I was sad to hear of the passing of Ray Bradbury, a giant in my life. He was 91, so he lived a good long life, and he gave us amazing writing like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451. But I will always remember him for his collections of short stories, The Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles, R is for Rocket, S is for Space, Medicine for Melancholy, and others. They fueled my imagination–as I’m sure they did many people. But I can truthfully say that Ray Bradbury–with his lyrical writing, his vivid description and interesting stories–shaped me as a writer. I heard he was one of those bridge writers–the ones that transcended genre. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he took me places, expanded my imagination, urged me to tell stories.
We met once.
I was in Lubbock, working, I think, on my last year at a degree at Wayland Baptist University. It was 1992. Ray was speaking at a Young Author’s conference, but also as a public speaker. I was there to meet my hero. I brought a copy of Martian Chronicles with me, and the picture of him in the paper.
He talked about his time working for the Smithsonian, designing famous garages of inventors; his work on the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston. He didn’t talk much about making science fiction… but I was rapt nonetheless. This man had produced so much. His imagination was so vivid.
Afterwards, there was of course a line up to get signatures. Ray sat behind a small table, and I worked my way up to him. While I was still a couple of people away, a woman came out of nowhere and jumped the line–with a stack of ten books, all open to the front page. These she plunked down in front of Ray, saying “These won’t take you but a minute.” Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him sideways so her daughter could snap a picture. I think Ray was a bit miffed–a whole line of people trailed out in front of him.
After quickly signing all her books, while she babbled, he turned back to the line with a huge amount of graciousness for our patience. When I got up there, I put my newspaper and book in front of him, and said, “You’re the reason I started writing.”
He looked up. “Are you sending stuff out?”
“Well, I’m trying to…I mean…” I stammered. I wasn’t a very confident writer in 1992, with no sales to my name, but thirty bad stories completed and sitting around somewhere.
“You have to send them out. Send one out a week. That’s what I did. I wrote one story a week–started on Sunday and mailed it on Saturday. I did this for years. That way I had 52 stories in the mail and some of them had to sell!”
He laughed. He shook my hand. I assured him I would do that. I didn’t keep that promise. I went on to college, studied writing, but never writing one story a week–until I got to Clarion Writing Workshop and had to write one story a week–(I got five out of six weeks!)
That day back in 1992 I felt blessed by Ray Bradbury. My hero took time with me, gave me advice. Perhaps he was fueled by the woman who had taken the time he wanted to give us–maybe he felt an extra special need to be encouraging to me. I don’t know, but I’ll never forget it.
Bless you, Ray Bradbury. Bless you for blessing me that day. And bless you for all the wonderful stories and novels and essays you left us. And how you crafted magic out of an ordinary day.