Archive for the ‘Fountain Pens’ Category

I’ve given up buying cheap fountain pens simply because they’re cheap and unique looking.  These are, mostly, Chinese fountain pens and I haven’t had a spit of luck with them.  There’s a Baoer Eight Horses, a pen with an attractive metal (silver, gold or copper finish) barrel decorated with the images of running horses.  Cheap at $6.99 plus shipping, it hasn’t written well since it came in the door.  There’s a Baoer 388, a knock-off of a Parker Sonnett–$6.39, if I remember correctly.  It writes well, once the nib is primed, but that can take some work.  The pen drawer holds a couple of Hero fountain pens which are more stubborn than a tax collector.

Veering away from the Chinese pens, there’s a Noodler’s flex pen, which might flex if I could get it to write well and a pretty little pen from Danitrio’s bargain basement department that’s so stingy with ink, it won’t let a drop go.  There are a couple of Pilot 78G’s, which would write well enough I guess if I bothered to use them, but really, why use them when I have fine-nibbed pens that write better and are of better construction? (I don’t count the Pilot 78G broad nib, which has a stub/italic nib that is really neat and worth more than the $15 I paid for it.)

I haven’t spent a lot of money on these pens, but the fact is I could have saved the money and put it toward one pen of much better quality, whether it was a vintage Sheaffer, a TWSBI or a user grade Parker 51.  When I started collecting fountain pens I was attracted by anything/everything. I’m more focused now.  Fewer pens are coming in the door, and those are pens that will write well and mean something to me.

Latest purchase:  a matte black Sheaffer Targa, fine nib.  Cost: not much more than all the pens above that I just can’t use.


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I met my March goal–by the skin of my teeth.  Things became more interesting in the second chapter when I paused, looked it over, and went back to the start and re-wrote one of the main characters as the arrogant asshole he can sometimes be.  I’d started out with him calm and professional and that was, let’s face it, dull.  I’m going back through the chapters polishing them up.  The follow chapter is substantially written already.   It was one of the first parts of the story to be written.  It needs some heavy editing though.

I am also  contending with a large brown girl cat who keeps walking back and forth across the desk.  When she pauses, it’s right in front of the monitor.  A squeak tells me it’s time for dinner.  I’d really rather her uncle get on the desk.  He at least will settle down on the corner with his feet tucked under him and stare at me calmly and patiently.  I don’t want her brother up here because, at 23 pounds, he takes up more than his share of space.  He likes to sprawl…

Pen of the day:  Waterman Charleston (ivory)

Ink:  Waterman Blue-Black

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The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep

Seventy years ago, the Sternwood’s Packard was found washing around in the surf off Lido Pier. When the cops pulled the car out, they found the throttle was set half-way down. Inside the car–Owen Taylor, dead from the impact of a blunt instrument. Who killed the Sternwood’s chauffeur? Did Taylor, who loved the General’s nymphomaniac daughter Carmen, kill Arthur Geiger, a blackmailer who had incriminating photos of Carmen?

When Howard Hawks began filming Raymond Chandler’s crime noire masterpiece, The Big Sleep, he realized that the book never resolves the question of who killed Owen Taylor. Scriptwriter William Faulkner couldn’t figure it out either. The two of them must have poured through Chandler’s convoluted tale of corruption and greed searching for the answer. Finally, Hawks called Chandler. “Who killed Owen Taylor?” “Hell if I know,” Chandler replied.

Seventy years ago, Raymond Chandler penned one of the masterpieces of American detective fiction in three months.  With broad strokes he lined out the plot of a dying man who tries to buy his wastrel youngest daughter out of a jam; of his oldest daughter, smart but jaded, addicted to gambling; of Philip Marlowe, the honorable but world-weary detective who has to dig beneath what he’s told to find out the real mystery Sternwood has hired him to solve.  In the film Vivian Sternwood would be played by Lauren Bacall, in one of her greatest roles opposite Humphrey Bogart, the actor who brought Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to life.

So who killed Owen Taylor?  Eddie Mars, who ran a casino and had his fingers in half a dozen other illegal pies? Joe Brody, a small time hood playing in a game bigger than he could handle, or Carol Lundgren, Geiger’s gunman lover?  Does it matter?  Mysteries go unsolved every day.  In this respect, The Big Sleep mirrors real life.

There Raymond Chandler sits, late at night, hammering away at a typewriter creating possibly the best piece f American detective fiction ever written–in 90 days.  Handing it to his editor and maybe, with a shrug, remembering that Owen Taylor’s murder remained unsolved.  “Hell,  lots of murders don’t get solved,” Philip Marlowe might have said.

I fuss and quibble over a plot and a timeline, worrying about getting all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted.  Frustrated, I put everything on index cards and start shuffling.  I wonder if Raymond Chandler ever shuffled index cards or worried about whether whether every block in the puzzled fitted together.  Somehow, I know he didn’t.  Raymond Chandler didn’t need no stinkin’ index cards, he just wrote, arriving at the conclusion like Philip Marlow finding a answer to a question that wasn’t asked (what General Sternwood really wanted from Marlowe wasn’t strong-arming Arthur Geiger, but finding out what happened to Rusty Regan) by a mixture of cunning and intuition.

