When I was about fifteen, a group of my friends and I went up to Ray Bradbury’s office to interview him for a fanzine. This was the office in a big building at the corner of Wilshire and Beverly in Beverly Hills. Ray famously did not drive a car and he could often be seen walking to and from that office, often in tennis shorts, waving to people and chatting with them on the street. As I would later understand, he was well aware of the power of his celebrity and name, and had consciously decided to apply that power for the greater good. He knew the value of a word from Ray Bradbury and would dispense them generously and with a certain glee on those he encountered, be they longtime friend or passing stranger.
He made time to talk to a bunch of us teenagers that day and the interview went way longer than necessary. He kept saying things like, “Your youth…your enthusiasm…you remind me so much of myself at your age.” When he found out that I had set my life’s goal on the mantle of Professional Writer, he took a special interest in me, especially when I made clear that I could conceive of no alternate life and that I saw it as a life, not a job. Before we left, he quietly took me aside and invited me to come back without my friends. They were nice kids and all but they didn’t have my commitment to writing so he had “a couple of things” he wanted to say to me and me alone.
Me and me alone went back a week later and he must have spent three hours slathering me with advice. Absolutely none of it was about story content. He didn’t talk about plot or character motivation or plot structure. He talked about being a writer…about living like one, working like one, thinking like one. A lot of it was very pragmatic, about how to not fantasize the profession into something it was not. It was not, for example, a profession where visions pop into your genius brain and you just type them up, send them in and get hailed as brilliant. He had worked damn hard to become Ray Bradbury and every day, he worked damn harder to stay Ray Bradbury.
It was sad to hear we lost Ray Bradbury. It’s amazing how many people’s lives he touched, and you can see that by how many remembrances are being published about him. I’m pointing at Mark Evanier’s, because it really syncs up with how Bradbury impacted my life.
I grew up down in SoCal, and I met Bradbury once. (well, ‘met’). I was eight(ish), and Bradbury came and was the honored guest and speaker at the opening of my town’s new library. His speech touched on many of the same concepts Evanier puts forward. After I got to go up and meet the man and get him to autograph a book (A raggedy paperback of “October Country”). 2 or 3 minutes of face time max, but the impression he left has stayed with me to this day. How many speeches do you remember from when you were eight?
Bradbury is the first author I remember reading by name, and he was one of the first authors I sat down and read almost obsessively, and by the time he came and opened our new library, I’d pretty much finished off his entire canon, including the stuff not available in the children’s section (the librarians gave up on keeping me in the kiddie room fairly quickly). if there is a single author that helped form my idea of great fiction, if there’s a single author that influenced what kind of writer I wanted to be, it was Ray Bradbury.
My favorite works by him are probably not the ones you’d first think of; in short fiction, it’s “There will come soft rain”, and for his longer work, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Some of his works were things that a 6-8 year old really couldn’t grok, but coming back to them when I was older brought out nuances and themes someone that young really couldn’t pick up.
So today is a bit of a sad day, but it’s really heartening to see so many people honoring his memory, and I wanted to quickly drop in my own memories and honor him as well. If you’ve ever read any of my fiction and liked it, Ray Bradbury is part of the reason it happened and didn’t suck.