DO NOT GO GENTLY: A TRIBUTE TO HARLAN ELLISON

By K. Patrick Glover

The salient fact, the piece of information that is crucial to all that follows, no matter how much I wish otherwise: Harlan Ellison has announced that he is dying.

Let that stand alone, for a moment.

How do you begin to write a piece about something that horrifies you? Something that just makes you want to shake your head in denial and hide somewhere, perhaps in a corner, amidst a collection of favorite old books. Books like The Glass Teat, Shatterday, The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart of The World, Stalking The Nightmare and Strange Wine. What do you do when all those favorite books just remind you of the horrifying news that sent you scurrying for the corner in the first place?

Perhaps you go back, to the origins of it all. The point of discovery, the spark of inspiration, or, as we often say in mystery fiction, the precipitating incident. As such:

I was eighteen years old and spending a great deal of time hanging out in a local comic book store. Partially because I was a huge comic fan, but also because the people that hung there and worked there were very much my sort of people. It was one of the first places I had ever felt a true sense of belonging. The year was 1986.

This comic store, back in those days before the slick, chain like stores took over the business, was really a small house and it carried not just comics but gaming supplies and tons and tons of old books. I loved getting lost in the stacks of books. Science fiction novels, fantasy novels, men’s adventure books with ridiculous titles like The Executioner and The Penetrator. They all fascinated me.

On one particular day, I discovered a book called An Edge In My Voice by a writer named Harlan Ellison. It was an oversized paperback, thick and heavy, put out by a company called Starblaze Graphics. Starblaze I recognized, I had several graphic novels that they had published in my collection along with some books by Robert Asprin.

Harlan, however, was new to me. Still, the book looked intriguing and different so I picked it up and started to read segments at random. It was non-fiction, which surprised me, I think I was expecting science fiction (probably because of the section in which the store had it shelved). It was also incredibly engrossing. Harlan’s voice hit me like a freight train and I think my brain started going through evolutionary changes on the spot.

I had been toying with the idea of writing stories for several years. Even written a few, very, very bad ones. But it was holding that book in my hand, reading Harlan talk about what it takes to be a writer, about being truthful (which doesn’t always mean factual), about being fearless and about the craft itself that really sealed the deal for me. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I have no idea how long I really stood there reading that book, but I do recall the shop owner coming in to tell me he was closing up. I asked him to find me anything else he had by Harlan and he pulled out several paperbacks, a couple hardcovers and a small stack of science fiction magazines that all had Harlan’s name on the cover.

I took it all and went home and spent the next several days devouring all of it, some pieces over and over. His fiction was every bit as amazing as his non-fiction and even more important, it felt daring and new.

I read Repent Harlequin, Said The Ticktockman! In a paperback called All The Sounds of Fear. Actually, I read it through about four times in a single sitting. The first time laughing my ass off at the sparkling wit, the second time really appreciating the non linear structure, the third time studying the way he built a world so subtly and so completely and finally, the fourth time, when I took all the elements in together and really absorbed what has become my all time favorite piece of short form fiction.

Another piece that had a similar impact on me was found in one of the magazines, an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that featured Harlan on the cover for a story called All The Lies That Are My Life. At this point, having read through a couple of the books already, I was expecting speculative fiction (Harlan’s preferred term for what he does). Again, Harlan surprised. All The Lies is as much a piece of literary fiction as anything written by Hemmingway or Salinger. It may (or may not) contain some autobiographical detail. If it doesn’t, you feel like it does anyway because the characters are so painstakingly real and believable.

I could spend days reminiscing about various stories, unfortunately, that’s not why we’re here, you and I.

We’re here to talk of the man.

Harlan has his fair share of detractors. You’ll find no shortage of people online who will call him all manner of unpleasant things, most of which I imagine bring a smile to the man’s face. Likewise, there’s no shortage of us that consider the man a genuine hero, a role model and just an all around incredible human being. Harlan’s probably less comfortable with that adulation then he is with the bile from the other side, but the hell with it, let him be uncomfortable.

He has been known to be a difficult man to work with, especially in Hollywood circles. (Harlan spent plenty of time in the trenches, writing both film and television and winning several awards for his work.) He has been known as a litigious man, instigating more lawsuits than one can easily imagine.

