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Archive for November, 2014

Deeply Conflicted

Posted by Dirck on 28 November, 2014

I need to rant a little after this week’s film.  Good thing it’s a short one.

“Our goal is to build technology… that makes people happy.”

Laudable.  I’m a fan of happiness.  But here’s the thing; if the happiness is founded on the perception of getting something hand-written, and it was not, then is it a viable happiness?  Does the warmth of “Oh, look,  X thought to send me a letter” sustain itself if you later find out they sent it via this somewhat talented robot, or does the joy take on a taint if not evaporate entirely when you realize that the sender didn’t put in the actual physical effort of scrawling away on the paper?  That it may be one of dozens, all the same but for an {INSERT NAME} field?

I don’t have a good answer to that one.  I leave it for the deeply philosophical to ponder over the weekend.  Suggestive of a possible answer is an article giving tips to spotting the automata-made missives (the first of which doesn’t show up when a fountain pen is in play, alas).

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Valiant TD

Today’s ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown


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Posted by Dirck on 27 November, 2014

Almost forgot this– I know it’s important to no one but me, but the cringing urge to prove effort needs feeding.

Day What How Much Duration Pen Ink
  • 24 November
  • 25 November
  • 26 November
  • First draft, “The Dutch Walk”
  • Yep, still at it
  • …and now it’s done.
  • 10 manuscript pages
  • 6 manuscript pages
  • 7 manuscript pages
  • 55 min.
  • 35 min.
  • 45 min.

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Holding Forth: Writing Edition

Posted by Dirck on 27 November, 2014

With the end of NaNoWriMo coming up over the weekend, I thought it would be a great time to distract people by revealing my writing secrets which guarantee results.

…and also to screw slightly with silly Google search parameters.

Let’s start at the beginning; I started to look on writing as something I might engage in about the time Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King were beginning their bitter disagreement over the nature of The Shining.   The thought process was as follows: I have been good at making crap up for a long time, and I’ve always had a broad vocabulary.  I can stick sentences together pretty well.  I have read a lot of books, many of them inappropriate to my age (I didn’t get through Catch-22 until my third attempt; the first was around age 10).  Therefore, why not write?

And you know what I though, after trying it?  “Oh, heck.  This is pretty easy!”  Easy, that is, as long as my parents didn’t interrupt me with trivial like “this place needs cleaning up” and “are you done your homework?”  In fact, in the mid-1980s I wrote two novels… which I’ll get back to.

I break off here because a discovery I have made since.  Writing is an awful lot more work than I thought.  I was, as many people with the sort of facility I mention , labouring under the delusion that all I really needed was some time and quiet to tip words out of my head and onto the page– a delusion which I hasten to mention I still indulge when I lay down entries here (pondering and proofreading get occasional admission to this space).  However, as pointed out in this excellent article, having a predisposition towards something is not the same as mastery, whether one looks at writing, gymnastics, or astronautery.  Doing it well requires actual practice and actual effort.

Happily, I worked this out before I tried to submit in un-polished form either a very rambly novel about a werewolf killing far too many people in a small town (which had some way cool cars and guns built into the story) and a speculative fiction thing that was pretty much Day of the Jackal wearing a rainbow wig and Groucho glasses.

The best advice for writers I’ve yet to come across, though, is to not take the advice of others too seriously, because unlike gymnastics or rocket surgery, there’s a lot of approaches that yield success.  Some buggers can actually bang out a functional first draft of an intricate suspense novel by retiring to a quiet room for two weeks, emerging only for the necessary bodily functions and not worrying about researching anything until second draft.  Some people need half a year of research and planning before they dare start the actual writing of an airy slice of life romance.  Some swear by a hand-written first draft, some swear at it as a foolish antiquity (I was in the latter camp in my younger days, but have since joined the former).

