My first writing hero has passed

Harlan Ellison, whose short stories inspired me to become a writer, has passed away. He was 84 and had been in poor health, but it still comes as a shock. When I got the news last night, I just sat there, sad beyond belief, for a very, very long time.

Ironically, just a day earlier, I’d gotten a package with Ellison’s Blood’s a Rover in it. And just days before that, I wrote about Ellison’s influence on me in the introduction to my first short story collection. In a deliberate following of his approach to collections, I wrote personal introductions to each story.

He was my first writing hero. After reading his story “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” I knew that THAT was what I wanted to do. The next morning, I tried writing my first story. Ellison triggered it all for me.

The power of his stories was mind-blowing. The pyrotechnics. The intensity.

I bought all his books. I bought first LPs, then CDs, of his narrated short stories. (He was one of the best narrators, ever.) I was a charter member of the Harlan Ellison Record Club, and eagerly tore open each newsletter.

I saw every possible one of his performances. (They weren’t lectures. They were PERFORMANCES. They were awesome. He was a dynamo.) The first time, I sat in the front row of MIT’s Kresge Auditorium with my boom box-sized tape recorder. He looked down and told me it was okay for me to record as long as I shut it off for when he read his stories. I happily complied. Then bought those same stories through the record club as soon as they were released.

I dreamed of some day writing a story as powerful, beloved, and enduring as “Jeffty is Five.” I doubt that dream will ever come true, but I’ll keep trying.

It’s hard to believe that he’s gone.