It’s been a good week on the writing front. Well, the publishing/feedback front of this multi-pronged battle anyway. The actual writing for the week has been disappointing–trying to get back up on the horse after the mad dash of last minute novel editing for ABNA has been difficult.
It was confirmed earlier in the week that my short story, “Spider Without a Web,” will be published in the April issue of Abyss & Apex. This is my first prose sale ever, so it’s a big fucking deal, as our Veep has been known to say. (Strangely enough, I’ve been paid for prose twice before, some *mumble-mumble* years ago, but those were for awards, not for publication.) I am beyond excited and will post a link as soon as it goes live in a few months.
The second bit of goodness will take some explanation. A few years ago I joined the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (thankfully, the name is shortened to OWW). In fact, I got some good feedback for early drafts of “Spider Without a Web” during that first stint of membership. But I let my membership lapse because I was alternating between working on my novel and despairing at the futility of this writing endeavor. Having finally finished the first draft of that novel months before, in December I decided that I really needed some feedback before deciding how to proceed with it. So I re-joined the OWW and uploaded the first few chapters for critique. The response was generally positive, which led to my having the confidence to begin querying agents–although I put that on hold to give the ABNA a go first.
Monthly, the OWW chooses up to four submissions as Editors’ Choices. They tend to be some of the better selections on the workshop at the time, and in addition to the honor, the choices are critiqued by one of their panel of published writers and/or editors. One of those authors is Elizabeth Bear, who has written and had published about a thousand books in the last decade and who is a brilliant effin bloggist.
(Urban Dictionary suggests that “bloggists” are paid and “bloggers” are not. But blogger is a platform so doesn’t sound right describing a person who blogs. Ahem. Where was I?)
About three weeks ago, the OWW sent me a note that one of my novel chapters had been chosen for an Editors’ Choice the next month. Which meant that by the time I had the feedback, I would have already submitted to ABNA. In retrospect, that was probably for the best, because I would have either been locked up with indecision about how to fix the first chapters, or I would have made a complete mess of them instead. The book is off to ABNA, and today I got the critique from OWW. By Elizabeth Bear. Exactly who I’d been secretly hoping for. My heart leaped, it did. She had some reasonable criticisms of the structure and content that will have me beating my head against the manuscript in a few months. But the review was overwhelmingly positive. It overwhelmed me, anyway.
Yeah, it’s been a good week.
Now back on the gorram horse…
Based on a post by Hart Johnson on the ABNA boards mentioning the Reintroduce Yourself Blogfest, I decided to put up a short description of what you have stumbled onto, whether on purpose or inadvertently.
About me: I own and manage a couple of small businesses with my wife (and we work really well together because we very rarely attempt to kill one another). Many years ago, I got a degree in English from the University of Tennessee Knoxville (in my four years there, I never went to a football game, which is heresy to the natives). I’ve been scribbling in one form or another since I could hold a pen. My first book is available self-pubbed over there on the right, and I should have a short story being published by a respectable online publication in the next few months, and my latest novel, which is unpublished, is currently entered in ABNA.
About this blog: I wish it had a theme–albino goldfish or hair extensions for poodles or anything really. But it doesn’t. It’s about the random things that I care enough to write 300 to 1000 words about at a time. These are usually writing, publishing, politics, video games, books, TV shows, movies, comic books, and typewriters. But it could be anything, really.
And that’s about it.[Top]
The only problem with using typewriters to compose my first drafts, is that I somehow have to get those words into the computer. I’m currently using PaperPort, but I’ve tried MS Office’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool as well. The computer has mixed results at translating the typewriting pages into document files. I don’t think I had the resolution turned up high enough on this last batch because it was particularly bad. Here’s a funny example:
A painting still hung where the headboard would have been, years of neglect transmuting the colors into a stat brown sky over a burnt orange ocean with sunbeasts that looked like pies raining down from heaven.
