on kurt vonnegut’s short stories

518dd9a8-efcf-11e7-89aa-dfdca00d30764Allan Massie at the TLS:

Vonnegut (1922–2007), as the editors Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield point out, started writing, and trying to publish, short stories in commercial magazines with a high circulation: Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Argosy, Ladies’ Home Journal and Galaxy Science Fiction. For years he received more rejection slips than acceptances. That’s how it was then, and how it had been for more than a hundred years. Editors of such magazines knew what they wanted, and knew what their readers wouldn’t care for. It was a market place, and the writer had to please the customer. You might be a star, as F. Scott Fitzgerald was between the wars; your story still came back if tone and content didn’t suit. So, nearly half a century after he first sold a story (to Collier’s, in 1950), Vonnegut was able to write in the New York Times that, “thanks to popular magazines, I learned on the job to be a fiction writer . . . . Listen, there were creative writing teachers long before there were creative writing courses, and they were called and continued to be called ‘editors’”. Given that, even at his best, Vonnegut was inclined to be whimsical and self-indulgent, the discipline demanded by the commercial magazines was doubtless good for him.

First sentences were important. “Miss Temptation” (1956) begins: “Puritanism had fallen into such disrepair that not even the oldest spinster thought of putting Susanna in a ducking stool”. This is immediately engaging. The story turns out to be slight and improbable, but also neat and charming. Despite the implication of the opening, it steers clear of sex.

more here.