Requiem for the Outrageous, Audacious Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison died last week on June 28th at the age of 84.

Acerbic, belligerent, cantankerous, despicable—there’s no doubt a disparaging word or two that has been used to describe Harlan Ellison for every letter of the alphabet. In short, by most accounts he was not a nice person. But a talented writer? Hell yes. And no matter what is said about Harlan Ellison the man, I mourn the death of Ellison the storyteller.

Although a prolific and award winning writer (check out the ridiculously long list here), Harlan Ellison may not be known to many people today aside from diehard Star Trek fans, readers, and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. (He, by the way, preferred the term speculative fiction in conjunction with his work.)  If you haven’t read any Ellison, I hope you’ll read at least one of the stories I’ve mentioned here and judge his work for yourself.

His writing reveals the myriad nooks and crannies of the human heart, especially those deep, dark corners most of us fear to explore. Fiction or non-fiction, Ellison’s best work bursts at the seams with emotion, passion, and intelligence. Much of his writing attacks the reader with sharp, pointy sticks forcing us to think, feel, do something!—even if just to launch a retaliatory attack on him. Above all else, Ellison hated complacency. He lived to shake foundations and…Make. People. Think.

Looking back at my personal favorites from Ellison’s short stories, I am still haunted by the feelings they provoked within me: the painful disgrace of cowardice and inaction in “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1975), the mad glee of “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1966), the horror of “Í Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967), the poignant romance of “Count the Clock That Tells the Time” (1978), the nostalgia and melancholy of “Jeffty is Five” (1977).

His non-fiction also left its mark: the astounding autobiography Memos from Purgatory (1961) about the time he spent undercover in a Brooklyn street gang; The Glass Teat (1970) and, of course, The Other Glass Teat (1975) in which he ranted about the absurdity of television in the 60’s in 70’s. (Until reading the last two, I was mainly oblivious to the damaging influence that TV shows had on my notion of what everyday life should be.) And the introductions to his short story collections, which I looked forward to those almost more than the stories gathered in those books. I owe a lot to Ellison for waking me up to the realities of the world.

One of the stories about Ellison the man is that everyone who went to a Science Fiction convention back in the days of Ellison’s prime has an Ellison story. Many of them are being retold now as people look back on his life. Most illustrate his outrageous curmudgeonly antics, story upon story adding to his forever image of the epitomic “angry young man” lashing out at everyone and everything he considered subpar. I, too, have an Ellison story, but of a different sort…

In 1976, my friend Jeri and I went to one of the first-ever Star Trek conventions. We were both big fans, but not the kind who wore Spock ears and learned Klingon; we loved the original series, but weren’t adverse to making fun of its flaws. Imperfect as it was, the show remained important to us. I can’t speak for Jeri, but for me Spock’s battle to contain his human emotions helped me cope during high school when most of the time I feared I was going crazy trying to make sense of my own conflicting emotions.

Star Trek was also the first TV show that made me aware of the importance of television writers and format. In the last season when it was relegated to a 9 p. m. CST time slot, I begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it because—and I remember this as an exact quote: It’s important, not just any show. Twilight Zone and Outer Limits are science fiction, too, but this is the first show with a continuing story and characters you see week after week! Do I digress? A bit, but all this background points to the fact that when I went to that convention the writers had become as important to me as the characters or the actors, maybe more so.

Jeri and I took the train downtown to Chicago’s Congress hotel, both of us feeling excited and nervous. (Would it be amazing? Would we be the only ones that showed up, proving that we were the most hopeless nerds and outcasts on the planet?) Into the lobby and—wonder of wonders—there were lots of other fans there and they looked pretty much like normal, happy people, excited to be there just like us. We got programs. There would be showings of the episodes on big screens without commercial breaks, which sounds like nothing today, but was a huge never-before deal back then. There would be autograph signings, panel discussions, and more. I don’t remember what all because looking down the list of events I saw Harlan Ellison’s name. The guy who wrote “The City on the Edge of Forever” and won a Hugo for it. The prolific writer whose short stories I had just begun to read, whose ideas and style made me want to be a better writer, to write like him or at least as well as he did. Several programs were slated for the same time slot. Jeri opted to go hear James Doohan (Scotty) speak and get his autograph. I headed off to Ellison’s talk.