And yet, both that difficult nature and that tendency towards litigation come from an overwhelming desire for fairness and justice. He has fought, over and over, to preserve creators’ rights, tilting furiously against the giant windmills of the huge, entertainment machine. To this day, whenever I hear of a particularly obnoxious money man trying to force creative decisions on a writer, I picture Harlan sneaking up behind him, garlic and wooden stake in hand, ready to do battle for the writer and the story.

In fact, that’s how I’ll always picture Harlan, ready to do battle against the unjust and the unfair, with a smile on his lips and a story in his heart. It’s an example we should all learn from and emulate. We should all spend some time tilting at windmills.

Perhaps my strongest regret is never meeting Harlan. There were opportunities in the past. I could have made it to a convention appearance or a lecture. I let my ego get in the way of that. I wanted to wait until I was established as a writer. I wanted to speak to him, not as an equal, no, my hubris doesn’t stretch that far, but at least as a fellow professional. The new kid on the block, so to speak. It’s a chance I’ll never have, now, and it is something I will regret for a very long time indeed.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a suggestion. Harlan may be dying, but he’s not gone yet. There may be some wonderful things yet to come from the man. Or he may spend his final days enjoying a well earned rest. In either case, I would urge you, don’t send him presents. He’s a happy man, he has said so on many an occasion and he has all that he needs or desires.

Instead, if you feel compelled to do something for Harlan, perhaps a contribution to the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). It’s an organization that fights against censorship and for the rights of comic creators. Harlan has strongly supported the CBLDF over the years (as have I) and he would, I am sure, be delighted to see an upswing in support in his name.

This piece is written for open distribution, as long as it remains unchanged. As it features a call for support of the CBLDF, anyone who wishes to repost this, anywhere, has the author’s consent, as long as the text and attribution remain untouched.

The Invisible Skein Goes Live

[Editors Note: I managed to completely miss that this was in the queue. My apologies to KPG for not getting it posted sooner. If you haven’t been by his new webcomic then be sure to check it out!]

Okay, I’ve been talking about it long enough, here we go.

The title page is live at http://theinvisibleskein.com the comic proper begins on Monday. Our normal posting schedule will have a new page live every Monday, Wednesday & Friday, although this week will also have new pages on Tuesday and Thursday, to give the story a little momentum.

We hope you enjoy it.

Invisible Skein Update

Everything’s going on schedule for a Dec 14th launch of the comic. I couldn’t be happier with Amanda Hayes and the wonderful art she’s producing. And the research is a blast. I spent two days reading about alien abductions and another day about U.S. mind control experiments. The wackier the ideas, the more fun it is incorporating them into the comic. Anyway, here’s a couple of color images to give you a feel for what the final product is going to look like. Feel free to copy, repost, distribute, hang on bathroom walls, whatever you like, as long as the URL stays intact…

Official Announcement - The Invisible Skein

I previewed this here recently, but since things have moved forward, I thought I’d share the official announcement with you.

The Invisible Skein is an ongoing, humorous adventure web comic dealing with Urban Legends and Conspiracy Theories. It will be written by me, with art by Amanda Hayes. The story will be told in episodic format, each episode (or issue) consisting of 36 pages. Those pages will appear once a week, four at a time, until an episode is complete.

There may or may not be short breaks between issues, but they will always be between completed issues because we won’t start posting an issue until it is actually completed.

Our lead characters are Robert and Ali.

Our first story has to do with alien abductions, but probably not in the way that you think it will.

That’s all I can tell you, but it’s not all I can show you. Take a peek at these after the jump…

Sharing A Little of My Super Secret Project

This really falls under shameless self promotion, but I’m so excited about this project that I can’t help telling what little I can at the moment, and since there a good lot of web comic friendly folks here, I thought some of you might be interested. I’m in the process of writing an original graphic novel for the web and have found a fantastic new artist who’s design work is blowing me away. Her name is Amanda Hayes and I think you’ll be hearing a lot about her in the future. Here’s an early character sketch to give you an idea of why I’m so excited.

Remembering My Father

It was seven years ago today that I sat in a small room at a hospice in Baltimore, Maryland and watched my father take his last breath.

He had small cell cancer from a lifetime of smoking and drinking. The doctors had declared it terminal less than a year before. My Mom took care of him from home and for the last couple of months, my wife, Tia, and I stayed with them to help.

