Monday, June 11, 2012


Pardon my gonzo here. The memories keep popping – exploding. I'm struggling to keep up. This is going to be more of a Picasso portrait than an academic landscape.

Hell yeah, he was an influence on me. When I found his work in science fiction anthologies in the library, they stood out from the pack and stuck in my memory. It was in one of his stories where I saw the term “son of a bitch” in print for the first time. I identified with The Martian Chronicles – when we moved from East L.A. to West Covina, our house was on a tract that was surrounded by empty, ploughed fields – it could have been Mars.

Then they showed us this film at Willowood Junior High, Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer. That office with walls full of books seemed like paradise (my house looks like that now – there are even lots of masks). That was the first time I got the idea that I wanted to be a writer, that I could be a writer – a dangerous thing to happen in an adolescent brain.

He seemed to be everywhere: Television, magazines, books . . . and he seemed to be on top of it all.

Then I found out that one of the weird science fiction magazines I was reading was published a block and a half away from my house. I knew the editor's son from school. My neighborhood had its own sci-fi publisher – anything was possible!

William L. Crawford – and his wife Peggy – published and sold books as well as magazines, and soon got into putting on science fiction conventions. Another world to explore. And Ray Bradbury was there.

Bill and Peggy knew just about every science fiction writer I could name. They were friends with Ray Bradbury, and others. At their conventions, I not only got to hear him speak, but sometimes had dinner at the same table with him and the likes of A. E. Van Vogt, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, George Clayton Johnson . . . my teenage mind was blown.

Living in California in the early Seventies, Ray Bradbury seemed to be speaking everywhere. Through both fandom and school I attended many of his lectures. They were always electrifying experiences – he had incredible energy that could get great, crowded halls of people excited. He was like his own fabled Mr. Electrico. I always left feeling that I could go out and do anything.

At the first Mount San Antonio College Writer's Day, he and Harlan Ellison arrived late – there was almost a riot.

Though known as a science fiction writer, he never let that limit him. He wasn't intimidated by Hollywood, New York, fine art, or “literature.” He could put down presidents before it became a national pastime. He was always trying something new, working in new venues.

And he was always a guy who liked comics and monsters.

Once he told me that he had just gotten a rejection slip. Afterwards, I went up and asked to see it.

It's just like the ones they send me,” I said.

He autographed it and gave it to me.

It helped get me through my years of rejection. When I met Emily, I gave it to her. Later she passed it on to another writer friend.

In college, I heard professors talk about him as if he wasn't a “real” writer – that he was a kind of sideshow they would dangle in front of the vulgarians, hoping to pull a gypsy-switch and introduce us to “literature.” I wonder if they ever realized that it was they who were the sideshow.

I am still writing, and facing the future, under the influence of Ray Bradbury.

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