No doubt you are all anxious to learn how my visit to Ray transpired, and I don't like to disappoint, but I am so drained, exhausted, and discouraged I can say only so much. First of all, all is well with Ray. I told him before I went that no matter what happened we could NEVER be mad at him because we all love him so much, so any dissatisfaction I express is NOT about Ray! I also held his hand before I left and told him again that we love him. (I'm thinking, on the likelihood that I outlive Ray, I don't want to have to reproach myself later on things I should, or shouldn't, have done, and I genuinely WANTED to do this!) He told me on the phone later that he had "a great week" and it "was wonderful having you here and great seeing you at the play." Although "every day is different," he felt well, said his wife felt well, and it had been a great week. Forrest J. Ackerman (over three years older than Ray--Ray is almost 83 and Ackerman just turned 86--) also looked and spoke well. Both were friendly, gracious, and charming in the extreme and acted as if we were doing a really great thing visiting them! As far as giving affirmation to them, I felt the trip was a success. Regarding the affirmation I went to get I am more troubled. Ray put me on the spot by asking me how many short stories I've written. I said, I don't know, maybe 20. He said, "Well, that's not enough! You gotta write 200 and then they'll start to be good." I was thinking, my God! The idol of my life just sentenced me to writing 200 short stories before I BEGIN to be good, and I consider myself more of a novelist anyway! What if I don't come up with 200 ideas? What if I do and don't finish writing them? What if I write them all and it's still no good after 200? That's a lot of work to learn you are no good! I had nothing to say in response to this except maybe, "Okay," but the affirmation I had gone to get, not so much from Ray, but from LIFE itself, was that I could somehow either have an extension on my writing career or (God forbid) fail entirely and still be of some use to someone ANYWAY--you know, that I was, in and perhaps even of myself, somehow valuable, useful, and lovable to others regardless of my career success, which I went to California in the HOPE of somehow learning although I KNEW the answer was no in advance! On the plane on the way home I felt exactly like the boy in "The Miracles of Jamie," who kept trying to work magic to make his mother well from a terminal illness when his father and the doctors kept telling him she was incurable. He couldn't accept that. He had to have that HOPE that his mother would be well and able to be with him because he couldn't even face the concept of life without his mother's love. (Neither can I--once mine goes--that's it. She is well for her age but starting to wind down now.) Ray has certainly affirmed (and in many ways formed!) my view of reality, for which I thank him, but he in no way offered any real guarantee of my being able to be PART of the reality I see! I can still see it but be unable to "earn" my way into being accepted to belong in it. (Like someone watching Andy Griffith on TV and wanting to move to Mayberry--I mean, gee, you can believe in it and be unable to actually get there!) This is the sobering impression I took away from the trip. I was hoping to get rid of fears which have haunted me since infancy and the trip just ended up confirming I have no established "place" or identity in this world and chances of forming one are unsure in the extreme. You may ask what was the point of going to see Ray if it was about me. I'm not saying the trip wasn't worthwhile--just that it turned out as well as could be EXPECTED but not as well as could be HOPED. REALITY is, that Ray will still be Ray and his legacy will endure whether I see him or not, but any place of mine in the world, past, present, or future, on a personal or larger scale, is unsettled and not looking good. Both Bradbury and Ackerman were very complimentary about my looks which was certainly better than nothing.
Thanks for giving us your off-the-cuff appraisal of your visit with Ray. Life can be a double-edged sword at times. Those of us that feel most alive, most in-touch with life and our expectations, are also the ones that are most often crushed by biting reality.
Don't beat yourself up about the writing or the missed revelation you were seeking on your trip. Because, one spectacular day, or one transcendant night, hopefully not too long from now, something Ray said might come to you and turn a key in your mind. Or perhaps it was an unspoken impression, perhaps in his eyes or his touch. I'd be willing to guess that if you had a video tape of the meeting, you would interpret it quite different or discover hidden nuances on the replay.
And besides, by the time Ray wrote his 200th story, he was well on his way to acceptance. Although, back then the market might have been ready to accept Ray into it's bossom. It's not so easy for an author these days. Perhaps he compells you to keep writing because he knows your best story is still inside you, and just maybe it will be No. 200 that does it.
Thanks again for conveying your impressions. Yes, we love Ray! And we love you, too!
