Interview by Lisa Potts and Chadd Coates
In the autumn of 2012, Lisa Potts rediscovered — literally, behind her dresser — a taped cassette of a long-lost interview with Bradbury that she made as a college student journalist back in 1972. Bradbury was doing a lecture at Chapman College in Orange County, and Lisa and Chadd were tasked with picking up Bradbury from his home in West L.A.
The Animated Transcript
You say you’re a madman. How long have you been in this state of mind? It sounds pretty wonderful.
Oh, since I was 9 or 10. You learn to live with your crazy enthusiasms which nobody else shares, and then you find a few other nuts like yourself, and they’re your friends for a lifetime. That’s what friends are, the people who share your crazy outlook and protect you from the world, because nobody else is going to give a damn what you’re doing, so you need a few other people like yourself.
Do you feel you have to be protected from the world that surrounds you or…
While you’re growing, sure, because you’re tender and you doubt yourself, and… Friendship is an island that you retreat to and you all fall on the floor and laugh at all the other ninnies that don’t have enough brains to have your good taste, right?
Um… this is kind of a weird question. We had an article in our newspaper that said Ray Bradbury has never driven a car or been in an airplane. Is that true?
That’s right. What do you think I’m doing here in the back seat?
You’ve in your whole life ever driven?
Never have been behind the wheel.
Why is that?
Oh, it seemed a good idea. That’s all.
Are you scared of cars or scared or …
I’m scared of myself. I think I’d be a bad driver. I’m scared of cars, period. I’ve had too many friends killed now, and I’ve seen too many people killed in my life when I drove across the country when I was 12. I’m sure that has a lot to do with it. If you see a few real dead bodies with brains on the pavement, it does a lot to change your attitude. It means you can get it too. I’ve had a lot of relatives killed. I’ve had a lot of dear friends killed. It’s stupid. The whole activity is stupid.
What about… why don’t you like to go on airplanes? Are you scared of them, too?
I don’t like being up high. It took me 3 days to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
So you do write very realistically?
It’s a combination of realism with fantasy. But no, I don’t like realism. We already know the real facts about life, most of the basic facts. I’m not interested in repeating what we already know. We know about sex, about violence, about murder, about war. All these things, by the time we’re 18, we’re up to here. From there on we need interpreters. We need poets. We need philosophers. We need theologians, who take the same basic facts and work with them and help us make do with those facts. Facts alone are not enough. It’s interpretation.
We’d like to know how you go about writing a story. Like, do you take other people’s opinions? Where do you get your ideas?
You don’t pay any attention to anything anyone else says, no opinions. The important thing is to explode with a story, to emotionalize a story, not to think it. You start thinking, the story’s going to die on its feet. It’s like anything else. If an athlete is running around the high hurdles, let’s say, and he starts thinking about the next hurdle, he’s doomed. He’s going to knock it down. People who take books on sex to bed become frigid. You get self-conscious. You can’t think a story. You can’t think, “I shall do a story to improve mankind.” Well, it’s nonsense. All the great stories, all the really worthwhile plays, are emotional experiences. If you have to ask yourself whether or not you love a girl or you love a boy, forget it. You don’t. A story is the same way. You either feel a story and need to write it, or you better not write it.
Did you have any formal training in writing, of any type?
Not formal, no. But I am a dedicated madman, and that becomes its own training. If you can’t resist, if the typewriter is like candy to you, you train yourself for a lifetime. Every single day of your life, some wild new thing to be done. You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. Then your public reads you and it begins to gather around your selling a potato peeler in an alley, you know. The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me. So that means every day of my life I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.
In most of your books, the Martian Chronicles is about Mars, but even in Illustrated Man, everything that happens in outer space is on Mars. I was wondering, are you really preoccupied with Mars, or why are you?
Oh, I think because it’s closest to us. You grow up with the romance of Mars. When I was a kid, some of the earliest clear photographs of Mars were being published from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Since it’s the nearest planet, and we know, we’ve always had this feeling that someday, if we went anywhere, it would be to the moon and then to mars. That’s the way it’s turning out. We’ll be landing there in a few years now.
Bradbury on Dreams
“It’s rare you get an idea from a dream. I can’t really recall a story that ever worked out that way. I think in 35 years of writing, that I’ve ever had a dream that held up. They’re much too dislocated.”
“I was partially raised by an aunt who was a dress designer, so I was around her studio all of my early life. I know materials. I can look through Harper’s Bazaar and decide what works and what doesn’t, or any other magazine, Seventeen if you wish.”
“I’m turning into a full-fledged lyricist, and I will probably be working with a lot of groups during the next few years. There are at least 4 or 5 folk groups or rock groups touring the country right now using the titles of my books for their names.”
“Edgar Allen Poe really started me when I was 8. I fell in love with everything of his.”
“Sometimes you have intuitive insight about how you think things are going to be, and you write that. Other times you fantasize completely, which has nothing to do with predicting the future.”
“Go out and make your own speeches. People need you. Go on TV. It can be done. After you speak up a few times, people say, “Hey, we got a crazy man in the community,” and they’ll begin talking to you.”
The Secret to His Success
It took a few years for Ray Bradbury to find the courage to ask a woman out. The year was 1946. He was 22 and found himself in a bookstore in Los Angeles. A female clerk there, named Maggie, thought this trench coat-wearing young man was shoplifter.
Suspicious, she approached him. They started talking and, as they say, “that’s all she wrote.” The couple was married for more than 50 years and had four daughters. It was Maggie who allowed Ray to develop as a writer; in the early years of their marriage, she worked full-time while Ray stayed at home to write. One chance meeting changed American literature.
Bradbury’s Home Bulldozed
The Ray Bradbury Theater
Bradbury had his own TV series in the vein of shows like Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. Bradbury was host, and each episode was based on one of his stories. It ran on HBO for two seasons, then on USA for an additional four seasons.
“I’m surrounded on every side by my magician’s toyshop. I’ll never starve here …. Out of all this, what do I choose to make a story? I never know where the next one will take me. And the trip: exactly one-half exhilaration, exactly one-half terror.”
Bradbury’s Circle of Friends
Gene Roddenberry was the creator of Star Trek and he once tried to bring Bradbury on as a writer. Bradbury declined, but he and Roddenberry struck up a friendship that lasted til the latter’s death.
Forest J. Ackerman was essentially the godfather of sci-fi – he even coined the term. He was an actor, publisher, and collector of all things sci-fi. He and Bradbury met as teenagers, when they were both members of the Los Angeles Sci-Fi Club.
Ray Harryhausen was also a member of the Los Angeles Sci-Fi Club with Bradbury during their teen years, Harryhausen went on to become one of the most celebrated special effects masters in Hollywood.
“Readers! Do You Read?”