O Wondrous Machine!

I’ve written of my love for the woodcased pencil and the mechanical pencil. When it comes to writing instruments, for me, these are great loves indeed. But an even greater love is that which I have for the Wondrous Machine, the term Henry Purcell used for the king of instruments, the organ, is the one I use for the king of writing instruments: the fountain pen.

The fountain pen, the Wondrous Machine, was the 19th century’s attempt to make the steel dip pen an easily portable tool.

In the 19th century and earlier, if you wanted to take your pen along on a trip, you didn’t just shove it in your pocket. You packed a traveling writing desk with ink, paper, quills and pen knife, or steel pen and holders. The box was not a small affair either. A Google search gave me two boxes 14x10x5 inches, or 35x25x12 cm. It’s no wonder Anthony Trollope used a pencil when taking the train to work.

And just imagine trying to write with the box on your lap (yes, the first lap desk) and an open bottle of ink. Speaking of disasters waiting to happen!

The history of the reservoir pen goes all the way back to the 10th century. However, none of the early attempts to create a reservoir pen were overly successful due to the messy process of filling the pen, clogs due to sediment containing corrosive inks, and leaking.

In the 1850s, the first fountain pens appeared which had iridium-tipped gold nibs (for durability) and hard rubber bodies (for ease of manufacture). The first free-flowing inks also appeared in the 1850s. By the 1880s, fountain pens were being massed produced. However, they were still very prone to leak and had to be filled with an eyedropper. An often messy instrument with which to try to write.

By 1908, the leakage problem was solved by using a screw-on cap with an inner cap that sealed around the nib. The self-filling pen appeared around 1900. The most popular was Conklin’s crescent-filler (beautiful pens) until W.A. Sheaffer patented the lever-filling mechanism in 1912.

From the 1920s through the 1950s, the fountain pen was king. But we humans are never satisfied. Even the self-filling fountain pen with the safety cap proved to be occasionally messy and would sometimes leak. Then in the 1950s the first viable ballpoint pens were introduced and in the next decade the fountain pen was finally dethroned as king of writing instruments and in the 1970s relegated to a very distant second place.

So why write with something that could be considered as obsolete technology? That is a very good question. I write with a fountain pen for these reasons:

  • A fountain pen works best using a light grip and with light pressure on the nib. Capillary action transfers the ink from the nib point to the paper. A ballpoint pen requires pressure to get the ball rolling, so to speak.
  • Fountain pen ink has superior writing qualities to the petroleum-based paste used in ballpoint pens. Fountain pen ink helps make the entire writing experience a smooth one.
  • The variety of ink colors strains the imagination compared to what is available in ballpoints.
  • I have much less occurrence of tendonitis using a fountain pen than I have using a ballpoint, or even a pencil for that matter.

I prefer vintage fountain pens because by and large their nibs are superior to those on modern pens. My favorite pen is a 90 year old Conklin crescent-filler. The nib is butter smooth and has a slight spring to it which gives an eye-pleasing line variation.

I encourage you to give a fountain pen a try. If you are interested in doing so, check out the Fountain Pen Network. You may also write to me via the comment or contact forms.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #13

We cannot today imagine the luxurious air travel that was once the standard for travelers. The world’s first airline was the DELAG, founded on 16 November 1909. The airline used Count Zeppelin’s rigid airships. By the time World War I began, DELAG had carried over 34,000 passengers on almost 1600 commercial flights. While there were a couple accidents, no passengers were killed and only one was injured. The accommodations were spacious and passengers were served food and drinks by a steward.

After the war, airship travel became legendary and easily equalled if not surpassed the luxury provided by any ocean liner of the day. The Hindenburg even had a bar and smoking lounge and on its first year of operation, a grand piano. Showers were also available for passengers.

But fixed wing, heavier than air, seaplanes almost rivaled the airships in comfort during the years between the world wars. The Boeing Clippers and the Dornier DoX interiors look like lounges in a fancy bar compared to today’s plane seating where one feels like a squished sardine in an overstuffed can.

After World War II, plane travel in the 1950s kept to the earlier tradition and transoceanic flights even offered sleeping accommodations for passengers.

The question one must ask one’s self is, what happened? My guess is airlines chose profit over passenger comfort.

In today’s snippet from my forthcoming novel, The Golden Fleece Affair, we get a taste of what flying used to be like. Admiral Rosendahl explains why the Argo is flying around Chicago and then Lady Dru describes breakfast, airship-style. Our snippet:

“I’d rather fly around a storm, than through one. Makes for a smoother ride,” he said.

When I woke Sunday morning, Detroit was behind us and we were over Lake Erie. Lakehurst was before us and the completion of the first leg of our journey. Breakfast was continental-style and we served ourselves from a table loaded with pastries, rolls, jam, marmalade, fruit, soft boiled eggs, toast, coffee, and tea.

To our surprise, Jake Branson brought out a portable record player and a stack of records. Being Sunday morning, he started with a Bach cantata and one of Handel’s Chandos Anthems. After the sacred concert, we listened to works by Chopin and Elgar and songs by the famous tenor Mario Lanza.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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You Have To Work It – Part 2

Last week I wrote about Michael Tamblyn’s Tweets against Amazon’s attempt to secure a better bottom line for itself vis-a-vis the publisher Hachette.

This week I want to focus on what author’s can do to help themselves. My focus will be on Indie Authors, because I’m an Indie Author and I’m sharing things I’ve learned along the way.

My friend, author C. L. Schneider, told me about a fantastic Indie Author co-op, IndieBooksBeSeen, started by Mark Shaw.

There are other groups to help Indie Authors gain visibility, but a number charge money to join or access their services. IndieBooksBeSeen is a cooperative. Indie Authors coming together to support each other and to promote each other’s books. Supporters use the hashtag #indiebooksbeseen on Twitter to signal others to retweet the tweet to their followers.

To my mind, that is the beauty of IndieBooksBeSeen: support and do a good turn for others, who will do a good turn for you.

The indie organizations which charge membership fees to do the same thing are more like clubs or businesses. And for some authors, that may work fine for them. For me, I have limited money and I don’t want to pay for something I don’t have to. Someday, maybe I will. Not today.

Having been actively involved with co-operatives over the years, I find the co-op principle more to my liking. A co-op is a community. And that is what I like about IndieBooksBeSeen. It’s also what I like about co-ops in general. A community of people who help each other and in the process help themselves.

In today’s publishing world, the big publishers, to maximize profits, have dispensed with things such as proofreaders and the slush pile. Agents have taken on some of these roles and writers have to now pay for others. In addition, few agents will take on a new unpublished author unless he or she has a thriving platform from which to promote his or her books. Why? Because advertising dollars go to the established big money authors. Not newbies.

If I have to get my own editor and proofreader, and work out my own advertising campaigns, why do I want to settle for a 10% royalty, from which my agent will take 15% right off the top? Doesn’t make good business sense to me.

This is where networking through a co-op such as IndieBooksBeSeen becomes a boon to the new and even established writer. You get 60% or 70% royalty and the help of your friends to sell your books. The cost? You help them sell theirs. After all, it is what friends are for: companionship and help when needed.

Let me know what you think about networking.

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #12

In today’s snippet of the forthcoming second Lady Dru novel, The Golden Fleece Affair, we get her reaction to learning that not only is the mythical Golden Fleece real, but media mogul Walter Ramsey Hall wants Dru and Karl to get it for him. He’s terminally ill and wants the fleece to cure his sickness and give him long life.

Dru and Karl were in the Soviet Union only last year (The Moscow Affair) and have no desire to go back. The country has descended into civil war and been invaded by Hitler and Mussolini, who are backing the Czarists.

Here are our 8 sentences for today:

Neither of us said anything. I, for one, had no desire to go back to Russia. Besides, everyone and his aunt and uncle wanted the damn thing. As sure as I love Karl and the sky is blue, there was going to be a lot of shooting and bloodletting over this hunk of wool. Not something I wanted to be in the middle of.

He looked at us, undoubtedly guessing we weren’t excited about the assignment. He simply said, “I won’t play hardball, Karl, Dru. I am asking you, as a friend, to do this for me.”

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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10 Worst Screen Characters

On this mostly gray Saturday, I was minding my own business struggling through Federal and State tax forms, when I noticed once again I was tagged by that sublime Brit, Crispian Thurlborn, for another game of 10 screen characters. This time the 10 worst. It took me awhile, because when I don’t like the characters I stop watching. Usually. But after much thought and help from my wife, I came up with 10. They are all pretty awful, so in no particular order, here we go:

1. Ronald Merrick, played by Tim Pigott-Smith, in The Jewel in the Crown


2 and 3. Captain Picard and William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation



4. Tilo, played by Aishwarya Rai, in The Mistress of Spices


5. Willy Wonka in the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ugh!


6. Sherlock Holmes in PBS’s Sherlock. Awful, just awful.


7. The Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Great for getting a good night’s sleep.


8. Katniss in The Hunger Games trilogy. Couldn’t stand her in the books, either.


9. Edward in Twilight. Double Ugh!


10. Bella Swan in Twilight. She could actually be in the running for all time worst.



Oh, the ignominy of it all. Gads!

My tags will be on Twitter.

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You Have To Work It – Part 1

The other day I ran across Michael Tamblyn’s October 2014 Twitter blast against Amazon. Mr Tamblyn is the new president of Kobo. I’m very sympathetic with Mr Tamblyn’s position. After all, I’m an indie author and it takes guts to go up against the 800 pound gorilla terrorizing the block.

I tweeted the article at the above link when I discovered it because I think we Indie Authors (and really all authors) need to keep in mind publishers and book distributers and booksellers (this includes Amazon) are not our friends. They are businesses whose purpose is to make money off authors to profit the owners of the business. Which was Mr Tamblyn’s point about Amazon and Hachette and by extension how Amazon may end up treating Indie Authors.

For centuries, writers have been given short shrift by book and magazine publishers. This is well documented and a search via your favorite search engine will produce reams of virtual paper. But some examples.

    • Low pay to authors
    • Publishers retaining the rights to an author’s work and binding the author to the publisher via restrictive contracts.
    • Remaindering books when sales are low. Often as soon as 6 months after publishing.
    • No marketing of the author’s work.
    • Limited print runs and even limited distribution.

For the most part, authors just put up with it because they had few to no options. Mark Twain started his own publishing company. Almost no author had those kinds of resources back in the day.

Then along came the digital age and self-publishing became a viable reality. Authors, who once upon a time may have never seen print, now had their work out before the public — letting the marketplace and not some editor determine the worthiness of the work.

At first, Amazon rode the wave and encouraged the wave. Now, however, they want to apparently control the wave. Which Indie Authors clearly saw last year in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and KDP Select programs. Money. It’s all about the money. No business is altruistic. Businesses exist to make a profit.

What we authors have to realize is we are a business, as well. It is about the money. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t charge a dime for any of our books. We’d give all of them away for free. We are a business and as a business, we authors need to look to our bottom lines. We need to jealously protect our profit margins.

Linda Gillard’s post is a poignant example of an author’s treatment by traditional publishing. She was dumped by her publisher because she didn’t make the house enough money. Now she self-publishes and makes money for herself. Authors need to profit from their work. Not the middle man.

I have no personal bone to pick with Amazon. The company often offers what I need at a good price. I don’t have unlimited funds. I have to watch my wallet. And because I have to watch my wallet, as an author I have to remind myself the company is not my friend. Amazon lets me self-publish because they want their share of the money I make on selling my books. Hence Mr Tamblyn’s warning. However if Kobo was in Amazon’s place, I wonder if Mr Tamblyn would have sent out those Tweets? You see, he stands to profit by wooing Indie Authors away from Amazon. Getting Indie Authors to diversify. And fear is a great motivator.

Right now I’m exclusive with Amazon and have benefited some from the borrows. But when one puts all of one’s eggs into one basket, one is at the mercy of the basket.

I agree with Mr Tamblyn and am rethinking my current exclusivity with Amazon. Maybe it is wiser to give up the income from the borrows in order to diversify in the marketplace.

There are many other avenues one can stroll down to sell one’s books. Smashwords, Lulu, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, Drive Thru Fiction, and more springing up everyday. Shoot, with all the social media channels out there one could sell direct from one’s website.

Today Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla. Tomorrow? Who knows? But we authors must remember business is about making money for the owners. And they don’t really care about us. Behind every wannabe author, there are always other wannabe authors.

Next week, in part 2, I’ll write about how I think authors need to proceed to protect and promote their interests. As always, feel free to comment and share your opinion.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #11

Today’s snippet picks up from last Sunday’s. Inquiring minds wanted to know what Dru and Dunyasha were going to do with their pistols. Today we find out. The Argo, which is the former USS Los Angeles, is under attack by a pair of Soviet built biplanes. The airship is inflated with hydrogen, which makes for a potentially dangerous situation. But as Dru points out, it is difficult to shoot down a hydrogen filled airship. Everything has to be just right.

So here is today’s snippet. Once again, Dru and Dunyasha are in the thick of the action.

A second biplane appeared and opened fire, the bullets hitting above us.
“They’re going for the gas cells,” I said.
“Operation Barbecue,” Dunyasha shot back.
“Probably not. It’s pretty difficult to shoot down an airship. Even one filled with hydrogen.”
I took careful aim and, as the plane banked to avoid hitting us, emptied the magazine of the Sauer. Dunyasha did likewise with her Luger. A futile attempt.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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10 Favorite Screen Characters

So there I was typing away on my third installment in The Rochport Saga, when Crispian Thurlborn tags me on Twitter to name my 10 favorite screen characters. It took me a while, but I came up with 10.  Here they are in no particular order:

Dracula played by Bela Lugosi



Lara Croft played by Angelina Jolie


Captain Kirk played by William Shatner


Indiana Jones played by Harrison Ford


Agent Carter played by Hayley Atwell


Sherlock Holmes played by Basil Rathbone


Stevens played by Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day


Maria played by Brigitte Helm in Metropolis

metropolis-helm maria-large

Selene played by Kate Beckinsale in Underworld


Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet



Now that my list is complete, I’ll be back on Twitter playing tag.

