Close Encounters with Ray Bradbury


Above: That’s Brad Hamlin with Ray Bradbury in the lower right corner, from the collection of Bradley Mason Hamlin . Collage by Bill Ectric.

In memory of the incomparable Ray Bradbury, here’s something I posted at Bill Ectric’s Place on August 9, 2008:

It so happens that three writers I greatly admire live in California. Two of them know me. They are Brad Hamlin and Jay “jota” Mejia. As far as I know, those two have never met  one another, but they have, on separate occaisions, met the third and most famous of the trio: Mr. Ray Bradbury.

Bradley Mason Hamlin says, “I was able to tell Ray at that convention how much his story I See You Never means to me. He said, ‘What? Really?’ I could tell it meant something to him. He wasn’t above feeling good about getting positive criticism for his lesser known work. He had never been told that before, about that particular story. A magical moment, for sure. I was able to give him something very small in exchange for the giant gift he has given me and countless others.”

Jay Mejia says, “I told Ray my intention was to someday give up reporting and turn full-time to writing. ‘You already are, just write for yourself.’ That made me laugh and I told him about all the editors and journalism professors and English teachers who had drilled and admonished me to think first of the audience. ‘Ho, ho!’ Uncle Ray hooted. ‘No, you are your own best audience. Write for yourself. Get up out of bed and get to it. Listen to the stories and the voices in your morning head and bring them to life.’ ”

You can read Jay’s entire article here on Literary Kicks.

And Brad Hamlin has given me permission to reprint his Facebook tribute to Mr. Bradbury in its entirity, here:

M is for Magic
by Bradley Mason Hamlin

Above: Brad Hamlin and Ray Bradbury, photo courtesy of Brad Hamlin

When I was a teenager in high school, feeling misplaced, stupid, and alone, I would go visit my friend in the library. Ironically, at the time, I didn’t know that this person I called friend was a huge library fan himself. Sure, I’m speaking of this friend metaphorically and using the term loosely since he didn’t know I existed. Yet, I took comfort in the fact that he was always there for me.

Teenagers mostly read at school, begrudgingly, what they have to read, what they’re forced to read, great old books like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I wasn’t ready for that foreign territory. I wanted to start at home on American soil, and I wanted someone who understood California to be my tour guide so I wouldn’t continue feeling lost. I started consuming Jack London and John Steinbeck, and would continue to do so, but as a kid I needed to go farther out. I needed weird adventure. I needed a rocket. I needed space.

So I would sneak off to the library. You don’t tell your friends you’re going to the library. That would sound weak, better to sneak off and explore on your own. You could take a ride on a Mississippi river raft with Huck Finn or swing a dead cat over a grave with Tom Sawyer. Travel 20,000 leagues under the sea with Captain Nemo or, if you felt really ambitious, hunt the white whale with Captain Ahab. However, my preference was to strap into a ship headed for the stars …

My two favorite short story collections at the time were Ray Bradbury’s: R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Some people think the simplicity of those on-the-nose titles sound silly, but I have to disagree. Bradbury has never been one of those heavy-handed or pretentious scientific genius guys. Sure, there’s room for those guys in the supernatural library too, but Ray has always written straight from the gut and therefore the heart. His work speaks to people, their wild desires, and most importantly their imaginations with all of the potential terrors and tribulations that go along within the mind’s eye.

Ray Bradbury often gets pigeon-holed as a “science fiction” or “fantasy” writer, unfortunately, only because of the limitations implied, when clearly Bradbury has no limits. However, no shame in the title of science fiction writer, good science fiction or fantasy is hard to write. Yet, if you read any of Bradbury’s short story volumes you will find that they exist as multi-genre explosions from a man that writes from no preconceived or limited viewpoint.

Now, aside from the fact that Ray Bradbury has a unique ability to take you for a fantastic ride, it must be noted how well that ride is constructed. Bradbury’s language flows with an internal poetry and passion, and most importantly, a clarity that is sometimes alarming. I have to stop and re-read a line and just say, “Damn, that’s good stuff.”

Well, I’ve often told people, if you really admire somebody famous – try not to meet them. Stay away from them, because when you do meet them, they’re assholes, and their art is forever tainted. I’m happy to say, Ray Bradbury breaks that cliché as well. I’ve seen him speak at various forums on a variety of subjects. Whether speaking at the “Clean Air” convention in Sacramento or to college students at UCLA or at Palm Springs and Santa Barbera where he gives advice to writers or his appearances at the San Diego Comic-Cons where he talks about his life in the fantasy arts and his love for science fiction and comic books – he has always come across as one of the nicest and most genuine people you’ll ever meet. I’ve met him several times during many of these adventures but was able to speak with him the most at Palm Springs. We argued a little about poetry and that was a good thing. He was real, a real person with real opinions and not just some guy who writes books.

I should also mention that out of all the times I’ve seen Ray Bradbury speak, the greatest and most impassioned and relevant speech he gave occurred at the Santa Barbera Writer’s Conference. Ray, sitting in a wheel chair, over 80 years old, cussing, sometimes screaming with a fervor at the writers – told us exactly how it is, told the truth, and shared the magic.

I was able to tell Ray at that convention how much his story “I See You Never” means to me. He said, “What? Really?” I could tell it meant something to him. He wasn’t above feeling good about getting positive criticism for his lesser known work. He told me no one had ever said that before about that particular story. A magical moment, for sure. I was able to give him something very small in exchange for the giant gift he has given me and countless others.

Well, Ray, you are deeply loved for sharing that magic. I wrote this while you were still alive and I’m sorry I didn’t send you this love letter. However, as long as there is an Earth and people on it, you will be remembered. You have more bastard offspring than you could ever have known. The libraries may be an endangered animal in 2012, but they’re not all dead yet. Somewhere, in some half-forgotten room, there is a kid taking down a volume, opening the pages, and learning how to travel throughout time and space. The rocket is waiting, the destinations unknown, mysterious, and limitless.

– Bradley Mason Hamlin

4 responses to “Close Encounters with Ray Bradbury”

  1. Howdy, Brad! Still chillin’ on the West Coast?

  2. Jota not kota

  3. Hey, Bill. This place is INsane!!! You can get lost in here forever. That’s a good thing. Best, j

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