Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, and yes, he did. Hemingway, I mean. And so did Fitzgerald. Edith Wharton. Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. They sat down at the keyboard and pounded the keys.
I’m talking about writing at a typewriter, as in the old manual machines that once filled newspaper offices. That war correspondents carried in little black suitcases. That my father used to write hundreds of eloquent love letters home from his ship in the South Pacific during World War II.
I got this particular machine a few weeks back from my friend Lorena who lives in Richmond and has squeezed a lot of living into a few decades. Lorena is the real deal, and she likes the world of my books. My rookie cop Brandon Blake? Lorena knows the toughest Portland streets. The back roads of Jack McMorrow’s Somerset County? She grew up there. My corner of Maine? She’s lived it and breathed it, baby.
After we’d corresponded a while Lorena offered me one of her favorite possessions: a Royal Arrow portable typewriter that used to belong to her grandfather. She said I should have it because I’m a writer (though she’s one, too). The last time we met up we had a great chat and she presented the typewriter in its neat black case. I took it home. It meant more to me than a royalty check.
So the Royal Arrow sits in my study, next to laptops and monitors. And it wasn’t long before I decided it was more than a objet d’art (which it is). The Royal Arrow is a lean, mean writing machine. This was how writers did it before they went soft. Soft like us.
You have to know what you’re writing on this machine. No diddling around, cutting and pasting. No moving paragraphs around like puzzle pieces. Type at your own risk. Don’t touch that key—until you know what that character is going to say.
It’s a challenge and then some. I started my writing career on a Smith Corona electric that’s now somewhere out in the barn. Wrote the entire first draft of my first novel, DEADLINE, on that whappity-whap machine. Could I do it again, spoiled rotten by years of Apple products? In a power outage? An ice storm? I don’t know.
So as I type this the modern way, monitors glowing, errant letters and words vanishing before my eyes, I have renewed respect for the old masters, who thought long and hard before they set words to paper, who wrote and typed with a conviction and finality we can’t, and don’t need to, match. I’d like to think so. In fact, I’ve tried a few pages, pounding the Royal Arrow keyboard. It takes more than finger muscles. More than hands and wrists. I feel like I need to do push-ups to get in shape for typewriting. After a few words fatigue sets in.
So how did Hemingway do it, tapping away until he’d produced all that wonderful dialogue? How did Chandler write those descriptions of Los Angeles? How did Dame Agatha construct those intricate plots?
One key at a time. And the bell going off at the end of very line.