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
cropped-book-coverwould 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. (Enjoy Dean’s desktop downloads.)

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.

A Fond Farewell to Michael Ajakwe, Jr.

Michael Ajakwe was an Emmy-winning writer, producer, and director as well as a produced and published playwright.  His credits are too numerous to list, so I invite you to explore his IMDB page.

I met Michael at a film industry meet called Coffee Chatter and we quickly became friends.  I greatly admired his always-positive, can-do attitude, and truly appreciated his encouragement.

I invited him to contribute to Now Write! Screenwriting, which, of course, he did.  He was also kind enough to participate in the first Now Write! Screenwriting panel shortly after the book was published.

When we met, Michael was making his hilarious web series “Who…”  (now adapted as Beauty and the Baller on BET.)

Michael Ajakwe was the visionary who created the world’s first live web series festival.

I watched in amazement as his next move was to create L.A. Webfest.  He generously offered me a pass and I attended all day every day of the first fest.  He put together quite a program, including a wide range of web series and panel discussions.  I learned a lot and enjoyed discussing some of the web series with him.  I was so happy to see the festival grow, enjoyed attending many seasons, and saw friends win awards.  I also appeared on one of the panels as a moderator.

If you’re a web series creator you may want to check out the Web Series Network on YouTube where you can find lots of informative interviews and roundtables with Michael and others.

I hung out with Mike several times when he was working on his Unsung episodes and organizing the webfest, so I got to witness first-hand his incredible work ethic. He was truly a man with a mission and I will never forget how inspired I always felt around him.

I attended the screening party of his first Unsung episode about Deniece Williams.  It was fantastic.  He was such a compassionate filmmaker and storyteller, and had an enviable network of supportive friends and colleagues in attendance.

Over the years, Michael became more and more in demand, and I deeply regret not having the chance to see him one last time in the past few years.

Being unaware of his illness, I was truly heartbroken to learn of his death on May 31.  What a painful reminder how important it is to stay in touch with people we care about.  I take some comfort in knowing he had his wife Tammy by his side.  My prayers and condolences go out to her, and all Michael’s friends and family.

As he was preparing for the third Webfest in 2012, Michael took a break so I could interview him for my Soul Connect podcast (see below.)  Listening to this interview again, I was deeply moved to be reminded of his greatness, his vision, his warmth and generosity.  What a beautiful spirit.

Michael, I’m so grateful to have known you.  You are missed.

 

Now Write! at Genre-La 2/23/18

Now Write! Editor Laurie Lamson will be at West Coast Writers’ Genre-LA Creative Writing Conference.

Friday, Feb 23, 3:15pm
Great Beginnings Openings – Your First Line, First Page, First Three Pages

You hear from editors and agents that if the first paragraph of your story isn’t strong enough, they won’t read the first page, let alone the first fifty. Separate fact from fiction and remain true to your story. Writing a first line that will grab an editor and immediately announce your authority as an author.  A unique opportunity for you to learn how real pros consider the merits of the material and the intent of the author, then offer improvements covering everything from glaring grammar errors to story-structure flaws to the overall storytelling and more.  Bring 5 copies of your first 3 pages. Selected pages will be read aloud, so the audience can follow along and learn how the panel reviews and may suggest improving the samples.  Sara Anne Fox (Moderator), Mike Robinson, Whitney Davis, Deanna Brady, Laurie Lamson (Panelists.)

Friday, Feb 23, 5:45pm
Writing Secrets from Masters of the Speculative Genres

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror provides rare access to writing secrets from masters of the speculative genres.   Now Write! editor Laurie Lamson will lead a creative writing workshop using an exercise from the “Ideas and Inspiration” chapter from one of the most celebrated contributors.

 

RIP The Scariest Guy in America: Jack Ketchum

RIP Dallas Mayr aka Jack Ketchum

I was deeply saddened to learn that Jack Ketchum passed away on the morning of January 24, 2018.  He left quite a legacy of real-life horror inspired by his deep humanity.  See below the conversation I had with him at Center for Fiction and more about his work.  He will be missed.