It is immeasurably difficult to watch a loved one deteriorate in the way that he did. To go from someone you can sit and talk with about the latest British mystery show running on PBS (his favorite topic) to someone who would just sit on the couch, cigarette in one hand (often unlit), beer in the other, doped to the gills on morphine and unable to speak while his body ate him away from the inside.

The transition was quick, only a few weeks and he no longer seemed to know who we were or where he was. As all signs of the man I knew slipped away, we decided to move him to the hospice. We felt the quality of his life, for his last few days, would be better under professional care. It was not an easy decision.

An ambulance took him to the facility and my mother, Tia and I followed after. It took about an hour to get him checked in and settled into his room. He sat on the edge of the bed like it was his couch and his fingers, clutched at an imaginary cigarette, went to his lips, again and again.

 

It was very late, or very early I suppose, and we had left the house without money or food. I told Mom and Tia to go back to the house, to eat and get cleaned up. I told them that I’d wait with Dad.

I watched him while they were gone. Vacantly staring straight ahead, totally oblivious to me, his breathing ragged, in and out, in and out, in and out,…. Then it stopped. No warning, no other sign, just one second he was breathing, the next, he was gone.

I don’t remember much of what followed. I know that a nurse led me from his room, that Tia and my Mother returned and that they took me home, but those memories exist in a kind of haze.

I thought that the memory of his death and the month of pain that preceded it would eventually fade, that the memories would become easier to deal with as time passed. It hasn’t worked that way, for me. It some ways, those moments have grown sharper and more painful.

I still purposefully face those memories every year, allowing the pain so that I can remember the good moments. The times we sat on the porch, chatting and drinking a beer, the times we spent watching Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Morse, the times (few as they were) that we went fishing.

My father and I, we were very different people. We didn’t have much in common, didn’t spend much time together. I’ll have my regrets about that for the rest of my life.

He had his flaws, we all do, but Bobby Gene Glover was a good man, and I miss him.

What Is Art?

The internet is all abuzz this week about Aliza Shvarts, a Yale student who issued a press release claiming that she artificially inseminated herself, then took various herbs in order to induce a miscarriage. Repeatedly. Yale responded with a release stating that Shvarts was a performance artists, and that her announcement had been the art piece, forcing people across the world into a discussion of what is and what isn’t art. Shvarts has since released another statement claiming that at least portions of her original statement are true.

Which leads me to ask, like many other people across the world, just what defines art?

My initial, instinctive, answer to that is, if someone created it and says that it’s art, it’s art. Tolstoy wrote a whole book on the subject. At one point, he says,

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To take the simplest example: a boy, having experienced, let us say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and, in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the surroundings, the woods, his own lightheartedness, and then the wolf’s appearance, its movements, the distance between himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy, when telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel what the narrator had experienced is art. If even the boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently been afraid of one, and if, wishing to evoke in others the fear he had felt, he invented an encounter with a wolf and recounted it so as to make his hearers share the feelings he experienced when he feared the world, that also would be art. And just in the same way it is art if a man, having experienced either the fear of suffering or the attraction of enjoyment (whether in reality or in imagination) expresses these feelings on canvas or in marble so that others are infected by them. And it is also art if a man feels or imagines to himself feelings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, courage, or despondency and the transition from one to another of these feelings, and expresses these feelings by sounds so that the hearers are infected by them and experience them as they were experienced by the composer.

And later simplifies that to say,

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.

So by Tolstoy’s definition, we can say that anything that is created, with the intent to convey a feeling or emotion, is art.

The problem lies in who gets to decide if that criteria has been met? The creator or the receiver? The creator knows his or her intent. After all, they did it. The receiver has to judge, something that by definition becomes subjective. How does this judgment take place? What tests can be administered? What lines are drawn here?

And why does it matter?

This is where we reach the slippery slope portion of the argument.  You see, when people start talking about defining something as art or not art, it’s usually because they’ve found something calling itself art that they find offensive or objectionable. That something is usually on display somewhere, perhaps in a museum or a university. And it’s protected, because it’s calling itself art. If that label can be stripped from it, then it can be made to go away and offend no more. It’s a form of censorship.

