Sunday, January 30, 2005

Harlan Ellison, Matchmaker

 ?, John, DM, McNevin, Fax, ? and PeterHere are some of the people of Clarion '77. I can no longer name them all, but that's John in the khaki shirt. Mike McNevin Hayes (correction: Mike Orgill) is the guy hugging the black-shirted D.M. Rowles, and, on the other side,  Fax Goodlife. No, I'm not making this up! The guy with the sideburns is probably Peter, or possibly Rand.  I'm not sure about the other two. Dave Deacon and...Lester? TJ? It's been too long.  Sorry.

So anyway, I was accepted as a student of the Clarion Worksop for 1977.  Under the terms if my agreement with my dad, I worked as an enumerator for R.L. Polk from May until the end of June.  Clarion started July 3rd, for six weeks. I got to East Lansing by bus and by train, not necessarily in that order.

The first night, there was a get-acquainted party at the home of the late R. Glenn Wright, the M.S.U. prof in charge of the workshop.  I don't think John had arrived yet.  People introduced themselves, but I didn't really connect with anyone that night.  I was lonely and a little scared.

The workshopping began the next day.  Robin Scott Wilson, founder of Clarion, was there the first week to get us started.  The first material workshopped was everyone's submission manuscripts.  Chapter One of The Tengrim Sword went over okay, but not great.  People had a lot of criticisms, and a lot of questions I couldn't answer yet.
Dungeons and Dragons in the hall.I was introducing some of my fellow Clarionites to D&D the afternoon that Harlan Ellison arrived for Week Two. It was not a successful game, and I think at least one of the players was tripping at the time.

Harlan arrived, and posted a set of rules. I don't remember it all, but a big one was no drugs.  There may have also been something about keeping cigarette smoke "away from good old Harlan." I'm not sure about the nature of the prohibition, but the "good old Harlan" part is a direct quote.

I'd met Harlan before, in connection with his speaking appearance at Syracuse University the year before (which is a whole story by itself), and again when I showed up outside his house one rainy day to take a picture or two.  What can I say?  I was young and foolish.  Harlan's opinion of me was that I was a fan, which in his lexicon was not a good thing.  Once he saw some of my writing, he upgraded me to "amateur."  Well, I couldn't let that stand!  I was determined to prove myself to my favorite writer.  At the end of the week, I turned in a story called "Rivals," in which an angry fat girl uses magic to switch bodies with the pretty girl in the next dorm room.  Harlan left a note on his way out, saying nice things about the story.  It ended by saying that I was a writer after all: "Just flense yourself of the fannishness and amateurism, and you may just make it."

Harlan demonstrates who should wear the hat.  and how to wear it

and proudly displays his handiwork.
By the time Harlan arrived, there were two male Clarionites I had my eye on.  They were both smart, and interesting, and unattached to female Clarionites.  Peter turned me off one day by showing a side of himself I didn't like.  That left John. Like me, John Blocher had a weight problem, but that didn't matter much to me.  In fact, it was probably a plus. He was smart, and funny, and talented, and he seemed to like me.  He even liked Howard the Duck. He didn't like my writing, but oh, well, that was a genre thing. Harlan asked me one day whether I was interested in one of the guys.  When I said yes, he said, "Well, then go and get him, girl!" Come to think of it, he may have used the word "woman" instead of "girl."

Harlan was a lot of fun, but also stressful and exhausting.  He ordered me to read Remembrance of Things Past, and threatened not to talk to me until I'd at least read Swann's Way.(All these years later, I still haven't read it.)   He suggested thatI cultivate a Liv Ullman image, strong and silent.  He went out to restaurants with us,and played mind games on us by pretending not to like someone's story, just to see whether we would fall in line. He even hosted a Synanon-style game one night. This consisted basically of people attacking each other. John wisely declined to attend this, but I was accused of - well, let's not go PG, okay? When I refused to fight back, Harlan said, "You may be too gentle for this game, Karen." Well, yes.  I was.  Still am, for that matter.

But I did take Harlan's advice in one thing.  I started hanging out with John Blocher, whom Harlan had labeled a "dilletante."

Next time: Ayjay and Pete, Kate and Damon.


Photo credits: I may have taken the top one.  Mike Orgill (see comments) took the black and white ones.

Related entries:

Less Gullible at Six Than I Am Now (Updated)

Teenage Crush? I Didn't Have...Oh. Maybe I Did

Technorati Tags: Harlan Ellison, Clarion


ondinemonet said...


I like this entry very much. I played D&D in another time...oh my many moons ago. Alan and I had a lot of fun with that game. I really like the fact that you share so freely about your life, past and present. Your loves, talents and disappointments. This is a peaceful of the best I have visited since I began my journey in writing. :::SMILE::: You are a find to be sure!

Always, Carly

ryanagi said...

Giggle! OK...I'm not commenting on this one. I will sound all fannish. LMAO Harlan was pretty cute back in the 70s. Oh hush! Did I say that? Shhh!

deabvt said...

Great stuff! Harlan the Matchmaker!!

morgill4646 said...

I took the black and white pictures. That's not Michael McNiven Hayes, it's me between DM and fax, as she then spelled it. Great comments! Brings back memories.  Karen, great stuff! best, Mike Orgill