Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Harlan Ellison

Dear Mr. Ellison,

Just yesterday, I read this article anticipating your final convention appearance, at MadCon. I had not been aware that you are, as you say, dying, and I am very unhappy to hear that. Though I do admire greatly your own attitude about it and hope that I will feel the same way when my own time comes.  But that's not the subject about which I try to reach out to you today. This is:

"My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit. If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business. If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me."

OK. I totally get where you're coming from (and always love it when you take yet another swipe at Judith Krantz). But for the fucking love of all that's good and decent on Earth, do not burn your unfinished stories! Jeeezus keee-rist on a crutch, dude! Look: your admirers would buy any goddamned thing you have ever written, finished or not. I would right now pay for a hardbound edition of a freaking grocery list typed by you. Please, please, please, rescind this horrible, bloody directive to your wife! You are well acquainted with legal machinations, and I am certain that you could guard in some kind of iron-clad, steam-powered, smoke-billowing titanic way your literary legacy from such obscene ravages as Krantz or her ilk trying to finish your novel. How about this: authorize the publication of at least some of your unpublished items and will the money generated from such toward endowing a scholarship, or maybe even one of the writing workshops like Clarion. Create the "Harlan Ellison Fellowship" or some such thing.

OK. I understand that this unfinished and unpublished writing is entirely your stuff to do with as you please. But you need to understand that you are, to many, many readers and writers and dreamers, an even bigger deal than what even you may have thought. Yeah, even if you keel over right now and all your unpublished stuff is burned as per your orders, you will still have a legacy that may last as long as people read stuff worth reading. But why not go a little bit further? Find some way to make a lasting gift of your unpublished work. You don't owe it to anyone, but do it anyway, if not for your successors who will be inspired by you, then for the cranks who will be pissed off that your name keeps showing up all the time long after you're gone.

Best wishes,
Christopher Fletcher, Editor M-Brane SF
(who read "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" when he was 11 years old and has never been the same since)

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