The only other item of advice I’d try to offer is a well worn one– read a lot.  Read in a smart way, though.  One the thrill of a magnificent passage has passed along your spine, once the tears of joy or horror that the author has forced into your eyes have subsided, read it again with a clinical focus.  What are the levers in that sentence?  How is it that this paragraph did that thing that it just did to me?  This is something that my own beta-readers, one valuable one in particular, is always yelling at me about in reference to my own writing, and it’s damn good advice.  It’s also advice that can take you outside your favourite genre, in the same way a sensible marital artist will ponder the skills of people from different traditions.  Just because it’s not what you want to pursue doesn’t meant it doesn’t have some tricks to teach you.

As far as guaranteed success… hey, if I knew that, you’d have a copy of all my books filling up a shelf in your library, wouldn’t you?  I certainly subscribe to the sort of thing described in the video you’ll find down this link— success is the result of a confluence of working like mad to be good at what you want to do, and having the unspeakable luck to get noticed as being good at what you do.  Oh, also, once you get noticed, keep working like mad to stay good.  I think we can all name an artist of some stripe who has decided they’re good enough and stop trying; it’s sad, and it eventually makes the fans angry as the skills atrophy.

By the way, I’m not a fan of the concept of NaNoWriMo.  Apart from not having the time to devote to it, I think that it would suck the joy out of the exercise of writing for me to have to produce a certain amount of content each day.  I write as much as I’m able to in what little time I have to write on a daily basis, and I love it even when it’s clearly curdling on me (I’m looking at you, “And Then the Screaming Started”), but if I had an internal guy in a leather vest pounding on a pair of drums and occasionally shouting “Ramming speed!” it would turn into a chore.  Who wants to do chores?  I am pleased to find I’m not alone in this, either.

I do, however, think that getting some writing done at extremely regular intervals is a very good idea.  I somewhat credit several years of these little stream-of-consciousness efforts with finally putting my authorly trolley back on the rails.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brillian Black



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Elbows Off The Table!

Posted by Dirck on 26 November, 2014

A mere stub today, only to get down an observation while I remember it.

Yesterday, as I hooted about on Friday instant, I went to a movie premiere.  Because it was a ballyhoo’d red carpet thing, I dressed up a little extra, and out of it I make this discovery:  cuff-links are an excellent training aid for those intent on not resting arm on desk while writing.

While I’m at it, I should recommend the film, at least for those who enjoyed the TV show.  This is not simply based on my wife’s amazing turn as Denizen Della (she has lines!  More than one!), but because it’s a well-made example of Canadian humour and an opportunity to see the amazingly regular horizons of my home territory.  It’s also not going to be in theatres very long, probably because it’s a well-made example of Canadian humour; limited power to bust blocks, and very little in the way of CGI anything.

Today’s pen: Platinum PKB-2000
Today’s ink: Jentle blue-black

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Saturday’s for Shopping, Right?

Posted by Dirck on 22 November, 2014

An abnormal week-end entry to let my regular readers know that I’ve thrown some stuff up on my Etsy storefront.  Christmas is coming and all that.

Today’s pen:  Baoer 388
Today’s ink:  Diamine Prussian Blue

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Red Carpet Premiere

Posted by Dirck on 21 November, 2014

This is quite afield from my usual line– this Tuesday upcoming I’m going to be attending the sort of event described above.  I do this through my wife’s involvement the film trailered below:

This is pretty cool, as she says the people involved are extremely nice and I don’t often get to see her in her professional environment.  I should say the people involved must be nice, as in the following…

…they don’t once mention the gutting of that professional environment in this province.  But that’s grumpy talk, and I’m very happy that she got to work on a film, and has avoided the fell Curse of The Editor.  She doesn’t have a lot of lines, and it was a worry.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer cartridge pen, which I’ve been using for first drafts; I managed to stagger out without my intended pen this morning.
Today’s ink:  Diamine Prussian Blue

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Posted by Dirck on 20 November, 2014

Man, that’s quite a word, eh?  Classy, but absolutely dripping with menace.

