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FAHRENHEIT 180?

By Sam Weller at 4:51pm ET





In advance of a slew of speaking engagements I’m doing in Dallas, Texas this week, I wrote an essay for the Dallas Morning News addressing Ray Bradbury’s controversial comments in 2007 that his novel, Fahrenheit 451, was not about censorship.


Three is the Magic Number?

By Sam Weller at 4:49pm ET

I’m honored to report that Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury has been nominated for the prestigious 2013 Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in an Anthology.” This is my third Stoker nomination and I’m hopeful this time just may be the charm. Mort Castle, my co-editor on the book, has been been nominated nine times. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! The awards ceremony will be held this coming June in New Orleans. Thanks to the members of the Horror Writers Association for this recognition.






Conjuring Danny Squires

By Sam Weller at 8:06pm ET


(Artwork by Jenna Stempel)



Last week, on this very blog, I mentioned a short story I wrote about a trio of young friends who try to contact a deceased loved one by using a Quija Board. I must say I’m feeling mighty chuffed at the moment, as the story has just been published in the Chicago Reader’s prestigious annual “Pure Fiction” issue.

I wrote four stories that I considered using in Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. At this point, all four stories have been published. “Night Summons” appeared in Rosebud #52; “The Shadows Behind the Trees” was made available on this website as a free PDF download (and it was also published on Byliner.com); and “The Girl in the Funeral Parlor” ran in Shadow Show.

Now, the fourth and final tale is out there. I hope you enjoy it.


Happy Holidays

By Sam Weller at 9:29pm ET





2012 was a wonderful year. I can’t thank you enough for your support of Shadow Show and for all your lovely notes and comments about my own story in the book. I was also thrilled by your response to my Shadow Show outtake story, “The Shadows Behind the Trees,” which ran on this site. You can expect much more fiction from me in 2013, along with an ebook of The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury that will include a new chapter along with several new photos.

I am at work now on a novel that I hope to have wrapped by this time next year.

I send you all much love and well wishes for a beautiful new year.

Happy Holidays!

Sam

FIVE BRADBURY PROJECTS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT

By Sam Weller at 2:16pm ET




1). In his last years, Bradbury told me he intended to write a new science-fiction novel. He’d started on an idea about a group of Catholic cardinals who travel into the deeps of space to prove the existence of God.

2). Bradbury moved across genres. Did he ever write a Western? Yes. But he didn’t finish it. He started a short story about a “ghost horse” for film director John Huston.

3). For the yet-to-be-published collection Nightmares and Daydreams, Bradbury intended to use “Blue Shadow” by his friend Jean-Michel Folon as the cover art. A signed lithograph of this artwork hung in Bradbury’s den.

4). One of the last essays Bradbury wrote, through dictation to me, was a sweeping history of his career in urban design. The piece was titled “The Pomegranate Architect.”

5). Bradbury spoke often about his dreams of designing a Museum of Animation History for the Walt Disney Company. The entryway would be a long hallway with life-sized lenticular drawings of Disney characters lining the walls. The characters would walk down the hall with the tourists as they entered the building.


THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

By Sam Weller at 4:33pm ET

In 2007, I published a fictionalized story about my first encounter with Ray Bradbury in a magazine called Tales from the Dim Unknown. The story was called “Live Forever!”. It began with a young newspaper reporter going to the Bradbury house in sunny California only discover that the great literary legend held a startling secret he was willing to share for the very first time.

Here’s a short teaser:



Bradbury looked down at the floor and was silent for a moment and said, “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my beloved wife of 56 years, God bless her soul. But I’d like to show you something. You must keep it a secret.”


My friend Chris Burnham did the illustrations for “Live Forever!”. Chris used to live a couple blocks from me and we would run into each other often on the street, or at the grocery store. Chris has since gone on to great acclaim as a comic book artist, working on titles such as Batman Incorporated, X-Men and many others. One of Chris’s illustrations for the story is reproduced below.







As a side note, a year after the “Live Forever!” was published, I recommended Chris to John McNally and Owen King who were co-editing an anthology of new literary super stories. I had my own story in the book and the editors wanted to have an illustration to go with each tale. The book is titled Who Can Save Us Now? Brand-New Superheroes and their Amazing (Short) Stories.

Chris Burnham gave the original art from “Live Forever!” to Ray. He kept it in his bedroom until his final days.

Now, fast forward to the present. Another pal of mine, Mr. Mort Castle, who co-edited Shadow Show with me, asked if he could include “Live Forever!” is his forthcoming anthology, All-American Horror of the 21st Century: The First Decade 2000-2010. This book is due to drop any day now. I hope you will pick it up! “Live Forever!” is a fun one. I think there’s something in it for Bradbury fans and non-fans alike.






