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.
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:
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.
He 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.)
Harlan 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!
Education and Inspiration for Writers of Speculative Fiction
Next weekend (Jan. 27-29) is the 2017 Genre-LA™ Creative Writers Conference in Culver City, California, (location details) where more than 30 published masters of the genre, literary agents, editors, publishers, best-selling authors, industry experts, Hollywood veterans, educators, and publishing professionals will share their experiences and secrets to help take your writing to the next level and guide your career on the path to success. Save up to $100 on a Single Registration:http://www.wcwriters.com/club.
Now Write! Panel: Special Techniques of Expert Speculative Fiction Writers and Filmmakers
Get inspired and learn how to take your writing to the next level with this Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror panel, Friday, Jan 27, 5:45-6:45 immediately followed by networking cocktail party at the Conference. Have fun taking your imagination where it needs to go to write effectively in these mind-bending genres.
Filmmaker/educator/former studio exec and two-time Now Write! contributor Devorah Cutler-Rubenstein will discuss intriguing ways to give sentience to ordinary objects.
Acclaimed writer/producer/director Pen Densham (Outer Limits, Twilight Zone TV Show revivals) will talk about his unique approach to creative mashups “Writing Into the Spiritual Unknown.” (Check out Pen’s FREE Creative Person’s Success Manual and his awesome screenwriting book Riding the Alligator.)
Special guest Pamela Jaye Smith, award-winning producer/ director/author and mythology expert. She will discuss how to use myth, magic and metaphysics in your stories. Let her be your guide into the geography and psychology of these other realities and learn ways to use them to give your stories internal integrity and unique power.
Contributors to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horrorwill discuss craft in a way that goes beyond the usual writers’ panel. Our panelists will speak candidly about their own writing and share their favorite tools. Be inspired by Kim Dower’s encouragement to capture material from you dreams, learn Michelle Newman’s secrets on how to effectively ground fantasy in reality and have fun with Derek Taylor Kent’s approach to character development. We will do one of our guests’ exercises during the event, so bring a notebook, pens will be provided. Moderated by Now Write! editor, Laurie Lamson.
(“Steal From Your Dreams With a Twist of Fevered Writing” in Ideas and Inspiration chapter.)
Kim Dower is a poet with three collections: Air Kissing on Mars (2010), Slice of Moon (2014) and Last Train to the Missing Planetcame out earlier this year (all published by Red Hen Press.) Her poems have appeared in journals including Ploughshares, Eclipse, Rattle, and Barrow Street. She has taught creative writing at Emerson College and teaches Come Dressed as Your Favorite Poem, at Antioch University Los Angeles.
(“FUNdamentals of Writing” in Memorable Heroes, Villains and Monsters chapter.)
Derek Taylor Kent is an author, screenwriter, performer and director based in Los Angeles. His award-winning book series Scary School (written under pen-name Derek the Ghost) has become one of the most popular new series for middle-readers ages 7 to 12. His bi-lingual picture book El Perro Con Sombrero came out August 18, 2015 through Holt/Macmillan and was a #1 best-selling new release. His first novel for an adult audience, Kubrick’s Game, is set for release September 26, 2016 through Evolved Publishing.
Other books include the award-winning educational picture book Simon and the Solar System and the magical adventure Rudy and the Beast, both available now. Derek also specializes in writing narrative scripts for Virtual Reality content.
(“Make It Real” in Scene Construction and Style chapter.)
Michelle Newman is completing her first historical fantasy novel, “Mistaken Knights,” while trying to save the world one kilowatt hour at a time: She moonlights for a company that creates green energy solutions for small and medium-sized businesses.
2:00 – Doors open to the public – Register & Network with other writers 2:30 – Announcements 3:00 – Now Write! Panel 4:15 – Q&A 4:45 – Meet the Speaker(s)
5:30 – Library must close
6:00 – Guest of Honor Dinner – Members-only by RSVP.
Palms-Rancho Park Library Ray Bradbury Room 2920 Overland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90064
Here is a round-up of some Now Write! contributors brand new books this year – some not even out till a little later this month. The first two authors listed below, Kim Dower and Derek Taylor Kent, are guest speakers on a free Now Write! panel this Saturday, Sept. 17 in West Los Angeles: “Capturing Your Dreams: How To Craft A Bestselling Fantasy Novel.”
