Friday, September 30, 2011
The Pen and the Sword
Thirty-one years ago today, I walked into the long-since-vanished The Hampshire Room, a mom and pop stationary store on Broadway in Salem, New Hampshire, in search of the perfect pen. For the first and only time in my life, from 3 p.m. after racing home from the school bus and until 11 p.m.-ish the previous night, I wrote the opening fifty pages of a novella called "The Night...Like Death" unable to put down the felt-tip I thought would be a good, permanent-ink replacement for the banal ballpoints of my then-young writing life. I woke the following morning crippled and unable to hold a pen. While I've had plenty of twenty- and even a good many thirty-page days since (my Friday at the recent North Conway retreat among the latter), I've never repeated the fifty-page day mark, and don't want to. But what I got out of that singular experience (besides a completed manuscript that still lurks in my file cabinet and my very first case of writer's cramp) was the EUREKA! moment of understanding that a good pen is an absolute must for those of us Luddites who still compose initial drafts longhand. A great pen, even better. In The Hampshire Room, where I also bought my first copies of Writers Digest and one or two Barbara Cartland novels (loved those Dowager Marchionesses!), I'd spied lovely Shaeffer fountain pens, a bargain at a buck ninety-nine, and purchased my very first, knowing that if I was going to write long, I'd need a great pen that glided across the page to prevent further paralysis. I bought another soon after. And another. Some forty fountain pens later...
Last year in 2010, while trying to keep our small family above water after my partner of nearly ten years was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, I fell into a pattern of producing pages unlike anything I'd previously experienced. Writing was a lifeline and, in 2010, I completed 100 fiction projects -- four novels, six novellas, one short script, the rest a mix of flash and short stories, a total surpassing a half-million words. Of those hundred, I sold fifty-two, including two of the novels and most of the novellas. Writing saved not only me but my family, though there were a pair of necessary sacrifices along the course.
Two of my Shaeffer fountain pens long-last gave up the ghost and no longer work properly, their nibs damaged in that whirlwind of fresh pages. The pen presently scribbling across my notepad, belting out "The Ferryman" for submission to Neil Plakcy, its shaft a stunning shade of cobalt blue, is doing a fine job. I bought it in 1998 in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I also stocked up on replacement ink cartridges, each one a guaranteed twenty pages of creative freedom. I'm not sure they'd stand up well against the cold steel Devotchka in a sword fight, but my Shaeffers are still fairly mighty.