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Is Fear Keeping You From Doing What You Love? The Typewriter Doctor can Help You With That.

Last week I blogged about my plan to write my new novel on a sixty-year Smith Corona.  I bought the machine on Etsy and the ad promised that it “works.”  Well, it did work, a little bit.  It worked enough to type my name, but it wasn’t in true working order.  The seller thought I just sort of wanted the typewriter as a conversation piece.  She didn’t understand that I was actually going to use the thing.

Luckily, there is a typewriter hospital here in Cambridge.  My trusty assistant, Sarah, gave me a ride to the storefront shop which was crammed with typewriters of varying vintage.  The Typewriter Doctor looked very tanned and rested, having just returned from vacation. He opened the case and looked at my machine.  “This is a beautiful Pinky,” he said.  “One of the best ones I’ve seen.”  I beamed like a proud mama and no longer felt silly for talking to the thing in baby talk on the ride over.  (My assistant is very indulgent.)

When I left the Typewriter Hospital, I realized that the Typewriter Doctor did not mention one time that typewriters are dying out.  When asking me if I wanted a two-tone ribbon, he mentioned that mostly teenagers like those.  When I was looking at a 1980s IBM Selectric he said, “It’s a real workhorse.  If you are going to be pounding out a lot of documents, that’s what you need.”

I had expected him to be like that Maytag Repairman on those old commercials.  (Remember, he was depressed and had no customers because Maytag washers never broke down?) Instead he was a jovial and optimistic as the “Geek Squad” computer repair team at Best Buy. If I didn’t know better, I would have no idea that the vast majority of printed writing is generated by computers.  Further, he didn’t charge me a fortune to tune up the machine, as though I was asking for some arcane service.  His store isn’t a museum.

I couldn’t help but wonder if writers have something to learn from him.

I have noticed that writers are always asked about the death of the book, the death of the bookstore.  We are told that the Kindle is going to drown us in our bathtubs.  How do we feel about the fact that we are all going to starve to death?  When I go to a poetry reading, there is often a sense of self- satisfied martyrdom—no one reads poetry, but we write it anyway! And in the literary fiction word, it is often the same vibe—everyone wants to read “street lit”  or _________ (fill in the blank with your anxiety of choice). Woe is us.  All this genius and nobody cares.  Frankly, it’s a drag and I don’t think it helps anyone get her work done and it certainly does not improve anybody’s quality of life.  And I can’t imagine that it revs up readers.

This is not to say that the Kindle will not drown us in our bathtubs.  Maybe it will. Who knows.

I am not saying go into see-no-evil mode. The Typerwriter Doctor is not burying his head in the sand.[video]  He has had to adapt with changing times. He used to rent typewriters, but now he repairs them. And he doesn’t hate computers– you can like him on facebook, and he keeps a blog– typing the entries and then scanning them.

What I learned at the typewriter hospital is that we don’t have to carry that fear of obsolescence around with us, strapped to our backs and we certainly don’t have to make it part of our identity.  We don’t have to announce impending doom everytime we talk about our work.  When we create, we don’t have to multi task writing with fretting that these these are the endtimes for literature.

Take a lesson from a  man who repairs typewriters for a living.  He’s good at it.  And he’s enjoying his life and his work.

