10 June 2012

Professional Tips– Ray Bradbury

by Leigh Lundin

A Sound of Thunder

Ray Bradbury died.

The science fiction guy.

I'll tell you why crime readers should care. I'll tell you why writers should care.

To reiterate a previous article: Like westerns aren't about shootouts but about morality, the best science fiction– true science fiction– isn't about monsters or wookies or light sabres. it's about us– it's about society. It's about imagination.

Beyond that, there's a bond between American science fiction and mysteries, not the least being the authors who cross over from one to the other. If you doubt me, consider Bouchercon, named for Anthony Boucher. If you wonder about Bradbury's importance to writing in general, look no farther than Farenheit 451, the first and final word about the freedom of writing. He's particularly revered for not inventing Scientology.

Ray Bradbury was an amazing short story writer. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man aren't so much novels as they are collections of short stories.
Social Butterfly Effect

My mother bought Playboy subscriptions for my Dad's birthday. Thanks to that fortuitous event, I used to sneak in and 'read' my father's magazines. Although I was too young to actually read (and therefore couldn't cover my crime by getting the dates in the right order), I discovered I liked women and all their components… a lot. I'm very grateful not to have grown up in the hysteria of today's world.

By the time I could parse words, I found Playboy published some of the finest science fiction including Bradbury. One of those stories in June 1956 was the chilling 'A Sound of Thunder' by Ray Bradbury. The term 'butterfly effect' grew out of the story long before scientists used the word. The movie A Sound of Thunder is 'okay' but uses the original story only as a starting point. Read the story and discover why Bradbury is a genius.

The Sound of Bradbury

What can a master teach us? Here are a few words of Bradbury's wisdom.
  1. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
  2. Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.
  3. Do what you love and love what you do.
  4. I don't need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.
  5. Do you know why teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember.
  6. If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.
  7. If you enjoy living, it is not difficult to keep the sense of wonder.
  8. Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.
  9. Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.
  10. I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I educated myself in the public library three days a week for 10 years, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.
  11. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes.
  12. Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down. Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.
  13. I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say, "My God, did I write that?"
  14. I don't believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.
  15. I've often been accused of being too emotional and sentimental, but I believe in honest sentiment, and the need to purge ourselves at certain times, which is ancient. Men would live at least five or six more years and not have ulcers if they could cry better.
  16. The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers. If they couldn't speak pidgin Tolstoy, articulate Henry James, or give me directions to Usher and Ox, it was no go. I have always longed for education, and pillow talk's the best.
  17. Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.
  18. Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I'm one of them.
  19. I'm not afraid of machines. I don't think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don't take the toys out of their hands, we're fools.
  20. I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.
  21. We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself. We must escape the danger of war and politics. We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the God in ourselves.
  22. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore.
  23. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.
  24. I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practise, practise, practise. If you don't love something, then don't do it.
  25. You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
  26. There is no future for eBooks, because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.
  27. Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.
  28. You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
  29. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
  30. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
  31. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
  32. Don't talk about it; write.
And finally…
  • If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

A sound of thunder…


  1. Leigh, let me share another Ray Bradbury with you. In the late
    '40's, he was writing a story about firemen who burn books. His infant daughter was very vocal, and he couldn't focus at home. With not enough money to rent an office, he wandered around the UCLA campus to escape the crying. There he discovered a basement room full of typewriters. Use of one cost ten cents for half an hour. Bradbury escaped into that room for nine days and wrote a novella called The Fireman. Cost was $9.80. He later expanded this novella into Fahrenheit 451.

  2. Ray Bradbury was a writer with a capital W who escaped all labels.

  3. For whatever reason, Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes has sort of been forgotten over the years. To my mind it is one of his finest. Pure poetry in prose.

  4. Dale, I absolutely agree. Next to 451°F, it's my favorite.

    And Janice, I agree as well.

    Fran, I hadn't heard that story. What a great anecdote!

  5. I admired Ray Bradbury's work so much that I shamelessly plagiarized one of his stories for a fourth grade writing assignment. I set it in another era and basically stole everything else. I got an A. He was a wonderful writer.

  6. One of the greats, truly. I went through my incomplete collection of his books the other, just through the table of contents of the stories, and came up with a list of favorites. Most have a crimeelement, surprise, surprise.

    The Fruit at the bottom of the bowl
    The Pedestrian
    The Murderer
    The Jar
    The Small Assassin
    All summer in a day
    The Sound of thunder

    "Fruit" is, to my mind, one of the best crime stories by anyone. And "Homecoming" should be required reading for every middle-schooler, with its lessons about outsiders and wanting to be "normal."

  7. Over forty years ago, I played hooky from school to go to one of his (few?) lectures - what an inspiration! Favorite stories include those Robert Lopresti listed, as well as one of the saddest of all stories, "There Will Come Soft Rains", and one of the most hopeful, "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed". The night I heard he died I watched "Fahrenheit 451" in his honor.

  8. Thanks for the tribute. Bradbury is a genius.

  9. Great column, Leigh. Bradbury was, and is, one of my favorite writers.

    Eve, I will always remember "There Will Come Soft Rains."

  10. A beautiful and inspiring tribute. Thank you.

  11. I happened to be reading a Bradbury story the day he died. But then, I read Bradbury a lot! One of my favorites is a later story: "Another Fine Mess."

  12. How nice to see an article that honours and educates.


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