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A Brief History of My Typewriters (part 5) [Jan. 16th, 2013|01:22 am]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

Hermes: The Last Gasp

After my Olympia phase, I thought I would just go back to my Royal KMM to finish up the manuscript I was working on, but another brand that was fondly spoken of was the Hermes. (I thought I remembered one being up for auction a while ago used by Cormac McCarthy, but that was an Olivetti. However, Kerouac did use a Hermes 3000.) Unable to be content, I went on the lookout for Hermes typewriters.

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Cat Waxing [Jan. 14th, 2013|02:26 am]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

I have written a lot of blog posts this week. About halfway through, I realized what I was doing. The time honored tradition of cat-waxing.

There was writing that needed to get done, but instead I was working hard on the one thing that hasn’t gotten much response: my blog. That’s because I was avoiding the more difficult editing, re-writing, and fixing of my novel’s manuscript. Much more fun to talk about my typewriters.

Well, cat-waxing or no, I got my manuscript a bit more polished, and shoved it into the intertubes for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. How many times have I re-read my <300 word pitch? About a billion. And re-written it? About a million. Is it any better than the first version I wrote? At this point, I have no clue. Sometimes, it seems passable for prose written in the English language. Other times, I think it was written by a toddler in excrement on the bathroom wall.

But it’s done! I’m in. They still allow me to fiddle with it until they reach the cut-off point of 10,000 submissions or January 27th. Though there are probably untold things that could be improved, my sanity would be better served by leaving it alone. Then it’s just a month’s wait until February 13 and I discover whether my pitch was written in English or crap.

I have had a couple of encouraging pieces of writing news in the last week. One of them I can’t really share yet. The other was feedback from an editor on a story that I’d submitted many months ago. I’d queried to see what the status was, and she responded that she’d “loved” it. But it still has another layer of approval before it could be published. Nevertheless, a good ego-boo.

Now, I can get back to my typewriters. And this time maybe it will be for its own sake rather than as an avoidance technique.

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Blogs and Marketing (with Fruit and Meat!) [Jan. 9th, 2013|01:55 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

Marketing your writing with a blog is like a grocer trying to sell meat by giving away fruit.

Maybe Joe likes fruit, but that’s no guarantee he’s going to like your meat. He might even be a vegetarian. Conversely, Pam may like meat, maybe she’s been coming to buy her prime cuts from you for years. Maybe she doesn’t eat much fruit, and she wonders why you’re giving away all this weird foreign fruit instead of discounting her regular meat purchase.

As you may have surmised, I love a good metaphor. I really love taking a good metaphor to its breaking point.

John Scalzi was well known for his blog before he ever became a bestselling science fiction writer. He had been giving away fruit for years. So most of his customers, at least those who weren’t vegetarians (or didn’t like sci-fi), were willing to take him up on his meat special (when his novel Old Man’s War was published). But there are those who like his novels, light military science fiction in the early Heinlein tradition, who are quickly put off by his somewhat liberal leanings and tendency to blog about them. Often, an inflammatory topic will elicit an outraged comment to the effect that “I will never buy any of your books again.”

Orson Scott Card was comfortably in my top three favorite writers in high school and college. The first couple of Ender’s Game books and Seventh Son books remain favorites. Prime cuts. But in the last decade, with the transparency offered by the internet, I’ve learned a lot more about Card’s politics, and frankly, his strange fruit has soured my taste for his literary offerings.

So if you’re a writer, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should blog to market your work. If your personality is perfectly in tune with your books, that might make sense. Even then, you are going to do or say something that will piss someone off and lose readers. You also could gain like-minded readers who like both your fruit and meat. My point here is that it’s likely to be a wash. Card seems to be doing fine even though he’s pissed off half the blogosphere. Ditto Scalzi.

I’m going to blog for myself and anyone who happens to stumble along and think what I type is worth their time. Basically the same way I write books and stuff.

Write what you want. What’s the point of it otherwise?