Now I want to know what “sunbeasts” are. And why do they look like pies? Mmmm… pie.[Top]
Odds and Ends
There are a few other typewriters in my collection that don’t fit into the three main brands of Royal, Olympia, or Hermes. I’ll wrap up with them.[Top]
Hermes: The Last Gasp
After my Olympia phase, I thought I would just go back to my Royal KMM to finish up the manuscript I was working on, but another brand that was fondly spoken of was the Hermes. (I thought I remembered one being up for auction a while ago used by Cormac McCarthy, but that was an Olivetti. However, Kerouac did use a Hermes 3000.) Unable to be content, I went on the lookout for Hermes typewriters.[Top]
I have written a lot of blog posts this week. About halfway through, I realized what I was doing. The time honored tradition of cat-waxing.
There was writing that needed to get done, but instead I was working hard on the one thing that hasn’t gotten much response: my blog. That’s because I was avoiding the more difficult editing, re-writing, and fixing of my novel’s manuscript. Much more fun to talk about my typewriters.
Well, cat-waxing or no, I got my manuscript a bit more polished, and shoved it into the intertubes for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. How many times have I re-read my <300 word pitch? About a billion. And re-written it? About a million. Is it any better than the first version I wrote? At this point, I have no clue. Sometimes, it seems passable for prose written in the English language. Other times, I think it was written by a toddler in excrement on the bathroom wall.
But it’s done! I’m in. They still allow me to fiddle with it until they reach the cut-off point of 10,000 submissions or January 27th. Though there are probably untold things that could be improved, my sanity would be better served by leaving it alone. Then it’s just a month’s wait until February 13 and I discover whether my pitch was written in English or crap.
I have had a couple of encouraging pieces of writing news in the last week. One of them I can’t really share yet. The other was feedback from an editor on a story that I’d submitted many months ago. I’d queried to see what the status was, and she responded that she’d “loved” it. But it still has another layer of approval before it could be published. Nevertheless, a good ego-boo.
Now, I can get back to my typewriters. And this time maybe it will be for its own sake rather than as an avoidance technique.[Top]
Marketing your writing with a blog is like a grocer trying to sell meat by giving away fruit.
Maybe Joe likes fruit, but that’s no guarantee he’s going to like your meat. He might even be a vegetarian. Conversely, Pam may like meat, maybe she’s been coming to buy her prime cuts from you for years. Maybe she doesn’t eat much fruit, and she wonders why you’re giving away all this weird foreign fruit instead of discounting her regular meat purchase.
As you may have surmised, I love a good metaphor. I really love taking a good metaphor to its breaking point.
John Scalzi was well known for his blog before he ever became a bestselling science fiction writer. He had been giving away fruit for years. So most of his customers, at least those who weren’t vegetarians (or didn’t like sci-fi), were willing to take him up on his meat special (when his novel Old Man’s War was published). But there are those who like his novels, light military science fiction in the early Heinlein tradition, who are quickly put off by his somewhat liberal leanings and tendency to blog about them. Often, an inflammatory topic will elicit an outraged comment to the effect that “I will never buy any of your books again.”
Orson Scott Card was comfortably in my top three favorite writers in high school and college. The first couple of Ender’s Game books and Seventh Son books remain favorites. Prime cuts. But in the last decade, with the transparency offered by the internet, I’ve learned a lot more about Card’s politics, and frankly, his strange fruit has soured my taste for his literary offerings.
So if you’re a writer, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should blog to market your work. If your personality is perfectly in tune with your books, that might make sense. Even then, you are going to do or say something that will piss someone off and lose readers. You also could gain like-minded readers who like both your fruit and meat. My point here is that it’s likely to be a wash. Card seems to be doing fine even though he’s pissed off half the blogosphere. Ditto Scalzi.
I’m going to blog for myself and anyone who happens to stumble along and think what I type is worth their time. Basically the same way I write books and stuff.
Write what you want. What’s the point of it otherwise?
I don’t think this holds true just for writing. Most good marketing is just human beings sharing what they’re interested in and think is cool. Word of mouth is the ultimate. Trying to goose people into buying crap they don’t want is manipulative and douchebaggy. Telling people what’s cool is being a good human being. Which do you want to be?
