Wednesday, August 5, 2020

WITH BRADBURY BEYOND APOLLO A CLEAR-EYED AND PENETRATING BIO IS CONCLUDED







With the publication of Bradbury Beyond Apollo (University of Illinois Press), Jonathan R. Eller has completed his three-volume self-designated “biography of a mind” of the author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, and hundreds of published short stories. Eller began with Becoming Ray Bradbury in 2011, followed that up with Ray Bradbury Unbound in 2014, and it has been six long years for this conclusion to reach us. Although the book’s publication date of August 22, 2020, the centenary of Bradbury’s birth, is so appropriate, it is easy to forgive Eller. 


The obvious question then is, was it worth the wait? I suppose each reader must answer that for themselves, but it was for me. I greatly admired the first volume for Eller’s insight into Bradbury’s early years and his growth as an artist of narrative prose, the experiences, influences, loves, needs, relationships, fears, and passions that shaped and matured the mind giving birth to Bradbury’s unique creativity. In the second volume Eller detailed Bradbury’s creative world widening out to include film, theater, fine art and architecture, and the future of space exploration by man and machine. Eller’s documenting these activities, what they meant to Bradbury and how they affected him, confirmed a suspicion I have always held that Bradbury’s love and involvement in these areas might have diminished his time, energy, and efforts in practicing his true art of narrative prose. Bradbury Beyond Apollo continues from the second volume beginning after the first manned moon landing in 1969. Eller goes on to cover Bradbury’s essential—and valued—participation in what Eller calls “The Great Tale of space exploration.” Not as a scientist or engineer, of course, but as a visionary. The book concludes with Bradbury’s death in 2012 at ninety-one, more than a decade after a debilitating stroke, and some severe, if not total, loss of hearing and vision. It also chronicles Bradbury’s writing life as one of, again, eschewing a full concentration on new prose works for efforts to see his work metamorphosed into films, plays, and large scale theme-park-like presentations. Many of these efforts were unfulfilled or unsatisfactory. 


I have a particular affection for this third volume, as it includes the years I knew Bradbury as a colleague and friend from 1977 to the end of his life. Indeed, I come in as a minor character in Bradbury’s story when Eller writes about our work together on a film project (unfulfilled and unsatisfactory for us both) in 1982-83. And my organizing of a series of city-wide events celebrating Bradbury’s 90th birthday in 2010, Ray Bradbury Week in Los Angeles. But affection is not assessment, and in assessing this volume, I was struck not only by Eller’s compassionate if still objective eye on Bradbury but by just how fine a writer Eller is himself.


Despite Eller being an academic, despite being Chancellor's Professor of English; Director, Center for Ray Bradbury Studies; Senior Textual Editor, Institute for American Thought; General Editor, Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury; General Editor, The New Ray Bradbury Review; and ConsultingTextual Editor, Works of George Santayana (whew!) at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts—and despite a university press publishing the three volumes—none of the three read like academic texts. Nor do they read like a “popular biography” which might concentrate more on Bradbury the flesh and blood man, giving an exterior view of his activities both literary and personal. Rather, as I mentioned above, Eller writes with compassion in clear and often engrossing prose of the interior, creative mind of Bradbury, tracking him, in the three volumes, from young enthusiast for things of wonder—Mars, space adventures, literary treasures in a library, movies, music, and the spires of futuristic cities depicted in sci-fi illustrations—to his late in life energetic fashioning of new story collections combining stories past and recent, and the writing of possibly a new sub-genre: three autobiographical mystery novels exploring his early writing life. 


Why a compassionate eye? Because Eller has a deep understanding of the artist that Bradbury’s mind shaped, an artist with the inability to follow the standard, the form, the pattern, the rules, and the expected from the only venues for his writing early on—pulp magazines. (Or the integrity not to, assuming there is a difference). This led to a lifetime of creating unique works of prose poetry, using words like a sculptor might use clay to shape into stories what his imaginative instincts improvised. And, later, his ventures into the non-prose form of dramatic writing for both film and stage using this same method. This invariably led to conflicts with magazine editors, film, television, and theater producers and directors, and other collaborators necessary to take his work from his mind to some tangible form. The more distant from the prose Bradbury authored alone, the more authority the collaborators had, and the more frustrating, possibly infuriating, it could be for Bradbury when they were not—so to speak—on the same page with him. It is in the telling of these collaborations and Bradbury’s disappointments that Eller writes with compassion.


