Thursday, February 10, 2011

BURIED TREASURE

I was going through some old, moldy files today, looking for an ancient contract, when I came across buried treasure that I thought had fallen into the Crack Between Worlds years ago:  letters from two of my literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. 

Back in 1985, when the first issue of Moonshadow came out under Marvel’s Epic imprint, I knew that I’d created my first piece of work with genuine substance.  As I’ve said before, when I sat down to write Moon, it didn’t feel like I was Writing Comic Books, it felt like I was Writing:  Real Writing, without the preconceptions and burdens of someone else’s spandex universe.  I was liberated, I was intoxicated, and, like a proud student, I wanted to share my work with two of my greatest teachers.  No, I’d never met Kurt Vonnegut, but there’d be no G’l-Doses—the Pop! Poof! Pinging! alien zoo-masters of the story—without KV’s Tralfamadorians, and the mixture of wry skepticism and heartfelt compassion that ran through all his novels and short stories had a profound impact on me.  (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater remains one of my all-time favorite books.)  As for Bradbury—well, I wouldn’t be the writer, or perhaps the person, I am today if I’d never encountered his work.

  There's no writer I admire more.

Yes, Moonshadow was the story that helped me find my own voice as a writer, but in order to do that, I summoned the spirits of every literary influence I’d ever had.  Dostoyevsky and J.M. Barrie, William Blake and Hermann Hesse, weren’t accepting mail at the time, but, happily, Vonnegut and Bradbury were; so I sent copies off to them via their respective publishers, not really expecting a reply, just hoping that maybe, maybe, they’d read Moonshadow and enjoy it.   (I knew there was a slight chance I’d hear from Ray B, as I’d written to him a few years before—a rhapsodic essay in praise of his brilliant novel Dandelion Wine—and he’d been kind enough to respond.  That letter, I’m sorry to say, really has vanished into the Crack Between Worlds.)

Imagine my delight when I received answers from both of them.  Keep in mind this was long before email:  these were actual letters, created on actual typewriters, which, I suppose, makes them glorious antiques.  

First came Bradbury, with this short, sweet missive (I never did get to have that visit I’d requested.  When I went out to L.A. on business, later that year, there was a Writer’s Guild strike and RB was off picketing):

Dear Marc Matteis:  Thanks, much thanks for MOONSHADOW.  Handsomely, beautifully done.  My bravos to you and JON MUTH.  When you hit L.A. call my office number...  Around noon, Tuesdays thru Fridays.  I’ll try to ask you by for a brief chat, at least!  Good luck meanwhile, and again, bravo to you and JON M.  Yours,

Bradbury
Jan. 20, 1985


He signed it RAY B in a sweeping hand, in silver marker, then drew an arrow, in red marker, leading to the side of the page where he typed this, in response to a question in my letter:

Yes, please send future issues!

That would have been enough to keep my writer’s soul glowing for several months, but then, a week and a half later, this arrived in my mailbox, dated January 31st:

Dear J. Marc DeMatteis --

I thank you for the perfectly beautiful MOONSHADOW 1.  The great-great-grandfather of all such enterprises is, of course, my hero William Blake:  words and pictures all of a piece.

I note that you are a city person gone rural.  I did that on Cape Cod for twenty years, until my kids were grown.  I then discovered that those kids were really the only friends I had made in all that time, and that the immune system of the locals had in fact never accepted me.  Their work at no point touched on mine.  When I moved to the Cape, I was an experienced volunteer fireman from a little town outside of Schenectady --  Alplaus.  So, as a good citizen, I immediately offered my services to the Barnstable Volunteer Fire Department.  It was as though I had walked in off the street in rags and naked to join the New York Yacht Club.

So here I am back in the city, where there are plenty of people with whom I can talk shop.

Cheers --

Kurt Vonnegut


And he signed it in a charming—and utterly distinctive—way; as if he was holding two pens simultaneously as he wrote.  (I love that the bulk of the letter is taken up with what is, essentially, a one paragraph short story, a miniature gem, told in that unmistakable Vonnegut style.) 

As I recall—and let’s face it, it’s been twenty-six years—I sent each subsequent issue of Moonshadow off to both of them, and Bradbury, to my amazement, always replied with a short note of gratitude.  (In retrospect, it’s not amazing at all.  It seems completely Bradburyian:  an action radiant with all the grace, enthusiasm and generosity of his written work.)   Not only that, but some months later, when I screwed up the nerve to ask for a promotional quote to use on the cover of one of the later issues, he readily agreed.  (You can find part of that quote on the cover of The Compleat Moonshadow.)

When I asked Vonnegut for a promotional quote he, very respectfully, declined.  “I admire Moonshadow a lot,” he wrote...”But I have had to stop endorsing anybody’s masterpieces, since about every third letter I get ends with a request that I supply some kind of praise in writing.”  (Yes, I found that letter from KV, too.)  Much as I would have loved to plaster a Vonnegut quote across the front cover of the book, I completely understood.  The truth is, I was just grateful that the man who’d created Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater,  who'd made “so it goes” into one of the philosophical catchphrases of a generation, had taken the time to read—and appreciate!—my work.  That I’d had a chance to connect with him at all was a genuine gift from the universe. 

