p.s. although I got some printed I haven’t yet published the book. I sent it to several agents who were too busy to even reject it! Woe to them when it sells a million copies!
Category Archives: Writing
Heard on Radio Lab the other day. It seems Robert Louis Stevenson got stories from little people who lived inside his head. If only my stories were so great!
The Little Men Inside My Head
How I wish those little men who live inside my head
Would speak to me as clearly as to Stevenson long dead
Don’t they know there’s little time and so much yet to say?
Knowing this they shouldn’t stall, nor furthermore delay
All credit be to them, those tiny brainy chaps
Who’ll guide my fingers to the keys with sharp and rapid snaps
Laughing at the games they play, ‘tis nothing but a joke
And in the end a pile of paper going up in smoke
But if you please, do tell me but the very best of tales
And I will shoulder all the blame, when everything else fails!
The Olympics are on again, and everyone knows that those some cheaters (uno who) won’t be there because they were caught using banned performance enhancing drugs. Steroids, mostly, which make muscles bigger and stronger. I get my muscles however from lifting my Olympia SG1 typewriter. That machine has appropriately been described as a typewriter on steroids, for it is larger and stronger by far than most every other typewriter I’ve encountered. I recently brought it home from a thrift shop, where it sat on the floor because the staff found it too heavy to lift up onto a shelf, no doubt. Perhaps that is why it has a removable carriage. It does help to take the carriage off when carrying the thing, but even so the base unit remains one heavy sucker. I only brought this home because it is something to be seen and admired. Under the bodywork, which is thick bulletproof steel, is a cast steel structure that more resembles part of a building or a bridge than any other typewriter. The only real problem I encountered with it was the sliding metal block of the right margin control, a piece that incomprehensibly was made of cheap pot metal. That stuff is infamous for self destructing due to internal oxidation. Why Olympia made those parts from such bad material is puzzling, as everything else on the machine is made of extra large extra strong steel.
I salvaged the part by gluing it back together with JB-Weld and little pieces of scrap steel cut from a tin of canned tuna, the sort that peels open with a ring pull. Lets hope that steel holds up. It works again, and the carriage stops at the set point. However, the space bar releases the margin stop, unlike any other typewriter I’ve known. Inspection of the mechanics indicates to me that this is normal, but it does seem odd. Once I got it all back together I gave the ribbon a rubdown with WD40, which revived the ink very well, and then I wrote the following piece. Forgive the typos, I just dashed this off as a test. The SG1 certainly works well enough, but I see no reason for having such a monstrous typewriter around here, so I will sell it. Whatever I get will not cover the many hours of disassembly, repairs and cleaning, but that was part of the fun of having it here for a while and admiring the engineering that went into it. Among other things I did was to disassemble the tabulator brake to get that working, another marvel to behold as the carriage glides slowly along and gently comes to rest when the tab bar is tapped.
Last night we watched CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER on DVD which we found at our library. Needless to say it was riveting. Even my wife thought it was outstanding! Imagine a documentary starring Tom Hanks – what’s not to love? I really dig Tom, too, just as a regular guy. I was thrilled when he talked about his favorite Smith Corona Silent, knowing that I have the same model. It was like we were brothers, briefly. This is not to ignore all the other wonderful characters in the movie. I loved them all! Dr. Polt was magnificent! So ad lib, so cool, so hip, and how he typed the manifesto flawlessly (right Richard?). I could hardly sleep afterwards and even woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Smith Coronas. I have to point out another crazy coincidence, the opening scene in which a Royal 10 gets tossed from a car. My last novel is all about a Royal 10 with magic powers! Here am I looking to find one for myself and there they were casually throwing one out the window to it’s destruction. Ouch!!
So of course the challenge of the day is to try to combine all the things I love into a blog post. One must of course acknowledge this day as the birthday of the incomparable Django Reinhardt, first and foremost. Good thing tomorrow is nothing special, because Thursday is Robbie Burns’ Day, another incomparable character. I can hardly stand the excitement! I have come up with this – an excerpt from the first draft of my novel – An Engineer’s Guide to Paris, (available above from Createspace and Amazon) that was, of course, drafted on a typewriter. It features a scene whereby I imagined my protagonist discovering a letter inside the lining of an old guitar case…
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL.
A Christmas tale with a Pacific Northwest theme…
There was a chill in the air, and the pathway around the lake had patches of ice wherever a small rivulet ran out of the field on its way down to the water to eventually join with the sea, a few miles away. If you watched closely on some patches you could see water drops moving under the ice soundlessly as if they were sneaking downhill for a secret reason.
