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Summer 2002
Fahrenheit 451 Revisited

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The wonderful thing about writing Fahrenheit 451, which I called The Fireman the first time out, was the fact that I could run up and down stairs in the library and seize books off the shelf, not knowing what I was going to find next, opening the books and discovering quotes to rush back down to the typing room to insert in my novel. It was a passionate and exciting time for me. Imagine what it was like to be writing a book about book burning and doing it in a library where the passions of all those authors, living and dead, surrounded me.

When I finished, I didn't know what I had done. The Fireman was published in the January issue of Galaxy Magazine in 1951. Two years later, Ballantine Books asked if I could add 25,000 words to the original novella. I said that I could, because there was so much I hadn't yet said.

I called the characters back and asked them to speak to me, which is how I do all of my writing. I listen to my characters, I watch them and I put down their reactions. I knew that Beatty, the Fire Captain, had more to offer about his history of book burning. I knew that Clarisse McClellan had something to say about her fancies and about the culture she survived in. I knew that Faber, a recluse, fearful of being out in society, had more insight and philosophy to gift me with.

So I listened to them again and in the summer of 1953 went back to the library basement and finished the work on the longer version of The Fireman. But I still had no new title.

I wondered at what temperature book paper caught fire; I hadn't bothered to look up the temperature at that time. I called the UCLA chemistry department, but they couldn't tell me. I called the USC science department, and they had no information. I finally said, how stupid! Call the fire department, they might have the answer. I called the L.A. Fire Department and spoke to the chief and said, "I know that this is silly, but could you tell me the temperature at which book paper catches fire?"

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