Kim Dower is known for combining the accessible and profound in her poetry. This third collection is about love, longing, and passion tipped sideway. Sounds pretty sexy and intriguing!
Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror contributor) Evolved Publishing (August 7, 2016)
What if Stanley Kubrick left behind more than just his classic films? What if he also left behind an elaborate puzzle cleverly buried within his films, which would lead the player toward a treasure that could change the course of human history.
A puzzle/action/adventure theme adds to the suspense as each clue is discovered. Shawn Hagan, a college film student obsessed with legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, discovers hidden clues in his movies, which lead him on a harrowing quest toward a mysterious treasure. Endangered by sinister groups on the same quest.
Revolution’s End by Brad Schreiber (Now Write! Screenwriting and Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror contributor)
Skyhorse Publishing (August 2, 2016)
The most famous kidnapping in U.S. history is fully explained, detailing Patty Hearst’s relationship with Donald DeFreeze (known as Cinque) head of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Not only did the heiress have a sexual relationship with DeFreeze while he was imprisoned, she didn’t know he was an informant and a victim of prison behavior modification. Neither she nor the white radicals who followed DeFreeze realized that he was molded by a CIA officer and allowed to escape, thanks to collusion with the California Department of Corrections. DeFreeze’s secret mission: infiltrate and discredit Bay Area anti-war radicals and the Black Panther Party, the nexus of 70s activism.
The Listener by Rachel Basch (Now Write! Fiction contributor) Pegasus Books (May 3, 2016)
The challenges to identity that arise in both adolescence and middle age―and the student and therapist who just may have the power to save each other.
Told from two points of view, The Listener explores the ways in which we conceal and reveal our identities. As truth after truth is exposed, characters are forced to reconsider themselves and reorder their lives, with few easy answers to be found for anyone.
A psychological drama and emotional thriller exploring love, obsession, and the deceits that pull a family apart.
As an optometrist Donald believes he knows all there is to know about seeing and is sure he and his wife, Viv are both devoted to their two children and to each other. But when she begins to dream of competing again, embracing the ambitions she had relinquished, as a young woman. Her daydreams soon morph into consuming desire, and her infatuation with the thoroughbred escalates to obsession.
Based on the principle that interesting characters actually are co-creators in the writing process, this book is organized into some of the standard stages in an evolving romantic relationship.
Unlike writing books that approach character development using a winnowing process involving general categorization and list-making, without an in-depth synthesis of the collage of facts in the character’s biography, this approach focuses on the importance of characters’ individuality: their eccentricity, drive, and relative “basis in fact” inspired in part by people you know or you yourself.
The Quest For Peace by Laurie Lamson (Now Write! Screenwriting co-editor, Now Write! Mysteries co-editor, Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror editor) JaZzyMaE Media (August 6, 2016)
A thought-provoking short story Kindle book about a young man’s quest for peace in the Middle East.
I had purchased the first book in the Now Write!series many years before my first coaching session with Laurie Lamson. I thought the book was great and it was intriguing to me that its author and series creator, Sherry Ellis, lived in Massachusetts, in a town not far from where I lived. She offered coaching lessons for writers to boot. To think I could meet in-person with a writing coach was exciting to say the least.
I hesitated to contact Ms. Ellis because the project that I was working on at the time (and was quite passionate about) was a beloved screenplay, yet to be finished, of course. I didn’t know if she would scoff at the idea of reviewing and coaching someone on a screenplay and not “real” writing (i.e. prose.)
Then again, I didn’t ask. Ah, the insecurities that come with being an artist. That aside, I hadn’t finished it anyway, so there was no point yet. I was working a fulltime job and had a wife and two small children to support. Time spent on the screenplay was during “third shift” hours.
So I plugged away at my screenplay, night after night after night after night.
Developing character and plot and dialogue. Some days convinced I was a shoe-in for an Academy Award, the next wondering why I was wasting part of my life doing this (I’ve come to learn these ups and downs pretty much come with the territory for any writer.)