Today, when I told my son I’d found the long-lost letters, he suggested I get them framed.  It had never occurred to me before—I’m dense, I guess—but that’s just what I’m going to do.  These twin treasures have to be preserved:  I'm not going to lose them again.




© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis

27 comments:

  1. scott (the other one)February 10, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    The only way I could possibly love this story more is if...

    ...nope. I couldn't possibly love this story more.

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  2. Wow, that is really cool. I remember when I first found The Compleat Moonshadow, I had no idea what it was about or anything, but it did have the Bradbury quote. That's neat that he responded to all of your letters.

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  3. That's a glorious experience, JMD.

    As always,thanks for sharing!

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  4. This morning, Dru, as I was putting away the files I pulled out yesterday, I found -- along with many of my original MOONSHADOW notes and lots of reviews of the day -- the postcard from Bradbury that contained that cover quote.

    Now if I can just find that letter from Dostoyevsky...!

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  5. As always, David, thanks for reading!

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  6. That's something very special to treasure from 2 legends. I often wonder if people like Mr. Bradbury and Mr. Vonnegut really know what an impact such a kind gesture can have on those who admire them and their work so much. Same goes for all of the celebrities out there. I truly believe you get that, J.M. And that's just one of the reasons we all admire you so much! Thanks for sharing this.

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  7. Well, A. Jaye, I hope they knew how much their words meant; but I doubt if they would have imagined that, all these years later, just finding those letters would fill me with such joy.

    And thanks very much for the kind words.

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  8. Mr. DeMatteis - first discovered you with "Seekers: Into the Mystery" and rediscovered you with "Thor: Choas War". I've left comments on the Marvel.com site in the desperate hope you will be asked to write for the regular Thor title as it's been bereft of real writing for a long time and the "Chaos War" comics FINALLY brought real writing back into the character.

    I have put KV's "Mr. Rosewater" on my Amazon.com WishList and actually revisited "Fahrenhiet 451" 2 weeks ago and still enjoy it.

    I hope to see more of your writing for Thor in the in future.

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  9. Very glad you enjoyed CHAOS WAR, PD, I had a fun time writing it; but I don't think there's much chance of me being asked to write the monthly THOR book.

    That said, I do have another Thor project coming up. It's a big, cosmic two parter -- with terrific art by Rich Elson -- that features Thor, the Watcher, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Scrier and Oblivion. Not sure exactly where it will be appearing -- although I suspect it'll be in the new JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. Maybe I'll put some of Rich's art up here soon, to give you a little taste of the story.

    When you get around to reading ROSEWATER, check back in and let me know what you thought. And, hey, maybe it's time for me to re-read FAHRENHEIT. It's been many years.

    Thanks so much for checking in. All the best -- JMD

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  10. You'll get no argument from me, Glenn!

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  11. It's always great to read such stories. Interacting with those who you admire is a brilliant thing, and to get something tangible, well, that's just the icing on the cake.

    I met Johnny Cash back in the mid 1990s. Someone recently asked me if I got an autograph, and I replied, "No, but I met Johnny Cash and shook his hand. What more would I need?" My pal thought on this for a bit and simply said, "Yep, you're right. Johnny Cash."

    But still, I'm too scared to try and contact Colin Wilson, Richard Adams or James Herbert...

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  12. Johnny Cash? VERY cool, Daniel!

    One thing I've learned over the years when it comes to people we admire: it never hurts to write a letter.

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  13. Amazing!!

    Its not the same thing, but I had the chance to meet Loretta Swit once and tell her how much M*A*S*H meant to me, how it shaped me growing up, and she could not have been nicer to me. One of my all-time great life experiences.

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  14. As a massive M*A*S*H fan, Rob, I can totally appreciate what a delight it must have been to have that experience.

    Loretta Swit was at the Anaheim Convention I was a guest at last spring...and I almost went over and talked to her. Looking back, I probably should have.

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  15. I didn't know you were a fellow Swamp Rat, JMD. :)

    Because Loretta is a vegetarian, there wasn't any food at the con that she could eat, so I volunteered to head out onto the streets of NYC to get her lunch. On the way I called my gf just to say "Guess what? I'm on a food run for Loretta Swit!!"

    She asked me how the show influenced me, and I told her about my MASH blog :) I was over the moon that day.

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  16. I'd be interested in hearing all the people you've met at conventions over the years, JMD.

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  17. And there's the title of your next book, Rob: FEEDING LORETTA.

    Great story! Next you've got to track down Alan Alda (although somehow I don't think he'll be showing up at a comic con any time soon).

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  18. Actually, David, one of the things I've thought about lately is talking about my encounters with Stan Lee. They were relatively few -- compared to many folks in the business -- but very memorable.

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  19. I'd love to hear about it.

    I'm looking forward to meeting Stan at the Dallas Comic-Con this year. I assume I'll only have a few seconds...I think I'll ask him to make a few calls and bring Ben Reilly back!:)

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  20. Yeah, I know...but hey, it could make for fun conversation.

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  21. Will do!

    Now I'm just trying to think of what Stan could sign for me..

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  22. Your mint copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #1...?

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  23. LOL! I'm not sure I could walk out of a comic convention in one piece with that. It would be like the BIG BANG THEORY meets DIE HARD, with some Sheldon Cooper playing the role of Hans Grueber!

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