She lives alone, amidst rock and wind, in the driest part of a dry state. She lives alone, with her garden and her carvings, in a small adobe hut. Hut and skin are seared by the six hundred years of sunlight since the time I recognized her and enlisted her and empowered her and entrusted her. Columbus had not hit the land's shores in search of spices, Bison still roamed in number uncountable, All the virgin forests were still just that, when I came to her, not long after the end of the Long Hard War. I came to her. Every night she sings to Sister Moon, and every morning, as the sun throws sharp shadows on a sharp land, she says the words, and makes the signs, and secures the seal. Two thousand times she has done this. Said the words, made the signs, secured the seal. And thus the dozen and one are refused entry. Six of us have fallen, and when the seventh shell crumbles or the seventh tongue slips or the seventh hiding place is found, and only six remain, then the seal will start to crack and the signs will not avail and the words will not be enough. She lives alone, in the driest part of a dry state, and she is your last and best hope. And she is your last and best hope.
Good to see you again. I meant to put up a new rant this past weekend, but a had a little hitch. A good friend of mine, some 500 or so miles away, had to appear in court last Thursday at 1:00 PM to make her divorce final.
A divorce with a husband who is also a good friend (I assume since we haven't spoken since he up and vanished to Wyoming a while back when I still lived in the same state as the fracturing couple), and whom she still misses desperately.
So, anyway, she gets this divorce thingie, right, and is feeling really down, so she decides to follow the salient advice of depressives everywhere and commence to drinkin'.
You, know, just a little something to drown her sorrows. A few shots of whiskey, a few mixed drinks, maybe too many glasses of champagne...
A bottle of cough syrup, a bottle of Tylenol.
I won't go into the details of my logging onto a hometown bulletin board to find a VERY scary e-mail from her (the kind of goodbye no one ever wants to read), and how I spent the next couple of hours online with friends in town while they called hospitals and I called long-distance to her house, her friends, anyone who might know what was happening, and how she finally called me back at 2:15 AM and related a tale involving five bottles of saline, charcoal, and a stomach pump.
Instead, let's just say I wasn't of a mood that weekend, or really ever since, to write about Harlan.
But heck, I'm only spending maybe every OTHER hour wondering if she really is okay or if I'm going to get another scary e-mail soon, and what better way to spend my worry-free time than answering YOUR questions!
So let's get right to it. Many of you have asked where to get Ellison's stuff, and talked about how it's hard to find, and how people stare at you like a bishop in a strip-bar when you mention his name as one of the twentieth century's leading lights, and all that jazz. Perhaps Lauri Keegan summed it up best in one of her letters:
Anyway, what is the story? Ellison's clearly a genius, so why's his stuff so hard to get? Are there any good links to check out concerning this topic? What do YOU know about this? By the way, I really enjoy your rants and poems. They hold my attention for a little while which is saying much for someone of my short attention span. I think the best writers are often those who are not writers but rather, ranters. Go figure.
All attention deficit aside, Lauri (by the way, her homepage is at http://www.lightlink.com/keegan, sorry no links allowed in da rants, type it in yourself you mouse-clicking couch potato) makes a common point and echoes a common query.
If Ellison is so goddamned good, why isn't HE plastered all over the front window of Waldenbooks instead of Robert Fulghum or Stephen King or even OJ-fucking "I Want To Tell You...That I Did It" Simpson? If Harlan hears the song of the Muse so much more closely and clearly than anyone else, why isn't he so staggeringly popular that kids trample Barney to shake his hand, and so widely published that most malls in America have to make room for a new chain: HarlanBooks?
Well, I'll tell you.
I have no fucking idea.
And by the way, if you're looking for an icebreaker to get the conversation going if and when you actually talk to Mr. Ellison, I would NOT recommend this topic. Harlan doesn't WANT to hear that you can't find his work to save your life. He wants to hear that you walked into Sears and they'd cleared out the hardware section to make room for the forthcoming White Wolf volumes. He wants to hear how little old ladies were fighting to the point of gnawing on each other's wrinkled flesh to get to the stand with copies of "Mephisto in Onyx".
So if you're looking for that special "in" with Harlan, don't bitch about not being able to find him in the bookstores, for chrissakes. But I digress
Like I said, I have no idea why Harlan doesn't move like Piers Anthony. But I do have a couple of clues:
Clue #1: People Are Idiots
Let's just get that one out of the way. On the whole, people don't WANT to read stories like "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" which remind them of how our society has decided it's better to just not fight the darkness. They don't care to devote their attention to "Repent, Harlequin, said the TickTockMan" and spend the next few hours thinking about how we have allowed others to vivisect our lives and turn time into our enemy.
