Benest

Sabrina Benulis    Sabrina Benulis blogspot

Kate Bernheimer   Amazon page

Richard Bleiler   Amazon page

Peter Briggs   IMDB page

David Brin

Kealan Patrick Burke

Ramsey Campbell

Lillian Stewart Carl

Eric Stener Carlson

Jeffrey A. Carver

Simon Clark

Christine Conradt

Sara B. Cooper   IMDB page

Edward DeGeorge  Amazon page

Pen Densham

Danika Dinsmore

Kim Dower

David Anthony Durham

Eric Edson

Harlan Ellison

Dana Fredsti

Brian James Freeman

Stacey Graham

Lois Gresh   Amazon page

Xaque Gruber

Sequoia Hamilton  website

Janice Hardy

Chris Howard

Kij Johnson

Lisa Renee Jones

Derek Taylor Kent

Jack Ketchum

Elizabeth Eve King

Nancy Kress

Todd Klick  Amazon page

Jan Kozlowski    Amazon page

Jay Lake.

Joe R. Lansdale

Elliot Laurence

Lance Mazmanian

Bruce McAllister

Karen McCoy

Douglas Mcgowan

Vonda N. McIntyre

Wendy Mewes

L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Jessica Page Morell

Lisa Morton

Gabrielle Moss

J. Michelle Newman site in progress

William F. Nolan

Jody Lynn Nye   Amazon page

Raymond Obstfeld   IMDB page

Reggie Oliver   Amazon page

Derrick Pete   IMDB page

Diana Peterfreund

Michael Reaves   IMDB page

Rainbow Reed   Amazon page

Nicholas Royle

Devorah Cutler-Rubenstein

Scott Rubenstein   IMDB page

Steven Saus

Brad Schreiber

Melissa Scott

Michael Dillon Scott

Sharon Scott  

Mark Sebanc

Jule Selbo, PhD

Mark Sevi

John Shirley

John Skipp   Facebook page

Ben Thompson

Diego Valenzuela

Vanessa Vaughn

Jeremy Wagner

Vincent M. Wales

James Wanless, PhD

Brianna Winner

Brittany Winner

Marc Zicree


stackcroppedNow Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Speculative Genre Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

Edited by Laurie Lamson


“Whether you’re looking to write the next HUNGER GAMES or conceptualize the next installment of American Horror Story, the newest Now Write! installment will set you on the path to meeting your goal.”
– Renee C. Fountain, New York Journal of Books

Learn from Harlan Ellison®, Piers Anthony, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum, Aimee Bender, TV writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the revivals of Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone,  and many more.  (See Contributors page.)
This fifth volume in the acclaimed Now Write! series of writing guides offers a full toolkit for beginning and experienced speculative genre writers seeking to generate unusual ideas, craft an engaging alternate reality, flesh out enthralling villains, aliens and monsters, or develop a blood-curdling twist ending.  Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror features lively and practical insight and exercises, straight from the top speculative genre writers working today, including:
Harlan Ellison® on crafting the perfect story title
Jack Ketchum on how economy of language helps create a truly frightening tale
Piers Anthony on making fantastical characters feel genuine and relatable
Ramsey Campbell on pushing your writing style in new directions
Aimee Bender on combining unexpected imagery to stir up your imagination
This collection of storytelling secrets from top genre writers—among them winners of Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Bram Stoker awards—is essential for any writer looking to take a leap beyond the ordinary.
Available at: bookstores and on-line at Penguin Random HouseBarnes & NoblePowell’s and Amazon.
Now Write! FictionNow Write! Nonfiction, Now Write! Screenwriting andNow Write! Mysteries.
Chinese and Korean versions of Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror