Ray Bradbury and me, many years ago

Many years ago in a different land when I was a different person than the one I am today, I encountered, very briefly,Ray Bradbury. The real deal sci-fi author who got mainstream respect.

At that time, I worked in commercial television as a television operations engineer. At home alone, my free time was spent writing, scribbling, white paper and pen battling. Getting my imagination to imagine. I was writing because I had to and to do so meant perhaps I could be a full-time writer. One day, someday, that big hope day.

And then one evening Ray Bradbury, whose work was being made into movies during those years, showed up for a broadcast interview. I was working at KCOP-TV, Hollywood, California. I had been assigned to the show where the interview would happen to work the boom (microphone controlled on a long cable that would dangle over his head out of camera shot).

Before the show, in the main hallway outside the studio door, there were lined up several soft drink machines. I was hanging around this area, waiting for the call for the start of the show when Ray Bradbury came sliding out of the studio, his eyes immediately focused on the soft drinks machines, his right hand already digging in his pant’s pocket, seeking coins.

I felt hesitation and thrill. Budding writer who wanted and needed to know from established, haloed writer in the flesh, an answer, The Answer.

Bradbury held a coin before the slot of the machine while his eyes took the measure of its contents. Standard soft drinks in bottles, not cans, nesting, waiting in a row. He seemed in a rush yet willing to spend some time on this significant decision. I shuffled, shy and hopeful, to the machine, to his side. I stood there. I looked at him, then the machine, then him. His eyes huge behind very thick eyeglasses never strayed from the machine’s offerings.

“Mr. Bradbury?” He did not look over. “I want to say I admire your work.”
Now he looked over. “Thank you.” He returned to his decision-making process, slightly bent over, his head like an outdoor elevator going up and down, checking the various floors of the soft drinks rack inside the machine.
“May I ask you a question?”

He let his coin fall and moved his fingers to the buttons where he would punch in the code for his soft drink decision.

“What does it take to be a writer?” Feeling this was one of the most bold questions ever poised during the history of mankind, I held my breath in anticipation of the reply.

He did not look at me as he pressed the code and replied, “Some’s got it, some’s don’t.”

His chosen bottle rattled down the shoot and smacked hard against the bottom drawer. He pressed up the plastic flap, reached in, got his bottle, used the cap opener lodged in the machine, turned and walked off.

I don’t remember the TV show or his remarks during the interview I was running boom on. I do remember “Some’s got it, some’s don’t.”

And all these decades later on the other side of my writing life I know this about Ray. He was right.

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6 Responses to “Ray Bradbury and me, many years ago”

  1. Jane Steen says:

    Yes, he was right, though like with all talents, you can develop a small gift into a big one with lots of hard work. I think it was E.F. Benson who said “A writer isn’t someone who CAN write, it’s someone who DOES write.” You became a writer by writing, didn’t you?

  2. admin says:

    Thanks, Jane, for the comment, and I agree.

    It comes down to need versus want. Both include hard work, but the quality of desire varies. Want is a choice; need is fundamental….

    This was partly pressed upon me by the writing workshop I used to be in, and participating in a play writing workshop last Spring, and having one person who was there saying to me last week that she had this idea for a story but hadn’t had time to write it. Since May. This is an example of a want, not a need.

    I also think it is tied up with technique and voice. Lots of yearning writers are interested in learning how to write, where they should be interested in finding their voice. Any decent writing comes from that. And it’s the only think original about everyone. But it does takes years, indeed. And it is worth it. What else was I going to do with my life?

  3. Ryan Millar says:

    Thanks Vincent. This is great, and while I think Ray wasn’t telling the whole story he was putting it out there very succinctly. There are no secret tricks or shortcuts. “It” is that need.

  4. admin says:

    Hi Ryan, & thanks for comment. Agree with your words, but to expand on my point: when you’re starting out, I wanted magic words, “the whole story”, and when Ray walked away after his one-two punch, I felt very empty-handed. Coke-bottle-less. It’s only after putting in the years I can look back and say that his words does about sum it up. See my comment to Jane above on this. Good writing yourself in London-land.

  5. Great article, I just stumbled across it going through Reddit. Im a bit late though, I mean months late since you made it lol.

  6. A Good Read…

    Very helpful info thanks…

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