A Conversation With the Scariest Guy In America

NowWriteSFFHorIconLaurie Lamson, editor of the new Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror book of writing exercises, had a conversation at Center for Fiction in New York City on April 15, 2014 with one of the contributors:  Jack Ketchum.

You might think a true-life crime and horror speculative fiction author, who Stephen King has referred to as, “the scariest guy in America”, would be intimidating.  But meeting and speaking Laurie&Dallassmwith Jack Ketchum was quite the opposite.  He is a warm and caring person who uses his skill as a writer to exercise (and probably exorcise) his imagination, expose evil in the world and entertain audiences with a fascination for the darker side of life.

He was generous in sharing his insights about craft and answering a lot of thoughtful questions from the audience:

More about Jack Ketchum

JackKetchum-Copyright_Steve_Thornton
photo by Steve Thornton

Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for novelist Dallas Mayr.   As a teenager, he was befriended by Robert Bloch (author of Psychowho became a mentor to him. He supported Ketchum’s work, just as his work was supported by his own mentor, H.P. Lovecraft. 

Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked as a private garbageman, a lumber salesman, a copywriter, editor of the paleontological magazine “Fossils,” and as a literary agent for Scott Meredith, Inc., where he served as agent for author Henry Miller. He also worked in off-off Broadway and summer stock as a reviewer, playwrite and director.

offseasonIn 1980, Jack Ketchum published his first novel Off Season, about a real-life family that lived in a cave and had a lifestyle of murder, cannibalism, and incest.  Mainstream reviewers hated it, but fans felt otherwise.

His next publication was Hide and Seek and more of his successful novels include She Wakes, Cover, Road Kill (aka Joyride), Only Child (aka Stranglehold), Ladies’ Night, and Triage (a collection of novellas) with fellow writers.  In 1990 he published Offspring, the sequel to Off Season.

TheCrossingsHe concentrates mainly on real-life monsters, but also writes otherworldly and surreal stuff, like a dark Western novella The Crossings, and “The Haunt”, a short supernatural tale.

So far, Jack has won the Bram Stoker Award for his short stories “The Box” and “Gone”, and his collections Closing Time and Peaceable Kingdom.

thelostSome of his most powerful novels have been turned into films: RED, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, THE LOST, THE WOMAN, OFF SPRING.

Two short stories were made into short films: “Mail Order” and “Olivia”.  By the way, you can hear Jack read an excerpt from “Olivia”.  He also wrote a book that is auto- and biographical of influential people in his life called Book of Souls.

Celebrating Susan Vreeland 

The life of New York Times best-selling author and Now Write! Fiction contributor Susan Vreeland will be celebrated this week in San Diego (see details below.)

Susan Vreeland is the internationally-known author of art-related historical fiction and four of her books are New York Times best-sellers.

Lisette’s List presents one woman’s yearning for art at a time when her family’s collection of paintings had to be hidden in the south of France from Nazi art thieves.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany reveals the talented woman who conceived of and designed the well-loved Tiffany leaded glass lamps.

Luncheon of the Boating Party depicts Renoir’s masterpiece, the personalities involved in its making, and the joie de vivre of late nineteenth century Paris.

Life Studies is a collection of stories of Impressionist painters told by people who knew them, as well as contemporary individuals encountering art in meaningful ways.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue traces an alleged Vermeer painting through the centuries.

The Passion of Artemisia illuminates Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

The Forest Lover follows rebel British Columbia painter Emily Carr in her encounters with native peoples and cultures.

What Love Sees tells the love story of a blind couple who refuse to accept limitations.

Four of these books have been winners of the Theodor Geisel Award, the highest honor given by the San Diego Book Awards.

All are welcome this Thursday, September 21, 12:30PM at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, San Diego.