Finally, I finished and needed someone, a neutral party, to tell me if I had anything worth sending to Hollywood. By this time the Now Write! series had released a book specific to screenwriting so I hit the Now Write! website only to find out that Sherry Ellis had passed away. Ooof. Punch to the gut. Wind knocked out of me. A human life, dedicated to the arts, gone. A writing coach, in my own backyard. I had felt, somehow, that she and I were destined to work together.
I searched and contacted other writing coaches, especially ones who I could meet with in person, but either they were hard to come by or they all worked in prose. None worked in screenwriting.
Many months later, I don’t know why really, I went to the Now Write! website again. Laurie had revamped the site with a touching tribute to her Aunt and copy stating that she was taking over the series and she was offering coaching services. I emailed and asked if she was available to consult/coach on my screenplay.
She responded and said indeed she was available for consultation.
I sent along my screenplay and waited for her response with bated breath.
About two weeks later, she said she had finished reading and we arranged a call to discuss (had to be a call; she’s on the West Coast, I’m on the East.) The feedback was honest and blunt and sincere and useful.
My “little” screenplay weighed in at over 200 pages. Way too much for a screenplay, which typically run 120 pages max. Laurie touched on this in our session. She suggested that I stick to one theme (I had too many themes for a screenplay). The message among many that I took away was that I had written a novel in screenplay format. She provided encouragement but also a dose of reality, like any great coach.
In some ways I was shattered. No Academy Award after all. I didn’t take it personally because I knew the reality was a 200-page, multi-themed, screenplay wasn’t going to cut it for a first-time screenwriter. Heck maybe not even for a seasoned screenwriter with connections galore.
I contemplated many things. Should I publish it as a screenplay? I really dwelled on this one for a long time. Personally I ate up any screenplay I could read. A good number were sold on Amazon and in bookstores in “book” format (I have several) and others you could easily find on a variety of websites.
It was around this time that I noticed a large number of movies being released that were based on novels. Almost to the point where, it seemed anyways, every movie released was based on a novel. Perhaps, I thought, my entry into Hollywood would not come from submitting a screenplay but by publishing a novel, garnering an audience first and getting a movie deal that way.
I even emailed Laurie to ask her opinion: What do you think of me converting my screenplay to a novel?
Her response: I like it. Go for it!
It was then that I had an epiphany of sorts. I would no longer define myself as a screenwriter or a novelist, but rather a storyteller.
I didn’t really care if I was a hit in Hollywood. I just liked to tell stories and wanted an audience. Be it viewing or reading.
Okay, I would convert my screenplay into a novel, the one that I had put time, sweat, tears and more time into. This of course meant even more time dedicated to this particular story. All of my other ideas that were queued up would have to wait. This is one of the toughest parts of being a writer. Disciplining yourself to concentrate on the project at hand, despite the outpouring of new ideas from your subconscious. For the record, at least in my case, I think it’s a way to procrastinate as well.
But I knew how long it took me to write that screenplay. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to dedicate another year of my life to writing the novelization of it. And besides, I had never really written prose. Not in a serious way and not for a long time. The short of it was, could I even write prose? What to do?
I decided that before I embarked on the arduous task of novelizing my screenplay that I should write a short story to prove that I could in fact write prose and hang with the big boys and girls. I would then ask Laurie for feedback on this little tale and her candid advice would in some capacity, though not entirely, let me know if I should proceed.
It should be noted about now that I was paying her for all this. Laurie’s great but she does deserve to get paid. Just saying.
The Evolution of a Novel
For some time an idea had been sitting on the shelf in my brain where ideas yet to be born take up residence. It had been there for some time. It told of a character that is stuck in a dystopian future – I know, I know. Is there anything but a dystopian future these days? – where corporations ruled the world. Where work had not just tipped the balance but outright knocked the scale in the work-life balance equation completely over and crushed it into dust.
Around the same time, I had read of some reports that certain eBooks were being updated by publishers and authors without reader consent. The majority, if not all, of these updates were innocuous and innocent in their intent. Grammar and spelling changes and perhaps a slight change to some of the writing itself. All with the intention of making it better. What it boiled down to, in my eyes at least, was you were getting a second or third edition…automatically. But I guess this peeved some people off. That they were getting updates without consent. That it was in violation of something or other.