Thanks for the news on Ray. And, no, I don't think this trip was all about you. But let me try to help you with Ray's advice, because, as a struggling writer myself, I agree with it:
1.) 200 stories? Perhaps Ray's exaggerating but I'd stick with that number. It's as good as any, the more the better. Because the more you write, the better you'll be. The law of averages will be on your side. Let's say 99% of these stories is crap. (Ray doesn't make the requirement that they be good stories. Neither do I.) That means you'll have 2 really good stories. Does that make you a better writer? I think you already know the answer to that: anyone would be a better writer after 200 stories. Besides, at a story a week, that's only 4 years of writing. That's a college education. You wouldn't consider that too hard if you were pursuing a degree, would you?
2.) Don't worry, you'll come up with 200 ideas. Ray has lots of tips about that but the bottom line is the more you prime the pump, the more you'll produce. Set a goal of an idea a day. Again, doesn't have to be a good idea. Shoot, just take a look in the newspaper. You'll come up with at least one story in which a protagonist passionately pursues a goal while battling an antagonist. The well will never run dry. Never.
3.) Short story or novel? Okay, then write 200 novels. Just kidding of course. They're two different beasts, yes, but the education you'll get from the shorter form will help you more than what you'll learn from the longer form. I mean things about good dialogue, presenting revealing action, etc. Pacing could be different but really, the switch to novels from short stories is harder than from novels to short stories. You can tell a novelist who tries a short story is in further over their head than a short story writer who writes a novel. (Besides, take a look at Ray's novels. Virtually every one of them are collections of his stories or sprang from short stories that he later expanded.)
4.) No market for short stories? No, there's not. But the market's tough for novels, too. Either way, the chances are slim, close to nil. Does that discourage you? Sorry. As Hemingway said, (and it says so on my Hemingway T-shirt)if writing were easy, everyone would do it. So, could you possibly not be cut out to be a writer? Could be. Could be. I'm sure the world will somehow find its way. It's gotten along pretty good without you so far. (Hey, I just remembered: you've already had a novel published. So you're way ahead of the game, aren't you?) It's gotten along real well without me, too. So the only people it really matters to is me and you. And that's who you're writing for, right? I mean, besides your audience? You do it to please yourself because it pleases you to please an audience.
5.) I've had to finally let go of the myth that I could support myself and my family on my writing alone. Sure, bestselling authors manage to do it all the time, but that's a tiny percentage of those of us toiling away. Most other published authors have regular jobs. Or a much lower standard of living. Nothing wrong with that. It's just reality.
Hmm. Doesn't sound very encouraging though I meant it to be. Besides, I'm sure you knew most of this anway. No, Dandelion, I think you likely have the talent it takes to succeed. Your published novel attests to that. But what I think Ray is saying is that the best way to improve is to work hard and the best way to work hard is to write a lot.
So. . . What're you doing reading this post? Get to work!
Best of luck,
Discouraged? What!!! Sitting down and talking with the greatest living writing legend on this planet...and you are Discouraged? NONSENSE!!!
Affirmation can be hard to come by... at least the kind you are looking for. So don't get bent outta shape because you can't meet the expectations dealt to you... But then, you have come to some understanding of that already, on your plane trip back....The struggle to see what's in your heart and talent, to keep some sort of mental and emotional balance amidst the gift God gave you, requires 'great wisdom'. In fact, you may just be extremely gifted in areas you haven't look into very much, and might be bent outta shape in other areas that strain your integrity....
All in all, closely reading your above post, I think your trip was a success. You will NEVER say you were sorry you went. NEVER!!!
Thanks for your honesty and openess -- and thank you for sending our love to Ray.
As far as the affirmation you were seeking-how does it get better than Ray Bradbury himself giving you a kick in the pants? You wanna make a living as a writer? So get to work!
Remember, implied in Ray's pronouncement is his belief that you CAN write 200 stories and that it WILL make you a good writer. In his own way, I think he touched you with a lightning rod and shouted "Live forever!"
Just thank God you didn't go see Harlan Ellison, who I think tells writers to just give up. He knows that a REAL writer can't give up, they gotta write.
If you feel overwhelmed by the 200 stories, just take it, you know, "bird by bird".
Ideas? Hell! Ideas are so overrated! Everyone has ideas! Not everyone sits their self-doubting butt down and writes--and so much of writing is the confrontation of doubt.
