I spent 12 years working with Ray Bradbury as his biographer. We worked on four books together, starting with The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury (William Morrow, 2005).
I first encountered the words of Bradbury in utero—my Dad read the freak show frescoes from the 1951 collection The Illustrated Man aloud to my Mom while I was still a month from arrival.
I grew up, like many Gen X adolescents, nerding out to Dungeons and Dragons, the spandex bravado of KISS, the space opera allure of Star Wars and, of course, the fantastic fictions of one Ray Douglas Bradbury, caretaker of Mars, gatekeeper to Green Town, tour guide to all things that lurk long after midnight.
It was a surreal experience to later become his biographer, to spend thousands of hours with the man. He loved the inherent fate in the entire confounding scenario, deeming my pre-birth encounter with his words and work as a premise that was, in and of itself, decidedly Bradburian.
In 12 years, as one might imagine, I observed many of Bradbury’s creative secrets. I peered behind the Oz-ian curtain, as it were, and paid close attention. Bradbury was a master storyteller and visionary artist who created across an unprecedented nine decades. Fahrenheit 451. The Martian Chronicles. Dandelion Wine. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Massive collections of poetry. Massive collections of essays. Hundreds of short stories across every conceivable genre. He owned and operated his own theatre company. He wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hicthcock Presents. On a whim, he scripted an animated short film that was later nominated for an Oscar. He earned an Emmy for an animated television adaptation of his own YA novel, The Halloween Tree. Bradbury developed architectural concepts for shopping malls, the 1964 World’s Fair and EPCOT. There is a crater on the moon named, by NASA, for Ray Bradbury’s book 1957 novel-in-stories, Dandelion Wine.
The man was a force.
Not surprising then, that much of my own creative ethos is culled from what I learned working alongside Ray Bradbury. I share many of these insights into craft as a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and when I conduct writing workshops at public libraries and high schools across the country.
So here are just a few of the many creative secrets gleaned from working alongside one of the 20th Century’s great creators.