Saturday, January 19, 2019

"I Traded My iPad for a Smith-Corona Typewriter": Q & A with Author Harry Marks

Author and Typewriter Aficionado, Harry Marks.
I am thrilled to present an interview with my Twitter-friend, author Harry Marks (@HCMarks)

When I discovered Harry uses a typewriter for his writing, I was simultaneously skeptical and intrigued. Here, Harry kindly answers my questions about where the typewriter fits into his writing process. Thanks, Harry!

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing. What do you write? What are your favorite genres? Favorite formats?

A:  My name is Harry Marks and I’m the host of the literary podcast, COVERED ( I’ve been published in HelloHorror, The Coil, and have written for Baron Fig. Links to all my writing can be found at

My short fiction tends to be genre-focused. I really love experimenting with short horror stories and flash fiction. My novels (I’ve completed five and I’m finishing up a sixth) tend to skew more Literary.

Q: In 2019, what is the Brass Publishing Ring achievement you would love to unlock?

A: I would love for 2019 to be the year I finally sign with a literary agent. I think I might be nearing completion on the book that will get me where I want to go. Fingers crossed!

Q: How long have you used a typewriter for your writing? Do you have a preferred make or model? What was your first foray into the Wonderful World of Typewriters?

A: I’ve been using a typewriter since 2015. I’d always wanted one for the reason most writers want a typewriter—the romantic fantasy of clicking and clacking my way to a best-seller like Stephen King. 

Harry's Workstation.
My mother used to let me mess around on an electric typewriter she had before we got a computer. This was in the early ‘90s when the hottest computer game around was Solitaire. It’s only recently that I’ve delved back into the analog world, having grown weary of the constant blinking and beeping and buzzing of my digital lifestyle. [I can SO relate... AH] 

I actually sold my first generation iPad so I could buy my first typewriter: a teal 1950s Smith-Corona. I wrote the first short story I ever had published on that machine. 

Q: What about the typewriter appeals to you?

A: The typewriter is a connection to the past, and I know how hipstery that sounds, but that’s what’s so appealing. I grew up in a house where vinyl was the primary source of music and paper books lined shelves in almost every room in the house. 

I love the dichotomy between the simple act of typing and the incredibly complex network of levers and springs within. And most importantly, my typewriter is over 60 years old and still works as well today as the day it rolled off the assembly line. It’s a tank. I can’t say that about the iPad I sold.

Q: Can you walk me through a typical idea-to-draft-to-polished-piece project? How does the typewriter fit into the process?

A: I tend to go to the typewriter during the drafting phase. Everything must end up in my computer eventually, but first drafts are either handwritten or typed on my Smith-Corona.

Q: What drawbacks are inherent in using a typewriter? How do you combat them?

A: The typewriter has plenty of drawbacks that make the idea of using one to write a novel seem absurd. 

I don’t have correcting tape, so I tend to go over typos with Xs until a word is blacked out. A lot of my first drafts look like redacted military files. 

They’re also heavy, loud, and if you use them enough, you’ll find yourself replacing the ribbon pretty often. 

Also, if it breaks and you don’t know how to fix it, you have to find someone who does. I work in New York City, so I tend to take my machines to a tiny shop in Midtown owned by a man who’s been fixing up typewriters for over 50 years.

Q: What advice would you give to a writer who is intrigued by the idea of using a typewriter and who wants to give it a try?

A: For anyone interested in writing on a typewriter, my biggest piece of advice is: try it in person. Don’t just buy a typewriter on eBay and hope for the best. Most of them are garbage anyway. If you can, go to a brick-and-mortar store where typewriters are sold (typewriter resellers, antique shops) and try them out. Choosing the right typewriter is like choosing the right guitar: you’ll know it when you feel it.

Any other typewriter-using authors out there? I'd love to hear your process. Me? I draft either in illegible handwriting OR on my AlphaSmart. Chime in below on what works best for you!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Four Easy Ways A New Writer Can Rock Twitter (updated for 2019)

A few years ago, I wrote a post full of suggestions for How a New Writer Can Rock Twitter. Since then, Twitter has evolved. The "Favorites" star  turned into a "Like" heart, storytelling with GIFs has burgeoned into an art form, bots and trolls are far more prevalent, and the 140-character limit has doubled. While I stand by the advice in the post from 2015, this shiny new year provides a good opportunity to add an upgrade.

1. Crash the #WritingCommunity Party

I got on Twitter -- dragged against my will, I might mention -- in 2010. Then, the #amwriting hashtag, brainchild of the lovely and talented Johanna Harness, was the Place to Be for Writing Twitter. In many respects, it still is, but it has been hijacked in recent years by spammers who shill their work, but don't interact with anyone.

#WritingCommunity is different. For now. In some ways, it reminds me of Old Twitter, where people engage, retweet, support, and interact. IMHO, if you're new to writing, or new to Twitter and looking for community, this hashtag is a good place to start.

Other incredibly useful hashtags:

#MSWL -- in which agents, editors, and other publishing pros list the things they are actively looking for.

#amediting is great for support while revising.

*  And #TenQueries provides essential insight into how Actual Agents and Editors approach their slush piles.

--> #PubTip used to be a worthwhile hashtag, but has lately been overrun with noise.

2. Beware What You Share

Beware of tweeting anything too personal, pessimistic, or damning about your writing and your process.

I notice this most often on the #amquerying tag. As a writer, expect publishing pros to look up your social media profiles. You DO NOT want them to see something like "Just got a fresh slate of rejections. Over 100 so far! Oh well! #Amquerying again..."

If you have over 100 rejections on a project: congratulations. We all do. Join the club. But wait to tell that story until after you've found the one person who sees your genius. After you have enjoyed significant success, by all means, tell the tale. Until then, just keep writing...

Piggybacking on this: beware of using any form of "aspiring writer" in your bio. And, in general, refrain from the newbie move of putting "author," "writer," or similar words in your Twitter name.

If your name is Hinkerpaler McSnickety, then make your Twitter handle @HinkerpalerMcSnickety. Or, say, @HinkerSnickety. But steer clear of things like @AuthorHinkerpaler or @McSnicketyWrites.

3. Be Supportive

Twitter is full of supportive publishing professionals. Become one of them.

I have helped polish queries, made introductions, answered formatting and technical questions, and beta-read manuscripts. Thanks to Twitter, I have a few more clients and a lot more friends. Yet in the past nine years, I can count the number of times I've done a hard-sell promo for my work on one hand.

If someone asks a question you know the answer to, answer it. Then move along. Do not treat every interaction as an opportunity to smack someone over the head with your book.

Don't. Be. THAT. Writer. There are far too many of them on Twitter already.

Likewise: when someone joyously announces that they have representation, or have a publishing deal, or have a book release -- congratulate them. Be sincere. Post happy GIFs and fling virtual confetti. Publishing is tough. Its wheels grind slowly, and they often grind writers into chaff. Celebrate the victories of others. One day, we'll celebrate yours as well. In the meantime, jealousy looks good on no one.

4. Use Lists to Decide Who To Follow

Twitter inundates new users with suggestions of people to follow. Often, these people are uber-famous celebrities with millions of followers. As if any of them are going to follow back and interact with us.

But... who to follow? It's a bot-filled, troll-infested jungle out there.

One way through the jungle -- at least while you're getting your bearings in the mine-filled Twitter landscape -- is to follow someone else's curated list. For instance, I have a list of over 490 literary agents. I have lists of writers, a list of editors, and one of interesting people whose tweets are always engaging.
To find a person's lists, go to their Profile page and click on "Lists"
Many agents and publishers have their own lists, too. Unless a list is locked and private, you can follow it. Following a list allows you to see the tweets of list members, even if you don't actively follow them. It won't take long before you know who you want to add to your feed.

Remember: you don't owe anyone a followback. Just because someone follows you doesn't mean you must follow them. (Full disclosure: for years, this was an unpopular take. But it's a hill I will die upon. I look at the feed of every single new person who follows me before deciding whether or not to followback. If they talk only about themselves, if they never interact with others, if they are rude, or if they only retweet saccharine feel-good quotes, I don't have room for them in my timeline. Those are *my* rules. It's up to you to make your own.)

