By Jim Nintzel
RAY BRADBURY BEGAN his long career as a master of imaginative fiction as a 12-year-old boy right here in Tucson. "My parents gave me a primitive, $6 typewriter for Christmas in 1932 and I began to write short stories about landing on the moon and going off to Mars," Bradbury recalls. "I worked alone, I believed in what I did and I didn't listen to anyone who doubted me."
The result has been nearly unparalleled success in the field of fantasy writing. Along with such classics as Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury has penned somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 short stories, 100 television scripts and dozens of plays, radio programs and screenplays. He's taken his readers across space, through time and into those eerie parallel dimensions next door.
Bradbury returns to Tucson on Saturday, January 14, as the guest speaker for the Society of Southwestern Authors annual Writer's Workshop.
"I'm going to see if I can give some advice to people and tell them to be in love with what they do," he says. "Otherwise, don't do it. That's the important thing. Love is the center of everything."
Bradbury's love affair with the fantastic and supernatural began in the early 1920s, when he was only two or three years old. His mother, fascinated by the newfangled motion picture shows, often took young Ray into those mysterious dark theatres, where he watched silent movies flicker on the screen in wide-eyed wonder. He was five years old when he saw dinosaurs clash in The Lost World and 13 when he was spellbound by King Kong.
"Over the years I put away the history of motion pictures and a great love of poetry and mythology," he says. "And I collected comic strips, starting with 'Buck Rogers' when I was nine, 'Flash Gordon,' 'Prince Valiant'....
"All that stuff that's collected up in my head--poetry and mythology and comic strips and science fiction magazines--comes out in my stories. So you get to a certain age and you're like a pomegranate, you just burst. And the ideas spill out."
Few writers have found such a steady spring. Bradbury's stories are full of rockets, time machines, robots and dinosaurs, but they're first and foremost about the human heart. Bradbury tempers even his nightmarish tales with the notion that compassion and a sense of wonder redeem humanity from its darker side--an optimistic view he still holds.
"The great thing is our counter-revolution that occurred in the polls a few weeks ago," he says. "I think it's great. All the Democrats are out and the Republicans are going to have a chance in a couple of years. It doesn't make a difference what party you belong to--it's a chance for a fresh start. It's very exciting. I'm very happy about the American people right now."
But his optimism is not without some anxiety. He's concerned about the growing problem of illiteracy in the country.
"The main problem is with our education, of course," he says. "First-grade teachers for many years now have not been teaching reading and we have to encourage them to pull up their socks and begin to pay attention so that the whole school system doesn't go to hell. People are getting into high school who can't read. It's stupid, isn't it? It's crazy."
At his home in Los Angeles, Bradbury is still hard at work. He's just finished two new books of essays, yet another book of short stories and a screenplay for a remake of Fahrenheit 451, likely starring Mel Gibson. In February he's starting work at Walt Disney Studios on another project.
Has he ever entertained the notion of slowing down?
"Hell no," Bradbury says. "Don't slow down, don't look back."
But a moment later he does take a moment to reminisce, reflecting fondly on an early success during that year he lived here in the early '30s.
"I loved radio and went and hung around the local station there in Tucson and told my friends I was getting a job as a radio announcer," he says, recalling how he'd get out of class at Amphi Junior High and race over the station, getting underfoot until he landed a gig on the air reading comic strips to kids on Saturday night.
"It was a perfect occupation for someone like myself, who had been collecting them since I was nine years old," he says. "And my pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum and The Mummy. You can't do any better than that. I've never had better income in my life since."
The Society of Southwestern Authors Writer's Conference will feature 16 workshops on the mechanics of writing and getting published. The conference is from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 14, in the Student Union at the University of Arizona. Cost is $60, $35 for students. For more information call 296-5996.
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