I don’t think this holds true just for writing. Most good marketing is just human beings sharing what they’re interested in and think is cool. Word of mouth is the ultimate. Trying to goose people into buying crap they don’t want is manipulative and douchebaggy. Telling people what’s cool is being a good human being. Which do you want to be?

Then be that kind of marketer.

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A Brief History of My Typewriters (part 4) [Jan. 8th, 2013|07:20 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

The Quest for Olympias

Beginning to type my manuscript on the little Royal Arrow gave me a tactile connection to the machines that I’d never had before. I had to research and find more about these curious creatures, partly as a practical matter, to get the typewriters in working order, and partly to find out what other options there were. So far, I’d only had Royals. What else was out there?

A name I ran across frequently was Olympia. Certain of their typewriters were supposed to be the best, a marvel of German engineering and some of the finest machines to type on. Harlan Ellison continues to write with the Olympia SG-3. In fact, the standard of their line was described by some as the Cadillac of typewriters. I had to have one.

Olympia SM-9

Olympia SM-9. Ugly, but damn good.

The first opportunity came when I spied an Olympia portable on eBay, the SM-9. Turned out the seller was not that far away, so I drove down to pick it up. It is in excellent condition and works like new. The feel of the keys is very nice, and much more forgiving than the hard glass keys of the old Royals that I own. It still scooted around a little because even though it is big, it’s still a portable. If I had only been interesting in writing by typewriter, I probably would have stopped here, but I was obsessed.

Olmpia SG-1

SG-1. Even uglier.

I wanted to get my hands on the Cadillac of typewriters, with a paper loading lever that looked a bit like the arm of a slot machine. I wanted an SG-1 (no relation to the Stargate crew). I found one on eBay for a reasonable price and purchased it. It took about two months to arrive. By the time it showed up, I had given up on the sellers, and assumed that I’d been taken for a ride. Instead, they were just very slow and had no idea how to pack a typewriter. It came in a big cardboard box loosely stuffed with bubble wrap. The SG-1 had probably rolled around like tennis shoes in a dryer while in transit. It smelled like the bottom of an ashtray (a smell that is apparently more common to old typewriters than has been my luck to find) and it didn’t work.

SM-3 cases

I love the SM-3 cases–like little silver UFOs.

In a fit of impatience while waiting on the SG-1, I had bought an SM-3. This is the 1950s version of the Olympia portable. They are the best-looking Olympia machines of the bunch. The one I found on eBay was a sort of creamish-tan with an odd italic typeface. It also suffered from subpar packing–there was a slight scuff on the top where it had come loose in transit. And there was a problem with the spacebar not fully engaging on occasion. With a little ingenuity, I was able to fix that problem.

SM-3

SM-3, italic font.

The SM-3s are solid little typers. Their action is as smooth as any I’d tried up till that point (spoiler: the Hermes eventually win out) and they are really comfortable to type on. The only thing that I don’t like about them is the carriage shift–having to lift the carriage with my weak pinkies is not fun. Perhaps my fingers would strengthen up over time, but I prefer the basket shift of the SG-1 and later SM-9. (Where the typebars themselves raise and lower instead of the whole carriage.)

With my newfound confidence after repairing the minor issue with the SM-3, I turned more seriously to the SG-1. I don’t recall exactly what was wrong with it… I believe one bar had simply become disconnected during transit–apparently a common problem. I almost felt bad for demanding a partial refund from the eBay sellers, but remembering the sorry packing job they’d done, I got over it. After all of the frustration and anticipation of being able to type on the Cadillac, what was my impression?

sg1-2

Built like a tank. Types a bit like one, too.

Meh.

If any SG-1 lovers are reading this, I’m sorry. The downside of old typewriters is you can never really know if how they type now reflects how they performed new. Someone else may have one that’s in better condition than mine that I would love. Maybe if I knew better how to perform maintenance on mine, it would work better. But after all of the blood, sweat, and tears, the SG-1 simply didn’t do it for me, even with all of the cool buttons and features.

SM-3

The redhead.

