Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died last week and I am ashamed to say I haven't written anything about him. I'll link to the New York Time's obituary rather than try to encapsulate the man and his books. I will say I loved his irreverence to all things self important, his view that war was futile and that life itself was absurd. In a way, he was the Mark Twain of the 1960's and 1970's and early 1980's. In 2005 his collection of essays A Man Without a Country was published and was a hot seller for a while. I caught him on a talk show doing promotion for the book and was shocked to see how old he had gotten (he was around 80 at the time) and slightly doddering but still a man with a wicked sense of humor and a great mind.
Here's to you Mr. Vonnegut!
My personal favorites are:
Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday!
Timequake (I mention this as it is a very personal novel Vonnegut the narrator goes back in time to try to stop the death of his real brother, at least in print, and shows off Vonnegut's human side).
I found these rules for writers as I was reading about Vonnegut's life. Thought I would pass them along alough I have reservations about the last one.
On pages 9 and 10 of his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:
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 heck 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.