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At the Writing Desk

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Michael Cotter

on 30 October 2014

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Transcript of At the Writing Desk

At the Writing Desk
with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
"I think I succeeded as a writer because I did not come out of an English department. I used to write in the chemistry department. And I wrote some good stuff. If I had been in the English department, the prof would have looked at my short stories, congratulated me on my talent, and then showed me how Joyce or Hemingway handled the same elements of the short story. The prof would have placed me in competition with the greatest writers of all time, and that would have ended my writing career."
Rules for Great Writing
1. Find a subject you care about.
2. Do not ramble, though.
3. Keep it simple.
4. Have the guts to cut.
5. Sound like yourself.
6. Say what you mean to say.
7. Pity the readers.
8. For really detailed advice,

read 'The Elements of Style' by

Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White.
"Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."
"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."
Easy Go
I Used to Work in Chicago
Welcome to the Monkey House?
They tell me I am probably the richest man in the world. I may be, and then again I may not be. I don't much care. The important thing about me is that I haven't always been rich and happy. Everything I've got I worked for.
It is hard to believe nowadays, with an Easy Go next door to practically every Howard Johnson's in this great land of ours, that the whole idea of a suicide parlor once had to be explained and sold. When I say I had to ring doorbells, I mean I had to do exactly that. I wasn't afraid of having doors slammed in my face, and I told the Easy Go story to anybody who would listen.
Easy Go
424 Madison Avenue
New York 17, N.Y.
Plaza 5-3382
424 Madison Avenue
New York 17, N.Y.
Plaza 5-3382
I Used to Work in Chicago
The following is excerpted from the testimony of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., before the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing relative to possible Federal regulation of ethical suicide parlors.
Sure-I used to work for Greta Garball. I worked for him for two years in the very first ethical suicide parlor in the history of this country. That was eighteen years ago-on Fifty-fifth Street in Chicago. I was on piece work. Mr. Garball paid me ten dollars for every customer we did in. I was always the one who turned on the switch and started up the car. Both years I paid income tax on about twenty-thousand dollars, so you can figure out
for yourself
how many folks I must have killed helped to kill.
If Mr. Garbo was alive today, I don't think he would
he wouldn't
be very proud of the coast-to-coast chain of suicide parlors that bears his nick-name. He wouldn't like the stainless steel booths. He wouldn't like the purple tile roofs. He wouldn't like the expensive, easy-to-find locations. and
He wouldn't like
the choice of six different ways to die quick Frankly,
or the canned farewell notes.
Frankly, I think they would make him sick.
Sure-I used to work for Greta Garball.
I worked for him for eight months way back in 1974. I'll tell you something else, too. He was one of the ninety-two people I killed.
Caleb Warren was a lanky and dead attractive expediter for an Ethical Suicide Parlor next door to a Howard Johnson's in Hyannis, Massachusetts. War was a thing of the past, and disease didn't amount to much any more, and neither did old-age - so death was an enterprise for volunteers.
The population of Earth was seventeen billion
human beings
, which was far too many mammals that size for a planet that size. The people were jammed together like drupelets. Drupelets are the knobs on raspberries.
Desire Under a Hot Tin Streetcar
When Tony Comstock came home from his job at the Ethical Suicide Parlor, his wife Candy told him that narcotics agents had caught a high school history teacher with two-hundred and fifty gallons of distilled water behind a secret panel in his rumpus room, in West Milton, only eight miles away. "Only eight miles away," she said again.
"That's close," Tony agreed. They shook hands limply. Candy was very fat, and not very clean. Tony wasn't very clean either, had a two-day beard. Nobody cared. This was 1971.
Nancy Warren
Nancy Warren was a beautiful hostess for an Ethical Suicide Parlor next door to a Howard Johnson's in Hyannis, Massachusetts. War was a thing of the past and diseases didn't amount to anything anymore, and neither did aging. So death was an enterprise for volunteers. Nancy was a sort of recruiting officer for Paradise. She loved the work.
Nancy Warren was a trinket red-head with an adorable figure, enormous eyes, and lips like sofa-pillows. At a time when most people looked like something the cat drug in, Nancy was brilliantly groomed in the uniform of the Ethical Suicide Service. The uniform was purple stretch material that covered and revealed her from neck to knee, a 1/2urple jump suit which fitted like a second sk which looked painted on, and black calvary boots with jingling spurs.
Anne Sexton
Gail Godwin
-Student of Kurt's at the Iowa Writers' Workshop
-Author of
The Odd Woman
Violet Clay
A Mother and Two Daughters
(all National Book Award finalists)
-Pulitzer Prize-winning poet
-Author of
Live or Die
-Kurt drew his graph of her story "Cinderella" at a publication party for Transformations
Kat Vonnegut, Jr.
Author of
Cat's Cradle
Welcome to the Kitty House
Claw-ter House Five
Tuna of Champions
God Bless You, Dr. Winston
, &
While Felines Sleep
so it goes...
How to Write with Style:
For a Great Short Story:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time is 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 should do one of two things - reveal character or advance action.
5. Start at 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 the reader 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.
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