Ripping Yarns

’Tis the season, it seems, for the return of Jack the Ripper, that figure cloaked in fog and mystery that never seems to stray far from our imaginations. A lot of writers of every stripe have written stories about him, including Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, my pal Tim Sullivan, and me for that matter (“From Hell Again,” a story originally penned for an earlier Ripper anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and Susan Casper). We are all in among other good company in the just-released BIG BOOK of JACK THE RIPPER, edited by Otto Penzler, and reviewed a bit on the International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill site. (And when Mr. Penzler says “big” he means 1000+ pages—this is the definitive gathering of stories and non-fiction pieces).

Otto Penzler: The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

It’s been Grand Guignol ya.


Inks and Notebooks and Pens (oh, my)

Not all that long ago I posted about Circa notebooks on Facebook, and restrained myself from posting about related obsessions, notably pens and inks. Author Michael Swanwick responded with a demand for something about those other elements of the addiction. And so here is a little bit more on the subject.

This then is a little bit of the insanity of ink and pen obsession I attempted to stay away from the first time. Blame Michael Swanwick.

I write with a fountain pen. Hemingway and Robert Ludlum wrote with pencils. A lot of pencils. My longtime friend Joe Haldeman writes, likewise, with a pen and ink. In fact, at one time Joe and I were addicted to the Koh-i-noor Inkograph, a “fountain pen” version of a technical pen, the Rapidograph. (If that doesn’t date us, nothing will.) Once upon a time, on an IBM Selectric typewriter, I could type about 90 words a minute. Generally, this is more words than I can think in a minute (go ahead, try). So I tried a fountain pen because it forced me to slow way down and pay attention to the words. There is also an added tactility to this way of writing, and with fountain pens in particular, a ritual approach to it that is surely the equivalent of a Japanese tea ceremony. And writers, I have to tell you, can be very obsessive, and possessive, about their process.

It was delightful then to find out some years later that Joe and I had both gravitated to Noodler’s Legal Lapis ink. Noodler’s ink is a favorite of mine. At one point they were manufacturing inks for the Russian market, and you could get your hands on “Dostoevski” or “Pasternak” as color choices. (I never did score a “Bulgakov.”)

The photo shows a couple of notebooks, a huge bottle of ink, and a lovely Conklin pen filled with that ink, which is a rich black called (wait for it) “Heart of Darkness.” If you write with this ink, you might find yourself muttering, “The horror, the horror.”

Notebook, pen, and ink.

Interviews and Readings from the 2016 Rosemont Writers Retreat

A nice collection of interviews with fiction writers, memoirists, and poets who taught alongside me at this year’s stellar Rosemont Retreat run by Carla Spataro.

Beth Kephart:

Jennifer Steil:

Tawni Waters:

Grant Clauser: