I brought the book to my desk and when the final school bell of the day rang, I carried it along with my homework onto the school bus. It usually took forty minutes to get home to my parent’s ranch on the bus, so I opened the book. And I fell inside: I suddenly walked a world where a rocket could bring summer to winter, where Martians lived and breathed, where the macabre house of Usher could stand again. I did not want to leave Mars.
The book changed me. Oh, I had been altered by other books (The Hobbit, for example), but there was a deep, trance-like beauty in Brabdury’s prose. It lived, it breathed. His words could build temples. His words came from the deepest wells of the earth, of the soul. I was possessed by an overwhelming desire to read more. I wanted all his words, all his worlds inside of me. And so, in the next few months, I hunted for his books, demanding them from librarians, scouring bookshops, until they were in my possession.
And in that time he became part of my family. I began to think of him as Uncle Ray. If I were to draw up the family tree he would be right there alongside my other uncles. After all, he has guided me, shaped me. And he was along for every family vacation, right there during every holiday.
Flash forward eighteen years. I had become a writer (a path I am certain his words helped me choose) and I had written my fourth novel, Dust. It was my ode to his words, his worlds. And, gathering my courage, I sent my book to him. I did not expect a reply. Just the thought that his hands might touch it, or even that the book might sit at his front door, was enough.Three months later a letter from California arrived at my door. I stared at it. I turned it over in my hands. Finally, I opened it to discover this:
I was (and still am) dumbfounded that a man as busy as Bradbury (and obviously ill at the time), would take the precious minutes to write to me. The letter is framed and on the wall of my office, a daily inspiration.
One of the concepts in life is the whole idea of "paying it forward." In other words if someone helped you get into your position, then instead of paying them back you should pay it forward to the next generation. This is obviously what Bradbury was doing. And I thank him. And I will continue thank him by paying it forward myself.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the letter, of course. After all, he is my Uncle Ray.