…well, I guess it would be dripping, if it hadn’t all run out.  Still a wonderful word.

In the very early days of my activity here, I confessed to a youthful indiscretion involving the destruction and loss (not necessarily in that order) of a couple of authentically old pens glommed from an antique store.  I was then more given to early adoption of technology, but I was also interested in the ways of days gone past.  In addition to those pens, I also looked into…

Straight razors.  Scary!

I actually bought one, too.  After a couple of attempts to sharpen it without access to any appropriate stropping surfaces, I had a couple of goes at shaving with it.

Very tentative goes.  I’d first heard of Sweeney Todd when I was about seven, and the lesson stuck.  My youthful beard was somewhat reduced, but between the unstropped blade, the unwillingness to open a vein, and absolutely no sense of which angle to hold the thing at, the results were disappointing.  Not “head almost entirely separated from shoulders” disappointing, for which I am grateful, but the straight razor went into a drawer.  I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief.

More recently, some correspondents have been talking about their entry into the Magical World of Wet Shaving.  Being in the bearded camp, my shaving has long been limited to a small band of neck (because “neck-beard” has troublesome connotations), and I have flitted between disposables and an elderly electric razor.  Moved to curiosity by these other chaps, though, I had a look at the site most of them get their stuff from.

I’m moved to give it a try, as I find that neither the blades nor the holder that constitute a safety razor are very expensive.  They’re more expensive, as a unit, than disposables, but there’s less wasted plastic involved.  The elderly electric razor remains on call, and the cost per use at this point is essentially nil, but it also doesn’t do a lot more to remove hair than that straight razor did, and appears to work mainly by generating enough heat to shrivel the beard it touches.

And now I’ve had a chance to try it.  My discoveries over the first couple of uses have been good and bad.  On the good side, it does a cracking good job of knocking down the beard, and there’s a lot less fouling of the blade than the disposables suffered which means I use less water in the process.  And it remains below 600° at all times, which puts it ahead of the electric.

On the down side… well, something in the difference of blade presentation between the safety razor and disposables means a habit I’ve been in of not applying anything to the skin but a little water is no longer viable.  The initial discovery of this was accompanied by a certain amount of yelling, and followed by a great deal of clean-up of the sort that Lady MacBeth would be familiar with.

Prosecution Exhibit A

Prosecution Exhibit A

So, now I have spent the money to get some rather well-smelling shaving soap and a proper brush to apply it (a nail-brush didn’t cut the mustard).  I now have a smooth neck without constant threat of beheading, without blistering, without adding unnecessarily to landfills, and without constant soaking of my collars in cold water to keep the stains from setting.

All thanks to a technology that slightly pre-dates fountain pens.  I’m pleased, and not very surprised.  Which is good– getting surprised by a razor usually ends poorly.

Today’s pen: Mabie, Todd & Co. Blackbird
Today’s ink: Diamine Sargasso Sea

…and because it’s Thursday, there’s a progress report, too:

Day What How Much Duration Pen Ink
  • 17 November
  • 18 November
  • 19 November
  • First draft, “The Dutch Walk”
  • The same
  • Ditto
  • 9 manuscript pages
  • 7 manuscript pages
  • 12 manuscript pages
  • 45 min.
  • 35 min.
  • 55 min.

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To Infinity And cetera….

Posted by Dirck on 14 November, 2014

I’m still riding high on the whole Rosetta/Philae thing, so in the spirit of this little item from the Book of Face…


…I’m making free with the online bounty of British Pathé newsreels for a look back at some other notable achievements in space flight.

And no, I will not link to the photoshopped thing so future readers will have a context.  That gets to wilt into obscurity, as far as I’m concerned.  I will record, however, that my son first heard of Philae’s landing on the car radio when I collected him from a grandmother’s house.  His eyes went very wide, his jaw dropped, and he repeated the CBC news-reader’s description of it in tones of astonishment, awe and wonder: “Space robot?!