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We Were Girls Together

My childhood friend, Carmen Nicole Clark, has passed away.  We went to the same elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college together.  She came to my birthday party when I was five.  She wore lace dresses sometimes.  I asked my mother if I could wear lace dresses and my mother would never let me dress so extravagantly.   Like me, she had an older brother and a baby brother.  She called me “T”. Her hair was really soft, so she couldn’t get a relaxer.  She wore it pressed or wavy, brushed smooth and fastened with a clip.  We both still rode the school bus when the cool kids had started driving.She taught me how to apply liquid eyeliner. I still remembr us blinking away the black dye clouding the whites of our eyes.  In the fifth grade, the boy that I had a crush on liked her instead and asked her to “go” with him.  Her aunt was the gifted teacher, and I thought that it was amazing to be related to someone as wonderful as Mrs. Elmore.   When I was twelve my parents decided to take the family to live in Nigeria for a year. I was miserable to leave my friends behind just because my parents wanted to have an “experience.”  I wrote letters to my friends almost every day and Carmen always wrote back.  I remember her pretty slanted handwriting on pale blue envelopes.  Once she sent a care package of M&Ms. Her daddy was a professor, so was mine. I cannot find a single picture with her in it.  She played piano and accompanyed me for my solo recital eventhough I was terrible on my flute.  Carmen was absent at our 20th college reunion this past May.  When I was in Atlanta last month I got in touch and she said she would be glad to see me and catch up. I was going to see her after my signing, but I got so frustrated trying to hawk my book at Costco, that I just got mad and went home.  I told her that I would see her next time and she said that she was looking forward to it.

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Upon Which I Shall Compose My Fourth Novel

Slowing It Down

My mentor, Ron Carlson, once told me that there are two types of writers—gushers and ekers.  The gushers are the ones who write really quickly, producing a lot of words, but also producing a lot of crap writing.  On the other side are the ekers—they agonize over each word.  It takes forever, but they don’t write a lot of useless drafts.  If you can’t tell from my personality, I am a gusher.  On a good writing day I can maybe write five or six pages in about two hours.  (Compare this to my good friend MJ who writes a paragraph in a day!)  My gushing sometimes feels like automatic writing. I am going so fast that I don’t know what the heck I am writing sometimes.  Then, the next day, I read through what I have written and see if there is anything usable in there.  (Sometimes there is; sometimes there’s not.) 

I wrote Leaving Atlanta and  Silver Sparrow pretty much  by hand.  This is because I feel the computer helps me write even faster.  In addition, in a fit of pique, I can hit two keys and delete a day’s work.  With handwriting, I may often get frustrated and then I just turn over a new page in my notebook.  The next day when I calm down, I read it over and something I find something there that I like.

I am thinking to write my fourth novel on a manual typewriter.  A pink Smith Corona from the 1950s to be exact.  The idea is to sort of shock my system and make me more mindful of what I am doing on a word-by-word level.  The typewriter is a little rusty so I have to take it to be refurbished, but I am getting ready to clickety-clack my way through.

(And the typewriter is not connected to the internet.  The twitter is my weakness.)

Writers, I recommend that you try to break yourself out of your ordinary routine if you feel like you need a jump start.  Try writing with a new tool, a new location, or even just switch up the time of day that you are writing.  I think of it like exercise.  You can reach a plateau with your current routine and need to vary your workout and work some different muscles.  Try it and let me know how it works.

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So Many Links, So Little Time

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson

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Coping With Rejection: Keep Writing Anyway.

Edan Lepuki has a great post up over at The Millions about a book she wrote that she hasn’t been able to publish. If you are in this situation, I definitely recommend that you read the article. Here is the line I like best: “Lastly, these months of rejection have taught me the difference between being tenacious and being stubborn — and being stubborn and being desperate..” In short you have to learn when to let go.

I would like to add just a little extra piece of advice about coping with rejection.

Just to establish my rejection bonafides: My first book Leaving Atlanta was rejected by 26 publishers. My new novel, Silver Sparrow, received about a dozen “passes”. And in my desk drawer is a healtfelt, but unpublished and unpublishable novel called Evangeline. So despite what is happening to me right now, I know what I’m talking about when I talk about rejection and disappointment.

The best way to cope with rejection is to write something else. Afterall, you would have to do that anyway. If your book is snapped up by your dream publisher and you sell foreign rights all over the world, what would you have to do next? Write the next book. No matter what happens, the next step is the next book.

So go do that.

And maybe one of those books in the drawer will be something you will be able to publish later. As for me, I am so happy that Evangeline is safely tucked in a drawer, although I worked so hard on it when I wrote it. But maybe you novel that isn’t connecting with publishers today, will connect with them later. You’ll still have it. And you still have to write something new.

Good luck.

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In Praise of Songwriters: RIP Nick Ashford

There was a time when you couldn’t tell me that Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell were not madly in love. The evidence, I believed, was all in the duets. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, “Your Precious Love”. I could go on and on. That was love on the radio.

But the love was in the writing. Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson created those iconic love songs from their incredible talent merged with thier own incredible love. It was reported that Nick Ashford died last night. We have lost an American genius.

I have been thinking quite a bit about song writers lately. Many people I know sneer at “remakes” or “covers” of famous songs. They want new artists to come up with new music. Simply re-singing an already popular song is cheating.

I disagree. It is a mistake to think that a singer owns a particular song. Someone write that song and that person deserves to have that song performed by as many people as choose to perform it. It is a real compliment to the writer that a song is beloved in the hands of multiple artists over years and years. (Did you think that Whitney Houston was singing Chaka’s Khan’s song when she released “I’m Every Woman”? That, too, was another Ashford & Simpson creation. Amazing, right?)

Songwriters are an amazing group of artists. In the world of jazz there are standards, fine pieces that are expected to be performed by a variety of artists, which much credit given to the writer. But in the world of pop music, only true fans know who wrote what. Can you imagine having your masterpiece associated not with you, but with the singer? Songwriters are the hearts and minds behind the scenes.

Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote the songbook of a generation. Here’s a list. Won’t you play one of the songs today? I bet you have them in your collection. (“You’re All I Need to Get By” is a classic, be it Marvin and Tammi or Mary J and Method Man.) Or just hum a bar or two. Then, light a candle, give thanks for the experience, and say a prayer.

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Holding On To What Matters

Tomorrow, I am leaving to go to Cambridge for a year to accept a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University.  This fellowship is such a gift—for the full year, my main responsibility is to read, write, and interact with other artists and scholars.  (No committee work! No papers to grade! No hellish commute!)When I received the call notifying me that I had been chosen for this award, I literally danced in the street with my dear friend, Rigoberto Gonzalez.  We stopped traffic and the motorists on Grove Street did not share our joy.

I am a person who believes that His eye is on the sparrow and the title of my book, Silver Sparrow, is a nod toward that sacred hymn.

As I have been packing up to go, I have been unearthing old photos and I came across this one, taken at the Breadloaf Writers Conference back in 2003.  I feels like at least a lifetime ago.  When this photo was taken I was at an outdoor book signing reception.  I wasn’t anywhere near being an “it girl”.  I was just a first time novelist trying to figure this whole thing out.  Breadloaf, as you may know, is the scene of scenes for emerging writers.  And, alas, I was not one of the Cool Kids, but I had a novel that I had written with my whole entire heart.

I was standing around feeling awkward when a woman approached me and asked me to sign her book.  She said she had read it almost a year earlier and had brought her hardcover copy to Vermont with her and would I sign it.  I still remember how moved I was.  Back then, it was still a miracle to me that anyone had heard of me, or had bought read my book.   There was no signing table for me, so she said, “use my back.”  I can’t even begin to unpack the metaphor.

I feel like finding this photo on today of all days, is a little reminder to me to remember where I’ve come from and what I am here to do.  I recently received an email from a silver sparrow daughter  who said she was moved and healed by my novel. I won’t violate her privacy by posting her words, but it reminded me that literature matters and telling/reading/hearing our stories makes a difference in our real lives.

It’s no accident that these messages have come in now, just as I am on my way to Cambridge.  These  are loving anchors, attaching me to what really matters as I move myself forward.

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Silver Sparrow On Line

Tayari _D3Y_2088adj_cropped bnw Did you miss the Silver Sparrow tour?  Here is a list of interviews and readings that Tayari did while she was on the road. Click to listen.

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Straight To The A: Silver Sparrow in Atlanta

Atlanta Skyline Connector

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