The truth is, the ideas don't always come before you write, they come WHILE you write. I see your dilemma as a novelist. I am currently writing screenplays myself. Last summer, just to keep my creative juices flowing, I bought a few books with writing exercise prompts and did some freewriting first thing every morning. I was amazed at what came out. You will be too. But only if you WRITE.
As far as your place in the universe -- in all of time and space, there will never be another dandelion. You are absolutely a unique creation. So don't count yourself out just yet.
Yes...I went to see ol' Harlan Ellison once, at his home. Not the perfect person to look to for redemption, or much less affirmation. The winding street and forever-walk 'up' to his front door, was....all on one hot day. He let me in, sat me down, and read my story. Said it was about the worst thing he had ever read. I left.
Years later I recall Ellison writing a story called 'Slippage'...about how life was giving him the slip in relation to his fundamental belief about things.
Ah, nothing is perfect...at least that our six senses can understand on their own...
(Somewhere in all of this, there is a cup of tea, I am sure.)
Yup, definitely sounds like Harlan.
Ha, ha!--thanks--I needed the laugh! I almost wrote old Harlan a fan letter once, but then I thought...naw.... No video, alas, despite a blatant hint from me: I handed the case containing the video camera to the person with me, stating when asked what it was. If Ray saw and heard this exchange and said nothing, it meant he really didn't want a video--so the camera never left the case. The only way to set it up to tape and not show Ray, since he was in the small dining room at the time, would probably be to put the camera inside the china cabinet--and I was not ABOUT to suggest opening his china cabinet! He also knew I had a still camera as I was complaining that it jammed when I tried to photograph the outside of the house. The mere fact that this camera, which is only a little over a year old and never gave me trouble before, jammed, I took as a sign that Ray really didn't want pictures. We have a ton of pictures of the outside of the house, (or I will when I pick mine up hopefully Wednesday) and we have the signed books, though, strange to say, the date Ray was writing was actually five days AFTER the date we were there--but that's Ray--always thinking in the future. So if someone wants to take the lack of video, audio, or photographic evidence as indication that we weren't really there, I don't care, it won't change it. It was so weird watching the second play in "The October Country," "The Cistern," as I was in almost the EXACT mental state as the main character in that--acknowledging that she had been, for years, living a sort of half-life or undead existence, still dreaming of, or constructing, some sort of redemption for herself, realizing the change (redemption) could come only through her own death, and then sort of accepting death. I also, in the next few days, besides thinking of "The Miracles of Jamie," found myself repeating Edwin's chant at the end of "Jack-in-the-Box": "I'm dead, I'm dead, I know I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm glad I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead, it's good to be dead!" It's that state of mind, I guess you might call cognitive dissonance, when you find your life is so different from what you were taught it would be, believed it was, or hoped it could become, that you KNOW you must be dead or dreaming, but you can't really be dead as you have the awareness to "know" things, be "glad" of things, and recognize a thing as "good"--yet you can't relate to your OWN situation enough to explain it! Eerie.
Dandelion, I think you're a little mixed up about the nature of successful art. Great artists don't become successful by wanting to be famous and then somehow squeezing their way in there. I once heard a quotation (I don't know it's source): "A great writer does not write because he wants to say something; he writes because he has something to say." Ray Bradbury is a great man and a great artist, and if he tells you have to write 200 stories to be good, but you feel deep down in your gut that you can write two stories and be good, then you ought to tell him to go to Hell, and he'd probably respect you for it! Passion is the fountainhead of all great achievement; you will get nowhere by knocking down the doors of great writers begging for their acceptance. First, you must accept yourself; only then will the rest of the world be willing to accept you, too.
Here's a question:
How did you arrive at your conclusions? Just your natural sensibilities? Experience? Little of both? Other?
This 'admiration', of any figure of the arts, can be vicious... and unmerciful, depending on the "icon" involved. It can be so complex for some, that it defies sensibilities.
The psyche, damaged or gifted, sometimes operates somewhat similiarly... they both need to be loved.
The movements must be made a thousand times before you really begin to understand them. The clay pot must be thrown again and again until you feel the essence of the earth of which it is made. The seeds must be sown each summer for twenty years before you can then merely dream lovingly of the crops growing in the sunlight.
But when does this all happen? It just does... in its own time. Dandelion, To spend time with Mr. Bradbury, smiling, talking, sharing best wishes from friends (some known, others never met) was a magnificent gift to share. How thoughtful of you and what a perfect package it was - all wrapped up in you.
