WRITERS’ CONFERENCE KEYNOTE SPEAKER RAY BRADBURY

Ray Bradbury is a writing legend, a master of fiction and fantasy whose books have withstood the test of time. His more than 35 books include such classic titles as “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and “The Illustrated Man,” while his screen credits boast 65 adaptations of his stories for “The Ray Bradbury Theater” and a slew of full-length films, including “Moby Dick.”

But to Santa Barbarans, he’s much more than a faceless author. For every single year since the Santa Barbara’s Writers’ Conference began back in 1973, Bradbury has trekked up from Los Angeles to address the assembled throng of published authors, budding novelists, and would-be writers, imparting a sense of hope and inspiration.

This year is no different. On Saturday, Bradbury kicks off the conference as the first of 20 guest speakers – including J.F. Freedman, Carolyn See, Gayle Lynds and “Wicked” author Gregory Maguire – during the week-long intensive workshop at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. The following interview was conducted by telephone.

Q. You’ve been coming to the Writers’ Conference ever since the beginning. What keeps you coming back?

A. Because I love Barney and Mary [Conrad] and what they're doing. They've put together a great conference. I'm lecturing. That's what counts. I'll be brilliant, I don't need anyone. It doesn’t matter who runs the conference. Also, I’ve got so many friends there. It's the best writers group in the country.

How has the conference itself changed over the years? Is it any different now that Barnaby and Mary Conrad are no longer in charge?

It's still excellent. They get great teachers. Many of them were young students who became accomplished writers. Many of them wrote their first novels there, and sold them there. So you know the darn group works. And even as they succeed, they keep coming back.

How does a conference help with learning to write? Isn’t it all about sitting down and writing?

When you're starting out, you need to meet others people with the same problems you have. Or maybe you have dumb editors or dumb people working with you in the (film) studios. I know I have. If you're trying to write screenplays, you’re in trouble because they only care about money, not love. So you have to be surrounded by people who love writing. That inspires you.

What piece of advice would you say is most important for a budding writer?

Here it is, and you follow it too: write what you love and love what you write.

Don't write anything else, and don't listen to any people who think they're critics. You have to follow your heart and mind and soul. My life has been based on love. I started loving Edgar Rice Burroughs and “Tarzan” when I was ten. When I started writing at twelve, it was a sequel to one of his books. It’s always been about love. If you do that, you'll have a career like mine…. It' s not easy. But it's wonderful. If you're in love, it's a great life.

Does any book of yours stand out as a favorite, or maybe one that was unjustly overlooked?

All of them are my love. I wrote them because I had great fun with them. It’s always been that way. “The Martian Chronicles” was just short stories I wrote and sold to pulp magazines for $20 apiece. I didn’t even know I was writing a book, and I sure didn't make any money. But Doubleday said I'd written a book already if I’d just put them together and call them a book….

All my early books didn't get any attention. There were no book reviews. Even “Martian Chronicles” got only one review. Thank God he told me I'd written a wonderful book, and then he introduced me to Aldous Huxley, who told me: “You're a poet. You’re a poet” The rest of the country didn't pay attention….I didn't get any reviews until the last twenty years. My books didn't sell all that well. When “Dandelion Wine” was published in 1957, only ten people showed up at the book signing in Santa Monica. How about that for success?

But what people think doesn't interfere with me. I'm in love with life. I've never had one day of depression or self-doubt. Every day I've written what I’ve wanted to, not what others told me I should or needed to do. That’s what kept me happy for more seventy years.

Speaking of “Dandelion Wine,” your new book “Farewell Summer” is a sequel, half a century later.

It’s the second half of the book I wrote fifty-five years ago. My publisher said it was too long and they cut it in half. So it’s really “Dandelion Wine, Part II.” Nobody wanted to publish it until now, but it’s getting fantastic reviews. All the characters in the book are me. It’s a conversation between my eighty-seven-year-old self and my twelve-year-old self. I had to guess back then, but it looks like I guessed right.

Have you enjoyed the movie versions of your novels and stories?

The best thing I've done is a short story called “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” It’s the best thing I ever was involved with. I'm trying to get it introduced all around the world because it's a Hispanic short story and film and it's brilliant. Roy Disney, the producer, came to my house just last week and we did a documentary that’s going on the DVD of my best films. Go to your video store and see it.

Actually, I have, and I loved it. What about “Fahrenheit 451?”

It's going to be re-produced as a new film with Frank Darabondt directing. The original is very good, but there are some missing parts I want to put back in. Frank did the script, and he's wonderful, so I feel good about the future.

Speaking of “451,” what did you think of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11?”

(Angry) He's a stupid son of a bitch. He's a thief. He didn't call me, he didn't tell me what he was doing. I had to read it in Variety. That's the kind of bastard he is. Why would I want to see it? He just stole it! And he wrote the movie! You can't write a documentary; it’s got to just happen.

Let’s turn to a happier note, then. What did receiving the special Pulitzer citation just last month after all these years mean to you?

It was wonderful, of course. I’ve been hearing about the Pulitzer all my life and never won one, so it was terrific.

Is there one story you’re most proud of?

I’ve loved every thing I’ve ever written: every story, every essay, every screenplay, every poem. I totally love what I’ve done. God damn, it’s good!

What are you working on now?

A new book of short stories, two novellas coming out in August, another one about the genesis of “Fahrenheit 451” that’s due in late summer. Also, six new films are being developed. Thank God I’ve lived to be 87!

Do you know what you’re going to talk about at this year’s conference?

Being in love. That’s all it’s about. Unless you’re in love with writing, get the hell out and quick!

(Evening guest speaker events at the SBWC are open to the public. Get the schedule online at www.sbwritersconference.com or call 964-0367.)