Here's hoping you find this post helpful. What did I miss? What's your best advice to writers new to Twitter?

[You're a blog follower, right? Hope so - 'cause 2019 is going to be fab-u-lous!]

Monday, December 31, 2018

Spinning the Story Wheel: the First, Best, and Last of 2018

I just spent the past three minutes trying to maneuver my cursor to delete a backslash ("/") from a document I'm editing.

Turns out it wasn't a backslash at all. It was a piece of flotsam on my computer screen.

Story of my life, eh?
January, 2108. A first for me:
hit a deer; totaled my car.

Last year about this time, I posted The Annual Extra, resolutions of sorts for 2018. I was going to start a newsletter about cool stuff I've read, interesting factoids I came across in my research, and whatnot. I actually did this thing. (You're a subscriber, yes? Thanks!) Newsletters post infrequently, but -- and this is key -- they do happen.

Unlike, say, the other resolutions I made. All of them fell by the wayside. ::sigh:: I've come up with a foolproof approach to New Year's Resolutions this year... which I explain in detail in my next newsletter.

Unrealized resolutions aside, 2018 flew by in a whirlwind of activity and experiences. One of those experiences happened last night.

Our friends invited us over for dinner. Several others were there who we didn't know well. After we ate, we played Storyology, which involves telling stories about random topics. On the first round, everyone tells a story about their first ____. Second round involves stories about the best ____. Final round is a story about the last ____. The game ends as everyone, in turns, recalls details of the previous stories. It was a genuinely lovely way to spend an evening.

It me!
In the vein of Storyology, I'm going to tell a few stories about 2018. (AKA: The Year Few Things Went As Planned).

2018's FIRSTS:

* Since Cas took Driver's Ed this summer, I now have a chauffeur. Not only is she a first-time driver (and a fairly good one) but this is also the first time since 1996 that I have not been the only driver in the family.

* I went ziplining for the first time this summer in Denali Park, Alaska. Cas (who doesn't like heights) went, too, but she had been before, at summer camp.

* I lost my voice -- completely -- for nearly a week. Nothing hurt; I wasn't sick. I was just mute. Gave me new appreciation for those who have difficulty speaking. Trying to make myself understood to salespeople or on the phone was a nightmare.

* I wrote my first romance novel this summer. Romance is not generally my chosen genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Even more surprising: I quite like the finished project. Better still -- so does my agent. (Whew!)

* Attended my first political rally AND got seated with my friends in the "behind the speakers / gonna be on TV" section. I was this far away from Obama! The last president I saw in person was Ronald Reagan when I was working for our college newspaper. This was way better.
"Put on Your Sunday Clothes"

The BESTS of the Year:

* Best trip: went on a two-week vacation / cruise to Alaska with Cas and my friend Stacey. Saw whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and more. Went on the afore-mentioned ziplining adventure. Also went horseback riding in Denali, which was on my Bucket List.

Cas (Chef 2) & friends
* Best news: that Dad would be ok. He got critically ill while we were on vacation and spent most of the summer in the hospital (including 2 weeks in ICU) and in rehab. Today he is 90 lbs. lighter than he was last year this time, and in far better shape. Thank God!

* Best live entertainment: Cas was in her high school's production of "Hello Dolly!" Which was phenomenal. Truly. I'm not saying that just 'cause I'm the mom. I went to every show and loved every moment.

And the LASTS:

* The last book I read was Pratchett and Gaiman's GOOD OMENS, which was, of course, excellent.

The view from my hotel room.
* The last trip I took was to Hollywood in November, for the annual Tobias Agency Retreat. While there, I got to meet up with some old friends, which is the highlight of any trip. Had a great room, met some amazingly talented people, and the pièce de résistance: was treated royally at a French Consulate 'do.

* Last two movies I saw were "Mary Poppins" and "Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse." Liked them both. Not a bad way to spend a few hours in December.

* Last colossally stupid thing I did was a week and a half before Christmas, which resulted in 15 stitches in my top lip. I don't want to talk about it...

* And THIS is the last post of 2018. I'd love to say I've made a resolution to blog more, or to be more consistent, but you and I both know that I would just be blowing smoke. I'm looking forward to the next year; lots of writing and editing projects ahead, just waiting for me to dive into them.

Here's wishing you the best of everything in 2019. May it hold many memorable stories for you.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Crusader for Votes and Rights

Recently I was reading about the remarkable Elizabeth Cady Stanton (whose journalist husband Henry co-founded the Republican party).

Born in New York on November 12, 1815, Ol' Liz was a supporter of racial and gender equality, speaking up for women on everything from access to contraception, to property ownership, to voting rights.

Liz was a good friend of Susan B. Anthony. Because of their passionate commitment to women's causes, both refrained from supporting the 14th and 15th Amendments, arguing that, while the Amendments offered protection to African-American men, they neglected to include women.

In 1848, Stanton wrote The Declaration of Sentiments, a gender-equal document presented at one of the first Women's Rights conventions and signed by 100 men and women.

Predictably, not everyone was a supporter of allowing all humans to enjoy the same rights. (The very idea!) Detractors called it "the most shocking and unnatural event ever recorded in the history of womanity."

In the 1890s, Stanton wrote and published "The Woman's Bible," which challenged the belief that women should be subservient to men. The views in the book divided supporters of the women's rights movement, who were afraid it was too controversial and would harm their cause.

Liz was in favor of equal rights for with regards to both race and gender -- she supported interracial marriage at a time when very few shared this view. However, she suffered from her own prejudices: she supported the Spanish-American War and had a deep and abiding dislike of all things Spanish.

Dear ol' Liz had a keen legal mind and a way with words.

When the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, she argued that their language applied to women as well, but the male-controlled government did not agree.

Though her popularity swung wildly between "influential icon" and "embarrassing zealot," she never let her other people dictate her views. She never sold out. She never gave up.

Elizabeth lectured and published widely throughout her life. She died in 1902, 18 years before women could vote, yet still she persisted and never let her fire burn out.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Grandma's Recipes

I recently spent some time sorting through my late Grandma's recipes. (I was the only one in the family who wanted them. When she died, they were the only thing of hers I wanted... A true treasure!)

Some are over 100 years old. The vast majority of them are for cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, or something else vaguely dessert-like. Many use creative measuring techniques and require leaps of culinary faith.

For instance:
Dutch Cake recipe: choose your own ending!

Exhibit A:  DUTCH CAKE 
2 C flour
1 C sugar
2 tsp. B.P.
pinch salt
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 C milk

That's it. What you see is what you get. No mixing or baking instructions. B.P. is baking powder, obviously. I assume you just stick it in a 350 oven & watch till it's done?

Whoever thought this was a thing the world needed?
1 can tomato soup
1/2 can water
1/2 C melted shortening or cooking oil
1 box mincemeat or 1 C raisins
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp soda
1 C sugar
2 1/4 C flour

This one has mixing and baking instructions, but... SOUNDS SO YUCK!

One of my faves, titled "Sun Cooked," is written in prose like flash fiction:

"Take 2 lbs of strawberries and 2 lbs of sugar. Put 1/2 C of hot water in a kettle. Add sugar & stir until boiling. Then add cleaned & hulled strawberries & simmer slowly for 5 min."

After boiling, you put the berries on a large platter, cover with cheesecloth "to keep out insects and let stand in the sun for 3 days, taking them in at night." (!!!) "The 3rd day they will plump up and be firm."

Me: Fermented is more like it...

"Sun Cooked" ends with a little editorial: "Place in sterilized jars without heating. Do only two pounds at a time. These are super-duper."

Me: Riiiiiiight...

Orange Pudding started me down this recipe rabbit hole. Dad was reminiscing about an Orange Pudding his mother made. I don't have her recipes, but looked and -- lo and behold! My other grandma had that one too...

