Ray Bradbury and Me

I have two chapters in this book about Ray Bradbury. The book is part of Salem Press’s Critical Insights series.

Toward the end of last year I was invited to write a biography and a critical context entry about Ray Bradbury for inclusion in Salem Press’s Critical Insights: Ray Bradbury. The book has been published and I received my author’s copy last week, just in time for the holidays. It’s a lot of work to research and write these kind of articles, but it’s always a pleasure to see them in print and to see what kind of other articles there are in the book.

Last summer my husband and I attended the Maine Astronomy Retreat for the first time. One day we left camp and drove to Belfast, Maine, and spent the afternoon strolling around. I saw a paperback copy of The Martian Chronicles in the window of an independent bookstore, and I was drawn to it, but in the end I didn’t buy it. About a month after vacation I received an email about this book project and all I could think was “Why didn’t I buy that book when I was on vacation?”

Odd things like that seem to happen to me fairly often. I suppose I could claim to have had an intuition about the book, but I think I was drawn to it because I’ve been thinking about rereading some of the books I read as a teenager, and The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 were both on that reread list. I read both while working on the articles, and in fact I devoured them each in a day or two, staying up way too late because I just could not put the books down. I don’t remember that fascination the first time I read the books, and in fact I found The Martian Chronicles a bit hard because I’m more of a novel reader and less of a short-story reader. I always wanted to stay with Bradbury’s characters longer than he did!

My essays are a short biography, “Ray Douglas Bradbury,” and a longer piece, “Big Brother, Little Sister: Ray Bradbury, Social Pressure, and the Challenges to Free Speech.” You can work out from the title what it’s about, so I won’t go into details here. But, I would recommend reading Bradbury’s work, especially if you’ve only seen the movies. His word choices, the characters, the pacing of the stories — those are part and parcel of the atmosphere he brought to the worlds he created. You won’t go wrong spending an evening, or a few days, immersed in his work.




Thursday Writing Prompt No. 111

Interior of trolley at the Baltimore Trolley Museum.

Interior of trolley at the Baltimore Trolley Museum.

Welcome to this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt. I resisted the impulse to post a snow picture because I think more than a few of us are sick of the cold weather. But what would happen if we were permanently stuck with this weather? Suppose you lived on a planet where this is the way it is all the time. Winter isn’t just coming; it’s here. And it’s here to stay.

Write a short description of a planet where this weather pattern is the norm. Assuming the inhabitants have similar needs to us as far as their needs for air, water, food, and warmth, what adaptations would they have made to deal with their planet’s climate? Do they have something like cars, or do they use sleds? Flying machines? Are they that advanced?

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 107

Stonehenge "postcard" that I created from one of my photographs.

Stonehenge “postcard” that I created from one of my photographs.

Welcome to 2015 and this year’s first Thursday Writing Prompt! In honor of New Year’s Day I thought I’d give you a prompt that involved a new location and a new year, although not necessarily “new” in the sense of a linear timeline.

Imagine that you fell asleep after your New Year’s Eve revelries (or in front of the TV) and when you woke up the world around you was literally different. Instead of resting comfortably in bed or on the sofa, you awake to find yourself wrapped in a linen blanket and nestled in a pile of straw. And yes, there’s probably a flea or louse or some other unwelcome beast sharing the straw with you.

You jump up, noticing that the walls surrounding you are earthen walls. You panic and run outside. Your hut is just one of many small rough-built structures clustered along the edge of what appears to be a building site in an open field. Your mouth drops open when you see the massive stone sentinels — it’s Stonehenge — only it hasn’t been completely built yet.

Okay, now this is where you pick up the thread of the story. Who are you and why are you at Stonehenge? How did you get transported back in time? And just what is Stonehenge?

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 42

The space shuttle Enterprise, on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Finally, it’s time for me to present Thursday Writing Prompt No. 42, which is the answer to life, the universe, and everything! If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. So for this week’s prompt, I’m going to offer you a science-fiction scenario to write about.

As a genre, science fiction offers you a wide open field to write about. Wikipedia describes it as being an “imaginary … but more or less plausible” form of fiction. This contrasts with fantasy, in which almost anything goes, with the exception that your world must remain internal consistency.

Science fiction has had various fads during the past century, all of which more or less mirror the things that are important to society at the time. We have the alien invasions, such as H. G. Wells’s 1898 War of the Worlds that was serialized for radio by Orson Welles in 1938 — on the eve of World War II. While these aliens came from Mars and were bent on destroying Earthlings, those same Earthlings had just gotten through World War I and were about to enter another horrendous period of history.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were plenty of films that dealt with radioactivity and its effects on man and animals. Giant insects roamed the deserts and cities, crushing cars and ruining picnics. The 1970s saw movies such as Soylent Green, which treated the subject of overpopulation. Today, we have movies and books about global warming, habitat destruction, and all sorts of apocalyptic happenings.

So, here’s your Thursday Writing Prompt: pick a subject from the news that’s a hot topic, and write a synopsis for a science fiction story that deals with the topic. Your job is to explore the idea and possible storyline, not to actually write it — yet. Save that for another day. Think about why the topic is important and ask all kinds of “what if” questions. The important thing for you to do is to really drill down for specifics, and not take a topic at face value. For instance, global warming (a hot topic if there ever was one) is widely touted as being potentially disastrous. But the Earth’s climate has been hotter before — and what was it like for creatures then? You might actually have to read some science to tackle this, but so much the better. Just don’t get hung up on the fact and lose sight of the potential story, which should be about people and how they deal with and adapt to a changing environment. Remember, the environment and technology change all the time, and we cope.

Your job as a storyteller is to show the reader how your characters will react and adapt to their environment and deal with each other in the process. Don’t get too political and start preaching from a soapbox, although how people deal with things does involve politics. But handle it carefully: a storyteller should show, not tell — and when any kind of politics is involved, you need to show, not yell.

Have fun with this one, and try to find a science topic that you’re not familiar with because that will make it easier for you to ask questions. We tend to make assumptions about things we think we know and that leads to sloppy writing. Two sites you might want to review are ScienceNews and Phys.Org.