Pre-Publication Letters

When I had completed the first draft of the preceding essay I sent it to a number of professional writers, all involved at one time or another with ‘Dangerous Visions’, and solicited their views. I mentally divided these writers into three groups of roughly equal size: those I thought were loyal to Mr Ellison and broadly supported his work on the anthology, those I knew were hostile to him or had suffered at his hands, and those whose attitude I simply did not know.

I offered all of them the same: I would publish anything they might write without interference.

The only responses I got were from the latter two groups. None of the people loyal to Harlan Ellison sent me anything I could print. Some of them simply ignored my request, others warned me sepulchrally of the danger in which they perceived I was putting myself, while the rest, most interestingly of all, egged me on to greater efforts by telling their own horror stories about working with Mr Ellison, then forbade me from quoting them or paraphrasing them or even hinting that they might have been in touch with me on this terrifying subject.

(I have always honoured these silences, and continue to do so now. The silence of Mr Ellison’s lambs is a key factor in the story.)

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Graham Charnock:

It was good to be around in nineteensixtyoomph, contributing, however casually, to a body of literature one felt was certainly dangerous and visionary. I mean of course, what went on in and around the ‘New Worlds’/Moorcock/Platt/Harrison/Sallis/Hall axis. I even gave up my day job, not to become a writer, nothing so positive, but simply because it was contrary to the spirit, yes the dangerousness, of what was in the air at the time.

(I was an advertising executive and deadlines for quarter-pages in the ‘Sutton Advertiser’ were definitely contra-indicated.) So I became a waiter in a summer holiday hotel in Norfolk (good for jacket blurbs–next step was to become a lumberjack, or sail around the Horn, or become a gun-runner).

That lasted three weeks, because Harlan accepted my story for LDV. He wanted rewrites and, under-producer that I am, it meant I needed time and clear horizons to do them.

It was nice being edited by Harlan, because for better or worse it was positive editing, the story went backwards and forwards about three times whilst one naff section was tightened up. In truth what this amounted to was the beefing up of a certain soft-edged exchange between hero and heroine by substituting macho sex and violence (he hits her) for angst-ridden soul-searching. It was Hollywood, it was Harlan Ellison, it surely wasn’t me, but it worked in the context. Even my mother joined in, sending notes: “Harlan’s right. This woman’s been hurt and abused all her life–she just wouldn’t say that …” Today I still tend to see editors as mother-figures wiping the snot from your nose, correcting your diction, making sure your shirt covers your arse….

However, it was a good feeling: something had been worked up, had grown, been praised eventually. Furthermore I was joining what I saw as a select group of peers (how many contributors to LDV nowthem, of course, not any faceless readership, not even for Harlan. That’s how movements, schools, call them what you will, grow, isn’t it…? A constant and quick exchange of ideas, themes, etc–you are influenced, or just plain steal, but you feed it back into the network. That was the process, of course, that ‘New Worlds’ then exemplified more than any other medium before or since in the sf field.

What happened to LDV in this respect is history, of course, but I suppose it represents my main sadness over the enterprise. Harlan took the cream (I modestly exclude myself from any inference in this metaphor–I was merely coat-tailing) and let it go stale. Perhaps one can take it further: he took the cream and goddamn ate it himself. Substitute blood for cream and vampiric analogies spring to mind … I’ll stop this before it gets too fanciful.

I’m sorry I never got the chance to read and feed off the work of my peers when it would have been an enriching experience, when it would have meant something.

Why didn’t I withdraw my story and try to sell it elsewhere? Entropy rules OK. Things cool down.

Two years pass and maybe the markets are still there and maybe the story still glows a little in your heart, but Harlan’s had it so long and it can’t be much longer now …

Five years pass and the reason you wrote the story is as historical as the story itself: the people you wrote it for don’t particularly need it any more. You don’t go to the bar to buy someone a drink and return with it five years later.

Ten years pass and … poot. Frankie Goes To Hollywood are at number one this week … that’ll keep me going until the next sensation.

When LDV does appear I understand it may be in a box. Make it of good solid oak with finest brass fittings …

Ian Watson

I like Ellison’s writing (see my review in ‘Foundation’ 24). I like his public stances. But I don’t like his behaviour as editor of LAST, least of all his conduct when you eventually withdraw a story: the bluster, the arm-twisting (often by proxy), the sense that you’re on a shit-list. I escaped comparatively unscathed–but an author friend of mine was treated vilely.

No one should have to put up with treatment such as this from a fellow writer. Ultimately this wipes out one’s sense of the moral integrity of Ellison’s other work. And that’s a big shame. Ellison should realize this, and that he isn’t defending his reputation by soldiering on with LAST using untruths and bullying and braggadocio. He’s just damaging it.

