All around us, evidently. Thriller Guy and his alter ego, Allen Appel, recently wrote of the death of Harry Crews. (See below) Since then there have been so many, Carlos Fuentes, Chuck Brown, that guy from Swamp People who toppled over in his boat and died, and now Ray Bradbury. You could be forgiven if you thought that Bradbury was already dead, he was 91. But he was a seminal figure and meant much to those of my generation who dreamed of places and times and people who were beyond ourselves.
When I was a lad, I read and read and read. Raised in West Virginia, I was handed down books from my mother and older sister, inappropriate books, probably, but we all read to escape, even though life was neither brutish nor unkind. The Carnegie Library was a place of refuge, entertainment, comfort.
I can't remember how I came across Ray Bradbury. I remember paperback books. I read The Martian Chronicles and marveled at that book, but it was Dandelion Wine and Golden Apples of the Sun that changed me. It was not the books themselves. I was a freshman in high school, 1960, and I was in the band room (in my high school, band was the kick-ass sport, TG will write about that one of these days) and I saw someone was reading Golden Apples of the Sun. I asked about the book (As I remember it was a clarinet player, a guy who was a senior and considered really cool) who told me that, yes, he thought the stories were wonderful.
At that moment I realized that I was not alone, not some strange mutant hybrid from a family who read books, unlike those I saw around me. Books that were passed down from your mother, for God’s sake. It was that moment of connection that was so important to me. Maybe I wasn’t a freak? Well, I probably was, but there were others who read the same books that I did.
Here are some things the Ray Bradbury said. They’re not necessarily the nice things that others have put in their eulogies. TG isn’t nice. Here’s the real Ray Bradbury.
“If you’re not careful in tragedy, one extra rape, one extra incest, one extra murder and it’s hoo-haw time all of a sudden.
“But a novel has all kinds of pitfalls because it takes longer and you are around people, and if you’re not careful you will talk about it. The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense. It’s hard to stay erect for two hundred days. So, get the big truth first. If you get the big truth, the small truths will accumulate around it. Let them be magnetized to it, drawn to it, and then cling to it.
“You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.
From an interview…
Do you write outlines?
No, never. You can’t do that. It’s just like you can’t plot tomorrow or next year or ten years from now. When you plot books you take all the energy and vitality out. There’s no blood. You have to live it from day to day and let your characters do things.
Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.
Work is the only answer. I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!
Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.
Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.
When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.
So shut up, and drink your gin....