Artwork: above-left: cover illustration by Tim O’Brien; above-right: “Ray Bradbury” by Pixar artist Lou Romano.
“Don’t tell me what I’m doing; I don’t want to know!”
Those are not my words. They were spoken by my friend, the Italian film director, Federico Fellini. As he shot his screenplays scene by scene, he refused seeing the new footage trapped in the camera and printed in the laboratory at the end of each day. He wanted his scenes to remain mysterious provocateurs to lure him on.
So it has been with my stories, plays, and poems over most of my lifetime. So it was with The Martian Chronicles in the years just before my marriage in 1947, culminating in the rapid surprises of the final work in the summer of 1949. What began as an occasional story or “aside” concerning the Red Planet became a pomegranate explosion in July and August of that year when I jumped to my typewriter each morning to find what rare new thing my Muse was willing to deliver.
Did I have such a Muse? And did I always believe in that mythical beast? No. Early on, in and out of high school, and standing on a street corner selling newspapers, I did what most writers do at their beginnings: emulated my elders, imitated my peers, thus turning away from any possibility of discovering truths beneath my skin and behind my eyes.
Even though I wrote a series of very good weird/ fantasy stories which were published in my midtwenties, I learned nothing from them. I refused to see that I was disturbing a lot of good stuff in my head and trapping it on paper. My peculiar stories were vivid and real. My future tales were lifeless robots, mechanical and motionless.
It was Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio that set me free. Sometime in my twentieth-fourth year, I was stunned by its dozen characters living their lives on half-lit porches and in sunless attics of that always autumn town. “Oh, Lord,” I cried. “If I could write a book half as fine as this, but set it on Mars, how incredible that would be!”
I scribbled down a list of possible sites and folks on that distant world, imagined titles, started and stopped a dozen tales, then filed it away and forgot it. Or imagined that I had forgotten it.
Art by Tim O’Brien for The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.