Thoughts On Harlan Ellison

In 2011 I found myself submitting a short story to the anthology Resistance Front featuring none-other-than Harlan Ellison. Suffice to say I didn’t know that much about Harlan, only that he’d written the best of the TOS episodes, City On The Edge Of Forever.

I asked Alan Dean Foster if he would be interested in contributing to it as well, and was surprised when he agreed. I passed him over to Bernard Schaffer, editor-in-chief of the project and set about conducting interviews with all the writers involved. When it came to getting one from Harlan, he told me point blank he didn’t do email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. However he would grant me an interview if I could source him several magazines available here in the UK featuring him. Suffice to say I didn’t bother (sort of walking away from my first contact with the man rather deflated). It wasn’t until I did some reading online that I learned what kind of man Harlan Ellison was, and why it was not out of sorts for him to expect me to send him stuff for an interview.

In early 2013 my good friend Bernard did an interview with Matt Posner (author of School of the Ages), and he had this to say:

Harlan . . . I’ve never spoken openly about what happened with Harlan but I think enough time has passed to do so. Harlan was always one of my literary heroes. He still is. I’d kill for him, so don’t misunderstand anything I say. Over a period of a month or so, I was in constant contact with him. Emails, faxes, phone calls, mailed packages. He is a font of information and even his simplest emails will make you feel embarrassed to call yourself a writer. We talked about life, love, family, politics, his experiences as an author, Dangerous Visions, everything. In the midst of all that, Harlan offered to edit Old-Time Lawmen. I was flabbergasted.

To go from a kid who stood in line at Philly Comic Con to get his signature to an author working on a project with him was staggering. But it gets more amazing. He actually rewrote the first page of my story and signed it. I have, in my possession, a one of a kind Harlan Ellison manuscript that contains my characters and world in his words. He gave me a very honest, and correct, critique of the story and I told him I would get to work right away. I went into a frenzy of writing. It was like his insight to my work unlocked something in me, and I completely overhauled my style. So, it was with great enthusiasm that I sent him the new version. I thanked him for his honesty and told him how he’d helped me, and I waited.

 Now, let me back up a moment.

 Harlan is very ill, and what I think happened was that the month we were in such close contact, he was feeling better. He had some energy. He was excited about the project. That all changed when his illness reared up. The last phone call I got from him was that he’d received my story, and that he could not do anything more for me. I had, to quote, “Gone beyond the boundaries of imposition.” I had no idea what to say. I muttered an apology and he told me to save it. And then something really crazy happened. I knew this was it, so I thanked him for everything. What else could I say? He’s a literary giant and I’m a peon and he took the time to share a little of his insight with me. I told him I would always be grateful.

 He said, “Yeah, I’m just a wonderful fucking human being.”

 And then he hung up. We never spoke again. In more ways than one, it was a definitive experience for me as an author. Probably as a person.

I do believe that after that interview Bernard did have some contact with Harlan again. But that was his experience working closely with the man. Perhaps, reading it, it was not completely out of character.

Side note: Alan Dean Foster did his interview with me to promote the anthology and had the answers back the same day. I’ve had email contact with Alan on and off for years and have always found him very pleasant and approachable.

So I read about his famous bust-ups (including the Sinatra fiasco) and his lawsuits (my god, Terminator?). I found myself fascinated with watching his video clips on Youtube, his interview segments. I read the story he’d contributed to Resistance Front, an original version of Emissary From Hamelin. I grabbed a copy of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream and read the entire collection. I went on to read Shatterday, Approaching Oblivion and his version of events surrounding the aforementioned Star Trek episode City On The Edge Of Forever.

When Hard Case Crime reprinted his classic crime novel Web Of The City, I managed to get myself an uncorrected proof of it.

Have I known him personally? Apart from two exchanges on his message board, no. My only real connection with him is to be published in the same anthology.

No, I came to know Harlan Ellison the writer, the artist, the champion of short fiction, the uncompromising voice. And I’ve got so many works of his to seek out and devour. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. But thus far, I dare anyone to read I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream (the story) and not feel dumbstruck by the intense darkness of the piece. Or read One Life, Furnished In Early Poverty and not have your heart broken.

As of this writing, Harlan Ellison is laid up after having had a major stroke. But apparently his mind is still there. Well, I don’t find that hard to believe. The man is an unstoppable force, a creative cyclone. And one day the vessel that carries him will die. But not Harlan Ellison.

That master of words will live on forever.

Advice for Independent Authors: How To Draft

I don’t use Scrivener. I don’t use index cards. This is how I draft my work, and revealing this to you may, in turn, assist you with your own projects. Everyone has a different way of doing it. Here’s mine.

1. Plot

I always plot the basic story out beforehand. I will use paper and pen initially, making changes as the story develops in my mind. Then I will transfer those notes, key events, character beats, important plot points for each chapter, into a document in either Google Docs or Word.

When it comes to plotting, look at classic Hollywood structuring. Look at how certain films work. Read up on how to structure a screenplay so that there is drama, tension and pay-off at the climax. Get yourself a copy of Story by Robert McKee. Read it. You can thank me later.

2. First Draft

This is your rough-and-ready, CRAP draft of your work. As King said, this one’s just for you. Don’t let anyone read it. You’ll die of embarrassment. While writing ‘Age of Destiny’ I got to 50 pages, then decided to scrap them and start again. Sometimes you just have to. The thing was, I could do that because it was a raw draft and not very good anyway.

3. Second Draft

Give it a few days (or whatever works for you – I tend to go back through my drafts only a few days later) then read through from start to finish, on the computer, making changes as you go. This is where you shape it enough that someone else can read your work-in-progress without thinking you’re a total hack.

4. Editorial Pass 1

Now hand it over to your beloved editor and let them work their magic. Prepare yourself for plenty of bad news, but also don’t be too surprised when your Editor leaves notes in your document telling you how good you are. Because they will, you know. Your editor will most likely use Track Changes in Word to suggest changes to your document. If you’ve not used this feature yet, google it and get yourself up to speed. I’d argue it’s maybe the most useful tool included in Microsoft Word. When your Editor sends it back to you, address any comments they’ve left first. Then go through each and every change, approving or denying as you go. If you deny a change, you’d best have a good reason to do so.

5. Hardcopy Draft

This is the point where I will print the entire work out and read from page 1 with a red pen at hand, marking up changes. These I will then add to the document using Track Changes so my editor can see just what has been adjusted.

6. Editorial Pass 2

He/She will then go through your work again. In my case, Laurie will address my changes as she goes about doing her own second round of edits.

7. Final Adjustments

Once your editor has pinged it back to you, it’s your turn to make any final adjustments to the text before uploading it. Sometimes I’ll find something I missed on all the other passes and swiftly go in there and change it.  It’s only a case of re-uploading a book file.

This is how I draft my work. It’s a process (or routine) that has evolved over time. I find it an efficient way of doing things.

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On Monday the 20th of October my YA Scifi novel Age of Destiny is OUT! But wait, there’s more. Operation Chimera, the novel I wrote with Matt Cox, published by Curiosity Quills Press, is also out! Both titles are available to pre-order for 99c each, so what are you waiting for?

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Order Age of Destiny (The Broken Stars, Book 1)

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Order Operation Chimera (Far From Home)

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