Dear Mr Ellison,
I cannot conceal my annoyance that you have gone.
We lost a giant.
That’s not meant as a joke, though Mr. Ellison bore the brunt of cruel nerds who mocked his stature at every turn. The only time I met him was at ICON, held in Stony Brook College, when fans were begging for Simon & Simon to be kept on the air, and demanding a sequel to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, when they weren’t mocking Harlan on stage for being short. I think that was the last science fiction convention I went to, and it will remain so. The fandom is venomous, like a snake. A small part will kill you, while the rest can be amazing and beautiful… but I digress. I saw how ugly people could be. He was generous and gracious to me, he signed every book and shirt and record that I bought, and I shook his hand, a hard and knobby workman’s hand, odd for a writer. A fighter’s hand.
And boy, could be fight.
And damn, could he write.
If you haven’t read him, Deathbird Stories is my favorite. That and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. You can get the collection The Top of the Volcano for a taste of his very best stories, too. Angry Candy is damn fine, as well.
We spoke on the phone briefly, when I asked him to contribute his stunning, award-winning story “Croatoan” as a reprint in Protectors 2: Heroes. He called me out of the blue, we had been corresponding by letters with the contracts, and he wanted to know who he was dealing with. We chatted for a while, he was 82 years old and sharp and snappy as always. “Hey, kiddo! It’s Harlan Ellison.”
To me, that was my “made it” moment, which most of us have, no matter how silly they are. Harlan Ellison called me.
In 1989, when I wrote Mr Ellison the infamous letter–which was showcased on Letters of Note, Flavorwire, and got me a gig writing an introduction to a Gerald Kersch collection, a writer whose work I was introduced to through Harlan–I must confess, I looked up his phone number and called it, after I mailed the letter. To apologize. He asked fans not to write, because he felt compelled to answer all correspondence–typed, by hand! imagine that now in a day when publishing professionals can’t be arsed to fire off form emails–and after I dropped my letter in the mailbox, I felt guilty. So why not bother him more, with a call?
I confess, he answered. And I was a coward, I hung up.
I prank called my literary hero. So I really deserved that letter, which makes me laugh to this day. He loved it. Being Harlan. Even stars burn out, and he had the energy of several. I’m glad I was alive to see his light, to shake his hand, to hear his voice. I’ll always be proud to have published his reprint. And yes, I put my story afterward. I didn’t want anyone else to have to follow him.
All a writer has is time and a portion of talent.
Thank you, Harlan, for sharing your time and talent with me. I’ll pay you tribute by using both my time and talent to the best of my ability.