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Death Is a Lonely Business: My Memory of Ray Bradbury

Now that the dust is settling on the many Ray Bradbury encomiums and obituaries, let me share my memory of Ray, my first one anyway. I met the sci-fi master a few times over the years.

To start, however, I must share something most of us authors know but don’t readily acknowledge. Book signings are an embarrassment. Most of the time you’re lucky to get twenty people. Sometimes you don’t even get two and end up signing books by yourself off in a corner.

After one or two books’ worth of this kind of humiliation, the glamour of signings is gone and most authors see them as a chore for which you have to grit your teeth. I know I did.

So that was how I felt on December 1, 1985, when I drove reluctantly down to the Scene of the Crime, a now defunct mystery bookstore on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks in the Valley known as San Fernando -- I’ll explain why I know the exact date in a minute -- to sign my (then) latest Moses Wine detective novel, California Roll.

But as I pulled up in my…. (can’t remember the car, but I do remember the date)… I noticed a line of people coming out of the bookstore. It was extraordinarily long and went round the block and up the other side. What was this? A Creedence Clearwater Revival concert? Magic Johnson signing basketballs? (Actually, I could hear a jazz band playing.)

No, it was my book signing. But there was another author, to my surprise, signing with me – you guessed it, Ray Bradbury. I could see a giant photo of him plastered all over the store window next to a tiny snapshot of me.

Ray had just written his first mystery – a yarn called Death Is a Lonely Business, set, as I learned, in Venice, California, 1949. It was also Ray’s first novel in many years, since Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I slid past the line, explaining to the perplexed fans that I was also an author, and found the empty seat at the front next to Ray. I introduced myself – I wasn’t sure if he knew who I was or not – and stared at the stack of books in front of me. I had never seen one as tall of my own books, certainly at a signing. It was clear I had lucked out by signing with Ray.

I felt a little intimidated, but he treated me like a brother and colleague, urging his many fans to buy my book as well as his. He was the rock star but he was generous to me then, even asked me questions as the “experienced” mystery author, referring the fans to me as the expert in the genre, such as I was. After all, I was on my fourth mystery.

I sold more books that day, several hundred in my memory, than I ever have at any signing before or since (or am ever likely to).