I understand the desire to do this. I’m like anyone else. I read an article about some bizarre piece of performance art, like hanging vials of blood from a tree, and I think it’s ridiculous. But I think allowing ourselves to be placed in the position of arbiters as to what is and isn’t art is a dangerous proposition that could eventually lead to the attempted suppression of unpopular ideas.

Think I’m exaggerating? Remember Robert Maplethorpe?

The minute we take it upon ourselves, as viewers/listeners/readers to decide if something is art, we’re giving that same power to other people who might wish to make sure that the things they don’t believe are art remain unseen, unheard or unread. And those people just might be in a position to do something about it.

There are, of course, other ways to define art. Tolstoy is not the sole arbiter on that and neither am I. But the problem exists, no matter how you define it. Who determines if it meets the definition.

I maintain that the only possible answer to that question HAS to be, the artist.

(cross posted from my own blog)

Crosses To Bear

I’d like to ask everyone here (and over at my Blog, where I’ll mirror this post) for a little help. I’ve been having a discussion with my wife about the novel I’m writing. More exactly, about the title of the book, “Crosses To Bear”. I’ve chosen the title because of the underlying theme of the story, which involves living with guilt and living with burdens. The phrase, I think, conveys that in a nicely poetic way. My wife objects (we are both firm atheists) because she thinks the phrase has a strong religous meaning and that the audience will expect the book to have some sort of religous content. It won’t.

So I guess my question is, what do you think when you hear the title? Do you think it sounds preachy, would you assume the book had religous content, or would you just assume the title was metaphor?

The Amazing Animations of Mike Jittlov.

Back in the day (this particular “day” being the 1980’s) I used to attend a lot of SF conventions. The absolute highlight of those cons of yesteryore happened in the screening room, between movies. To fill the time there, they used to run little short films (see how this cleverly ties in to Les’ recent post?). The best of these were the stop motion gems made by Mike Jittlov.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Jittlov

And the best of those wonderful little shorts, is the original Wizard of Speed and Time, which can now be found on YouTube…

The first half is kind of cute, the second half, after the banana peel, is amazing.

Remember, this is from those wonderful days before computer animation, when you had to do each of these shots frame by frame.

[Editor’s Note: Found his official home page here.]

I AM PREPARED TO BEAR YOUR COMPANY AND DO IT WITH A THANKFUL HEART

An excerpt from…

A Story of Christmas Eve in Frankfort

By K. Patrick Glover

     It was Christmas Eve in Frankfort, Michigan and The Mariner was empty but for me and an off duty cop named Dan Avery. Dan represented one third of the city’s police department and I,  Nick Kellerman, its sole private detective. We were drinking Jim Beam and discussing the presents we had purchased for our respective girl friends.
     My girl, Sasha, was only 19, and since I’m pushing 45, Dan’s end of the conversation included a lot of jokes about cradles and playpens. I took it in good humor, only occasionally threatening to spank him with my cane. In truth, the situation made me feel awkward, but Sasha felt it was perfectly acceptable so what did I know?
     We were starting to come to the conclusion that neither one of us was very good at gift buying when Susie Vandrick, who worked in the flower shop below my office, burst in and started babbling about a body down on the beach. Dan calmed her down and the bartender brought her a cup of hot coffee. It took awhile, but we got what details we could from her. She said the body was on the beach, just off the turnaround at the end of the road. Dan and I threw on our coats and went for a walk.
     The Mariner sat almost at the end of the main road and the only thing between it and the beach at Lake Michigan was a few condos and the turnaround. It had been snowing off and on for two weeks by then and the beach was covered in several inches of bright clean snow. A field of white broken only by the body lying in the middle of it. A single set of footprints, presumably his own, led from the turnaround to the body.
     It was a male, probably in his mid-thirties, with broad shoulders and sandy hair.
     “Any idea who it is?” Dan asked.
     “No,” I lied.
     The next hour was a flurry of activity. I walked out to the body and verified that he was really dead while Dan went back to his car and called it in. There was no blood, no visible injuries. I checked his fingernails and lips, smelled his breath. No obvious signs of foul play, could have been a heart attack or stroke. The ambulance showed up first, then the rest of Frankfort’s police department and least they were actually sober and on duty unlike Dan.
     We backed off and let them take over. Dan went back to The Mariner to finish his drink. I went home to think things over.