All the seats in the long room had filled, lots of people standing in the back. We waited. A few minutes late, Ellison arrived on stage, a bit breathless. Short guy, big nose, stage presence that dwarfed the fuller-than-capacity audience in the room. He ran a hand through his hair, and announced that we had a choice to make: he could go ahead and talk about the planned topic (something about genre writing, although I don’t remember what precisely) or he could read a short story that he’d just finished writing in his hotel room. I’d read accounts of Ellison writing in shop windows and taping up the pages as they came off his typewriter for passersby to read. But I still couldn’t believe that anyone could be so confident in their writing skills that they’d read an unedited (gulp!) story to a huge crowd. For me as a fledging writer, this was a moment of definite shock and awe.

We voted to hear the story, which I have no doubt was what he wanted us to do.

And so he read “Shatterday,” wherein a man mistakenly dials his home phone number and falls into the Twilight Zone when the phone is answered at the other end by him. It’s a story of transformation, of the painful change from being a despicable ass to becoming a worthy human being. The story, to this day, is one of my favorites. As he read it, it seemed this journey was personal for him—one that Ellison himself had struggled through or was struggling with. Whether or not that was true, it’s how it felt to me while I listened.

He went well over his allotted time, but we all held fast to our seats and wouldn’t be moved until he finished. No time for a question and answer session, but as the room began to empty of the Ellison audience and the crowd waiting for the next session began taking our places, some people pushed up through the side aisle to where the great and scary author was attempting to make his exit. I forced myself to head that way, too. And suddenly, there we were face-to-face and I asked him what I should do if I wanted to become a good writer. If he would have said “boo” I know I would have run away, hid in a corner, and never have written another word. But he took a moment to talk to me. I was quaking in my boots so much that I don’t remember exactly what advice he gave me except that it was something on the order of: write and keep writing and never stop writing. Then he told me about the Clarion Workshop, explained what a tough challenge it presented, a kind of boot camp for writers, and wrote the name down on a slip of paper for me.

I came away from my brief encounter with Harlan Ellison wanting more than ever to write great stories and to keep digging inside for the courage to stay on the long, difficult journey I had chosen to take. (Hey, if I could confront Harlan Ellison with a mundane and needy question and survive, I figured there had to be some hope.)

Years later, still struggling along that path to become a good writer, I occasionally feel like giving up. But I can still hear Ellison’s voice reading “Shatterday” in that room, blowing me away with his masterful storytelling, his audacity, and his kindness in stopping to give a moment of time to a young writer.

 

 

 

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Posted in Star Trek, writing

Love in Army of Brass (or Steampunk With A Side of Romance, Please)

It wasn’t so long ago that I sought an answer to the question, What exactly is Steampunk? All fingers, pistols, and parasols pointed to H.G Wells and Jules Verne as a reference point: The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Okay. That gave me the general idea about Steampunk, but I wondered what the genre looked like today. Enter author Gail Carriger and her Parasol Protectorate series. Carriger has a knack for combining the Steampunk world with the supernatural and romance. I was hooked, but whether or not I had a knack for writing in the genre, that was still the question.

Serendipitously, I discovered the Collaborative Writing Challenge and that their newest project just happened to be a Steampunk novel. Being newbie to the genre didn’t stop me from jumping on board the locomotive (steam-powered, of course) destined to carry a mad group of writers to create CWC’s seventh project: Army of Brass, released this April.

Each writer who participates in one of these challenges gets a crack at writing the novel’s first chapter and is then assigned a few chapters to attempt for the rest of the novel. None of us really know where the story will take us. Based on the relevant information and summaries for previous chapters supplied for us by the story coordinator, we try to shape the road ahead together. It’s the story coordinator who decides which of the submissions for a given chapter bests fits with the overall concept and plot as the story starts taking shape. She also gives feedback to all the writers on their attempts as to why their chapters weren’t chosen. For me, it seemed like a great way to get my feet wet in a new genre.

