Harlan Ellison

“Preparatory note on process: How it happens, where it comes from, why it speaks in that particular tongue, always the same damned unanswerable question. But they never give it a rest, the endless interrogation. Their cadre is never depleted. We sit under the broiling lights turned into our eyes, and they ask and ask, always the same damned question, and we plead ignorance; and when one of their number tires, she or he is replaced by another. And the question is asked again and again, without change, without compassion. We would tell if we knew, honestly we would. We would give up every secret possess, if only they would turn off the lights for fifteen minutes, let us curl onto the cold stone floor and catch forty winks. We would tell all, divulge every tiny code number and Mercator track, drop the dime on even the dearest and closest friend or lover, spill the beans, tell the tale, five it all up if only they’d knock off for fifteen minutes, let it go dark, let us sleep.

“But they won’t, they’re merciless; and they never wise up, because their cadre is never depleted. There’s always another one warming up in the bullpen as the one on the mound begins to tire and keeps missing the strike zone. And here comes the new one, still moist from the academy, eyes bright as a Borneo Green Broadbill’s, smiling ingratiatingly, plopping into the well-worn interrogator’s chair, and here comes that same stupid, damned unanswerable question. Again.

“Where do you get your ideas?

“In a letter dated 10 July 1991, Jeremy G. Byrne of the Editorial Committee of Eidolon, an extremely elegant and smart literary journal emanating from Perth (which is on the coast of Western Australia), wrote to me, in part: ‘…the genesis of Eiodolon was a long process. You might well have guessed that it was your own ANGRY CANDY piece, ‘Eiodolons’ — with its Australian connection — that gave us the idea; and when we discovered the alternate definitions for the word, it seemed stunningly appropriate, or at least amusingly pretentious.’

“Where do you get your ideas?

“In the liner notes I wrote for the recorded reading I did of my story ‘Jeffty is Five’ I said:

“My friends Walter and Judy Koenig invited me to a party. I don’t like parties. I do like Walter and Judy. I also like their kids. I went to the party.

“Mostly I sat near the fireplace, friendly but not ebullient. Mostly I talked to Walter and Judy’s son, josh, who is remarkable beyond the telling. And then I overheard a snatch of conversation. An actor named Jack Danon said — I thought he said — something like this — ‘Jeff is five, he’s always five.’ No, not really. He didn’t say anything like that at all. What he probably said was, ‘Jeff is fine, he’s always fine.’ Or perhaps it was something completely different.

“But I had been awed and delighted by josh Koenig, and I instantly thought of just such a child who was arrested in time at the age of five. Jeffty, in no small measure, is josh: the sweetness of josh, the intelligence of josh, the questioning nature of josh.

“Thus, from admiration of one wise and innocent child, and from a misheard remark, the process that not even Aristotle could codify was triggered.

“Where do you get your ideas?

“I purposely mishear things. The excellent novelist and critic Geoffrey Wolff has written, ‘Every fictioneer re-invents the world because the facts, things of people of the received world are unacceptable.’ So I purposely mishear things that are said. It mortars up the gaps in boring conversation. It assists in doing honor to the late architect Robert Smithson’s dictum: Establish enigmas. Not explanations. ‘Jeffty is five, he’s always five.’

“Speak to me of a Chinese hand laundry, and I visualize a large wicker basket filled with Chinese hands that need laundering. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear. Tearalong, the Dotted Lion

“Where do you get your ideas?

“My story ‘Eidolons’ came from the assemblage of a congeries of misheard remarks, altered to form brief allegories or tone-poems. I did one each week as introduction to my stint as the host of a radio show. Now, like Ouroboros, we come full circle: kindly note process, and let me sleep:

“Mishearing purposely; translative adaptation of misheard remark to fictional state; assemblage of misheard adaptations to story; story as impetus for Eidolon magazine; request from magazine for contribution; assemblage of misheard adaptations submitted to magazine born of effects of mishearing.

“The process. Where do you get your ideas? First, the stories. Then revelation of what was said; and what was heard. The process. At last, to sleep, the answer.”

– Harlan Ellison
(an excerpt from Where I Shall Dwell in The Next World by the author)

From his legal suits to his criticism of Gene Roddenberry, Ellison remains, according to one of his dust jacket, “possibly the most contentious person on Earth.”

But can the man write.

He has written numerous stories all from his manual Olympia typewriter (he spits upon technology), my all time-favorite being Chatting With Anubis, which won the Bram Stoker Award for best short story in 1995.

His collection of stories interpreted in the comic book form is now released as Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor: Volume 2.


~ by croatoa on December 21, 2007.

5 Responses to “Harlan Ellison”

  1. […] “But, you’re still asking the question, so I will give the tried, true and always constant answer: ideas come from everywhere and everything. You read a news story. You read a book and it kindles a thought completely unrelated to what you read. You second guess the ending of a movie you’re watching and you’re wrong, but that wrong guess leads you into a fascinating new territory you can mine. You mishear something. You miss-see something. […]

  2. […] however, is that he was also partly the inspiration for Harlan Ellison’s short story “Jeffty is Five“. (Ellison and Walter Koenig are old friends.) You have to love weird connections like […]

  3. RIP Andrew Koenig.

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