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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Getting The Words Out - guest blog by Susan Wiggs

When my daughter was about eight years old, she asked me, "Where do all the words and paragraphs come from?"
I gave her the simple, magical answer: "They're all right here, up inside this pen."
She thought about this for a moment, then said, "I need to borrow that pen."
The pen doesn't look like anything special. It's kind of beat up now, a Sheaffer fountain pen I was given as an award. It’s engraved “Teacher of the Year, 1983.” It has a very fine tip, which works well with my cramped handwriting. I use Skrip cartridge ink because it dries instantly on the page. If you’re left-handed, you know why this is important. I’ve ruined many a sleeve, dragging it through wet ink. And for me, color is everything. My favorite ink color is peacock blue. When I was very young, I found some old papers of my mother’s from college, and she used this same color ink. So it must be in my blood.

But there’s tragic news for us lovers of Peacock Blue. Because, okay, they still make the ink and it still looks the more or less the same. But they changed the name to turquoise. What’s up with that? Peacock blue is evocative. It’s romantic. It means something. Turquoise is just a color.

I’m curious about the marketing decision that resulted in changing the name. I wish they’d checked with me first. Writing is hard enough without messing with our heads about the tools of our trade. From thehttp://www.pendemonium.com/ web site:

“In July of this year, Sheaffer announced that Skrip was being re-formulated and would be available in new colors….Sheaffer also took this opportunity to inform us that Skrip was now being manufactured in Slovenia! A mild panic set in amongst pen collecting Skrip fanatics… And just where is Slovenia? …. Favorite colors such as peacock blue went the way of the Skrip-Well. Gone are the transparent cartridges where you could easily see how much ink was left. In their place are just very slightly translucent cartridges that appear opaque at first glance. The new cartridges are the same color as the ink inside them….Prior to the recent changeover to Slovenian Skrip, the available colors were: Jet Black, Blue, Blue Black, Green, Red, Brown, Lavender, Gray, Kings Gold, Burgundy and Peacock Blue. Sheaffer discontinued Lavender, Gray and Burgundy entirely. They replaced, or perhaps better said, renamed Kings Gold to Gold and Peacock Blue to Turquoise. Both of these colors have changed; the new turquoise is still definitely turquoise, but darker than the old Peacock Blue.”

Okay, so that’s probably too much information, but I am down to my last cartridge of real peacock blue, courtesy of Barbara Bretton, one of my favorite authors and friends. Who knows how my next book will turn out? Will it be darker? More obscure? We’ll see–I have to start work on it tomorrow.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here’s a great quote. When THE MARCH by E.L. Doctorow won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, Doctorow said in his acceptance speech: “A book written in silence and read in silence goes from heart to heart and soul to soul as nothing else can.”

I’m just as particular about the paper as I am about the ink. I use only a Clairefontaine notebook–wire-bound, graph ruled and tabbed by color. The pastel-tinted paper is thick, with a silky writing surface, and putting the words down is a meditation and a pleasure for whole minutes at a time (I’m not one of those writers blessed with effortless first drafts). In French, the notebooks are called “velin veloute,” a reference to the smooth texture of the paper.
When I’m working on a book, I tend to drag this notebook around with me everywhere. When it’s not with me, I try to keep it in a safe place, like in the freezer. So if there’s a fire, it’ll survive.

The U.S. distributor put up a list of writers who use Clairefontaine notebooks, including yours truly, as well as the main character of Passing Through Paradise:
“Best selling author Susan Wiggs, in her...novel, Passing through Paradise, devised a heroine who uses Clairefontaine tablets and peacock-blue ink. This is no surprise, since the author herself always writes her first drafts with a special fountain pen, peacock-blue ink, and, yes, Clairefontaine notebooks.”

Author Anne Tyler once said that writing a book in longhand is like “knitting a book.” Maybe, but I don’t think that hard when I knit.

[Author bio:

Susan Wiggs's life is all about family, friends...and fiction. She lives at the water's edge on Bainbridge Island, and she commutes to her writers' group in a 17-foot motorboat. She's been featured in the national media, including NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.

According to Publishers Weekly, Wiggs writes with "refreshingly honest emotion," and the Salem Statesman Journal adds that she is "one of our best observers of stories of the heart [who] knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book." Booklist characterizes her books as "real and true and unforgettable." She is the recipient of three RITA (sm) awards and four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for her books. Several of her books have been listed as top Booksense picks and optioned as feature films. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists.

The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Her latest novels are Just Breathe and Fireside, both from Mira Books. Currently, Fireside is the #1 bestselling book on the New York Times list. Readers can learn more on the web at http://www.susanwiggs.com/ and on her lively blog at www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com.]


Judy said...

I really enjoyed the blog from Susan Wiggs. I love the fact of sticking (or trying to stick) with the same things you started out with. Not too many people do that anymore. I suppose it is too much trouble? I read Susan's books and enjoy them also. Good luck with the peacock blue ink:)

Livia said...

Welcome Susan! Your favorite pen reminds me of my pen treasure that I eventually put away. It was a Mont Blanc that I bought myself shortly after my promotion to management. I kept it and treasured it for 20 years. I used it to write contract negotiation notes and when I retired I packed it away with other office gadgets that I wanted to keep and there in the bankers storage box is where it has remained.

Congratulations on your wonderful new series. Am I current on it, nope, but I'm having a wonderful time playing catch up!


Lori said...

Wow! I can't imagine writing your books in long hand! That pen must really be magic! Here's hoping you continue to "Get the words out"!!

monster paperbag said...

I read Doctorow's The March last year. I was really blown away.

Melissa F. in CA said...

Like Livia, I may have fallen behind, but I find each of these books to be an absolute treasure! Write on, Ms. Wiggs!

Elissa said...

This blog entry brought a smile to my face! I indeed remember "Peacock Blue"--it was my favorite whenever I used the calligraphy pen I received when I was 12. I thought it was the prettiest blue I'd ever seen. So the ending of Peacock Blue makes me sad....

I couldn't imagine writing an entire book long hand but I so admire those who can and do. Writing long hand is a great creative process, though. Things seem to flow easier than when facing a blank screen.

Thanks for visiting TRRC. I just bought "Fireside" and I can't wait to dive in.

ink cartridges said...

sweet... Thanks...

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