Category Archives: Commentary

Fountain Pens For Writing

Prera Fountain Pen and Ink
Pen and paper is often overlooked as a method of communication. Most prefer to keyboard their written correspondence, then send it via social media, a text, or email. A pen and ink is out-dated and unneeded.

Young students do not learn to read or write cursive handwriting and make due with poor penmanship if they use paper at all. When a young student needs to learn a signature, he is often sent to an art class where the instructor teaches how to develop one.

Among adults, lack of using pens has stunted their penmanship skills. Many have forgotten how to write except for the most rudimentary of script. Cursive handwriting has become a lost art. Many people are at a loss at how it happened and wonder how they could return to having decent handwriting again.

I found myself numbered among these adults several years ago. I used my computer keyboard for most of my writing needs and seldom thought to use a pen and paper. As I returned to writing novels, I discovered that something was missing in my process. I did not retain my ideas and I had trouble brainstorming.

One day, I decided to use a workbook to help plot out book two of a trilogy. The author recommended getting a paper notebook and writing all the exercises by hand instead of using a keyboard. His method asked questions about the characters and I wrote a certain amount each day for a month. I bought my first composition book and pulled out a ballpoint and got to work. At first, the writer’s block was still with me. Within a week I realized that ideas for my book were coming quickly. When I looked back over what I had written, I could remember the details better than when I was writing on my computer. Within that month, the plot for my new novel sprang into being. I became hooked on using paper.

At that time, my handwriting was horrible. I could print, but my cursive had eroded to near unreadability. The long periods of time that I was brainstorming ideas were hard on my hand and I experienced finger cramping. I did not want to give up this new method of brainstorming on paper since it worked for me. Instead I began to explore pen options. That is when I discovered fountain pens.

Why Choose a Fountain Pen?

There are many benefits to writing with a fountain pen over a ballpoint. In writing with a ballpoint, you must exert constant pressure to the page and hold the pen at a low angle. This is what creates the hand cramping when you write for a long period of time. With a fountain pen, you use a more natural writing angle, around 45 degrees when you write. This wider angle is easier on your wrist. The fountain pen flows across the page with little resistance, no pressure needed to put ink on the page. This allows you to write for longer periods of time without cramping your hands. There are a variety of nibs to choose from to give more character to your handwriting.

Plain – This is most basic shape of a fountain pen nib. It gives a clean line in your choice of width, from very fine, fine, medium, broad, and double broad. Most people find that fine to medium will work best as a daily writer.

Italic – This is also known as a stub nib. The nib is a flat plain where it meets the page and it allows the writer to write thin and thick lines as he writes. It adds character to your handwriting with a little extra practice.

Flex – These are nibs allow their tines to widen when a small amount of pressure is applied to the nib. As the writer presses, a much wider line results.

Ink Me, Baby

Besides choosing a nib, there are around 600 different inks to choose from on the market. Some inks have unique colors, others shade between two or three colors, still others have a special shimmer that is known as “sheen”. Some inks are permanent and will last for hundreds of years without fading, others last in the sun for only a few weeks. There are even “invisible” inks that you need a UV light to see on the page. All the different brands of ink and their assortment of hues allows a writer to develop a certain look to their writing. It can make your notes distinctive unto themselves.

For me, discovering the fountain pen has aided my skills as a writer. I now create all my brainstorming notes, character sketches, and plot outlines on paper with a fountain pen. What I write never moves on the page, as it would on my computer screen, and it gives my ideas a more solid presence in my mind. For the actual writing of the drafts and editing, I move to the computer, but with far better results than I had in the past. One extra benefit to this new method is that my handwriting skills have returned with practice. I can write legible cursive and my printing is small and neat. Due to this, I’ve been gradually moving to smaller nib sizes so I can fill my pages with more notes.

Writing with a fountain pen is sheer joy. If you have not tried it for yourself, I recommending buying an inexpensive starter fountain pen. See how it might improve your own writing process.

Author Performance: IWOSC Reads Its Own

As I drove in my car toward the city of Pasadena, CA, I felt a number of emotions. The first was annoyance at the traffic, one can hardly travel anywhere in California without feeling the press of automobiles around you. The second was gratitude for the air conditioning that combated the summer heat and the third was a sense of curiosity for the event I was planning on attending that afternoon.

Twice a year, the Independent Writers of Southern California holds an open salon where members of the society read short excerpts from their novels at the independent bookstore Vroman’s. I am in love with this book and stationary shop. They sell fountain pens, ink, notebooks and Filofax binders along with the usual assortment of books. Upstairs is a lovely gift shop and a small auditorium where they host events. So while I come for their events, I also plan an extra 45 minutes afterward to shop for stationary goodies.

I have never read my work in public, I was not planning on doing so this day, but I am interested in seeing how these published authors prepared for the event, how they performed, and if it would be well attended. Perhaps one day, I might decide to read at this event myself as I gain experience as a writer and more confidence in my own reading performance.

The books being read were a range of subjects, from medical advice, to cowboy poetry, and a woman that claimed to be the ghostwriter for her cat. The event was well attended by an an audience of 40 people that fit comfortably at the Vroman’s Bookstore stage area. Before the readings, the authors circulated around the audience, passing out bookmarks, flyers and other information about their books. There was also a program listing the fourteen people would be be reading and a little information about the authors and their books.

I was impressed by the reading style of each of the authors. They made eye contact with the audience, had flourish to their voices in the manner of storytellers the world over. Afterward, they set up to sell their books to those that were interested. I noticed that many people left with new autographed books at the end of the event. This turned out to be a wonderful event for both authors and audience.

Author Gagik MelikyanAuthor Gagik Melikyan is a scientist, teacher, writer, panelist, publisher and public advocate. His non-fiction book is entitled, Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Antioxidants, Foods, Supplements, and Cosmetics. Mr. Melikyan read a short excerpt from his book, but spent most of his allotted time telling us why his book would be helpful in learning what is going on in the food industry. He had a great sense of humor and he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Karen Kondazian Karen Kondazian read from her novel The Whip which has received many awards for best historical fiction. She is also an actress who has appeared in over 50 television programs, is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio and is currently working on her second novel.

PW ConwayP.W. Conway is an author and cowboy poet. Along with his book Buckaroo Poetry, Cowboy Poems for Young and Old, he is working on a historical novel. He performs his cowboy poetry and chairty events, cowboy festivals and country fairs. He is a member of the Ventura County Cattlemen’s Association and the Simi Valley Historical Society.

The entire cast of authors that performed this day were: Mark Miller, Maryrose Smyth, Karen Kondazian, Flo Selfman, Peter Conway, Erana Leiken, Gagik Melikyan, Adolphus Ward, Janiss Garza, Daniel Lavery, Vickey Kall, Gary Young, Bo Kyung Kim, and Jon Chandonnet.
IWOSC Readers of 2014

Historical Fiction: Learning the Genre

Women on Ship (1800s)Historical Fiction is a genre that intrigues me. I was drawn to Regency and Victorian era historical fiction by my love of Jane Austen and her novels. In turn, this interest moved me into the science fiction crossover of Steampunk, a type of alternate history. The creation of a historical world is similar to the creation of a science fiction or fantasy one. Many times authors will use a past civilization to be the fuel for their own fantastical creation.

To get you started in the genre, I have listed a few sites that I have found helpful in learning the foundation of historical fiction. Let your curiosity move you through time and space and experience more of the human condition than what we live in present day. By learning of the past, perhaps we will see more of our future.

Historical Novel Society
This is an organization devoted to the historical novel. They are a collection of chapter houses throughout the United States and the UK that are supported by many online forums. The group sponsors an annual historical novel conference, hosts a contest for historical novels and short stories where the wear does win a monetary award along with recognition and offers reviews and other resources for the historical writer. Membership is $50 annually. If you are an aspiring writer of historical fiction, this may be a good place to establish yourself.

Queen Anne Boleyn
This forum website began as a new home for a closed group of Tudor reenactment from Facebook. Reenactment is not encouraged on Facebook and members found their accounts frozen from access. Another group that used the Game of Thrones theme had a similar problem. Both of these well-established groups merged into the Queen Anne Boleyn website where they could conduct their reenactments as they wished without the censure of Facebook. Soon more groups followed. Now the membership site is a wonderful resource for historical and alternate history writers, writing groups and more.

