Tag Archives: Harlan Ellison

Can Writers Be Rockstars?

Rock stars and movie stars and known for their blowouts, the drug and alcohol abuse, their indiscretions mostly because they’re so rich and famous they’re always in the limelight. Over at Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig argues/pokes fun at the image and says we need writers to be rock stars. But have we ever had them, those memorable characters known more for their antics with drugs, alcohol and sex than for their writing (almost), or those with personalities that would have them locked up if it weren’t for their mad genius?

Wendig names Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway as characters in the past that had that crazed star image. William Burroughs would also enter that arena. Phillip K. Dick and Thomas Disch had a legendary hate on of each other. Dick, paranoid and spaced out on some substance hated Disch who was gay and reported him to the FBI (or maybe it was the CIA). I only learned this though reading Disch’s last book The Word of God. Disch got his last digs in at Dick in the stories (part fictional/part autobiographical) in the end. But these guys are all dead guys so they don’t count.

writers, rockstars, movie stars, assholes, prima donas, drugs, sex, bad boys

Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr

Who are our living writing rock stars, the bad boys and girls of the literary world, the ones whose pens drip a venom that pales to their verbal vitriol, their nasty antics, their crazed abuses of the body? Someone pointed out that perhaps it’s because rock stars are younger and writers older when famous that age tempers these antics, but what can we say about Keith Richards then, though the Janis Joplins and Amy Winehouses definitely fall early in the realm of substance abuse. Perhaps it’s because we don’t look at authors whereas we watch movie stars and listen and watch rock stars, that makes a difference. Writers create characters and your imagination takes over. Who wants to find out they’re an elderly housewife of three or that they’re old and fat and greying? Just doesn’t live up to the glamor, does it?

Wendigs subcategories are: Erratic Author Appearances, Intensely Weird Drug Habits, …Making Rock Star Demands, Insane Hobbies on Display, Jack Up Our Books With Rockstar Juice, Groupies+Entourage=Awesome, …Writer Cribs, …Hookers, …Public Urination. Hmm, granted this piece is high on irony, I guess this might be considered a primer for the famous on what not to do. For writers, maybe we live out all that through our characters so we’re less likely to act it out. The TV show Californication  probably comes closes to the fantasy of a rockstar writer. Of course it’s Hollywood so everything is skewed there.

So who is alive who might be considered a writing rock star for wacky habits? Harlan Ellison is definitely one. Not that he’s defecated in anyone’s mailbox (that we know of) but he’s more than spoken his mind, trounced people verbally and on the page and been known to do a few “rumored” deeds such as signing a woman’s breast or leaving the garden slug dessert (search my posts for more on this). Samuel Delaney was known for his erratic author appearances. Neil Gaiman is mentioned as someone who should be a bad boy but is relatively tame. Wendig did miss that Gaiman has an entourage. If you’ve seen if at a convention there is usually a contrail of black-clad gothettes following him about. Sadly, I cannot think of any bad girl writers.

I tried once to tell the writers group I belonged to that we needed to hang out in bars and perpetuate a lifestyle that could be more infamous than our writing. No one went for it though. Maybe I’d be better known if I had. 🙂 But the piece is right; overall we’re not the same prima donas as rock and movie stars. Check out Wendig’s article, and If you can think of a living writer known for strange, bad, erratic or aberrant behavior, post here so we can start a list.

 

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Writing: Writers in Need

Back when I did the Clarion writers workshop, we had a different instructor for each week. Ed Bryant was the first one. With his dry wit and wry attitude and no-nonsense ways, he broke the ice and got us into critiquing, in a gentle way.

Ed had been one of Harlan Ellison’s prodigies and typical of Ed, he can get along with a lot of people, even those as temperamental as Harlan. But that doesn’t mean Ed didn’t have anything interesting, witty or even sarcastic to say.

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

Somehow after Clarion, I either bumped into Ed at a few conventions or contacted him or both (more likely the former as Ed has always been notoriously a bad correspondent) we developed a slow friendship. One which often existed of us only seeing each other at conventions.

At one convention, I was walking through the art show with a friend. We stopped in front of an honest-to-god velvet painting. Yes, those cheap and tacky remnants of the 70s. Or was it 60s?

This was shortly after the Star Trek movie The Voyage Home and featured a couple of humpback whales in it as well as the Enterprise returning to Earth to save the day and the planet. So here we are staring at this painting, our mouths dropping open at the horribleness of it. I can’t remember it exactly but it had fat Elvis in his bright white suit spread across its velvet expanse and Spock and the Enterprise I believe over some skyline.

It was dreadful and Kij and I laughed at it. It was so bad I couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind would paint it. Then I noticed that it was not for sale and had the title of “Save the Whales.” And it had been commissioned by Ed Bryant which is when it all came clear. It was such a perfect piece of tongue-in-cheek kitsch.

