Shaun Farrell interviews Ray Bradbury
Shaun's Quadrant—May 2005

Ray Bradbury is a living legend not just in the fields of science fiction and fantasy, but in all of literature. He has penned the timeless classics Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He has also published more than 600 short stories and essays.

It is wonderful, for me, to have Ray helping us start our interview series here at Far Sector SFFH. Ray Bradbury changed my life, for it was reading his books that allowed me to realize I wanted to write—that maybe, if I worked long and hard, I could put something true and pure on paper that would live forever, just like Ray.

See Rayís website at http://www.raybradbury.com


Shaun Farrell: Letís talk about the new book. Itís a biography entitled The Bradbury Chronicles, by Sam Weller.

Ray Bradbury: He made up that title, yes.

SF: I was wondering if you could tell me how the book came into conception.

RB: Well, about five years ago, Sam went to The Herald Tribune in Chicago and said, ďRay Bradburyís eightieth birthday is coming up, and I would like to do an article on him.Ē So The Herald Tribune gave permission and he called me and he flew out to the coast and he did the article. And it was splendid. So, having met me that one time, he came on two more occasions, and he finally said to me, ďHas anyone ever done a biography on you?Ē I said, ďNo.Ē And he said, ďWhy not?Ē I said, ďWell I donít believe Iím ready to have a biography written about me. Itís the bookend of a life. Iím not ready to say that I need bookends.Ē But he kept insisting, and I begin to see the more I met him that he was a twin. Like an honorary son. So finally at the end of the summer I gave him permission, and he began to fly out to the coast every three weeks for the next four years. It was a heck of a lot of flying and research. So, the final book is a triumph. Heís done a fantastic job.

SF: Itís interesting that he started out with an article and it turned into a book when several—

RB: Thatís true. When you think of all my books they started out as articles or short stories or screenplays that turn into novels. So whatís true for me is true for Sam.

SF: There was also another book by Jerry Weist published in 2002 called The Illustrated Life.

RB: Thatís right. Itís more of a metaphorical survey of my life Ė all the metaphors of my life, all the covers Iíve conceived for my books, all of my interests in metaphorical subjects, in comic books, in motion pictures, what have you. So, itís really a display of all the metaphors of my life. Itís a wonderful picture book, but itís not a complete biography. So Sam Weller has come along and filled in all the details.

SF: So they make nice companion pieces, working together.

RB: They do, indeed. Itís wonderful.

SF: I noticed in The Illustrated Life a lot of beautiful book covers by Joseph Mugnaini. His work really seemed to capture the mystery and the sense of magic thatís in your work.

RB: Wonderful. He came into my life fifty years ago. I was out with my wife one night, back in 1951, and I passed this art store, and I saw this wonderful lithograph in the window of a Gothic/Victorian house. And I said, ďMy God, thatís beautiful work. I would love to own that. But I bet we canít afford it.Ē So the next day, I went to the art store, and I asked them how much the Joe Mugnaini lithograph was worth, and they said, ďSeventy-five dollars.Ē Well, I didnít have that. Back in 1951, my income was still very small—50 dollars to 75 dollars a week. So, I bought the lithograph that time, and paid the money off in about three months. And then they showed me some wonderful oil paintings that he had done of the same building, and some other concepts that he had. Looking at them, I said, ďMy God, this man has read my mind. All the fantastic dreams Iíve had, all the nightmares, are represented in the works of this single artist.Ē So, by God, I called the art store and I got his phone number and I went up to visit him. I told him that I had very little money, but that if his paintings didnít sell at the art store, I would buy them from him at half price. In other words, when you have your paintings in an art store, you split it fifty-fifty with them. I couldnít afford to buy the full price, but I could afford to pay half price to the artists. Leave the art gallery out of it. So, two weeks later, I got a phone call from Joe Mugnaini and he said, ďThe paintings havenít sold. Come pick them up.Ē So, I went and picked the paintings up and I discovered six months or a year later that he had pulled them out of a show in order to give them to me. So thatís the kind of person he was. He wasnít interested in money at all. He was interested in ideas and in painting. So thatís how our relationship began.

SF: Art is very important to you, isnít it?

RB: Iím a born collector of metaphors. Iíve spent my life in museums, wandering around and looked at the pictures and getting to know the artists, and collecting pictures wherever I had the chance—if the paintings were not too expensive.

SF: Are there any other artists that have had a particular influence on you?

RB: No, Joe Mugnaini is the main one. The whole history of art has influenced me. The work of Salvador Dali was of some interest, but he was a little too fantastic. He sort of got out of hand most the time. But, some of the paintings of the Renaissance, and much of the work the Impressionists, whose work extended into the twentieth century, were very influential in a way.

SF: Change of subject. Iíve been noticing for some time that Warner Brothers is developing A Sound of Thunder for the big screen. I was wondering if you could tell us about that and how involved you are in the process.

RB: The film is finished. They spent two years making it in Czechoslovakia. They spent 100 million dollars on it. And I finally saw it out at the studio two weeks ago and itís worked wonderfully. Theyíve done a beautiful job. And the director of the film is not only the director, but the cinematographer. His work photographing the picture is quite amazing.

