Yesterday was the birthday of renouned American author, Ray Bradbury. Three more years and we can celebrate his 100th birthday. But even in 2017, Bradbury’s birthday is special to me because his stories provided the kick-in-the-pants I needed to take my writing seriously.
Before entering high school, my family and I made a trip to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble was having a sale on its classics (when is it not?) and I picked out two with ease. But when searching for a third (buy two get one), I was at a loss.
“How about this one?” my mom asked, holding up the book I found least attractive. It was red with planets orbiting on it. Ew, Sci-fi.
“It’s good!” she persisted. “When I was teaching English, I would read aloud a short story from this book every Friday!”
Oh great, I was thinking. Science fiction and short stories.
Poor little me. I was so fixated on reading thick Austen or Bronte novels in an effort to seem impressive that I felt I was above fanciful scribblings about space.
The irony…now I cannot help writing such scribblings myself.
Not wanting to argue any longer and urged on my my brother, who was worried we would miss our movie, I surrendered. I purchased my selections and let the Ray Bradbury collection thud like a rocket into the bag, forcing its way between the indignant British classics.
That night, after the movie, I lay awake. Perhaps the movie had not satisfied my desire for a good story. Perhaps I had just eaten too many candies during it. For whatever reason, though, I found myself flipping open the red tome.
“Let’s see if you live up to your reviews,” I might have whispered into its crisp pages, which fell open with all the grace and crunch of snowflakes.
Minutes later, I was buried in an avalanche of words that fell so beautifully from Bradbury’s mind to pen to page that I could not dig my way back out had Jane Austen herself called for me.
Hours later, I was several stories in and near tears with that delight that only true bookworms know- the inexplicable thrill of having found writing that transcends mere ink and paper, writing that is instead made of the same substance as dreams.
I devoured The Illustrated Man and made dessert of The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was with great self-control that I rationed out The Martian Chronicles for a later year when I was in need of escape.
And, as this diet of “words, words, words” digested, it fueled ideas.
And soon, these ideas begged for a form. Or did they beget a form? (Alas, Plato…your philosophy is not wanted just now.)
As my ideas grew on those of Bradbury, I sought advice on how to bring them from the abstract brainstorm into croncrete being.
“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
Bradbury’s words came to me (possibly via Pinterest) and away I flew.
I definitely did not write 52 stories.
I definitely did not write more than a couple semi-decent ones.
But I was writing and that was enough.
(Not that I hadn’t been writing before. My memory boxes are stuffed full of the “newspapers” written in crayon and “manuscripts” typed on the family computer with my mom as my editor.)
But now something clicked within me and I could not seem to stop writing. This blog testifies to that; not every post gets likes, some poems are feeble in hindsight, and only a few stories turn out to be keepers. But just like Bradbury’s short stories, it is impossible to have a year’s worth of bad posts, right?
Don’t answer that. 😉
Back to Bradbury. He inspired me to write (especially speculative fiction) and continues to make me fall more and more in love with literature every time I read his writing.
For instance, just a few days ago I finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and then watched the 1956 movie for which Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It was quite possibly the most flawless book-to-screen transition yet. Bradbury perfectly portrayed the central themes of MD in under two hours. (Whereas the book took…well, a long time, to read.)
He also wrote Leviathan 99, which is dedicated to Melville and is essentially Moby Dick in space. This stunning novella portrays the same themes of MD in a completely different setting, yet does so with such mastery that I believe Melville would be proud. (Also, pro-tip: if you don’t have time to read MB, just read Leviathan 99.)
Reading Leviathan 99, I was filled with the same joy and wonder that I felt when first reading “The Veldt,” the first story in The Illustrated Man. Reader, do your mind a favor and listen when your English teacher mother encourages you to purchase a Ray Bradbury collection.
Although Ray Bradbury is sadly no longer with us in body, we are still able to celebrate his legacy on his birthday. He has left his readers deeper in love with literature and filled with awe at the power of writing.
He has, also, left us a little bit lost on Mars.