What Ray Bradbury Meant to Me

As a female horror writer, I sometimes think I was born the wrong gender about three decades too late.

If you’re not very familiar with the horror genre in books, let me sum it up for you: popular contemporary horror novels surged in the 1970’s and 80’s with the rise of such authors as Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Richard Laymon, and Dean Koontz.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; there were others. There were popular novelists before the 70’s (Richard Matheson, M. R. James), after the 80’s (Joe Hill, Justin Cronin), as well as popular female authors (Anne Rice, V.C. Andrews). But mostly, horror’s literary heyday was from 1970 – 1990, and it was ruled by men.

Since then, horror has been in decline. It still has tons of devout readers (myself being one of them), and most of those popular novelists from the 80’s are still being published today, but the genre as a whole has slowed down. Most bookstores’ horror shelves have been absorbed into general fiction. And although I’m hoping for the renaissance any day now, it hasn’t happened yet. (And that, along with why women are less prominent in horror, is a whole other blog post.)

All of this to say: I’m lonely.

Not in real life, mind you. Just within my genre. I have many, many writer friends both in real life and online who I am extraordinarily grateful for, but none of those I’m close with write horror. Some of them dip into it, sure, but I’m the only writer I know in my little circle of connections who writes predominantly horror. Add on top of that that I’m even more niche (literary fiction and poetry often combined with my horror), young (25), and about as girly-looking as they come (see smiley picture in my sidebar)… and I feel damn near isolated.

I have tried to make connections with other horror writers. I joined the Horror Writer’s Association, and although generally friendly, everyone there seems pretty well set already, not to mention very busy. I’ve tried rubbing elbows with some Twitter folks, and while some of them have been very welcoming, others answer my tweets but never follow back – and a few don’t even answer. I sort of feel like the kid who transfers to a new school in the middle of the year where everyone already has a place to sit at lunch.

Like I said, I’m several decades late. And it doesn’t help that I don’t have any books out yet. Most professional authors are hesitant to follow back writers they’ve never heard of; for all they know I could be a crazy stalker. Or a big waste of time.

Now I’m not confessing all of this to throw a pity-party. I’m not trying to place blame (heaven knows networking does not come naturally to me). And I am not trying to make excuses for myself, either – just acknowledging that I have certain obstacles I might have to overcome. This is all stuff I’ve been thinking of since hearing the news of Ray Bradbury’s death.

Why? I will try to explain.

I wasn’t friends with Mr. Bradbury. I never even had the honor of meeting him or hearing him speak in person. Unlike so many of my more-prominent colleagues in the HWA, I don’t have any memories of the man himself. All I knew was his writing.

I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school like most everyone else, and I enjoyed it, but that novel didn’t change my life. It wasn’t until a year ago that I finally cracked open The October Country.

I remember it so well. I sat down on the sofa, opened the front cover, gorgeously illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini, and found a half-page blurb titled “The Grim Reaper” (which I later learned is an excerpt from “The Scythe”). I read it, realized I was holding my breath, let it out, read it again, and closed the book. I looked up at my husband and said, “I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books that changes my life.”

I was right.

If you haven’t read The October Country, I strongly recommend you do. My personal favorites from it are “Skeleton,” “The Lake,” “The Emissary,” “Jack-in-the-Box,” and of course, “The Scythe.” The first thing I did after finishing this book was write “Jack and the Bad Man,” my own personal homage to Bradbury — and also the first short story I ever had published. The next thing I did was get my hands on Something Wicked This Way Comes. The good thing about starting so late? I have a whole lot of Bradbury left to discover.

Recently I heard about this new tribute anthology coming out, Shadow Show. It includes stories by authors such as Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Bradbury himself. Plus, it’s co-edited by HWA member Mort Castle, who did a fantastic job editing On Writing Horror – a must-read book on craft for horror writers. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Shadow Show, and I can’t wait for it to come out.

Which brings me back to my honesty: I feel sad that I’m too new a writer to be included in something like this, paying tribute to a man I never had the honor of knowing but who touched my life nonetheless. When I go back and read the foreword written by Bradbury in my edition of The October Country, I get chills. It’s called “May I Die Before My Voices.” It begins with this:

Now, what in blazes does the above title mean? It means that voices have been talking to me on early morns since I was about twenty-two or twenty-three. I call them my Theater of Morning Voices, and I lie quietly and let them speak in the echochamber between my ears. At a certain moment when the voices are raised high in argument or passionate declaration or are like rapiers’ ends, I jump up (slowly) and get to my typewriter before the echoes die. By noon I have finished another story, or poem, or an act of a play, or a new chapter for a novel.

