It’s almost impossible for me to wrap my brain around the death of Ray Bradbury. He seemed immortal, the way all legends do. Yes, he was 91 and lived a full and no doubt satisfying life, but it’s not him I mourn so much as us. A world without Ray Bradbury seems almost too horrible, too barren to imagine.
Bradbury’s 1955 collection The October Country changed my life in much the same way Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story did. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre fiction as something beyond its worst and most prevalent tropes. Though I read The October Country in the mid- to late-1980s, I still remember stories like “The Lake,” “The Emissary,” and “The Crowd” so vividly it’s as if I only just read them yesterday. Later, I read Long After Midnight, another collection of horror stories whose centerpiece “The October Game” still haunts me, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451, and somewhere in there Ray Bradbury became my favorite author. Though I’m old and wise enough now (or maybe just old) to no longer label anyone my favorite author (why bother when I know it’ll just change tomorrow anyway?), Bradbury never dropped from the top of the list. He was one of a kind. Inimitable. Hell, I even watched his stupid TV anthology program Ray Bradbury Theater back in the ’80s, when anthology shows like Tales from the Darkside and Amazing Stories and revamps of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone were all the rage, because it was Ray Bradbury, damn it, and who cared if the acting was awful, the direction third rate, and the budget nonexistent?
His how-to manual Zen in the Art of Writing is, I believe, indispensable advice for all writers. Trust yourself, he said. Don’t edit or censor yourself while you’re drafting. Just get it all on the page and whittle it down to something comprehensible from there. I still struggle with that lesson, as I’m sure so many other writers do, fretting over word choice and how best to describe someone moving from point A to point B while I stare at the mercilessly blinking cursor. But I never let myself get full-on writer’s block because Bradbury’s advice always comes back to me, and I push through. He didn’t just make me want to be a better writer. He helps me write. Every day.
Ray Bradbury was a beacon to many writers, not just me, and he will be deeply missed. Luckily, we still have with us all the magic his words conjured, now and forever.