January 25th, 2009

Robert Sheckley comes through for me - again


[Full disclosure: image above is not a clickable link - go to his website to view the video.]

A few years back, I somehow ended up co-teaching a writing class with Robert Sheckley. He was famous for his science fiction, but he had also written a few mysteries. This guy was revered. He had travelled all over the world - and in fact he fell ill in the Ukraine a few years back and never recovered – but at the time he was living in Portland, because his fifth wife (from whom he later separated) lived here. He was a wizened man who looked like he smoked a lot, and did. He sat in on my half of the class - when he probably could have done it far better than I - and I sat in on his.

At the break, we went outside where he puffed on a cigarette and we talked. I told him about how I had brainstormed for books by looking through this copy of Plots Unlimited, a kind of hokey book connected with a computer program (I never used the computer program). I didn't actually use anything in the book verbatim, but sometimes a sentence fragment would spark a plot twist or a character. He used something similar called IdeaFisher. I asked if he could send me more information about it, and instead he printed out and mailed me more than 50 pages, which was so kind and generous. I'm starting a new book and am going through the pages. It's split into sections, like "Relationships" or "Home or dwelling." And in each section, it has a list of words, like "apartment, barracks, basement, bungalow," … and all the way through "tree house." "Vehicles" runs from "airplane" to "yacht." There's a list of motivations, too. Sometimes just seeing a phrase like "befriending someone in trouble" can open up a whole plot possiblity.

The cigarette smell is finally gone from the pages, but their usefulness to me will live on and on.

I understand that Robert Sheckley had vowed he would write fiction until he slumped dead over the typewriter. Indeed, he was still writing the last day he was conscious.



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