Then be that kind of marketer.[Top]
The Quest for Olympias
Beginning to type my manuscript on the little Royal Arrow gave me a tactile connection to the machines that I’d never had before. I had to research and find more about these curious creatures, partly as a practical matter, to get the typewriters in working order, and partly to find out what other options there were. So far, I’d only had Royals. What else was out there?
A name I ran across frequently was Olympia. Certain of their typewriters were supposed to be the best, a marvel of German engineering and some of the finest machines to type on. Harlan Ellison continues to write with the Olympia SG-3. In fact, the standard of their line was described by some as the Cadillac of typewriters. I had to have one.
The first opportunity came when I spied an Olympia portable on eBay, the SM-9. Turned out the seller was not that far away, so I drove down to pick it up. It is in excellent condition and works like new. The feel of the keys is very nice, and much more forgiving than the hard glass keys of the old Royals that I own. It still scooted around a little because even though it is big, it’s still a portable. If I had only been interesting in writing by typewriter, I probably would have stopped here, but I was obsessed.
I wanted to get my hands on the Cadillac of typewriters, with a paper loading lever that looked a bit like the arm of a slot machine. I wanted an SG-1 (no relation to the Stargate crew). I found one on eBay for a reasonable price and purchased it. It took about two months to arrive. By the time it showed up, I had given up on the sellers, and assumed that I’d been taken for a ride. Instead, they were just very slow and had no idea how to pack a typewriter. It came in a big cardboard box loosely stuffed with bubble wrap. The SG-1 had probably rolled around like tennis shoes in a dryer while in transit. It smelled like the bottom of an ashtray (a smell that is apparently more common to old typewriters than has been my luck to find) and it didn’t work.
In a fit of impatience while waiting on the SG-1, I had bought an SM-3. This is the 1950s version of the Olympia portable. They are the best-looking Olympia machines of the bunch. The one I found on eBay was a sort of creamish-tan with an odd italic typeface. It also suffered from subpar packing–there was a slight scuff on the top where it had come loose in transit. And there was a problem with the spacebar not fully engaging on occasion. With a little ingenuity, I was able to fix that problem.
The SM-3s are solid little typers. Their action is as smooth as any I’d tried up till that point (spoiler: the Hermes eventually win out) and they are really comfortable to type on. The only thing that I don’t like about them is the carriage shift–having to lift the carriage with my weak pinkies is not fun. Perhaps my fingers would strengthen up over time, but I prefer the basket shift of the SG-1 and later SM-9. (Where the typebars themselves raise and lower instead of the whole carriage.)
With my newfound confidence after repairing the minor issue with the SM-3, I turned more seriously to the SG-1. I don’t recall exactly what was wrong with it… I believe one bar had simply become disconnected during transit–apparently a common problem. I almost felt bad for demanding a partial refund from the eBay sellers, but remembering the sorry packing job they’d done, I got over it. After all of the frustration and anticipation of being able to type on the Cadillac, what was my impression?
If any SG-1 lovers are reading this, I’m sorry. The downside of old typewriters is you can never really know if how they type now reflects how they performed new. Someone else may have one that’s in better condition than mine that I would love. Maybe if I knew better how to perform maintenance on mine, it would work better. But after all of the blood, sweat, and tears, the SG-1 simply didn’t do it for me, even with all of the cool buttons and features.
My last Olympia was another SM-3. This one I found on Craigslist, but in Michigan. While we were on a family trip up there, I’d checked to see if there were any interesting typewriters in the vicinity. I did mention that I’d been obsessed for a while, right? This one is a little maroon number than is in just about mint condition. It looks great and types well.[Top]
The Royals: In Which I Begin to Type a Book
Many years after I picked up the Royal #10 at an antique store, I found another Royal Standard (code-named KMM, though I would not know that for some time) at a neighborhood garage sale. It has a metal tag on the back labeled “METHODIST PUB. HOUSE 2242”, so it apparently came from the offices of the official publisher of the Methodist church. The Royal KMM is not as sexy as the #10, but after trying my hand at several other typewriters, it remains my second favorite one to actually type on.
