Read! Read! Read!

By Jerry L. Wheeler

I’m writing this the day after the death of one of the pillars of my writing foundation, the incredible Ray Bradbury—influential to me not only for his wonderful stories, but also for his personal encouragement.

I had first read Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which contained “The Veldt,” “The Exiles,” and “Marionettes, Inc.” among other brilliant science fiction. From there, it was a short hop to his other short story collections, notably The October Country and Silver Apples of the Moon, and then on to Something Wicked This Way Comes and, of course The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine until I had devoured them all.

Somewhere along the way, I wrote him a fan letter in which I confessed my ambition to become a writer, something I hadn’t even told my parents. Weeks passed—long enough that I even forgot I wrote him—but I got a reply. Handwritten, no less, on his personal stationery. I remember the paper was thick, with a blue line drawing of Bradbury surrounded by books in the upper right hand corner.

His chicken scratch handwriting was difficult to decipher, but he thanked me for writing and offered encouragement and advice on being on a writer. “Read! Read! Read!” he exhorted. “The lessons you learn from the pages of others will show up in your own.” I lived those words for years even though I can’t recall anything else he said in that letter.

I framed it, and it hung in every room I lived in for years. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire that swept through an apartment building I lived in—along with my extensive collection of Mad Magazines, Batman comics and the entire Beatles catalog on Capitol Records (yes, I’m old). That letter was the only item I genuinely shed tears over losing.

I took Bradbury’s advice, and many many years later, I have a writing career of my own thanks to that generous, talented man. He and the worlds he opened up to me will always occupy a special place in my heart. Along with Edgar Allan Poe, his stories gave me a love of short fiction I carry with me to this day—one that, I hope, is reflected in the anthologies I edit.

Nothing pleases me more than looking back on a collection I’ve edited and considering the variety of stories there. Take, for example, my most recent—The Dirty Diner: Gay Erotica on the Menu—released by (who else?) Bold Strokes Books. The sheer breadth of approaches these authors have taken on an admittedly unique theme is astonishing—everything from bittersweet love stories to bizarre, surrealistic takes on lust and longing. I love these authors, and nothing here will disappoint.

I find it fitting that during the recent outpouring of sympathy and expressions of loss on Facebook regarding Bradbury’s death, many of the authors in this collection commented and paid tribute to him. It appears I’m not the only one affected by his art or his passing. We are all the better for his genius and vision and all the worse for his departure. But he has finally crossed the divide and now knows the truth of what lies beyond, finding the place he has imagined all these years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. We miss you already.

8 Responses to “Read! Read! Read!”

  1. 1 Will Masswa July 10, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    This is true of all of us: it is so quietly wonderful when we hear (or, even better) discover pieces of ourselves in the characters we read. Companionship for the soul is nestled in the lines of our favorite authors, and I’m glad you’ve shared what you have here.


  2. 2 Carsen Taite July 10, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    Great advice, Jerry. I’m always amazed when I hear some authors say they don’t read. The love of reading is what drew me into this profession and I know I learn tons from the work of other authors.


  3. 3 Ken O'Neill July 10, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Such wonderful advice. Sharing this now! Thanks


  4. 4 Cate Culpepper July 10, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    I’m one of your sister-Bradbury-fans, Jerry, and I loved this tribute. He would have, too. He’s out there in Whatever’s Beyond this morning, proudly showing your blog to his friends and griping about your chicken-scratch handwriting.


  5. 5 Jay Neal July 10, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    There are certainly Bradbury influences when I write that I can feel, although I don’t trace anything really specific. Regardless, an exhortation to “Read! Read! Read!” is probably the best advice ever; it’s worked for me, I say.


  6. 6 Daniel W Kelly July 10, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    Reblogged this on The DAN ZONE and commented:
    Another huge Bradbury fan, started from the day I saw Something Wicked This Way Comes in the theater in 1983. Amazing thing about him is that if you read all his short stories you will find several that deal with gay characters. Everything about Bradbury was ahead of its time.


  7. 7 Mel July 11, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    The day Mr. Bradbury passed away, I was checking out “A graveyard for lunatics”, at the library. I came home and was told he was no more. I shed some tears over him that day, because in a sense a part of my “dream childhood” (you know the childhood you wish you’d had populated with fantastic characters and adventure) died with him. Of course, his books will live on, and I intend on rereading most of them in the coming years. .
    Daniel is right, there was definitely a queer feel to some of his characters and that’s probably why Bradbury is so vastly popular across the board: gay or straight. He also had a great sense of humor.
    Thanks for the post, Jerry!


  8. 8 Justine July 12, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Good advice, Jerry, and a great source to get it from. I’m sure he not only meant that one should read other fiction, but also non-fiction, to learn stuff and not be ignorant. I’m sorry you lost that letter; it definitely belongs hanging over your work desk. Hope to meet you one day, and in the meantime, I send bisous from Brussels.


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