Is compassion warranted? After all, didn’t Bradbury know the job(s) was dangerous when he took it? He certainly didn’t when, in 1953, he took the Moby Dick screenwriting assignment from director John Huston, who he hero-worshiped. But shouldn’t the following six decades of many experiences in collaboration—starting with Huston’s bully tactics—have, “wised him up”?  Possibly. But Bradbury, as an artist, did not operate from mature wisdom, but from youthful, passionate loves. 


Eller writes, “In his mind it all came down to love, really; Bradbury paid the price of fame as all writers of magnitude must, but the effects were tempered by the simple admonition of literary love, a love that did not distinguish between the popular and the literary: ‘So I always wanted to be on the shelves, with my loves,’ he would later reflect in private conversation. ‘That’s different than being famous, isn’t it? I wanted to share the library dark with them. I wanted to go look up on the shelf and see the titles with their golden eyes—the numerals, the golden numerals, spelling my name with theirs. But that’s not fame, that’s love.’”


If Bradbury’s love had stayed with just the literary, he would have saved himself a lot of pain and frustration. But his capacity for passion was too big for just one manifestation of creativity. And so, just as he wanted to share library shelf space with writers he admired—from Verne, Wells, and Burroughs to Wolfe, Hemingway, and Fritzgerald—when given the opportunity he naturally wanted to share creative space with actors, filmmakers, musicians, fine artists and illustrators, architects, and even the space explorers he admired. And I’m sure he was pleased when they were pleased to share that space with him. Don’t we all want to be admired by people we admire?


Because of his own unique genius as a writer, easily recognized by other creative artists, Bradbury was able to share creative and intellectual space with the likes of, in alphabetical order, Buzz Aldrin, Bernard Berenson, George Cukor, Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Jose Feliciano, Federico Fellini, Mel Gibson, Jerry Goldsmith, Kathrine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Alfred Hitchcock, Gene Kelly, Charles Laughton, Joe Mantegna, Jason Robards, Carl Sagan, Lalo Schifrin, and Orson Welles, among others. 


If Bradbury had not been consumed with these other passions and loves, what other fine works of narrative prose might he have written? Would there have been hundreds of more short stories? Would this master of the short story have conquered the long narrative form of the novel, which is almost universally acknowledged as not his strongest art? (And yet Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most read and influential novels of the 20th-Century). Who knows? Possibly Bradbury had said all he really wanted to say in prose, published and unpublished, by 1970. Possibly taking this output and adapting them to other forms he loved was what was going to fuel his creative fires from that point onward. But that meant collaborating, taking on creative partners. The thing about prose artists—not just workers in the field, but artists—is that, except in very rare instances, it is a lonely, individual art form. Such an artist is the sole author, thus the authority, and anyone who is truly good at it usually is most comfortable being rather autocratic in that authority. 


It is not that Bradbury didn’t want to collaborate, it just was not, I believe, a natural fit for him, as much as he might have wanted it to be. Given that, his frustrations are understandable. Certainly, Eller understands them and rightly conveys his compassion for the man. Not that there weren’t some rewarding collaborations, such as The Ray Bradbury Theater on cable. But these were ones where Bradbury retained a large measure of the authority. 


Eller also understands that for a man like Bradbury, a man of passions and loves, despite the frustrations, great joy can be experienced in pursuing them. Anyone who knew Bradbury knows he was a man of great joy. Anyone who saw him lecture knew he could effortlessly communicate, even transfer that joy to the audience, big or small—truly his most successful art after narrative prose—which must have heightened Bradbury’s own joy.


So as much as I and Bradbury’s legion of devoted readers of his stories and novels would have liked much more, who the hell would have wanted to deny Ray Bradbury his joys? 


Eller’s achievement in Bradbury Beyond Apollo and his two previous volumes will stand for years as the most penetrating view into the creative fire that was Bradbury’s mind and talent. It is a work of clear-eyed scholarship and, it must be said, love. In writing about a man and artist for whom love was all-important, how could one successfully do so otherwise?


Bradbury Beyond Apollo and the first two volumes can be purchased on Amazon and other online bookstores in both print and digital formats.


You will find Eller’s Amazon Author’s Page HERE


You can read my 2011 review of Becoming Ray Bradbury HERE.

You can read my 2014 review of Ray Bradbury Unbound HERE.

You can check out my novels on the MY BOOKS page of this blog, as well as my book of essays, Searching for Ray Bradbury: Writings about the Writer and the Man. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

DON'T HATE ME BECAUSE I AM ECLECTIC



Book publishing in America has changed a lot in the past twenty years plus. Especially in two fundamental ways. 

The first is that the big-time, mainstream publishers are now all gathered together into five multi-national corporate conglomerate tribes (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), huddling together for protection. 

No longer is Book Publishing in America the domain of the 20th-Century “Gentleman Publishers” who cared as much, if not more so, about books than about the profits selling books could gather. The tradition, myth or not, was that publishing houses of old hoped for just enough profit from popular bestsellers, which they were always on the lookout for, to pay their company’s costs and support those other books they wanted to publish—fiction and non-fiction—that they knew would not be huge bestsellers right out of the gate but had literary quality or importance that would keep them in print for years. The long-term goal was to build up enough of a backlist of both their bestsellers and their quality books (not to mention the occasional quality bestseller) that, in aggregate, would provide perennial profits to sustain them. 

Now mainstream publishing seems to be all about big profits NOW! NOW! NOW! Of course, some of the imprints within the Big Five may have individual publishers who think in the gentlemanly or gentlewomanly way. But their accountants probably don’t. This makes it hard for a new author to get the attention of the Big Five unless you have a potential bestselling blockbuster. Or possibly if you come to them with a nice recommendation from your MFA in Creative Writing professor. 

The second change has come about via digital technology, including he invention of print-on-demand (POD) machines that can digitally print and bind a single copy of a book when it has been ordered, saving on the huge costs of warehousing a multitude of copies. And the growth in digital eReaders, such as the Kindle, upon which one can read an eBook.

Oh, and I guess I should add a third way—the distribution of POD hardcopies and eBooks, mainly by Amazon. 

The second has allowed many writers who have not been able to get past the formidable gates of the first to be published and distributed by the third.

These new technologies spurred the growth of many digital indie publishers, often founded by writers who decided to help get other writers into print. And, of course, the new technologies have given birth to thousands of writers who have used them to publish themselves. This used to be called “self-publishing,” and once was a badge of shame. Now it’s called being entrepreneurial—and who wouldn’t want to be called that!

I have had eight books published in the last ten years through three digital indie publishers.

Crossroad Press,




Blüroof Press,





and Third Street Press.




All three were founded by fellow writers who really give a damn about fellow writers. I have truly appreciated that. And they have overseen the creation of print, ebook, and audiobook editions of my work that I’m proud of. And we have had some success, with two of my novels spending at least a little time on some Amazon sites as Science Fiction Bestsellers.

I have been a difficult writer for these publishers. Not a difficult person, of course, I’m a renowned sweetie-pie. But as a writer being published by digital indie publishers, I am not what one would call a marketing dream.

You see, digital indie publishers, not having the massive budgets of the Big Five, especially for publicity and promotion, have found their greatest success in publishing series novels. That is, obviously, a series of novels featuring the same world and characters in each volume. Not unlike a TV series, and various cinematic universes too famous for me to need to mention here. It seems that this is what many readers, especially eBook readers, want—brand name authors. Or rather, authors as brands. It is also something I, as a writer, cannot provide.

Not that I haven’t tried. My first published novel, Blood is Pretty, was followed up by a sequel, Hollywood is an All-Volunteer Army. These novels are satiric Hollywood thrillers. If you can imagine that. And you don’t really have to, because I already did. All you need to do is read them if you would like. They were fun to write and I have a great deal of affection for them. But two were enough for me. I had other stories to tell. Some might be labeled science fiction, some might be called mainstream or literary fiction, some might be strange mash-ups of different fiction genres. And that’s another thing. I don’t stick to one genre, which in some publishing quarters is an offense worthy of being drawn and quartered for.

With all of the above in mind, and with the encouragement of writers I admire, I have decided it was time for me to get entrepreneurial and publish myself under my own imprint. Thus the Magpie Press logo at the top of this blog.

