Thursday, January 06, 2011

Mr. Ray on Writing

Ray Bradbury just finished running me over again this morning. So to speak. I'm reading his Zen in the Art of Writing, a collection of his essays on the craft, some dating back to the year on my birth certificate. I'm about halfway through but I'm not rushing; I like what he says too much to skim.

The book is mainly memoirish -- as with most famous writers, it's all about them -- but Mr. Ray is utterly in love with the craft, not himself, and passes along enough practical advice that I don't mind the autobiographical framework. For the record, I have read Farenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles and part of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and so far I've enjoyed getting some of the behind-the-scenes details from their author.

As for book's content, it is about writing, and art, and lots of other interesting things, but Zen? Not in the slightest. Ray Bradbury is about as Zen as a highspeed carnival ride -- one that is either about to go careening out of control and smash through all the safety gates, or has some alien component ready to vacuum your brains out of your skull at the moment your adrenalin spikes. Great book, very high energy stuff, completely inappropriate title.

Mr. Ray also reminds me of a story I want to write someday, one that begins with something my mother used to say to me whenever I complained about having two brothers, two sisters, and absolutely no privacy: My great-grandmother had twenty-one children, and they all lived. Mom's strict Catholic upbringing and love for big families always colored this statement with awed approval, but even when I was very little that last part always sounded ominous to me: . . . and they all lived. Like they shouldn't have but did anyway. And the pattern-lover in me would then kick in: What if all 21 of them had 21 kids, and they all lived to have 21 kids, and they all lived to have 21 kids . . .? One time I got out a calculator and discovered that in just five generations great-great-great Gran would end up with just over four million descendents.

At which point the storyteller in me kicked in with: What if the original 21 were only part human?

I've always had mixed feelings about Ray Bradbury's work, probably most about The Martian Chronicles, which I read when I was still young enough to be believe that life was fair and if you worked hard you would be appropriately rewarded (thus my younger self thought that book was just plain mean.) In his other works Mr. Ray has charmed me one minute and disturbed me the next. He's also shaken me up quite a bit; "The Veldt" still holds a top spot among the scariest stories I've ever read. Even when he's not ripping apart clueless parents, it's safe to say that Mr. Ray is definitely not a comfort read.

I also know Ray Bradbury's work has influenced my own; when I decided to write about characters with superhuman abilities symbolized by the ink on their skin I first thought of The Illustrated Man, and how he used tattoos to tell the story. We share a love/hate relationship with carnivals, something that resulted in my trunk novel Night of the Chameleon. Even back when I thought Mr. Ray was mean, he may have initiated the evolution of my dislike of the mindless HEA ending. I think the mark of a great writer is when their stories stay with you long after you read them, and I suspect his will never leave me alone.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name a writer you think has influenced your work, and how (or if you're above the influence, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, January 8, 2011. I'll pick three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned copy of Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

41 comments:

  1. Natalie Goldberg influenced my writing. In my first year of university I had to deal with severe depression and her book helped to teach me that I could still write during those times. Not only could I write, but the writing was a new kind of writing that spoke more of me as an individual.

    Even now when times are better, I remember what it was like to truly expose the writing vein and just write rather than think too much (as is my habit).

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  2. Has been on my keeper shelf for several years.
    Some of Bradbury's stories I adore, some I don't care for. But always loved the luscious nature of his prose.
    One of my favorite parts of the book was when he finally realized where his subconscious got the names for two of his characters in F.451--without telling him.
    But I won't post spoilers. :)
    Enjoy!

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  3. One major influence on my poetry writing is Audre Lorde; her work inspired me to dig deeper for metaphor and my own symbols.

    (captcha: cherpar - I like the sound of that :D)

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  4. I've been influenced by different writers in different ways, but if I had to pick one, I'd have to say it's Steve King. THE STAND is hands down my favorite novel ever and it has always inspired me to write one just like it, only my own. :)

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  5. Juliet Marillier inspires me to write stories that have deep emotional impact. I adore her Sevenwaters books and her style.

    Also, one of the writing books I love (it doesn't teach writing -- it's more of an attitude/memoir type) is Betsy Lerner's The Forest For the Trees.

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  6. In my own writing i'd say Mercedes Lackey and Anne Mcaffrey have influenced me the most. their strong characters and love of the fantasy and sci fi has stuck with me.

    Weirdly the one writer i'd say has the most influence overall is Jean M Auel. i was named after her character and it fed my need to read books, write, my love of history and anthropology, heck even my love of lions. It's very weird having an author have so much influence because of their creation.

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  7. iain Banks probably taught me the most about writing, in that it's plot that carries a tale, not the words.

    My name in the hat, please.

