What’s Love Got to Do with It?
How a Conversation with Ray Bradbury
Changed My Life
by David Boyne
Love. Fall in love
and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write.
The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write
something you love, something to live for."
Somewhere in my once-in-this-lifetime conversation with Ray
Bradbury, he told me the same story I had read in his book,
Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity.
was the story of when he was a 9-year-old boy way back in October of
1929, and after weeks of tormenting from his peers he succumbed to
their contempt and pressure. He did what they wanted: he tore up his
collection of comic books. Destroying those comic books, Bradbury
said, nearly destroyed him. For a month he wandered in a dark daze,
sick at heart, and knowing, "I am as good as dead."
9-year old boy then chose to do would set the pattern for what has
proven to be a long, rich, rewarding and rollicking life. He
quietly, firmly, implacably, rebelled. To Society, with its crushing
criticisms and persecutions of those who choose not to conform, Ray
Bradbury flipped the metaphorical finger. And he joyfully returned
to collecting his beloved comic books.
In his 80s when I spoke
with him, he told me that the boy who fell in love with comic books
had gone on to fall in love with whatever and whomever he damn well
pleased, and that he had never again even considered asking for
anyone’s permission or approval.
My Conversation with Ray Bradbury
The first evening I
telephoned to interview Ray Bradbury, his daughter, Alexandra,
She told me, “Dad is out
And I wondered, when Ray
Bradbury “is out somewhere,” where might that be?
After all, Alexandra's dad
is a guy who has imagined human colonies on Mars. He has warned us
of a frighteningly real future in which firemen burn books and
mechanical hounds hunt down men by tracking their DNA. He has shown
us a possible future in which our children are so abandoned to and
absorbed in a four-walled television reality show that they think
the scene they are watching of lions devouring their parents is not
real. He has also given us hilarious waking dreams in which Laurel
and Hardy come back to life to move a grand piano down a staircase
in the wee hours of the morning with satisfyingly slapstick
“Should I email my
questions to him?” I asked Alexandra.
“Dad doesn't do email,”
she said. “That's why I'm here in Los Angeles. I come here once a
month from my home in Arizona to do the computer things because Dad
won't use computers.”
“You mean Ray Bradbury—one
of the most influential science fiction writers of all time—doesn’t
Alexandra laughed. “I like
to tease him about it.”
“Is Ray Bradbury a
“I guess you could say
that. I like to call him Mr. Sci-Fi.”
Alexandra, a woman in
middle age, had used a perfect valley-girl accent to stretch out the
sardonic nickname for her father, “Mis-ter Sci-Fiiii.”
“Or maybe,” I wondered,
“Ray Bradbury is just so far ahead of us that he's gone right by
computers. Maybe we've got to catch up to him?”
The second evening I
called, Ray Bradbury answered. He said, “Just start asking your
questions. We'll see where it all goes.”
Then he gave me a warning.
“If you start to get whiplash, put down the phone!”
To start, I've got to ask you, how is it that one of the most
influential and respected of all science fiction writers doesn't use
computers, or email, or the technology that—
Computers are nerve-wracking! They make mistakes. I don't make
mistakes. I've been typing for 70 years. I have 7 typewriters. But
computers are too nervous. If you're not careful, if you just
breathe on them, the goddamn things make mistakes that I have to
correct. I don’t want to spend my time correcting a machine.
You've written how when you were a kid you wanted to be a
magician, then a carnival performer, and then at an early age you
settled on being a writer. What do you want to be now?
Oh, God Almighty! I just want to go on being me! I'm on very good
terms with myself. I've had a wonderful life, a terrific life. I've
done all the things that I've wanted to do. When I was just out of
high school I couldn't do anything. I couldn't write a decent poem,
I couldn't write a short story, I couldn't write a play, I couldn't
write an essay, I couldn't write a screenplay. So one by one, over
the years, by staying in love, I became a poet, I became a short
story writer, I became a novelist, I became a screenwriter—but it
was all love, you see? So I'm on very good terms with myself. I
behaved. I didn't treat myself poorly. I didn't care about money. I
didn't worry about alcohol, or drugs, or anything like that. I lived
a straight life, a good life, and all I want to do now is continue
doing what I've done.
An essential element of your science fiction is often imagining
the future and—
Well, no. Not really. I don't predict futures. That's not my
business. I've been more interested in preventing the future. A book
like Fahrenheit 451 doesn't predict the future; it tries to
prevent it, by indirectly instructing us about human beings, and
what they need.
Tell me something about how you work. In your book,
Zen in the Art of Writing, you talk about amassing a huge
list of keywords or phrases drawn from your life, your experiences,
and then turning those starter words into whatever story came out of
you. Do you still work from that list?
Yes, indirectly. What you do is this: you make up a title and write
it down and look at the title and say, “Why did I do that?” Because
you've got some secret information inside your head. All of us have
many levels of information that we don't think we have, because we
haven’t tested them. So you have to teach yourself how to throw up!
By putting down a list of word
associations or titles, you induce the subconscious to reveal
something you didn't know you had. That's the reason for writing
short stories: to discover what you know. Because there's a lot that
you don't know, unless you practice every day to teach yourself to
be impulsive, to be passionate. Then all of a sudden you write a
story and say, “Oh my God. I didn't know I had that in me!”
