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.

H-Ellison-Aztec-front-of-house-wide-crop-sm

THE LOST AZTEC TEMPLE OF MARS

“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.)

MY VISIT WITH HARLAN

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

NOW WRITE! SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY AND HORROR CONTRIBUTORS

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.

All Contributors – with site links if available

Mario Acevedo           marioacevedo.com

James G. Anderson           stoneharp.com

Piers Anthony           hipiers.com

Steven Barnes           lifewrite.com

Aimee Bender           flammableskirt.com

Glenn Benest           glennbenest.com

Sabrina Benulis           sabrinabenulis.com

Kate Bernheimer           katebernheimer.com

Richard Bleiler

Peter Briggs           IMDB page

David Brin           davidbrin.com

Kealan Patrick Burke           kealanpatrickburke.com

Ramsey Campbell           ramseycampbell.com

Lillian Stewart Carl           lillianstewartcarl.com

Eric Stener Carlson           ericstenercarlson.com

Jeffrey A. Carver           starrigger.net

Simon Clark           nailedbytheheart.com

Christine Conradt           christineconradt.com

Sara B. Cooper          IMDB page

Edward DeGeorge           YouTube page

Pen Densham           ridingthealligator.com

Danika Dinsmore           danikadinsmore.com

Kim Dower           kimdowerpoetry.com

David Anthony Durham           davidanthonydurham.com

Eric Edson           thestorysolution.com

Harlan Ellison           harlanellison.com

Dana Fredsti           danafredsti.com

Brian James Freeman           brianjamesfreeman.com

Stacey Graham           staceyigraham.com

Lois Gresh           loisgresh.blogspot.com

Xaque Gruber           Huffington Post page

Sequoia Hamilton           sequoiahamilton.com

Janice Hardy           janicehardy.com

Chris Howard           SaltwaterWitch.com

Kij Johnson           kijjohnson.com

Lisa Renee Jones           lisareneejones.com

Derek Taylor Kent           ScarySchool.com

Jack Ketchum           jackketchum.net

Elizabeth Eve King           elizabetheveking.com

Nancy Kress           nancykress.blogspot.com

Todd Klick           Amazon page

Jan Kozlowski           jankozlowski.com

Jay Lake           jlake.com

Joe R. Lansdale           joerlansdale.com

Elliot Laurence           Luminalmedia.com

Lance Mazmanian           mazmanian.net

Bruce McAllister           mcallisteroaching.com

Karen McCoy           kbmccoy.com

Douglas Mcgowan           nothingexceptional.com

Vonda N. McIntyre           vondanmcintyre.com

Wendy Mewes           wendymewes.com

L.E. Modesitt Jr.           lemodesittjr.com

Jessica Page Morell           jessicamorrell.com

Lisa Morton           lisamorton.com

Gabrielle Moss            gabriellemoss.net

J. Michelle Newman

William F. Nolan           williamfnolan.com

Jody Lynn Nye           jodynye.com

Raymond Obstfeld         IMDB page

Reggie Oliver

Derrick Pete           derrickpete.com

Diana Peterfreund           dianapeterfreund.com

Michael Reaves           IMDB page

Rainbow Reed           wickedpoetry.jigsy.com

Nicholas Royle           nightjarpress.weebly.com

Devorah Cutler-Rubenstein           thescriptbroker.com

Scott Rubenstein           IMDB page

Steven Saus           stevensaus.com

Brad Schreiber           bradschreiber.com

Melissa Scott           mescott.livejournal.com

Michael Dillon Scott           dillonscott.com

Sharon Scott           LinkedIn page

Mark Sebanc           stoneharp.com

Jule Selbo, PhD           Fullerton page

Mark Sevi           marksevi.com

John Shirley           john-shirley.com

John Skipp           Facebook page

Ben Thompson           badassoftheweek.com

Diego Valenzuela        Facebook page

Vanessa Vaughn           thedirtyblondeburlesque.com

Jeremy Wagner           jeremy-wagner.com

Vincent M. Wales           vincentmwales.com

James Wanless, PhD           voyagertarot.com

Brianna Winner           winnertwins.com

Brittany Winner           winnertwins.com

Marc Zicree           marczicree.com

NOW WRITE! SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR

Rare access to writing secrets from masters of the speculative genres.

stackcroppedThe fifth anthology in the series: Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers 

Edited by Laurie Lamson

NYJournal-of-books-logo

“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.

Also check out Now Write! FictionNow Write! Nonfiction, Now Write! Screenwriting and Now Write! Mysteries.

Chinese and Korean versions of Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror