Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday – A Writer's Words - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – An Author’s Voice Like None Other

A writer is all about words and some of our inspirations have come from other authors. We asked John Betcher, author of The 19th Element , a James Becker Thriller Novel to share his thoughts his favorite writer’s quote.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – An Author’s Voice Like None Other

Thanks for inviting me to your blog to share my thoughts on a favorite writer’s quote, Rebecca.

One of my favorite writer quotes comes from the opening lines of the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s classic satire, Cat’s Cradle. The book begins -

Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.

Jonah – John – if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still – not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.

I doubt that many of your readers recall this quote – or have even read it before. But this quote, and Kurt Vonnegut’s writing in general, are significant for several reasons.

On one level, the quote is classic Vonnegut determinism. We are what we are, and where we are, because of forces beyond our control.

This deterministic theme is repeated in The Sirens of Titan, where unimaginably wealthy heir, Malachi Constant, attributes his massive fortune to fate, only to find later on that his entire life – including his time spent on Mars and Venus as a soldier in an interplanetary war against earth – has been controlled by an Englishman by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord.

It’s the same fatalism Vonnegut portrays in the person of Billy Pilgrim – who has “come unstuck in time” – in Vonnegut’s award-winning novel, Slaughterhouse Five.

So in that respect, the quote I have selected is significant as a clear statement of Vonnegut’s life view – sobering as that may be.

But the reason I really love this quote, and Vonnegut’s books in general, is its Voice. No author I know of has a more distinctive and recognizable voice in his writing than Kurt Vonnegut.

Why is this important, or even interesting?

Ask a literary agent about “voice.” Most will tell you what they are searching desperately for a new writer with a distinctive voice – a way of conveying ideas, circumstances, characters using new and intriguing word selections, syntax and other characteristics that make a particular author’s voice theirs, and theirs alone.

How many of us can compete with Vonnegut in presenting a unique voice in our writing? Very few, I suspect. But the quote above reminds us of the power an author’s voice can convey. Vonnegut’s one-of-a-kind voice was his trademark.

What voice do you strive for in your writing – or do you look for in your reading – that can elevate a story to a new level? To a Vonnegutian level.

The next time we write, or read, pay attention to the author’s voice and notice how much flavor it adds to the work.

I want to thank you, Rebecca, for inviting me to share one of my favorite quotes with your readers today. I had a great time reflecting upon the work of a great author I hadn’t thought seriously about in years.

About John L. Betcher

John L. Betcher is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate and has practiced law for more than twenty-five years in the Mississippi River community of Red Wing, Minnesota. He possesses substantial first-hand knowledge of the Prairie River Nuclear Plant’s real world counterpart, as well as Red Wing’s airport and the flight rules around the nuke plant.
In addition to The 19th Element, he has published a second book in the “Beck” series entitled, The Missing Element, A James Becker Mystery. The second book is available everywhere.
The author has also been a long-time supporter and coach of youth volleyball in and around Red Wing and has authored three feature articles for Coaching Volleyball, the journal of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. His most recent article was the cover story for the April/May, 2009 Issue.

His book on volleyball coaching philosophies entitled The Little Black Book of Volleyball Coaching is available at


  1. Great quote, that really does capture so much of what Vonnegut's writing is about. He does have a terrific voice, too, though sometimes I feel like his author's voice can overwhelm the voice of his story a little much.

  2. C.N.

    You are not alone in opining that Vonnegut's voice is a bit too much. Many readers didn't care for his books at all, specifically for that reason. Different strokes, I guess.

    Thanks for stopping in and posting your thoughts.

    Have a great day!


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