High Strangeness: The Bradbury Chronicles

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Bradbury Chronicles

This is one of my most prized possessions...

This week I was reminded of how precious this note is to me when I learned of the death of its author, Ray Bradbury. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury, one of the world's most acclaimed science fiction and fantasy authors, when I was a student at the University of Southern California in 1980, and it was a huge HUGE thrill. He gave me my first real encouragement as a writer, and I am forever grateful to him for that.

Among Bradbury's long list of celebrated works are "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451," "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and the short story that I'm pretty sure every American kid who ever took a high school English class has read, "The Veldt." You know, the one with the futuristic holographic playroom where the two young kids have created a virtual African veldt and a pride of virtual lions that not so virtually devour their parents? Ah yes... every kid's wish-fulfillment fantasy...

Anyway, when I was at USC, I discovered a legitimate for-credit course on "The History of Entertainment," and signed up immediately. The fact that this course existed was amazing to me, and the fact that I got in and earned college credit for it still amuses me to this day... The course met every Wednesday night at The Variety Club in downtown Los Angeles, and every week the instructor brought in some little-known but truly fantastic show-biz veteran to regale us with stories of their careers. Most were so obscure that I don't remember them, but I do remember a few standouts, like actress Margaret Hamilton, most famous for playing the Wicked Witch in the movie of "The Wizard of Oz," and comedian Dick Wilson, best known as Mr. Whipple, the toilet paper-obsessed grocery store owner from the Charmin toilet paper TV commercials.

Then there was Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite authors and, it turns out, quite the raconteur. I knew that class that week would be amazing, but I wanted to make it even more amazing. So, aspiring conniving writer that I was, I banged out a short science fiction story and resolved to get Ray Bradbury to read it, no matter what. As expected, he gave a fantastic, inspiring talk about his writing and his career and answered unending questions from all of us admiring students. He was wonderful. And afterwards I approached him, story in hand, and asked if he would be willing to read it.

He sighed. He did not want to say yes, but he was too nice to say no. So he found a way out. "Sure," he said, "but you'll have to give me a self-addressed envelope, so I can send it back to you."

Touche!

He thought he had me, and, in truth, he almost did. But I had just gotten something in the mail that day in a big brown mailer, and without giving it any thought I had stuffed the story into that envelope to bring to class. By some twist of fate that I still struggle to understand, whoever had sent that parcel to me in the mail had sealed the envelope with the brass clip, but hadn't licked the adhesive, so the envelope was still perfectly, beautifully, deliciously useable. So, without skipping a beat, I flipped over the envelope to show him the address label and said, "Here you go!"

He gave a little laugh, and told me he'd be glad to read it. I really think he got a kick out of it.

A few days later, I found out that Mr. Bradbury was giving a lecture on campus, and although I missed the lecture I did show up outside the lecture hall just as Bradbury was being mobbed by admiring fans. I don't know what possessed me, but I pushed my way through the crowd and got right in front of Ray and said, "Hi, Mister Bradbury, have you had a chance to read my story yet?"

The crowd gasped. From where I stood I could see that most of them clutched stories in their hands that they were going to ask Ray to read. Again I got the little laugh from Ray, and he said he hadn't read my story yet but he would. Sure enough, a few days later I got the note that you see above in the mail, in that same envelope. And I did submit my story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. And it got rejected. But it didn't matter. Ray Bradbury had thought it was good enough to submit to a magazine, and that was all that mattered to me.

Thank you, Ray!

1 comment:

Nemo said...

I thought of you when I heard. I had never heard this story in full though.