The physical act of writing

By Midge Raymond,

I can still remember the first story I ever wrote, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, on school notebook paper in what was then my fairly neat, legible handwriting. I think it may also have been illustrated. Perhaps because, back in my day, we still wrote high-school English papers by hand (I had a word processor in college but didn’t get my first computer until graduate school — and yes, that does make me feel old), I still often write out scenes by hand. I find writing longhand especially helpful when writing a first draft, or when polishing a close-to-final one. I’ve always loved what Natalie Goldberg says about writing by hand: “Arm connected to shoulder, chest, heart.”

But I do remember taking both computer and typing classes (on actual typewriters). And these days, nothing makes you feel quite as old as admitting you used to write by typewriter. Often, while visiting the Seattle Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, I would hear people younger than me wondering what this odd sculpture is:

(Note to young people: It’s a typewriter eraser. We use to employ these to get rid of typos before we had backspace buttons and the delete key.)

Eventually, the keyboard took the place of the pen and the notebook in my academic life, and even in my writing life. But not for long: I always continued to write by hand, whether taking notes during an interview or scrawling out an outline. And now I use some combination of the two.

Many writers are particular, even superstitious, about the way they get their words on the page. I enjoyed discovering this site featuring Authors A-Z, “an ongoing project featuring the lives, works, and typewriters of the most outstanding authors around the world.” Here, you’ll find out that Harper Lee wrote on an Underwood portable. That Joseph Heller used an SCM Smith Corona Electra. That even Joyce Carol Oates has rejected the computer: She writes in longhand, then types her notes into scenes using “a Japanese made Swintec 1000 electronic typewriter with ‘a little memory’ but no screen.”

And if you’re interested in owning a piece of these antiques, here’s even an (expensive) online store where you can browse old typewriters and jewelry made of their keys. (Check out eBay and flea markets, too.) Over the last few years, my husband and I have been picking up typewriters here and there (we have three Underwoods and and have recently added a Remington), and will probably keep adding to the collection, at least until we run out of space. Only one of ours is in any sort of working condition, but that’s not why we bought them. Even bent and broken, with sticky keys and dried-out ribbon, we think they’re pretty cool — maybe because they always look as if they’re smiling.

 

Author photos: A Q&A with photographer Rosanne Olson

By Midge Raymond,

Perhaps some authors love having their photos taken, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I was planning to use my current author photo until the end of time … until I discovered the lovely photographs of Seattle photographer Rosanne Olson.

I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.

Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, and already I’m looking forward to working with her on my new author photo (if I ever finish my next book, that is).

What do you think makes a good author photo?

The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.

What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?

People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.

What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?

Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.

What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?

Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.

Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?

Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.

Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?

An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.

For another recent conversation with Rosanne, visit poet Susan Rich’s blog (Rosanne’s photo of Susan is directly above…and above that is author Wendy Call) — and simply post a comment at the end of the article to win a copy of This Is Who I Am.

 

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On debut novels, short stories, and more

By Midge Raymond,

Given the way our culture celebrates youth (including writers), I really enjoyed this post by Randy Susan Meyers in the Huffington Post: a list of 41 writers whose debut novels were published after they turned 40 (among them: Meyers’ own book, The Murderer’s Daughters, as well as National Book Award winner Julia Glass and Pulitzer winners Paul Harding, Edward P. Jones, and Elizabeth Strout).

For those of you who love short stories (and who doesn’t?!), check out Storyville, an iPhone/iPad app that brings stories directly to your device. It’s $4.99 for six months’ worth of stories — one each week. And even better news for short story (and literary novel) readers: Andrew’s Book Club is back! And there’s already a new pick for the new year. And for both readers and writers, be sure to check out Ashland Creek Shorts, which are available on the Kindle for 99 cents — and we’re now taking submissions!

Maybe it’s our diminishing attention spans, but stories seem to be getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Along with flash fiction, micro fiction, and prose poems, we now have “hint fiction” (check out this NPR story for samples).

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, The Paris Review has made its interviews available online — an amazing series of author interviews all the way back to the 1950s.

If you draw inspiration from seeing where writers work, in the U.S. there are 73 writers’ houses open to the public, including Norman Mailer’s and Edith Wharton’s.

And did you know that for 90 percent of what we communicate, we use only about 7,000 words? We’re losing words from the English language every day, and Oxford University Press hopes to save them with Save the Words, where you can visit with long-lost words and offer up your own words for safekeeping.