In the bushes a small fluffy furred vole scurried across a blanket of decaying brown leaves and jumped up onto a dead branch that crossed over a pile of more deadwood. There it sat, with its tiny pointed nose that resembled nothing more than a small raisin, flanked by two tiny dark dots that were its eyes. Then the vole turned and slowly, deliberately shuffled off to do whatever business it was doing before it was observed. Like a puff of air two tiny wrens flitted out from the bush on the left and disappeared into the bush on the right, making no sound. No matter how hard one looked in the bushes, nothing could be seen, so blended into the sticks and dead leaves were the wrens.
In the sky several gulls meandered, unmistakable with their light coloured feathers and pointed wingtips. Then came a noise like a voice, but not words – a raven moved slowly overhead, circled and landed in a tall tree, then gave another cackle. Across the fields in the far distance were low hills, covered in a dusting of snow, not yet entirely white but soon to be, as foggy clouds moved over the land just waiting for seeds of what would soon be snowflakes.
On the edges of the lake and in the flooded fields on either side of the shore, or whatever fluctuation of brush, bush and swamp you might call it, swam ducks three by three, brothers and sisters, father and mother and son, or perhaps complete strangers who preferred the company of other ducks. Whatever the reason it seemed that one duck was always following another one, until such time as they switched places and the leader began to follow another.
A man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat strode along the path and muttered hello to others who passed by. Merry Christmas said one. A child with a stick poked at some thin ice, breaking it into small, sharp, clean, clear pieces. Nothing was happening in any sort of hurry, and yet it seemed that the world was waiting as if there was some sort of agreement that everything would soon be resolved in its own time, at its own pace.
Before the path ended at the pavement, where one left the woods and clomped up the hard grey road, high on the top of a tall fir tree, gazing over the scene below like a sentry sat the eagle, holding the world in its merciless glare, just as it held its prey in its razor sharp talons. But this day there would be no death from above for voles or hapless gulls that ventured too close to the white head with yellow eyes and a pirate hooked beak. No, this night the eagle was on duty.
The eagle watched for signs of danger, ever ready to take to wing and patrol its territory as it did every Christmas Eve, ensuring that the sky was safe for flying reindeer. After it had surveyed the land from its treetop perch the eagle spread its wings and leapt from the branch into the air, dipping slightly then with one flapping motion of its mighty wings it went soaring aloft and sailed away over the water into the distance.
The eagle with its unerring vision saw a tasty fish swimming just beneath the water, but even the promise of a fresh meal did not deter the eagle from its mission. One mile it soared and then turned and soared back in a wide arc over the lake. Then, when it determined that all was well, the eagle gave a powerful flap of its wings and gained speed until it was whistling through the cold air, flying due north as fast as an eagle could fly.
It wasn’t long before the eagle saw another of its kind in the distance coming to meet it. At top speed the pair of eagles closed quickly and then spun around each other for one brief turn before they parted, each to their own home territory. This eagle flight was soon repeated, again and again until the eagle from the lake had passed the signal of all-clear, eagle to eagle to eagle, all the way to the North Pole, where Santa Claus was ready to board his sleigh.
The last of Santa’s eagles came swooping down from the clouds as if Santa was a tasty fish, but at the final moment before the eagle had to pull up or land with a crash, it spread its wings out full six feet wide and with a whoosh it settled on the front rail of the big red sleigh. The eagle looked Santa Claus in the eye, and by that look Santa knew all he needed to know about the part of the world where eagles reigned in tall trees.
The eagle dallied but a few moments before it jumped into the air and climbed back to the sky. Ho, said Santa Claus, raising his long leather whip. The whip flew back and forth like a fly on the end of a fisherman’s line and gave a shot like a firecracker. The reindeer began to pull and within seconds were racing across the snowy field, throwing up a storm of snowflakes in their wake as if the wind itself was made of snow. Then with another crack of the whip, the lead reindeer took to the air and the team made one upward tilt and were off before the snow settled back onto the moonlit ground that sparkled under the clear, black, starry sky.
One by one, the eagles slowly made their way back to their homes, where they all settled down in tall trees, firmly grasped their perches with razor sharp talons, and stood guard until morning, when they knew Santa’s mission was done. Then, like eagles do, they all took to the skies, to find Christmas dinner.
Having recently acquired a wide carriage Brother Accord 12 with elite type, I wondered what uses there might still be for wide carriage typewriters:
Orienting the paper sideways I typed a page just to see how I liked it. I noticed right away that each line was longer, with fewer interruptions for carriage returns. This may help with keeping the flow of words going, if you type fast enough.
