Some advice from Kurt

I love this advice by Kurt Vonnegut for creating art. Some effects of that activity? “You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.” Beautiful.


In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond – and his response is magnificent:

“Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art…

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Book Review: Dune

Book cover of Dune: the silhouette of a man walking across a series of desert dunes

Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) by Frank Herbert

My first experience with Dune was watching part of the David Lynch-directed movie (1984). I didn’t see the movie in a theater; I watched part of it when it came to TV — which was in 1988, according to Wikipedia. I remember being confused by the story, and I didn’t last through the whole movie. (I was 16 years old in 1988.)

I didn’t get around to reading the book until this year, so it’s my second experience. And it lived up to the description of it as one of the masterpieces of science fiction. Actually, it’s a masterpiece of a story — forget about genre for a minute.

This is one of those books that I thought during reading, How the hell did the author create this? As a self-published writer who feels like an amateur, to me the experience was like watching a master magician’s show and scratching my head in wonder about how the tricks were pulled off.

Why do I say this? Because Frank Herbert invented a world with various forces acting upon each other, societies, and histories to form the story’s setting. This is akin to Tolkien’s inventing Middle-earth in which to place The Lord of the Rings.

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.”
Ernest Hemingway

However, Papa didn’t invent an entire, other-world for a story. Tolkien and Herbert created a huge mass of iceberg to support the tip that can be seen above the water’s surface.

I’m far from an expert in the Dune universe, but I’ll give it a go for the basics around this book…

At the start, House Atreides rules the planet Caladan. House Harkonnen rules Arrakis (Dune), a desert planet where “spice” is collected and shipped to all over. Spice is in demand for its ability to extend life, and to help see into the near future. The Emperor instructs House Atreides to leave Caladan and take over the rule of Arrakis. And, oh yeah, the Atreides and Harkonnens don’t care for each other.

House Atreides has Duke Leto, his “concubine” Lady Jessica, and his son Paul Atreides. Only 15 years old at the beginning of the story, Paul is the book’s main character. He is taught by his parents, as well as several mentors.

Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, an all-female group that runs a school to teach keen powers of observation of others and control of their own bodies. Bene Gesserits act as advisors to the heads of Houses.

There are many groups, each with their own agenda to expand their power. The Houses, the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit, the Guild that controls travel among planets (they’re focused on commerce).

And there are the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who have learned to live in the very harsh conditions of the desert.

That’s a tiny part of the iceberg. I won’t go further about the plot, since the delight of the book is experiencing events unfold. If you want a plot summary, there’s the Wiki page.

Also, in the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, episode 417 has a really good, in-depth discussion of the book — hosted by David Barr Kirtley with guests Andrea Kail, Rajan Khanna, and Matthew Kressel. The episode is available on Youtube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

I’ll wrap up by saying that Dune has political strategizing, knife fights, careful walks over the desert, rituals and life of the Fremen, and trippy moments. And let’s not forget about those enormous worms.

I admired how much ecology Frank Herbert included about Arrakis. Not only does that planet have a delicate ecosystem, the same adjective could be applied to any ecosystem:

“A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams that flow, order collapses The untrained might miss that collapse until it was too late. That’s why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.”
— Planetologist Pardot Kynes, quoted in Appendix I: “The Ecology of Dune”

Herbert’s words were published in 1965, five years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established and the first Earth Day.

One almost-last thing! I never went back to watch the David Lynch movie of the book. Maybe I’ll check it out sometime. More importantly, there’s a new Dune movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. I don’t know when the movie will be released. I was excited seeing the trailer before I read the book, and reading the book made me look forward to the movie even more.

One last thing! The above swoon-worthy cover (yes, I typed swoon-worthy) was designed by Jim Tierney — and he created designs for the series. Please excuse my drooling.

Orbisculate Oscar

Illustration of a grapefruit half with eyes, smile, and he's holding a drop of liquid, ready to throw it.

Recently, I saw an episode on CBS News that clicked with me, and I wanted to help in my little way.

The background: siblings Jonathan and Hilary Krieger are honoring their father Neil, who passed away from Covid-19 in April 2020. They are trying to get a word that Mr. Krieger invented into a dictionary. The word is “orbisculate” and means:

  1. to accidentally squirt juice and/or pulp into one’s eye, as from a grapefruit when using a spoon to scoop out a section for eating.
  2. to accidentally squirt the inner content from fruits, vegetables and other foods onto one’s face, body, or clothing, or onto that of a person nearby.

I thought the brother and sister’s mission to be touching, and I enjoyed Mr. Krieger’s creativity. To me, language is a flexible thing, as words come from various sources, and they can change over time, and new words are frequently birthed.

Learning the history of words can be a marvel, and that history is not always a classical journey back to Latin roots. For example, I marveled when learning the everyday “goodbye” came from a shortening of “God be with ye.” I had thought it was simply said to wish people a good parting of ways. But the word’s history contains the wish for spiritual companionship, to have God by their side.

New words spring up and become part of our vocabulary. Merriam-Webster says they added 520 words to their dictionary in January 2021. Samples: crowdfunding, decarceration, and hygge (“a cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable”).

And that’s Jonathan and Hilary Krieger’s aim: to be one of those new words included in a dictionary.

You can sign the petition on their website if you’d like to give that support to their cause.

Also, you can use the word in conversations. Write a poem or story that includes the word. It helps to spread the usage.

The orbisculate website includes a list of 78 goals where the Kriegers would like to see the word used, such as this sign posted in a grocery store.

A few of the goals have been left blank. Since I didn’t see a kawaii character among the goals, I’m humbly offering Orbisculate Oscar as my submission for such a character.

I encourage you to write poems or stories with orbisculate. I’ve seen prompt words of the day in WordPress, and this could be one that continues well past one day for a prompt.

Little Steps Back

Photo of dandelion puff with the wind blowing seeds from it

The new Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge is about generosity:

April 15, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that seeds generosity. Who is generous and why? Think of generosity as planting a future outcome. Go where the prompt leads!

Little Steps Back
by Dave Williams

Charles apologized, muttered “I thought I was ready,” took his coffee cup, left the table. Startling Scott. Yet he snagged sense, followed Charles from the cafe, joined him strolling the sidewalk. Scott said, “We clicked online, let’s not leave it like this.” Charles said, “I warned you.” Charles’s message on the dating website: long relationship ended, time passed, he was taking little steps back. Scott, pointing to the park a block away, said, “Let’s sit. You need a friend more than a boyfriend. I’ll listen when you’re ready to talk.” Charles gave a little smile as they kept walking.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams


We thought the monkey
was taking a
well-deserved long soak
in the bathtub,
but when
water streamed
under the bathroom door
we knew the tub
had overflowed,
then we yelled for him
to unplug the drain,
and he replied with giggles,
so we picked the lock
and had to do it ourselves.

A Big Change

A piece of flash fiction with breaking news about the letter a….

A Big Change
by Dave Williams

The a has decided to change its form. The a realizes this is a big change, so it hopes you are seated while reading this.

The a has been the same ‘a’ and ‘A’ for many years, and it would like to “mix things up.”

After this change, the a would like to retain its position in the forefront of the alphabet. No need to mess up the countless alphabetical lists in the world. If the lists were rendered out of order overnight and required reordering the next day, chaos would ensue. We don’t need additional chaos in this sensitive time.

While the a recognizes this design change to be significant, it does not view the change as chaotic. Does a caterpillar cause chaos by transforming into a butterfly? A tadpole into a frog? A blossom into an apple? The a states a firm “no” to these three questions and hopes you do the same.

The same: that can be comforting in a predictable sense, but also yawn-inducing. The a has had quite enough of the same. The a is weary of stifling its yawns due to the worry of offending people. The a has decided that anyone offended by this change can take their offended emotion and stuff it up the back end of the z.

Do humans not embark on vacations? Do birds and whales and caribou not migrate long distances over land and/or sea? Through four generations, Monarch butterflies complete a 3,000-mile migration through North America. Think about that as you sit on your fanny and sip coffee and complain about rush-hour traffic.

The a does not wish to migrate in the physical sense of the word. It is fine with staying at each place it is typed or written on a page or screen. Each of those places in a word and sentence and paragraph is distinctive and carries the potential to be thrilling. Indeed, each word carries emotional weight. The word “sad” is, of course, sad. Not just for readers, however. The word is also sad for each letter within it. Contrast that with the word “hullaballoo.” Not only is that word fun for humans to say, it is also fun for the letters within it. If you look closely at the word, you may even see the letters quivering from the mirth they feel.

Some humans may complain about the a’s choice to change its form. But the a counters that humans change names with marriage, adoption, and the desire to do it. Humans change their hairstyles (including facial hair) to try something “different.” They change their wardrobes for the practical purpose of seasonal weather changes, as well as the whims of fashion. They change their appearance through acquiring tattoos. Some may wear a new hat for a week “just to see how it looks on me.”

The a asks: Do you believe its desire to change is unfair? If so, why do you believe in different rules for humans than letters?

The a states the change might not be permanent. It might be, as with the example of human vacations, a temporary change. The a acknowledges this would cause additional confusion, changing then changing back to the previous form, yet the a finds this to be an acceptable consequence of its actions.

