Listen to Ray Bradbury tell about a recurring daily experience: "Early in the morning, in a half-awake, half-asleep state before I get out of bed, it often seems like my birthday or the Fourth of July. I'll hear characters talking. They live in a toy box in my imagination. They're usually part of a novel I'm writing, or part of a short story, a play, a poem. They tell me what has happened, and what's going to happen next. Then I rush to the typewriter and pound away as fast as I can."

Speaking in low-pitched urgent tones, projecting a manner of awe, wonder and boyish enthusiasm, he continues: "Sometimes like a fool I'll stay in bed too long, and by the time I get up, the voices are gone, the images have vanished. It's important to rush to the typewriter and get those words on paper quickly."

Millions of Readers

Pink-cheeked and husky, peering at the world through thick glasses, Bradbury is a fantasist and storyteller whose imagination runs comet-like across the skies. Out of his early morning journeys has come an impressive body of work: more than 400 published short stories, plus novels, plays and scripts for motion pictures and television. He has thrilled and chilled millions of readers with "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451," "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

Bradbury switches focus frequently from one work project to another, and an indication of the variety of his interests can be seen in his current agenda:

--Later this month he is scheduled to address the Space Congress, an annual meeting of astronauts and scientists, at Cape Canaveral.

--While in Florida he plans to visit Disney World's Epcot; Bradbury was employed as a consultant on the overall plan for Epcot's Spaceship Earth building.

--He is putting the finishing touches on a novel, his first in 22 years. A murder-mystery entitled "Death Is a Lonely Business," it is scheduled for publication later this year.

--He is writing an opera, "Leviathan 99," based on the novel "Moby Dick."

--He is also writing a screenplay to be produced in Japan.

Bradbury, 64, is widely recognized as a futurist, but he keeps in close touch with projects out of the past. He throws nothing away. His notes--sentences, paragraphs, pages--are kept in file folders, and the files are massive. "If on 10 different mornings I hear 10 different voices, there might eventually come out of it five short stories, four poems and a one-act play.

"I never worry about finishing a piece in one morning. I know it isn't perfect then--at the moment of writing it, I'm not even sure how good it is. So I put it away and a few days later I'll look at it again. Sometimes I wait 10 or 20 years to revise or expand a project.

"I'm very much at ease working this way, and it means I never have a dry spell. By working on a multiplicity of things over a period of time, I never run out of ideas. If one project begins to bore me, I just turn to another. There is always something fresh and exciting to turn to."

First Encounter

Bradbury had his first close encounter with science fiction at the age of 8 when he picked up a pulp magazine, Amazing Stories, and in terrified fascination read one entitled "The World of Giant Ants." He also began collecting and pasting in scrapbooks the comic strip adventures of Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant. (Sentimental and retentive by nature, he keeps those comic strip collections to this day.)

He soon grew enchanted with the science fiction of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, the eerie fantasies of Edgar Allan Poe. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bradbury hawked newspapers on a street corner four hours a day and divided his remaining time between writing stories and reading books.

"I spent almost every night at the main library or branch libraries around town," he said. "My favorite pastime was wandering around in those libraries, just taking books off the shelves and falling in love with them, and sitting around the library and writing stories on those little bits of blank paper they have for reference notes. I was fairly poor, and all those nice little reference notes were there, so I'd write half a short story on those, and then take a stack of them home and type it all up.

"There was something about the library that revved me up constantly. I loved being there. I couldn't afford to buy books. For three years, starting at age 19, I made about $10 a week by selling newspapers. I had few clothes, no car and lived at home with my folks. I didn't see it as a terrible hardship because I knew where I wanted to go--I wanted to write. I kept writing, and at 21 I sold my first story. Gradually I began to sell more stories, though for years it all went to pulp magazines. Practically all the material in my later books, like 'The Martian Chronicles' and 'The Illustrated Man,' was first sold to the pulps for from $20 to $80 a story.

"When I was 27 I was still living at home with my folks, to save money, so I could write." That year, however, his life changed when he strolled into Fowler Bros. Bookstore at Pershing Square. He immediately became the object of suspicion; someone wicked had been coming to the store to steal books.