Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on Good Writing

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on Good Writing

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Please Check Out My Author's Page

After you finish checking out The Write Place I hope you will visit my author's Write On with Dave Price. 

Here's some of what you will find there.

Blogs For 3 Nonfiction Books I'm Working On

  • Senior Moments (w/Older Today Dave) - Ideas and tips about actively aging so your later years can be can be productive, meaningful, and fulfilling.
  • Sprinkling Stardust: A Grandpop Speaks - My thoughts on growing old, grandparenting, and some of the important issues facing all of us, no matter what our age.
  • Talking 'Bout My Generation - The people, places, things, and ideas of interest to Baby Boomers and those who wish they were.
  • Rock of Agers - A look back at the music and artists from rock and roll's 2nd Decade (1964-1973) and those who are still carrying on that sound today.

Other Writing Sites

  • Sixty and Me - I'm a featured contributor to this online magazine which reaches about 250.000 women worldwide.
I do have one request. My artist wife Judy, who edits all my work, contends that I'm self-centered, insensitive, juvenile, careless, and verbose in both my talking and my writing. After reading my stuff, even if you agree, please don't let her know. She doesn't need any more validation for her views.

Even When You're Hooked, There's Always Hope

Hi. My name is Dave and I'm a bookaholic.

(If you're not familiar with 12-step programs, here you should shout) "Hi, Dave".

Thanks everyone.

I haven't been to a meeting for quite a while. You know how it is. Things were going well. I thought I had everything under control. But recently, I've been feeling a big slip coming. And, fortunately, I knew that meant to come here immediately. I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for BA, our 12 steps, and these rooms.

Book-aholism runs in my family. My grandmother was a bookaholic. My mother was a bookaholic. Science is now showing that excessive reading has both genetic and cultural roots and often runs in families. I know it runs in mine. Already I see troubling signs of bookaholism in my granddaughter Audrey, who just turned 8, and her brother, Owen, who is 6. Both of them learned to read before entering 1st Grade. I have caught them recently reading themselves to sleep. Sometimes, they even wake up early to finish last night's reading before breakfast.

I don't want to blame others for my troubles, but my Mother, who was an elementary school teacher, began reading to me at birth. Two or three simple poems or stories nightly. She also bought me my own soft-covered board books. During the day, I devoured them. And I mean that literally. I put them in my mouth. I chewed on them. I tossed them into the air in my playpen. I touched them when they fell. I used them as a pillow when I napped. They tasted good. They felt good. I didn't know it at the time, but I'm sure it was apparent to anyone who looked; I was getting hooked on books.

As I moved from infancy to toddlerhood to childhood, my dependency deepened. Nursery rhymes were replaced by longer fairy and folk tales, some bright, some Grimm. Never one who wanted to be babied, I was quickly introduced to shortened versions of classic tales.  I fought towering Goliath with my Biblical namesake David. I stood with brave Hector outside the windy walls of Troy. I shared chivalric adventures with Sir Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table. I was kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, sent down the river by Mark Twain, and seduced by the Jabberwocky word-play of Lewis G. Carroll.

Now I'm not really sure when it happened, but sometime between age 4 and 5 a miracle occurred ... I learned to read on my own. Quickly, Golden Books became more valuable to me than actual gold. Being an only child who spent a lot of time alone, the characters I encountered there became as real as my playmates. Dr. Dan, the Bandage Man. Nurse Nancy (probably, in retrospect, my first girl crush). The musicians of Bremen. Zorro. I didn't have a pet, so I let Lassie and Old Yeller substitute. I liked watching Howdy Doody, and Captain Kangaroo, and The Lone Ranger on TV, but I liked reading about their exploits even more.

Being a man of his times, I think my Dad worried a little about my solitary reading.  So he got me outside. He taught me to throw a football, catch a baseball, and shoot a gun. He even made me feel really special by taking me once in a while with him to the race track or, much more often, to see the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium. I loved all of that, but those experience couldn't completely replace the powerful rush I received from the printed word.

