Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Ray Bradbury’s Adventures in Writing

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of the upcoming National Poetry Month of April, this week’s Spotlight Creator is the Ray Bradbury. Here is a short documentary of Ray Bradbury and a review of his book, Zen in the Art of Writing:

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Joshua Odell Editions (August 1, 1994)

In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury shares the sources of many of the hundreds of stories, essays, plays and novels. They come from a vivid imagination that has continued to see things with the eyes of a child. At the heart of many of his stories is his childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois.

Unlike the Thomas Wolfe saying of “you can’t go home again,” Bradbury often returned home to Waukegan. His childhood years in that small Illinois town served as a source for many of his stories in the same way that Hemingway mined his youth in Michigan for his Nick Adams stories and Mark Twain used Hannibal, Missouri for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Waukegan was his Paris, his Oz, his Castle Rock. In Bradbury’s imagination, Waukegan became the Green Town of the Dandelion Wine stories. An encounter at age twelve with Mr. Electrico and his traveling electric chair inspired him to begin his Martian stories.

Though he was writing a story a week in those early years, he imitated the fictions of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and many of the pulp writers he was reading. It was his discovery of word association that broke him free from their influence. Bradbury made a list of words, took one of those words, and made that word a title for a story. Then he came up with memories and emotions for that word.

He turned the phrase :the old woman” into two stories: “There was an Old Woman” and “Season of Disbelief”. “The baby” became “The Small Assassin”. “The trap door” ended up as “Trapdoor” in Omni Magazine in 1985.

Bradbury relates how it cost him nine dollars and eighty cents to write the first draft of Fahrenheit 451. He shares how a visit to catacombs in Mexico caused his imagination to spit up the story, “Next in Line.” His stay in Ireland led to a number of Irish stories, including “The Haunting of the New.” He relates his love affair with skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and Mars, and how he never lost his childlike wonder for all things strange and exotic and out-of-the-normal.

In the chapter titled “Zen in the Art of Writing,” he shares his process for writing: Work, Relaxation, Don’t Think. He relates how the writer can learn from the archer of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Then he reveals his unique approach to plotting. He writes: “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal” (p. 152).

Zen in the Art of Writing encourages the writer, and anyone pursuing his chosen dream, to never give up. Persistence pays off. If we’re putting in the work, there will be a reward down the line. His advice is: Do the work for the joy of it. Don’t worry about the destination. Love the process.

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The Man Without A Tie

Don’t you think “The Man Without A Tie” makes a nice title? It’s the title of my first draft of a noir novella of almost 19,000 words. I’ve been working on it for the last thirty days. Yesterday I put “The End” tag to it.

It’s the first person story of a schmuck on the losing side of ten grand. His name is Cord. It takes place in 1953 when “Hank Williams was dead, Frank Sinatra had gone Hollywood, Eisenhower was President, and the government was taken over by the commies. At least, that’s what Joe McCarthy said.”

It may not be a dark and stormy night in the City when the novel opens but it soon will be. There’s always a dark and stormy night in the City in these kind of stories. Just like there are eight million stories in the Naked City.

The main character isn’t Mike Hammer or Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. But his luck may be changing when he’s offered the chance to erase the ten grand gambling debt by two of the local crime lords. All he has to do is find out who killed the blonde. Unfortunately the police consider him a suspect.

It opens with this paragraph:

The blonde might have been dressed like a lady, but she was no lady. She was a regular circe. And she knew how to enchant the hell out of a fellow. There I was in bed with her, making like I knew what the heck I was doing. When we finished, she leaned toward me with those baby blues and put her ante down. “That’s a down payment, Baby.”

For the last thirty-something days, I woke up and wrote at least five hundred words on it first thing in the morning. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, there’s a good chance I may not get anything of my own written during the day. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, I feel guilty the rest of the day. If I don’t write first thing in the morning, I’m a real pain in the neck to know. And in other parts of the anatomy too.

Each morning I pull myself out of the old bedsky, feed the cat, get a cup of coffee, then go to work and let my subby-conscious do all the work. But it’s worth it. I never know what I will come up with. This time I came up with “The Man Without a Tie”.

