aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

The Kindness of Strangers

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 and never got better – 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, he puffed on a cigarette and we talked. I told him about how I 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."

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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Tags: sheckley
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