When I was a senior in high school, I wrote a short story for a local contest in Los Alamos, New Mexico (yeah, that place where the atomic bomb was created). The prompt involved writing a story of 2000 words or less inspired by Ray Bradbury's 'The Martian Chronicles.' I was awarded first place for the story--in which an expedition of astronauts land on a barren planet of red sand that rises up, attacks, and swallows everybody up (What can I say? I was in high school.)--100 dollars, and, for the first time in my life, a genuine desire to write seriously and for enjoyment things I thought other people would like to read. I was called up before a hollering crowd and, as I crossed the stage, took in this strange man I knew little about (I'd only read 'The Martian Chronicles' at that point) with scraggly gray hair and thick-rimmed glasses nearly as thick as my own (though I wore contact lenses at the time), his bigger-than-life presence and confident grin. When I reached him, his large warm hand enveloped my own and he said, the light dancing in his eyes, "I really enjoyed your story. Congratulations." And I don't remember anything after that.
All I could recall later was Bradbury's child's grin and twinkling eyes looking into mine and his encouraging words. It is this moment I think of now, when I look back, that made me want to be a writer, that made me consider writing as a serious pursuit.
The contest was, of course, small and local, and my competition was limited, but it still meant something to me, more and more as I grew older and continued to write.
It wasn't, however, until much later I would learn to appreciate Bradbury's prose for what it was: pure genius. I have now consumed most of what he's written, read and reread much of it. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' is one of my favorites and his short stories are incredible! His prose style is complex, rich, and somehow remains endearing and sweet while covering many dark and fantastic subjects.
I have always dreamed of publishing something--a novel, a significant story, something--that Ray Bradbury would eventually read and perhaps even enjoy. That will never happen now, but Bradbury's influence will never leave me. I will always wonder, whatever it is I write, no matter the level of my success, what Mr. Bradbury would think of it. Would he like it? Would he not? And I will always wonder, and his influence will grow with me, making everything I write that much better, and he will live amongst all writers and go on and on...