It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.
I apologize if this sounds overly dark, but the last of my childhood writing heroes is gone.
One by one, as I get older and older, they slip away. I remember when I heard of Kurt Vonnegut’s passing. I was backing up my car from the driveway… and it was a normal day, nothing special about it. It all felt so very bland. And all they had to say on Morning Edition was “So it goes” and I knew what they were about to say. I parked my car in front of my house and hung my head. It was about ten minutes before I restarted my car and the rest of my day felt slow.
Growing up though Ray Bradbury always felt like more than just an author. He felt like a mentor, a friend; and with his vast library of work, He always felt “available” to me—if that is the right word to use—because there was always something new to discover.
Ray Bradbury came from a different generation of authors than me, and to be honest, I’ve always felt a little jealous of that. He wrote in a time when a writer could actually make a living doing nothing but write short stories. Today that is far from the case.
Most of my early works were short stories and short story collections because of him. I wrote my first collection of short stories when I was 17 (Into The Twilight… No, there were no vampires in it) and even got an agent for it at that young age. I look at my short stories now and Ray’s influence seems to scream at me from every page. I really wanted to be him, to have that much creativity.
With his passing, everyone is going to be praising his science fiction (which is good, don’t get me wrong) but for me, upon hearing of his passing, I thought only of Dandelion Wine. I’ve read that book of his more than any other of his work. Yes, he could transport me to Mars, but in Dandelion Wine I could feel “childhood” again. Not just his childhood, my own. He tapped into that experience of being young, free, with the whole world in front of you (with excitement, joys, and terrors), wonderfully perfect. The only book I can compare it to is To Kill A Mockingbird.
The funny thing is sometimes when you find Dandelion Wine in bookstores it is in the scifi section with a cover that makes you think you are getting something of that genre. How many readers bought that book thinking they were getting something else? Whatever the case, it is a classic trapped and sometimes lost in the shadows of the mountain of his science fiction work. That saddens me.
I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought. Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired. I mustn’t forget, I’m alive, I know I’m alive, I mustn’t forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that.
When I was a freshmen in college, one of my professors gave me his address. To this day, I don’t think that professor realized the power of that gift. It was done so casually. He said to me, I should write to Ray Bradbury because he would like my writing and then handed me this piece of paper with the blessed address there. The only thing I can compare it to is being a christian and someone saying “Oh, here is a piece of the cross. Would you like it?”
I agonized over my letter to Bradbury for a week. I tore up drafts as quickly as I wrote them. What do I focus on? What do I say? Do I talk about myself? Do I just talk about his influence on me? And, more importantly, what did I want from the communication? This was not to be a “pen pal” letter like Charlie Brown writes in Peanuts; this was a letter to Ray Bradbury for freaking sake!
I finally nailed what I wanted to say to him. It came to me in a math class of all places, but I never cared for math so my mind was naturally elsewhere. I began by talking about how important he has been to me, how he inspired me to write myself. I then talked about my experiences, linking them to his own biography. Finally, I asked for some advice. I then promised myself I would not stress over this anymore, and quickly printed and mailed it that same day.
I began hyperventilating about it an hour after the letter was sent.
A few weeks later, I received a package in the mail from Mr. Bradbury. It was a letter and a signed book. The letter was typed by him; it came from his typewriter! It was covered with spelling mistakes which to me felt awesome and real. And the book… He signed it. “Scott- Onward! Charge!”
I can’t begin to tell you how often over the years I have reopened that book to see those words staring back at me. It means something to me. With his passing, it seems to mean something even more, but what exactly I can’t say.
A few months after getting the package and writing back to thank him, I received a second letter and this time a postcard signed by his cat Tigger if you can believe it.
I did not continue the correspondence at that time, because frankly, I didn’t know what more to say, if anything. I was a struggling author (still am), and he couldn’t help that (It’s the life of writing in an overly-congested market place.) Yet, in my heart I know he had opened the door for me to reply. He seemed interested in me. And even when I moved out to LA, I never considered tracking him down. I didn’t want to be that kind of a fan… Okay, a part of me did, but it would have been wrong.
Yet, I did write to him one more time years and years later.
My radio series, The Dante Experience, was about to be released by Mind’s Ear Audio Productions and I wondered if he would give me a review or a quote on the series. I sent him a copy and a letter… What I received in response was very different from earlier. Where my initial responses were definitely from him, this sounded more dictated to me, and it was so much “cleaner.” He had had a stroke, and really was not reviewing or giving quotes anymore. People like Mr. Bradbury were not supposed to get this old, this broken. It was sad for me. Something felt lost.
When I think of Bradbury’s library, I always immediately think of his work in the 50’s and 60’s. The amount of creativity he had then is and will always be awe inspiring to me. And he just kept creating and creating, never slowing.
His work in the 70’s through the end never seemed to have the impact of those years to me. He even once released a sequel to Dandelion Wine, which I found so incredibly depressing and unnecessary. Yet, he could not stop writing, even with his best days beyond him he still kept working. The flood could never be stopped, and he didn’t want it to.
Ray Bradbury was the pure genius, the pure creative energy. I respect him and idolize him for all his work, good and bad. He had a wonderful gift; and all of us on this planet continue to fall like Tom, but now we are just a little lonelier in the descent….
The courthouse clock struck nine and it was getting late and it was really night on this small street in a small town in a big state on a large continent on a planet earth hurtling down the pit of space toward nowhere or somewhere and Tom feeling every mile of the long drop.