Today’s pen: Parker 75
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green

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Posted by Dirck on 13 November, 2014

Day What How Much Duration Pen Ink
  • 11 November
  • 12 November
  • 13 November
  • Quiet reflection, including a little about the corner I’ve painted myself into in “And Then the Screaming Started.”
  • Some bleak staring at the comments on “The Healing Power of Crystals” and then research for settings in “The Dutch Walk.”
  • First draft of “The Dutch Walk”; painting into corners and difficult comments will not be allowed to become writers’ block.
  • Nothing external
  • Much the same (boo!)
  • 10 manuscript pages
  • All day
  • 45 min.
  • 55 min.

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Very Well Indeed

Posted by Dirck on 10 November, 2014

This does not describe me.  There is, frankly, something wrong with my thinking parts.  How else to explain the purchase of yet another Esterbrook desk well?

Esterbrook W407

It’s colossal! It’s stupendous! It’s… redundant.

Actually, there is something in the looks that appeals to me rather more than the simplicity of the late-model 444 I’ve had on the desk at The Regular Job for yonks now, something between an aircraft part and an Art Deco motorcycle fuel-tank.  It’s pretty darn cool.

But “cool” isn’t the same as “useful.”  So why, with the perfectly functional 444, did I pull this thing out of the river of Life as it was bobbing past?  The only viable reason I have is an effort to stifle a foolish phobia I have of this sort of well.  The one I’ve been using keeps the ink, sensibly, in the lowest part of the unit.  This one, and many others, keep the ink above the dispensing hole.  This makes me rather nervous, and I felt I should overcome this weakness.

Esterbrook W404op

It’s explained in this diagram. Supposedly.

Through practicing with water, I now accept that it works.  I even follow the physics of it; once the access of air to the reservoir is occluded by the pool in the bottom, the dropping of the fluid induces a partial vacuum inside, and the flow stops.  Not entirely unlike the flow of ink out of a fountain pen not happening unless writing is happening, in fact.  I’m not sure I quite believe in it yet, but I comprehend it.  Phobia damped, then, if not quite quelled.

Something I’m having a little more trouble with, now that I’ve been able to play with it for a little while, is working out how this ever got marketed for home use… which it did.  I absolutely get it as an industrial resource, since having Smithers out there filling the bank’s wells more than once a week takes him away from other mildly abusive duties, but for the normal person’s normal uses, it’s ridiculous.  The 444 was faintly ridiculous, with its 30 ml capacity.  When I’m in the absolute throes of writing, as has happened now and again over the course of the past year, I’ve managed to get through about one milliliter an hour.  That extremely productive hour produces something between 1,500 and 2,000 words, so a 444 offers the possibility of a smallish novel worth of writing.

This 407 holds seventy-five milliliters, only three pen-fillings less than a huge Diamine bottle carries.  If you’re transcribing The Shining, you’re set.  How many grocery lists and “Your Mom Called” notes does that run to?  Heck, even though I’m not a normal person putting the thing to a normal use, I question the wisdom of installing it on my desk.  I reloaded the old well about once every six months, and that was mainly down to evaporation.  This thing, with its ocean of ink, is very well.  Profoundly well.  More well than, perhaps, I can deal with.

…and then there’s the other problem with this thing.  The running of ink from reservoir to dispensary pool is governed by the depth of the pool, yes?  For the system to work properly, it needs to be resting on a firm, level surface.  Like the top of a desk.

Unlike the floor of an automobile, even one being driven conservatively over smooth streets.  Turns.  Accelerations.  Drive-way slopes.  The net result is of the 35 ml or so of ink I put into it yesterday, having drained both the 444 and the remainder of the huge Diamine bottle of Classic Red, now rests below the reservoir.  This is not an ink well that enjoys travel, and to be honest I feel the phobia starting to reassert itself.  I’m not sure I’m feeling altogether well….

Today’s pen: Parker 75
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green


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