I've never been a big science fiction fan, even though the genre has touched my life at many times.
But I've always loved Ray Bradbury, who sadly died at 91 this week.
I loved the way he was never ashamed to call writing a career and was always so focused on helping other writers understand the craft.
He wrote every day - at least 1000 words - even when he was traveling. He wrote in hotel rooms, in cafes and bars and during journeys on the train, plane or bus. (Oddly, he never learned how to drive.) His relationship with the world was defined and enhanced by his writing.
He was a writer in the truest sense of the word.
When I was kid I read The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451.
451 was of course actually a political book - a warning to us all that any society that condoned book burning had lost its soul.
I never questioned the moral to the story - and haven't since.
One of the most enduring images I took from the book was that of the hero, Guy Montag's, wife. She was obsessed with getting the fourth wall of her TV room - so that she could feel like she was living inside the soap operas she watched.
It's kind of amusing to me that everyone these days is similarly impressed by huge flat screens, 5.1 sound and 3D, as though we too are trying to live inside a virtual world - where books have been relegated to second place behind the visual medium, even though they're often the inspiration that precedes everything.
Another Bradbury image that has stuck with me was a short scene in The Martian Chronicleswhere a guy is wandering the empty planet, convinced the whole population has disappeared or died - and that he is the last person alive...
---when he hears a telephone ring somewhere.
To me that scene just about sums up the human condition.
We're all alone - but seeking a connection.
It doesn't get more profound that that!
I've read a lot of Ray's short stories. To me, he wasn't foremost a sci-fi writer. He often used fantasy as a platform, yes, but really as a means to explore the way the human mind works - how a memory can twist and turn within us, how a smell or an image or an idea can flip flop around in our subconscious for years, only to pop up inappropriately and help us make sense of who we are and why we do the things we do, why we think the way we do.
Many of his stories focused on the way our youth defines the people we become. About how childhood impressions, no matter how wrong or irrational, stay with us - and affect the way we see everything after, when we're older, wiser and less prone to flights of fancy. It was clear he thought that the limited perspective of childhood was a wonderful thing - and a great source of inspiration for his work.
I remember reading that he liked titles.
And that he had lists of titles he wanted to use for future stories. I wonder now if there were any left over at his death!
Probably - he was prolific after all. Twenty seven novels and over 600 short stories. To think, he was largely ignored when he started - by critics and the public.
New writers should take heart from this. Getting yourself into the writing hall of fame is truly about persistence and writing whether you're recognized or not.
But it's also about getting yourself out there.
Bradbury, like many of the greats, began writing and submitting early - at the age of twelve to be precise, when he wrote a novel - a sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs The Warlords of Mars. Written out of love for the craft of writing, no doubt.
By eighteen his short stories were being published in magazines, though he wasn't paid for a story, Pendulum, until he was twenty one. He went professional a year later - and never looked back.
Many of my students email me, asking for advice about writing.
If you really need to find out about writing from a bona fide source, you could do a lot worse than to study Ray Bradbury.
His stories will transport you. Their honesty can't fail to hit you hard. He's the fantasy equivalent of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, even Hemingway.
And Bradbury's advice for writers is second to none - it's all true and backed by the solidity of his enduring integrity and reputation.
The literary world is a poorer place now that he's gone.
But, just as he would have wanted, his mid western surrealism will live on to inspire generations to come, of that I'm very sure.
Long live Ray Bradbury - a truly great American writer.
The Easy Way to Write
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.”