Why Magpie Press? Because magpies are known for being indiscriminate in what attracts them—some of this, some of that. They have, shall we say, eclectic tastes. As I have always had in what I read. And, obviously, as I have in what I write.

But that makes marketing my novels problematic. So I have decided I should unburden my publishers of this problem, and take it on myself. Crossroad, Blüroof, and Third Street have all agreed. Not gleefully and glad to get rid of me, I hope. But in the generous spirit that they all share, of writers helping writers. And, indeed, they have all offered help, advice, and practical knowledge as I move forward.

Eventually, I will be moving all my books from these publishers over to Magpie Press. But, first up, is a new novel, Creature Feature, a Horrid Comedy. It is a historical movie monsters spoof and political satire.

FIND A PIGEONHOLE FOR THAT, YOU CATEGORIZERS!

I hope to have it available by September, just in time for the wrap-up of the 2020 campaign season. Which has had its own monsters and satire making history we have had to contend with.

When I get all my books—including three more to be published after Creature Feature—under the Magpie Press roof, I will put them in groups and see if they are easier to market that way. The groups so far are.

THE WILD TRIP NOVELS

THE LOVE, SEX, AND PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS NOVELS

THE FIXXER NOVELS

Don't call them genres or sub-genres. Possibly they are sub-brands. Maybe that will help this magpie fly.

Wish me well.
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As always you can check out my books on the MY BOOKS page on this blog or on my Author's Page on Amazon.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

PLEASED TO BE THE FIRST AUTHOR INTERVIEWED ON THE NEW BOOK TALK SHOW








I was pleased to be the first author interviewed on the new Pomona Public Library Foundations BOOK TALK internet show. Conducted via Zoom, of course, PPLF board member and past president, John Clifford and I talk about my latest novel, JOURNEY TO WHERE, a few of my other novels, and a bit about my past as a film producer working with Chuck Jones, Brad Bird, and Gary Kurtz, not to mention Bugs Bunny and Betty Boop.


I was doubly pleased in this venture because, as my Azusa High School cohorts will know, John and I were inseparable buddies during our high school & college years, and while we worked on The Cinemaphile, a film newspaper John had founded. Then life moved us in different directions. But many roads lead back home, and our mutual love of books has often found us enjoying each other’s company again.

For more information on Journey to Where and all my books go to the MY BOOKS page on this blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A CONNECTION WITH RAY BRADBURY I NEVER KNEW I HAD









Most of my friends and some of my readers know that the writings of Ray Bradbury were an early influence on me as a writer; that the man Ray Bradbury became a colleague in the film industry; that the author Ray Bradbury was wonderfully generous toward me—and a plethora of other writers—and that during his 90th year I was able to arrange a week-long series of events in Los Angeles to honor him during his birthday week.



All of which I, of course, hold dear. But now, in Ray’s 100th year, I have discovered a connection with Ray that I was never aware of, and couldn’t even have imagined.

That discovery is due to the scholarship of Jonathan R. Eller, Chancellor's Professor of English and Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. 

Jon is also the author of the best biography of Ray that I know of. In three volumes—Becoming Ray Bradbury, Ray Bradbury Unbound, and to be released later this year, Bradbury Beyond Apollo—Jon has written, as he calls it, “a biography of the mind.” It is certainly not a misnomer. Jon gets to the essence of Ray as a creative mind producing unique prose fiction of a high order. If you want to understand Bradbury the author you must read these books.
















But let us get to the discovery. Recently, in preparing to be on the SOMETHING WONDERFUL THIS WAY CAME: 100 YEARS OF RAY BRADBURY panel at the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena I contacted Jon for some information on Ray’s feeling about the “science fiction writer” label he lived with, not always happily so. Jon got back to me and told me a story that will be in Bradbury Beyond Apollo about a short poem Ray wrote in 1971 that gave some indication of what writer designation Ray preferred. At least at that moment. 

I won’t tell you that whole story, as I encourage you all to read it when Bradbury Beyond Apollo is published. But I do want to mention the details that were pertinent to my discovery. 

In 1971 Ray had a speaking engagement at Citrus College in Glendora, California. Although at the time it was considered to be in Azusa-Glendora as it sat between those two cities.

The night before the engagement Ray wrote the short poem mentioned above, which I think we can assume he read to the audience during his speech as it was later published in the June 4, 1971 issue of the Citrus College Clarion

Those are the bare facts. But what’s the connection to me?