Poetry is the same way.
It's very mysterious. I don't know where poetry comes from. It's
very, very strange. All of a sudden you write a poem that’s
complete, it's eight or 20 lines. It's all fresh, and all new, and
sometimes it's brilliant but it's always a surprise. Poetry is very
mysterious to me. You have to tickle your imagination, your
subconscious, and hope that it gives you a gift.
What are you working on?
A new book of short stories about dogs, to be published in
late-December, called The Dog in the Red Bandana. I'm putting
together another book of stories about my father, and I've written
poetry about him, about his experiences on the golf course. He was a
great golfer. And I'm finishing work on a book of essays called
Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon for the Cave, Too Far for the Stars,
which will be out in late summer. I'm revising an old screenplay.
And I'm writing 13 radio shows that will be directed by Norman
Corwin, who is one of the greatest director-producers in radio in
the history of our country. I fell in love with his work when I was
19. And it's wonderful that I'm now 84 and he's 94—and I'm working
with my hero!
I don't think anyone would call you a slacker.
No, it's just too much fun. I wrote two articles this week and a
short story. It just happened that way.
What are you reading these days?
Just reading what I love. I've been going back and rereading some of
the books of Joan Didion, the Californian writer. Her book of
essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, is brilliant. You ought
to read it.
I'm going back through the
short stories of Somerset Maugham. He's been a big influence on my
life. I'm rereading the plays of George Bernard Shaw. I'm rereading
the novels of [Thomas Love] Peacock, because he was a fantastic
novelist. I'm reading a lot of stuff that's been around for 100
years or more. I tell people that if they haven't read Thomas Love
Peacock, they've missed one of the best writers of the last 200
What makes you angry?
It makes me angry when people stop thinking. When they become part
of a true believing society. I hate political people. I don't like
knee-jerk Democrats or knee-jerk Republicans. I hate people who
think politically, which means they don't think at all. If you
belong to a political party, you stop thinking. I don't believe in
playing politics. Just live your life and see what happens. But you
can't take your advice from Communists or Fascists or Democrats or
Republicans or Catholics or Baptists or anyone who is a true
believer. Go your own way.
DB: Where would
you go if you could travel in time?
I'd like to go to ancient Egypt. I'm fascinated by the pharaohs and
the history of the creation of the Valley of the Kings and of the
pyramids. That whole period of art history. Egyptian art is
But on the other hand, the
Italian Renaissance is very attractive to me. To be in Florence, to
be in Rome, during that period, it was terribly political, it was
terribly dangerous, but it was terribly beautiful at the same time.
How has being a parent influenced you, your life, and your work?
It's made me happy! That's the important thing. I have four
daughters. And I recommend to people: if you're going to have
children, have four daughters if you can. A lot of people don't
realize how great children can be. When you're young you don't think
about it. When I first got married I didn't think about having
children. And all of a sudden, there they are! It has been a frolic.
It has been terrific. I've been a very active parent, taking them to
libraries, to movies. I educated them to Japanese movies, for
chrissakes! Every Saturday we'd see films by Kurosawa and other
great Japanese directors, which maybe is a very strange thing to do
with four daughters, but it was fun! I taught them the old films,
and the old children's books. We went to bookstores every week in
our lives. Every Saturday we'd visit at least 3 bookstores in
Westwood and we knew all the booksellers. It's been a grand
adventure for me.
How do you see yourself? Are you a writer? An artist? A random
collection of stardust?
I'm a teacher. But I didn't know I was. I was down at the Los
Angeles City Council two years ago and they gave me a scroll and
they applauded me and I got to make a speech—but the most important
thing happened on the way out. As I was leaving, a middle-aged man
from the audience grabbed me by the elbow and said straight to my
face, “Thank you for changing my life!” And I realized in
that moment that I was a teacher.
I've been lecturing for 50
years. I love lecturing. I'm a hambone actor. I fell in love with
acting on the stage when in high school and I've never gotten over
it. But I'm a lousy actor in plays because I can't remember the damn
words. But the great thing about lecturing is you just get up and
explode! You have a ball and people, they go away happy, and you're
I'm not a science fiction
writer. I'm not a fantasy writer. I'm a teacher. I didn't know
that. But what do I teach? Being alive and loving being alive. If
you can pass that on to people, if you can inspire them to live a
great life and to have wonderful fun, then you're a good guy. You're
a really good guy.
What is your most essential advice for writers and artists and
other creative misfits?
Fall in love and stay in love! Do what you want to do. If you don't
know who you are yet, you're too young, then go to the library and
prowl around the stacks and find writers who influence you, and you
read everything by them and you learn from them. Like Somerset
Maugham; I fell in love with his stuff when I was in high school. I
fell in love with the short stories of John Steinbeck, and he taught
me a lot about writing short stories. Then I began to fall in love
with playwrights, and poets. Someone like William Butler Yeats—if
you read him every day of your life for ten years or so, you're
going to learn something about poetry, aren't you?
All your loves are waiting
to be discovered. So any young writer who comes to me for advice, I
tell them, “For chrissakes! Find a love and follow it! And never
deviate from it. Be in love all of your life and you'll have a great
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