Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Joker is Wild ...

By Kelli

I like typewriters. I think I've mentioned that we have several in the garage, including one from the '20s. My parents always had a typewriter around the house, and that--along with reel-to-reel tape recorders, slide projectors and 16mm home movie viewers--was high tech.

The thought of "going backwards" doesn't bother me. Maybe because I grew up writing papers and compositions long hand, sometimes waiting until the hour bus ride to school to finish my homework (resulting in slightly sloppy penmanship). Maybe because I still enjoy the feel of literally making words, of ink on paper, and the evocative smell of old typewriter ribbon and even the hated error tape we had to insert under the keys.

But probably it's because I spent my teenage years without electricity. Or a phone.

I grew up in Southern Humboldt--or at least spent junior high and high school there, which is what I consider the "growing up" period. We had a wood stove, we pumped spring water to a redwood tank, we used gas lights and kerosene lanterns, and when we wanted to watch TV, it meant going out to a gas generator and starting the motor and flipping a switch.

(I wonder how much TV watching would get done if people had to work for it ... you know, like hamsters on a wheel or something. But I digress ...)

Even relatively high-tech transportation wasn't reliable. I remember a memorable winter during which our four wheel drive truck got stuck in mud. I had to go get help ... which meant riding my trusty horse about five miles through the mountains during a very big storm, down to the closest phone--a post office. We lived two miles up a dirt road, and I still remember the look on the PG&E workers' faces when my horse and I emerged from an old skid road down to the Redwood Highway.

So writing on typewriters? Not a problem. I type about 35-40 words a minute, thanks to a freshman typing class. My first short story in high school--a socially provocative horror story about a statue that comes to life in a church--kind of Lord of the Flies meets John Steinbeck--was written on a typewriter. And my graduation present was a brand new Sears electric, on which I spent many all-nighters, working on papers I should have written a week earlier.

I still laugh when the power goes out, and neighbors run for their cars to turn on some sort of media. I just light a candle, light a fire in the fireplace, and either read or play cards.

Thanks to a lack of technology ... I'm damn good at poker. ;)

Next week, Bill Cameron joins us on Criminal Minds, alternating Thursdays with me ... please welcome him aboard, everybody! :)


Maha said...

You guys have a really amazing blog. Thanks for your very valuable posts. Wishing you the best of luck and to be more famous than Stephanie Meyer!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Kelli, I just can't imagine living the way you group, and you have my admiration! I remember reading the little house books with horrified fascination. I think the thing that struck me with most force was the whole making soap out of tallow project. Uh...I don't mean to imply that the Stanley clan of Humboldt was doing anything of the sort, but the very phrase "we pumped our water...." gives me chills.

And yeah, I loved learning to type on an old typewriter. whenever i would get going super fast and the keys locked up, i felt proud

Sophie Littlefield said...

weird. i typed group for "grew up". my brain is clearly missing a few synapses

Kelli Stanley said...

Maha, you are so sweet! :) Thank you for that wish. I think most of us just want to be able to keep writing -- and to be able to do it full-time.

But we certainly wouldn't turn down Ms. Meyer's sales numbers, either ... ;)

Thanks again for the comment!

Kelli Stanley said...

Well, Soph, it was tough. But you're a kid, and you don't have a choice.

And since that's the case, I think it's healthy to kind of look back and see what benefits it gave me ... and it turns out there were quite a few. :)

BTW, my paternal grandmother made soap when my father was a child in Kentucky. Same process as the Ingalls.

I did have to pump the water--about 1/4 mile down a very steep & wooded hill, start an engine, walk back up--& other stuff like plucking chickens, feeding hogs, etc.

This is probably why I'm actually a very urban person! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Congratulations to our own SOPHIE LITTLEFIELD, who is nominated for a Spinetingler Award in both short story and best first novel categories!!

You can vote here:

My first short story was nominated for a Spinetingler way back in 2008, before my first novel even came out -- and I've always been thankful to the devoted writers and crime fiction enthusiasts behind the magazine. Way to go, SOPHIE!!! :)

Mike Dennis said...

Kelli-I was shocked to read your post. Where in the world is Southern Humboldt? And why wasn't your area wired for electricity. I thought all that was taken care of during the TVA days, but I obviously thought wrong.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Your childhood fascinates me. It's so cool. And you had a horse! That must have been fun.

Congratulations, Sophie!

Kelli Stanley said...

Mike, I lived in southern Humboldt county, which is a rural area in NorCal. There was electricity available, of course--but at a tremendous cost, because the forty acres we lived on was completely undeveloped.

We did have a color TV. :) Just not the normal, taken-for-granted conveniences of throwing on a light switch and turning on a tap, etc.

Thanks for commenting!!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Terry m' dear! :)

We had many horses--we operated a riding stable for the State Park in two locations by the time I was in college. I used to teach people how to ride, etc.

I still dream about our horses occasionally, and always miss them. :)


J.Lightle said...

I also grew-up in a rural environment where immediate and constant exposure to natural grime was unavoidable: smelling cattle and horse musk in the pastures surrounding us; listening to coyotes sing late into the night and knowing when they drew close to a neighbors house, because they would hush-up and begin again from a different point in the woods; finding deer tracks around the bowls of dog food and water in the morning; swimming in holes full of leaches, turtles and snakes, instead of chemicals and lifeguards - that sort of thing.

We had electricity and water, but no air-conditioning. We also had TV; all 3 channels caught by the antenna we adjusted by reaching around the window-screen and turning it till the fuzz was as minimal as could be expected.

What I miss about those days is being able to readily feel my surroundings and, thereby, feel an unremovable part of my surroundings. I think typewriters lend the same type of connection. It's the immediate creation with pen and paper, nothing standing between you and your words, no chance technology will say, "Nope, try again."