Friday, May 27, 2016

TN Typing Safari and an Heirloom

Been awhile since I did a post like this. Courtney and I made a four day trip through TN last weekend, seeing old friends and family we hadn't seen since the wedding last year. Of course, there were antique stores, so we poked around.

Sears Malibu. $39. Not in terrible shape, but too much for what you're getting.

Royal KMG. $65. Carriage grinds on the rails. Ech.

Bradford. $60. Way overpriced for what's essentially a Brother clone.

Futura 800. No case. $30. Eh, I've seen better.

Oh HO! This is a pretty little thing. Essentially a copy of the Classic 12, but with such a
nicer paint job! However, it's gotta go to Vern. Something's wrong with the escapement.
It stops moving after just a few hits on the space bar or other keys. Not bad for $25. Best deal of all the machines.

Getting the Penncrest was nice enough, but the best haul was something much much better.

Courtney's grandparents used to own a florist shop in Dixon. About a year after they died, my mother-in-law remembered that they used to have an old manual machine. Courtney asked if we could go by there and see if they still had it. I agreed, but in my mind I was thinking, "There's no way they still have it after all this time. They probably changed it so much we won't even recognize the shop! I'll bet they took that typewriter to the nearest junk store the day they moved in."

We walked inside, met the new owner, Gary, and explained our strange request. He took our phone number and said he'd have one of the ladies look around. Meanwhile, Courtney and I went to an antique store down the block. Twenty minutes later we got a call and Gary said they'd found something.

In the depths of an enormous cardboard box, covered in foam padding, was this Royal Litton 440.

As you can see, one of the plates under the left ribbon spool is missing.
It has zero effect on the machine's function, but looks kind of weird. 

Courtney's aunt told us that she remembers them using a big black Royal, because it came with the shop. However, I told her if that was the case, then they probably traded it in when the 440 came out in the 1960s. The machine was dirty and the ribbon was dried beyond recovery, but other than a sticking A and 6 key, it works just fine! They keyboard is just like a Quiet Deluxe, and the feel is very similar too. What I find amazing is how quiet this is for a standard typewriter, especially with the typing pad under it.

Unlike my SG1, it's plain and not all that colorful. Yet, I like that simplicity. It could easily fit on any desk in any home without drawing too much attention. If the SG1 is like a Tiger tank, then this is like a Stewart, or my beat up Malibu. Everything works, and even though you can't type quite as fast as the Olympia, you can type fast enough. It'll put the words on paper and do it all in neat lines. Having typed a few letters on it already, I'm pleased with its performance.

Courtney and I are very thankful that we have this memento. I didn't get a chance to know Donald and Ruth as well as she did, but my time with them was well-spent and they were very kind to me. I'll always cherish those memories and this typewriter.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ribbons for Trade, and Musing on Pigeons

I bought some stuff from Goodwill thinking they were genuine typewriter ribbons. But they aren't, so if you want them, let met know and we'll work something out. $15 or maybe a trade could be arranged.

x2 black ribbons
x6 correcting tapes

Also, if you have a Studio 44 parts machine, let me know. I want to see if the key tops are interchangeable with my Underwood 21.

Excerpt from The Milwaukee Journal, August 30, 1914.

Go to Wikipedia. Look at this picture and then look at the red-on-black "EX" icon below its name.
You know that this is not going to be a happy story.
It's like looking at a ghost...

"Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know."  - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1946

I wrote a time-traveling story a few months ago. It's about a group of thieves pretending to be tourists so they can steal valuables from the past and sell them on the black market. It revisited the age old question "Where would you go in time if you could?" I can think of a lot of different places I'd go, people I'd meet, but three stand out at the top of my list.

1. Meet Jesus while He was on Earth.

2. Witness the first recorded supernova in 185 AD.

3. Witness a flock of passenger pigeons fly over when the species was at its zenith.

The passenger pigeon was a unique bird that would have been both awe-inspiring and terrifying to watch. The total population was anywhere between 3-5 billion birds. It was larger than today's mourning dove, capable of flying at 65 mph. Aldo Leopold went on to describe the flock as "a biological storm" and "thunder from the firmament." To the average farmer, who was desperately trying to feed himself and his family, they would have been comparable to feathered locust. To slave owners, it was one animal that they used to feed another.

And there's not a single one of them alive today. The last one died in captivity in 1914, before my grandparents were born.

I did a little research on these pigeons for my tours. Felix Valle would've eaten his fair share in his lifetime (1800-1877), so I figured it was a good idea to mention it. But the more I read, the more I became fascinated with them.

What was it like? I kept thinking. 

Every year, from Wisconsin and Michigan to the Gulf Coast, people looked up as the sun was blackened by the arrival of "the storm." With two volleys from a shotgun, one might bring down a hundred birds. You were considered less than a ranking amateur if you could not. Like the western lands acquired in 1803 and the war of 1848, it was thought to be an infinite resource. 

Today, the passing of this species is considered one of the greatest crimes of humanity against nature. "Martha" became the poster child of a budding conservation movement. Scientists have attributed many factors which ultimately led to the species' extinction. For example, the pigeons refused to mate in flocks below tens of thousands in number. Their breeding ground was small compared to their migratory range, made up of parts of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia, places where the new Republic was trying to expand, and that meant deforestation. 