Harry Harrison:

I look at this entire matter with a sigh of regret. I’m sorry that Harlan has let the anthology get away from him in the manner it has; sorry that you had to bring him up short. Since you are both friends of mine let me intervene on the side of the angels. Harlan, old chum, the facts that Chris has put on the record look like facts to me. His conclusions are his own, so let me stick to the facts, as the good sergeant used to say. The stories are gray with age, any value they might have had for the authors has long since been diminished to the vanishing point. I think we would all heave a sigh of relief–I know I would–if you simply returned the stories and called the whole thing a day. No one will consider this a failure on your part in any way. You know I have gone along with you all through the years–out of friendship and no other reason. You asked me not to pull back the story–and I didn’t. I wouldn’t have taken that for 5 minutes from a commercial editor. I’m still not pulling the story back. But I am asking you, please, to close the books and drop the entire matter.

With all sincerity–Harry Harrison.

C.S. Youd (John Christopher):

I believe I am one of the very early contributors to LDV, and I would confirm, in general, your account of the happenings of the last twelve years.

[There follows a documented synopsis of a protracted correspondence with Mr Ellison concerning interim payments in 1983-1984. This has been cut with Mr Youd’s consent. In April 1984 Houghton Mifflin wrote to Mr Youd saying that Mr Ellison had promised delivery of LDV within seventy days.

[Mr Youd also points out that several writers, himself included, accepted an initial lower rate because the money, according to Mr Ellison, had run out. Mr Ellison apparently said in 1971 that things would be equalized when the main money rolled in. When a renewal contract was offered to Mr Youd in 1977, he deleted a clause referring to this, since he felt it contradicted the promise of equalization.]

I feel that part of the problem is psychological. Harlan has so identified himself with the various Dangerous Visions that maybe he can’t bear to turn in LAST. (A sort of psychical death.)

Michael Bishop:

First of all, your assessment of the TLDV situation strikes me as being spot-on and fair. Ellison would probably construe my saying so as an attempt at self-justification, however, because after I withdrew ‘Dogs’ Lives’ (in the Fall of ’83), he accused me of just about every conceivable personal failing from paranoia (he may have been right about that one) to betrayal to money-grubbing to self-righteous hypocrisy and concluded this page-and-a-half attack by saying that he wished to have “no further congress” with me. It’s a long and complicated story, which I really don’t want to try to summarize here, but one simple fact that remains with me is that Ellison purchased ‘Dogs’ Lives’ from me in the spring of 1974 for $100 and that is all the money I realized from the story until this past November when, after pulling it from TLDV, I sold it to ‘The Missouri Review’ for a special SF issue.

Moreover, I was unable to use ‘Dogs’ Lives’ in either of my two hardcover story collections, ‘Blooded on Arachne’ and ‘One Winter in Eden’, even though, by rights, it deserved a place in one or the other.

For almost ten years I stuck by Ellison, believing that, yes, finally, the anthology/anthologies itself/themselves would be coming out and that I would soon be receiving one of the auxiliary payments that Ellison periodically promised for hanging in there, usually upon the shifting of the project from one publishing house to another. But TLDV has still not appeared, and I never made a dime above the original $100 (approximately two cents a word) that Ellison sent me in 1974. Until I pulled the story and got it into print a rapid six months after doing so, that is. I intend, further, to reprint it in an anthology of my own that, interesting to note, will also contain your would-be original for TLDV, ‘An Infinite Summer’.

At this time, there is really nothing more I wish to say about the subject except that I hope TLDV does indeed appear soon, for Ellison’s sake and the sake of those who have had the requisite trust in him to resist the impulse to withdraw. I hope that he and they all profit enormously. Meanwhile, I have no regret whatever about pulling my own story–although I do regret that the messy circumstances attending its withdrawal ended what had been a cordial, albeit pretty intermittent, relationship between us. I admire much of Ellison’s work, and I derived a great deal of pleasure from the first two Dangerous Visions anthologies.

Bob Shaw:

I know it has all dragged on forever, but my feelings are a bit like those of a compulsive gambler caught in a losing streak–I have invested so much time in LDV that I can’t bring myself to pull out now, admirable though that course might be.