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  8. I've been a Bradbury fan for many, many years. Not sure he influenced my writing a lot, but then I realized I'm always hoping that my prose evolves into something as lush and poetic as his. It's possible that every writer I've read and loved has influenced my writing, though. Certainly every writer I've read and hated has influenced me, because I sure don't want to write anything like they did!

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  9. Even though Lawrence Block writes mysteries and I write SF, I learned a lot from him, particularly how to effectively use dialog. His just flows.

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  10. If it weren't for writers like Seanan McGuire, Rob Thurman and Jim Butcher, I never would've thought to try my hand at writing urban fantasy. Now I just hope I can do their genre justice. ;o)

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  11. bluebamboo8:31 AM

    I'm embarrassed to admit that Sweet Valley High was a big influence on my writing for a long time...those novels are safely trunked!

    Then Madeleine L'Engle and Ursula K. LeGuin had their wicked way with me, fiction-wise, and Andrew Chaikin (A Man on the Moon) showed me how compelling narrative non-fic can be.

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  12. Guy Gavriel Kay. He sits in the honored position of "favorite author," and has for many, many years. He doesn't really influence my work so much as inspire me. When I look at my own work, I look for those gems of description, usually sparse, that make his scenes so emotional.

    Especially in writing for a market that is young enough to not already have such greats, I am inspired to bring a high level of craft and evocation to my stories.

    Conversely, of course, I can't read him when I'm depressed, or I'll be certain I can never, ever write something as beautiful, and, really, if these books already exist, why bother writing ....

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  13. Dorothy Dunnett in a way. Because I know only she could have achieved what she did - make a protagonist come alive through the eyes of other, colourful people, write a compelling, rich, just simply gorgeous series. Voice? She has it.

    And Dickens. Just because he was so damn good. Read the first page of "Bleak House" and marvel at the sheer skill and power of the writer.

    I can't get that good. But I can keep trying.

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  14. Daphne Du Maurier's writing captured my interest many years ago and continues to, classic and beautiful prose.

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  15. Hmm. I haven't read Ray Bradbury since I was a teenager (mumble) years ago, when I considered him brilliant, but worse than mean. I need to dig up his work and read him with new (old?) eyes.

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  16. So many writers have influenced me over the years, but if I had to pick one, I'd say Francine Rivers.

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  17. I have a well-read copy of Zen already, but yes, Bradbury influenced me. So did Madeleine L'Engle and Andre Norton and Lois Duncan.

    I do like revisiting Zen to remind me not to overthink.

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  18. Every man has his price, you just found mine with Ray. (Did you know that the rocker Frank Black put an album of songs inspired by him? Called "The Cult of Ray.")

    Anyway, Terry Pratchett taught me a lot. Reading his Discworld books, I realized how little description he gives us. His prose, at times, is as spare as Elmore Leonard's, which is saying a lot.

    The downside of trying to write like that is that you can't pad. Every paragraph has to move the story forward, or describe a character succinctly. Quite a challenge.

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  19. Anne V.10:45 AM

    Ever since I discovered Rob Thurman and her dark but deeply bonded characters, I have tried to let her influence my more staid writing. I'm too fond of happiness and her characters help me remember to be meaner!
    I also love Stardoc which has influenced any SciFi I've written since the series first was published. There are very distinct roots at work there in what I create.
    I'd also like to mention Joss Wheedon and his co-writers, who consistently create new and exciting worlds full of witty humor and real heroes. Often we don't think about how screenwriters influence our dialog and thought processes through their work on TV and the big screen. I also blame Joss for the rest of my love affair with good SciFi.
    ***Also, got Frostfire in the mail-Thanks to much! I called everyone I know and told them to go buy your book(s)!

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  20. There's been a couple that I would say influenced me. First, Ruth Chew. This goes back to grade school and a book called, [i] The Witch's Buttons [/i]. First time I ever read a story where magic was in our world and that just lit a fire in my imagination. Loved it. I have a copy actually. Judy Blume books. Her characters were so realistic to me. And Stephen King. I mean, it was KING I don't know of many people that didn't read him back in high school. I think I'm more of a fan of his early works, though.

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  21. I decided at a young age to be a writer, but in middle school I read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It blew me away -- I identified so strongly with Aerin, and I felt like McKinley understood my heart. For the first time, I felt that I would survive middle school and grow into something wonderful, and I no longer felt alone. This author understood me. I wanted to write a book like that someday, a book that would touch a young girl and tell her she can achieve her dreams.

    McKinley still is on my greatly-admired list of authors.

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  22. Dean Koontz made me want to be writer, Gene Roddenberry gave me a place to start, and Ray Bradbury is making my 2011 short story writing a bit of a challenge. I signed up for Write1Sub1 and attempting to Write a story and submit a story each week. That's a little much for me with the full time job, so I'm doing a half level. I owe this year to Ray.