But–that’s Raymond Chandler for you.  I just use index cards.

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Yes, I write with fountain pens, therefore I’m odd. This was made clear to me recently when a friend asked about my fountain pens and how I used them. I said I kept a journal with them, that I write fiction and non-fiction and draft my ideas with pen and paper. I said that I like the history of pens and the feel of good paper.

Parker 51, midnight blue w/gold cap

Parker 51, midnight blue w/gold cap

She honed in on the word “journal” and sped off on a tangent. “You can keep one on your computer, you know.” Amazing. Who woulda thunk it?

Yes, I know about computers, and Word for Windows and blogging. I even know about a little remembered program called Qedit, which was my first word processor back in the days when Peter Norton had hair. (Okay, Peter Norton still has hair, but he doesn’t have Norton Utilities anymore, does he?) She charged ahead, talking about how she kept a diary on her computer, so convenient for putting in photos of the kids and vacation snapshots, and emailing parts of it hither and yon.

I listened and, although I managed to get one or two words in, it was plain; I was missing the boat. Why use pen and paper when a computer and software can make writing easier, more flexible and, certainly, more decorative!

So, this is it, this is why I at times choose to use fountain pens and paper. Much of my life is already electronic. Sometimes I think more of me is bound up in digital 1’s and 0’s than is good for anyone. Computers are part of my work–reports, accounting, correspondence, online research. When I’m in the office, I’m in front of a computer. I moderate an online forum for an international singer. My electronic footprint is on the forum everyday. I maintain a website for said international recording artiste; more 1’s and 0’s expended into cyberspace. I keep two blogs.

I have enough “digital” in my life already. Pens and paper are my way of escaping from the digital and scurrying back to analog safety. I like the feel of putting pen and ink to paper. It’s solid, grounded, creative. It’s a return to a more studied, thoughtful pace. The feel of writing on good paper is a tactile pleasure. In this increasingly digital world, I find myself turning more frequently to fountain pens and paper as a way to untie myself from the computer.

Computers, pens, paper–they’re tools. No one tool is right for every job, and sometimes the best tool for the job is not the electronic box sitting on the floor by the desk.

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I have a goal: complete two chapters of a mystery/thriller I’m writing by the end of March.  Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming could pen entire novels in three months, but they didn’t have my family to contend with, they didn’t have flu for a week, or the increased work load brought on by a declining economy.

It’s inevitable that whenever I ensconce myself in my little home office to write, that something (in the form of a husband usually) wanders in demanding instant attention and answers to critical questions.  Where’s the big flashlight?  (I don’t know, I never use it.) What’s this charge on the credit card statement? (This has to be answered now?).  Things would fine if I could answer the question and that was it, but no.  As sure as night follows day and Roma Ryan penned Orinoco Flow, hovering follows, a sense that we must converse on something else! 

It’s not that I don’t want to answer questions or converse, I just want to do it later!   J.K. Rowling was lucky that she was divorced when she started Harry Potter No. I.  If she had been married, she never would have gotten to No. 7.  One of my favorite authors is mystery writer Sue Grafton.  If you go to Sue’s website, you’ll find photographs of her office.  You look at those photos and just know that Sue is never bothered by family distractions, credit card chatter or requests to find tools that she never uses. 

I have a goal.  I’m sure I’m going to meet it, but being an amateur writer dealing with all the distractions of the family republic doesn’t make it easy.

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PhotobucketI got real excited when I heard about Staples new line of environmentally friendly composition books, legal pads and loose-leaf filler paper, made of pulped bamboo waste. My eyes drifted to the kitchen window with its view of an acre of formerly ornamental bamboo growing wild in the ravine behind our house. Could paper products be the answer to our prayers? My mind was filled with the idea of selling the invasive crop to a paper factory to be ground up and turned into cheap, fountain-pen friendly paper! Maybe we could finally build that deck over the ravine without fear that it would be swallowed up by 20-foot tall stalks that look like they came straight out of Day of the Trifids.

Alas, I found out the eco-easy line is not made from bamboo waste, but pulped sugar cane (bagasse) waste. Hell, another opportunity blown. I can’t even get the panda keepers at the zoo interested in our bamboo crop. It’s the wrong kind of bamboo.

However, I degress. The fact is, I went to Staples and picked up one of the $2.49 eco-easy composition notebooks, and I’m impressed with its quality. This inexpensive paper is not what you want to use to write a letter to your grandmother thanking her for gifting you the family heirloom silver. It doesn’t have the archival properties to use for writing that you want to keep for a long time, such as a journal. However, for every day use as a project notebook or to keep on the desk to jot down notes, this cheap, fountain pen friendly, paper may be just about perfect.