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The Fabulous Mechanical Pencil

A while back, I wrote about my love of the woodcased pencil. Today, I wish to share my love of a wonderful little machine: the mechanical pencil. Or as my friends across the pond might call it, the propelling pencil.

The earliest extant example we have of a mechanical pencil was found on board the wreck of the H.M.S. Pandora, which sank in 1791. And we thought Pandora was only about music.

There are two basic types of mechanical pencils: those that hold and propel the lead forward and those that merely hold the lead.

The simpler of the two is the lead holder or clutch pencil. It is basically a tube that holds a length of lead. The leads for these pencils range from 2mm (which is standard woodcase pencil lead thickness) up to 5.6mm. When I was in high school drafting class, I used a lead holder. We sharpened the lead on a sandpaper pad. One can buy lead pointers, which are like pencil sharpeners. I prefer the sandpaper pad.

I have only one lead holder, but I use it fairly frequently. It’s an old Faber-Castell Locktite 9800 SG. It uses 2mm lead. My favorite lead is the Staedtler 4B Mars Carbon Lead. It puts down a nice black line without a lot of pressure. My second favorite are the Koh-i-Noor 3B or 4B leads.

Next to a woodcased pencil, I like a lead holder. It is ultra simple and one doesn’t have the wood shaving mess.

The propelling lead mechanical pencil is what most folks are familiar with. Their advantage is line uniformity and choice of fine line widths. You can get mechanical pencils in widths from 1mm all the way down to .2mm.

My favorite mechanical pencil is a Reform .5mm, which, sadly to say, is no longer made. I picked up 3 from Pendemonium when they had a bunch of new old stock available for sale some time ago. I’m glad I did. This is what it looks like:


The pencil is fairly wide. A small hand probably wouldn’t feel comfortable holding it. My hands aren’t large, yet the pencil just feels right when I hold it. The weight though is not heavy at all. It has the same feel as any other mechanical pencil.

Running a very close second to the Reform is the Pentel Orenz .2mm pencil. To protect the ultra-fine lead from breaking, Pentel created a special lead support system. The lead stays within the extended tube, which has a rounded end. One writes with no lead showing and it works wonderfully. The size is the same as any other standard mechanical pencil on the market. I love the super fine line it produces. I use the B grade lead to get a darker looking line.

When writing my initial draft, I prefer a pencil. I feel when I use a pencil, maybe because the line can be erased, I’m not locked in to what I’ve written. I’m free to change what’s on the page. Using ink, I get the feeling what I wrote is more permanent. Of course nothing is permanent. However, that slight psychological shift either nudges my creativity or hinders it.

For me, composing at the keyboard doesn’t produce my best work. I’m not a fast typist and my fingers can’t keep up with the flow of my thoughts. I’m also not the most accurate and making mistakes disrupts the creative flow. I get too hung up on how it looks on the virtually typed page instead of getting the thoughts on the virtual paper.

Using a pencil, allows my hand to keep up with my thoughts and knowing I’m using a pencil allows me to be messy if I have to in order to get the creative flow on paper. Nothing is set in stone with a pencil. I can change it, improve it, perfect it.

If you have a favorite mechanical pencil, share it with us.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #10

The zeppelin Argo is on the last leg of its journey to the country of Georgia, known in ancient times as Colchis. The land of the Golden Fleece. Lady Dru and company will land in Georgia and attempt to find and retrieve the Golden Fleece for Mr Walter Ramsey Hall.

However, the fun is only just beginning. In today’s snippet, the Argo is flying over Turkey and is attacked by two Soviet built biplanes. Dru and her friend Dunyasha run to their cabin to retrieve their pistols. While getting them we hear their conversation. Here is today’s snippet:

We heard more machine guns firing.
“Is this gas bag armed?” Dunyasha asked. “Because that wasn’t only the planes shooting.”
“Knowing Mr Hall, as I do, I’d say Argo is armed.”
“I love that man,” Dunyasha said with a huge smile on her face. “And those bastards better not hurt my champagne.”
We ran back to the lounge, opened a window on the starboard and looked out. Argo’s engines were roaring and she was on a steep climb.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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