Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Post-Anniversary Recovery

We went. We had fun. We're back. We're exhausted. Haven't even unloaded most of the stuff from the car, including our new books.

I was going to do some elaborate typecast. But with this crazy weather playing on my sinuses again, I'm going to be lazy.

My Olympia SG1 is back in the shop. The left ribbon spool wouldn't reverse and wind properly, and for some reason, it keeps clearing all of my tab stops after just a few returns of the carriage. This problem seems to persist no matter where I set the left margin.

My Royal Deluxe is working just fine. The backspace is fixed, and the ribbon doesn't print half of the capital letters when I type. However, the platen, bail rollers, and feed rollers need to be recovered. The machine makes major dents in the paper.

My mom's Classic 12 is in order. The original platen has a metal strip along the side, which Vern told me was for typing on cards. He sold me a regular platen for cheap, so now I can write letters in cursive! He also reassembled the Hermes 3000.

I'll make another post on what we actually did when we're feeling better and once I get the pictures from Courtney.

Till then...

Power to the pen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

No big topic today, just a preview of what's coming.

I sent the Corona 3 Auto "Hadley" to Tyler, aka, "Words are Winged" to see if he can fix it. Twas delayed because of the big blizzard. 

I finally got my hands on a gorgeous Olympia SG1, but there are some problems that need to be ironed out. The left ribbon spool won't wind and it keeps erasing my tabs when I use the carriage return. So, after it gets back from Vern and I have a chance to really use it, I'll post my thoughts. Finally took my mom's SCM to get fixed and learned some cool stuff that I will be sure to post later.

Meanwhile, my green SM3 must have heard me complaining about the wavy text, because I swapped out the recovered platen with the old hard one from my red SM3 and then tried to make it malfunction again. It refused, no matter how fast or reckless I typed. Does it it have a preference for old platens? I've often speculated that the machine's innards were warped in some kind of accident...or maybe it's alive. I've noticed there is a big difference between the two SM3s in terms of touch control, the green one being the lightest. 

Working my way through The Hunger Games trilogy. All I can say thus far is, dang. 

The rewrite of "Lightwitch" is complete and now being read by some trusted friends for their opinions. Until then, I'm struggling to complete a fantasy short story. I am now starting a fourth draft of the dang thing after failing to complete the other three. It usually never takes me this long to get a short story together. Tis causing much frustration.

But who cares about any of that? Courtney and I will be zipping off on our first anniversary trip tomorrow! 

Happy Easter! 
Thank God for His eternal salvation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

McCoy Eat Your Heart Out: "I'm a Writer, not a Salesman!"

Revisions for Lightwitch are complete! The word count has gone from 65k to 74k words, and I've got three people reading the manuscript.

Meanwhile, I've embarked on that part of the writing journey I absolutely despise

Query Letters!

For those in the unknown, a query letter is something you send to agents/editors to convince them they want to look at your work. It is sales pitch, the most difficult kind of fiction ever devised. Like anything else, you'll find dozens of websites where people proudly trumpet to know the "rules" of writing a query letter...and it doesn't help that I've read lots of successful queries on said websites that tend to break these rules. This often depends on the agency you're submitting to, and they'll have specific guidelines on how to format the letter and what to include.

But even with such helpful preferences listed, writing a query letter is probably the single most difficult thing I've ever done in my short career.

Here's why:

Most literary agents get about 10,000 letters a year and might take on two new clients. That means the letter has to be quick, clean, interesting, catch-your-eye-like-a-YouTube-thumbnail-interesting, like holy-cow-Spiderman-is-gonna-be-in-the-new-Civil War-movie kind of interesting. 

It's a written elevator pitch. You've got maybe ten to fifteen seconds to summarize the real meat of the story and make them want to read it. Most novels range between 70-90k words. Some are shorter, some are way longer. 

And you've got to sell that book with about 200 words of text. Exciting text.

Can it be done? Yes...and it's a grueling process.

With a novel, you have hundreds of pages to elaborate, show character development, and paint sweeping descriptions for your reader. Not so in a query letter.

Difficult, painful, but ultimately necessary.

But why do I hate them, despite the difficulty in everything else I do?

Simple: if I can't sell my work, it makes me doubt the work itself. 

So, while I'm having fun with that, Courtney and I are anxiously waiting for next week when we'll get to hit the road and celebrate our first anniversary! I'm going to head to Vern's and drop off some machines that need repairs, then we're going to historic St. Charles.

Until next time, enjoy spring...whenever it gets here.

Power to the pen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Top Five Forgotten Novels

Good books have a bad habit of being forgotten or eclipsed by their film adaptations (if they get a film at all). Authors like JK Rowling have a hard time being remembered as anything but the writer of their biggest success. The book-to-film machine is powerful.