The Essential Bradbury #13: “The Next in Line”

By Sam Weller at 3:37pm ET





“The Next in Line”

Where to Find It: The October Country, The Stories of Ray Bradbury

First Published: Dark Carnival

Plot Synopsis: A young American married couple travelling deep into Mexico is forced to stay overnight in the colonial town of Guanajuato. After visiting the catacombs that house the infamous “Mummies of Guanajuato,” the wife grows increasingly distrustful of her spouse and begins a decent into paranoia, fearing that she might become the next body put on display.

Backstory: In the autumn of 1945, Bradbury travelled with his friend Grant Beach by automobile through the jungles and small towns of Mexico. The friends visited the real life underground tomb that houses the bodies of the exhumed whose families failed to pay their cemetery dues. Bradbury was forever scarred by the images of the deceased, strung up and put on display. Strangely, because of soil conditions in the region, the bodies had been naturally preserved.

Critique:

I asked Ray Bradbury once what was, in his mind, the scariest story he ever wrote. His answer was “The Next in Line.” Bradbury’s approach to the psychology of fear adhered to the “less is more” philosophy. That is, what is not seen is often far more frightening that what is. One of my students recently referred to this as “the zipper effect”—when a movie monster comes on screen and the audience can readily see the zipper in the suit. Bradbury always believed that Hitchcock had it right. “Fear is far more effective when it is like Chinese water torture,” he told me, “employed slowly, one drop at a time.”

“The Next in Line” was the last story Bradbury wrote for his first collection, 1947’s Dark Carnival. It is also the longest tale in the book and the most nuanced psychological study he’d published at this point in his career. The story addresses themes of marital discord and trust, fear of death, isolation and loneliness. The decent into madness Marie experiences reflects the madness inherent in so many works by Edgar Allen Poe, one of Bradbury’s most cherished literary influences. The story is awash in imagery of death, from coffins to catacombs to candy “Day of the Dead” skulls. And considering so much of Bradbury’s work is culled from real-life experiences, I am certain that the married couple is a reflection of Ray’s relationship with his friend Grant Beach. (Bradbury dedicated Dark Carnival to Beach.) As the friends travelled through Mexico, they bickered continuously and their relationship unraveled to the point where, on their return home, Beach tossed Ray’s typewriter into a river.


The Impossible Dream

By Sam Weller at 5:02pm ET


(Photos by Robert Kerr)



On December 6, the City of Los Angeles officially dedicated a beautiful area in front of the Central Library as Ray Bradbury Square. I was honored by the invitation to speak. My speech closed the ceremony before the unveiling of the Ray Bradbury Square street sign. I followed a very moving tribute delivered by actor Joe Mantegna. Several people asked afterwards if I would make my speech available. Here it is. I ad-libbed a few parts during the speech, but this was the draft I had at the podium.



Good afternoon,

Thank you to Steven and to the Bradbury daughters for inviting me to speak today. As some of you know, I worked closely with Ray Bradbury for 12 years. We published three books together and, more importantly, forged a singular, blessing of a bond along the way. The last day I saw Ray, on April 11, he said, “You are the son I never had.”

You, dear Ray, were my Father. My Friend. My Mentor.

Of course, Ray Bradbury received many honors over the course of his incredible career: an Emmy, an Oscar nomination, Cable Ace Awards, a Pulitzer Prize citation, and so many others. I was with him, along with three of his cherished daughters, Sue, Bettina, and Alexandra, when Mr. Bradbury went to Washington to receive the Medal of Arts from the President of the United States, in the Oval Office.

We are joined today, I might add, by former National Endowment for the Arts Chair, Dana Gioia, the man responsible for Ray Bradbury receiving this award.

I was there in 2000, in New York City, when Ray was given the Medal for Contributions to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. Ray delivered a rousing, extemporaneous, inspiring speech that night, one told from the mountain. And, of course, in that speech, he spoke of his deep love and abiding affection for books and libraries. He recalled autumn evenings when he was a boy, rushing home from the old Carnegie Library in his boyhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. His arms were piled high with books as he was propelled forward by the cold winds of October, dervishes of autumn leaves trailing behind him.

Ray was, as has been mentioned today, a tireless advocate for libraries and literacy. He loved libraries. He even rescued some from closure. And that is why this recognition today, this Everestian honor, is perhaps the most important honor of all. To have this beautiful space named for Ray Douglas Bradbury—this space, in the shadow of the athenaeum where he self-educated himself for ten years after high school—makes it nearly impossible to articulate just how important this day is. Ray spent three nights a week at this library for a decade, from 1938 to 1947, earning, what he called, a college degree from the most important educational institution in the world—the library. He read books on history, politics, art, and religion. He once told me that he would take the little squares of paper used to write down card catalog numbers, and he would scribble down story ideas on them, and memories, and poems.