My submission for Chapter 1 was not chosen. Ah well. My next chance was to take a crack at Chapter 7 of the original draft and this time—success!—my submission was chosen (and ended up as Chapter 11 in the completed novel). By the end of Chapter 6 the story was really rolling. We had a military incursion, political intrigue, and a mysterious, derelict army of brass automatons that might help to save the day. Most exciting to me was one of the main characters: Elaina Gable, Master Tinkerer, a strong woman character at the heart of the action. She had already joined forces with Captain Jack Davenport, a dashing pilot from the Cartographers Society, who believed in her plans to revive the brass army and who was—let’s face it—a very convenient romantic interest for Elaina. Phew, I thought, because romance is a genre I’m very familiar with both as a reader and an author. (I’ve had three paranormal romance novellas published under the pen name Kat Duarte.) A bit of my trepidation for writing in a new genre subsided. At least I had a comfortable jumping off point to try to advance the story.

A widow, Elaina had already experienced heartbreak. With Captain Jack in the picture a hint of joy in the future had emerged, but seeing as she was such a dynamic and special woman, I felt she deserved to have romantic options. And there he was: Tom Drubble, another skilled member of the Tinkerers’ Guild, someone who had worked closely with Elaina for years. And, yes, I just had to create the foundations for a love triangle. I decided that Tom has secretly been in love with Elaina but has been biding his time. With the threat of Jack, of whom he becomes immediately jealous, Tom has to step up and compete for Elaina’s attention. Voila! We move along nicely with romantic side-dish number one in Army of Brass and add more plot tension. And with two men vying for Elaina’s affection, their perspectives on her actions as Master Tinkerer and the sometimes dark choices she makes to solve the military conflict take on more poignancy. Print

Army of Brass romantic side-dish number two is served up with the secondary characters of Rose and Bernard. Rose Tippenwolf, the Forgemaster’s daughter, shows great promise as an apprentice smith as well as a growing affection for fellow apprentice Bernard. Although Rose’s mother is worried that she’ll never “find a husband looking like a grease monkey” she should have no fear. Bernard’s budding love for Rose comes from not only his attraction for her, but from their friendship and a mutual respect for each other’s technical skills. They are made for each other in more ways than one. Their bond as a couple is forged through the adversity they face on the Smith Guild’s journey to join Elaina in to help revive the automatons as a tool to defeat the brutal warlord who has invaded the realm. For my small part in developing this secondary romance, I wrote a scene where Bernard finds a deep, intuitive understanding of the automations’ inner workings. As other writers further developed the story, the dovetailing work of Rose and Bernard become integral to the awakening of the army of brass.

Although the main plot of Army of Brass revolves around gadgets dangerous gadgets, an evil warlord, and heated warfare, I believe the element of romance adds interest and raises the stake for many of the main characters as well as the reader.

Is there a happy ending for the young, innocents Rose and Bernard? Does Elaina choose to give her heart to dashing Jack Davenport or fellow tinkerer Tom Drubble? Or does she end up going her own way? If this were a romance novel, you could be fairly certain of the odds, but in this novel’s dangerous world all bets are off—and I’m not telling. You’ll have to grab your own copy of Army of Brass to see how it all turns out.

 

P.S.

As for me and Steampunk? I found out that I do like writing this genre. Eventually, I want to get back to the story I started in my submission for Chapter 1. I also found out that complex plots with war, espionage, and political intrigue are definitely not in my comfort zone. By the time I got my third crack at writing a chapter for Army of Brass, I had to face the fact that I had absolutely no idea of how to weave the various plot lines together. I’ve ended up with an even greater respect for writers who succeed at complex world-building on such a grand scale.

