Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Drive-Thru Book Review: The Fitzgerald Admiration Society

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
by Susan Bell
ISBN: 978-0-393-05752-2

The previous book I reviewed was on the how of editing your own work. This title is more about the why of editing. Both the self-editing book and this one talk about The Great Gatsby as the classic example of a well-edited novel*: a fact that Bell does not fail to mention. Repeatedly. Only on going through the acknowledgments and bibliography did I discover that the author published an essay and taught a course on the subject. This would have been good to know going in, as my only memory of Gatsby is likely the one many share: being forced to read it under great duress in a high school literature class. Bell does pepper the work with some examples of before-and-after, but primarily to marvel at Fitzgerald's ability to tone and refine. Admirable, but not quite as useful to those of us who are painfully aware how far short of Fitzgerald we fall.

Chapters are:
I. Gaining Perspective
II. The Big-Picture: Macro-Editing
III. The Details: Micro-Editing
IV. Master Class
V. Servants, Dictators, Allies: A Brief History of Editors

Plus copyediting symbols, bibliography, acknowledgments, and credits. There are some practical points, though the advice is not unique to this book. What I found most interesting were interviews that Bell conducted with authors, or editors (not all copy editors), many of whom offered insights into their methods. As a whole, though, the book is more a philosophical treatise on the "art of editing" than a guideline to "the practice of editing yourself." (Oh, judging-a book-by-its-cover, how you have failed me yet again...)

I didn't dislike the book (honest, Monda!) but I'm already convinced of the need to edit and the value of re-reading and revising with an editor's eye instead of an author's. If you need to psyche yourself up to making an editing pass at your own work, this would be a worthwhile read. But if you're in the editing trenches, trying to triage your sentences, you won't find any bandages here.

* I suspect that one reason Gatsby is held up to such praise is that early revisions of manuscripts and correspondence have been preserved, and that like me, many people have been exposed to it as a Classic at some point in their lives. There may be other works that have the same documentation available, but Gatsby is slim and approachable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Levitating Dog: A True Story

I'm going to veer off-topic here for a moment to talk about my dog...

We're just shy of the first anniversary when my dog was diagnosed with the onset of congestive heart failure. (Note: this story has a happy ending.)

It had started with a persistent cough, and my wife took her in to the vet expecting to find burr stuck in the dog's mouth or throat. What she was not expecting was the vet to come back in the room wielding an X-ray and using a you-might-want-to-say-your-goodbyes voice.The dog was to go see a veterinary cardiologist that day.

One ultrasound later and we had a diagnosis. Inexplicably, our barely-seven year old dog had a drastically enlarged heart and lungs full of fluid. She wasn't choking, she was drowning. She started a course of medications that day: seven pills a day total: a diuretic to drain her lungs and two heart medications to try and halt the cardiac damage, if not repair it. With my wife and kids out of town, I was lingering at home in the mornings and rushing home at lunch to refill the dog's water dish and hope that she could wait to be let out, then rushing home in the evening to do the same. She didn't always make it, and I spent my weekends hovering around her and washing towels.

Within a week, some of the medicines were working: her cough stopped almost immediately, and follow-up ultrasounds -- which the vet graciously called "practice" scans -- showed improvement in her heart. Even more promising: her blood work came back showing a drastically low level of an amino acid used by cardiac muscle. And it turns out that the adult dog food that she had been on was lamb-based, which is particularly low in that ingredient. We switched foods and mixed in supplements bought from puzzled clerks at the vitamin store. ("No, I don't want on your mailing list. It's for my dog.")

Now we waited.

Dog Days of Argust

Flash forward six months. We're weaning off the medications. The dog is no longer sleeping sixteen hours a day. Her heart murmur is gone. Her diet of regular chicken-based dog food (high in taurine, the amino acid) and pills-in-peanut-butter has given her an extra blubber layer, but it's Christmas, and she's still with us.

Instamatic Dog

Now it's about 6:30 this morning. The dog and I are walking, avoiding the garbage trucks as they weave around our neighborhood. I'm trying to hold a 60-pound mutt back: she's pogo-sticking on her hind legs, trying so hard to levitate straight up and reach the squirrels that are taunting her from the telephone lines overhead. We walk in the mornings, when it's still cool outside and the streets are quiet. Last summer, she could barely make it one block, panting and dragging her tail at the end of the walk. Now we're going about two miles every morning, and she's still going strong by the time we come back to the driveway and pick up the paper.

Her heart is back to normal, her blood work is fine. We found adult dog food that's chicken-based, though on vet's orders she'll be on supplements for the rest of her life. Which will hopefully be a long and squirrel-filled one.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Here is the Champion, My Friends

A mini photo-essay on how I spent my day with an Underwood Champion...

First order of business was to brush out the case, douse it liberally in Lysol, and set it in the sun to ge-funk-ify. Then came lots of Quality Time wrestling the old foot-screws off so I could shell the machine. The two front feet were long gone, and the back were badly crumbling. Finally got them off after heavy application of Liquid Wrench and Salty Language, so I could perform the much-vaunted dip-and-dunk cleaning. Here's the Champion doing a little naked sunbathing in the back yard*:

Dipped, Dunked, and Drying

* That should excite the spam-bots, no?

As the guts dried, I turned my attention to the shell, rubbing it down with "Mother's Caranuba Wax Cleaner" from the auto section. Recommended on the Portable Typewriters Group, and I can see why: what a shine! The felt was in sorry disrepair, so I raided my wife's fabric bins and found remnants from an old Clifford costume. Red on black is very classy, n'est pas?

I felt that, did you?

Now dried, I spent some time squirting down the works with lighter fluid to degrease the worst spots -- the ribbon vibrator is still a tad gummy -- and check for overall cleanness. I gotta say: I'm a Dip and Dunk Believer now. As long as the machine can dry properly, it's amazing the grime it dislodged.

It took a while to get the shell back on: it's tricky, and there's lots of sticky-out parts to contend with (technical term) but the halves were rejoined at last:

Waxed and lovely

And oh, what an improvement! Here it is, right before I cleaned up my stuff and came in for dinner:

Underwood Champion, c1938

Still on the to-do list: new feet that fit better, a stubborn screw on the back panel that doesn't want to go back in, deciphering the workings of the ribbon reverse lever, maybe repairing and reattaching the alignment guard to the paper table. But the Big Stuff is done, and I think the Underwood is better for it.

Not that I didn't take a little time out to play: can you tell which one is mine?

The Garden Gallery

Friday, June 25, 2010

In Case You Didn't Already Know...

Motto of the Typosphere?

Dear Idiot Spammer (and Everybody Else)

Thanks to your amateurish spamming for your titty-site, I'm instituting comment moderation. Considering that I've got a readership far smaller than most bathroom scrawls, I can't imagine that you're getting the kind of response that you'd hoped for by your regular posts here. And since I get a copy of every comment in my email (highly recommended, by the way, fellow Bloggerites) I have been blasting your stupid links into the Point of No Return as soon as they darken my inbox.

I don't know why you've decided to pick on me: I thought you were picking up links from my flickr stream, but now you're trashing my photo-free posts, too. You're probably some badly-written bot, and I'm tired of you. So, I'm throwing up the gate for a while. Don't worry! I'll still report every single spammy post to Google and report your automated blog for abuse/spamming every time I see you.

Everybody Else: it's not like this place sees a lot of traffic, but I like to keep it as friendly and open as I can. If the 'bot gets bored/goes away, I'll drop the moderation again, but in the meantime, I apologize if your comments suddenly take longer to appear on the site. I've activated email notices for those as well now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Drive-Thru Book Review: Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How To Edit Yourself Into Print
by Renni Browne and Dave King
ISBN: 0-06-270061-8

I'm nearing the end of the digitization/first rewrite stage of my 2009 NaNovel. I'm pleased with myself, as this is the first of my three NaNo entries I've read completely and bothered to type into digital form. (I bottomed out in the first third of 2008's novel, and 2007's shall not be Spoken Of Here.) Revisiting a draft done in such a hurry is wince-inducing: beyond the obvious like fluctuating character names and all the "do in rewrite" footnotes, I find myself struggling with mixing dialog and action, wanting to spell out every character's motions in every scene, and trying to understand just what exactly is meant in writing books by "show, not tell." Self-Editing has come to my rescue.

