Q&A with Bradbury Biographer Sam Weller

Q&A with Bradbury Biographer Sam Weller

My very first post on this blog was an incomplete "The Fog Horn" parody that I wrote, originally written by Bradbury. It's a lovely short story about a forlorn dinosaur in love with the sound of a fog horn that he has mistaken for the call of his mate. It was written by Bradbury in 1951 and first made its appearance in his compilation "The Golden Apples of the Sun."

His story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," was the single story that made me want to become a writer five years ago. It's only appropriate that I met Sam Weller, Bradbury's biographer and a professor at Columbia College Chicago where I graduated from this past May. I finally have an interview with the man who knew my favorite author best and I think he has wisdom everyone can gain from. As both the late Bradbury and the prospering Weller would say, "Live forever!"

Interview with Sam Weller

One could say that writer Sam Weller’s hidden talent is being a steadfast magician. You see, he can make Halloween candy disappear at an alarming rate. So it’s no work of fiction that although he has great passion for literature, Halloween, and magicians, Weller has never been very good at giving out Halloween candy. But that’s not why his name is in circulation by neighborhood parents, writers, and enthused readers alike. Apart from being the official biographer to the late master puppeteer of the short story, Ray Bradbury, Weller is also the Associate Chair to Columbia College’s Department of Creative Writing in Chicago where he is also a professor, the author of three award-winning books about Bradbury in the biography, “The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life Of Ray Bradbury,” a speaker on his life and work, and winner of the Bram Stoker Award for the all-star anthology, “Shadow Show: All New Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury,” which he edited along with Columbia faculty member Mort Castle.

Phew! If just reading the accomplishments of this man isn’t making you sweat, you clearly have no idea how many achievements I didn't mention or just how kickass Ray Bradbury truly was. Did I mention that Weller also manages to dress studiously well even while having a palpably full plate? I caught up with Weller to talk about his continued busy life and successes after the profound legend’s passing and what we can look forward to in the very near future.

Q: In a 2010 Interview you did with Newcity a couple years prior to Bradbury’s passing, you were asked if there was one personal moment you’ve had with Bradbury which you would forever cherish and deem the, “most prized,” after his passing. You said it was the car ride he took you on that went, quite literally, down his memory lane. Two years after the legend’s passing, is there any other memory that ruminates with you?

A: So many. I tend to reflect on the quiet moments the most. When it was just the two of us. We used to go to dinner frequently at a restaurant in Santa Monica. The valet guy always greeted us both by name. Ray would have a glass of wine and I would have a martini and we would just talk for hours. It was so intimate and warm. We laughed a lot. He had an incredible sense of humor. I miss those moments. I also loved sitting in his house late at night, the back patio door open and the crickets sounding. We spent so much time together, and did so many amazing things, but if I could go back in time, I would go to the quiet memories, just the two of us talking.

Q: Have you noticed a shift or feel any sense of higher urgency to discuss the importance of Bradbury’s work at your lectures since he is no longer with us?

A: That's interesting. After his passing in 2012 I think he has become an even more pronounced figure in the cannon. I do feel a need to share his work with younger generations and, specifically, with reluctant readers. He is the perfect gateway author for teens, in my opinion. His ideas inspire and cultivate imagination. His stories are fun, yet they use all the techniques of literature. I relish the opportunity to speak at high schools to teens and to ignite in them a passion for the stories of Ray Bradbury.

Q: I know that you are asked quite often about whether or not you get tired of talking about Bradbury and your answer evermore remains the same; a loud and enthusiastic, “No!” Like the classic, “Fahrenheit 451,” which is still in print, what would you say it is about him that never gets old?

A: You're right, I'm just as curious and interested in his life and work today than ever before. More so, in fact. I find there's always more to discover about him. He is still surprising and enigmatic. And importantly, his work appeals over time. A young adult reader latches on to Bradbury because the ideas are fantastic and imaginative. But when you revisit Bradbury later in life you discover all the literary stylings: the rich use of metaphor, the unforgettable myths, and the great attention he gave to the prose itself. You rediscover Bradbury all over again as a grown up. His stories reflect on what it means to be human. Bradbury is often labeled as a genre writer, but let us not overlook the fact that his greatest writerly influences were the literary giants.

Q: How has working alongside Bradbury and thoroughly delving into the man’s psyche by dissecting his stories, influenced your own writing process? Has it affected the underlying themes entwined in your stories?

A: Deep question. Virtually everything Bradbury wrote, whether set in the future, on Mars, or in a small nostalgic slice of Americana, came from a point of autobiography. You take his early classic short story "The Lake," for example. It is a short, haunting, melancholy ghost story. But it's origins lie in an experience he had when he was a boy and knew a girl who had drowned. Bradbury writes "autobiographical fantasy." He takes from deep emotional experiences and looks upon these memories through the stereopticon of the make believe. This has profoundly influenced my own short stories. One: you must write about ideas and themes that fascinate you. Bradbury always said, “Write what you love!”

Two: you must infuse your fiction with an emotional experience you have lived through --  a death, a loss, a love, a joy, a sorrow, an epiphany -- to infuse it with authenticity, truth, and feeling. I try to approach my own writing this way.

Q: 14 years, countless conversations, and two books later, your final book in a series of interviews titled, “Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations,” just hit the shelves December of this year. How surreal has this decade plus journey been and what is next for Sam Weller?

A: There are times that the last 14 years seem like a dream. I spent countless hours with the man and now, to wake up in the morning and realize he is gone and I'll never see him again, it often doesn't seem real. I grew up reading his stories like so many other young kids. His stories brought me comfort when I was a teenager and felt lonely. He made me want to write and draw and create. I went on to become his biographer. That doesn't happen very often! He dedicated a book to me. That doesn't seem real. We went to the Playboy mansion and into the Oval Office together. I have to remind myself sometimes that it all really happened.

What's next for me? I've been writing a lot more fiction in the last few years, and that includes editing "Shadow Show." I have enough stories for a collection that I will shop in the next few years. The stories are very true to my voice and experiences, but also deeply influenced, I would say, by Bradbury's "The October Country," and his collection of mixed-fiction (fantasy, SF, and realist prose), and "The Golden Apples of the Sun." Many of them have already been published in magazines and literary journals and they've been getting a good response. They are often haunting and sad. Along with that, I am working on a novel that is an existential, magical-realist love story about a librarian. I'm really drawn to the character and hope to finish that book in a year or so. Of course before that, as you say, "The Last Interview," book will be out in December. It captures Bradbury at the end of his incredible days. My "Shadow Show" collaborator, Mort Castle and I, are also over seeing a five-issue comic book series adaptation of the anthology. We are scripting almost all of the stories. One of them is a short story written about Bradbury that was not in "Shadow Show." I think Bradbury fans will like it. The five-issue series includes adaptations of Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Alice Hoffman, and other writer’s stories from "Shadow Show." The first issue will be out shortly. The trade paperback graphic novel will be out next spring. Along with all that, I have developed a podcast I'm going to produce in 2015 and I'm writing a graphic novel script next summer. Lots to do!

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  • Ray Bradury and Dandelion Wine and a time that, if you are lucky, you get to live. Farenheit 451, a lesson that applies even to the electronic age.

    Great post.

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