1 C Sugar
2 oranges (juice)
1 1/2 C water
Butter the size of an egg

Boil first four ingredients while mixing batter

1/2 C sugar
1 T. Butter 1
/2 C milk
1 C flour
1 tsp BP

Drop in juice by spoonfuls and bake. Don't grease pan. As with "Dutch Cake," time and temperature not given.

If you're wondering why all of Grandma's recipes are typewritten: my Grandma came from a long line of teachers. She typed instructions for *everything.* Some of the recipes are handwritten - in her spidery cursive; often in pencil. Deciphering them takes... patience and luck.

Going through her recipes makes me miss her terribly. She was a fantastic baker and cook. I've made many of her recipes -- but not these recipes. Since Dad has a hankering for Orange Pudding. I may have to try my hand at making it soon... Further bulletins as events warrant.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Ponies From Heaven

I'm the choir director for a tiny rural church. This summer, a member of the church, and my strongest tenor, graduated from the Salvation Army Adult Recovery Center, clean and sober after 6 months. Everyone celebrated. So the church threw a big potluck, complete with bounce house and pony rides for the kids.

I agree to bring the pony. Meet Randy, a 20-something Haflinger gelding who loves carrots and tummy rubs:

I don't have a trailer, so I ride there -- a little over six and a half miles one way. I give pony rides to all the kiddos, give Randy a little breather, and head for home.

It's hot. About 2 miles of road has recently been tarred and chipped, which doesn't do any favors for Randy's bare feet, poor guy. We mosey along, taking our time, but I find myself wondering, Was it worth it? It was a long ride. Took up most of my day. My butt hurts. Blah blah blah...

A few miles from home, Randy whinnies.

No one is outside. There are no other horses for miles. He just stops still on the side of the road and blasts the air with a full WHEEEE-eeeee-heee-heee.

At the noise, a dog starts barking and a woman comes outside. She asks if it's OK to introduce her dog, a recent rescue, to the horse.

Randy is cool with dogs, so I say, "Sure."

The woman and I chat a bit while the dog grapples with the reality of this new creature.

"My mom would love to see him," the woman says. "She misses her horses so much."

Turns out, Mom and Dad live nearby. Dad is on hospice with advanced liver cancer. He cannot get out of bed. Mom takes care of him, but is quite unwell herself. Both are, essentially, housebound.

I know about having someone you love on hospice. The days all run together as you watch them die by degrees. So we wander over so Mom can see Randy through the kitchen window.


Mom is stunned. Stunned. Suddenly--

Mom heads outside.

She ditches her oxygen tank at the door.

When I meet her, she's yanking the tubing from her nose. Nothing will stop her from meeting Randy. She holds his muzzle in her hands and leans her forehead on his. For a moment, she is just a girl with a horse.

I try to pretend this is totally normal: Randy loves having people pet him. No big deal. But I'm a mess because it is so precious and pure and perfect.

We exchange phone numbers. I promise to text the next time I ride over there, so Mom (who used to have a gorgeous American Saddle Horse back in the day) can have some horse time. And I will. I totally will. But here's the thing...

I've lived here almost 30 years. I have never ridden on that road. And Randy isn't a chatty boy. He never just whinnies for no reason.

That day, though...

On that day all norms were off. I believe Randy and I were pawns in a little divine intervention. When things like that happen, they happen so fast, often you don't recognize the moment for what it is until it has passed. That day there was a woman who needed some sunshine in her soul. She needed to have some horse time, to reconnect with one of her first, best loves. I'm just glad I went along for the ride.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Juliet Brier: The Reluctant Heroine of the Death Valley 49ers

Last year for my birthday, my feisty friend and neighbor gave me a first edition of Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, edited by Lillian Schleissel. It's a fascinating read that deftly treads the line between scholarly writing and narrative non-fiction.

One of the prevailing truths of the book is that the vast majority of women who traveled West in the mid-19th century did so unwillingly. The ones who signed up to make the trip on their own accord were rarer than easy river crossings.