Meryton Press
Meryton Press is home to “A Happy Assembly”, a forum dedicated to fans of Jane Austen, a small press that publishes fan fiction of Jane Austen novels and a hub of writers that love regency era historical fiction. Join the happy assembly and read plenty of austen fanfiction and gain reviews of austen spin-offs you can find on Amazon.

Writing Historical Novels

A blog with a rotating staff of four, it is a place to read reviews of historical novels and other topics of interest. They accept a large number of guest writers, so the blog remains fresh and new.

A Writer of History

This is the historical novel blog of MK Todd. She gives advice on writing historical fiction as well as interviews with readers.

English History Authors

If you are looking for a source to learn more about English history by historical fiction writers who love all things British, look no further. This blog features the work of a small stable of historical fiction writers and serves not only as a place to read more about the subject, but as a promotional hub for the books written by the members.

History Refreshed

This blog by Susan Higginbotham delves into the craft of writing a historical novelist that focuses on late medieval and Tudor history. She brings up fascinating topics of discussion that all writers should consider as they develop their stories.

Austenprose

This blog is dedicated to all things Jane Austen. There are reviews of her classic novels, discussions about the author herself and a place to learn more about the multitude of Austen spin-off novels that are littering Amazon, Austen films that are engaging the modern movie scene and pop culture itself.

Reading the Past

This blog will lead you to sources about the historical fiction genre and includes book reviews and publishing news.

Stephie Smith

This is an amazing resource of links of historical resources for writers. Enter at your own risk. You will wander through this huge list of links for weeks and still not see the end of the information.

Speculative Fiction: Learning the Genre

Plunge into Space (1890)Speculative Fiction, the overall genre that encompasses Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and all their sub-genre niches, is my genre of choice. Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of novels in this genre. Even so, it is difficult to keep up with the trends of present day writing. To keep informed, I frequent many sites, guilds, blogs and forums on the subject. If you are an aspiring speculative fiction writer, you will find these sites to be a good resource for you. The only way to learn about a genre is to dive in and read about it. I’ve made a list of some of my favorites below.

SFWA is the site for the Science Fiction Writers of America. This is a guild for published authors only. They have strict guidelines for joining based on where and the dollar amounts that you have sold. SFWA has a newsletter, hosts the Nebula and Hugo awards and members are able to vote for the winners. As an aspiring science fiction and fantasy writer, it is a place to be aware of and consider joining once you have a few publishing credits to your name.

Del Rey Suvudo A site dedicated to the latest news and happenings in the science fiction universe. There is plenty to read here, from the fan to the professional. You will spend hours reading many great articles about books, television, movies and all things speculative fiction related.

Tor Books is a publisher of science fiction and fantasy. Their site is an enormous resource of blog posts, links, original fiction and more. I find the book and television reviews to be particularly good. Reading them gives me a better grasp on current trends in the genre.

Locus is the trade magazine of the science fiction and fantasy publishing world. If you are an author in the genre, subscribe to keep up with what is going on in publishing.

SSFWorld.com An active forum dedicated to all the latest news of science fiction and fantasy fandom. If you have a favorite SF television program, favorite author or just want to learn more about the genre, this is a great place to start.

SFF Net is home to many authors, publishers, media pros, and consumers of genre fiction. While the site is not as extensive as others, you will see many famous science fiction and fantasy authors connected with this site. It is worth checking out as a resource.

Science Fiction Chronicles is a United Kingdom based forum for science fiction and fantasy. It is a large and active forum with members from all over the world. They count published authors, editors and agents among their membership and have an extensive community of aspiring authors.

Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists is a writing advice blog maintained by a group of successful genre writers. The posts are frequent and go back several years. It is a free source of information to learn more about the genre and the ins and outs of being a writer.

This is Horror is a UK based blog with many articles and interviews that feature the genre of Horror. It is a good site to help you keep up on the latest news in this niche genre.

The Horror Writer’s Association is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals from all over the globe who are dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. There is an extensive amount of information on the genre that is available to the public at large, but if you intend to write in the horror genre, it would be a great place to network and get established as a horror writer. HWA is the sponsor of the annual Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror literature and they present an annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

Back It Up! A Good Habit For Authors

Wicked Witch Thumb DriveWhen I first started writing, my instrument of choice was a Selectric typewriter that sat on our formal dining room table. I had stacks of white paper, typewriter ribbons, and bottles of white-out at ready. Being only a teenager, I did not realize that you needed to make at least one copy of your work at the local copy center before you submitted your work to publishers. I was isolated without other writers to speak to about the craft and no one in my family had contracted this madness that we call writing. I made the mistake of sending off the one and only original copy of my second novel to Ace Publishing. They held it for eight months. I was put in the position that if they lost the manuscript or if it got lost in the mail, I would have lost two years of work. The troubles we create for ourselves when we are 17! I wrote a plea to Ace, asking them to return the manuscript and two weeks later it arrived with a rejection letter. I never sent the novel out again.

Technology and the world has changed a great deal from my days of typing away on the dining room table. Most of us do the bulk of our writing on computers or tablets. Yet, many of the backup practices that I should have used as a teenager are still useful today, just in slightly different forms. Don’t be caught as I was. Back up your work.

Since we all live in a digital age, creating a simple paper copy of your work and storing it in a file cabinet is not the only option for backing up our stories as it was in the past. I still do this back up method with the final revisions of my work as a last resort. Paper can be stable for decades, even a century or two given good storage practices, with the exception that it is susceptible to fire and other natural disasters. What I like about the paper method is that I can put each story into a file folder with a label and I know that the words there will never change. It has a certain finality in its physical presence that I find comforting.

My writing program of choice is Scrivener. In addition to its intuitive way of supporting my writing style, it also has many ways to automatically back up your work. Every two seconds, or if you stop writing for a moment, Scrivener will automatically back up your current project file. It is not necessary to click on save, as you once had to with Word or other word processors of the past, it takes care of that basic function for you. Every time you close the program, it creates a backup copy of your file in another folder in addition to the regular backup of your project file. You can also set Scrivener to do a dated backup of your project file into Dropbox. This means that you have two copies of each project on your home computer and one in the cloud. All of this is done automatically by Scrivener, once you have set everything up, you can forget that it is there and know that a basic backup system is in place. I have the habit of closing Scrivener at the end of the day. This insures that I have a new trio of backups of whatever project file I’m working on that day.

In addition to the backups that Scrivener does, I also backup my current projects to a thumb drive that hangs behind my writing desk on a lanyard. I do this backup once a week when I’m drafting during Nanowrimo. During this time, I have thousands of words coming into my Scrivener writing program from different sources: my Alphasmart Neo, a laptop and sometimes my souped up NEC MobilePro 800. It would be very easy to lose files during this time. The extra step of the thumb drive gives me added protection in case I have a hardware crash on the way to the coffeehouse or if a virus takes over my computer and wipes things out. It is digital, but off line, much like my cloud backup is. I would not completely rely on a thumb drive because the device only has a shelf life of around seven years. They are prone to destruction due to heat, such as happens in your car on a hot summer day. My main thumb drive stays in my purse and my studio back up remains here in my home where it is not subject to excessive heat.

A final method of backup is the old-fashioned CD Rom or DVD. I do not use these for the backing up of drafts and revisions, I tend to leave that on the cloud, thumb drive, and on my computer, but when I make a paper copy of a completed final draft, I also put a digital copy onto a CD Rom and store it in my bank box. Our bank is far enough away that if a fire took my home, my CD Roms would be safe at the bank. CDs are small enough that you can tuck a couple of them into a bank box with ease. They are also more stable than thumb drives in my opinion. If you would rather not take on the expense of a bank box, sending a CD Rom to a family member that lives in a different location than yourself is also an option.

Backing up your work as an author is important. In our modern age of computer hardware failure and virus attacks, our information is unsafe in storage. Do not let yourself be caught with losing months or years of your work. Make sure you have several methods of saving your writing in place. Have a good labeling system that allows you to see what are revisions and what is a final version. Make backing up a regular habit.