Since our marriage last year, Courtney and I have probably read well over a hundred books between us, mostly fiction. It surprised us how many good stories we were finding beneath the surface of the current NY Times best-seller list.

Only one book on this list was published within the last twenty-five years. The others are very old indeed, but they are amazing stories caught in a fragile place between classic and obscure.

From the bottom up:

5. The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux

My what a guy, that Gaston. Poor fellow was only known for two novels in his lifetime, Phantom and The Mystery of the Yellow Room. Published in 1908, Phantom was largely inspired by an apocryphal tale concerning an 1841 stage production at the Paris Opera (in which the skeleton of a ballet pupil was used as a prop). I couldn't find any information on how well the original novel was received upon its release, but after the 1925 film with Lon Chaney and Andrew Loyd Webber's sensational 1986 musical, the book has faded into obscurity. There are stark contrasts, but instead of me telling you, go here to my wife's blog for a full review.

4. The Winter of Our Discontent, by John Steinbeck 

John Steinbeck will always be known as the California writer. After such incredible successes as Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden, he decided to take a trip around the lower forty-eight. These travels took up much of his time in the 1950s. During his travels, he began to notice a subtle undercurrent of corruption that infected everyone he met. This, coupled with peace and harmony he found in having few material possessions, drove him to write Winter. The book was published in 1961, and was a radical departure from his previous novels. Set in New England, it spans a weekend, not several years. Instead of fighting against economic hardship or the Earth itself, the protagonist is fighting against his own temptations.

Winter was a scathing attack on America's superiority complex and how we had already adopted the philosophy of "everyone's doing it." The protagonist is mired in a culture of corruption where it seems everyone cheats and lies. As such, the book didn't do well, critically or commercially. It was enough to get Steinbeck the Nobel Prize in 1962, in one of the committee's most controversial decisions.

Today, the novel is practically ignored when discussing Steinbeck's life, even though it gets good ratings on Amazon. I think people then realized something: Tom Joad is who we root for, but Ethan Hawley is who we become if left unchecked.

3. The Fortunate Pilgrim, by Mari Puzo

Mario Puzo will never be anything but the guy who wrote The Godfather to most Americans. He hated that book, and to his dying day regretted that Pilgrim didn't succeed as he had hoped. The novel is largely based on his own mother's experiences as an immigrant in New York City in the 1920s. For a full review, see this previous post.

The fact that we still have an obsession with the tired, worn-out Italian mob story is a poor testimony to what Americans latch onto. Pilgrim is one of my all-time favorite books, and it's a shame it will never get out from under Don Corleone's shadow.

2. Jurassic Park, by Michale Crichton 

Published in 1990, this science fiction classic sparked a world-wide multi-million dollar franchise that spawned four movies and tons of merchandise. Like many, I saw the movie first and then raced to the library when I found out it was a book. Ok, that's a lie. I read the book because it was like the movie. It was the first adult novel I ever read and I ate it up. However, I think the book is superior in several ways (not just because my favorite character survived). First, you get more insight into the sheer scope of the InGen operation on Isla Nublar. Second, the novel reveals the motivation behind the actions of several title characters. Dennis Nedry isn't betraying his employer just because he's a greedy slob, but because he was asked to work with state-of-the-art computer mapping software that was still considered experimental. Robert Muldoon doesn't hate the raptors just because they can hunt humans or even that they're intelligent, but because he recognizes that what Jurassic Park has are not real dinosaurs. He sees the danger more than anyone else. The novel also shows how most of the park's problems came from Hammond's overconfidence and gross mismanagement.

The discussions about DNA were groundbreaking at the time. The Human Genome Project wasn't finished yet, and we could only speculate what we would find in our own genetic code. However, the entertainment value of this novel has far outweighed the scientific implications. I saw someone in a Walmart parking lot reading this book and I actually told them how much I approved.

Yeah, when was the last time you heard someone talking about this novel?

1. Bambi, by Felix Salten

Yeah, you read that right. I guarantee you thought of the Disney film. Right? Don't lie. That's a classic example of what I'm talking about. Published in Austria in 1923 and in English in 1928, Bambi was an immediate hit in the United States. I found a PocketBooks copy at a thrift store and bought it mainly for the "Buy War Bonds" stamp on the inside. I didn't think I'd enjoy it.

But I did.

Bambi isn't about a bunch of cute animals frolicking in the fields and being happy.


It's a story about life and death, survival, sexual conquest, and grappling with the unexplained mysteries of your own existence. Felix Salten never intended for this to be a children's novel, and most kids today would probably break down and cry half way in. The novel immerses you in the forest, and even though you can't see past the trees, you know there's a huge, rich world out there.

