Friday, May 23, 2008

Harlan Ellison's watching

So... I just spoke to Harlan Ellison on the phone.

I may have imagined the whole thing, as I'm dosed up on 2 Beechams Flu-Plus caplets, 2 ibuprofens, along with some sort of multi-vitamin pill for horses - it was half the size of my head, God knows what was in it. Yes, the Space Virus suddenly arrived yesterday. Sore throat, streaming nose, and sinuses that feel like I've had two six-inch nails hammered into my face. Please excuse any babbling in this post. I'm spaced out, and delirious with excitement. I just spoke to one of my heroes, someone who is so well known, he almost feels like a fictional character. But he spoke to me. On the phone. I'm still in shock.

Anyway. You may remember I did a big interview for Doctor Who Magazine a while back. They asked me which writer, living or dead, I'd most like to share a pint with. My answer was: "Dead: Douglas Adams, probably my biggest influence. Alive: Harlan Ellison, because he's the daddy. But I'd also love to get Captain RTD and The Moff (there's a band name for you) down the pub, and just listen to them."

Now, since then, I've had the chance to talk at great length with both Captain RTD and The Moff (like the Captain and Tennille, but without the catchy tunes), not together but separately. They're fantastic company, and I could listen to them all day. Never, ever, did I even imagine that I'd get to speak to Harlan Ellison.

Yesterday, I got several emails, letting me know that Harlan was "looking for you." My first reaction was: "Shit! Pack a bag! Go on the run!" What if I'd angered him somehow? But he had posted a bulletin on his official website - he'd seen the interview, and was happy to go for a coffee with me. Holy. Fucking. Shit!

Naturally, I'll be flying over as soon as I possibly can, purely for the chance to have a chat with him. If you know who he is, then you'll know why I'm prepared to do that. If you haven't heard of him, then (a) I despair for future generations, and (b) no amount of my explaining will help. You'll just have to go and read his work.

So I sent my contact details to his webmaster, and received his in return. Today, around 8pm, I realised that if I was going to call him, it should be now, while the time zones are aligned. But I have a full on Space Virus attack, I thought, I don't want to be sniffing and coughing at him. Maybe I should leave it till Monday, when I'm better? Then the phone rang. I panicked. Bizarrely, I found myself saying out loud: "Christ, I hope that's not Harlan Ellison"... I wanted to be on top form, to impress him with my sparkling repartee, to have fascinating insights about his work that would impress him. But it wasn't him. Then the phone rang again, and it *was* him. Somehow, my throat and nose magically cleared up for the duration of the call. Can noses and throats get scared? It's the only explanation I can think of.

We chatted. We laughed. He's a Doctor Who fan. Apparently he's seen my episode, and my Torchwood too. I couldn't believe I was really on the phone with him. He assured me I wasn't imagining it. He was incredibly friendly, witty, and amused at the thought that I might be scared of him. I could have talked to him for hours.

I think I offered to kill one person of his choice, if he wanted - you know, just to break the ice. I think he might take me up on it.

So when I get over there, we're going to go for lunch, and have a proper chat. I can't wait. It'll have to be in a month or so, because I have TV script deadlines and so on. But as soon as I can get away for a few days, I'm going.

And now I'm on the sofa, dazed, chuckling to myself. It feels like I imagined it. But I know it was real. Because Harlan Ellison said so.


Karen Funk Blocher said...

Yes, I'm sure that happened, because that's very Harlan. He once called me up about some photos he'd borrowed, and riffed for two minutes on ways to mispronounce my name before I figured out who it was. (I hadn't heard his voice in a few decades.) Fun times. Get well, and rest up before you see him. As old as he's somehow become in the 30+ years since I first met him, he's still a force of nature.

Michael said...

Ellison's always struck me as a bit of an asshole, but this seemed very cool of him.

BaaBaaDoodle said...

I'm in awe.

Feel better soon btw. If nothing else works, try elderberry extract. Seriously.

Salina said...

This is such a fun thing to read because this is definitely exactly how I was when you first emailed me back (sans space plague). Good thing you've stocked up lots of kindness-to-your-fans karma. This is very damn cool and I'm super happy for you. Apparently you are made of magic and your dreams get to come true. Which you deserve because you are many shades of awesome.

Hope you feel better soon. Remember to rest that last day after you feel all better and think you're cured, cause rushing that ALWAYS leads to a new wave of illness.

I'm personally basking in the freedom of summer and house cleaning. So nice. Oh God.

Kevin Lehane said...

I am reading his Troublemaker collection right now. He's such a character.

Can't wait to read your post after you meet him.

Michael Coen said...

Being a big Ellison fan I can think of few things more exciting or intimidating than a phone call from the man.

Glad it went well, meeting your heroes isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Anonymous said...

Who's Harlan Ellison?


John Soanes said...

