Sunday, November 29, 2015

Of a Human Need

I finished Steinbeck: A Life in Letters this past week. After reading over 800 pages and going through forty years of correspondences with friends, family, world leaders, other writers, and many more, I've come to identify with the man more than I ever thought possible. It's one of the best nonfiction books I've picked up in a long time. No biographer. Just the man himself with occasional footnotes from the editors to help clarify things, since you only read one piece of the given conversation.

But first, a major flaw.

The introduction clearly states:

"He lived in the mechanical age, and he could not ignore a machine so fascinating as the typewriter. He wrote enthusiastically whenever a secondhand or new typewriter came into his life and assumed that everyone he told shared his fascination with the touch, the type faces, and the symbols it was capable of." (p. viii)

Well, I read this book cover to cover and only found a few typewriter references. Only one of them even comes close to identifying a single make and model (there is no mention of the Hermes Baby he allegedly owned). In 1937, Of Mice and Men was gaining lots of exposure and good reviews, much in part to the success of the stage adaptation. Steinbeck wrote to his agent:

"You may notice that I have a new typewriter. We have never had a good one in our lives. Always something of about 1912. But after we saw this play was going to run a week at least, we went out and got a new one. And look what it has--! ñ '. A tila, and exclamation and a grave accent. Or rather an acute. I don't know where to use a grave and nobody knows where to use a circumflex, so we didn't get them. But isn't it beautiful? I hadn't realized that science had done so much while I worked on the 1912 model...You will notice too that this letter is longer than usual. That's because I can push down these keys with one hand instead of standing up and using both hands." (p. 145-46)

So, I guess we'll never know what the 1912 model was. I was kind of disappointed at first, but then again, most period literature from that area doesn't get specific about typewriters, as they were so common. It's like today. No one tells you, "I got in my Ford Focus" or "I packed up the Dodge Darkside Durango." They always say "car," even if the vehicle in question is a Mark IV Panzer.

Truth be told, Steinbeck mentions his fondness for yellow legal pads and sharpened pencils. In light of this, I'm sure why the editors put the paragraph about his love of typewriters in the introduction. I guess there are even more letters out there that were not included in this volume, but it seems to discredit your work if you hint that one thing is going to be in the book, and then it isn't.

I soon forgot about my disappointment and became fascinated with the man himself. As of today, I've only read Of Mice and Men, but East of Eden is next on my list, and The Grapes of Wrath whenever I can find my copy.

Steinbeck speaks to me as a writer because:

1. He sometimes struggled to keep going with a project.

"Ted, I swear to God that if I ever finish this novel I shall take to writing the tritest kind of plot stories or even true confessions. This is so damned hard. I have never worked so hard in my life and I don't seem to be getting ahead much. I don't know when this will be finished." (His first novel, Cup of Gold) - 1929, p. 16

2. He wanted to write stories with timeless elements, and doubted his ability. 

"A man must write about his own time no matter what symbols he uses. And I have not found my symbols nor my form. And there's the rub." - 1959, p. 650

3. He wrote because he wanted to, not for money.

"My work moves on slowly. I kind of like the way it is going down now. I threw out everything I read to you and started fresh before I got your letter...I don't know why I keep on. I have plenty of books for one lifetime. But perhaps because of long conditioning I go right on whether it is lousy or not. The great crime I have committed against literature is living too long and writing too much, and not good enough. But I like to write. I like it better than anything." - 1958, p. 596

4. Struggled with contemporary pieces about the present age. 

"It seems to me that most writers in America, and I myself among them, have gone almost entirely in the direction of the past. We are interested in setting down a celebrating old times. It is almost as though we wanted to define a past which probably never did exist. The stories of childhood, the stories of the frontier, the novels of one's old aunts, etc. This is fine, but there can be enough of it. There are very few American writers, notable writing for the New Yorker, who write about today or even today projected into the future. With something of a shock, I realize I that I have written about nothing current for a very long time. It has occurred to me that we may be so confuse about the present that we avoid it because it is not clear to us. But why should that be a deterrent? If this is a time of confusion, then that should be the subject of a good writer if he is to set down his time." - 1954, p. 485

Steinbeck speaks to me as a human being because:

*these items will not include citations, as there are too many to count

1. He was very interested in man's relationship to nature. Conducted research in the Sea of Cortez with friend and oceanographer, Ed Rickets. 

