From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet

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From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet, a work by Harlan Ellison, is a collection of 26 extremely short stories on abstract and basically unrelated topics, displaying various aspects of Ellison’s well known preoccupations with morality, mythology, the trivia of history, and humor.

The last of ten story titles Ellison had kept on his desk for years, "The Chocolate Alphabet" was used (and expanded to its present title) when Ellison wrote the story in the window of a Los Angeles science fiction bookshop, A Change of Hobbit. The story appeared in the October 1976 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where its genesis is explained in some detail in the Ellison’s afterword.

The story was sparked by a painting by Larry Todd entitled "2 Nemotropin," which Ellison saw in 1974 and around which he promised to write an 8-page comic story to appear in an edition of Last Gasp Eco-Funnies, published by "San Francisco, California underground comix magnate Ron Turner" and illustrated by Todd. Flash-forward to February 1976. Ellison began a week-long stint literally in the front window of A Change of Hobbit, writing a complete story each day for six days as a fund-raiser. (This was the first in a long series of such stunts for other bookstores and in other locations, although Ellison had written short stories to order earlier, notably "O Ye of Little Faith" at the 1965 Westercon in Long Beach, California, to three words — "serape", "polyp", and "minotaur" — provided at an auction by the winning bidder, Larry Niven, whose last name is that of the story’s protagonist.) On Monday, February 23, Ellison wrote the 3000-word story, "Strange Wine," subsequently reprinted (along with other stories written the same week) in his 1978 collection of the same name. On Tuesday, realizing that he could not write an 8-page story for the comic based on Todd’s painting, he resolved to write 26 short-short stories, some as brief as one sentence, as a pastiche of Fredric Brown, the master of such brief stories. "From A to Z, in The Chocolate Alphabet" was begun that day and, after writing into the wee hours, was finished on Wednesday, February 25, at around 1:30 p.m.

The comic book version, Harlan Ellison's Chocolate Alphabet, with cover and art by Larry Todd, appeared in 1978.

Ellison wrote a sort of sequel to this entitled, "From A to Z, in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet," on November 10, 1990 at the bookstore Dangerous Visions in Sherman Oaks, CA, beginning it in the window and then inside the store with his manual typewriter and completing it after health issues, which interrupted the writing, were addressed. Although a few people had seen it—photocopies were given to those who purchased over $50 worth of books while the story was being written—the story sat, unpublished, for nearly ten years, because Ellison, highly prolific at the time, had forgotten about marketing it (and even forgot to include it in his latest collection, Slippage). After it was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2001, it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. And because the 26 short-short stories in this novelette deal with gods and demons, it was subsequently collected in the expanded version of Deathbird Stories, published in 2011 by Subterranean Press.