SF: Do you have any idea when the film will be released?

RB: They tell me in August, and I said, ďFor Godís sake, make it on my birthday then!Ē My birthday is August 22nd. Iím hoping that Warner Brothers will decide to release it on my birthday.

SF: That would be quite a birthday present.

RB: It would be wonderful.

SF: Whatís the news about the remake of Fahrenheit 451

RB: Frank Darabont has done a new script and there have been fifteen scripts developed on Fahrenheit, which is ridiculous. My answer to that is shoot the book and you canít go wrong, because the book is a screenplay. Frank Darabont will continue to direct the film, but we have no money. So you have to go find money somewhere to get the film made.

SF: Do you have any preferences for you plays Montag?

RB: Not really, there are a lot of good people, but I would like to have Sean Connery play the fire chief. I think he would be brilliant.

SF: It seems like Hollywood is making a film of every novel ever written. Does it seem to you that there is a lack of originality in Hollywood?

RB: Oh, boy, thatís an understatement. If you turn on your set at night and get some of the cable stations and theyíre playing films written and produced in Hollywood over the last five years, my God, theyíre dreadful. They are full of explosions, and gunfire, and macho males trying to prove their masculinity to one another. Theyíre not very original, but Iím hoping someone will come along and do my novel Dandelion Wine, which would make a wonderful film. Iíve done it as a screenplay, and Iíve done it as a musical, and it works. So, I know it would work in film also.

SF: And thatís a very autobiographical work, isnít it?

RB: It sure is.

SF: It seems that so many books are being turned into films that people are choosing not to read because they say, ďIíll see the movie.Ē

RB: Oh, thatís not true. Theyíre still reading.

SF: How would you fix Hollywood?

RB: Tell them to do some good writing. The screenplay is the secret to everything. So if you have a good screenplay, you have a good film.

SF: Have you seen any really great science fiction films over the last few years?

RB: No, thereís been nothing; itís all junk. Most of it is junk.

SF: Fads in publishing and film come and go, but you have remained popular for decades. How do you do it?

RB: By writing quality stuff. I donít like all the mechanics that go into a lot of novels. A lot of science fiction is about how to build a rocket, how to fly a rocket, how to destroy a city, how to destroy people in outer space. Iím not interested in that. Iím interested in human beings. Thatís why.

SF: What would you say to young, aspiring writers who want to be rich and famous?

RB: If you want to be rich and famous, donít go into writing. You have the wrong motive. I donít believe in being rich and famous, to hell with that. Iím not interested in the money or the fame. Iím interested in being a great writer. If you want to be a writer, you need to go to the library and live there for years and read all the great books. Forget about getting famous and rich, because it doesnít work that way.

SF: Michael Shurtleff (author of Audition) says the same thing about acting. He basically says if you want to be rich and famous donít act, because youíll be miserable. Only act if youíll go insane if you donít. Writing strikes me as being the same way.

RB: Everything has to do with quality; everything has to do with love. If you want to be an actor, you have to love the theatre and the stage. Iíve been in theatre since I was in high school, and Iíve never made a dime from it. I have my own theater, the Pandemonium Theater. Iíve written thirty plays and put them on in various theaters in L.A., and Iíve never made a dime. But the reward I get is the love I have for the theatre, and for my actors, and for writing for the stage. So, thatís got to be the reward you get.

SF: What should young writers be reading?

RB: Itís up to them. Read what you love. I canít give a list. Go to the library, go to the bookstore, find things you love, and read them. Itís very simple.

SF: You call yourself a collector of metaphors. What metaphor would you use to characterize our modern age of terrorism?

RB: Well (laughter), you can supply that answer yourself. Pure terror, thatís all. There is no metaphor to describe it. But thatís not the complete age. It is an age we went to the moon, and Iím sorry we came home, and I hope we go back. I hope we go on to Mars now. Thatís going to be a part of this age in the next twenty yearsÖYou canít find out what an age is until itís over, and you canít do much to influence it except set a good example. If you believe in quality, thatís the example you set. And if I have people who follow me, and imitate me, and are clones of mine, thatís great. I have a lot of young writers who think Iím okay, and they want to live that way too.

SF: If you could collaborate with any other author, who would it be?

RB: No, you canít collaborate. Thatís not creative. I did some of that when I was 21 years old, and I soon discovered that I used my collaborator as a crutch, and he used me as a crutch. Collaboration is not good. You canít do it.

SF: What book are you reading right now?

RB: Iím re-reading Saint Joan, the play by George Bernard Shaw.

SF: How has George Bernard Shaw influenced you as you adapt your own work for the stage?

RB: In writing my plays the last forty years, Shaw has been a constant companion and influence. Heís wonderful because he does serious subjects with his tongue in his cheek. He has a wonderful sense of humor.

SF: What are you working on right now?

RB: Two novels that Iíve been working on for many years: a sequel to Dandelion Wine called Farewell Summer, and another novel I began many years ago called Somewhere a Band is Playing.

SF: Ray, thank you for taking time to speak to us.

RB: Thank you so much. You take care now.

Copyright © 2005 Shaun Farrell. All Rights Reserved.