2. He loved both of his sons and spent as much time with them as possible, teaching them valuable skills and keeping them away from television and radio. Visited his eldest son, Thom, in Vietnam shortly before his death in 1968.

3. He was a patriotic American in spite of America's faults.

Other interesting facts:

- Corresponded with three Presidents.
- Had ties to Lyndon Johnson.
- His books were in high demand in the USSR and its satellite territories.
- He secretly met with dissident writer groups behind the Iron Curtain.
- He was hated in his native Salinas after publishing Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cannery Row. The press labeled him a Communist. The gas company cut off supply to his house. A deputy sheriff claimed he would be framed for rape if he stayed in a hotel alone. The persecution was so bad he left and never returned.
- He got thousands of letters from total strangers asking for money.
- He was fascinated with invention and wrote to a number of experts with ideas for new devices.
- He didn't like having lots of money.
- He was initially worried about receiving the Nobel Prize in 1962, since so many other writers had ceased work after the fact. He promised his friends that he would never stop writing.
- He despised the never-ending attention he received when traveling, and didn't like making speeches or appearances.
- Wrote Dr. King after the march on Selma.
- He was fascinated with the work of Sir Thomas Malory, and spent much of his time in the late 1950s working on a translation of Morté de Arthur.
- He had a great sense of humor.

I could go on and on, but then you wouldn't have motivation to read the book. I've never read a biographical work in this form, but I enjoyed it immensely. Some of his best-known quotes are in there, but I liked reading about his life before his Depression novels, and in between the better known parts of his life. If you're a fan or even remotely curious, I'd recommend this book without hesitation.

Power to the pen. Or pencil, if that's your fancy.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks and Giving

The collection, and my father's Alvarez guitar, which he bought for himself upon graduating
high school in 1973. There's still a piece of paper in the body containing a list of songs he
used to practice with his best friend, who is no longer with us.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sick Once Again

Sorry if you clicked on this. Back soon.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Author Pamela Tuck Interview

Hey guys! I've been working on this for a few weeks, so I hope you like it.

When Courtney and I went to Jefferson City, we went to the Downtown Toy and Book Store. They had a lot of books to choose from. The YA and children's sections were right next to each other, and I noticed a book entitled As Fast as Words Could Fly.

I'm not usually one for children's books. They're not the sort of thing I write, but this stood out to me for several reasons. First, it's a book about using a typewriter (albeit, in the day when typewriters were king). Second, it's a kid's book about the Civil Rights era, which is never an easy topic to handle. Third, it's a good story!

I decided to contact the author, Ms. Pamela Tuck, and strike up a conversation. She was very receptive and we had several good emails go back and forth. Richard Polt told me that he'd read the book, and then I had an idea: why not do an interview for this blog? 

Pamela loved the idea. So, I came up with about a dozen questions and I'm very happy to present them to you now! First, a brief introduction from the author's website.

Pamela Tuck is a native of Greenville, NC. When she was a child, Pamela remembers entertaining her family by recording her own voice and telling “made up silly stories.” She won her first poetry contest in elementary school and continued to write short stories and plays. Most of Pamela's ideas come from her family and life experiences. She says “I have such a rich family history. . . there’s not enough room for it all on paper.”

- Your book was inspired by events in your father's life. Could you tell us a little about your childhood and some of your fondest memories with him?

I grew up as an only child, but the oldest grandchild. My grandfather was a master storyteller and I enjoyed sitting at his feet, listening to all his tales and stories about our family. I think this is where my love of storytelling began. My dad always made me feel as though I could accomplish anything in life. He wouldn’t let me doubt myself, but instead challenged me to try. I’m still a daddy’s girl.

- When did you decide that you wanted to write fiction? Did you always want to be a children's author?

I decided to write fiction in elementary school after winning my first poetry contest.  I think I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I didn’t decide to write for children until 2005, after being encouraged to do so by my late husband, Joel Tuck.

- When were you initially inspired to write Word Could Fly? Did the idea come all at once, or did it go through several revisions?

My late husband, Joel, found out about Lee & Low Books offering a New Voices Award Contest, and after reading some of their books, he suggested that I write my dad’s story of desegregating the all white school in Greenville, NC. I was a little reluctant at first, but I agreed. Since the story is based on events from my dad’s life, all the elements of the story were already in place. It was just a matter of retelling them in an interesting and informative way. I think I wrote my first draft in about 30 minutes to 1 hour after interviewing my dad. I revised the story until I felt confident enough to send to Lee & Low Books. After being accepted, it underwent several revisions.

