Authors: Ray Bradbury
The Cat's Pajamas
Always and forever the cat's pajamas
fine brother, good friend,
who shared those great early years in
Green Town, Illinois
Thanks to Donn Albright for prowling
my basement and finding stories I'd
long since forgotten that I had written.
Still my golden retriever.
HAT IS THERE
to say about my secret self, my sub-conscious, my creative demon, that writes these stories for me?
I will try to find some fresh insight into the process, which has kept me alive and kicking and writing for seventy years.
Two good examples of the way I've tried to work from the 1940s to now are my stories “Chrysalis” and “The Completist.” (Note: The “Chrysalis” in this collection is different from the short story of the same name that was published in
magazine in 1946, and later collected in
S Is for Space
. I just liked the title so much that I used it twice.)
Back in the long summers of the 1940s, I, like my brother, spent all my extra time at the beach. He was a real surfer, I was a body surfer, and in between times I lingered by the Santa Monica pier and got to know all the volleyball players and weight lifters. Among the friends I made were a few colored people (in those days, everyone did say “colored”; the terms “black” and “African-American” came years later).
I was intrigued by the thought that people of color might actually sunburn; it had never before crossed my mind. So the metaphor was there, “Chrysalis” was written, and now it is published for the first time. I wrote the story and put it away long years before the civil rights movement; it is a product of its era, and I believe that it stands the test of time.
“We'll Just Act Natural” is the result of my being raised in my grandmother's house, part time, by a black maid named Susan. She was a wonderful lady and I looked forward to her arrival once a week all during my childhood.
When my family went west in 1934, I lost contact with most of my Waukegan friends, including Susan. She wrote me a letter along the way asking if she could come out and be a maid for our family. Sadly, it was the middle of the Depression and my father was out of work and my brother joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in order not to be a burden to our family. We were dirt poor and hardly able to keep our own heads above water. I had to write to Susan and thank her for her kindness and wish her well in the future. This caused me to think about traveling back someday to visit my friends in Waukegan, and see Susan once again. It never happened, but the story is a result of my imagining the future and being not quite the human being I would like to be. I heard from Susan many years later; she had survived well during the later part of the Depression.
“The Completist” is another kind of story. Years ago, my wife, Maggie, and I encountered an incredible book collector and library founder on a voyage across the Atlantic. We spent hours with him and became intrigued with the stories he told of his fabulous life.
At the end of this encounter we were both shocked by something that occurred, and which you will find in the story.
I remembered that voyage and that gentleman for twenty years and did nothing with the metaphor that he offered.
During the last six weeks a strange and surprising thing has happened. My wife became ill in early November, wound up in the hospital, and passed away just before Thanksgiving. During her illness and in the time since, for the first time in seventy years my demon has lain quiet within me. My muse, my Maggie, was gone, and my demon did not know what to do.
As the days passed, and then the weeks, I began to wonder if I would ever write again; I was unaccustomed to waking in the morning and not having my private theater acting out its ideas inside my head.
But one morning a few days ago I woke and found “The Completist” gentleman sitting at the edge of my bed, waiting for me and saying,
At long last, write my story
Eagerly, for the first time in more than a month, I called my daughter Alexandra and dictated this story to her.
I hope you will make the comparison between “Chrysalis” and “The Completist” and find that though time has passed, my ability to know a metaphor when I see it has not changed.
My ability to write, of course, was much more primitive when I wrote “Chrysalis,” but the idea itself is strong and worth considering.
“A Matter of Taste” is the result of encountering spiders during a good part of my life, either in the woodpile in Tucson or on the road to Mexico City, where we saw a spider so big we actually got out of the car to examine it. It was bigger than one of my hands and quite beautiful and furry. Back in California I realized all over again that every garage in Los Angeles contained several dozen black widow spiders, so you have to be careful that you don't get bitten by these poisonous creatures. Along the way you wonder what it's like to have a skeleton on the outside, instead of on the inside, so “A Matter of Taste” is an enlargement of that concept, where I portray a world of spiders on a far planet that are far brighter than the astronaut intruders who arrive to encounter them. This was the beginning of my considering a screenplay titled “It Came from Outer Space,” which I wrote for Universal a few months later. So a story which involved my imagination resulted in my employment at a studio and the making of a rather nice film.
As for the other stories in this collection, most of them occurred almost instantly and I rushed to put them down.
I was signing books one day six months ago, with a young friend, and we began to talk about the Indian casinos that are situated around the United States. Quite suddenly I said to my young friend, “Wouldn't it be something if a bunch of drunken senators gambled away the United States to the head of an Indian casino?”
As soon as I said that, I cried, “Give me a pencil and paper,” and wrote down the idea and finished the story a few hours later.
Glancing through a copy of
The New Yorker
six months ago I came across a series of photos of Okies, supposedly taken during the 1930s, when they were heading west on Route 66. Reading further, I discovered they were not Okies at all, but New York models dressed up in ancient clothing and posed in New York City, sometime during the past year. I was so astounded and angered by this revelationâhow could that tragic chapter of our history become fodder for a fashion shoot!?âthat I wrote the story “Sixty-Six.”
This book is also full of my love of my favorite writers. I have never in my life been jealous or envious of my great loves like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Melville, Poe, Wilde, and the rest. I've only wanted to join them on the shelves of libraries.
It follows that I'd been so worried about the mind and creativity of Fitzgerald that time and again I have invented time machines to go back and save him from himself; an impossible task, of course, but my love demanded it.
In this collection you will find me as a defender of a faith, helping Scotty to finish work he should have finished and telling him again and again not to worship money and to stay away from the motion picture studios.
Traveling on the freeway to Pasadena several years ago I saw the fabulous graffiti on the cement walls and on the overhead bridges, where anonymous artists had hung upside down to create their miraculous murals. The idea so intrigued me that at the end of the journey I wrote “
The story about Lincoln's funeral train, “The John Wilkes Booth/Warner Brothers/MGM/NBC Funeral Train,” would seem quite obvious, since we live in an age when publicity seems to be a way of life, the realities of history are ignored, and villains, rather than heroes, are celebrated.
“All My Enemies Are Dead” is a fairly obvious story. As we get older we discover that not only do our friends vanish in time, but the enemies who bullied usâin grade school, in high schoolâfall away, and we find that we have no hostile remembrances to remember! I've carried that concept to the very end.
“The R.B., G.K.C., and G.B.S. Forever Orient Express” is not a story, per se, but more a story-poem, and it is a perfect demonstration of my complete love for the library and its authors from the time I was eight years old. I didn't make it to college, so the library became my meeting place with people like G. K. Chesterton and Shaw and the rest of that fabulous group who inhabited the stacks. My dream was to one day walk into the library and see one of my books leaning against one of theirs. I never was jealous of my heroes, nor did I envy them, I only wanted to trot along as lapdog to their fame. The poem came out one day all in one continuous roll so that I as a quiet mouse could ride along half-seen and listen to their fabulous talk. If anything represents my goal in life over a period, it is this poem, which is why I chose to include it here.
In sum, most of these stories have seized me at various times and would not let me go until I nailed them down.
My demon speaks. I hope that you will listen.
ONG AFTER MIDNIGHT
he arose and looked at the bottles fresh from their cartons, and put his hands up to touch them and strike a match gently to read the white labels, while his folks slept unaware in the next room. Below the hill on which their house stood the sea rolled in and while whispering the magic names of the lotions to himself he could hear the tides washing the rocks and the sand. The names lay easy on his tongue:
MEMPHIS WHITE OIL, Guaranteed, Tennessee Lotion Salve
HIGGEN'S BLEACH BONE WHITE SOAP
âthe names that were like sunlight burning away dark, like water bleaching linens. He would uncork them and sniff them and pour a little on his hands and rub them together and hold his hand in match light to see how soon he would have hands like white cotton gloves. When nothing happened, he consoled himself that perhaps tomorrow night, or the next, and back in bed he would lie with his eyes upon the bottles, racked like giant green glass beetles above him, glinting in the faint streetlight.