Ray Bradbury On Finding His Voice

“It was as if a light came on in a green room.

The ocean burned. A white phosphorescence stirred like a breath of steam through the autumn morning sea, rising. Bubbles rose from the throat of some hidden sea ravine.

Like lightning in the reversed green sky of the sea it was aware. It was old and beautiful. Out of the deeps it came, indolently. A shell, a wisp, a bubble, a weed, a glitter, a whisper, a gill. Suspended in its depths were brainlike trees of frosted coral, eyelike pips of yellow kelp, hairlike fluids of weed. Growing with the tides, growing with ages, collecting and hoarding and saving unto itself identities and ancient dusts, octopus-inks and all trivia of the sea.

Until now—it was aware.

It was a shining green intelligence, breathing in the autumn sea. Eyeless but seeing, earless but hearing, bodyless but feeling. It was of the sea. And being of the sea it was—feminine.”

Thus begins Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Women, originally published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1948, and reprinted in the I Sing The Body Electric collection of short stories (which I just finished reading). Let me tell you, there’s nothing like reading Ray Bradbury to make you feel inadequate as a writer. The anthology is compelling; a mix of science fiction, terror, and fantasy interwoven with the unbearable burden of modernity. Casual readers know him for his seminal English Lit staple, Fahrenheit 451, but beyond that, he was a poet and innovator in television writing.

Bradbury is often credited with having brought science fiction to the mainstream. His literary contributions and accolades are indisputable, so it was with great surprise when I learned that, in his opinion, he didn’t really start writing until ten years in. According to Bradbury, he hadn’t found his unique voice until after he wrote, The Women, which helped him learn how to be himself and stop being so enamored with other talents. The story begins with a couple lounging on the beach, presumably on some sort of vacation or honeymoon. As Bradbury describes in the passage above, there is a presence in the water, and the couple is keenly aware of it. The husband is intrigued by the strange feeling, but his companion is repulsed. For the remainder of the story, we’re left to wonder which woman will win, the sinister creature in the water, or the flesh and blood woman on the beach? The story is a standout for several reasons, but mostly because Bradbury’s prose here is top notch. His description of the ocean is hypnotic, alluring, malevolent, and inviting, all at once. The ending is tragic, but to be expected.

What’s even more interesting about the story is that it’s based on a real life experience The idea came from a memory of an encounter on Lake Michigan when he was 22. A little girl had been building sand castles when she suddenly ran out into the water, and she never returned. He decided he would write a story that would bring her back out of the water. Once he was done, it brought him to tears because he felt that, for the first time in his career, he’d finally written something true and real. From then on, he learned to use his subconscious to drag out memories that would make for great stories.

The moral of the lesson for us writers, once again, is to put your head down and work. Sometimes I wonder if writing about other authors and their work benefits me at all because I’m just putting other people on a pedestal. It’s hard not to be blown away by good writing, and it’s even harder not to want to share those things with other people, but I have to constantly remind myself that that could just as easily be me and my own writing. Not to say I’m on the level of Bradbury (like not even close, or like at all), more like, I hear what he’s saying and taking note. The interview below contains a bunch more sound advice, funny stories, and irreverent tips from the celebrated author. Take those pearls of wisdom and go forth and create!