Want to know why Cord doesn’t wear a tie. Want to know why he doesn’t have a first name. You’ll have to read it when it shows up on kindle sometime in the fall. In the meantime, I have to figure out whether his eyes are blue or brown. One thing is for sure. We know why Cord calls Cherry, the bartender at The Big Easy, Cleavage.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Alice Munro

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. To celebrate Women’s History Month, this week’s Creator Spotlight is the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro:

‘Depth of insight’ distinguishes Nobel-laureate Munro.

I first fell in love with Alice Munro when I read her short story, “Walker Brothers Cowboy”. I have read her short stories over the years and never been disappointed.

micropoem for the day: characters and a new day

No life is boring when you get right down to it. Everyone has an inner life. And there’s no character who is uninteresting. Although Jason came close to it. His life was so routine the trains set their schedule by it. Look deep enough and there’s something there. Jason may have had a family life so chaotic that he went in the opposite direction. Who’s to know unless the writer looks deep and let’s Jason bear his soul in some unexpected moment.

Writing a story is like falling in love. When I fall in love with a character, then I know I have a story. I want to know more and more and more. And more. The moment I quit looking deep into the soul of that character, I know I’m done for. That’s when ye olde writer’s block drops on my head.

sipping coffee
reading a book, then writing
the start of a new day.

Near 500 words: Soup-o-logy

When it comes to creating a story, I don’t start with an idea. Like the story will be about the difficulty of staying married. Or death is inevitable. A lot of the story-creation books suggest that is a good way into the story. I don’t start with a plot either.

My stories always begin with a character acting in a situation. It’s as if the character is a stranger I meet on the street. I do not work from a profile. Too many things to remember. I learn a character as the story moves along. A story that might begin with a man and a woman at dinner.

“The soup was good,” Dora says.

Kat’s response might be, “You think?” Maybe he didn’t think the soup was that good. Maybe he’s just super critical. Then Dora might decide no more dates with this guy. In addition to being critical, I just discovered that he is forthright. And Dora doesn’t care for critical, forthright men.

Or Kat might respond, “I thought so too.” Even if he didn’t like the soup, he isn’t going to tell Dora. So he’s either courteous or he might be a guy who hides things from others.

“I never eat a meal without soup. Even my breakfasts have soup.”

“Breakfasts have soups?” Kat asks.

“They are called cereal.”

“What do you see in soups?”

“I like their texture.”

Kat never thought of soups that way.

“Next time,” Kat says, “I’m taking you out for a steak.”

“Do they have soup?”

The two date a few times. Each time they go out, it’s soup. For the both of them. He begins to love soup as much as Dora does. He never knew he loved soup until Dora. She made a connoisseur of him. They even start planning their vacations around soup-tastings. For the first time in his life, he feels he belongs to a special group. The food subculture of soup-a-holics.

The next time he sees his friend, Joe, he says, “I’m getting married.”

Joe asks, “I don’t believe it. What did it for you?”

“She likes soup. And I like that she likes soup. I even like soup now.”

“There’s no reason to get married over soup.”

“Can’t think of a better one.”

“But soups?”

“Every time we get together we end up talking soup. We have something we’re passionate about in common.”

“What else do you have in common?”

“Don’t need anything else. It’s like me and my brother.”

Joe is confused. “You’re comparing her to your brother?”

“Just this. My brother and I have only one thing in common. Other than we’re family. We both love the Chicago Cubs. We can go a whole week talking Cubs and only scratch the surface.”

When Kat asks Dora to marry him, she asks him, “Why do you want to marry me?”

“I’ll always remember the first time you ordered minestrone. I’d never met anyone who put so much effort into eating soup. You first tasted the broth. Then you took just a small bite of the pasta. It was like you were doing a wine tasting. There was such ecstasy on your face. I knew right then I wanted to spend my life with you.”

“Well,” Dora said, “we may not have Paris. But we’ll always have minestrone.”

You see what I mean. How did I know who Dora and Kat were? I didn’t until they started talking. Until they started acting. Then it was only a matter of getting to the minestrone. It’s not a full blown plot but it’s a good beginning.