The Vonnegut Story

When I was 14 years old, my father took me aside one day to ask an important question. “Dearest son,” he said (let’s pretend that the elder Mr. Duggan would do that, shall we?), “won’t you tell me? What is it that you wish to do with your life?”

I needed only a moment to ponder. “Dearest father, I would like to write novels like J.R.R. Tolkien or Kurt Vonnegut. I want to write amazing stories.”

The elder Duggan thought for a moment. Then he said, “Well, you know what those two fellas have in common, right?”

“Duh. They are both writers, pops!”

“Don’t take a tone with me, son. No, I was going to mention those guys finished what they started.”

Barely containing my irritation, I thanked him for the great advice.

Years later, at the age of about 25, I was lucky enough to be at a book event thing in Brooklyn where the great Kurt Vonnegut was signing (or possibly he was merely attending—this part of the tale is a little hazy in hindsight). Screwing up my nerve, I approached and carefully and asked, “Mr. Vonnegut, do you have any advice for a young and aspiring writer like me… sir?”

The great one peered back and said, “Sure, kid. Be amusing.”

“Um. Okay. Thanks. Anything else, sir?”

“Yeah. Finish what you start.”