Monday, February 16, 2015

On Writing: What I learned at Boskone 52

Boskone is a 52-year-old, literary-heavy, science-fiction convention that I’ve been going to for a number of years. It’s a small convention, where you might find Charlie Stross wandering around with a cup of tea or find yourself sharing a bank of urinals with a Hugo winner. The programmers offer a mix of fandom, readings, exploration of themes, comics, hard science, filking, and writing advice. I gravitate to the writing panels, and this is a sampling for what I learned this year.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Typewriters: Life with Typewriters

It does not take long to become known as a “typewriter enthusiast.” A few Tweets, a photo or two, a couple of dozen typewriters in the basement, and you are branded as a technology fetishist
You bring your typewriters into your high-school classroom, and abruptly there is a list of names on the corkboard, each one representing a teen that you’re supposed to be finding a typewriter for. You have placed four this year, with seven to go. Five last year, including one with a Cyrillic keyboard.
Folks try out typers from my collection  at a spring 2014 event at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, N.H.

Photos by Dan Deering

You get up extra early in the morning to bang out a couple of pages before heading to work at six.
Tote a portable to a coffeeshop or a bar for a couple of hours of writing, and people keep stopping to talk to you about their own experiences with typewriters. “My mom had one of those,” or “I love that sound,” or “I had one, but I could never find a ribbon for it.” Sometimes they bring their kids over, too, and you feel obliged to let the little nippers try your machine out. The kids ask for one for Christmas, and you tell their parents where to find them.
Eventually you host a Type-In in your hometown. It’s well attended, and folks who missed it (or didn’t want to make the drive) contact you about hosting a similar event in their town. “If you do the legwork,” you say, “I’ll bring the machines.” Sometimes they call back.
You write a novel on your typewriter and discover what a great tool it is for pumping out a first draft. Immediately, you start planning a workshop for the nonprofit you volunteer for, hoping others will catch the typewriter bug. You make sure that you have a dozen solidly working typewriters to field at any one time. You acknowledge that this workshop, along with all the other writing classes you teach, is creating more competition out in the writing world. You do it anyway.
You start another novel and put the other one in the drawer to dry.
You craft a quick handout on the typing life, letting readers know how to find and test typewriters in the wild. Abruptly, your sources dry up, and it has been weeks since you made a thrift-shop score.
You start wishing you had learned to type properly, and consider taking a few months off from the writing to get up to speed. But there’s no time. The pages have to keep coming. You resign yourself to hunting and pecking for your natural life.

You surf the Internet looking for new typewriter resources and wish the people on the forums you already trawl would post a little faster. You start to wish someone out there would offer a typewriter repair course and start developing retirement plans that involve a Winnebago with attached workshop.
Your wife finds you indulging in “sexy talk” with pictures of typewriters that you find online. “Oooh, baby. Come up and see me some time,” she said you said. You can’t deny it. She makes you promise to keep the machines out of the bedroom.
There are three partially disassembled typewriters in your classroom, and you are okay with it.  There are actually four, and that you are a little ashamed of, especially since there is also one at your house … along with several that need repair waiting in the wings.
One day, you admit that there is no bottom to this. You have thirty-five typewriters, but you want more. You want all of them, even though you know you can only write on one at a time, and you can only fit about fifteen in your midlife-crisis Mini Cooper.
There is no bottom. Still, you leap.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Blues: We Need to Make Our Cops Better

The recent controversy over police use of force brings my reporting days to mind. The first police standoff I covered took place in Gardiner, Maine. It was a chilly, Clinton-era day, and the owner of the house police were surrounding had drunk too much and barricaded himself inside with a gun. He said he would kill himself or shoot anyone who came in, whichever made more sense at the moment. I stood behind the line with other media types and concerned citizens and sipped the bad coffee the Red Cross brings in for such events.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Typewriters: The Queen City's First Type-In

I had no expectations when I loaded thirteen typewriters into my car and made the drive to Cafe la Reine in Manchester, NH for that city’s first Type-In. I had organized the event as part of the Granite State’s “Writers’ Week,” a celebration proclaimed by the governor and set in motion by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project.  The Type-In got some good advance publicity, with multiple Tweets and reTweets, Facebook posts, and a story in the alt-weekly The Hippo. Still, in my mind, I was as prepared to be flooded with type-curious folk as I was to sit idle with lonely typewriters crowded ‘round my feet in search of solace.