Ray and I spent so much time together that he often joked that he could send me out and I could deliver his speeches. I thought about delivering a speech for him today, to follow through on his words, but hesitated. Then, on the way here this afternoon, just an hour ago, strangely, magically, like autumn leaves scattered in the wind across the pavement, I found a series of little squares of paper, the sort of papers one would use in a library to write down card catalog numbers. And there was writing on these scraps of paper, impossible writing, a speech from the man himself. If you will allow me, I will read it to you:

Good afternoon, I suppose you’re wondering why I have called you all here?

The answer is simple: LOVE.

You may have thought that you came out today to witness and celebrate me, to show me your love. But, in fact, it is the other way around. I am here to witness and celebrate YOU! I am here to show you my LOVE, especially to my daughters, who allowed me to eat their candy at Saturday movie matinees so long, long ago. I LOVE YOU Sue, Mona, Tina, Zana.

And I suppose you’re all asking another question. How is it that I am able to be here today? After all, I departed this world on June 5th, far-travelling to a place where it is always the beginning of summer, where green in the meadow grows. And dandelions, too, of course.

And there are Clark Bars.

And Merlot.

But how can I be here? It is impossible, you say! Well, if you will forgive me a tremendous act of ego for just a moment, the answer is, really, quite simple.

I’m Ray Bradbury.

In my world, there is magic in the everyday. A telephone can transport a man to the streets of Mexico City, listening to the sounds of the traffic and the taco cart salesman, and the many voices a thousand miles away.

A new pair of tennis shoes can make an eight-year-old boy leap fences, run, dash, dart across summer lawns dewed.

An old man can become a time machine for anyone who will listen to his stories of yesteryear.

What is more impossible, I might propose, than my being here with you all today is the very fact that this square will now bear my name. That is impossible! You see, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 13, in April 1934. We had no money. We knew no one. But I spent countless hours in this library. I spent countless hours roller-skating all across the city, collecting autographs from WC Fields, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, and others. Not far from here, I once fished radio scripts out of dumpsters and studied them and copied them and learned to write.

I spent many hours, dreaming the impossible dream. To one day become a famous writer. To one day be shelved beside my own heroes, L. Frank Baum, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

I only went to a psychiatrist once in my life. I was in my early 20s and he asked, “What is troubling you?”

I said, “I want to be the greatest writer who ever lived.”

He said, “Well, what are you doing here? You better go home and get writing.”

And so, along the way, going to college at the only college that truly matters—the library— I slowly started to discover myself. And I discovered the secret to writing.

And that secret is falling in love and staying in love.

I was in love with writing my whole life. In love with libraries my whole life.

And, on this remarkable, impossible day, I just want to say, I am in love with you too.

I end with one final thought. A few years ago I was given a medal from the French Government. They made me a Commander of Letters. A Commander, can you believe it? I wore this medal, proudly, for many of my final years.

And so, today, speaking to all of you with immense gratitude and love, I have but one thing to say: I command you to go into that beautiful library, right there, pick up a book, and read it.

And I command you to do one more thing: to continue loving me forever, as I will love you.


The Bradbury Effect

By Sam Weller at 3:05pm ET


During a 2004 interview with Elton John’s lyricist, Bernie Taupin, I asked Taupin about the song “Rocket Man” and its connection to the Ray Bradbury story of the same name (published in the 1951 collection, The Illustrated Man). Taupin responded with this:

“The idea of a futuristic society where being an astronaut was a routine job—something as tedious as a long-distance truck driver—was fascinating. Psychedelicize this with some drug culture references and a little peripheral esoteric mumbo-jumbo and—presto! My main goal was to project a sense of the overwhelming loneliness space offers us. In this I think we succeeded.”

The song was a clear nod to the Bradbury short story. And this is just one example of Bradbury’s influence on the rock music world. But the Taupin/John tribute had another, more surreal, more hilarious incarnation, just a few years after it was released in 1972. In 1978, William Shatner did a spoken-word version of the song at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards ceremony.

Just to throw my students off a bit, I always begin my semester of teaching Ray Bradbury at Columbia College Chicago by showing this video. It lets them know that this author has transcended all boundaries.

For the Ray Bradbury Tribute at Comic Con last July, I tried to get Shatner to reprise this little gem. No luck.

But you can enjoy it here, as often as you wish!


THE THIRD ANNUAL TWELVE BLOGS OF CHRISTMAS

By Sam Weller at 5:00pm ET




That’s right—for the third year running, I will post every day, starting tomorrow right up through Christmas Day. Blog posts will jump around between my two sites, so you’ll have to tune in to both to find the postings.

I look forward to hearing from you!

www.listentotheechoes.com + www.samweller.net

Happy Holidays!

Sam Weller

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