Sunday, March 17, 2019

Larry DiTillio: 1948-2019

Larry DiTillio was a prolific writer of television shows, books, and RPGs. He was responsible for some of the most memorable parts of the He-Man mythos, like the dragon Granamyr and the Lovecraftian Shokoti, not to mention being a co-creator of She-Ra. He was one of the showrunners for Babylon 5 early on, and Beast Wars throughout its groundbreaking run. 

In 1999, he had an AOL e-mail address. 

So did I. I was a sophomore in high school, and I'd been assigned to interview someone for my speech class. Being the giant cartoon dork that I am, and at the time still very heavily enmeshed in my He-Man fandom phase (I showed that same speech teacher some of my fanfic because of course I did), I reached out to Mr. DiTillio, who graciously agreed to answer my dumb, dorky questions. 

I sent him my questions. In my memory, I'm pretty sure there were some back-and-forths over e-mail, and I sent follow-up questions, but AOL lost everything from that time, so I have no way of going back to check. What I do remember is that the deadline was approaching, and I didn't have what I needed to put my speech together. I was pretty nervous about public speaking to begin with (my previous speech, an informational presentation on '80s music, had umm-ed and ahh-ed its way to being four times longer in reality than it was when I practiced), so I was naturally pretty bummed out about it. My parents convinced me to interview my aunt as a backup.

I don't know what happened behind the scenes. I think my dad e-mailed him, though I don't know what he said. I also think Mr. DiTillio was recovering from an illness at the time. I'm not sure how I pieced that together; I think Mr. DiTillio made a comment that my Dad really cared about me, or something along those lines, somewhere in the exchange. Regardless, he answered my questions in time for me to put together the speech, which I kicked off with a little video montage of TV theme show openings from He-Man and Beast Wars and Captain Power that I put together with a couple of VCRs. 

It was the first time I ever interacted with a professional writer. It meant a great deal to me then, as an aspiring writer, even if I couldn't accept his advice against fanfic at the time. 

I'm finding that it still means a great deal to me, as a still-aspiring writer. I can't remember ever being this emotional while writing a post on this blog throughout its long, punctuated history. 

Ever since then, I've always felt a little thrill when I saw "Larry DiTillio" pop up in the credits of a show I'm watching. Part of it came from that brief interaction, and part from my confidence that I was in for a treat. The man was a hell of a writer no matter what he was writing for. 

You can read my interview with him here, though years of site redesigns have proliferated some errors into the text. But to close, I asked him what advice he'd give to aspiring writers, to me: 
Simple. You need 4 things to be a writer - TALENT, DESIRE, PERSISTENCE and LUCK. With those 4 things you can go wherever you want.
BUT, there is something else. Don't look to trends or fads or "what is selling now" to tell you what to write about. Your heart and your head are what informs your work.
You must write the movie/TV show/book/cartoon/play etc., that YOU want to see and your characters must come out of your own experience and sensibility. That is all any aspiring writer brings to the table- human experience and reflection on same. Stories are always about human hearts in conflict, so look for what makes you and those around you human.
And good luck.
I always hoped I'd get a chance to meet him, to have him sign a toy or a video or a copy of his book Shotguns vs. Cthulhu which I think I'm finally going to get around to reading. I always hoped I'd get a chance to thank him for taking the time to make a fifteen-year-old nerd feel special. I didn't, and I guess I won't get to. 

But thanks all the same, Mr. DiTillio. 


Adam said...

that was a really good interview- thanks for sharing the link. i think i needed to hear those comments about fanfic in particular.

egoist said...
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