Ed has always had long hair and worn T-shirts and jeans. Except for when he dresses up and puts on a button shirt so that he can wear a special tie. Whereas David Hartwell is known for his god-awful ugliest ties since creation (and the eye-jarring contrasting stripe and check suits and shirts that don’t go with them) Ed is somehow subtler. His shirts aren’t too wild but his tie might be shaped like a fish or be plastic with a bunch of plastic bugs in it.

And Ed is of course, a writer. I read his collection of short stories Cinnabar a long time ago and, where his penchant for creepy shone through. Ed has never written a novel, which may be why the greater fan community does not know of him as well as the writing community does. He has written reviews for Locus for many years. He has also worked on screenplays, nonfiction and other forms of writing.

I consider Ed a good friend, even though I don’t know him super well or all of his problems. He once told me that in that land of the free but highly impoverished he paid $800 a month in medical insurance because of his diabetes. A month! I was aghast. How could anyone have a decent life like that?

Ed has had complications along the way, including not being able to get out of bed once because he had suffered hairline fractures through a bunch of his bones, which had immobilized his arms. I started calling him Tyrannosaurus Ed at that point.

I haven’t talked to Ed for a few years, though I tried but no answers to emails, which was kind of typical. Still I worried because Ed has had some major health issues. At the World Fantasy convention this last fall I asked another friend if he’d seen Ed and that I worried about him. It seems I had a right to.

Because the US has such a crippling, and I do mean crippling, health system, people must have a good job that has an insurance plan. This doesn’t always mean it’s a completely comprehensive plan and may have all sorts of restrictions on it. I know a couple that even though working, can only afford to put their two children on health insurance. Another person, an epileptic, could only afford to have her medication covered because she once worked as a coast guard. I have other American friends who suffer in pain because they cannot afford their health care.

Canada’s may not be perfect but at least everyone can get help. It may just take longer. We get the basics without being impoverished and on the street. It would never cost hundreds per month, and medications after a certain amount (less than a thousand but varies by income) are paid for or subsidized.

Now Ed seems to need some help as the health bills have become astronomical. Friends and associates have set up a website where donations can be made. Ed has always been involved in the SF community, from writing and doing panels to writing reviews and being a mentor to others. In Colorado he started a writers’ group and I consider Ed to be one of my mentors.

I’m not rich but I’ll be sending some money to Ed because he has given to the greater writing community in many ways. If you’re at all influenced by writers and SF, check out Ed’s Wiki page above and the link below for more information on Ed Bryant and where to donate.

http://www.friendsofed.org/

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World Fantasy Convention: Part 2

World Fantasy, because it is made up of editors, publishers and authors, tends to have good panels on the professional aspects of writing. Very enlightening from various viewpoints. I can’t remember how many tracks there are at once, but it’s not as many as the larger fan conventions.

WFC holds about 600 people and maybe three or four tracks at a time. I never tend to make it to too many panels. When I went to New Orleans, like everyone else, I went to the French Quarter and shopped. In the evenings it was going for dinner or going to the parties to schmooze and get free booze and snacks. So I tend to only get to a couple of panels at most.

When I attended WFC in Montreal, it was at the end of October (as it always is) just after September 11, 2001. I’m sure it was one of the few WFCs that did not cover its costs. Many publishers and attendees pulled out because of the rampant fear at that time. This made it quite a small convention. Surprisingly, Montreal had no snow but it was a bit crisp at night.

Rhea and I arrived about 11 on a Thursday night and my friend Melanie was already there in jammies. When we got up to the room I said, “I don’t know what you guys are going to do but I’m going down to have a drink at the lounge.” The three of us went down and I noticed San Francisco bookstore owner Allan Bates (sp?) who I’d met before at a convention.

The lounge closed an hour or so later and Allensaid they were going down to a pub so we joined them. There were about seven of us and it turns out Montreal pubs have a soft closing. We were there till four or five in the morning. And that set the flavour for the whole convention. There wasn’t a night I went to bed earlier and I recall on the last night a group of us wandering about and sneaking glasses of booze out of some pub when they closed down.

It was at one party where of course the booze flowed that we were standing around talking and I think I splashed UK writer Graham Joyce, with a bit of wine, accidentally. Then I was drinking some water and fellow Canuck writer Brett Savory (it’s his fault, really) said I should pour my water on Graham, so I did. It established a friendship for the convention, or at least a camaraderie with the Brit writers. I also met agent Chris Lotts there and still chat with him time to time but book agents are very busy. I met Tina Jens, one of the Twilight Tales founders at one convention too. It’s a great benefit meeting similar thinking minds and establishing friendships that span countries.

There have been conventions that have been nothing but calm as well. It can vary a lot. But you always meet new people and I like the smallness of WFC for that intimacy of getting to know people. It was at one WFC autograph signing that I had my arms signed and freaked out Harlan Ellison. The World Fantasy awards are given the Sunday of the convention. This year it is in Calgary and I’l be going. 2004 was the last one I attended so it’s been a while.

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