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Monday, January 4, 2016

Saluting Ray Bradbury

I am currently working on my MFA and have just started a class on Ray Bradbury short stories. This is a joy for me because I am a loooong time fan of Ray Bradbury. He was one of the first writers I read when I started reading Science Fiction. In fact, he was the author responsible for getting me kicked out of my local library many years ago
when I was a child.

Our local librarian took herself a little too seriously and sent me home with a letter to my parents because I tried to check out a copy of “The Martian Chronicles” which was shelved in the Adult section and which she considered “inappropriate reading material for an eight-year-old girl”.

Her actions prompted an immediate in-person reaction from both my father and my aunt who marched down to the library with me, and the letter in question, in tow and engaged in a heated discussion with the afore mentioned librarian. This resulted in the cancelation of my “Children’s Library Permit” (yes, that was what they called it in those days) and the issue of my first “Adult Library Privileges” card and opened the gates to a world of adventure, education, and pleasure, far beyond the Dick and Jane” books from the children’s section and the forty-year-old textbooks used in the local elementary school.

Years later, when that library was closed, I bought that very copy of “The Martian Chronicles” for $.50 and it still occupies a place of honor in my son’s bookcase. It was one of the first Science Fiction books he read, although it was not that particular copy. He read a British inaugural edition that I somehow picked up in my travels and that I still have.  

In any case, one of the readings we were assigned was an interview of Mr Bradbury that appeared in issue 192 of the Paris Review in 2010. We were to then write a 400 word response to the interview or to the short story “The Veldt”. I had not read this interview before and was very interested in several portions of it. My first Bradbury “read” was “The Martian Chronicles” which I, at the time, was very proud of because the other pieces of Science Fiction I had read had all been short stories and this, “The Martian Chronicled” was a full length novel. I can be excused for my ignorance, I think, because I was only eight at the time. It was not until several years later that I found out that “The Martian Chronicles” actually started out as a collection of short stories later retrofitted together with a connecting theme.

This response is the interview that Ray Bradbury gave to the Paris Review in 2010. I had not read this interview before and found several portions of it enlightening.

I think I was most surprised by Bradbury’s statement that he doesn’t feel that one should read works in their own field. This is in direct contradiction to the opinions of many current writers who advise that you should read everything you can find in the field you hope to produce in. Even more interesting was his statement that he doesn’t (didn’t–he died in 2012) like to read younger writers because he might become depressed if they were working on the same idea as himself. Ray Bradbury was such and icon and so revered as a “Master” it seems ludicrous that he would be bothered by such a trivial and commonplace occurrence. One expects he would just shrug his shoulders, say “oh, well” and shift gears to continue on. It is sobering, yet somehow reassuring, that someone so renown and so prolific suffers the same maladies as the rest of us.

But the portion of the interview that I found the most enlightening for me personally was his answer to the question of whether writing the novel or writing short stories presented differing problems to him. His response was a revelation and highlighted of one of the difficulties with my chosen form, the novel. I have never considered myself a short story writer. My excuse is that a short story doesn’t provide enough space to fully expand my idea. But that additional space has proven to be an obstacle for me. Bradbury, an avowed short story writer, made the point succinctly; “The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense.” I get excited about a character, an idea, a situation, and I start out strong. But, sadly, I am fickle. It has proven to be very difficult to sustain the excitement, the love, over the longer period of time necessary to produce a novel or even a novella. In writing long form, I frequently find I have taken myself “out of the action” or out of my protagonist’s head and spend much of the time “finding my way home”. I’m sure that immediacy is, at least, part of the answer, finding a way to keep myself in the story from day to day. I am going to experiment with treating a couple of chapters as a short story to see if that will help me retain the intensity.

I don’t however, agree with Bradbury’s opinion of the Kindle. Yes, I like the tactile feel of books, the smell, the covers. I somehow, in my travels, came up with British first edition of “The Martian Chronicles” which is beautiful and which I wouldn’t trade for anything. But I remember going on camping trips when I was younger with an extra suitcase to hold my reading material… And much later, when my eyesight began to go, struggling to make out the words in paperbacks. My Kindle Touch has 975 books on it and fits in my purse. And I can change the type size!! What did I do before my Kindle?? Of course, there is still a place for good old fashioned books, I agree. I have five bookcases full of them.

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