As I started heading toward my teen years, I graduated to the harder stuff. Despite warnings of ensuing damage from authorities as powerful as the Catholic Church and the U.S. government, I discovered the joys of comic books, specifically DC  Comics. Now while the majority of DC comic readers favored the wildly popular trio of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, I found Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman, and J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, more to my liking. But my forever favorite was Green Lantern. In brightest day, in darkest night, I let no Green Lantern comic book escape my sight.

It wasn't long before I stumbled upon the even more potent Classics Illustrated. There were hundreds of titles and I wanted to read them all. When I exhausted the stacks in the stores of my South Jersey hometown, I would accompany my Mom to Philadelphia, where I would prowl the big city streets, seeking out larger comic book stores to satisfy my growing habit. When I did find a Classics Illustrated I hadn't read, my hands would begin to sweat as I picked it up. With pulse racing, I tried to saunter nonchalantly toward the cash register, but I'm sure the pounding of my tell-tale heart gave me away. Eyes never leaving my new possession, I handed the clerk my quarter (which today I confess I sometimes lifted from our family change jar, pretending it to be a loan that I would pay back when I got my allowance), declined a bag, grabbed my purchase, and raced from the store to the first safe reading place I could find. There, I would rip open the cover and drink in the contents.

In my elementary school years, I was pretty successful at hiding my secret passion from my peers. There were only a few avid-reader public outings. I once won a summertime contest at the local library by reading the most books. Another time, I was featured in the local paper about my hobby-fied study of the Civil War, and when a reporter asked me how many books I had read on the subject, I foolishly gave him the actual number.

In high school, desperate to avoid the dreaded nerd-geek-brainiac label, I began a pattern of periodically substituting other activities for my reading. In 9th grade, I took up smoking cigarettes and playing keyboard in a series of loud rock, soul, and psychedelic bands. I thought I had overcome my reading problem, but my wiseass, we're -the-Rolling-Stones-and-we-piss-anywhere-we-want rock star persona didn't fool my 11th grade English teacher, Miss Barber. She recognized the sensitive reader behind all the swagger and got me to engage in The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, the collected short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Huckleberry FinnThe Red Badge of CourageTo Kill a Mockingbird and even a work by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, of which I actually understood three or four sentences.

I entered Villanova University as a political science major intent on becoming a lawyer. I graduated Villanova with a BA in English, having read more than 150 novels and plays. In fact, I blame my desire for reading and the influence of English Department Chairperson Dr. Robert Wilkinson as the main reasons why today I am not the lawyer-turned-judge nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

After college and a brief series of poorly paying odd jobs, I got hired as a reporter on the local newspaper. Once again I employed the substitution principle. I figured writing would replace reading. And for a while it worked. But then I realized if I wanted to write well, I needed to use the journalistic masters as models. So Woodward and Bernstein led to Hunter Thompson who begat Tom Wolfe who begat Gay Talese who begat Jimmy Breslin who begat Bob Greene who begat Joe McGuinness who begat Mike Royko who begat Richard Ben Cramer who begat Dave Barry, all of whom led me back to journalists turned fiction writers such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, George Orwell, and Ernest Hemingway.

Following a 10-year career as a journalist, I employed another tactic often used by addicts to ameliorate their compulsions - job switching.  I became a high school English teacher. I convinced myself that all my reading there would be directly related to my teaching. But discovering contemporary writers like Richard Price, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Julie Smith, Janet Evanovich, and Margaret Atwood abruptly ended that plan.

During this 25-year period of my life, to my dismay and shame, I developed a secondary, but even more costly addiction known to affect many readers. I became a book hoarder. Now I don't want to say I was completely consumed by my newest sickness, but I was even still keeping the Physics book that I had never opened while I was at Villanova.