Wow, consider me mega-impressed. HE is very probably my favourite author of all time, and not just because when I say that, people say 'who?' and I know to add them to my 'naughty not nice' list.

james henry said...


Harlan Ellison said...


One of my pals brought your blog to my attention today--yesterday was my birthday and I spent most of the occasion lying down with a cool moist compress over my eyes, and then had a freshly roasted two-headed baby for dinner--but, never mind all that--I pop in only to respond to "Michael" who said, "Ellison's always struck me as a bit of an asshole..."

Michael is a decent person, and he's giving me the benefit of his gentle nature. Sadly, the truth is that I am far more than a bit of an asshole. At least 51% of my life&time has been wasted as a Full-Out, Card-Carrying Asshole.

(In truth, "asshole" is a mundane and not terribly exciting snippet of verbiage to describe one's major flaws. "Jackanapes" is too cozy, too Disneyesque; "schmuck" is very nearly dead-on, but without roots in Jewishness one loses the subtle Lovecraftian nuances of the denigration; "fuckup" ain't bad but it's often applied with a smile and a slap on the back, so it won't really color the portrait adequately. I am open to suggestions for what a jerk dickwad moron I truly seem to be, and I urge Michael and others to flex their conversational chops.)

As I say, James, your faithful correspondent Michael means well, but--like everyone else on the planet--and some invertebrates and assorted flora--I am as deeply flawed as you and Michael and my dead mother. I do the best I can, but that's an explanation, not an excuse.

I think if Michael knew me first-hand, or even from reading 50+ years of my work, rather than the third- or eighth-hand gobbets of gossip that have imbedded my image in his consciousness as "a bit of an asshole," he would discover that I am in actuality a Universal All-Encompassing Beyond Description "asshole" (or better word).

Thank you, Michael. You are too kind.

And Susan'n'I await your manifestation, James. Sniffleless, it is to be hoped.

Yr. Pal, Harlan

BaaBaaDoodle said...

OMG, I am even more in awe now. A post here by Mr. Ellison! I have thought about this and I don't think we will see many more like him in my lifetime.

James, hope your sniffles are gone, that you book your tickets before it becomes prohibitive to fly over here in the States and before the airlines institute zero baggage allowance and make you pay an extra fee for boarding with sturdy shoes. That said, are you talking to Mr. Moffat re script ideas yet? :)

James Moran said...

Thanks to everyone for the get well wishes!

John: As well as adding them to the naughty list, you must strike them on the snout with a rolled up newspaper.

James: Dude, I know.

Michael: I've said this before, but in case you didn't see it: don't slag off other writers on my blog. It is not cool. My house, my rules.

Harlan: When were you going to tell me about the restaurant that does roasted mutant babies? Trying to keep it all to yourself, eh??

Baa: I'm leaving The Moff well alone, as I'm sure he's got several million messages to reply to. If they ask me back, I'll gladly do more. I hope so, because it's ridiculously good fun.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Wow, Harlan actually commented, a brilliant, gaffaw-inducing little piece on your worthy blog. Wonderful!

I hope you're feeling better, James, and that you get another commission to write Doctor Who in the nondistant future.

Danny Stack said...

Dude. Seriously.

Good Dog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Good Dog said...

Why folk are rude about HE is beyond me. Nicest person you'll ever meet. If you can get up to the house, prepare to have your mind totally boggled.

Anonymous said...

Ellison's house? ROAD TRIP!

Peter Pan said...

Hope you are feeling better now dude

James C. Hess said...

Having had the pleasure, the delight, and the honor to meet Mr. Ellison, having been on the receiving end of what is often mistaken for assholeness (it's in the dictionary - look it up), and having been the very fortune recepient of his passion and generosity when it comes to the written word, may I offer this to you as you prepare to begin your unique journey: Be thankful this day for what Life has allowed you, for it is very unlikely any time soon you will again meet or encounter that most wonderful, that most unique, that most human presentation that is Harlan Ellison.

As to the two-headed roasted baby thingie: Sam's Club, I think. Or CostCo, next to the whatthehell stew packages.

Keith Topping said...

Nice to see you're schmoozing at an international class level these date, mate! Next, it'll be running through Internet message boards with a scythe in yer hand screaming "SAY MY NAME, BITCH!" mark my words. Slippery slope, and all that...


Kurt said...

Just saw this today (have been checking out the blog for a while now), and just wanted to post and say that's amazing. From getting to chat to one of your literary heroes (with an invite for further chat, in person no less), to having him comment on your blog must be right up there with writing for DW in the "winning the personal lottery" stakes.

In an odd bit of serendipity, prior to spotting the recent HE-related goings-on at this blog, I just recently finished re-reading an ancient copy of HE's "The Glass Teat" I bought ages ago at a used bookstore. Coincedence? I think not.