Farewell Summer: An Interview with Ray Bradbury

by Michael McCarty

Ray Bradbury is a legend in speculative fiction, with good reason—his books have withstood the test of time, and are just as popular now as when first written. The science fiction, fantasy and horror genres have all embraced his works, claiming him as their own. The 86-year old author has written over 35 books, including such classics as The Martian ChroniclesThe Illustrated ManSomething Wicked This Way ComesThe October Country, and Fahrenheit 451. He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.” In 2000, Bradbury was honored by the National Book Foundation with a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Among his recent books are the novels From the Dust Returned and Farewell Summer (William Morrow), the short story collection The Dragon Who Ate His Tail (Gauntlet Press), and Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars (William Morrow), a collection of essays on the past, the future, and everything in between. In 2007, Gauntlet Press will be releasing two new books: Match To Flame: The Fictional Paths To Fahrenheit 451, and Now and Forever: Somewhere A Band Is Playing & Leviathan ‘99. Bradbury lives in Los Angeles, and his website is www.raybradbury.com.

Reflection’s Edge: What is the inspiration for the short story “The Next in Line“?

Ray Bradbury: It’s my adventure in Mexico. When I was twenty-five years old, I traveled there with a friend. I made the mistake of going to the city of Guanajuato and going up to the graveyard, going down to the catacombs, witnessing the mummies wound up and wired to the walls, a long line of them, about a hundred mummies. I walked to the end and had to turn around and come back, which terrified me. I wanted to get the hell out of Guanajuato as soon as possible. When I did leave, it was a great relief, but when I got home, I had to write the nightmare down, so it became the story “The Next in Line.”

RE: What can you tell us about your upcoming Gauntlet Press Somewhere A Band Is Playing?

Bradbury: After Match to Flame comes out this year, I have another book called Somewhere a Band is Playing, which I began to write when I met Katharine Hepburn back around 1957, and George Cukor [who directed her in such films as A Bill of DivorcementLittle WomenThe Philadelphia Story, and Adam's Rib] wanted me to write the screenplay of “The Bluebird.” Katharine Hepburn suggested it too. So I had a meeting with the two of them and fell in love with Katharine Hepburn. I liked her so much that I wrote this novel about a country, a land, and a city where people are sort of immortal. At the center of it is this beautiful woman that I have a young writer fall in love with. That is what Somewhere A Band Is Playing is all about. I’m sorry I didn’t finish it sooner, so that Katharine Hepburn could have played the lead. [She passed away in 2003.]

RE: Are the advances in modern science difficult to compete with when writing science fiction?

Bradbury: No, of course not. Any modern science, you grab on to it, hold to it, and use it as best as you can. Charles Darwin did write about such a mysterious thing as the soul of a dog.

I’m going to write more about love, which was created in dogs. Maybe they’re the next step up from human beings. Human beings don’t love completely yet. Dogs understand it completely, and I wrote about it in a book called Dogs Think that Every Day Is Christmas. I recommend you read that book. Most people don’t know about it.

RE: Are the seasons in Farewell Summer metaphors for age?

Bradbury: I never thought of that. If you take them as metaphors for age, that is up to you. I never considered that, intellectually.

RE: You wrote Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a terrific how-to book for writers. What advice would you give to new writers today?

Bradbury: Read my book, Zen in the Art of Writing. It’s all there. It has to do with love. I was paid to write those essays, twenty-five dollars an essay, by The Writer magazine. Over a period of over two years, I wrote a series of small articles. I think I was paid all together around one hundred and fifty dollars for those articles, which I put in a single book. It all has to do with love.

The best advice I would give new writers is write what you love. It doesn’t matter what other people love; it doesn’t matter what your editors love or your friends love. It’s what you love.