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  23. Ray Bradbury is to be aadmired for his unique writing. As for an influence Mary Doria Russell is exceptional and has changed my outlook.

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  24. I'm not sure that there are many writers who haven't influenced me, so I'm just throwing my name in the hat.

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  25. I picked this book up about 2 months ago. While I enjoyed it, nothing stands out from the writing side. I remember more from Stephen King's On Writing.

    I'm not sure if it's because King's book was one of the first 'writing' books I've read or if during the holidays was just a bad time to read this kind of book.

    I love Fahrenheit 451 and is probably to blame for my aversion to electronic readers. You will pry my paperbook from my hands when I'm dead and not before.

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  26. Atropa Rainwater12:58 PM

    I think Lovecraft has had a big impact on my writing. I'm always striving to capture that utter creepiness.

    I also believe Roahl Dahl of all people really prompted me to be a writer. I loved his stories when I was little, and always wanted to entertain like that.

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  27. Claire Cherven1:23 PM

    I have been amazed for more than 25 years by the books of Jean M. Auel. She wrote tales that took me to another place even when this arena had not been very popular or wide read. I can still enjoy her works today.

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  28. Anne V.2:49 PM

    Anybody else here every read Orson Scott Card's How To Write SciFi and Fantasy? I was really impressed with some of his commentary on characterization of aliens and worldbuilding.

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  29. Keita Haruka3:49 PM

    There's a number of writers I measure myself against and from whose writing I picked up a trick or two. One of my earliest influences was David Eddings. His relaxed style of storytelling influences me to this day. I also learned a lot about human nature from Terry Pratchett...and how you have to laugh, or you'll end up crying. I stand in awe of his ability to present the best and worst aspects of humanity in an unfailingly humorous way.

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  30. I have been deeply influenced by Marjorie M. Liu. Not only does her world building a thing to behold, her use of language makes me want to weep and be a more intentional writer at the same time.

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  31. Sylvia Louise Engdahl. There are plenty of others I admire or who inspire, but her works planted the seeds of writing in me at a tender age.

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  32. I'd love to win this book! I saw a great lecture he gave (on some rural TV station, of all places). One of the things he said that's stuck with me is that writers block is a sign that you're going down the wrong road - you haven't listened to the story.
    I really love Robin McKinley and Sheri Tepper.

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  33. I would have to say Anne Mccaffrey has influenced me. Restoree by Anne Mccaffrey was one of the first SF I read that had a strong female protagonist.

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  34. W. Michael Gear's Spider Trilogy taught me that even when heroes win, they lose and always have an appropriate ending, not necessarily a happily-ever-after. The story still stays with me even though it was printed in the nineteen-eighties.

    Nora Roberts for how men think. She's brilliant at it; Andre Norton, Julian May, Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey for all the limitless possibilities of the imagination.

    Hmm... word verification: forkera. There's a word I could use...

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  35. Ursula LeGuin. Because you don't need big words to have a big impact.

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  36. Jennifer R Hubbard has influenced my writing, even though I only read her book yesterday. But I've been reading her blog for a couple of years and found it very helpful. She's made me think about aspects of my writing I'd never considered before.

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  37. Howard Lamb. He's a writer of yesteryear, recently reprinted, but he just knows how to build a world out of conflict, and thus make it real. I learned more about fiction from reading two of the "Swords from.." series, than I had in the previous five years....

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  38. Jean D'Costa---as a kid, I didn't like reading. Boy how times have changed. I loved "Escape to Last Man Peak." I haven't read in over 25 years but I still remember the delight it gave me.

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  39. Since books were my escape as a child, a lot of authors have influenced my own writing. The one that stands out at the moment is Mercedes Lackey. The first time I picked up one of her Valdemar books I was hooked. They were also the ones that made me dream and realize I could add my own stories. That was what developed into me creating entirely new characters and worlds for myself.

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  40. Authors that have influenced me? Hmm.

    Well, you. Holly Lisle also, much for the same reason. You both have incredibly strong characters, people who truly live on the page. I don't think I've gotten close yet with my own characterization, but re-reading your (plural) books are good reminders of what I'm aiming for.

    Also Agatha Christie. The first time I read her "10 Little Indians" I stopped just after everyone had died and before the great reveal of whodunnit. She freaked me out so much with the deaths that I couldn't bear to read the twist. And again, I don't think I've come close to drawing my readers into my stories the way she did, or to hide the story twists so masterfully, but that's my goal...

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  41. Tamith1:07 AM

    Emma Bull's War for the Oaks gave me my first real taste of urban fantasy, and taught me to look beyond the usual elf stereotypes, and put my own spin on folklore and legend.

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