My last Olympia was another SM-3. This one I found on Craigslist, but in Michigan. While we were on a family trip up there, I’d checked to see if there were any interesting typewriters in the vicinity. I did mention that I’d been obsessed for a while, right? This one is a little maroon number than is in just about mint condition. It looks great and types well.

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A Brief History of My Typewriters (part 3) [Jan. 7th, 2013|08:54 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

The Royals: In Which I Begin to Type a Book

Royals

Royal KMM & #10 (with Dragon Alduin)

Many years after I picked up the Royal #10 at an antique store, I found another Royal Standard (code-named KMM, though I would not know that for some time) at a neighborhood garage sale. It has a metal tag on the back labeled “METHODIST PUB. HOUSE 2242″, so it apparently came from the offices of the official publisher of the Methodist church. The Royal KMM is not as sexy as the #10, but after trying my hand at several other typewriters, it remains my second favorite one to actually type on.

Royal Arrow

Royal Arrow (with Manga Spawn)

(A brief aside: there are two kinds of manual typewriters, Standards and Portables. Standards are much like our desktop computers, not meant to be moved from one spot because they are heavy as a mofo and cumbersome. Portables were the laptops of their day. Even the portables seem pretty heavy by our modern sensibilities, but maybe they had bigger muscles in the past.)

Which brings me to the Royal Arrow portable that my brother-in-law Tyler got me for Christmas about 5 or 6 years ago. It was supposedly the same model that Hemingway used in Key West.

Typed page

First typed manuscript page (with dragon egg)

I had run up against the 20,000 word wall in the novel I was working on, and in an attempt to shake up my routine and free my brain from its block, I decided to tap out a few words on the old manual. It was a learning experience. For one thing, I soon discovered that portables do not sit still very well while you type. They need a typewriter pad of some sort because they do not weigh enough. Tacky kitchen drawer liners were the cheap and easy solution that I eventually came across. Still, a portable will simply not remain solidly in place if you type with any speed, which eventually led me to the full size standards. But this little gem was the one that got it all started.

I don’t have the Royal Arrow anymore. For about a year, I haunted Craigslist regularly, looking for any cheap and interesting typewriters for sale. Mostly, I discovered that people assume old crap is worth more than it actually is, simply because it’s old. But one day I noticed a listing from someone seeking a typewriter for their little girl for Christmas.

Royal Arrow keys

Glass keys – pretty but hard on your fingers.

Apparently, she was making up stories, a budding writer, and had gotten it in her head that she needed a typewriter to put them down on paper. How could I resist? I wanted her to have a good, working typewriter rather than the piece of crap that her parents were most likely to find on Craigslist, so the Royal Arrow became a Christmas gift for a second time. I hope she enjoyed it even half as much as I did.

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A Brief History of My Typewriters (part 2) [Jan. 6th, 2013|05:02 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

The First Typewriter

The first typewriter I owned was electronic, back in high school, with a primitive word processor that had about 2K of storage. When touch-typing on it, you would type in a word or two, then the daisy wheel would spin into action to attempt to catch up with you. It had a bizarre rhythm that I never really liked, but I didn’t know much different in those days. Sort of: click click click click click hmmmm CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK. Which almost made me want to type a word and wait for it to catch up because otherwise its hammering daisy wheel was out of sync with my thoughts.

The first typewriter I ever used was my mother’s Selectric II when she worked as a secretary for Commerce Union Bank. Now that had a wonderful sound. The constant electric hum harmonizing with the sharp percussive notes of the golfball typehead striking the paper in perfect responsiveness to one’s tapping of the keys.

But other than these two experiences, I didn’t grow up using typewriters. I learned to type on a computer. My first IBM clone (as they were known in those days) did have a tacky keyboard, so I can see how I might have been longing for something more responsive than the bland, quiet keyboards of today. But after my brief encounter with the electronic typewriter and my very error-prone method of typing and correcting, I was sold on the easy, instant editing powers of word processing.