Another possibility is using 11 x 17 paper, but for that you’d need a larger scanner if you planned to scan and edit. Imagine typing 1800 words per page! You could do Nanowrimo on one page per day.
Lastly, 11 x 17 paper would be useful for doing larger typewriter art.
Any other ideas out there?
How many words should there be in a children’s novel? A scientific survey of one novel gave me the answer – 35,000. That was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. If that is a good number of words for Mr. Dahl then it works for me. I confirmed this number twice by different methods. Being an estimator for 10 years, I have a pretty good idea how to count, so the first test was this: I counted how many lines it took to get to 100 words on a typical page. I extrapolated the count for the whole page, and then went to the last page and subtracted that number from the number of the first page to get the number of pages from the beginning to the end. Then I multiplied that by the number of words on my sample page. From this I subtracted the pages with illustrations and blank areas by quickly flipping through the book. I arrived at 35,000 words. To check this, I scanned another random but typical looking page and sent it to OCR. I exported that to my word processor and got the word count. I then counted every page with text, leaving out illustrations and blanks, to arrive at a net total of pages with text. Not surprisingly that gave me 35,000 words. Enough already!
My novel-in-progress stands at 25,000 words, plus the 1000 or so I just finished typing this morning. I have been reducing the gross word count by judicious editing, if not ruthless, so the 25,000 words are all keepers. The question now is, how to wrap up the story in 9000 words? Easier said than done. The writing continues apace, but it is clear that I will not hit 50,000, so there will be no “winning” Nanowrimo. Shouldn’t there be a category for children’s books? Oh well, you can’t win them all.
While setting out various events in the book I realized that my choice of a 1939 Royal KMM typewriter didn’t fit the timeline, so I have revised the machine to a 1914 Royal 10 instead. This has worked out better than expected for numerous reasons. I prefer the look of the older machine, which in my opinion would be more attractive to kids of all ages. Here is a picture I downloaded of a 1914 Royal 10 (thanks to sevenels). Now if I can be so lucky as to find one in a thrift shop for $25….
Here is the last page written to date:
Did I mention there is a pony in the story? It’s a kid’s book! There has to be a pony. Or magic, or both!
Nanowrimo is here and as usual, I devised a cunning plan on November 1st. Of course we all know that the brain works in mysterious ways and so the whole thing was undoubtedly hatching in my subconscious before I knew what was going on. I had had several suggestions from my fans (all 2) that I undertake a children’s book for my next trick. Now that I am a grandpa I suppose the time has come. Regardless, the book is underway. It is being typed, as all great literature generally is, on a manual typewriter. It also features a manual typewriter, Royal KMM 1939, with magic powers. This is indubitably due to the fact that the word MAGIC appears on it. Also because my Mom used one when she was a typist at the CPR long time passed. I think it was a KMM, and in any case it had the same big Royal logo on the back of it, so I accept that as evidence enough for this jury of me.
Well, it’s going smoothly and I am enjoying the process. There really is no more gratifying experience than reading to a child, and this is kind of like doing that for a whole bunch of them. Hoping, naturally, that one day one child somewhere will actually read it! Maybe two or three… One minor glitch is that Nanowrimo has a 50,000 word target, and that is more words than most kid’s books. So I will try to write too much and edit it later. In actual fact – as if there are facts that aren’t (alternate facts aside) – I am using an entirely new method this time. I am editing as I go. This is often considered a no no, but I’m finding that it is improving my writing. I see so many things to rewrite that I’m avoiding repeating those sorts of errors whilst typing. Positive feedback loop through continuous iterative editing.
Lastly I wish to report that I am using one of my Olivetti Studio 44’s, mainly. I dug it out of the basement and have discovered to my delight that it is a pleasure to type on. It easily beats the vaunted SM9 or any other SM’s. I prefer the SF models anyways, and I have used mine a great deal. I now have at least 7 of these, from various eras. They’re all identical under the hood. But for now I am sticking with the 44. It has a soft touch and that makes quite a difference with muscle fatigue, believe it or not. There is very little recoil. Some folks don’t like the softness of Olivetti’s, especially the 22, but for me I appreciate that, for their gentleness on the fingers, hands and forearm muscles. Last year I got a terrible pain in my elbow after a month of typing madly, which may have been exacerbated by the snappy action of the typewriters I used. Some are worse than others, but the 44 and 22 are some of the softest machines you can find.