The event was slated to start at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4, and I loaded everything in at 5. By 5:15 two happy people were banging away -- one on a Olivetti Lettera 33 with script font, the other on a Royal 10 with a purple ink ribbon. More typers followed.

Soon, the little coffee shop was full of the sounds of typing. Some typers knew about the event in advance, others I seduced with the nifty machines and my paper mache pig full of writing prompts. I’d written up a quick guide to life with typewriters and handed out most of the copies I’d made. 
One woman sat down at my Olympia SM4 (also with cursive font) and didn’t leave until she had finished whatever writing project she was banging out. 

Another woman wrote several drafts of a letter, using a black pen to add the Spanish-language accent marks that the Olivetti she was working on did not offer.

Overall, it was a good time. And I have requests to do more …

P.S. My thanks to my wonderful spouse for taking the photos.
The author checks out his typing stock the night before the Type-In.

Friday, December 5, 2014

On Writing: Words to Write By

Ursula K. Le Guin, while accepting her Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the 2014 National Book Awards:

"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yeah, I Decoupaged a Typewriter

In general, I’m a big fan of the Olivetti aesthetic. The Lexikon 80, the Lettera 22 and 32, are sleek and gorgeous, and the Valentine romps in my dreams like a far-too-expensive lover.
I’m far less enamored of the boxy look of the Lettera 33, and the Lettera 31 (aka The Dora) is downright ugly, especially in the all-too common putty color. I picked up a Dora last year some time, cleaned it up and freshly beribboned it, and was sad to see it’s also not a spectacular typing machine. It works, sure, but it feels cheap. I’ve heard similar things about the action of the Valentine, but at least it’s nice to look at.

So, I took my Dora and decoupaged it.

I’m also a big fan of the work of mystery dean Robert B. Parker, and I have a bad habit of picking up extra copies of his books whenever I see them on the used-book racks and bins. I decided to dedicate the Dora to Parker (and name it after him) by adorning the thing with pages from two of my favorite Spenser novels “Ceremony” and “Taming a Seahorse,” both part of the April Kyle trilogy.
Take pages, add Mod Podge, and -- tah-dah -- a somewhat more interesting typewriter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Queen City (NH) is Having a Type-In!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On Writing: 15,000 Down, 35,000 More to Go

Nine days into my first NaNoWriMo with a typewriter, I've learned a few things. One, I am possibly the worst typist in the world. There's not a paragraph, nay, not a sentence, without some kind of egregious typo. Secondly, I find it a lot easier to get into the fabled "zone" on a typewriter. I turn on some jazz, make a cup of tea, and crank out page after page of (slightly garbled) fiction. 
I banged this out on an Olympia SG1, the "Mercedes" of desktop typewriters.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On Writing: Back in the Saddle ... Again

The first step in solving a problem is admitting one exists, and I see, by the dates of my last half dozen posts, that I have one. Or several.
I haven’t written much in the past twelve months. I have had a ton of ideas, but few have made it even partially onto the page. My Duotrope submission tracker has gone cold, and there’s a thick coating of dust on my guitar. The state of this blog speaks for itself.
I'm using this 46-pound machine as a life raft. Wish me luck! (Picture is from the Machines of Loving Grace website.)
I have the usual excuses: I got busy. I got sick. Blah-blah-blah-life. All three are true, but I let those excuses get in the way of the work. Maybe it was unavoidable, maybe not. It’s as hard to tell from the Look-Back End as it was from the In-The-Midst-of-the-Muddle View.

Friday, December 20, 2013

On Writing Repost: The Creativity Equation

I teach creative writing at a large public school, and there's not a day that goes by when I don't hear one student or other whinge about “not being creative” or not knowing “what to write about.” On those occasions I give them my patent-pending Creativity Equation: Character A plus Situation B equals Story, which is greater than the sum of A plus B, or A+B=S>A+B.
This equation falls under the nonlinear algebraic subgroup “magic math,” which most students are not familiar with. So, I dumb it down to an axiom: Creativity is the ability to link two points into a not-yet existent third.