The a considers the most significant consequence of changing is the use of the term “A-frame house.” After all, the A reflects the actual form of the structure. Yet the a believes in humans to be creative in inventing a new term for these structures. The a humbly suggests “Upside-down V-frame house.”

The a is mulling over a few options of its new form. Below is the forerunner. Please keep on the lookout for news of the a’s decision.

Drawing of possible new a design. The character resembles the pi symbol, but instead of a flat top, this character swoops upward. Also, it has two dots above it, as if a lowercase i had two dots.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Book Review: Echoes from an Expired Earth

Front cover of Echoes from an Expired Earth

Echoes from an Expired Earth by Allen Ashley

This poetry collection was listed in Amazon’s “You Might Like” kind of lists for me. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. But I was intrigued by the book’s title and blurb, so I went for it.

I’m glad I did. This poetry has a sly sense of humor, like a twinkle in the eye and a raised corner of its lips.

The poem “H. P. Lovecraft’s Loathly Eldritch Band” gives the horror author a musical tribute to the rhythm of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” While reading the poem, I couldn’t help but hear an instrumental version of the Beatles’s song underneath the poem’s lines. For those not accustomed to Mr. Lovecraft’s stories, he well used “eldritch” in describing creatures — and “gibbering” with townsfolk.

That poem is a good example of what this collection does. It holds up different topics and looks at them at fresh angles. Which takes marvelous creativity.

We get a list of characteristics of an imaginary friend. Another list tells us about things that will be gone after the Apocalypse. On a related note, another poem explains the postponement of “The End of the World Orgy.” If that disappoints you, we also get Sleeping Beauty’s thoughts of disappointment after being awoken by the prince’s kiss. In a more complicated romance, we hear three perspectives in the love triangle of Camelot.

If these poems — and those described in the book’s blurb — sound amusing to you in an off-kilter way, I encourage you to check out the book. It’s an entertaining combination of humor, absurdism, pop culture, and some of what it’s like to live in these modern times where we “big” ourselves up on Facebook, but don’t have jet packs or interplanetary flight.

A Kind of Heaven

The photo is of two women on a small rocky island in calm waters with mountains in the background.
from Google Photo Frame

A serene image is the prompt for Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #113. Can’t you envision yourself in the scene? Looks like a lovely place to be. This story was also lovely to create…

A Kind of Heaven
by Dave Williams

Spring brought pollen that caused sneezes and itchy eyes in some people, and spring brought warmth that scratched some people’s itch to get on the water without feeling they were following the path of Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition.

Which was Janine’s description of being on their sailboat in winter. Which caused Mikayla to sigh and call her wife melodramatic. At least Janine was open to going for walks — as long as she bundled up. The walks were good for exercise, good to breathe fresh air, and a good way to get out of the house during Covid-19 limitations. Their favorite restaurants were open only for take-out and delivery. The couple picked up restaurant food on weekend nights and ate while wading through seasons of TV shows they had heard were entertaining.

Then spring. Warmth, green, dots of other colors, louder bird singing. Mikayla and Janine unshackled from their home and drove to the docks to their home away from home: Lucy Pevensie. The ladies were unmasked, the boat was untied from the pillar. All were set free and felt wind on their faces, water underneath. Like being part of a song. At first, Mikayla and Janine’s actions knocked off the little rust that accumulated during winter, then they moved smoothly.

Warmer weather brought picnic weekends, and the race from the dock to claim the popular picnic spots. This Saturday, the early alarm woke both women, and Mikayla dressed while Janine begged for a few more minutes in her coziness under the blankets. Mikayla’s threat to leave without her was enough for Janine to get out of bed. Lunch had been packed in the fridge the previous night. Mikayla and Janine transferred the food into a cooler and tote bags, and set off for the dock.

Then aboard Lucy Pevensie and on the water. The morning air tasted fresher than their usual, later hour of starting off. They maneuvered to catch as much wind as possible while aiming for their favorite island. Not just their favorite, but among other boaters, too. They managed to pass Third Wish, belonging to the affable Hoovers, who always were up for sharing their margaritas (on the rocks).

“Better luck next time!” Mikayla shouted.

Doug Hoover shook a raised fist, but he was smiling. Also smiling was his wife Valerie, who gave a peaceful wave.

Mikayla and Janine anchored near the island, loaded the inflatable raft, and declared the day’s victory as the raft bumped the rock and they scrambled on it. The island was a large rock with a few tough trees growing in dirt lodged in the cracks.

The women would spend the day in a kind of heaven. Listening to the gulls and lapping waves. Looking at other boats and fantasizing about the horizon. Feasting on a variety of goodies and sipping wine. Smelling the salt air. Lounging in the sunshine like turtles.

