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You must stay drunk on writing, so reality cannot destroy you.

-Ray Bradbury

Last week I volunteered to help put out the hundreds of donated books to be sold at Friends of the SF Library’s  big annual sale held at Fort Mason.  Athough I paid for it the next day with sore arms, back and legs, I was glad to do it. I was helping an organization I deeply believe in. I owe the public library system more than I could possibly donate in sweat and labor, and not just for making great literature accessible to families, like mine, with limited means. By fostering my insatiable thirst for reading when I was a young, the public library played a major role in me becoming a writer. I remember spending hot summer afternoons in an air-conditioned library, slowly browsing through the shelves for books that seemed like interesting reads, or after reading a particular book, I’d systematically read the rest of the author’s books. 

 

So in that chilly Fort Mason warehouse, I was in absolute book-nerd heaven. Intoxicated with a writer’s, or rather, reader’s excitement, I started working in fiction and wound my way to the writing section. Familiar names surfaced: Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Moore, Diaz, Ondaatje, Oates and more; many worn around the edges with yellowing pages and weary dust jackets. The Kindles, Nooks, iPhones, iPads and Galaxies of the world are fast replacing these relics, so it gives me comfort to know that some of these books will be going to their second (if not third or fourth) home.

In the writing section, I came across Zen in the Art of Writing, a book on writing by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite authors growing up. In grad school, one professor asked the class to bring in a book from our childhood that influenced us to become writers. I immediately thought of Bradbury’s YA novel, Something This Way Wicked Comes. When I borrowed the book from my library, I could see why. His vivid imagery and lyrical language took my breath away. I’d like to think that my younger self had, on a subconscious level, appreciated the craft that went into creating his novel.

Before sparking an interest in writing, Bradbury’s stories sparked my interest in science-fiction/fantasy, which became a mainstay of my reading for several decades, until I rediscovered the pleasures of literary fiction. Martian Chronicles, one of the first collections of short fiction I’d ever read, influenced my very early writing. Even now, I don’t see myself as strictly a literary writer. While I work on my literary fiction, speculative fiction stories are churning in my head. They’ve been stewing for a while. Maybe someday they’ll evolve from the random notes and scribbled scenes populating my notebooks into actual novels and short stories. But for now, I’ll leave you with some interesting questions Bradbury poses to all writers. While pondering them myself, I’d love to hear how you’d answer them.

How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love or real hatred got onto the paper? When was the last time you dared release a cherished prejudice so it slammed the page like a lightening bolt? What are the best things and the worst things in life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?

-Ray Bradbury

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