But then Hitler came to power in Germany.

In 1933, the book was banned by the Nazis, who interpreted the story as a protest against their anti-Jewish laws. Thousands of copies were burned, which make German first editions almost impossible to find. Felix, being of Jewish lineage, read the writing on the wall, and with the help of his American editor, fled to Switzerland where he spent the rest of his life. He sold the film rights to the novel for a mere $1000.

Disney's 1942 movie was hated by hunters and got mixed reviews from critics. The fact that World War II was underway in Europe meant he lost a substantial share of his former market. However, when it was re-released in 1947, everything changed. It is now hailed as the crowning achievement of Disney's career and was rated as the top third best animated movie of all time by the American Film Institute. To this very day, those cute fluffy animals continue to adore children's toys, books, backpacks, and other memorabilia.

Meanwhile, Felix Salten died in exile in 1945, forgotten by the world he once dazzled. The book Bambi has been in continuous print ever since, but in highly abridged forms that are considerably different from the original.

My copy is a 1942 paperback, and some purists would say that only the English 1929 printing is accurate. Not sure who to believe, but it's become one of my all-time favorite reads and I'm so happy I found it. I loved the forest long before I learned to love the ocean, or the mountains, so this book spoke to me in a way few have.

That's it! For one reason or another, these books have been forgotten by most of the world, but that doesn't mean they can't be read and enjoyed. Drop some money and add them to your library today!

Power to the pen!

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Special Space

Sheesh, I can't type on the Selectric. Look at those errors!

One of the original feet. Never noticed that they had "Corona" written on them.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tools of the Trade

I've been rather busy. Hence, this'll just be a plain 'ol regular post instead of an actual typecast.

The rewrite of Lightwitch is going much better than planned. My intent was not to write a whole other book, just 10,000-15,000 words to introduce a new protagonist and pad the story. I've got almost 40 typed pages of material, so I think I'm getting close. Vincent, my 1949 QDL, has been doing the work. I didn't know how I'd like typing on it after using the SM3 for so long, but I was pleasantly surprised. Since I've been thoroughly seduced by the Olympia mystique, I have neglected my poor Royal, but no more! Vincent is working well, and he'll be due for a platen recovery/servicing once the first draft is finished.

Speaking of Olympia, my SM3 no longer seems to have the waving text problem it did a week ago. I put it in its case and typed a letter to a long-time pen pal, and could not reproduce the problems I discussed on the FB group. Did I imagine the whole thing? Is it because I was using the bottom half of the case? Or are there secret typewriter gnomes who heard my despairing cry? Either works for me.

Steve Dade called from California and said "Hadley" (my Corona 3 automatic) was so far gone that he could not offer to restore it for a reasonable price. So now, I have a functional case and a useless machine. Oh well. I sent him the platen and feed roller from "Brett" (my first Corona 3) and asked him to recover those instead. She should type well with new rubber and new feet.

Tomorrow I'm going to set a secretary's desk in St. Louis. It was a steal for $75, a few nicks and dings, but otherwise in good shape. I'll be sure to post pics once I have it in the apartment.

I've been watching discussions on the FB group about desired machines. Seems everyone has a thing for Vouge font. I guess the bug just hasn't bit me, or I'm not interested. Vern told me about an SG1 he has for sale that's been completely refurbished for $125 and I jumped at the chance. I've sold three machines thus far (my Rem-ette, Aztec, and SG3) to help pay for it, and I'll probably sell the H3k (once I have Vern put the platen and the knobs back in...don't ask). Some folks have commented that I seem more of a user than a collector, and I think that's right. For the time being, I cannot afford to be a true collector. Other than my 1935 Triumph Durabel, none of my machines are that remarkable. Since my first story sale in September 2015, I've been producing a lot of material. I've never felt as good as I do when typing on my SM3 that's been fully serviced.

And it got me to thinking, how much trouble could I have saved if I'd bought a new machine in the very beginning instead of a dozen half-working ones that all need repairs? Vincent isn't a junk machine, but he needs attention. Some of the characters are misaligned (crooked, in some cases). My 1937 Deluxe has a bad ribbon reverse. If I had bought a refurbished machine, I could have spent more time focusing on my work instead of using mechanical problems as an excuse to buy more typewriters. It felt good to offload three machines that I wasn't using. Right now, the only typewriters I really want for collector's value are a Remington #1/2 portable and the infamous SS Olympia. But the first one isn't easy to find in working condition and the latter costs big money.

So, for now, I'll be content with my workhorses: a reasonable herd that has it where it counts. As time goes on, I plan to spend money getting them tuned up and in peak condition.

Come back later this week for my review of a really good book I just finished.

Power to the pen!