Thursday, June 7, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Came

He may not have been strictly a mystery writer, or a crime fiction writer, but the world has lost one of the greats this week - Ray Bradbury. I actually met him one time. Met, as in, shook hands and held a conversation in which he flirted with me. Here's how it happened:

I was at the Duarte Author's Festival in October of 2009, selling my one and only book, FREEZER BURN. Pam Ripling (aka Anne Carter) and I were sharing a table. The festival is always held on the first Saturday in October at the beautiful Westminster Gardens Retirement Oasis. It's a very lovely park with lots of trees and a set of smooth, paved pathways, which come in handy if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker, like many of the residents.

In addition to Pam and I, her niece Alyssa was with us, and Jeff Sherratt was at a table further along the path. Our table was next to the main stage - this will become important later. The weather was beautiful and we had a medium-ish crowd, but not a lot of buyers. I sold five books, and I think Pam sold at least that many. Jeff, of course, sold two or three cases - I constantly tease that he could sell books to a corpse.

The featured author for the festival was Ray Bradbury. I heard him speak about two years previously. He was quite frail at the time, but insisted on keeping his appointment with the writer's association. We could barely hear him because the PA system wasn't working, but I could still sense his energy for life and his love of writing.

On this day, I watched him arrive, being pushed in his wheelchair by a young black man. Mr. Bradbury looked much healthier than the last time I saw him. There was a slight slur to his speech, but he was still in fine form, telling tales of becoming a writer, meeting famous people, and doing what he loved. Everyone ate it up.

Pam and I sat at our table, next to the main stage, straining to hear his speech. The black man stood in front of our table, waiting, along with a white guy. There was an extraneous conversation with the black guy and another group, which Pam chimed in on, then the white guy joined, then I got involved, until finally it was just the four of us talking.

(May I just say at this point that I wished I'd asked the gentlemen's names. If either of you two stumble upon this blog, could you introduce yourselves?)

The white guy (I found out later he was the driver) picked up my book and said, "Freezer Burn? What is it?"

"It's a murder mystery," I told him.

"A mystery? Ray loves mysteries. This looks like a book he'd enjoy."

The words spurted before my brain kicked into gear. "Really? I'll give him one."

He seemed ecstatic. "You'd give him one? He'd love that!"

I autographed a book, thinking the driver would take it to Mr. Bradbury later, perhaps tomorrow or next week or something. Just then, the black guy pointed to my chest. "Hey, look at her shirt," he said to the driver.

In my youth, I'd have been embarrassed to have so much attention paid to my chest, but at my advancing age, I knew they were only looking at the words.

The driver brightened even more. "Oh man, Ray would love that shirt! He drinks merlot all the time!" (I hoped he didn't mean for breakfast, too.) "You gotta present your book to him so he can see your shirt. He'll love it. Are you going to be here until we leave?"

Well, duh. "Absolutely," I said.

After Mr. Bradbury spoke, everyone lined up for an autograph. I stood by my table and waited patiently. No one else did.

Alyssa, Jeff, Me, & Pam
"Are you sure he's with Bradbury? Are you sure he meant it?" Pam's questions were indicative of a mystery writer, suspicious to the core.

Jeff had a different worry. "He's not going to take this path to his car. He's going to take the one over there."

I tried to keep my zen approach, then saw the crowd clear and opted for Plan B. Picking up the book and my camera, I headed to Mr. Bradbury. Pausing at the driver, I asked, "Is this still okay?"

He leaped from his chair. "Absolutely! Mr. B, Mr. B, I want you to meet someone." He took me over to the table. "Mr. B, this it Gayle and she has a book she'd like to give you."

Bless his heart, all that signing had Mr. B on a roll - he took my book and opened it to autograph it. I stopped him. "No, Mr. Bradbury, you don't have to sign this one," I said, and he laughed.

"Look at her shirt, Mr. B," the driver said.

Once again, I held out my chest for a man to stare at it. (Note to self: try to regain dignity. Soon.) He read it, smiled, and took my hand in his two rather enormous paws.

"I want to drink you," he announced.

We laughed, took pictures, and I thanked my two champions for introducing me to this great writer (again, I wish I knew their names). I made it as far as my table before I broke out into my Happy Dance, then made it to my car before I texted my family to tell them what happened.

Did he ever read my book? I don't know. But I'll never forget the experience of giving it to him.

To quote Something Wicked This Way Comes: Is Death important? No. Everything that comes before Death is what counts.

Thanks for everything, Mr. B.


  1. What a wonderful memory for you. Thanks for sharing.

    I met Jeffery Deaver a couple of years ago at the Writer's Police Academy. He was surprisingly funny. The picture of Jeff and I (tee-hee) is in digital frame in our kitchen.

  2. What a memorable moment. Bradbury was a great writer, and a ledgend obviously, but his life was also a lesson for anyone trying to have a modicum of success as a writer. Most folks don't realize that Ray Bradbury wrote for close to ten years, and probably, truth be known, received more rejection laetters than any writer past or present. In those ten years he managed to get one single short story published, and that was more or less a "mercey" publishing where it was included in a "Fan Magazine. At one point, he was working as an associate editor - an unpaid position - at one of the Fan Mags, which were really news letters, and even then he was rejected.

    For anyone want to read about the man, his career, and the road to his success I recommend "Becoming Ray Bradbury" by Johnathan Eller. It was published last year and is an easy read, as bios go. Its easy to look at the ledgends and think, wow, what natural talent, but what this book reveals is the hard work and dedication it actually take. It's also a lot of fun to read about his relationship with other struggling writers of the time who also finally found success, and rew to be iconic SciFi and Fantasy writers.

  3. Thanks for sharing this experience! What a gracious person Bradbury was to the end.

  4. What a charming story, and wonderful memory!

  5. What a great story, Gayle, complete with memorable photos! Thanks for sharing.

  6. He was, simply, one of a kind. Who can possibly step up and encourage us the way he did?

  7. One of those once in a lifetime stories. Loved reading about it. Loved how he started signing your book.

  8. I love the story Gayle. Nice to know you're so "well read" :)


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