Royal #10

Royal #10

So I didn’t buy my first old typewriter with any intention of using it. The thing just looked cool. Glass panels, exposed chrome, glass-top keys. Design and function meshed in a beautiful way that hasn’t been common in industrial design until perhaps Steve Jobs came back to Apple and started his decade-long stint of making computers pretty.

It was in an antique shop that we just happened to stop in while visiting some friends in Oak Ridge. I think I paid $25 for it. My friend Michelle almost laughed her head off at me the next day when I tripped and fell, scrapping up my elbow but saving the typewriter from damage. The typewriter and I made it home intact and it became a display piece. The ribbon was dried up, so I couldn’t have typed with it if I’d wanted to.

I had a brief glimmer that I might have stumbled on something rare and valuable, but I soon discovered that typewriters are not worth much. Not in money. If you pay hundreds of dollars for any typewriter made in the twentieth century, you’re probably paying for the effort that someone has put into restoring it, perhaps with a hefty ignorance tax. Considering that they were the ubiquitous office machine for eighty or ninety years, it’s almost a wonder that there aren’t more around. When future archeologists dig up our landfills, they may be half dirty diapers and a quarter old typewriters.

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A Brief History of My Typewriters (part 1) [Jan. 5th, 2013|11:52 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

Too Many Typewriters

Remington 5 typewriter

Remington 5 typewriter

For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a typewriter. Not just any typewriter, but an old one. I’ve been collecting these obsolescent hunks of metal for several years now, though my mania has tapered off quite a bit in the last year.

I love the look of classic typewriters, and the functionality. Most of them have been sitting ignored in attics for at least a couple of decades, and all they need is a new ribbon to start transferring words from my brain to a blank piece of paper. At least that’s true of the manuals–electrics are more temperamental, much like their computerized descendants. But if the power went out forever, those old manuals would keep spitting out the words with only a minimum of TLC.

Hideaway typewriter desk

Hideaway typewriter desk.

My Christmas gift from my wife was a desk with a hidden compartment for the typewriter. While digging through the closet to find a machine to test out the hideaway desk, I discovered a typewriter that I’d forgotten about buying. Clearly, I needed to do something with all of these things packed away in the closet. The downside of collecting typewriters is that they are too big to all stay on display. So I decided to take pictures of them, and write up a short description of how they came into my possession and why I give a damn.

During the point of my greatest interest, I joined two Yahoo groups: the portable typewriter forum and Typewriters, both of which are great resources for amateur typewriter repairers and aficionados. Based on the messages on those groups, I realize that I do not have that many typewriters for a collector. Relatively. My thirteen machines are a modest collection. But they are still about twelve too many for a sane person.

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Why the blinding hate for Amazon? [Dec. 5th, 2012|11:49 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

For its sixth Breakthrough Novel Award, Amazon is ditching Penguin as its publishing partner. In the opening paragraph of the article on the Christian Science Monitor, they quote Ann Patchett as saying this past summer that “Amazon aggressively wants to kill us.

I love Ann Patchett. She’s written some wonderful books (perhaps my favorite is The Magician’s Assistant) and she co-owns a cozy little bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus Books, which she opened when the two nicest bookstores in the city closed up in about the span of a year. She’s also a delightful speaker, and seems generous and friendly in person. Unfortunately, no matter how vehement her rhetoric against Amazon, I have to disagree with her.

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Duotrope Digest: The Value of Free [Dec. 2nd, 2012|10:12 pm]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

I just discovered that Duotrope Digest is moving to a paid model after being free for some seven years (on the donation model). Duotrope is a great resource for writers, including listings of a vast number of markets and a very useful submissions tracker for keeping up with what stories have been sent where. In all the time they’ve been on the donation model, they’ve never hit their targets, which either means their targets are too high, or writers are too tight (or broke).

I’ve donated in the past. About $10/year that I’ve seriously used it. Which is two, even though it covered a timespan of four years. The new cost is going to be $5/month or $50/year. That’s a little high, but I’d be tempted to pay, for the ease of their search features and the tracker. It’s a little high because unless and until I’m publishing regularly, that’s a bit much for a hobby. Still, they have the easiest to use features as far as I know, and I spend stupid hobby money all the time.

