Voices from the Grave #21: Kurt Vonnegut Interview

Kurt Vonnegut interview from 1991

 

 

“It’s the only art that requires skill on the part of the audience.”

 

 

 

 

16 thoughts on “Voices from the Grave #21: Kurt Vonnegut Interview

    • “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I love Kurt. Or, to quote another great writer: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” (GB Shaw).

      I actually have those 8 tips tacked up on my wall. We are on a wave-length here. Great minds, and all that.

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      • I’ve never studied anything, not formally. I read to find out about life and my nature in relation to the world, and the nature of the world in relation to myself. I started writing as way to make sense of things, and went bezerk. I don’t write, as many writers do, by exercising craft. A degree of skill is vital, but I tend to write intuitively, taking from life. And only taking from art which impacts on my life. You might be similar, as you’ve mentioned, the brutal truth and all that. I spend more time thinking than I do reading. Then something happens, and if it isn’t written down I begin to feel ill. That’s why I’ve been writing a lot of poetry lately. I’ve been writing so much soulless copy, that I haven’t the time to throw myself into the pit of the novel, and the ideas still need to out. I’ve never adopted the rules of other writers, I merely have a look and often find that I’m already doing some of things they suggest. I think the only real rule, is to do it the way in which it works for you. For me, this changes all the time. Sometimes I need to put time aside and approach it in a deliberate way, sometimes it’s a fevered dash to get it all down, and damn the liver. But I’m busy working the first part of an old novel into a possible serial for a local pulp magazine. I’m waiting to hear from them about a short story as well. I never rest. I think, if you’re a certain kind of writer, then everything is work. No matter what you’re doing. The writer is always “filtering things through the aesthetic” and then the actually penning of anything is just an extension of living this way. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so disillusioned by most formally published contemporary fiction. There are always exceptions, but I think people write to get published in a climate which demands they observe craft; the first thing that gets trampled is the sense of authentic human experience. A friend of mine, a well published writer (in genre) by a major publishing house, was told, by her agent “we don’t want to hear narrative voice anymore.” How many good writers from the last century wouldn’t make it into print today. However unprovable, there seems to be a publishers’ idea that books need to be written for readers “without skill”. They need to conform to this ridiculous notion of genre and have the potential to end up on all the endorsed TV celeb reading lists. It’s an old story, though, sell-out and survive, or cling to your ideals and take them to the grave. Whether there is a real choice, is the thing. I think, as in politics, once you conform, then your pen will always be shaky.

        Sorry for the rant, but thought I might be ranting to the choir.

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      • A well-placed rant is always welcome. And, yes, you indeed are ranting to the right choir. As far as craft is concerned: I have studied it well and long and hard (especially the short story, whose history just fascinates me). Up to the point where I felt that I knew exactly enough rules so that I could break them, in my own way, with impunity. But before going too far, where one is so bogged down with the fundamentals that breaking them is unthinkable. I respect craft but I also passionately respect my personal instinct; I am comfortable blending the two. I do not have a problem with observing craft, as long as it is recognized that craft can be as individual a concept as voice; I do have a problem with the homogeneity of what passes for formal craft today. The idea that there is only one acceptable type of craft (which bows down to the concept of a lazy readership, or the lowest common denominator) is revolting and guts us of our creativity.
        My love of and respect for words, written language and thought has been the guiding force behind my entire life. Even as a toddler. I never seriously wanted to do anything else; my existence is pretty much consumed by this passion (although I do have friends and hobbies, honest). I am either writing, thinking about writing, mentally forming thoughts or sentences or phrases, observing myself and others for creative fodder, or reading (which I do obsessively). This is the only way that I know how to approach the world. Any truth that I am able to find or process is filtered through this lens, or set of lenses.
        I have a very specific approach to publishing, which is pretty well laid out in the About part of this blog. I only publish my work in indie/small press forums, both my own publications and those others that meet my criteria. That sounds snotty, I am sure, but I also do not care. I love the freedom of writing on subjects that I am passionate about (dead writers, silent cinema, historical literary and film culture, cultural feminism, fiction) and refuse to put pen to paper under duress or for someone else’s requirements. I write what I write about; people will publish it or they won’t (and there is always someone who will). I have something of a constitutional opposition to mainstream media, for some of the reasons that you stated above. Now I am off to make a cuppa before my rant takes up ten minutes of your time!

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  1. I’m with you, I’m all for supporting the Small Presses. It’s where you can be free and true, which is, to me, what it’s about. I agree with you about craft being an extension for individual expression, I was using the word very subjectively, as a means to highlight (hate that word. I’ll use “illustrate” instead) a difference. I should clarify a bit about craft. It’s not that I don’t use it, but I never studied it. This is, in part, is because I grew up around it, in a well-respected writer/director family. So, I developed an internal critic who could sift the good from the shit, and so I ended up with a useful measure: which is to write what I would like to read. It’s far from infallible, and over the last few years I’ve had to develop my grammar in order to survive writing ready-to-print copy. For me, writing once seemed like passion, and maybe it still is, but it’s now an addiction, I see the pen as the syringe. If I don’t get my dose, I start to feel ill, worthless. I live in near poverty to keep writing. Do you know how much copy you’ve gotta write to pay for the smallest flat in the block where the Romanian refugees come to sort out their UK life.
    As I wrote in a poem: “I want to see the naked soul of the painter in their nude…to take from life for their art, so their art will, so simply, have life.”
    The copy is whoredom, for sure, but it’s not the same if your name isn’t on it, nor if it requires an approach so different that it almost feels like you’re doing something else.

    Good to talk.

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    • I like your poetry snippet. I cannot imagine writing copy for a living; major kudos to you for being able to maintain that duality. Nice talk as always.

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      • Well, good luck! I have no problem working to deadline; in fact, I thrive on it. I love the adrenaline rush. I’m just lucky to never have had to work a deadline for a job like that. Coming in under the wire when you are working for yourself or as Literary Editor for a monthly pop culture newspaper is fun and heartening. Kudos to you, I am sure things will work out appropriately!

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      • It’s torture. No copy equals half a novel or fifty poems in a month or six weeks. Then the copy arrives and all decent use of ink disappears. By “appropriately” do you mean, “just desserts” for abject whoredom (it’s simpler to sell your flesh)? Or are you a determinist who believes everything is the way is ought to be?

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      • Haha, neither. To be clear: I simply meant that I am sure that you will find a way out of your copy job to do whatever it is you really want to do. I am an eternal optimist. The conviction that I will eventually be able to write full-time forever (instead of 65% of the time) is what gets me through. So, definitely not “just desserts” or determinism. Sorry if that came off snotty or harsh. Not my intention at all!

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      • This is most likely due to the fact that it is 12:18 PM here and I have not yet had a cup of tea. My comprehension, it is off!

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      • It’s less likely to be your fault than mine. It’s after 6pm here, and I had my first drink at around the time you mention, but when it was that time in my zone. As my mother always says, as many have said, “The sun must be setting somewhere in the world.”

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      • Ha, well that explains it all! There’s nothing wrong with having a drink at any time of day. The other saying similar to your mother’s is: “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

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