To say that Ray Bradbury was a great writer is an understatement. One group of readers will bring up The Martian Chronicles as his best work. Another contingent will say that distinction belongs to Fahrenheit 451, while another immediately thinks of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The point is, all of it was (and is) brilliant, but we all have our favorites.
For me, the early short stories Ray wrote for Weird Tales and the other pulps are nothing short of breathtaking. The kind of stories that, as a kid, I read and relished, curling up my toes at the gleeful creepiness of each tale.
The kind of stories that, as an adult, I still read and relish.
And to think that he was that good at the beginning of his career!
There is more literary magic in the first two pages of Ray's story The Man Upstairs than in many full novels that I've read. There is no skimming here. You can't. Every word is a present to the reader, every sentence is a necklace of gems strung out just for you to read, try out, keep.
The Next in Line, Interim, The Scythe, The Small Assassin, The Emissary, Bang! You're Dead. If you've missed them, read them as soon as possible.
Many of these stories are collected in The October Country. Some day, I hope to find a copy of Dark Carnival, which includes many more tales from this era.
Those stories inspired me to start writing. Someday, I hope to affect someone the way Ray affected me.
In 2006, I wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury. It was a typical fan letter. I gushed. Praised his work. Mentioned some favorites. Just wanted him to know...
But I also mentioned how he had inspired me to write a few stories of my own. I mentioned how I'd just made my first sale ($5, a cause for celebration!) and hoped to write more.
Ray wrote me back.
He drew a funny cartoon face on the envelope and a shaky "R.B." where the return address would be. Inside he inscribed an inkjet-printed photo collage to me:
Then closed with his name and the date.
Now, for all I know, Ray ALWAYS wrote "Onward!" as part of his inscriptions. In fact, I bet if I looked it up, I could find out. But I don't want to find out. Because for me, I looked at that and said to myself, "Ray Bradbury just told me to keep writing."
With every rejection letter I get, I hear Ray's encouragement: "Onward!"
Every time I think I don't have time to write. "Onward!"
When I think I'm out of ideas. "Onward!"
Any string of adjectives I could use to try to describe his writing would fall short.
And, however indirectly or accidentally, Ray Bradbury inspired me as a writer.
That is why this morning, when I learned of his passing, I just sat there and cried.