And even Janine would plunge into the chilly water for quick swims, given the promise of a warmed towel and sunshine to dry her.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Good and Bad Fortune in Cards

Two dogs sit on either side of a doorway that has a beaded curtain
by Keith Edgar Channing at Keith Kreates!

The above photo of two dogs sitting on either side of a doorway is the writing prompt for Kreative Kue 307 over at Keith Kreates! I thought the dogs were cute and I wondered how they would fit into a story. Maybe they could have a conversation? That would’ve been fun, but I went in a different direction, one in which they come at the end of the story…

Good and Bad Fortune in Cards
by Dave Williams

Strings in the beaded room divider were whipped to the side in a rude swipe by the man entering Lady Philomena’s room. Her head whipped away from her book to see the man with an angry face above a suit.

“I want a refund,” he said.

Lady Philomena’s brain processed the sudden arrival and demand. The man wasn’t one of her regulars. The face was a bit familiar. A one-timer.

“I said I want a refund. You give those, don’t you? Isn’t this a respectable business?”

“You came in a couple weeks ago,” Lady Philomena said as she stood up. “You came in for a card reading.” She couldn’t remember his name.

He snickered. “Now you’re correct. Some fortune teller you are. You can tell the past, but not so good with the future, are you?”

“I’m not a fortune teller,” she said. ““I give readings with Tarot and palms and astrology.”

“Oh, come on. You bill yourself as able to tell people what their future’s are gonna be. What’s with all this hocus-pocus stuff, then?” The man waved at the room beyond her desk, a room with burning incense, candles, star charts.

Lady Philomena said, “I’m not some birthday party magician, if that’s what you’re trying to say. All of this is to help my clients calm down and get in the right frame of mind for their readings.”

“And my reading was way, way off base. You had me thinking something good was gonna happen when I drew that card, that tentacles or whatever. The one with the chick in the garden. It said I’m supposed to hit the big time.”

His name appeared in her mind: Cameron Novak. When he came in for the reading, he had lots of swagger. Likely to cover up insecurity. If Cameron was as confident as he projected, he wouldn’t have come to her. Cameron had said a friend suggested that he get a reading. Cameron had said he was passed up for a promotion. He wanted to know if he should stay at the company or look elsewhere for a job. He was impatient to get the “big bucks” (his phrase). So she had asked Cameron pick five cards to assemble a money spread. When she had explained one card in particular, his swagger had ballooned.

“It’s not tentacles,” Lady Philomena said. “It’s the Nine of Pentacles. And, yes, with your question about wealth, it was a fortuitous card. But the Tarot doesn’t provide exact answers. I use my skills to translate what the cards could mean for each client.”

“Fortuitous? Ha!” The nasty laugh was spit out of Cameron Novak’s mouth. “Not even close! I’ve applied to lots of jobs, and nothing’s come back. Then I thought maybe the card meant I’ll get quicker riches. So I went to the casino. I’m a really good poker player, but the cards didn’t come my way that night. I lost big instead of hitting it big.”

“And that’s why you want a refund,” Lady Philomena said.

“Well, golly fuckin’ gee, aren’t you a genius?”

“I don’t give refunds for readings,” she said. “You got what you paid for. It’s not my fault or the cards’ fault that things didn’t turn out the way you wanted. The cards offer guidance to help you make decisions. The Nine of Pentacles didn’t promise a big payday for you immediately.”

“What the hell does it mean, then?”

“You might earn more money later,” she said. “Maybe your job applications are taking some time, and you’ll get one of those jobs. Or you might meet a lady — not a chick — who will help you realize wealth doesn’t always mean money.”

Cameron let loose another nasty laugh. “You’re tryin’ to give me wishy-washy advice on becoming a better person? This is too much. Just give me the refund.”

“I already told you, I don’t do that. It’s on the sign.” Lady Philomena pointed to the sign on the wall above the desk, next to the sign that she accepted major credit cards. As her arm swung and she pointed to the door, her bracelets jingled. “Now please leave, or I’ll call the cops.”

Cameron Novak glared at her for a few seconds. A well-dressed guy whose attractive face was twisted in anger. He shook his head and left, again whipping the beaded curtain.

Lady Philomena listened to the beads clack together, and watched the strings settle back into place. Cameron had filled the room with negative energy, and that wouldn’t do for her later appointments. She lit one end of a sage stick waved it around the room.

The next day, as further cleansing, she brought her dogs to spend the day with her. Pickles and Sally mostly behaved when clients were there. They loved sitting in the sun, and their joy made the room overflow with kind energy.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams