I did not come to science fiction as a fan first. I read some science fiction before I realized I was a writer, but once I received the revelation that writing was my destiny, science fiction as a form of literature and my own writing were inexorably linked.
In my early life, my maternal grandmother gifted me with a boxed set of Heinlein novels, and later a boxed set of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I enjoyed both immensely, but that was about it, with possible odd exceptions, until that fateful time at Santa Clara University when on a whim I took a class in science fiction literature. The text was an anthology edited by Robert Silverberg, and within was the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison. It was in the midst of the reading of that story that I realized I had to be a writer.
At that point science fiction and fantasy seemed a natural medium for me. I was into the psychedelic scene in the Bay Area, with Filmore West and the Grateful Dead and hallucinogens and other drugs, and science fiction fit right in.
Unfortunately, university didn’t, and after that one year I returned to Seattle to try something else. At the public library I discovered the Nebula Awards volumes and started to read a lot of science fiction. The so-called New Wave was erupting at the time, when writers were trying not only to write speculative fiction with crazy new ideas but with literary value as well. Finding out that Harlan Ellison was doing a reading at the University of Washington or thereabouts caused me to find out about the Clarion West Science Fiction Writing Workshop, and I signed up for the following year. I didn’t write much of value at the workshop or immediately afterwards; I wasn’t ready. But I formed friendships, met some top writers (including Harlan Ellison himself) and became more determined than ever to become a writer or die trying.
Due to a contact I made at Clarion I moved down to Los Angeles, found an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, and tried my hand at screenwriting. Nothing much came of it, although it might have had I been more persistent.
But by that time I had begun to drift away from science fiction. I had become fascinated by the works of Jack London, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller and the call of the open road. I decided that to become the writer I wanted to be, to really discover my own voice, I had to get out and live life, not just hide in an apartment and write about that which I had not really experienced firsthand. So I cut loose and hitchhiked across the country, my duffle bag slung over my shoulder, took a cheap flight to Europe, hitched around Europe for the summer, and then hitchhiked across the Middle East to India. This whole story is told elsewhere, primarily in my memoir “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search”.
Suffice it to say that on that trip I found my voice as a writer, but then I became involved in other things including the raising of a family and abandoned writing for a couple of decades. When I got back to it, in the mid-90s, I started turning out some short stories and then a novel, then memoirs, more stories, another novel, and most of the fiction used science fiction or fantasy elements as literary devices, which had always been my approach to science fiction from the beginning.
I spent thirty-five years away from the States in Asia and Europe, and even if I had wanted to I would have had no opportunity to attend a science fiction convention. Sometimes, as I perused photos of such events on the Internet, I wondered what they must be like. I wondered if I had missed a profound piece of my life. But then again, what could I have done? My destiny had led in a different direction. Howver, though the curiosity was definitely there I had no opportunity to scratch that particular itch until recently, when I moved back to the States with some of my sons and learned that San Diego’s yearly science fiction convention, ConDor, was upcoming in April. I decided to attend, primarily to see what I had been missing.
Next: The Convention Itself
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