Archives for posts with tag: Kurt Vonnegut

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“Novelists…our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.” KURT VONNEGUT

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I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write, I simply become what I seemingly must become.” KURT VONNEGUT, Welcome to the Monkey House

ILLUSTRATION: Kurt Vonnegut self-portrait

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VONNEGUT’S ADVICE ABOUT CHOOSING YOUR SUBJECT MATTER:

“Somebody gets into trouble, then gets out of it again. People love that story. They never get tired of it.” KURT VONNEGUT (1922-2007), author of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five

PHOTO: Edie Vonnegut, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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In 1949, Kurt Vonnegut sent three writing samples to Atlantic Monthly — hoping for publication or a writing assignment. Instead, he received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.

Faithfully yours,
Edward Weeks

From one of the rejected writing samples (‘account of the bombing in Dresden”), Vonnegut developed his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Toiling away at a variety of jobs (newspaper bureau, General Electric public relations department, Saab dealership) to support his large (and extended) family (six children), 20 years transpired between the Atlantic Monthly rejection and the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five (Delacorte, 1969). Modern Library has ranked the book as the 18th greatest novel of the 20th century.

Trivia Tidbit: In 1970, Slaughterhouse-Five was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards — losing out in both competitions to Ursula K. Le Guin‘s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Photo: A first edition of Slaughterhouse-Five issued in 1969, when Vonnegut was still using “Jr.” Signed first editions of the novel currently sell for around $8,000. See this link.

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WRITING TIP FROM KURT VONNEGUT

Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water. 

Photo: CelloPics

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BOOK RECOMMENDATION: I’ve read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates three times— and consider this 1961 novel a prose miracle. And  I’m in good company.

“The Great Gatsby of my time…One of the best books by a member of my generation.” KURT VONNEGUT

“Here is more than fine writing; here is what added to fine writing makes a book come immediately, intensely, and brilliantly alive. If more is needed to make a masterpiece in modern American fiction, I am sure I don’t know what it is.” TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

NOTE: At a thrift store, I recently found a Vintage Contemporaries paperback edition of Revolutionary Road  (in very good condition) and will mail the book to the first person in the U.S. who leaves a comment on this post. This is our second book giveaway.

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“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

KURT VONNEGUT, Man Without a Country

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I have always been a Kurt Vonnegut fan — he was one of the first writers I really, truly, completely loved. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the first thing I did was run out and buy a new copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, then go home and read it from cover to cover without moving from my spot.

For whatever reason — and there were many — this was my response to the horror. I wanted to see how a great artist had dealt with horror (in his case, his presence at the firebombing of Dresden during WWII) and how he had been able to express what had happened.

And then, a miracle. I learned that Kurt Vonnegut would be in Chicago (where I then lived) to give a lecture at the public library (he was in town to accept a literary award) just a few weeks later.

Yes, I was in the same room with Kurt Vonnegut — and he was as wonderful, witty, and warm as you’d imagine. Of course, people in the audience asked what he felt about what had happened on September 11th. I don’t remember exactly what he said. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the time — and could only think of what he’d written in Slaughterhouse-Five:So it goes.”

Thank you, Kurt. Thank you. Thank you. For me, “So it goes” is not a call to complacence, it is a call to live noble lives, despite it all. We will try to follow your fine example. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

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“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

KURT VONNEGUT, Palm Sunday

Published in 1981, Palm Sunday is a collection of Kurt Vonnegut‘s short stories, essays, letters, and other writings. In Chapter 18, Vonnegut grades his books — comparing himself with himself, not other writers.

Here are the titles and the grades Vonnegut gives his books:

Player Piano: B
The Sirens of Titan: A
Mother Night: A
Cat’s Cradle: A+
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Slaughterhouse-Five: A+
Welcome to the Monkey House: B-
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Breakfast of Champions: C
Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons: C
Slapstick: D
Jailbird: A
Palm Sunday: C

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  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.