Four years ago, Ray Bradbury was scheduled for a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Los Angeles for his short story collection, We'll Always Have Paris. I was in LA at the time working, and had seen Bradbury speak several times on the subject of how movies these days are sharply terrible. I'd never seen him speak about his stories.
I got to the Barnes and Noble early, and sat at the foot of the glass doors with my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, and a letter inside an envelope that I wrote to the man. I'd heard in the past that Ray actually read letters from his fans, so I wanted to hand it to him. I wanted to tell him that his writing of freshly-socked feet in tennis shoes and running, and the smell of tunafish in a paper sack -- his prose on being a kid at Summertime -- was like a flashlight in the dark for me.
So, when the doors opened, and Barnes and Noble staff let me in--I sat right away and quietly. I wanted to be close. He was getting old, and I heard that his stroke had left him, somehow, softer. Quieter, maybe.
It was the not the case. Ray was bursting. He was full of gusto and zeal, and he spoke about writing as though it came flying from his fingertips. He told us to write. Write as much as possible, and don't look back. To trust yourself, and -- dear God -- travel. Go to Paris he said. Go and experience everything, and write about it.
Then, he offered his time for book signing. I was hesitant because, honestly, I thought I'd say something stupid. I'd blurt out a line from Martian Chronicles, and fall through the glass doors or something. I got in line, and, when I planted in front of him, I handed him my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing. He signed inside the front cover.
I asked if I could hand him the letter I wrote, and, shaking, told him that he changed my life. He took the letter and smiled. Then, he took my hand and clasped it between his hands, looked my straight in the eye. He said, "thank you."
Rest in peace, Ray. Your books, from Illustrated Man to Something Wicked This Way Comes, inspired me and countless others.