Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
I am (Still) NOT Harlan Ellison

Robert B. Marks | 9 Dec 2015 18:00
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I want to be absolutely clear on this: I am still not Harlan Ellison.

For those who have only read this column on The Escapist, this statement requires a bit of explanation. Back in 2001, the eighth installment of Garwulf's Corner was titled "I am NOT Harlan Ellison," and was an exploration of people's work being compared to things that they really shouldn't, like The Wheel of Time series being compared to The Lord of the Rings. The argument I made was that any given creative work, or creator, should be judged and considered in their own context and merit, rather than by the most famous example of what they're doing in general.

Back when I was preparing the original run of Garwulf's Corner for publication in book form, I had to go through the text looking for typographical errors - as a result, I ended up rereading the entire run of the column. Many entries had stood the test of time, but there were a number that hadn't, including "I am NOT Harlan Ellison."

The thing that was common throughout the installments that had not aged well was that in each one I had taken on an affectation, or persona. In the case of "I am NOT Harlan Ellison," I had even issued a joking threat, something that early-mid twenties me had thought was edgy and cool, and late thirties me is still doing a facepalm over. That line was, in fact, the only thing I was tempted to remove when the collection was published (in the end, I didn't - nobody should rewrite their own history, and that includes me).

Today, I see the affectation as a waste of time. The words you read right now are from me, not a character or persona I have created. But, there are a number of people who in their non-fiction writings or presentations, or interactions in forums and the like, take on a new persona that can be diametrically opposed to who they are. Jim Sterling, for example, has his "Thank God for me," a persona that doesn't ever move past the framing of his videos, and clearly doesn't represent who he is as a person.

It's all about identity, and this can be a complex thing. If you go back and read the original Garwulf's Corner, even the installments that don't have an affectation or persona read like a different person than the columns today, for the simple reason that I am not the same person I was 15 years ago. For that matter, nobody is. We are all changed by the basic act of living our lives.

But sometimes, it's not about who we are, but who we want to be, or want to be seen as. Identity is something that anybody who works from their home has experience trying to project. I've had at least a couple of friends figure that because I work out of a home office, it means that I don't work - and I'm not the only one to experience this (in fact, it is the bane of almost anybody who does professional work from home). We all have the identity by which we want to be defined, and being defined as something else can be anywhere from irritating to intolerable.

But, that can also be self-inflicted. Back a few years ago, I found out that Demonsbane - the e-book that had launched my book career along with the original Garwulf's Corner - had been pirated. When I wrote about my feelings on the matter in my Livejournal (http://garwulf.livejournal.com/65661.html), there was a backlash in which somebody replied in a very trollish way. When I called him out for it (http://garwulf.livejournal.com/66057.html), he stated that the abrasive troll was really more of an online persona than the real him. But, I pointed out, that was the only way he had presented himself to the world - how was anybody supposed to see him in another light?

(To the credit of the pirate himself, after reading my post and my reply in the comments to him, he removed Demonsbane from the Pirate Bay.)

It's a complex matter, and it should be. Personally, while Dennis L. McKiernan was the author who inspired me to pick up my pen all those years ago, it was the work of Harlan Ellison that taught me how to use it. But, I have no ambitions to be Harlan Ellison - let Harlan Ellison be Harlan Ellison...I'd rather just be Robert B. Marks.

Author's Note: My latest addition to The Eternity Quartet, "Foolish Ideas Involving a Volcano," is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, Garwulf's Corner, and the co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora. His current fiction project is The Eternity Quartet, with Ed Greenwood. He is on Facebook. He can be reached by email at garwulf at escapistmag.com.

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