Regardless of my personal opinion on this, I thought, “What if these futuristic corporate overlords did this with the intention of re-writing history to serve their own interests and agendas”?
And what if there was this one person who was sort of a recluse living out in the country that preserved real books and lived a life that was the complete opposite of the poor corporate drone?
And what if these two characters somehow met?
I embarked on the writing of a story. A short story. A very short story. It would be twenty pages, tops. Five thousand words at the very most. And I always envisioned leaving the ending open-ended. The reader would interpret for himself or herself what happened.
I finished a decent rough/first draft and, yikes, it weighed in at some 30,000 words. So much for short.
I contacted Laurie again. I asked her to review one short screenplay I wrote, one children’s book I wrote and my “short story” titled Bookworm.
Laurie got to the children’s book and the short screenplay first and we had a phone session to discuss. She had her usual candid and helpful feedback and overall said she loved both. Okay, now I was getting somewhere. I wasn’t crazy to think I could be a writer. Not that anyone should ever need someone else to tell them that, but it helps when you have a professional, neutral party tell you that you’ve got something. If I needed someone to tell me I was the best writer in the world I would have just gone to my mom.
Anyways, Laurie said she was going to tackle Bookworm next and would be in touch when finished.
The waiting killed me and I would check my email compulsively. I had to know what she thought of my writing.
Finally, I got an email from Laurie. I read it immediately. Damn. The email started off by telling me she was still reading; just checking in. Apparently she had a life outside of reading my story. I know, the nerve of her, right?
At the end of that email were words I will never forget. I quote: “BTW I’m loving Bookworm!!”
Yes! I might be on to something here.
Within a few weeks she finished reading and sent along notes. Laurie provides superb notes. Detailed and thoughtful. She compliments, she argues, she prods, she questions. They are awesome. We also scheduled a phone session. She had more questions, more compliments and more critical feedback during our call. But for me it was all good. < There was only one little problem. She said she had to know how it ended. She told me I couldn’t ask someone to read 30,000 words and leave them hanging. My little “let the reader decide how it ended” wasn’t going to fly. Maybe at 5,000 or fewer words but not 30,000 plus. So it was back to writing. Back to taking her feedback and applying it to the 30,000 words already written and then to coming up with at least 30,000 more.
What started out as a very short story, “a little experiment” to see if I could write prose turned into a nine-month endeavor from there.
I finished the “new” first draft and sent it off to Laurie. When she finished reading and we connected she again provided excellent feedback. Complimenting me in some areas and calling me out for being lazy in others (she was both nice about this and right.) With her notes, I went back to the re-write.
The final draft came in at over 75,000 words. I asked Laurie to be the editor and she graciously accepted. Once her expert editing was complete, I decided to self-publish and have changed the title to Escape From Corpworld.
I had started out with a screenplay. A screenplay that wasn’t working as a screenplay. I decided to convert it into a novel. But first, I would write a short, quaint, little story to prove that I could write prose and it turned into a legitimate novel. Funny how life works isn’t it?
Everyone who has read Escape From Corpworld has enjoyed it (especially my mom, but we all knew she would.) If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it as well.
With coaching I was able to prove to myself that I am a screenwriter, a novelist and ultimately a storyteller. I will be forever grateful.
If you have any questions for me in terms of my process, or what it was like working with Laurie, I would be happy to entertain such a discussion. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me via my website: www.jasonsrebnick.com
And of course I need to give you the Amazon link to buy my book: Escape From Corpworld. It’s available in Kindle and paperback.
If you aren’t sure about spending the money, send me an email. I’ll gladly mail you a complimentary copy. All I ask is you write an Amazon review (good, bad or indifferent.) Amazon reviews are gold to an indie-author.
Jason Srebnick is the author of Bookworm. He is a novelist, screenwriter, illustrator, poet, and cartoonist who lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two children and their dog. And books. Lots and lots of books. He currently works in IT Consulting and Management.