For a wedding gift, my wife's father had made us (or I should say me) a 6-shelf bookcase. Twenty-five years later, we had 20 more even larger book-filled book cases in our 3-story home. I swore during the time my book purchases never affected my family financially, but I now realize we never did drive Porsches or vacation summers on the French Riviera. I also say with chagrin that on several occasions I was late for dinner or important occasions because I was absorbed in rearranging my aforementioned books.

In 2011, to keep my book dependency under control, I tried yet another go-to method of the addicted - relocation. I convinced myself that my book passion was somehow linked to Bridgeton. If I left my hometown, I would find myself cured.

We retired and moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from Washington, DC. Due to the reduced living space, I took only the original bookcase Judy's Dad had built for us and enough books to fill it. It was difficult, but it needed doing.

I promised my wife that while we lived in DC, I would not buy more books than could fit in our single bookcase. And every time I did buy a book, I would donate one to a local book charity. I also pledged to get the bulk of my books from the community library, where I could read and then return them.

For the most part, I kept my word. But I have learned in battling this powerful disease, that I must be totally honest. So I admit to all of you tonight that I did hide a few books in closets and under our bed. I also added several e-books to my Kindle without telling Judy and, when the bill came, claimed they were MP3 purchases.

After 4-and-half years of truly enjoyable living in DC, we relocated this past December to the Atlanta perimeter community of Dunwoody, Georgia, where our grandchildren were now living.

One of our first stops was the Dunwoody branch of the DeKalb County Public Library. We were going to pick up library cards. I told myself this time would be different. I would use that card for all my reading. I wouldn't buy any books on my Kindle without telling Judy. Better yet, I wouldn't consider adding any new books on my Kindle until I read all the ones I already had electronically stored there. In fact, in this clean start, I wouldn't even put any new books on the several Kindle wish lists I had created over the years. I would finally get the book monkey off my back.

And I still believe my intentions were good and my plan might have worked if we hadn't met John. Or John the Tempter as I now call him.

Realizing we were new to the community and obviously readers he asked innocently "Would you like to join the Friends of the Dunwoody Library?"

Now being good citizens, we agreed. I knew it could be dangerous. I would be around books. Lots of books. And lots of people who loved books as much, or maybe even more, than I did.  But it was something I could control. I was steadfast in my resolve. It was going be different this time.

John said the Friends group was having one of its three annual book sales in a few weeks and we should drop by and see how things worked. We said we would. So the 2nd day of the 4-day sale found us back in the Dunwoody library, where side rooms and hallways were filled with boxes and boxes and more boxes of books for the buying.

My wife knew she was going to purchase some children's books for our niece who teaches pre-school back in New Jersey. But Judy would never consider buying any for herself. Judy reads a lot. In fact, since we have been retired, there have been many times when she is reading more than I am. But she doesn't have my problem. She doesn't worship her books. She doesn't buy more books than she could possibly read. She doesn't feel a need to keep herself surrounded by the books she has read. She reads a book once and that is enough. Frugality, practicality, and book sanity run in her family.

And she reads all of her printed words on paper only. Being a tactile artist, she says she needs to hold books in her hands; she needs to feel herself touching and turning pages. She has never read a book on a Kindle, or an Apple iMac, or an Apple Air laptop, or an iPad, or an iPhone. Of course, I have done all that and more. We have been married for 43 years and I love my wife, but I still don't always understand her. How can she do that? To me, the way she reads is like the cigarette smoker who only smokes on the 5th Wednesday of any month that has 5 Wednesdays. But that has never been me. Moderation isn't in my makeup.

Friends of the Dunwoody Library Book Sale: It brought $20,000 to the library
Anyway, I vowed I could handle the book sale. And I did. For a few minutes anyway until I ran across a table with a box of books marked About Georgia and the South. I began to rationalize. I'm new to the area. What better way to learn about my new home? And look at these prices. No book more than $2. So I picked up a book I had been meaning to read for years called Dixie Rising. And one about Atlanta titled Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. And one by Georgia humor writer Roy Blount Jr. And a few more. Suddenly, I had $17 worth of reading material in my bag. But I told myself it was OK. This was research. It was a bargain. And anyway, I never actually meant I wouldn't buy any books; I just intended not to spend more than $20. And I hadn't. Look, I'm not great at math, but even I know 17 is less than 20.