It didn't matter whether they were healthy, pregnant, nursing, or tending toddlers. They left behind their friends, family, and familiarity because their husbands decided they needed to go West. When the man of the house decided they were going to go, they spent all of their time and resources amassing the equipment for the trip. Then, as soon as spring arrived, they hit the trail, in order to make it to their western destination before winter made the way impassable.
Mrs. Juliet Brier

Intrigued by the book, I did some more reading on the westward pioneers, and ran across the story of
the amazing Mrs. Juliet Brier, by most accounts the first non-native woman to survive traversing Death Valley. Though most records say she was born Sept 26, 1813, her tombstone puts her birthday as April 8, 1814.

Married to the sickly, self-centered Rev. John Wells Brier, Juliet was tiny: she stood no more than 5' tall and weighed less than 100 lbs. The Brier's and their 3 children -- all under 8 years old -- took the Santa Fe Trail toward the gold in CA in 1849.

When they set out from Utah, their company had 100 wagons, 250 people, and a thousand head of horses  and oxen.

Soon, though, the men started arguing over the best route, which quickly split them into smaller parties.

Reverend Briar, who was notoriously judgmental, verbose, lazy, and self-absorbed, was especially struck with gold fever. Their party met up with the "Jayhawkers" of Illinois, a small train of about 20 wagons. When they learned that the Jayhawkers were following a sketchy new route that veered south, Juliet's husband and a handful of others insisted on joining them.

It was November. Snow clouds were common. Juliet advised against striking off into the unknown. But she was overrulled.

So, their little band of about 27 wagons turned off the fairly well-traveled and well-marked Santa Fe Trail...

...into a desert they would soon name "Death Valley".

Almost immediately, they became hopelessly lost. The "map" they had was incorrect. Several in their party turned back to rejoin the Santa Fe Trail. Not the insufferably stubborn Rev. Briar, though. So, of course, his family had little choice but to continue on with him.

Within days, they ran low on water. Rev. Brier and the other men went ahead to look for water, leaving Juliet behind with the kids, the wagon, and the cattle.

Hours went by.

Brier did not return. Nor did any of the other men.

Darkness fell; the complete, utter darkness of the desert. The oxen picked up the scent of a watering hole and hurried on ahead.

Still, Brier did not return.

Juliet Brier and her boys.
So Juliet parked her 4 year old boy on her back, then crawled on the ground, relying on starlight to help her look for tracks from the oxen. Around three in the morning, she discovered her husband and the rest of the men camped by a spring.

The men of camp decreed Juliette was too small and weak. They told her and the kids to stay behind and wait for the men to send for them once they found a way out. She delivered a sermon of her own, full of enough brimstone to nix any idea of them leaving her behind.

Accounts of surviving Jayhawkers unanimously agree that tiny Juliet was the one who kept the family alive. She yoked and cared for the oxen. She attended to her husband, who became quite ill as time went on. And the mothered her three little boys, keeping them alive and safe in dire circumstances.

Not one mention is ever made of her complaining. In fact, the only incident of her raising her voice involves an ox that got caught in muddy quicksand and sank chest deep. Juliet jumped in beside it and began shoveling the muck away with her hands. She essentially shamed the men into helping her get the creature to safety.

Provisions ran out, and still the desert stretched before them. Their Christmas "dinner" -- and most other meals -- consisted of bones boiled in blood. Juliet's husband lost over 100 pounds. Juliet herself was reduced to 75 pounds.

At what is now a Historical Landmark, they burned their wagons for fuel, cooked their animals & made jerky. Four people in their party died during the journey. But Juliet was relentless in her determination to survive.

Several eyewitness accounts speak of little Juliet walking over 100 miles through the Mojave desert with a child on her back, another under an arm, holding the hand of the third, and helping her ailing husband.

Thanks to Juliet, the entire Brier family survived. She and the self-absorbed Reverend had three more children (all girls). Juliet outlived all but one of her children.

She died a few months shy of her 100th birthday. She often hosted Jayhawker reunions, but loathed the taste of jerky and refused to eat or serve it after the Death Valley experience.

*  For those interested in more details: Here's a fascinating narrative non-fiction longread about the Jayhawkers.