The Cover: I’m not a fan of the junior high school composition books with those black and white marbled covers and the wide spaced lines. The cover of the eco-easy composition books is heavy, rough, brown stock. The thick fibers in the card stock give it a nice texture. Overall, it has a plain-brown-paper wrapper sense of efficiency. The covers come in several simple designs, which do not detract from the sturdy, functional look. I picked a notebook with a with a single flowing light green leaf of a sugar cane. The cardstock covers are stiff enough to make the notebook usable hand-held or balanced on your knee. The 100 pages are stitched into the cover. In a pinch, you can fold paper and cover back on itself to write

Paper: The paper is thin, almost airmail weight, with an extremely smooth surface. It’s a soft white paper with light brown lines. Staples eco-easy products are made with environmentally friendly vegetable inks, which is nice, although I never thought ink was an environmental hazard.

PhotobucketPen and Ink Test: I tested the paper with two pens I use frequently and several inks: a Waterman Carene with a medium-fine cursive italic nib and Private Reserve Midnight Blues ink; a Waterman Charleston with a medium nib, loaded with Mont Blanc black; the Carene again with Waterman Havana Brown and South Sea Blue ink. Despite the very smooth surface, ink went onto the paper without feathering and dried quickly, perhaps more quickly than on the paper of the Apica A610 journal that I use.

The Carene with Private Reserves Midnight Blues ink is something of a dry writer on most papers. Its performance on the eco-easy composition book paper was outstanding. It was extremely smooth on the paper, leaving a wetter and wider line than normal. Amazing-a $130 pen with a $50 customized nib flees from Rhodia and Apica paperstock to find happiness with a store-brand $2.50 notebook. Life is strange. It’s like hoping your daughter will marry a brain surgeon, and instead she falls in love with a guy named Spike who rides a Harley.

I would talk to them about this odd mismatch, but they’ve just informed me they’re expecting a case of index cards in nine months…

I also tested the Carene with Waterman Havana Brown and South Sea Blue inks. These two flow more freely in the Carene than the Midnight Blues. The Havana Brown looked good on the soft white paper. The color was a paler brown that I get when I use this ink with my Pelikan M250, the line was slightly wider than with the Midnight Blues. I liked the look of it on the paper. The South Sea Blue was wide but too pale. It looked like a Caribbean carnival had come to town. I wrote a page with it and then dumped it from the pen.

The Charleston has a medium nib that’s very broad and bullyish, kind of like our big Maine Coon boy. When this pen writes a line, you notice it. Despite writing such a wet line, ink did not bleed through to the other side of the paper

In all cases, I did not experience a problem with ink bleeding to the other side of the page. There is always some see-through and, with a wet medium nib the see-through is more prominent, but it wasn’t such a problem that it prevented use of both sides of the paper. For my uses of these notebooks, the see-through isn’t a problem.

Line spacing: This surprised me. As I said, I’m not crazy about high-school ruled notebooks, and this is the first time in years I’ve written in a notebook using wide line spacing. After I got used to it, I liked it. I found myself writing larger to take up the line space and, in return, I found myself forming my letters more carefully and clearly. For me, improved handwriting is a bonus.

Summary: For $2.49 you get 200 pages of smooth paper in a well-made composition book that looks adult enough not to be an embarrassment if you’ve moved beyond junior high school. It won’t have the cache of Rhodia or Moleskeine. You won’t use this and pretend you’re Hemingway writing from a sidewalk bistro in Paris, which seems to be the whoopla of Moleskeine’s marketing program. Staples gives you a book of paper you can use freely without counting the costs each time you turn a page. Give it a try. You’ll probably like it, and if you don’t, hand it to the kids. There’s no way you can lose with this composition book.

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Another nail in the coffin of the hand-written letter was announced last week by the U.S. Postal Service. Postage will increase by 2 cents in May, from 42 cents to 44 cents. As my husband succinctly put it, ‘they’re sucking wind like everyone else.’

Except for long notes scribbled in Christmas cards, I rarely get real letters these days. Last week I came home and found an largish envelope in my real mailbox. Dark brown, air-mail weight, postmarked — Belfast, from a friend on the other side of the puddle. Inside was a newspaper clipping he had promised to send, a Sunday Independent interview with Moya Brennan. The article I expected and was looking forward to reading, but the treat was the handwritten letter inside. A few comments about the article, another comment about Moya’s little sister’s latest, And Winter Came…, the weather, best regards. Written in a neat distinctive style, I immediately thought — this guy ought to use a fountain pen!

My friend could have sent me a PM and said the same things, and just clipped a short note saying ‘here it is’ to the clipping. It would have been easier for him to do that than take the time to write a real letter. The fact is, I read the letter with the kind of enjoyment that comes from holding paper and looking at the words written on it.  Writing a physical letter involves care that we often don’t take with email.  We organize our thoughts; there’s no cut and paste with paper and pen to rearrange paragraphs.  We take care with spelling to avoid blotchy crossed-out words.  We try to use our best handwriting so we can be read.  (This is particularly true whenever I write a letter!)

It’s an old-fashioned luxury to take such time to write a real letter. It’s a luxury I wish we had more opportunity and reason to indulge in.

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