I happened on this book two weeks ago when I was at the bookstore, flicked through the pages, and though it looked like a worthwhile read. My library had a copy, and I just finished reading through it last night. Chapters are (with my comments):

1) Show and Tell [examples of exactly that]
2) Characterization and Exposition [avoid the latter via the former]
3) Point of View [first person, third person, omniscient]
4) Dialogue Mechanics [just what it sounds like]
5) See How It Sounds [read your prose aloud]
6) Interior Monologue [how to do it]
7) Easy Beats [handling excessive "stage business" in your scenes]
8) Breaking Up Is Easy To Do [using whitespace for pacing]
9) Once Is Usually Enough [don't repeat]
10) Proportion [focus on what's important]
11) Sophistication [don't write like a novice]
12) Voice [your characters need distinction]

Each chapter presents before-and-after samples of prose, typically pulled from contemporary works (this edition dates from 1993), though peppered with illustrative text from classics. I thrive on examples, and this book did not disappoint, except for the nagging feeling that my own draft neatly illustrates almost all the "before" problems. Sigh. Exercises are presented at the end of each chapter, with an answer key in the back -- more examples, really, as they illustrate how the authors (both editors) would have refined the passages. I skimmed over these after reading the chapters in my eagerness to get to the next one.

The tone in the book is light and instructive, not scolding, and at least the first edition comes with the occasional cartoon from George Booth -- if you've flicked through a New Yorker magazine in the past decade, you've seen his work. They're not necessary, but fun (and often featuring typewriters, so hey, on-topic for the blog.) This is a very approachable work for novice and amateur writers, and I can see how applying the lessons from the chapters can make my own work tighter and more readable. Once I finish retyping it, that is.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Updates, Links and Sawbuck Restoration

It's time to sweep off the accumulated dust from my little corner of the typosphere. (Yes, I know that spheres don't have corners. Don't be picky.)
  • Restoration/recovery continues on Morticia, my snatched-from-the-curb SM3 I wrote about last week. Although I cannot say with certainty what's freezing up the works, I've a pretty good guess that it was a once-benevolent coating of oil that has since gone to the Dark Side thanks to our generally hot, dry climate in these parts. Throw in a few years of disuse, and you've got yourself a recipe for complete machine seizure. I've been picking at it in free moments, though, with my carefully-assembled toolkit (see below) and things are improving. I can move the carriage, for one, though it takes a lot of steady pressure. Many of the keys work, and all work very well when the segment is moistened with isopropyl alcohol first. In my diagnostic zeal, I managed to unfasten the drawband, but have reattached it after a mental lapse on how to tension the drum (hint: turn it the opposite way, dummy.) And I've replaced the infamous "smooshed-flat" washers underneath the body with some roughly same-sized equivalents from the auto parts store. Morticia's lovely, and burgundy, not brown as I had first guessed.
  • In one of those you're-joking-me moments, a twin machine has turned up in the hands of another type-blogger. I advise all members of the 'sphere to keep their eyes peeled for that tell-tale silver-swoopy case in their favorite thrift haunts. Two is a coincidence, but three is an invasion force.
  • Numerous typewriter-related news items -- though none regarding a vintage Germanic invasion force.