It’s not the price that really concerns me. At least not directly. As useful as the listings and tracker is the data mined from hundreds of users inputting their submissions. There are stats for the fastest and slowest responding markets. Every market gives an estimated response time, but those can vary widely in their accuracy. Through Duotrope, you could see if a magazine said “allow 60 days” but returned most submissions in less than a week. That suggested that one’s story held for 60 days had received more consideration. Conversely, you could see the markets which were simply chronically late.

If most writers using the service decide that the price is too high, as the early feedback suggests, the amount of data on all of these markets is going to drop enormously. Considering only 10% of users have ever donated, one could expect the data input to drop by 90% (depending on how active those non-donating users were). Not to mention most users did not donate $50/year, which suggests that fewer than 10% will subscribe.

Without all of the user input of response times, the usefulness of the Duotrope database could drop exponentially over the next year, leaving them with only two valuable services, market search and submissions tracking, which can be accomplished for free through Google, Ralan, and others I’m certain and a spreadsheet.

I like Duotrope, and I don’t want them to shoot themselves in the foot. Losing all the free users may take away their most uniquely valuable asset–A wide range of market response data.

If they kept the submissions tracker and search functions free, they would preserve the data collections functions and could charge for more detail on individual markets. Because I might pay $5/month for that data, but I won’t pay that much for a spreadsheet and a search engine.

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The End of a World [Nov. 30th, 2012|01:23 am]
Daryl Nash
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Originally published at Daryl Nash. You can comment here or there.

I began playing City of Heroes eight years ago, roped into it by a friend who was much better versed in the MMO-landscape, having started with Ultima Online. I remember watching him playing UO and marveling that he was chopping wood. Since then, I still refer to the mind-numbing aspects of crafting in MMOs as chopping wood.

City of Heroes didn’t have any wood chopping. In the early days, it was a pretty stripped-down MMO, in fact. You were a super-hero beating up bad guys from the very start. Even if they were hoodlums hanging out in crate-filled warehouses (and my god there were a lot of warehouses), at least you didn’t start out by killing rats. You could also create your own costume, without being tied down to whatever crappy gear fell off the rats you were slaughtering. So from the start, you could have an avatar that looked like a hero (or later villain) from their creation. Another groundbreaking technology that came a little later was the ability to team up with your friends, no matter what level they were, so you didn’t have to worry too much about getting ahead or getting behind. This is something that seems so obvious, yet is still missing from most MMOs.

I wasted a lot of time on that game. I could have written at least a couple of novels in the time I spent traipsing around virtual warehouses.

But there were a lot of good times. Perhaps because it was my first MMO, it was a fictional world that felt a lot more real to me than Azeroth or the other fantasy lands I’ve sampled. Though I thought the forums were bad when I was a noob, they look like tea with the Queen compared to the cesspit of the WoW forums. Perhaps most important: It was a great way to share time and a hobby with an old friend (we’re both very old!) who has moved farther and farther away over the years.

Tomorrow, NCSoft is turning off the servers. In the flicker of electricity, a world will die.

I suppose it’s naive to think that something will always be there, especially something as ephemeral as a video game, but it sneaks up on you. I had begun to take it for granted. After many hundreds of hours playing it over the years, I didn’t plan on getting sucked in for any great length again. But I knew it would be around. I could log in and fly around Paragon City for a while, then go back to the real world.

Not anymore. Paragon City will cease to exist tomorrow night. It will leave behind remnants in old YouTube videos and dusty unused wikis. But no capes will flap anymore in its virtual skies.

There are some chances that it will return from the grave. But a true resurrection seems nigh impossible. Most likely, it will be a shambling corpse that will make me miss the real thing all the more.

It may not seem terribly important in this bustling world of fiscal cliffs and foreign conflicts, but for eight years a mostly gracious community formed around a game about being a hero. There are worse things.

So if you think about it this weekend, raise a glass in remembrance of the quiet death of a world.

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