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The Author Who Wrote in Bookstore Windows

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The 102-year-old pregnant corpse.

Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, gave him the premise. It was a challenge, a dare, and he was responsible for the rest. One by one, the pages went up in the window. They were immaculately typed, spaced, and edited in his head long before his fingers hit the keys.

He started at 1 p.m., craning the necks of passerby outside the shop. They wondered about the man sitting in the window, hunched over a typewriter. It was like a piece of glass that allowed you to see the gears and pistons of a machine.

When the Dangerous Visions bookstore in Sherman Oaks, Calif., closed that day, Harlan Ellison had completed “Objects of Desire in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear," a short story that, yes, included a pregnant corpse and added three suspects.

By this time in 1998, Ellison had already been writing for 40-plus years, collected virtually every award a writer of speculative fiction could receive, and bolstered the reputation of the original Star Trek series by writing the seminal episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” He had marched in Selma, sued James Cameron for appropriating his ideas in The Terminator, and mouthed off to a posturing Frank Sinatra.

He was also prolific, and that meant buying less into the idea of writing as a mystical art. To help discourage that notion, Ellison began public compositions in bookstore windows in the 1970s, inspired by French author Georges Simenon, who was rumored to have written an entire novel while sitting in a glass cage. (He didn’t, but Ellison didn’t know that until years later.)

“I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere,” he told NBC after one such performance in 1981. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much illiteracy in this country. So by doing it in public, I show people it’s a job … like being a plumber or an electrician.”

Amid distractions, gaping pedestrians, and breaks to entertain autograph seekers, Ellison churned out stories in bookstore windows overlooking Washington, London, Boston, and New York. Good ones, too. The five days he spent in the window of A Change of Hobbit in Santa Monica in 1977 resulted in work that garnered three awards.

Sometimes he would play music. In one of his foreign appearances, tourists kept asking him where they could find certain titles, believing he worked there. On one of his days in the Hobbit, he conveyor-belted 26 very short stories, which Stephen King later compared to a beat poem. If he needed to research a subject, he'd simply get up and browse the aisles. When people grew suspicious he was plotting out the stories in advance, he began soliciting starting points.

Carter's was one. Four years later, at the Booksmith in San Francisco, Robin Williams gave him the springboard “Computer Vampyre.” Ellison, who disliked working with computers, grunted but wrote a story, “Keyboard,” anyway.

By rejecting the notion of writers as introverts, Ellison raised some charitable funds, brought attention to independent booksellers, and intensified his own reputation as an author who never once considered the act of writing as a mechanical exercise. The author is now 81 and still writes, though no longer while on display.  

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Recruits George R.R. Martin to Work on His New Video Game
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George R.R. Martin has been keeping busy with the latest installment of his Song of Ice and Fire series, but that doesn’t mean he has no time for side projects. As The Daily Beast reports, the fantasy author is taking a departure from novel-writing to work on a video game helmed by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

DeGrasse Tyson’s game, titled Space Odyssey, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. He envisions an interactive, desktop experience that will allow players to create and explore their own planets while learning about physics at the same time. To do this correctly, he and his team are working with some of the brightest minds in science like Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu. The list of collaborators also includes a few unexpected names—like Martin, the man who gave us Game of Thrones.

Though Martin has more experience writing about dragons in Westeros than robots in outer space, deGrasse Tyson believes his world-building skills will be essential to the project. “For me [with] Game of Thrones ... I like that they’re creating a world that needs to be self-consistent,” deGrasse Tyson told The Daily Beast. “Create any world you want, just make it self-consistent, and base it on something accessible. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s quote: ‘First get your facts straight. Then distort them at your leisure.’”

Other giants from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, including Neil Gaiman and Len Wein (co-creator of Marvel's Wolverine character), have signed on to help with that same part of the process. The campaign for Space Odyssey has until Saturday, July 29 to reach its $314,159 funding goal—of which it has already raised more than $278,000. If the video game gets completed, you can expect it to be the nerdiest Neil deGrasse Tyson project since his audiobook with LeVar Burton.

[h/t The Daily Beast]

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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