For more thoughts on Army of Brass from other contributing authors, check out the entire blog tour:

4/13 – A Sneak Peek at Chapter 1 by Jason Pere

4/14 – Launch announcement

4/15 – Interview with contributor Jason Pere

4/16 – Memes in the Making

4/17 – Excerpt by Jim O’Loughlin

4/18 – The Pros and Cons of Collaborative Writing

4/19 – Interview with contributor Jean Grabow

4/20 – Collaboration is the Future by Kathrin Hutson

4/21 – Excerpt by Michael Cieslak

4/22 – Excerpt by Dorothy Emry

4/23 – Review by Penny Blake

4/24 – Character interview of Captain Jack Davenport

4/24 – What’s in a Name? Steampunk Before “Steampunk”

4/25 – Steampunk: The First 10 Years

4/25 – Interview with contributor Jeremiah Rickert

4/26 – Steampunk: The Second Decade

4/27 – Steampunk: The Last 10 Years

4/27 – Excerpt by Phoebe Darqueling

4/30 – Review by Victoria L. Szulc

5/1 – Prim & Proper? Not These Steam Age Murderesses by Phoebe Darqueling

5/2 – Excerpt by E.A. Hennessy

5/4 – Interview with contributor Johnny Caputo

Posted in Army of Brass, a Steampunk novel, Steampunk, writing | Tagged , , ,

Army of Brass Preview!

Army of Brass comes out on April 27th and is on pre-order now at Amazon, but why wait to get a taste of exciting steampunk adventures? For your reading pleasure, here’s an excerpt: AOB Mock up-2

Elaina sighed, stopping under the slanted ceiling. “Still no word from Fairport. We have no idea whether or not they’ll sue for peace. The city guards have been mustered to begin drilling, but no royal troops have been deployed. Lord Rotterdam insists that an advanced force, even of such small numbers, would ruin any chance of peaceful negotiations.” She said the last words in disbelief.

Jack’s voice rose up behind her, and his face soon joined it as he crested the stairs. “I thought you agreed to save your energy for the more important tasks ahead and not on the follies in the House of Lords,” he teased, then turned his attention to Tom. “Speaking of which, I am rather eager to get underway. If you can bear to tear yourself from your garret, Mr. Drubble.” Jack gave a flourish and bow fit for the king.

Tom didn’t give the Cartographer the satisfaction of receiving a reply. He tightened a final screw inside his device, snapped the cover closed, and stood to offer it and its companion to Elaina. The little box could fit into her palm and sported an array of dials, switches, and a miniature variation of a telegraph key on the top. The second cube, too large to be comfortably carried in hand, had a leather strap long enough to loop over the shoulder. A series of tumblers and small, colored crystals glinted from within its surface.

“What’s this?” Jack asked, stepping up beside Elaina.

“Nothing yet.” Tom couldn’t keep the annoyance from his voice. When the time came, he’d always imagined he and Elaina would share the triumph alone, not in the company of someone without the capacity to appreciate it. He picked up a device from his workbench—a duplicate of the smaller one she held. “If you’ll take up a position downstairs?”

Elaina’s eyes gleamed, and she nodded in understanding. When Jack made as if to follow her, she gestured for him to stay put. “This won’t take long.”

The two men stood together as her footfalls grew fainter and stopped. Tom felt the curious glare of the swaggering journeyman boring into him. The Tinkerer pointedly ignored him and tapped out a short code on his handheld device. Then he glued his eyes to the larger device lying on his workbench—the counterpart to Elaina’s. Jack tapped his foot impatiently until the crystals began to glow. The lights flashed on and off in a sequence Tom knew well. He held his breath as the flashing stopped and tumblers ticked into place. He entered another code—waited. The lights repeated their show, the tumblers clicked, and a very unladylike whoop carried up from below.

Elaina fairly galloped back up the stairway. She paused in the doorway, flushed with excitement and exertion, hugging both devices to her chest. “You got it got to work!”

“Got what to work?” Jack asked.

Tom only had eyes for Elaina’s elated grin. “At least over short distances.”

She swept past the confused mapmaker in a flurry of excitement and threw her free arm around Tom’s neck to pull him into a kiss. When she leaned away, Tom stared, her expression a mirror of his own surprise. Then she laughed, breaking the spell. Elaina turned back to Jack, and for better or for worse, the explanation came bubbling out of her.

