A Conversation with Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet. He was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. In 1938 he graduated from high school in Los Angeles, California. High School was the extent of his formal education.


His writing has changed the way people think and once read; his words are hard to forget. Considered among the greatest writers of the 20th Century, he has been called the Godfather of Science Fiction. He has greatly influenced America and the world, and has proven to have a timeless appeal to young and old alike.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bradbury several months ago and found him to be quick witted, eloquent and generous. The following is a transcript of our conversation.

Tell me about your latest book.
It's a book of 22 new short stories called the CAT'S PAJAMAS. Some of the stories were written forty-five years ago. It's a good way to examine the way I wrote forty or fifty years ago years ago and the way I write today and make a comparison. There are all kinds of stories; fantasies, science fiction pieces, realistic things, and a little bit of everything.

How do you think your writing has changed?
I don't think it's changed at all. I'm intrigued by all kinds of ideas, all kinds of metaphors. If the metaphor is strong and attractive I do a story. I find that without realizing it I am a writer of metaphors. If you look at the stories I've published twenty or thirty books are all built around a strong metaphor. I didn't realize that when I started out. A couple of years ago I took a long look at my writing and I said, "My God!" the reason my stories are popular with people is they are easy to tell. They're built around the metaphor so it's easy for you to describe.

That's quite an insight.
Yes, it is. I'm very lucky. Yeah.


Where do you come up with your ideas?
(Laughing) God! They're everywhere!  The things people say, the things that I think. The main thing is, the early morning, I have what I call the theatre of the morning. When I'm waking up I'm not fully awake yet, I'm almost asleep. All these metaphors are running around inside my head and they collide with each other. When there's a collision I jump up and run to the typewriter and write the story

What has influenced you most in your writing?
Oh God! Everything! Just everything; theatre, books by Edward Rice Burrows, books by George Bernard Shaw, motion pictures. I have seen about every film ever made including all the bad ones. So, my stories, most of them can be photographed. The entrance of cinema on my stories is pretty obvious. My stories are made up of shots. They are written like scripts in many ways. So, when you read a paragraph of mine you can tell if it's a close up or a long shot. My novels are automatic screenplays.


Who is your favorite author?
Well George Bernard Shaw is. But, when I was ten, eleven, and twelve years old the influence was of Edward Rice Burrows and Tarzan. There have been a lot of influences, H.G. Wells at one time, and Jules Vern. There are many, many influences. The writers of short stories. I find I prefer to read short stories of authors. I think their best work is the short story. I prefer the short stories of Hemingway to his novels I find the short stories of John Steinbeck are the equal of his novels.


Do you find you like to write short stories better yourself?
My record is 500 published short stories that's a hell of a lot isn't it? So, it's pretty obvious.

What is the favorite work you've written?
All of them, they're all my children. I have four daughters, four granddaughters and four grandsons and I treat them all equally.


If you hadn't been an author what would you have been?
I would have been a preacher. I love to lecture and people love to hear me talk so I would have been a good minister. I would have been a fine actor I believe. I get a lot of fun out of my lecturing which is a form of acting. So, I perform very well there. I could have been a librarian or a bookseller or a publisher because I love books.


What do you think has been your greatest achievement?
(Laughter) Being Alive! Loving life and expressing my stories, all of my stories are an expression of my delight and wonder at having the gift of life.

How do you feel your work has changed America?
I think the best way to describe that is two years ago, the mayor of L.A. declared a day as Bradbury day and for people to read my book FARENHEIT 451. I appeared before the city council and the mayor gave me a citation and he made a speech and the city council praised me, which was very nice. I got to speak for a moment and there was a crowd there and they applauded that was very nice. But on the way out a middle-aged man grabbed my arm and cried "You changed my life" and in that moment, I realized, what I really was. I wasn't a writer of fantasy, I wasn't a writer of science fiction but I was a teacher. So, my proudest accomplishment is knowing that I've changed people's lives here and there. I've given them a direction. I've helped them to become themselves, to not work for money but to work to achieve their finer selves. To discover themselves and if you can do that you're teachers.   

If you could invite anyone to diner past present or future who would you invite?
George Bernard Shaw


You've been called the Godfather of Science Fiction, what attracted you to that genre?
Oh its metaphorical, I didn't know that at the time. It's full of the history of ideas. The history of mankind becoming what they finally became on their long journey from the cave to the air and moving on to the moon and Mars in the near future. Its very exciting and it's full of vivid images. Writing for science fiction or fantasy is very imaginative and passionate. So, I was attracted by the fact that if I willed myself to go to Mars I could go there and I went there and I've never really come back.


Tell me about the Ray Bradbury Pandemonium Theatre Company.
I started acting on the stage when I was twelve in junior high school and then in high school. When I got out of high school I worked with a little Theatre group in the Mormon Church. The more I worked the more I was in love with acting and eventually writing for the theatre. I began to write one act plays when I was home from Ireland and I discovered the damn things worked and I joined a little theatre group in the Desilu Studios, the old RKO Studios when I was forty-two. They put on my one act plays, we all worked free, and we were all amateurs. There I found a wonderful man named Charles Rome Smith and he directed some of my plays. We formed a group then, saved our money and I rented the Coronet Theatre, forty years ago. And began to put my plays on just to see if the damn things worked and of course they did. We got incredible reviews. The first year we put on six of my one act plays and got nothing but good reviews, so we were off and running. And during the last forty years we've put on something like thirty or forty plays and never made a dime. All the money I put in disappeared and we never broke even. But that wasn't the purpose. The purpose in being in theatre is loving theatre. Loving to work with the actors and to see the results. My work in theatre is probably one of my greatest loves.


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