My total work – they’re all love stories about dinosaurs. They changed my life. I fell in love with dinosaurs when I was six. I wrote about them when I was in my twenties. I wrote a short story about a dinosaur and a lighthouse and a foghorn [called "The Fog Horn," on which the Ray Harryhausen film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was loosely based]. When I was thirty-one years old, [director] John Huston read that love story about a dinosaur and a lighthouse, and he gave me the job writing [the screenplay for] Moby Dick. I got the job because I was in love. That is the advice I’d give to any writer, not only today, or yesterday, or tomorrow. Love is the answer to everything.

RE: You lived and wrote for most of the 20th century. Now we are in the 21st century. What do you think of humanity’s prospects? Where do you think the world is heading?

Bradbury: It’s heading for the future.

Look at what we have done. In the last one hundred years, we invented ways to heal death. All the great doctors, all the great physicians, have invented medicines like sulfanilamide and penicillin. Now billions of people are not dying from those diseases that have been cured. All over the world, we’re doing things to save people. We’re heading for survival. We’re heading for less sickness. If there is any new sickness developed, we’ll cure those too.

The main thing is we’re heading back to the moon. That is where we have to go. If we have one or two people who shout and yell about it, that’s where we’ll head. Look where we have come. We’ve been out of the cave for a few thousand years. Yes, we had wars, it’s true—but we also survived them. It’s an ironic balance, isn’t it? We rise above our wars and make it, somehow, so that the world is full of billions of people. We have a good chance of going to the moon and colonizing Mars: that is my dream. Listen to me. If you don’t want to listen to anyone else, don’t listen to them. Listen to me.

RE: Do you think we’ll get a manned mission to Mars?

Bradbury: We’ll do it – unfortunately, after my death. I’m going to provide for my ashes to be put in a Campbell Soup can, and I will be the first dead person to be buried on Mars. I hope they will obey me and do that.

RE: You were reluctant to republish Dark Carnival [originally published in 1947], which was eventually republished by Gauntlet Press in 2001. Why? And what do you think of the book now?

Bradbury: There is a lot of stuff in Dark Carnival that is in the book that isn’t efficient or as beautiful as my other stories. I wanted to pick and choose among things I did when I was twenty-two, twenty-three, and twenty-four years old. Naturally, I had learned a lot about writing [since then]. I hope when people read Dark Carnival, if they read the complete edition [from Gauntlet Press; some stories were also anthologized in updated form in The October Country] , they understand that it was written by a young man and they can’t expect high quality from every story. Later in my life, I began to write short stories that were excellent each time I wrote them. I wanted to pick and choose in Dark Carnival; I didn’t have a chance to do that. When people buy that Gauntlet Press edition they got to sit down and read my complete life’s work from when I was in my early twenties.

RE: If you could be any monster, which monster would you be?

Bradbury: The Frankenstein monster, in love with Elsa Lanchester, who played the bride of the monster in The Bride of Frankenstein. It is one of the best monster films made at Universal [Studios] in the ’30s.

I think “The Phantom of the Opera” is [also] a super monster for me.

RE: Last words?

Bradbury: I feel very fortunate that I had that life that I had. I never had one day of melancholy. I never had writer’s block. Why? Because I write what I love. People who have blocks—that means they are writing the wrong thing. They are trying to please other people. You can’t do that. You’ve got to please yourself. You’ve got to act out of love.

I never had one writer’s block in my life! And the only melancholy days I had were when my best friends or my relatives died. Outside of that, I never had any gloom or sadness or self-destruction.

Michael McCarty is a former stand-up comedian, musician and managing editor of a music magazine. His books Giants of the Genre and More Giants Of The Genre (Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Book of the Year) are collections of interviews with the greats of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. In 2005, Wildside Press published his first fiction collection, Dark Duets. In 2006, he wrote an article for Writers Digest Books' On Writing Horror (edited by Mort Castle), and appeared in the Cemetery Dance anthology In Laymon Terms. In April 2007, the novel Monster Behind the Wheel (co-authored with Mark McLaughlin) was published in England by Sarob Press. More on Mike can be found at geocities.com/mccartyzone and myspace.com/monsterbook. He can be reached at monstermike69 (at) hotmail.com.