And yet, I find it hard to believe that we would have learned the proper lesson if not for its untimely death. Sure, we might have enacted enough laws to save it. We could have done it, but at what cost? Would a different species altogether have paid the price? Historically, we've learned from past mistakes. Trial and error. We were only doing what other nations were. Manifest Destiny. Conquest. If we had wiped out a smaller species, I wonder if it would have had the same impact.

Could we, someday, extract DNA from the 1500 passenger remains currently being preserved and use that to resurrect the species, a la Jurassic Park? Maybe, but aside from the practical concerns of trying to reintroduce a species that vanished from the wild over 100 years ago, there's always a hidden danger. 

A tragic story, but it served a higher purpose. I think the pigeons had a role to play and they played it well. Thanks to their act, we were shaken from complacency and can now enjoy any number of other species which would have similarly been eradicated.

But there are days when I stop and look up as a strong north wind blows through my hair, and I wonder...

What would it be like?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Typewriter Vanished and Then a Novel Appears!

My mother-in-law just spent a week here in Missouri, helping us forget our problems. We've got big events coming up at the Felix House (including a lot of school reservations, like, almost every day of the week for the rest of May), plus a four-day trip to visit friends and family in TN.

And then a novel crept from my mind, even though I just finished a 534 page, 180,000 word draft less than six months ago.

Yes, it's that awkward moment when I'm trying to hold off on any big projects until things calm down a teensy weensy bit, and then BAM! An idea I came up with more than three years ago morphed into a new 1500 word short story that the readers on Zoetrope loved and pretty much demanded I convert into a novel.

Yes, it's that awkward moment when, after spending weeks editing Lightwitch and getting it up to snuff for agents, I am now brainstorming a new project.

Dang it, Muse. This is not the schedule we agreed on!

Meanwhile, some of you that peruse may have seen a Nazi SS "Robust" typewriter appear within the last month. The seller clearly had no idea what they had, and the only way I knew was looking at the number keys where the thunderbolt insignia was hiding. I placed a bid, and by the end of the next day, the price was up to $175. Then, less than 24 hours later, I got an email from the administrators saying my bid had been retracted from the auction because:

"Sale of this item is prohibited by Goodwill." 

My guess is that some idiot tipped them off, either by asking for clarification ("Is that a REAL Nazi typewriter??") or threatening to stir the pot ("Like, selling that thing is totally racist").

I'm not mad because the price went up. I'm not even mad that I lost the auction. I'm mad because people lost out on a great opportunity to own a priceless bit of history (albeit, dark history) and a rare typewriter has most likely been destroyed for the sake of political correctness.


But it's not all doom and gloom. I got my Facit 1620 back, and Vern did a masterful job of cleaning. All of the features now work. However, while getting a feel for its Hermes 3000-ish keys, I noticed something. What is it about some machines that make it hard to get really dark prints on the paper?
Don't get me wrong, the Facit seems like a great machine and I'm sure I'll enjoy using it, but it seems that some typewriters have the ability to squeeze more ink out of the ribbon with less effort than others (one reason why I don't like the Olympia SM7, 8, and 9; it just takes too much physical force to make dark text appear on snow white paper under direct light with a brand new ink ribbon, and these are manuscripts I plan to re-read so I can edit them).

Is this a difference in design or am I just expecting too much out of the average typewriter?

Something strange has happened to me in days past. I've found that I really enjoy handwriting notes and story-related things in a notebook using an ink pen. I bought a nice leather-bound one at Wizard World in April, but I also have a plain spiral notebook as well. The leather-bound one is for initial ideas and are written out neatly. The spiral notebook is for whatever comes to my mind and vaguely resembles the scratchings of a madman. One is the kind of book you'd want displayed in a museum, while the other lies buried in the archives of a university because you left it to them in your will.

It's deliberate, but doesn't require good posture like a typewriter. I can do it during slow moments at work, since no one would think twice about a guy writing stuff down and no one can read my handwriting anyway. It somehow makes the whole act of pre-creation a lot more personal, and it's a distinctly different feeling from the one I get when pounding out the first draft on whatever machine strikes my fancy. But I'll be dipped if I could ever handwrite an entire novel with a pen or pencil, like John Steinbeck or Shelby Foote. I'd have to be in pretty dire straights.

*cue the ironic ending catchphrase*

Power to the pen!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Break

No post today. Trying to relax and work on new stories. Next episode of Front Stroke will be coming soon. Meanwhile, pray that I can get an agent to like Lightwitch. Querying is always scary!

And a very happy Mother's Day to all y'all.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Good Way to Start May

In other news, I got Lightwitch back from one of my trusted beta readers. Over all, she really liked it. The edits she suggested aren't major. I've already gone through and fixed the spelling errors, now all that's left are some plot points. I feel that the book is getting very close to being finished and ready to pitch.

I'd appreciate some prayers/kind thoughts. I've got a job interview on Wednesday for a museum in Indiana, and I'm rather nervous. Not because I don't feel confident, but because it could be the ticket to what my wife and I have been praying for. Ste. Genevieve has been good to us, but there are things that we've learned about the town, my job, and ourselves that have made this decision a necessity. Hopefully the job I'm interviewing for will be what I hope it is. I've got two days to prepare.

God's will be done.