You can't really say that Ray Bradbury was tricked into participating in the first Santa Barbara Writers Conference 18 years ago. But you can call it creative networking.
When Barnaby and Mary Conrad were planning the 1972 conference, the first author they called was Bradbury, best known for his science fiction and fantasy works such as "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451."
"He asked me who else was going to be there and I told him Alex Haley and Budd Schulberg," Barnaby Conrad said, naming the authors of "Roots" and "On the Waterfront," respectively. "So he told me, 'Well, if those two will be there, I'll come too.' Then I got on the phone with Alex Haley and he asked who else was coming. I said Ray Bradbury and Budd Schulberg. He said he'd come as well. Then I called up Budd Schulberg and told him the other two would be there. He came too."
Since his participation in the first conference, Bradbury has been returning as the opening speaker every year and will continue that tradition Friday at 8:15 p.m. at the Miramar Hotel. He says he keeps coming back because he enjoys the conference and he likes the city of Santa Barbara; he and his wife honeymooned there 42 years ago.
But many suspect that it also has a little to do with Santa Barbara's proximity to Bradbury's Los Angeles home. Bradbury, who as a youngster was a fan of Buck Rodgers comic strips and who has written hundreds of stories about space travel and rocket ships, doesn't like to fly.
his fearful attraction to aviation.
Through the years, Bradbury talks have touched on topics from television producing and writing (he just completed his 45th episode for the "Ray Bradbury Theater," on USA Cable Television) to motion pictures (he wrote the screenplay for "Moby Dick"). But one recurring theme is Bradbury's advice to writers to write from the heart, write about what they love and what they hate--and to enjoy life.
"If a person is perpetually bored, that's a sign that something is wrong," he said. "Jump off the pier, cause some excitement, wake yourself up." According to Bradbury, to live without excitement is to be only half a writer.
With his enthusiasm, Bradbury revs up all the students at the conference, Conrad said. This year, about 350 students will attend the weeklong event, which has been sold out for two months, he said.
"Some people have been asking us why we don't allow more students, but we don't want to change the character of the conference," Conrad said. "We think that it's as popular and successful as it is because we keep it small, and there's a high level of intimacy between the students and teachers and our special guests."