- What was your father's reaction to the project? 

He was and still is very proud of me. He’s also honored by the recognition his book is receiving.

- Describe your working process. Do you have a routine when writing? 

I don’t have a set writing routine, unfortunately. I’m trying to work on that. But being the mother of 11 children makes “routine writing time” almost impossible…so I usually “steal” the time when I can. I write by inspiration. Once a subject interests me, I require complete silence (not an easy task for a large family…but possible) then I sit at my computer and let the inspiration take form. Most of the time, I can get a good story flow in my first draft. However, after doing more research (if necessary) and sharing the story with my family and writing colleagues, I generally know what areas I need to rewrite. Then I repeat the silent writing ritual until I’m satisfied with the story.

- North Carolina is not a state we often hear about in the wider narrative of the Civil Rights movement. Why do you think that is? 

Although North Carolina is a southern state, I think not much attention was given to smaller towns, like Greenville, because many of the monumental events took place in larger cities. During the Civil Rights Movement, leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the larger cities to host rallies and marches. Residents of the smaller towns and communities would often travel to partake in such events. As my dad mentioned in one of his interviews, he heard Dr. King speak on making a difference in his own community, so when he traveled back to his small town, he was more encouraged to fight for equality because he knew he was taking part in a larger effort.

- How much influence did access to tools of expression (like typewriters) have in changing the status quo for people of color? 

The first person who comes to my mind in answering this question is world champion typist, Cortez Peters. He was the founder of the Cortez W. Peters Business School, which debuted in 1934. It was one of the first vocational schools in Washington, DC to prepare African Americans for business and civil services. The opening of his school became a pivotal point in history for African Americans.

- Now let's turn to typing itself. When I was in 7th grade, 2001, it had all shifted to computer keyboards. Was it different for you growing up? 

Yes it was a little different for me. When I started high school, typing class was still a part of the curriculum. I was able to experience the thrill of true “keyboarding”, although the typewriters had shifted from manual to electric by that time. Nevertheless, it was still rewarding to measure my progress based on timed typing drills.

- You once told me about using a Royal Quite Deluxe (like the one featured in the book) for events with schoolchildren. How do you introduce them to the machine and what are their responses? 

I normally display the typewriter as the centerpiece on my book signing table. I introduce my book first so the students can learn the history behind the typewriter and its reference to my story. I typically get the same response every time. The students are so fascinated by the typewriter and are very anxious to try it out. Most of the time they don’t tap the keys hard enough to make the letters appear on the paper because they’re so used to the soft touch needed for computer keyboards, but after a little time, they enjoy watching their letters jump onto the paper. They usually leave with the remark, “That’s cool.”

- Some writers have a single goal: to teach, provoke, entertain, etc. What are you literary aspirations? 

My literary goals are to enlighten, inspire and, encourage my readers to embrace diversity and have the courage to make a difference.

- Can you give us a hint of what your future books will be about?

I have two forthcoming picture book projects: One book is about my immediate family – a humorous spin-off of the Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, told from my perspective as a young mother of 11 children and some of the antics that go along with it. My second book is another historical fiction picture book based on events from my family’s history.

- What are some other things outside of books that inform your writing? Any particular interests or hobbies? 

I enjoy nature, especially in the spring and fall. The calm and peacefulness of nature clears my mind and evokes my imagination. I also love spending time with my family: camping, biking, playing music and singing together. A lot of my story ideas evolve from my family, so spending time with them always informs my writing.

Thank you for spending time with us!

And Thank YOU again for your interest, contact and including me on your blog.

Pamela's father, Moses Teel, the inspiration for As Fast as Words Could Fly.

The actual typewriter Mr. Teel used.

I strongly encourage you all to support Ms. Tuck and visit her website!

Power to the pen!

Monday, November 9, 2015


Wow. Dat spelling...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Been Sick

Wanted to do an update, but me and Courtney have both been sick. Will post more at a better time.

But I do have good news. The Praxis 48 I had given up for dead suddenly started working again. The E key had been unresponsive, but just like Vern said, it freed up once I worked it enough. Now the only problem is that several keys will keep striking if I hold them down. I could barely get through a short letter on the darn thing, and it was a rather difficult machine to type with. May just be part of learning the touch. The space bar was the most frustrating of all. I think it's way too easy to put multiple spaces between words if your touch is on the heavy side.

All for now.

Power to the pen!