Excerpts From The Introduction of The October Country By Dennis Etchison

Inspiration for The Lake

Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920. His family moved west during the Great Depression and settled in Los Angeles, where he became a newspaper vendor and wrote countless short stories, a few of which saw print in amateur publications. His first professional sale came in 1941, and the following year he received an acceptance from Weird Tales, the popular pulp magazine whose contributors had included H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Arthur Conan Doyle and Tennessee Williams. Bradbury received a half-cent a word. “I was still selling newspapers on a streetcorner,” he recalls. “It got me started in the magazine — and then I discovered my own intuitive ability. It was there all the time, but I had been imitating other people. . . ”

When I was twenty-two, I sat in the sun one day and began to remember a little girl I had been with on the beach in Illinois when I was seven or eight years old. We built sandcastles together, and she went into the water and never came back. What a mystery that was! I went home with my mother saying, “Why didn’t she come out?” It haunted me . . . and one afternoon at my typewriter I remembered her and I started writing the story, and two hours later it was finished and I was in tears. I realized that after ten years of writing — ten years! — I finally had found my interior self.

That was the day he wrote “The Lake”, which he considers his first successful story.

Bradbury’s Association With Artist Joe Mugnaini

One of the most striking elements of The October Country is the series of interior illustrations by Joe Mugnaini. How the artist came into Bradbury’s life is a fascinating story in itself:

Maggie and I were prowling around Beverly Hills one night in 1951, as I recall . . . and there was a temporary exhibit in an empty store. We looked in a window, and there was a small lithograph of a Gothic Victorian house on Temple Street and Figueroa, across from the tenement where I lived! I didn’t recognize it, but I was looking at the lithograph, and it was so beautiful . . . I said, “I’ve gotta have that.” Well, we didn’t have any money. So the next day I went in and said:

“Can I buy it on time. How much is it?”
“Seventy-five dollars.”
I said, “Can i pay $25 a month for three months?”
“Sure,” the woman said. “If you like that, you oughta see this painting in the next room.”
“I said, “How much is that?”
She said, “Well it’s around three hundred.”
“No, I can’t afford that.”

So then she showed me a third painting by Joe Mugnaini which convinced me that he was my soul-mate. It showed a trestle with broken ends, and trapped on that trestle, that big bridge was this Renaissance train. Renaissance train? Trains weren’t invented during the Renaissance! It had church-cathedral windows in the cars, and celebrants from what could be a Venetian festival. And I said, “God” that’s the story I’m working on that I haven’t finished!” I’d just done notes on Something Wicked This Way Comes at the time. So I said, “I gotta meet this guy. Can you give me his address and phone number?”

She did, and I called him up and went to meet him. I said, “You know, I’ve gotta have these paintings of yours, but I can’t afford them.” The big painting was four or five hundred dollars, and this one was two or three hundred. “Can I make a deal with you? If you don’t sell them at the show and they send them back to you, can I pay you what you would have got? I don’t want to gyp you in any way.”

In other words, for a five-hundred-dollar painting, he would have got two hundred and fifty, perhaps, and the gallery would get the rest. So what the heck? And then I can buy this for a hundred dollars instead of two hundred. So he says, “Fine.”

A month later he called me. “Come get the paintings. They didn’t sell.”

I couldn’t pay him the full amount. It took me four or five months. I found out later he’d pulled them out of the show in order to give them to me … Now that’s the start of a friendship!

So we became companions, and I put him to work immediately. We were working on The Golden Apples of the Sun and I said, “Do a couple of covers for me.” He gave me twenty! And the next year I looked at his sketches of Don Quixote and a pile of manuscripts. I said, “Hell, there’s the metaphor for Fahrenheit 451. Just change the manuscripts to burning-book leaves.” He did wonderful things . . .

I learned from my collection of illustrated books — I have hundreds of them — that if you show the character’s face, people will disagree. That’s not Madame Bovary! That’s not Raskolnikov! So turn Raskolnikov away, show me his shoulders and his back, and then I can imagine his face and I’ll accept your illustration. So I said to Joe, “When in doubt, make the figures small and don’t show the face.” And we agreed on that . . . and in everything he did for me, it’s a rare face you see . . .

We did work on new editions of Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked, The Martian Chronicles . . . fantastic! We were racehorses jogging in reins together. I loved him and I’m very upset that God took him away five years ago. There are some people who should never die, they are so beautiful. But while he was alive we had a grand time.

copyright 1997 by Dennis Etchison (full introduction appears in Gauntlet’s limited edition of The October Country.

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