My Dad, the Typographer
Posted on December 9, 2016
Do sc-fi writers dream of Selectrics in their sleep? Given the amount of time American science fiction and fantasy writer Andrew Jefferson Offutt spent in front of his, he must have done.
Andrew J Offutt (August 16, 1934 – April 30, 2013)
Offut published his first novel Evil Is Live Spelled Backwards in 1970. Of interest to the typewriter nerd is Offutt’s description of his habits behind the typewriter at a time when he was busy managing three insurance agencies in three cities:
“On weekends I was in sore need of relaxation. I relaxed in front of the Selectric. (I like the best machinery; the Mercedes and the Selectric are, although the Underwood P-48 and the SCM-250 I had for a year were Bhad Nhews [sic].) In six months of such heavyweight management, capped — and made bearable by — Saturday-and-Sunday writing, I created three short stories and 5½ novels. They started selling.”
Until very recently, all my work was done on the IBM. I would start at about 1.30PM, sometimes a little earlier on Saturdays. And write until dinner call: between 6:30 and 7:30. Interruptions were (1) frequent bellows for more coffee; (2) bathroom; (3) lunch: cheese and a little wine. Sunday’s schedule was the same, without lunchbreak. I wrote at a secretary’s metal typing table, at the top of the steps in the hallway of this huge old house.”
Offutt’s adoption of new technology almost proves fatal!
Offut’s typing style is elaborated on by his son Chris, also a writer, in his book My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir:
“He taught himself to type with the Columbus method — find it and land on it — using one finger on his left hand and two fingers on his right. Dad typed swiftly and with great passion. In this fashion, he eventually wrote and published more than 400 books. Two were science fiction and 24 were fantasy, written under his own name; the rest were pornography, using 17 pseudonyms.”
For more than 50 years, Chris reveals, his father secretly made comic books of a sexual nature:
“He called his method of drawing “the Steal technique.” He traced images from other works, transferred the tracings to a second page via carbon paper and modified them to suit his needs — all the sexual characteristics greatly enhanced. He believed that he improved every picture he stole with an innate ability to boost everyone else’s work. A dozen thick notebooks held thousands of pages of source material, images torn from magazines and catalogs, divided by category: standing, sitting, sex, breasts, legs and so forth. He dismantled hundreds of porn magazines to accumulate a reservoir of pictures to steal.
His process was time-consuming, the product of inexperience and lack of access to supplies and equipment. First he wrote a script that described the action, then made loose pencil layouts of panels. He fed the layouts into his typewriter and carefully typed segments of narrative into the allotted areas. He used the typed sections as guides for what to draw. A result was a lack of harmony between art and text. In every panel, the narrative tells the reader what the imagery already shows.”
Chris explains how his father had been concerned that his style was being consistently copied, the proof being that other authors had begun writing knowledgeably of the clitoris, which Offutt believed he pioneered:
“This upset him to the point that he decided to trick the editor into buying his work, using yet another pseudonym, Jeff Morehead, a variation of his middle name and the nearest town to his home. To get a different font, he bought a new ball for his Selectric typewriter. He changed his usual margins, used cheaper paper and churned out new books.”
Luckily, Offutt had almost as many choices of typing ball as he had pseudonyms. During his first two years of full-time writing, writing seven days a week, Offutt reputedly wore out a Selectric typing element, something that IBM told him was impossible (see point 6 in their advertising, below).
“Dad’s writing process was simple — he’d get an idea, brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. He composed his first drafts longhand, wearing rubber thimbles on finger and thumb. Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.
Most writers get more words per page as they go from longhand to a typed manuscript, but not Dad. His handwriting was small, and he used ampersands and abbreviations. His first drafts were often the same length as the final ones. Manuscripts of science fiction and fantasy received multiple revisions, but he had to work much faster on porn. After a longhand first chapter, he typed the rest swiftly, made editorial changes and passed that draft to my mother. She retyped it for final submission. At times, Mom would be typing the beginning of the book while Dad was still writing the end.”
Selectric ad and erotic postcards (above) from my collection. Textual extracts borrowed using a variation of Offutt’s “Steal technique”:
- New York Times Article 2015: My Dad the Pornographer
- NPR Books: Chris Offutt Reveals a Family Secret
- Google Books: Again, Dangerous Visions