Listen to the Echoes

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The Essential Bradbury #16: “The Sound of Summer Running”

By Sam Weller at 9:03pm ET

(Original story illustration for “Summer in the Air” by Amos Sewell from The Saturday Evening Post, Feb, 18, 1956)

“The Sound of Summer Running”

Where to Find It: Dandelion Wine, The Stories of Ray Bradbury

First Published As: “Summer in the Air,” The Saturday Evening Post, February 18, 1956

Plot Synopsis: At the beginning of summer 1928, Douglas Spaulding sees a pair of brand-new tennis shoes in a storefront window. His shoes are worn out, his feet feel heavy, and he is convinced that this resplendent pair of Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Shoes will change his summer forever.

Backstory: Bradbury on the origins of the story from Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews:

“I was on a bus going into Westwood a few years ago, and a young boy jumped on the bus, threw his money in the box, raced down the aisle, and threw himself into a seat across from me.  And I looked at him, and I said, ‘My god, if I had his energy, I could write a poem every day, a story every week, a novel every month.  What’s his secret?’  I looked down at his feet.  He had the brightest pair of new fresh tennis shoes on his feet.  And I said, oh, my god, I can remember when I was a kid, my father taking me downtown and buying me my first pair of new summer tennis shoes.  I went home, and I wrote the short story.”

Critique: This story is a shining example of Bradbury’s range as a literary writer. He did not need an otherworldly landscape or elements of the fantastic to meditate on the human experience. Bradbury found magic in the everyday—in this case, a new pair of tennis shoes and the perspective of youth. The best Bradbury, in my opinion, is rooted in unforgettable story with a philosophical question at its center, all told in his singular, poetic style.

Excerpt:

Somehow the people who made tennis shoes knew what boys needed and wanted. They put marshmallows and coiled springs in the soles and they wove the rest out of grasses bleached and fired in the wilderness. Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer were hidden. The people that made the shoes must have watched a lot of winds blow the trees and a lot of rivers going down to the lakes. Whatever it was, it was in the shoes, and it was summer.

Roadside Cross

By Sam Weller at 9:31am ET

My new short story, “Roadside Cross,” will be published by Amazon.com’s new digital publishing imprint, Story Front, and will be released on March 12. The story is currently available for pre-order, and I could really use your help. The story is just 99 cents—less than a can of soda from a vending machine—and I want to make an impact. I’d love to see the Amazon sales rank skyrocket. On March 12, can you do me a huge favor and order the story? It will take only a few minutes. The story is available for Kindles and iPads. “Roadside Cross” is steeped in the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s classic collection, The October Country. It’s a modern, Midwest gothic tale of mystery and melancholy that poses the question, Do ghosts mourn the dead? I’m excited about the story and truly appreciate your support!

The Essential Bradbury #15: “Kaleidoscope”

By Sam Weller at 9:23am ET

“Kaleidoscope”

Where to Find It: The Illustrated Man, The Stories of Ray Bradbury

First Published: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949

Plot Synopsis: A rocket crew experiences a catastrophic explosion onboard their ship, finding themselves cast out into space, going off in separate directions, yet still able to communicate to one another over helmet radios as they each come to terms with their inevitable fates.

Bradbury on the story: “I sat down at my typewriter and asked myself, ‘What would happen if an explosion occurred on a rocket and all the astronauts on board became castaways?’”

Critique: Bleak in its concept, Bradbury’s astronauts each have their own epiphanies regarding mortality as they drift off into the forever vastness of space. Anger, regret and acceptance are all examined amidst the chilling, absolute loneliness of outer space. Is there anything more lonely than drifting off, alone, into the vacuum of the cosmos? Bradbury’s ability to unify the quickly separating and drifting astronauts via helmet radio is a seamless and artful experiment in characters communicating in dialogue while no longer physically together. The ending of the story, with the point-of-view shift to a country road on Earth and a little boy seeing the astronaut Hollis reentering the atmosphere as a shooting star is a classic Bradbury metaphoric finale.

Anecdote: In the four years I worked on The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury, I travelled from my home in Chicago to Bradbury’s home in Los Angeles every two or three weeks. I took the first flight out on February 1, 2003. When I walked into the rental car agency, I looked up at the TV monitors. Fiery debris was streaking across a brilliant blue sky. The space shuttle Columbia had catastrophically burned up upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. My first thought: Kaleidoscope.

When I arrived at Ray Bradbury’s house 30 minutes later, I found Ray waiting for me. He was seated in his big oversized leather chair. The television was on and he was watching the news reports on the shuttle disaster.

“Kaleidoscope,” I said.

He had had tears in his eyes.

“By God, you’re right,” he said.

Screen Treatment

By Sam Weller at 10:42am ET


Twilight Zone creator and host Rod Serling once stated that it was nearly impossible to adapt Ray Bradbury to the screen, “because that which reads so beautifully on the printed page doesn’t fit in the mouth—it fits in the head.”

Film director and screenwriter Frank Darabont once shared with me a similar sentiment, asserting, “Ray Bradbury has never been properly served on the screen.”

To this end, in my estimation, the Chicago-based independent company Beverly Ridge Pictures have come as close as anyone to perfectly adapting Bradbury. Their 2011 take on Bradbury’s 1945 short story “The Small Assassin” is sublime. The attention to detail, the period authenticity, the script, the score—the entire 16-minute film—is, arguably, the best cinematic adaptation of Bradbury to date. No doubt, there are films and television adaptions that are good. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) has some terrific moments and wonderful acting by Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, who portrays Mr. Dark. Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 is wonderfully Euro and visually captivating, though it is not the book. The 1982 short adaptation of “All Summer in a Day” is dark and somber and alluring. Bradbury’s own adaptation of “Banshee” for The Ray Bradbury Theater is the best of the 65-episode series.

“The Small Assassin” won the Jury Award at the Canadian International Film Festival, as well as the “Best Short Film” award at the Naperville Independent Film Festival. Ray Bradbury loved this adaptation. We watched it together one afternoon and he was delighted. The film perfectly captures the chilling nature of Bradbury’s first book, Dark Carnival, where the story appeared.

The Small Assassin is available now on iTunes ($2.99) and Amazon ($3.99) now for HD download. Check it out.

Time Passes

By Sam Weller at 4:55pm ET




In the final days of summer in 1953, Ray Bradbury and his family packed up for Ireland. Bradbury had been hired by film director John Huston to adapt Moby-Dick for the screen. Some deemed it a practical joke. The great Hollywood movie maverick had selected a man known for writing stories about rocket ships to Mars to adapt the Melville classic. But it was no joke. Huston had read Bradbury’s great coastal Kaiju love story, “The Fog Horn,” and sensed a hint of Melville in the prose.

In September 1953, Bradbury, along with his wife Maggie and their two young daughters Susan and Ramona, prepared to move to Dublin, where Bradbury would work closely with Huston on the screenplay for six months.

Just before leaving by train for New York (the family would then travel by the ocean liner SS United States across the Atlantic), Bradbury’s father came to say goodbye. Leonard Bradbury was tough, a longtime utility lineman who rarely showed his soft side. But on this day in the year of 1953, he ventured up the sidewalk of his son’s mid-century tract home at 10750 Clarkson Road to say farewell. And he had a gift. In Leonard Bradbury’s callused hand he held an object with a history—his gold pocket watch. The watch once owned by his father, Samuel Hinkston Bradbury. Ray long cited his grandfather as one of his important creative influences, and immortalized him in Dandelion Wine, the 1957 semi-autobiographical story cycle in which Bradbury rechristened his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois as Green Town. Ray’s wife Maggie once told me the book was secretly his favorite work—much of that had to do with the fact that it was a tribute to his grandfather.

Ray’s father knew that his son would be gone in Ireland for quite some time. He also knew his son had grown into a man. His writing talents were being recognized by Hollywood, and he was providing for his family. While he didn’t say it in words, the watch said everything. He was proud of his son.

And so Leonard Bradbury rang the doorbell. When Ray answered, he handed him the family heirloom. The gesture was a turning point between father and son, a moment of unspoken love that stayed with Ray for the rest of his life.

“I knew my father truly loved me from that moment on,” he said.

I photographed the pocket watch one afternoon in 2003. The detail I perhaps admire most is the words “Waukegan, Illinois” printed on the dial. A symbol of a bygone era, and of three men dearly departed: Samuel Hinkston Bradbury, Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and, of course, Ray Douglas Bradbury.

Photos from behind Bradbury’s Oz-ian Curtain

By Sam Weller at 7:07pm ET

When Ray Bradbury was still alive and I visited his home in west Los Angeles with regularity, I often took photos on the fly, simply to document the many mementos and metaphors. Below are two awards that sat on the bookcase in the living room. On the left is a lifetime achievement award presented by the University Women of the University of Judaism; on the right, Bradbury’s Grandmaster Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America.

THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES UPDATED

By Sam Weller at 7:39am ET


It’s been eight years since the publication of my first biography of Ray Bradbury. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury is finally available as an ebook. The new edition features ten new photographs, some never before seen, as well as a new epilogue chapter.


BRAM STOKER WINNER

By Sam Weller at 10:34am ET

So Shadow Show scored the Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in an Anthology.” My collaborator Mort Castle and I could not be happier. We had an amazing time in New Orleans at the ceremony. Thanks to the Horror Writers Association for this tremendous honor. Wow! Here’s a picture of my beautiful (and heavy!) trophy.






THE MAN WHO WILL ALWAYS BE

By Sam Weller at 9:22am ET


(Photograph by Zen Sekizawa. November 30, 2009)



It is almost incomprehensible that it has been one year since Ray Bradbury died. I met the man when he was 79. I knew that one day he would die, as all of us most certainly do. Yet I’ve had so much trouble coming to terms with his absence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced more than my share of death and loss and hospital-room suffering. Tubes and IVs and morphine and tears. I knew the day would come when Ray Bradbury was no longer here. Still, I continue to grapple with it, my eyes struggling to focus through an incorrect lens.

I still don’t believe.

Ray Bradbury published his first story 29 years before I was born. He established himself as an international writer long before I arrived. When my mom was 9 months pregnant with me, my father read Bradbury aloud to her as I listened intently, in utero. And I later became his biographer. He always thought that sounded like one of his own stories.

For me—and so many others—he has always been.

And perhaps this is why it’s so damned hard to say good bye. Impossible, really. I read him every day. I think about him constantly. I teach him. I share his philosophies. I spread the gospel. I travel and speak and inspire new readers everywhere I go. I fight for libraries because he shared that love with me. He imbues my writing in every possible way. He loved my short stories and wanted me to be—no pressure—the next him. But more than all that, I had the privilege of regularly visiting Ray—hugging him, talking to him, reading to him, travelling with him—for 12 mind-boggling years. One day I will write a memoir about it all.

Here is a story I have never shared with anyone. He had a book that he was working on. Nightmares and Daydreams. It was incomplete. Unfinished. Raw. He regularly asked me to finish it for him. Every time I saw him, in fact. He knew I knew him better than anyone. He knew, at that point, I could almost write like him. He insisted I finish the book for him. His health was failing. He couldn’t do it. And he wanted this last book out there. But it wouldn’t have been right. I am not Ray Bradbury. I have never shared this story with anyone. Every time I saw him in the last two years of his life, he asked me to finish his book. I feel conflicted that I never helped him with this request, but his work should be his own, right until the end.

I think letting him go has been more difficult because of Mr. Electrico, the sideshow performer who, on a grey and gauzy Labor Day weekend, in 1932, told a young Ray Bradbury to “Live Forever!”

We all knew he wouldn’t. He knew he wouldn’t. Yet he has always been….

The Mr. Electrico story, told in glorious detail on pages 32-34 in Listen to the Echoes, was a metaphor, of course. Everything in Ray’s amazing life was a metaphor. He would “Live Forever” through his writing.

But I think in the deepest catacombs of my subconscious, against all logic, I wanted to believe that maybe he would Live Forever. Maybe, just maybe, the sideshow man—whoever he was—spoke truth. Ray Bradbury would never die. He would Live Forever. He would always be.

At the end of our regular telephone conversations, the two of us nearly 2,000 miles apart, he always said good bye the same way:

I miss you…and I love you.

I could not say it any better, my friend.


The Essential Bradbury #14: “A Sound of Thunder”

By Sam Weller at 8:46am ET

“A Sound of Thunder”



Where to Find It: The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Stories of Ray Bradbury

First Published: Colliers, June, 1952

Plot Synopsis: A group of adventurers travel back in time to hunt the most dangerous game—the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The caveat? Don’t mess with anything else. Dinosaurs will become extinct, the hunters are warned. Tamper with other things and, well, it’s called the “Butterfly Effect” for good reason.

Analysis: You write a short story about one of your great childhood loves. Dinosaurs. The story is a time-travelling thrill-ride with a description of the T-Rex that no CGI could ever come close to depicting. And when your story is done, your very premise of a time-travelling hunter stepping on a butterfly becomes part of our cultural vocabulary. AMAZING.

That Description of the T-Rex:

It came on great oiled, resilient legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh. And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys, while the snake neck coiled. And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky. Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers, its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin. It ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight. It ran with a gliding ballet step, far too poised and balanced for its ten tons. It moved into a sunlit arena warily. Its beautifully reptile hands feeling the air.

Critique: “ A Sound of Thunder” is Bradbury at his speculative best. A perfect fusion of idea, language, description, and high entertainment, the story tackles the very premise of how mankind’s smallest actions can have universal implications.

Anecdote: When I would visit Ray at his home in Los Angeles, particularly in his later years when his health was waning, he would ask me to fetch books from his shelf and read them aloud.

“Read that paragraph from ‘A Sound of Thunder,” he often asked. “The one that describes the dinosaurs.”

And I would read the paragraph. When I was done and I’d look up at Ray, tears would be streaming down in his cheeks.

“I can’t believe I wrote that,” he said. “I am so grateful.”


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