Of course he was going to set the standard high! If he didn't, how much love would he have shown you??? The number was arbitrary... It is the journey in making the moves, shaping the pot, or harvesting the fields that makes us who we are.
To be blessed by the presence of parents, family, or friends who unconditionally share their spirits with us is to feel God's graces flowing. It sounds to me that you have returned from LA with much more than a challenge to write more stories.
Mr. Bradbury welcomed you into his home, laughed, taught, inquired, and listened. It doesn't get any better than that! It must be tremendously inspiring. Take all of what was offered, breathe it in, enjoy the images, and gradually the significance of your visit (with one of literature's greatest treasures) will unfold. One page at a time.......
I have read some of your work, and it was excellent. You can surely write, and tell a good story. Now, take a lesson from Jo Rowling. Do the writing first. Put in the effort, for yourself.
Of course, "yourself" is your worst critic. If you have made "yourself" satisfied, then the rest is chance, good agents, timing and perserverance. Ol' J.K. took boxes of hand written stuff and put that into the Harry Potter books, when, eventualy driven out of necessity, to offer them up to the world for money. Look what happened. Tolkein did a similar thing, wrote for his close friends and primarily for his own enjoyment while creating a world that others now play in.
L. Frank Baum wrote for his children first, as well.
I think the happiness comes from working at what you love the most. If that is truely writing, then write you must, to be happy.
Ray was going to write no matter what happened and, in doing so, he found a way to write stories that pleased "himself". Those became the "good" ones and taught him how to recognize when he had written a great story. I am sure, at that point, Ray was satisfied. The trick was getting others to agree with his built-in, and well self-educated, critic. I guess that is where the perserverance comes in.
I always dreamed of writing something that I thought was good. Instead of a writer, I became a reader; first, a student of science, technology, physics and Man's accumalated "knowledge" of his world; then, later, a student of Man and his social actions, economics, wars, and attempts to exert his control over his surroundings and fellow humans. I am most often happy after reading something that either stimualtes me to think about things in a different manner, or makes me see the actions of my fellow humans as whimsical, romantic, chilling, or worthy of admiration and emulation. I think that is what I find in most of Ray's stories: the humanity that he shines his liturary light upon makes me feel as though I could have known the characters, regardless of where their stories were placed, Earth, Mars, or another time and place.
I felt that way in reading your book. I got to know some people I would not have had any familiarity with otherwise and could then feel what they must have felt and experienced, through your words, and what they had lived through. I came away with great empathy for their valiant spirits in times of great hardship and breakdown of human relations between two groups of people who had previously worked together. You put that into pen and paper and I felt it. You are a writer. Please find happiness in your writing.
[This message has been edited by patrask (edited 06-19-2003).]
So...are you having Jet Lag, Ray Lag, or Is-It-All-Over-Already Lag?
(Wish somebody was out there somewhere's to hear Ray speak Saturday night in Santa Barbara, and report back.)
Dandelion: Were you able to take pictures of Forry?
I made an entire videotape of Forry which I haven't been able to view as my sister has the original and the equipment for transferring it to playable form. I got the still pictures today and the ones of Forry and his collection turned out great.
Ray told a story, prompted by a blue butterfly charm I wore, about a director who worked for a year or a year and a half on "A Sound of Thunder." When Ray saw the butterfly he said, "Well, good for you! (After all this work, this director) said, 'How about we get rid of the butterfly?' so you know what we did? We fired the son-of-a-bitch!" I told him that of all the stories by him inquired about--not just on this board, but I regularly visit a number of other sites with places to send descriptions of "stories for which you can't remember title or author"--"A Sound of Thunder" and "All Summer in a Day" are the two most requested, and what EVERYONE remembers from "A Sound of Thunder" is the butterfly (one person on the now-defunct Alibris board called it a moth) but no one forgot it, which is pretty remarkable when you consider how big the T-rex is compared to the butterfly. I also told him the story not by him most frequently attributed to him was "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut. He seemed a bit displeased by any comparison to Vonnegut, of whom he said, "We're friends but I find his work a bit negative." He asked me if I'd read any Vonnegut and I said, "Maybe two stories," though if pressed I'd have been able to name only one for sure--and that was assigned for school.
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