Reading these words brings me such solace, because I, too, let voices speak in the echochamber of my mind, and I, too, take down their mysterious ideas. Even a Great like Bradbury, who the contemporary authors I look up to looked up to, started when he was in his early twenties, like I did, and was driven by inspiration and passion.

Reading his stories takes me elsewhere; I leave behind the doubts and drive, the loneliness and impatience, the platform-building and networking, my own age and gender, and I am absorbed into a world of creativity so unbridled and personal it feels not like discovering something new but like finding something I’ve always had inside me. When I read Bradbury, I don’t feel inadequate or left out; I feel like I’m home. I feel like he was a kindred spirit I never got to meet.

His foreword ends with this:

My voices are still speaking, and I am still listening and taking their wild advice. If some morning in the future I wake and there is silence, I’ll know my life is over. With luck, on my last day, the voices will still be busy and I will still be happy.

April 24, 1996

From everything I’ve heard, Mr. Bradbury got his wish. May he rest in peace. He will always hold a place in my heart.

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  • Dahnya Och

    Your opening comments explain exactly why I gave up my dreams of writing horror. While I’m not quite so girly (and I absolutely adore your feminine smile!), it is still hard to find horror writers in my (our) age group… never less female writers.

    I was so sad the other day… I walked into Barnes and Nobles for the first time in two years to find the horror section gone. I sulked out without buying anything.

    I’ve never read a Ray Bradbury book, even though I’m familiar with who he is and what his stories represent. When I was younger, we didn’t have a whole lot of extra money (or any, to be honest) so books that weren’t at the library were a luxury I never had. Now that I’m older and can afford those books, I just never get around to it.

    If you could recommend one for me, wonderful Ms. Annie, which would it be?

    • Oh Dahnya, it makes me so sad to hear you say that you’ve given up on writing horror. Obviously, I understand, but it still breaks my heart to hear that. The only reason I haven’t given up myself is that I hope to help change the stereotypes of the genre (age, gender, decade, etc.). It’s a long, intimidating road, for sure.

      It’s funny that you should mention Barnes and Noble getting rid of their entire horror section. I have a whole blog post mostly written about the very experience you described, but I haven’t posted it yet because I’m too emotional about it still. I left without buying anything, cried when I got home, and haven’t bought anything from them since.

      If you’re open to short stories instead of novels, I absolutely choose The October Country as my recommendation. Each story is like being dropped into a whole new world; it’s an amazing experience. Otherwise, I’d say Something Wicked This Way Comes, although I enjoyed the writing style of that one a little less than in The October Country. Either way, you’re in for a treat. It’s never too late to discover Bradbury!

      • Dahnya Och

        Weeeeeell, I haven’t completely given up. I write shorts and flash for horror under a pen name, and I’m currently a slush reader for the up-and-coming horror mag NIGHTMARE under the same name. As Dahnya though… (shrugs) I love the entire horror genre (movies, TV, and fiction) but I just feel like the heyday ended before I was born.

        We should totally form a 20s-30s activist group for horror writers… I feel like there are a lot of people in our generation who would love to write horror, but feel like once the zombie craze dissipates, there won’t be anything left, so “why bother?”

        Shorts or novels; either is fine for me. Time to hit Amazon!

        • I don’t think it’s over; I just think it’s too full of zombies and vampires to see the new surge yet. (And I say that as someone who has written one of each.) I think it just needs its next big wave, that’s all. And that wave won’t happen unless someone starts it…

          And I can’t help snicker at your idea of a young horror group. Women have SheWrites, horror writers have the HWA, and young people have the 20-Something and 30-Something social networks… however, if we combined all 3, I’m pretty sure there’d only be about 10 members. =)~

          Let me know what you think of the book once you’re finished! I will have to go check out Nightmare.

  • Pegab

    Bravo for a beautifully written and heartfelt tribute to a great writer!!!

    • Thank you! And thanks for buying me The October Country, too. Who knows how much longer it would have taken me to find it if you hadn’t given it to me?

      • Pegab

        Well, I was lucky enough to be introduced to that and the original Frankenstein movie, the 1939 Dracula, The Mummy, and The Black Cat movie all by one of the greatest horror aficionados ever. He loved every word and nuance, much like you do.

  • Richardsfive

    Wonderful tribute to a writer who will be greatly missed. He has a few interviews on youtube I like to watch once in a while. I particularly love the video that shows him at home drinking way too much beer in his comfy shorts and walking past a human-sized Godzilla in his living room. Sorry he’s gone, but what fun he seems to have had while he was here!

    • Thanks Regina. I’ve watched that same video, the one where he’s eating cheese and drinking beer. 🙂 He seemed like such a nice, down to earth guy.

  • I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t read horror more often, because seriously, ghost stories were my favorite when I was a kid. In high school I skipped the homecoming dance in favor of working in the town haunted house. I love creepy dark forests and the idea of ghosts and paranormal beings, even if I don’t really believe in them.