[I understand Bob Shaw did subsequently withdraw his story. CP]

George R.R. Martin:

The 1978 volume of my own ‘New Voices/Campbell Awards’ anthology series will probably be published some time in 1985, so I don’t think I’m the person to make pronouncements, stern or otherwise, about the lateness of TLDV. I know all too vividly how easily and how badly these things can get out of hand. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that the lengthy delay of TLDV has been a tragedy–a tragedy for readers like myself who have been looking forward to the book, a tragedy for the field that badly needs a shot of the sort of literary adrenaline the previous DV volumes have supplied, a particular tragedy for the writers involved, and especially a tragedy for Harlan himself. I can only hope that, somehow or other, this tragedy will turn out to have a happy ending. Despite everything, you know, I’d still like to read the book, and so would a lot of other people.

Charles Platt:

When ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ grew too large, my story was one of the first to be held over to the projected ‘Last Dangerous Visions’. “I had to keep some really dynamite stuff for the last book,” was the way he justified it to me. “But don’t worry, publication is scheduled for 1972.” This mixture of hard-sell, flattery, and seemingly factual promises was to become wearyingly familiar over the next fifteen years. His style reminded me of a used-car salesman, the difference being that in his case he never actually delivered any merchandise.

Years passed, my uneasy friendship with Ellison continued, and the big cardboard box of LDV manuscripts remained undisturbed (so far as I could tell) except for a biannual ritual in which his secretary checked through them and issued grovelling form-letters and contract renewals to the contributors. I began to see the project as a source of amusement, but Ellison’s sense of humour didn’t stretch that far. I once visited him with my friend Graham Hall, another ‘Last Dangerous Visions’ contributor, who made the mistake of openly poking fun at the project. Ellison’s face turned grim, and he summoned us into his study, like a school principal disciplining two wayward children. “You probably don’t realize how much extra money you’re going to make after LDV appears,” he lectured Graham. He located the royalty payment records for a story of comparable length that had appeared in the first ‘Dangerous Visions’ almost ten years previously. In a staccato voice, like that of an auctioneer, he rattled off a string of payments for miscellaneous subsidiary rights, mostly in the $10 to $30 range. “That’s a total of nearly _two hundred dollars_,” he finished up. “Not bad, eh, for a 3,000-word story?”

“Wow,” Graham said dutifully, too embarrassed to mock Ellison’s largesse any further.

The dialogue may not be verbatim, and I may have the total wrong by $50 either way, but the essence of the account is factually correct, being transcribed from a diary that I kept at the time. Needless to say, not even $200 of royalties ever materialized for Graham Hall. He died a few years later, while his manuscript remains now where it was then: in the big cardboard box with all the others. Personally, I doubt they will ever earn royalties for anyone.

Around the time when Richard Curtis became Ellison’s literary agent and remarked that he was going to make Ellison’s name “synonymous with honesty”, Edward Bryant visited Sherman Oaks, ostensibly to assist Ellison in preparing the book for publication. A few days later, all ‘Last Dangerous Visions’ contributors, including myself, received a letter signed by Bryant, testifying that he had actually seen Ellison working on the book, writing story introductions. Bryant has a reputation for integrity that some would say exceeds that of Harlan Ellison, and it looked to me as if Ellison had purchased that reputation for the price of a plane ticket between Denver and Los Angeles. My suspicions increased when Bryant returned home after spending just a week or so in Sherman Oaks. Preparation of the book, of course, was still unfinished, but the letter had been issued to placate the contributors, as if that had been Ellison’s only real concern. Yet even the letter seemed bogus; it had the same used-car salesman cadences I had come to know so well, and I doubted that Bryant had actually written it. When I asked him this a few days later he refused to answer the question, and wearily begged me to forget about the whole thing.

The current version of the contract with Ellison for my ‘Last Dangerous Visions’ story wisely sets no publication date. Thus, he has no further need to write every couple of years, crying “mea culpa”, itemizing the traumas of his life, and begging my indulgence “just once more”, in the hope that I will allow my work to languish still longer in anticipation of its eventual appearance. At this point I don’t really care. The story was written almost twenty years ago, expressly for his editorial tastes, and would seem out of place if I withdrew it and sold it somewhere else. Thus I see it, in a way, as part of the albatross Ellison has created and hung around his own neck.

There are other contributors, however, who presumably still imagine that their work will see print, and have made greater sacrifices than mine by allowing their stories to reside in Ellisonian limbo. At the very least, these contributors should be told the facts.

[To explain an apparent duplication: Charles Platt wrote this letter to me after he had read a version of the essay which did not include my account of the Ed Bryant letter. However, I felt our two accounts dovetail, so both remain in this version. CP]

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1 Response to Pre-Publication Letters

  1. anonymous says:

    Strangely enough we had Marshal Stabb to supper last night, telling us how much he’s been enjoying Big Finish.

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