Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing

I am happy to finally talk about a piece of artwork I had commissioned by the incredible artist Jillian Kaye. This piece is Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing (as seen below). If you would like a copy of this awesome print, you can purchase it at JillianKayeArt.com. Also, since you are reading this post and hopefully enjoy my stories or discussions about books and writing, you can use the code “GRANFALLOON” to get free shipping!

I posted about Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules for Writing a few weeks ago, and I’ll admit I also wanted to have Vonnegut’s rules on my wall above my desk. There are no “real” rules to writing (I’ve posted two sets now) and you can likely find many more “rules” by Vonnegut himself online. These are more like reminders or advice to keep in mind while writing. I pulled the 8 Rules for the Vonnegut artwork from the book Pity the Reader which shares much more about Vonnegut and his views on writing and life. That book in turn had pulled the “rules” from a newspaper article Vonnegut had written about titled “How to Write with Style.”

So, this goes to show that writing is truly an individual art and there is no real way of doing it wrong. Enjoy yourself and keep going. Use these rules for guidance, or perhaps Neil’s rules work better for you, or perhaps use no rules at all. Or create your own rules. Whatever works for you is what you should use.

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On Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt VonnegutI gained a greater appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut after reading Pity the Reader by Suzanne Collins and Kurt Vonnegut. I had read a handful of his books prior and did so primarily because he had become a larger literary figure and his book Slaughterhouse Five is often considered a classic American novel. I failed to fully appreciate the few novels I’d read at the time, and all of his work I’ve read recently I’ve enjoyed immensely. I think it is because I have a better understanding of the work as it continues to relate to the world we live in today.

Granted, some of the stories are dated considering they were written 60-80 years ago, but they are dated much in the same fashion as Philip K. Dick’s work is dated. In a nostalgic way that showed how hopeful and imaginative some were about a future that has since come and passed. Unfortunately, several topics Vonnegut covered continue to remain problematic in today’s society despite the decades since he wrote about them.

I first discovered Vonnegut randomly and without realizing who he was. There is/was this website that would take you to random websites much like playing roulette with the entire internet. I don’t recall the name, but several people at the university I was attending were using it to alleviate boredom and I momentarily joined the trend. Anyway, as I was jumping around the web, I came across a YouTube video of an older guy discussing the shapes of stories. This guy turned out to be Vonnegut and that video supposedly became fairly popular as Suzanne Collins explains in Pity the Reader. This was my first encounter with Vonnegut and surprisingly remains with me. He was witty and fun while remaining serious about what stories were and how they impact us, or rather what is needed for us to like or relate to them. He was able to distill complex topics into simple explanations which is the mark of a master.

Though I have explored Vonnegut’s work, there is still plenty I have yet to cover but I am taking my time. I don’t feel a rush to read it all and I think it is better to read his books scattered among other books (at least that is how I like to read them). After learning more about Kurt Vonnegut, I not only feel I have a better appreciation of his work, I think I have a better appreciation of what this life is and what we should be doing with it. I hate to say I need reminders from time to time as I get busy with work and responsibilities and forget to take a step back and remember to breathe. Vonnegut’s work often does the job reminding me that society is essentially a farce and we shouldn’t invest too heavily in our participation.

Vonnegut, like many other authors I’ve come to cherish, was actually alive during my lifetime but I failed to realize this until after his passing. Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 and died in 2007. He first published in 1951 and went on to write 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works. Much of his work, and much about himself, had a deep-rooted connection to his time spent as a soldier in World War II. Many speculate that Slaughterhouse Five is his work that most closely discusses his experience during the bombing of Dresden. Perhaps his view of the world was highly influenced by his need to make some sort of sense out what he experienced, but that is simply my own speculation. Regardless of what happened in the past, he left behind a sizable volume of work that continues to be read by many today and which will persist well into the future.

On Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne JonesI first discovered Diana Wynne Jones through the adaptation of her book Howl’s Moving Castle by the well-known film company Studio Ghibli. I love the film and the book, and the two other books she wrote that tie into that world. Since finding her work, I’ve become more interested in her as an artist. Perhaps this may be partly influenced by stories told about her by other authors I like, such as Neil Gaiman who wrote about her and how he first met her. I don’t know why, but I’ll never forget that little story (if you want to know about it, you can read it in his book A View From the Cheap Seats).

I read her book Reflections: On the Magic of Writing which is almost more a memoir than a book about the craft, which suited me just fine. I learned more about her, which made me want to learn even more about her. One thing that really stuck out to me was that she had both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors when she attended Oxford. Her thoughts on both of them were amusing to be honest. She had an interesting childhood though tough at times. Her wonder for the world never diminished despite living through darker moments of human history (primarily referencing World War II here). Her stories are skillfully written but are often marketed to children. I think she wrote them for children, but I think they have something for everyone, especially for adults who have forgotten the wonder they once held for the world.

I hope to introduce or read her stories to my children. They are magical and wholesome. I’m curious how my reading habits would have been different had I discovered her books earlier. I was probably mid-twenties when I first found them. Now that I have, I can return to them when needed so as to (hopefully) never lose my own sense of wonder in the whirlwind of adult responsibilities. I am grateful to have the opportunity. I am grateful she wrote her stories and let them out into the world. I’m sure she has impacted more lives than she could have dreamed possible. Diana Wynne Jones passed away in 2011 at the age of 77. Her works will likely live on for a long time. Much longer than my own lifetime at least, because once you discover a book that nestles its way into your heart, it will remain there forever to bring you comfort and joy. My hope is that you give her work a chance if you have not done so already. Of course, I suggest starting with Howl’s Moving Castle. 

On Gene Wolfe

Gene WolfeI first discovered Gene Wolfe through one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, who wrote about Gene in a collection of nonfiction called A View From the Cheap Seats. I had not yet read any of Gene’s work when he passed away in 2019. His passing prompted me to finally read his work and I started with his more popular work The Book of the New SunIt was through this four book saga that I grew to love his writing. I later picked up a collection of short fiction title The Best of Gene Wolfe and I knew that he was going to become a favorite of mine.

His writing is unique in a way that seems to tell a story that is just a glimpse into a larger universe vastly different from our own (or perhaps in a very different time than our own). The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a great example of this and is a short story that can be found in the collection mentioned above or in other collections. Though this is something that I really enjoy about his writing, I can see how it could put others off of it because there are many instances where the reader may feel like they don’t know much of what is happening though the characters do because they are inhabitants of that universe. Much is inferred from his prose and perhaps that is one aspect that draws me to it. There is a mystery that can unravel the more attention to give it, but it will never quite reveal itself to you in its entirety.

As a gift to myself (as a reward for losing weight and getting healthier0, I recently purchased a Folio Society print of The Book of the New Sun which is a beautiful edition and includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman himself.

It’s a little difficult to discuss how his work has impacted me because, much like his stories, it touches on aspects that I am not overtly certain of myself. I don’t have any personal stories in relation to him or his work like other authors in this series. I simply enjoy his work. I wish I had known about him and his work earlier then perhaps I would have such stories. From what little I do know, he seemed like a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed life and sharing joy. I will likely learn much more about him as an author the more I delve into his stories. All I can really say is that I look forward to reading more of his work and likely rereading it for his work has aspects that I hope to one day instill in my own writing.

An Alphabet of Authors

Inspired by @WS_Bookclub’s post of alphabetical fantasy authors. I decided to do an Alphabet of Authors myself. These are authors I have read and I was surprised to see several gaps in letters, so please give me some recommendations if you know of any.

I made this list mainly by perusing my bookshelf so it may very well be incomplete. I’ve also only added the authors whose work I have enjoyed (of course) because I figured you may want to read them if you haven’t yet. If you want a specific book recommendation for any of these authors, peruse my list of recommendations I have posted here. Anyway, here we go:

An alphabet of authors (by last name)

A – Douglas Adams with Honorable Mentions: Isaac Asimov, Margaret Atwood, Ryunosuke Akutagawa

B – Ray Bradbury with Honorable Mentions: Edgar Rice Burroughs

C – Ted Chiang with Honorable Mentions: Orson Scott Card, Raymond Carver, Albert Camus, Ernest Cline

D – Philip K. Dick with Honorable Mentions: Emily Dickinson, Anthony Doerr, Alexandre Dumas

E – Cary Elwes with Honorable Mention: Matthew Eck

F – Raymond E. Feist with Honorable Mentions: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carrie Fisher, Victor Frankl

G – Neil Gaiman with Honorable Mentions: William Gibson, Arthur Golden, Helene A. Guerber, The Brothers Grimm, Malcolm Gladwell

H – Frank Herbert with Honorable Mentions: Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, Aldous Huxley

I – Dave Itzkoff with Honorable Mention: Kazuo Ishiguro

J – Robert Jordan with Honorable Mention: Diana Wynne Jones

K – Stephen King with Honorable Mention: Franz Kafka

L – Ursula K. Le Guin with Honorable Mentions: Stanislaw Lem, Ann Leckie, Tom Lloyd

M – John Marco with Honorable Mentions: David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy

N – Garth Nix with Honorable Mentions: Phong Nguyen, Patrick Ness

O – George Orwell with Honorable Mentions: Joyce Carol Oates, Nnedi Okorafor

P – Terry Pratchett with Honorable Mentions: Gary Paulson, Robert M. Pirsig, Gareth L. Powell, Edgar Allen Poe

Q – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook)

R – Patrick Rothfuss with Honorable Mentions: Ayn Rand, J.K. Rowling

S – Antione de Saint-Exupery with Honorable Mentions: V.E. Schwab, Snorri Sturluson

T – J.R.R. Tolkien with Honorable Mention: Karen Traviss

U – Recommendations Please

V – Kurt Vonnegut

W – Tobias Wolff with Honorable Mentions: Gene Wolfe, Martha Wells, Danny Wallace, and Andy Weir

X – Recommendations Please

Y – Recommendations Please (I do want to read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life)

Z – Yevgeny Zamyatin with Honorable Mention: Timothy Zahn