    But I almost never read horror now. In large part I think it’s the lack of visibility; horror has become fantasy’s tagalong, which is ridiculous. But also, if I’m going to read horror, I want it to be scary! I seem to have outgrown the capacity to get chills at something spooky. (Except The Shining. That book will always scare the crap out of me.)

    Literary horror, though…Do you have any authors to recommend? Also, do people still write about ghosts and haunted houses? Those seem to have fallen by the wayside in favor of the zombie and vampire.

    • I agree that a lot of horror has gotten somewhat absorbed into either 1) vampires 2) zombies or 3) dark fantasy. As far as literary horror goes, aside from the classics, an agent recently mentioned Justin Cronin and Colson Whitehead to me. (I know on Twitter you said you liked Cronin, so maybe you should try Whitehead too?) I also enjoyed Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth series, which is zombie YA. And, of course, Something Wicked This Way Comes is literary horror; have you read that one? Contemporary literary horror is difficult to come by.

      Truly scary horror is hard to find, too, which is part of why I think it’s shrinking – but again, that’s a whole blog’s worth of discussion. 🙂 If you like intellectual horror, I absolutely freaking loved Jeff Long’s The Descent, which is totally unrelated to the movie by the same name, and Year Zero was pretty good too.

      There are definitely ghost/haunted house horror writers out there, although that’s not my favorite so I don’t have any personal recommendations to offer you. On my to-read list are The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson as well as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Another good option would be to go to Goodread’s “Listopia” feature and type in “haunted house.” I hope you find something you like!

      • I’ll have to try Zone One finally. I’ve been holding back mostly because I’m not really drawn to zombie stories; I do feel a little out of touch with pop culture right now as a result.

        But thanks for the titles and authors, as I’ve now pumped up my TBR list with some horror novels finally. I have to admit, though, it’s a little distressing to think that literary horror isn’t a thing yet, when other literary/genre crossovers are doing so well (literary mysteries or thrillers, literary SFF). Surely there’s an untapped market there!

        • Well, I can’t speak to Zone One because I haven’t gotten to it yet, but the agent I spoke with mentioned it as an example of literary horror, so I don’t know. I do think it’s a shame that there isn’t more prominent literary horror out there. That untapped market is what I’m counting on. =)

  • What a lovely tribute — and so glad you felt at home with Ray Bradbury — and sorry about the feeling of an intimidating road, I know how that can feel. I’ve read a lot of Bradbury’s writings, too, but not The October Country; I’ll need to check it out! My favorite is Something Wicked This Way Comes. I especially love the quote you have at the end, what a remarkable man and writer he was.

    • Thank you Julia! So nice to see you here. He really was. Let me know what you think of The October Country!

  • What a great tribute! It’s so interesting to know the details of how you came to love the horror genre. I had always wondered!

    • Well, there’s a lot more to it than just Bradbury, but he’s my most recent influencer. 🙂 Thanks Nina.

  • Wow, Annie, what a passionate post!

    I confess I’m the last person on Earth who ever wants to read horror (decades of fear from PTSD will do that to you) but I truly admire your passion for your calling. I loved this:

    “Reading his stories takes me elsewhere; I leave behind the doubts and drive, the loneliness and impatience, the platform-building and networking, my own age and gender, and I am absorbed into a world of creativity so unbridled and personal it feels not like discovering something new but like finding something I’ve always had inside me.”

    Do you get to feel like that when you write horror as well? I hope so. I hate to think of you being so isolated in your own genre.

    • I can totally understand not wanting to be scared. Horror isn’t for everyone; nothing wrong with that. I didn’t know you had PTSD, though. I guess I haven’t read far enough back in your blog?

      And yes, I absolutely feel like that when I write horror. It’s only when the writing stops and the editing/networking/submissions begin to I start feeling isolated. Hopefully someday I’ll really break into the genre and find myself some more horror friends. =)

      • “Find myself some more horror friends.” That’s cute!

        The PTSD is a lot better these days. I’m not awake all night with fear anymore. Which has really done wonders for my creativity! 🙂 I don’t usually have much reason to mention it any more so no wonder you didn’t know.

  • Pegab

    Oh my gosh, I just opened my copy of The October Country and read that blurb from “The Scythe”, and it does just take your breath away! I actually had a moment, too. The juxtaposition of the beautiful words & writing with the horrifying subject matter is hauntingly shocking. Thanks to you, I’m going to have to read the rest of the book (and horror is NOT my genre)!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Fabulous post, Annie. And while your point on age is well-taken I can’t help but sit here with wide eyes, recalling a conversation you and I had before (about bus rides), when you said something to the effect of, “You can’t be that much older than me. ” But now that I know you’re barely in your 20s, and I just entered the ’40s, I’m thinking, “Yep. It’s true. Back then, there really weren’t any radios on our bus!”

