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How Shelby Foote Wrote ...
Posted 13 October 2010 - 17:10
Shelby Foote, The Art of Fiction No. 158
Interviewed by Carter Coleman, Donald Faulkner, William Kennedy
With what instrument do you write? A word processor?
I use a dip pen. Everybody on earth used to have one. They were in every post office in the land. I like the feel that a pen or pencil gives you, being in close touch with the paper and with nothing mechanical between you and it. The very notion of a word processor horrifies me. When I’ve finished a draft, I make changes in the margin. Then I make a fair copy. I also edit the fair copy somewhat when I type it on big yellow sheets so I can see it in print for the first time. I correct those outsized yellow sheets, then retype them on regular eight and a half by eleven pages for the printer. I’ve had poet friends tell me they never type a poem until they are really satisfied with it. Once they see it in print it is very different from what it was in longhand. It freezes the poem for them.
I’ve heard that during the middle of writing The Civil War you bought all the dip pens left in the United States.
My favorite pen-point manufacturer had all but gone out of business—Esterbrook. I was running out and fairly desperate. On Forty-fourth Street just east of the Algonquin Hotel, on the other side of the street, there used to be an old stationery shop, all dusty and everything, and I went in there on the chance he might have some. He looked in a drawer. He had what I wanted—Probate 313. I bought several gross of those things, so I’ve got enough pen points to last me out my life and more. Another problem is blotters. When I was a kid and when I was writing back in the forties on into the fifties, you could go into any insurance office and they had stacks of giveaway blotters for advertising.
What precisely is a blotter?
This is a blotter [pointing] and if you haven’t got one you’re up the creek. You use the blotter to keep the ink from being wet on the page. You put the blotter on top and blot the page. I was talking about blotters in an interview, what a hard time I had finding them, and I got a letter from a woman in Mississippi. She said, I have quite a lot of blotters I’ll be glad to send you. So I got blotters galore. Ink is another problem. I got a phone call from a man in Richmond, Virginia who had a good supply of ink in quart bottles. I got three quarts from him, so I’m in good shape on that.
Do you reckon you’re the last writer to be using dip pens in the United States?
There’s probably some other nut somewhere out there doing it.
Posted 13 October 2010 - 18:05
* * * "Don't neglect to write me several times from different places when you may."
-- John Purdue (1863)
Posted 13 October 2010 - 18:06
Both are utterly brilliant.
I have all three of Foote's Civil War books. I'm sure he wrote more, but I being in Germany, back then was limited to what I could find.
I'm missing some of Cotton's books too.
I am writing a western. I did a 36 page flash back to the Battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse, that I had to leave out of the book. It was too deep and detail rich, and I got mostly from those two writers.
I could not carry that depth, through out the book. It took me three years to write that... It was a lot of fun.
German vintage '50-70 semi-flex stubs and those in oblique give the real thing in On Demand line variation. Modern Oblique is a waste of money for a shadow of line variation. Being too lazy to Hunt for affordable vintage oblique pens, lets you 'hunt' for line variation instead of having it.
The cheapest lessons are from those who learned expensive lessons. Ignorance is best for learning expensive lessons.
Posted 14 October 2010 - 03:25
I'm not so sure about that. I have one, and it's an amazing pain the behind to use. The pen doesn't seal in the inkwell, so every time I draw out the pen the nib is dry and the ink has returned to powder in the bottom of the well. If the housekeepers get anywhere near it they spill ink. And the Esterbrook Renewpoint is ... well ... just another cheap untipped steel nib. To me the dipless is an interesting novelty, but it is stuck halfway between a real dip pen, with its elegant flexibility, superb control, and light weight, and any old Esterbrook SJ with its decent but undistinguished writing and no need for an inkwell. I guess the best simile I can think of is that it's like a motorized bicycle--it manages to capture the disadvantages of both a bicycle and a motorcycle without the advantages of either.
Someone needs to send that fella a Dip-Less well and pen.
Posted 14 October 2010 - 21:58
'fraid he no longer has a use for one...
Once I read the article and saw the dates involved, I thought that might be the case. Of course, with the current popularity of zombie-themed literature, that might change.