What's the worst thing you've ever done? There are things that I have done that would stun a police dog if I spoke of them, so obviously I'm not going to speak of them. My friends know, and my wife knows, and they seem to forgive me. That's the interesting thing. The things that I would pillory myself for having done, where I would say "Shit, I never really should have done that," they will all say "But you had to do that because blah blah blah..."Yes, I put him on the spot. Made him uncomfortable, for just a little bit. But it made for a distinctive interview. Still, he'd challenged me, hadn't he? Put me on the spot? So I played dirty. That question, good as it was, still fell within Harlan's wheelhouse. My follow-up, he outright stumbled over: Let's balance the karma: What's the best thing you've ever done? By then, I knew I had control of the interview. It wasn't going south, it was going where I wanted. I had Harlan's buy-in. He wasn't bored. This was huge for me--I'd interviewed hundreds of people as a journalist for newspaper stories, but this was different. It gave me a shot of much-needed confidence that resulted in 40-plus additional interviews over the ensuing decade. By the time we approached the end of the interview, I was ready with the question that, I believe, encapsulates the interview overall:
When did Harlan Ellison the writer become Harlan Ellison the event? I don't know. I've studied the lives of a number of different writers -- Emile Zola, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway. These were people who wrote important things, but when you talk about them, people know that Scott Fitzgerald sort of was the king of the Roaring 20s and danced his way through that whole period of bootleg gin and his wife wound up in a madhouse. People know Hemingway was a great adventurer who lived at the peak of his macho ability and then finally blew his brains out with an over-and-under shotgun in Wyoming. And Zola is only known for the Dreyfuss case. But and I think there are some writers, as there are some politicians there are some adventurers there are some scientists whose lives apart from their achievements, their lives themselves are eventful. They live life more fully, they live life with a greater commitment. Now I am not extending that to me. Please be careful when you write this. I do not want people to think I am demonstrating that kind of hubris. I'm trying to answer your question as honestly as I can, and I don't think I can get any closer to it than that.Harlan Ellison was very much like a singularity in our field. His presence and influence was undeniable. Even people who'd never met him, or didn't like him, still felt his pull. He was massive. And now he's gone, just like that. A sudden void that was once so intensely, ferociously occupied. The universe is a little smaller today. My complete interview with Harlan Ellison may be read at SFSite.com.