    At any rate: you are wise for your years and such a talented writer. I think it’s great that you are pursuing your passion, no matter what the ‘trends’ are, or the demographics for horror writers. I believe we may have the next Stephen – I mean “Stephanie” King in our midsts. Scratch that. Annie King. Scratch THAT. Annie Neugebauer! And dare I say, I WOULD pick up a horror novel penned by you!

    • You’re so sweet Melissa! And you do look young for your age. Hopefully you take it as a compliment that I was off by so much!

      And thank you so much for the compliments. This totally made my day. =)

  • -j-

    Somehow, I missed this post, Annie, but it’s one of my favorite things you’ve written. This is so lovely, such a tribute. I know he’d be really honored by it. Who wouldn’t. I haven’t read THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, but I absolutely will now. xo

    • Thank you so much, J! Let me know what you think of The October Country.

  • Carie Juettner

    Feel free to file this under “old news” and continue on with your life, but I’ve got to say it anyway.

    First, I too am in love with Ray Bradbury. I discovered him in high school when I read The Martian Chronicles and then things get fuzzy from there, but I know that I read Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine soon after and then started in on his short stories. I do not love everything he has ever written (I had mixed feelings about Something Wicked This Way Comes and wanted to like From the Dust Returned but did not) but I’m ok with that. I love the range of his writing and appreciate it all even though some of it is not for me.

    I too just recently discovered The October Country and… wow. What an amazing collection. “The Emissary” is now my favorite Bradbury story, above even “The Long Rain” and “All Summer in a Day” (which I used to teach to my seventh graders). I also loved “The Small Assassin” and after I read it, I was even more grateful that I don’t want to have children.

    Ok, I can sense this is going to get long, so let me just sum up instead. (If you want to get coffee sometime and talk Bradbury for hours, I’m in.)

    Since this post is a couple of years old, I assume you’ve made your way through his work by now, but just in case you missed something…
    1. I hope you have read Dandelion Wine, even though it is not horror. It is my favorite book and pages 140-154 are my favorite part.
    2. If you haven’t read Zen in the Art of Writing, go get it right now! (And if you have, go read it again.) I have always loved the forwards and afterwards of Bradbury’s books as much or more than the books themselves. (The “Coda” at the end of Fahrenheit 451 is brilliant. I want to put it on a billboard.) When I discovered that all of those essays and more were compiled into one book I almost fainted from delight. “Run Fast, Stand Still, OR, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, OR, New Ghosts From Old Minds” is probably the most inspirational writing advice I’ve ever read. I think I’ll go read it again right now.

    And last, but not least, I would be happy to be your horror-writing buddy. I think I meet your requirements– lifelong fan of horror, female, young-ish sorta. I’m working on a non-horrifying YA novel right now, but I have a lot of unfinished horror stories waiting in the wings and a horror novel as well that I hope to finish someday. So count me in.


    • Can I just say how much I love this comment? I’m so glad you found this old post!! I actually haven’t read much more Bradbury since I posted this, because I read Something Wicked This Way Comes next, and although I liked it, it wasn’t as magical or amazing as The October Country. But hearing that you weren’t as crazy about that one either makes me think I should try something else of his. I’ve added Dandelion Wine to my to-read list and actually just bought Zen in the Art of Writing. Thanks so much for the kick in the butt/reminder to keep pursuing his work!

      And I would *love* to grab coffee with you sometime! The next time you’re going to be up in the DFW area you should definitely let me know! You sound like a fantastic horror-writing buddy. 🙂 Thanks so much, Carie!

      • Carie Juettner

        As much as I love Dandelion Wine, don’t start with that one. I love that book, but now that I know you haven’t read very much of his work, I think you’d enjoy more of his short stories better. Have you read The Illustrated Man? That’s my second favorite collection after The October Country. Or better yet just start with Zen in the Art of Writing. Read pages 28-30 first. Don’t worry that they start in the middle of an essay. Those pages will make you want to read the rest of the book. 🙂

        My parents actually live in the Dallas area, so I’ll definitely take you up on that coffee offer. Maybe there’ll be some time to chat about horror over Easter weekend? (Seems somewhat appropriate.) And if you ever find yourself in Austin, please let me know!

        • Will do! I’m not sure of my plans yet that weekend, but let’s email or PM when it gets closer and see if we can set something up!
          And yeah, based on the contrast between Fahrenheit 451/Something Wicked and October Country, I definitely prefer his short stories to his long-form work. I’ve already ordered Zen, so I’ll start with that and see if it rekindles the flame a bit. 🙂