“This transmitter. This is how we’ll send the signal to the antennae on the automatons.” She held first one of the devices out to Jack, then the other. “These are a smaller version than those we’ll need, but…

For an instant, it had been as Tom had imagined it­—he and Elaina sharing a glorious moment. The heat hadn’t even left his lips yet, but he felt his heart breaking as the secrets of their discovery tumbled from her. Jack couldn’t really appreciate any of it, and the tone of affection in her voice filled the Tinkerer with a bitterness he hadn’t expected. He shoved it down and replaced the tools in his kit, then stuffed it and his set of prototypes into his pack waiting by the door.

banner with date

Pre-order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

Want more excerpts? Read Chapter 1 in full or get a sneak peek at Chapter 3. If you’d like to meet more of the CWC writers, you can find an interview with writer Jason Pere, who wrote the starter chapter, and an interview with Jean Grabow, who helped to end the story, as part of our blog tour, now until May 13. Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to get to know some of the writers writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

Speaking of giveaways, we’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from our writers.

 

Posted in Steampunk, writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

New Steampunk Novel: Army of Brass

Long time, no post, but now I’ve finally got something to post about. The collaborative Steampunk novel I helped write last year is coming out this month! My small contribution to the book amounts to one chapter (somewhere in the first half) and the name of one of the cities in the book’s vast landscape. It’s my first foray into Steampunk and a good one; I learned so much from the many other writers on this project. I’m really looking forward to read how the story turns out!  The book comes out on April 27th and is available for pre-order now. Get all the facts about that below in the launch release written by our noble leader, the ever hard-working and phenomenal editor Phoebe Darqueling…

Steampunk celebrates its 31st birthday on April 27, so join in the festivities with the high-flying adventure, Army of Brass.

“Steampunk” began as a literary genre, but has expanded to include fashion, music, art, and live events all over the world. During 2017, in honor of author K.W. Jeter coining the term in 1987, Steampunk Journal editor Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge joined forces to create an amazing work that blurs the line between science and magic. Twenty international authors contributed chapters to this story full of gadgets, romance, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of a fantasy world informed by the culture of the 19th century.

What is Army of Brass About?

When the mad conqueror haunting Elaina’s dreams invades her adopted homeland, the real nightmare becomes what she’s willing to do to stop him.

The dreaded Hunter Baron has landed on the shores of Mailderet, but Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable believes she has the solution. Giant automatons sit rusting in the valley, waiting for someone with the drive and ingenuity to bring them to life. But the king, swayed by the destruction his ancestors wrought centuries before, harbors a deep-seated fear of the machines. Though he will not allow the alliance of Tinkerers and Smiths to complete the work, Elaina resolves to bring the machines back to life in secretwith the help of a famous airship pilot.

From the safety of the swamps, a woman with silver skin jealously guards the secrets of the automatons. Though the Silver Woman also wishes the past to remain buried, she must weigh the value of secrecy against the thousands of innocents her hesitation might send to the grave.

As they discover the link between the toxic valley and the inner workings of the automatons, Elaina and her allies are drawn into a web of deceit threatening the balance of power across two continentsand proving the truth behind the deadly legends surrounding the Army of Brass.

Read Chapter 1 NOW on Steampunk Journal

Pre-order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

Speaking of giveaways, we’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from our writers.

Collaborative Writing Challenge: www.collaborativewritingchallenge.com

Email: cwc@collaborativewritingchallenge.com

Launch contact: PhoebeDarqueling@gmail.com

 

Posted in Steampunk, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Great Cover Art for YA Fantasy

I’m spoiled for choice. Having just received the German and Czech editions of The Lost Realm, my fantasy novel for young readers, I just can’t decide which cover I prefer. Do you have a favourite? The Lost Realm is the second volume in the ongoing Crown of Three series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Rinehart. The final […]

via The Lost Realm Cover Choice — Graham Edwards

Posted in Uncategorized

The Art of Procrastination

Last Tuesday (when I intended to post this) I had a full day to write.

I did not write. Except for this, which is an after thought after not writing all day.

The fact is (i.e. my excuse) is that it was not a restful day conducive to writing. The roofers were here at 7:30 (necessary repairs after wind damage last month). I took a day off from work to be home for the pets—one dog, one cat—and to be here in case anyone fell through the roof (an improbable scenario, which did not occur, but would have made for an interesting day and another excuse not to write).

Once the pets had begun to cope, I made a light breakfast and decided to settle down to write—right after watching the episode of Lucifer I had DVR’d. When I finally turned on my computer, I decided that my files needed a spring cleaning. I commenced reorganizing and deleting files, then moved on to organizing the paper notes, drafts, and scrapes of stories that had piled up for the last few months, give or take a year. Intent: a cleaner, well-organized work space would make a better environment in which to write.

I broke out the new box of file folders I recently purchased. (Truly productive procrastination requires preparation.) Next I had to decide what the different pastel colors would signify. I settled on yellow for to do/new ideas; blue for working/drafts and revisions; green for stories written and ready to submit, and pink for anything in the romance genre. I read, sorted, labeled folders. I got hungry, fixed lunch, ate it while watching and old movie called Cottage to Let with John Mills and Alastair Sim—a British WWII spy/sleuth story, which was quiet silly. So, of course, I needed something more satisfying before settling down to write.

Two PBS specials later, the roofers had finished and gone. I swept the driveway for stray nails to avoid a flat tire, then went out grocery shopping. On the way home, I decided to write a post about procrastination. This is not it. I have not written it yet. These notes simply record the events that gave me the idea to write such a post, but notes were all I had time to write. By the time I got these down, it was late and time for my daily thirty minutes on the treadmill before dinner. Then there was making dinner, eating dinner, watching The Flash, Agents of Shield, Limitless, and the pilot for Containment. By then, it was time for bed.

Thus ended a day of successfully not-writing.

My next post (or perhaps the one after that), some time or another, possibly next week: Productive Procrastination.

Posted in Procrastination, writing

The Zombie Cafe is almost open…

Today I finally finished my novel about the zombie apocalypse, Zombie Cafe and Other Stories.

Well, almost. I’ve done final edits from feedback given to me by my friend and very good editor Sarah Hunter, run another spellcheck, and printed out a hard copy for a last proofread. Now I’ll get right down to doing that proofreading. Or maybe watch an episode of The Walking Dead and then get start in on it. I’m nothing if not an expert at balancing bouts of productivity with procrastination.

The fact is I’ve stopped beating myself up over not meeting my own deadlines. I still set them and work toward the finish line until the task is done, but I’ve come to understand that there’s this little thing called life that I can’t control.

I started Zombie Cafe back in 2010 for NANOWRIMO, worked on it steadily in the months after. At first it was just a collection of short stories, but then some of the characters started taking over, popping up in other stories. The more I wrote, the more the stories became linked together by the reoccurring characters, the locations, and my version of the zombie infested apocalypse. It started looking more and more like a novel, so…back to the drawing board to figure out the overall plot and fill in the gaps. Which is, I know, working backwards to create a novel. And a real bear of a task.

Meanwhile, life happened. My mother’s health declined and I became her caregiver. After her death, I struggled to recover emotionally, physically, and financially (There’s a high cost to care giving. I can attest to that.) Then, I had to have an operation. And recover from that.

Along the way, I didn’t give up on the writing, though. I found bits of time where I could write, rewrite, and edit. As the years slipped by, I admit I thought of chucking the whole thing. But I didn’t. I’m stubborn, steadfast, determined — whatever you want to call it  — about things I love and through all the rewrites, I find I still love the characters in Zombie Cafe.

2010 to 2016 is a long haul for one novel. I can tell you it’s definitely not a literary gem, but I hope it will be entertaining for readers when and where ever it gets published. (I’m hoping that doesn’t take another six years.) So, what did I get out of this? Right now, I’ve got a nice sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I started something  — a big something  — and finished it. Plus, all this time after starting it, I still like it. Then there’s this: I feel free again. To do what? you ask. Why to start the next novel, of course.

If you’re out there ready to give up on a manuscript you’ve been working on for years, I’m writing this for you. If you still love the story, the characters, the world you’re creating, don’t give up. Keep putting the words together. Work at it until you’re done. It’ll be worth it.

Posted in writing, Zombie Cafe