Paper Kingdom Writer's Hall of Fame

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

Just as I can't remember not knowing how to read, I can't remember a time that I didn't know Ray Bradbury. He's been a part of my life since the beginning. I watched The Martian Chronicles miniseries on TV when I was very young and was fascinated by beings who took the shape of whomever the observer wanted to see. When a preacher meets a Martian, he sees him as Jesus Christ. Later when I read the book, it took a couple of confused days to unpack the memory of that show. The book, of course, was better.

His stories would show up in almost every anthology I checked out from the library. I finally learned to seek out his name. He was the first writer I fell in love with, the first writer I wanted to emulate. There's a lightness in his writing, a feeling of pure, innocent fun. The words skitter across the page like a lizard darting from shadow to shadow, pausing for the flick of an eye to capture the heat of the sun, then once again gone. His stories possess me, and I want so much to be that good. I want him to be proud of me.

I wrote a series of short poems in which I ask my heroes if they would be my father. Bradbury is the only one who agrees. I've always felt he somehow made me what I am now. And that he taught me how to write.

Ray says he writes everyday, and I believe him. Everyday he drops out of bed riotous with dreams and tames them onto paper. I toyed with a few different verbs in that last sentence, thinking I might say he "wrestles them onto paper," or "captures," or "pummels." But he never writes with aggression, even when his characters are killers. His hand is light, and the dreams that charge him at night lie peacefully down and purr at his touch. He makes the wondrous circus show of his writing seem easy. In an essay on writing, he told me I should write a thousand words everyday. So many daily deadlines have passed. I'm sorry, Ray. I let you down.

In my seventh grade English class, two full shelves of bookcase held copies of Fahrenheit 451. I would sneak one down and read it when I should have been conjugating verbs or diagramming sentences. When it came time for the class to read the book, I was already done. So I read it again. Remember the seashells, the wall-sized televisions, the personalized entertainment casting its voodoo on the population, charming them into zombie consumerists? Ray was right. Our imaginations are being bleached. But we won't need firemen to burn our books, because everyone will simply forget how to operate them.

In Ray, I found a kindred spirit just as in love with the library as I was. Another explorer attracted to the shadows of October, the smell of burning leaves in autumn. Ray wrote the only story to ever actually scare me. It was "Trapdoor." There's something sliding, thumping, dragging in the attic. A woman opens the trapdoor, climbs the ladder, pokes her head into the unknown space. I dropped the book, shaking too badly to hold it. I tried many times to do what he did. Take something everyday and make it scary. I used glass bottles and overgrown lawns and piles of junk to kill characters. But I never realized till much later that it wasn't merely the simplicity of the objects that made his stories work. It was the poetry. Look at some of the titles from The October Country. "The Jar." "The Lake." "The Emissary." "The Crowd." "The Scythe." "The Wind." Told in Ray's perfectly chosen, well paced words, almost anything mundane could become terrifying. If my own writing sometimes dips into the poetic, it's because of Ray. Though I know I'll never match the master.

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I Wish Ray Were My Real Dad

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