Thursday, June 30, 2011


In my last blog I reported that I had found a (modern ballpoint) pen for Raymond's pocket-dairy.  The pen and the diary clashed somewhat, visually as well as historically.  In the meantime I had been combing through internet sites, looking for information about Victorian-era pens and pencils, and hoping perhaps to discover at least an image of an implement more suitable for Raymond and his situation.  I found pictures of dip pens
and the traveling inkpots that would accompany them.
I thought, this is a recipe for disaster in Raymond's, um, paws.  I then learned that the attempts to create fountain pens (i.e. pens that carry their own ink supply) started hundreds of years ago, but by Victorian times these models still were not trustworthy.
The Victorian-era versions were called eye-dropper pens, meaning that one filled the ink reservoir with an eye-dropper.  Even at home at one's desk, this would be problematic; but trying to do this while on the road, or on the run?  Not at all practical.  These pens had another serious problem.  Their ink reservoirs were apt to leak, or even flood, with no warning.  Again---messy, unpredictable, and impractical.  
    After all this research, it was becoming quite clear that Raymond would actually have a pencil, not a pen, for his pocket-diary.  This conclusion was reinforced by the few entries that had already been made in Raymond's pocket-diary before I acquired it for him---entries that were made in pencil.  So when I found an image of this lovely sterling silver mechanical pencil (which is open in this image, but can be closed to about half its length), it seemed that this might well be Raymond's writing tool.
 But I kept looking, just because it is in my nature to attempt to exhaust any topic I'm researching.  And once again, it seemed that I was led by an outside force.  I stumbled onto an image that I recognized immediately as RAYMOND'S PENCIL:
Raymond is an orphan, and I knew that his father had left him one very important item.  When I saw this image, I thought, "Oh, so that's what it was!"  This small pencil (closed in the image above) holds a writing lead at one end.  At the other end?  A small but sharp knife blade for...for those inconvenient moments that occur in a life of uncertainty.
The pencil is etched with the name of Raymond's father, and on the other side of its barrel is etched a very handy ruler of 3.5 inches:
Dear Reader, I had to buy this.  There was no way I could refuse, with Raymond breathing so hotly down my neck.  And, being the frugal Yankee that I am, I will not disclose, this time, how much it cost me.  But after all---I believe in sacrificing for art.  And the finishing touch to this whole episode is that the pencil fits perfectly into its alloted space in Raymond's pocket-dairy.
Raymond is calling---nay, demanding---that I return to my writing desk.  He has told me that his mother also left him something, and in due course I am sure that object will make its appearance.  But in the meantime---Raymond is dictating, and I must transcribe.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I visited my wonderful independent bookstore today---Changing Hands (  I went with the express purpose of looking for a pen or pencil that would fit into Raymond's pocket-diary.  And I found one.  Or rather, two.  One of the pens is silver:
The other pen is black:
     Which one should---or will---Raymond use?  This is not as ridiculous a question as it might seem.  Raymond's choice will be determined by his character.  So how well do I know Raymond's character?  Well enough to know which pen he would prefer?  I don't seem to know for sure right now---after all, I brought both pens home---or is it Raymond himself who can't decide?  Clearly, I need to have another chat with him.
     And a slight quibble is ruffling my perfectionist self:  Being ball-points, these pens are not even quasi-Victorian, let alone historically-accurate-Victorian.  But in reply to that bothersome thought, I remind myself of two comments that I carry around with me as I'm creating.  One of them was made by my son, a movie-maker.  He said, "I'm creating an illusion---not reality."  The other was made by my maternal grandmother.  She used to say, "It won't be seen on a galloping horse."  
     If it happens that the art store, where I'm going tomorrow, carries pencils of the proper length and diameter---well, then, Raymond and I will have still more discussions on this fascinating topic.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


For me, props---objects--- are the backbone for creating an atmosphere for whatever book I'm working on.  Here is one more item that, it turns out, is just perfect for Raymond, my current story-interest.  
I came across this tiny kid-leather coin purse in a thrift shop several years ago---before Raymond was even a gleam in my eye, so to speak.  
Meant to slip over a narrow belt, its color and tactile feel was so entrancing that I had no choice---I had to purchase it.  And when Raymond began to take shape, I realized that this coin purse was the perfect place to carry (hands-free) coins, keys, secret codes, or any other small items critical to a person of adventure.
Then---although this story's setting is quasi-Victorian, not Victorian---I needed to hear and see some Victorian language and expressions.  They would inspire me as I chose, for example, Raymond's favorite exclamation of  annoyance.  It is the cover only of this book, PASSING ENGLISH, that looks modern.  The book itself was published in Great Britain in 1909, the title word "Passing" indicating the fleeting nature of much slang.  As I grazed through the book, I discovered that phrases from Great Britain often held echoes of the Vermont vernacular I had heard from old-timers as I was growing up (viz. "Adam's ale" for water).  I discovered that many American slang phrases had been adopted by the British (viz. "Paint the town red").  And I discovered---to my delight---that much slang from that era is still in robust use today, and is in fact no longer just slang, but very much part of our modern vocabulary (viz. "crackpot.")
Lastly, there is music---always important to me as I create.  Ragtime music was the music of rebellion, the music of youth, at the turn of the century---the music that parents shuddered over, the Victorian equivalent of Elvis Presley.  As I listened to this teasing, sometimes outrageous music---its brash lilts and harmonies full of unexpected twists and turns---I  realized---this is Raymond's music!  When I need a reminder of who Raymond is, I will listen to this.  And it will be the music I listen to as I am working on the finished art for this book.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Of course Raymond, my story's protagonist, needed a camera...I had suspected as much, right from the start.  He's not an artist, after all.  How else would he be able make records of the nefarious doings of his nemesis---records that could later be taken to the police as incontrovertible proof of crime?  
So I continued my research.  I learned that Kodak produced the very first Brownie camera in 1900---close enough for Raymond and my story, as far as dates go.  (Remember, this will not be historical fiction---just quasi-Victorian-Edwardian.))  Though photographic cameras had been in existence for some time, this was the first that was designed for the layperson---the mass market.  
Since Raymond is a very young teenager, it was particularly gratifying for me to read that this camera was marketed especially towards children, though it was embraced enthusiastically by all ages as soon as it came out.  After exposure, the roll of film was mailed to Kodak, and the developed photos were mailed back.  The expense of both the camera and the film were very much within the reach of ordinary folks---including youngsters.  
My next step?  I looked online at photos of the earliest Brownie camera, so I was sure of its appearance, and then---back to Ebay.  I immediately found many examples up for auction.  I began dithering---which one belonged to Raymond?  On the third day of perusing and hesitating, I stumbled across a new offering:  


This was Raymond's camera, of course!  Once again, the agony of waiting, waiting, waiting---would someone else steal Raymond's camera out from under our noses?  I was prepared to pay VERY LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY to win the auction.  But fortunately there was not a great deal of competition, and just today, Raymond's camera arrived safely from England.  
It has its own leather-bound canvas carrying case, with a strap for holding it---or for slipping it onto a belt, perhaps.  That will be so very convenient for Raymond , because he'll want to have the camera with him as much as possible, but he'll need both hands---that is, both paws---to deal with all of the uncomfortable situations in which he finds himself, many of them requiring great athletic exertion.  
The camera itself is a true miniature of the full-sized version, complete with two view-finders (one for shooting images horizontally, one for shooting images vertically---no serpentine contortions needed by the photographer); the shutter window; a crank for winding the film; and a catch for opening and closing the body of the camera.  And it's about half or a third the size of a full-size camera; small enough to be hidden easily.  
Now that Raymond's pocket-diary and his camera are sitting here on my desk, his presence is so much closer and more tangible for me.  I do believe that, just since the arrival of the camera, his voice has increased considerably in volume and clarity.  Yes---props and talismans are critical to the process of creating a story.