    • You've surely seen the write-up in Wired by now on Bay Area repair shops. Yes, I know that I have to make the pilgrimage at some point before they disappear. I worry about my resolve in the face of all that want, though. You folks who have made the Hajj to Blue Moon Camera are made of sterner stuff than I.
    • A brief tribute to a pretty Smith-Corona, left out to gather stray thoughts of passers-by. Every well-furnished hallway should have one.
    • A reminder that typing still holds on in some parts of the world. And yes, I I am very much a Mr. Ek Botte.
    • Rowlf the dog types! And other Muppet mayhem. I do miss Jim Henson's lunacy. Who else is playing "name that model" when they watch the video?
    • Love the following quote from this article, concerning a modern fixed-carriage machine to the ones we know and love:
      There is no click to it and I cannot adjust to that [...] You don't hear anything, even when the carriage goes back. That does not entertain me.
      Can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?
  • Big Hurrah to Little Flower Petals for finishing her draft, and Mr. Speegle for losing his mind. We knew you both had it in you. I'm still slogging through my transcription, only about forty pages left to enter! And then the editing really begins. I'm going to pretend I'm working on this by reading a book about editing, instead of actually editing my book. Likely Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which I see praised highly in various places and which my library has a copy. I'll report back on it if it's any good. (I'm holding another title as well, it just escapes me at the moment.)
  • As promised/threatened: the Sawbuck Restoration list:
As I've pointed out repeatedly, I'm cheap, cheap, cheap. Conveniently (?) I work near a dollar store, a thrift store, a craft chain store, a drug store, and an automotive supply store, so I've been compiling a collection of low budget repair-and-cleaning items for your amusement:
  • Dental tools: from the dollar store. A pair of menacing looking metal picks, a mirror on a handle, and a pair of toothbrushes: one "normal" and one with a round head. Brushes are always good to clean type faces, the metal picks are handy for digging out ink from the insides of closed letters ("e", "o", "b"), for reattaching springs, and for grabbing the end of a drawband that someone stupidly let go slack and now is wound around the drum grr grr grr.
  • Cotton swabs: from the dollar store. These are very cheap and made from bendy plastic. I've since learned that you can make your own from bamboo skewers and a bag of cotton balls. I'm using this setup to swab out the gunk from Morticia's rails. A little bit of cotton wrapped around the pointy end of the skewer will reach just about anywhere.
  • Artist's paintbrushes: dollar store, craft store, drug store. Dust's worst nightmare. Less nasty than canned air, but more time-consuming to be complete.
  • Set of small screwdrivers: dollar store again. Nothing fancy, but handy. Also the screwdrivers on my battered up Swiss army knife.
  • 35mm film cans: always save these, as they are godsends for keeping track of small parts, and can hold small amounts of your cleaning fluid of choice, when you don't feel like contaminating a whole bottle with your nasty home-made swabs. My dollar store sells film, which is great -- cheap film, free can!
  • Rubber washers: plumbing section of the hardware store if you have one handy, but I found some "wire conduit bushings" at the auto store that also did the trick. They're donut-shaped and meant to snap into metal panels to protect wires passing through, but they also make good replacement washers when exact size isn't critical (like SM3 washers near the feet.)
  • Oral syringe: free, if you ask at the prescription counter at the drug store. I had hoped for a real syringe for refilling fountain pen ink cartridges, but that was a no-go at my Walgreens, and I didn't feel like pushing the point. ("Do I look like a crackhead? Do I look like I'd do favors for crackheads?") Grab one of those little coffee-stir straws and you've got a way to drip solvents into your machine in a semi-controlled manner. Better lay down some paper towels first, though.
  • Goo Gone: from just about everywhere. An effective gunk-remover from parts, and good to remove nasty price sticker residue from machines. Also takes off ink from the ribbon vibrator, if you obsess about this like I do.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol: from the drug store. Not rubbing alcohol, which contains oils and sometimes colors and other additives. I can find the stuff that's 91% alcohol and the rest water. Very effective de-greaser, and well-behaved to a point. Try to keep it and all other cleaners/degunkers/solvents away from the rubber parts, though. It's very drying.
...and that's about it. It's not anywhere near a "real" typewriter repair kit, but it does the trick for me for the machines I pick up, which tend to be pretty operable to start with.

Oh, who am I kidding: if it's not bolted down, I'll pick it up. But at least I won't go broke trying to clean it, or hauling it in to Berkeley to pay someone else to clean it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It Followed Me Home

The hazards of a neighborhood yard sale...

I spotted a tombstone-keyed Royal Quiet DeLuxe and a gummy Olympia SM-3 over the weekend while developing a nice sunburn, walking around our multi-block yard sale. Almost picked up the Royal, but didn't as I'd have to lug it home. This morning on the way in, I spotted the Olympia in its case by the curb. It came along with me. I hope that Royal isn't being turned into jewelry.

Curbside Olympia SM-3

Still wrestling with the carriage lock on the Oly -- it won't come unstuck, which might mean escapement or carriage problems. I (mis)remembered the segment as being rusty, but it's not -- all the bars are sluggish and slow, though. I'm hoping this does not become a parts machine. But there's an Oly SM-7 being offered on Craigslist -- maybe a Twolympia-type project could happen if this one is a wash...

Friday, June 4, 2010


20100604 typecast

Meditations on facing a redo of our web tools for use by our customers.
Typed on a 1943 Hermes Baby

Hermes Baby, c 1943