Today's readers want men who are too busy fucking, fighting, and farting to look into their own souls, and they want women who are too busy running their fingers over broad muscled chests to wonder why their lives seem so empty. I bought Tim Allen's "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man" and read it all the way through, figuring there had to be some point of light, somewhere hidden in the pages, that made it a bestseller. But as much as I liked his early comedy routines, I thought the book was pretty much a piece of shit. A multi-million dollar piece of shit, maybe, a attractively-packed piece of shit maybe, but still a piece of shit.
I'm even relatively certain there are more people that can name three John Tesh songs than can name a single story or book of Ellison's. Do I have a solution for this? Nope. But I'm trying to do my little part to jack up the public's (at least the part of it that surfs the net) consciousness an angstrom or two. And you can do the same. Demand your local bookstore start carrying the new stuff from White Wolf. Tell your friends about Harlan and make sure they don't tell you to shut the hell up until they've read "Jefty is Five" or "The Paladin of the Lost Hour". I've spoken personally with God and he has assured me that every prospective entrant to the Pearly Gates will be asked "When considering the distribution of Harlan Ellison's work, were you part of the problem or part of the solution?".
Me, I'm gonna high-five Saint Pete and waltz in to the sound of the Choir Eternal singing "Funky Broadway". How about you?
Clue #2: Harlan Hasn't Exactly Been in a Publishing Frenzy Lately
Look, I know some of you are just now finding out there's lots and lots of Ellison books out there. Groovy. But for me, the last story collection consisting of new work I know of was "Angry Candy" in 1988, and unless you read comic books, you've been shit out of luck otherwise.
Maybe I missed something, or maybe I slept in the day some collection I hadn't heard about hit the shelves and was gobbled whole. But the way I see it, an awful lot of Harlan's work has been out of print for an awful long time.
But Fear Not, Oh Gentle Reader. White Wolf, as I made mention of before, is going to be releasing a collection I call Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Read in a White Wolf Ellison Reprint. And it's about damn time. If these fuckers sell anything like White Wolf's other products, including all the Vampyre and Werewolf books for their role-playing system and the supplements thereof such as "Bernstein: The Lost WereBear Tribe" and "East Cleveland By Night: Vol XVI (Lower Downtown, 14th to 21st Street)", then there may actually be hope yet.
Clue #3: The Cheese Stands Alone
Forgive me for cribbing from an excellent Ellison short story title. Basically what I'm getting at here is that Harlan isn't too much for the regular backroom bullshit and parlor tricks and general ass-kissing and kowtowing (is that a real word or did I just reveal my lack of real-life experience again?) which make one popular and beloved and make your books fucking fly off the rack or more importantly get on that rack in the first place.
From his own recollections, I gather that Harlan is a fiercely-opinionated man who doesn't particularly give a shit if he happens to make a social faux pas or offend some member of the intelligentsia by making that opinion known. It's one of the traits I love in him, but it doesn't get him invited back to a lot of dinner parties. If something Just Ain't Right he's gonna be in your face about it when given the slightest opportunity, and this upsets many people who feel the social gentilities should come before the truth.
Harlan is also a perfectionist when it comes to his work as a writer or editor, which in the industries he works in is the equivalent of being a psychiatrist who wants to cure 100% of his patients. As a result he has a hard time pleasing editors and publishers who think they have a better handle on the craft than he, or who don't understand why asking that he put an elf or two in a story would be so terribly hard.
Finally, Harlan does not follow the trends, or write to be popular or rich or discussed over lunch. He writes for his own reasons and for his own conscience. I hope you never see a story from him like the ones we saw a couple years back when everybody and their dog had to put a certain romantic poet in their science fiction novel, or writing a multi-volume spamology about elves who live in New York or Chicago wearing Devo helmets, riding motorcycles, and playing industrial metal. I hope that Just Isn't Going to Happen, and if you've read anything of his I hope you do, too.
Clue #4: Like I said, I have No Fucking Idea Why
I'm gonna give it to you straight. Harlan is a lot smarter than me, he's a HELL of a lot better read and educated, and he's been working at his craft twice as long as I've been breathing. So who the hell am I to lecture you on why he isn't a household word? I guess you're just going to have to trust me when I say that if he isn't so fucking rich he can pay James Earl Jones's daily speaking fees just to have the man answer the phone at his house, and so widely read that they start draining the oceans just to give him more shelf space, that the only acceptable reason is that There Ain't No Justice.
But remember this: Guys like Ellison are the only things that keep the darkness from spilling out and leaking into our waking world, and you have no one to blame but yourself if you don't make whatever extra effort it takes to bring a little more of his magic into your life. He can be a real sunufabitch sometimes, but I truly believe he may just be our Last and Best Hope.
And now I have to get up in 5 hours and catch a plane to a best friend's wedding in Fayettville, Arkansas (home of the Razorbacks. Sooooo-iEEEE!). I'm singing at it, so I need to get my beauty sleep. And so the wacky roller-coaster that is my life continues, and I continue to try to delude you who are reading this (all three of you, and thank you by the way) that I actually *have* a life. Good night.
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