Have Typewriter, Will Travel

After I finished packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, I noticed that I had enough room left over for my portable typewriter and a ream of paper. My roommate gave me a funny look when I mentioned that. If the TSA didn’t flag me as a terrorist, having a typewriter in checked luggage would. I ended up taking a notebook, my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my carry-on bag.

The funny thing is that I stopped using a typewriter for writing several years ago. With the mobile office back in action this year, I’m using a clipboard to write rough drafts on notepads in black ink at lunch, enter those pages into the computer at night, and edit the printouts in red ink the next day. The idea of pecking away a typewriter and using whiteout ink seems antiquated.

The moment I walked into the hotel room and saw the desk sitting sideways to the floor-to-ceiling window, I wished I have brought my portable typewriter with me. Sitting at the desk, I would have blank pages to my left, the typewriter in the middle, and finished pages to my right. The next morning I woke up before dawn to see the sun rising over Sunrise Mountain as a beautiful yellow orb through the silt of the curtains before a beam of sunlight stabbed my eyeballs with a fiery pitchfork. I had a gorgeous view of the eastern mountains outside of Las Vegas in the afternoon. That was so perfect for writing.

My roommate took out his iPad on the first night, connected to cellular to found the speed rate lousy and the wifi connection was no better. He had a bazillion Facebook friends who were attending the Star Trek convention that he needed to stay in touch with and keep up with all the updates. (He met only two of his Facebook friends in person.) Since he registered his iPad to the hotel room, and I didn’t want to pay $13 USD per day to register my wifi-only iPad as a second device, I went without Internet access and left my iPad in the carry-on bag.

For the first time in my life, I was on a real vacation.

The desk was also perfect for writing in the notebook. I wrote about getting through airport security without incident, flying on an airplane for the first time, attending four days of Star Trek panels, signings and parties, the various restaurants and hotels we visited, going out to Hoover dam and seeing a David Copperfield show. I even started a new short story about my albino demoness who protects the prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip, using the Voodoo Rooftop night club as a backdrop. A very busy week filled one-third of the notebook.

Someday I’ll get on an airplane with my manual typewriter, lock myself in a hotel room for a month and write the rough draft of the Great American novel. I would have breakfast, read the newspaper and gamble in the mornings (the best time to avoid the crowds, semi-naked cocktail waitresses and second-hand cigarette smoke). Have lunch in my hotel room, re-read the previous day’s work, and bang away at the typewriter for the rest of the day. After having dinner I would attend an evening show or conk out early.

The Snail Mail Slush Pile Rises Again

When editor Perry Terrell informed me via email that my short story, “A Stockton Wedding Reception,” will appear in The Ultimate Writer (September 2013) next month, I didn’t know anything about it. Neither the short story nor the magazine sounded familiar to me. The first thing that came to mind that this was a very old snail mail submission that sat in a slush pile for years before the editor got around to reading.

A virtual search of the old manuscripts—I’ve shredded the paper files months ago—turned up the short story. The opening line for the first paragraph was a writing prompt from The First Line magazine.

Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. They arrived in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall in Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the heavy scent of cow manure hung in the air. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their best clothes. The loud buzz in air was from people talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over a cow pie. Paul and Miriam greeted each other when introduced by their dates, Jacob and Verde, who left them alone at their table to get some refreshments.

This particular short story was probably the last snail mail submission I made before switching over to email submissions two years ago. One short story, “The Unfaithful Camera,” was out of circulation when an editor accepted it for publication a year after submission. Several rejection slips arrived 18 months late since a putsch against the editor at a university magazine delayed sending out responses.

I’ve since rewritten and published “A Stockton Wedding Reception” as an original ebook, “Let Me Be Your Spook,” making the original version unavailable for first serial publication and the ebook version available as a reprint. I altered the writing prompt by replacing the period with a comma to extend the sentence and changing the names to make the story a prequel to my short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” about retiring old spies.

George and Gracie met the old-fashioned way in the mid-1950’s, arriving in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall outside of Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the smell of cow manure hung heavily in the sweltering heat. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their finest wedding clothes. The loud buzzing came from everyone talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over the cow pies in the surrounding fields. They shook hands when introduced by their respective dates, Verde and Jacob, who left them sitting together at a back table to get refreshments.

Although the opening paragraphs are quite similar, the differences between the two stories are in the slant. Both have two people meeting for the first time because their dates were more interested in seeing each other in defiance of church rules on dating. The original version has the couple discussing church gossip and the theological implications. The ebook version has the couple discussing church politics in terms of a Cold War conspiracy, as both will become a future husband-and-wife spy team.

After trading emails with the editor, and reading both versions of short story side-by-side, I decided to let the original version be published after some minor editing. The editor has previously published my earlier flash story, “The Forgotten Sinner,” in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). The original version of the short story has the same spirit as that early flash story. Since the editor gave me a break, I’m willing to extend the same professional courtesy.