Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Something Wicked This Ray Comes...

When Ray Bradbury passed away last week, the internet poured out its collective heart and soul into beautiful posts about the impact the author had on so many lives. His influence on writers, readers, television watchers, moviegoers, and theater audiences was tremendous.

I loved his "The Illustrated Man," a collection of short stories including the insanely-good "The Veldt" and of course, the amazing "The Illustrated Man." His novels "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Dandelion Wine" always spoke to me on a child-like level.  Although our upbringings were so very different, I still felt like I could relate to his Iowa-cornfields-on-a-late-summer-night sentiments.

When I think of Bradbury's work, I feel it in my bones.  I feel the longing for something beyond us, the playfulness of never-ending childhood, the wonder of the universe.  But although he believed in the ultimate good of humanity, he never forgot how razor-thin the line was between good and evil.  In his short stories and novels, his villains might have been vanquished - or not.  They might have been us.  In many instances, such as "Fahrenheit 451" we were our own worst enemy.

I can't overstate his influence on how I write or read. The very first novel I began writing (which remains unfinished) had its beginnings in his work.  I have re-read more of his stories than I have of any other author.  When I need a strong shot of good stuff to inspire me or comfort me, I'll pick up "The Martian Chronicles."

Not long after I moved to LA, I was fortunate to meet Bradbury for the first time at a bookstore signing - for someone else's book!  It was a collection of his covers, put together by Jerry Wiest, who was there for the signing.  Bradbury came too.  He did speak but kept his part short; he was gracious about leaving the floor to Wiest since it was his show, not Bradbury's. 

I soon learned that Bradbury was - despite his age and increasing inability to get around well without assistance - incredibly generous with his time. He appeared at the same tiny book fair I did when my first novel was published.  He spoke - lovingly, passionately - about writing, about doing what you love with little regard for fame or fortune or public acceptance.  He was the embodiment of that belief.  He wrote what he wanted when he wanted.  He did TV and movies and he wrote shorts and novels - and refused to be classified as a science fiction author.  He was a fantastist, a writer of fantasy.  That he loved space and wondered about our place in the universe was secondary.

The final time I met him was at another book fair, this time in West Hollywood.  Lines, lines, lines - everyone wanted to see Ray. I didn't get as much time with him as I did at the previous smaller fair because so many people were waiting but I did tell him what a major influence he was on my books.  I told him I was at the fair because of him, because what I'd written had been published. He smiled and told me he was glad he could help me fulfill my dream "in some small way." Small?  Hardly.  A dream? Definitely.  A dream inspired by him and his writing.

Read Bradbury if you haven't already.  Find a story, a novel, a play, a movie, an episode of The Twilight Zone.  I dare you not to be inspired.