I grew up in Azusa. I attended Citrus College, graduating in early 1970.

I wrote a weekly column for the Citrus College Clarion.

The place that I’m pretty sure Ray would have spoken at on campus was the recently built performing arts center, now known as the Haugh Performing Arts Center.




I was at the groundbreaking for that performing arts center a few years before.

While I was at the groundbreaking for the performing arts center a mob of students was at the firepit in front of the student center putting to the flame stacks of that day’s issue of the Citrus College Clarion.

The mob of students was burning stacks of that day’s issue of the Citrus College Clarion because of a column I wrote.

It was a column of satire purporting to be the verbatim account of a meeting of the White Backlashers Union in which the members discussed ways to take care of the “blacks” problem in America. What they came up with were not, shall we say, nice ways. I was, of course, mocking crude, ignorant, hateful racism.

It was not the first time irony had been misunderstood (right, Dean Swift?). 

The students, especially those in the Black Students Union, several of whom were my friends, took the piece a bit too literally, assuming I was putting out serious solutions to something I did not see as a problem at all.
Part of the misunderstanding may have come not so much from my writing as from the headline to the column which was, I believe, THE WBU, THE BSU, YOU AND I. I did not write the headline, as no journalist does. And I did not mention the Black Students Union (BSU) in the piece.

Nevertheless, despite offense not intended; offense was taken, mob psychology took over, and my words on paper suffered the fate of being exposed to 451 degrees Fahrenheit.




I was gobsmacked (lovely word, that) when I learned all this just a week or so ago.

I now feel a wholly different kind of connection with Ray. A connection I’m not sure I can put into words. Which is ironic on several levels.

But I can feel it. 

And feel it I do. Deeply.

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You can check out and purchase Jon Ellers’s books on Ray Bradbury on Amazon.

You might also want to check out the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the wonderful being done there under Jon’s leadership.

You can take a gander at my novels on the MY BOOKS page on this blog or on my Author’s Page on Amazon where you can also, of course, purchase.

And may I also recommend my short book of essays, Searching for Ray Bradbury: Writings about the Writer and the Man.




Saturday, October 5, 2019

JOURNEY TO WHERE reviewed by AMAZING STORIES MAGAZING




THE FULL TEXT

The novel Journey to Where by Steven Paul Leiva from Third Street Press is a fresh adventure of discovery that reads like a number of familiar SF classics, but with a hint of modern elements taken from today’s headlines.
A select group of scientists gathers in the desert to conduct a ground-breaking experiment using an enormous particle accelerator. The unexpected result hurtles the team to an alternate world where humans do not exist and the dominant species view them as animals. Mixed in with the challenge of trying to communicate with the intelligent life and survive the strangeness, the desire to somehow recreate the experiment in a stone-aged world with hopes of returning to their original universe is paramount.
In the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1918 classic The Land that Time Forgot (an author also referenced by the narrator with intentional comparisons to help convince the reader of the story’s fantastic plausibility), our heroes are thrust into an unfamiliar world of prehistoric wonder.
The process of teleportation has been addressed in a variety of ways throughout literature, but many leave a lot to the imagination or simply avoided the issue. John Norman’s Gor series, Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and even Burroughs’ John Carter stories danced around the science to simply jump right into the crux of the story. But Journey to Where takes a fresh approach by giving a nod to current events, feeding off of the growing public concern regarding the unknown potentials of particle accelerators. Though this story might add fuel to some of those fears, the inclusion of such a topical technological element is sure to bring pure joy to the hard-core fans.
The character development of the cast in Journey to Where is quick and effective, allowing the reader to immediately accept the internal conflict within the group and follow the drama within the adventure with anticipation. Though the sarcastic and sometimes humorous banter often traded between characters helps lesson some of the obvious tension, the dialog does get lost at times when trying to determine exactly who is speaking.
The author’s true strength is in storytelling. The attention to detail is spot on, providing just enough visual imagery to fill the reader’s perception without diluting the setting with unnecessary clutter. Throw this in with a strong cast and a nicely paced plot, and Journey to Where by Steven Paul Leiva is a fun read sure to entertain fans of the classics.
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You can purchase Journey to Where as an ebook or as a trade paperback at these fine digital establishments.