(A brief aside: there are two kinds of manual typewriters, Standards and Portables. Standards are much like our desktop computers, not meant to be moved from one spot because they are heavy as a mofo and cumbersome. Portables were the laptops of their day. Even the portables seem pretty heavy by our modern sensibilities, but maybe they had bigger muscles in the past.)
Which brings me to the Royal Arrow portable that my brother-in-law Tyler got me for Christmas about 5 or 6 years ago. It was supposedly the same model that Hemingway used in Key West.
I had run up against the 20,000 word wall in the novel I was working on, and in an attempt to shake up my routine and free my brain from its block, I decided to tap out a few words on the old manual. It was a learning experience. For one thing, I soon discovered that portables do not sit still very well while you type. They need a typewriter pad of some sort because they do not weigh enough. Tacky kitchen drawer liners were the cheap and easy solution that I eventually came across. Still, a portable will simply not remain solidly in place if you type with any speed, which eventually led me to the full size standards. But this little gem was the one that got it all started.
I don’t have the Royal Arrow anymore. For about a year, I haunted Craigslist regularly, looking for any cheap and interesting typewriters for sale. Mostly, I discovered that people assume old crap is worth more than it actually is, simply because it’s old. But one day I noticed a listing from someone seeking a typewriter for their little girl for Christmas.
Apparently, she was making up stories, a budding writer, and had gotten it in her head that she needed a typewriter to put them down on paper. How could I resist? I wanted her to have a good, working typewriter rather than the piece of crap that her parents were most likely to find on Craigslist, so the Royal Arrow became a Christmas gift for a second time. I hope she enjoyed it even half as much as I did.[Top]
The First Typewriter
The first typewriter I owned was electronic, back in high school, with a primitive word processor that had about 2K of storage. When touch-typing on it, you would type in a word or two, then the daisy wheel would spin into action to attempt to catch up with you. It had a bizarre rhythm that I never really liked, but I didn’t know much different in those days. Sort of: click click click click click hmmmm CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK. Which almost made me want to type a word and wait for it to catch up because otherwise its hammering daisy wheel was out of sync with my thoughts.
The first typewriter I ever used was my mother’s Selectric II when she worked as a secretary for Commerce Union Bank. Now that had a wonderful sound. The constant electric hum harmonizing with the sharp percussive notes of the golfball typehead striking the paper in perfect responsiveness to one’s tapping of the keys.
But other than these two experiences, I didn’t grow up using typewriters. I learned to type on a computer. My first IBM clone (as they were known in those days) did have a tacky keyboard, so I can see how I might have been longing for something more responsive than the bland, quiet keyboards of today. But after my brief encounter with the electronic typewriter and my very error-prone method of typing and correcting, I was sold on the easy, instant editing powers of word processing.
So I didn’t buy my first old typewriter with any intention of using it. The thing just looked cool. Glass panels, exposed chrome, glass-top keys. Design and function meshed in a beautiful way that hasn’t been common in industrial design until perhaps Steve Jobs came back to Apple and started his decade-long stint of making computers pretty.
It was in an antique shop that we just happened to stop in while visiting some friends in Oak Ridge. I think I paid $25 for it. My friend Michelle almost laughed her head off at me the next day when I tripped and fell, scrapping up my elbow but saving the typewriter from damage. The typewriter and I made it home intact and it became a display piece. The ribbon was dried up, so I couldn’t have typed with it if I’d wanted to.
I had a brief glimmer that I might have stumbled on something rare and valuable, but I soon discovered that typewriters are not worth much. Not in money. If you pay hundreds of dollars for any typewriter made in the twentieth century, you’re probably paying for the effort that someone has put into restoring it, perhaps with a hefty ignorance tax. Considering that they were the ubiquitous office machine for eighty or ninety years, it’s almost a wonder that there aren’t more around. When future archeologists dig up our landfills, they may be half dirty diapers and a quarter old typewriters.[Top]