Harlan Ellison was one of the first professional writers I ever met.
It was in the 80’s, during one of Harlan’s lecture tour stops. I was a wide-eyed teen, voracious reader (especially of fantasy and sci-fi), and also a beginning/aspiring writer. His talk to the large crowd was wild and entertaining, filled with outrageous stories – here was a real celebrity writer in our midst! His admonitions on the hardships of the writing life were not enough to deter me, but they did shock me at the time (I found out years later he was mostly right).
The highlight of the show was when he read one of his new stories! That put me in awe, not just because I got to hear a wonderful story from a master writer in his own voice, but he said afterward that it was “just how it came out of the typewriter.” No rewriting! He explained that he was able to do this after being a writer for over 25 years. I thought he might have been embellishing about his skill slightly, as some of his tales seemed a little far-fetched, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve learned from him and other long-term writers that this sort of thing is possible; I’ve even had my own experiences with it.
After the show, I lined up to get a book signed by Harlan and also got his infamous barbed wit/temper directed at me! Seems I was being a little too much the acolyte writer as I hung around at his elbow after getting my book signed, wanting to bask in his presence and collect any pearls of writing wisdom he might choose to bestow on those crowding around him. So he shooed me away like a fly! I believe he even said “Go away, shoo!” I can chuckle about it now, but at the time I was a bit miffed. Ah, Harlan!
Harlan Ellison gave me someone to emulate, showing that the dream I had, to also be a writer, was possible. For that I’m thankful, and also for the many stories of his I enjoyed and dreamed on.