Ray Bradbury’s Influence on My Writing Career
Friday, September 30, 2022
by Dan Burns
I became a writer because of Ray Bradbury.
Over thirty years ago, I first dreamed of becoming a writer. As often happens, life got in the way for so many years.
But on Thursday, May 6, 2004, I was struck by lightning, my brain seared, my heart jolted, and life changed forever.
On that fateful day, I had the opportunity to meet my favorite author, Ray Bradbury. While in San Diego on business, I had heard about a seminar he was conducting at San Diego State University, and on a whim, I changed my afternoon plans to attend. I sat in the audience and listened, mesmerized by Ray’s childlike wonder and stories about his “love of writing.” Afterward, I met Ray, and he signed a book for me. Curiously, he asked me if I was a writer, and I told him that I wanted to be one someday. He placed his hand on my arm, stared into my eyes, and said, “Just do it!” It was strange; I experienced the most unusual feeling, like a jolt of electricity shot up my arm. And, while I had never noticed before, Ray bore an uncanny resemblance to my father, who had passed the year before, with his disheveled white hair and large glasses that he looked over. It was the strangest thing. He held on tight, waiting for me to say something, and I replied, “Okay, I will.”
I was struck by a lightning bolt of love and inspiration, which changed my life forever. I set the wheels in motion—to realize my dream—and three years later, in 2007, after endless discussions with my wife and a total commitment to re-align my priorities, I made it official and became a writer. All because of a chance meeting. How cool is that! And now, after fifteen years and seven books published, I’m still inspired by Ray as I continue my journey as a writer.
One of Ray’s books, in particular, set me on my way to becoming a writer. The book was Dandelion Wine. I had read many of Ray’s books, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but when I read Dandelion Wine, it was the first time I could truly visualize the overarching story as I read it. It was the first time I became part of the story. It was the first time I experienced words and sentences strung together in a unique way: literature with doses of realism and lyrics and poetics. He hooked me. I thought to myself: I want to write a book like that someday. I’m a big dreamer.
The number one thing I learned from Dandelion Wine is that there are no definitive rules for writing a successful book. Although Ray’s publisher marketed and categorized the book as a novel, Dandelion Wine is a loosely connected collection of short stories. Ray was a great short story writer, and he weaved together the many stories he wrote over the years about Greentown, a town he created. Many of his Greentown stories are autobiographical, depicting his childhood experiences growing up in rural Waukegan, Illinois. His book is a mash-up of many forms of writing. It’s a novel of short stories that’s also an autobiography that includes elements of prose poetry, told through the eyes of a child. I think until his dying day, he lived his life and told his stories with the heart of a much younger person. Isn’t that great?
As I began to write my own short stories, Ray’s books, storytelling approaches, inspirational writings and quotes, and love were always nearby. My first published story collection, No Turning Back: Stories, includes a heart-warming story, “An Unexpected Guest,” which recounts a fictional birthday dinner with my family and Ray. What a dinner it was!
My recent story collection, Grace: Stories and a Novella, includes the story, “The Final Countdown,” which was also inspired by Ray. In the year 2110, the Earth struggles to survive, ravaged by overpopulation and greed. Food is scarce, and the youth-run government has no choice but to implement a plan devised decades earlier: deport the elderly population to a remote outpost—on the moon. “The Final Countdown” is also the opening chapter of my new in-progress stories-as-a-novel, Elderworld.
I became and continue to be a writer because of Ray Bradbury, and I’m so excited about Ray’s induction into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Class of 2021. I know he’ll be smiling down and with us in spirit at the induction ceremony on Thursday, November 3, 2022 at City Lit Theater. I’ll see you there!
Dan Burns is the author of the novels A Fine Line and Recalled to Life and the short story collections No Turning Back: Stories and Grace: Stories and a Novella. He is also an award-winning writer of stories for the screen and stage. His newest book is A Necessary Explosion: Collected Poems. He resides with his family in Illinois and enjoys spending time in Wisconsin and Montana, where he stalks endless rivers in pursuit of trout and a career as a fly fisherman.