So with books in my bag, I headed to the volunteer cashier when I ran into John, the Tempter. He asked if I liked the book sale. Then he asked if I could come in Monday, which was a fill-a-bag-of-books-for -$6 day, to carry books to cars for elderly buyers. He also wondered if I could come in Tuesday, which would be tear down and store unsold books day.

Being in a helpful frame of mind, I said yes. And I'm pleased to report that I functioned both days without incident. I learned that a group of volunteers came in every Tuesday morning to organize books for the next sale, which would be in a few months. I said Tuesdays would be great since Judy was already volunteering at our grandkids' school that day.

Friends of the Dunwoody Library sort books for sale weekly
The first couple of Tuesdays were great. But that's the thing about an addiction - just when you think you have it licked, you find you don't. Today, about an hour into sorting and boxing, I came across a book by Kinky Friedman. Now, Friedman is probably best known as a Texas songwriter/singer, but he is also one of the funniest mystery writers on the planet. When I lived in New Jersey and had my large book collection, I possessed every one of Kinky's books. This was a sign. Someone wanted me to again have this book. A short time later, I discovered The Comic Mark Twain Reader. This would be the perfect companion piece for my Kinky book. By reading both, I could compare early southern humor with its later counterpart.

And all that would have been fine if I had simply taken the books home after we had finished. But then my addictive behavior pattern kicked in. I didn't want Judy to think I had relapsed. Our two large built-in apartment bookcases and the one smaller bookcase in the guest bedroom were full. So I hid the books on the way to the car. Of maybe I should say I tried to hide the books. Judy discovered them. She began by saying "I thought you ..." and within seconds, we were engaged in what in the addiction/recovery world is called a full-blown intervention in the parking lot of the Dunwoody Library. Judy was right. My addiction had once again gotten the better of me. My need for a fix needed fixing. I realized I couldn't beat it on my own. I needed help.

So as soon as I got home, I picked up the most important book any addicted person can possess - the one outlining the 12-step recovery process for their addiction. I read and reread and then read again the First Step: "We admitted we were powerless over books - that our lives had become unmanageable".

I moved to the 2nd Step: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity".

Now I'm not much of a religious man. Actually, to be honest, I'm not a religious man at all. But I try to be a spiritual person. I definitely believe there is a Power (or maybe even Powers) that is greater than me. I think that Power manifests itself in the collective conscious and wisdom of these rooms. So I come here tonight, humbled and happy. Humbled by own lack of power, but happy that I can find the Power that I need in these rooms. And the beauty of our program is that anyone, no matter what their addiction, can find that Power. For me, it is in these rooms. For others, it might be in the church of their choice. For still others in might in the beauty of the forest, or the serenity of the sea, or the majesty of the mountains, or the sound advice of their sponsor, or the lasting love of their family. It may be in different places, but the Power to help us recover is there for us, no matter how deep we have sunk into our addiction. For me, I think the idea of recovery is best expressed in my way of saying the Serenity Prayer, originally authored by the American theologian Reinhold Neibur more than a century ago:

Higher Power, 
please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

So that's it. This is where I am tonight. I'm sorry for my rambling, but I really needed to get some things out. Thanks for letting me share and thanks for listening. And remember: Keep coming. It really does work if you work it.

Except for the last few paragraphs, this a somewhat silly piece of writing. It is not intended, however, to be frivolous. As an alcoholic and drug addict 32 years into his one-day-at-a-time recovery, I know how deadly serious addiction is. Addictions are life devastating if not properly addressed. But there are some addictive-like behaviors that can be life affirming.  Obviously, I believe a love of books and reading falls in this category. May the Higher Power (or Powers) in our lives always help us find the wisdom to know the difference.