stationery geekery

New interview with Joe and Denise, now up at Hoban Cards!

There’s a wonderful interview with my wife Denise Kiernan and I up today at the website of Hoban Cards, a letterpress printing shop in Chehalis, Washington. Hoban prints the loveliest letterpress business cards and stationery. The interview has us talking a little about our work as writers, our books, and how we use Hoban’s business cards. Check out the interview here.

I don’t recall exactly how we found Hoban. It may have been via their etsy shop or their website. We had used other printers in the past to create everything from business cards to bookplates to rack cards, but we wanted to step it up and get some some really special cards made that would leave a lasting impression with people we met at conferences and book events.

I’ve always been a stationery geek, but I’m far from an expert. Letterpress is an old style of printing probably best known these days for the distinctive texture left behind when the photopolymer plates literally press into the surface of the paper. Since pieces are printed by hand, one at a time, on antique, rescued and refurbished equipment, orders are pricier than offset printing, which is the technique used to create almost every bit of generic printed matter in our world.

You don’t use letterpress to advertise Happy Hour specials. It’s typically reserved for small-batch stationery, wedding invites, baby announcements, and business cards like the ones we have. You can check out the process in Hoban’s nifty video.

I’m no expert on the process, by the way, just a fan. If you’re curious, it’s worth checking out Hoban’s website, which features posts on such topics as Victorian-era stationery, the qualities of letterpress paper, the difference between fonts and typefaces, and modern-day business cards. Their hilarious templates often imagine the business cards of fictional characters. They did a post recently analyzing the business cards in the movie American Psycho. If you know the film, you know what I’m talking about.

Denise liked her Hoban cards so much that she now has three different types. I just placed my second order, which I’ll show off in a few weeks when they arrive. My photos don’t really do them justice. The photography at Hoban’s website will make you salivate—if you’re a psycho about such things.


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My New Obsession: Fancy Notebooks

From top, left to right: Field Notes Byline Reporter's Notebook, Leuchtturm 1917 Jottbook, Clairefontaine, Apica CD Notebook, Life Notebook, Rhodia Meeting Book, Nanami Paper's A5 The Writer Notebook, Midori MD Notebook, and the Maruman Mnemosyne 196 A5 Notebook.

From top, left to right: Field Notes Byline Reporter's Notebook, Leuchtturm 1917 Jottbook, Clairefontaine, Apica CD Notebook, Life Notebook, Rhodia Meeting Book, Nanami Paper's A5 The Writer Notebook, Midori MD Notebook, and the Maruman Mnemosyne 196 A5 Notebook.

Back in the day, I took tai chi classes from an older instructor, or sifu, in Hoboken, New Jersey, who, among other things, also gave me a short course on firearms. He invited me and my then-girlfriend out to his house in the country, where we spent time shooting all kinds of handgun and rifles at targets.

Once I happened to mention that I had bought a fountain pen. He was immediately intrigued, and showed me that he carried one every day. He preferred them over all other writing instruments. "If you have even one," he said, "you should write with it every day."

Well, I didn't. I tried, I really did. But I found that pen to be too fussy to be an everyday writing tool. Eventually the nib of the pen would stop writing and I'd try to get it to start up again. It worked for a little while, then stopped. I was forever setting it aside in favor of a handy ballpoint, and the ink would proceed to dry in the fountain pen and need to be cleaned out laboriously at a later date. Disgusted, I'd move on, leaving the ink blotches and ink-stained fingers behind me. A year or so later, I'd buy a new fountain pen, get fired up to use it, and I'd have the same crappy experience.

Hence my love/hate relationship with fountain pens.

Not long ago, I was telling another friend why I'd given up on the lovely pens I'd bought over the years. (This guy was not a tai chi instructor, just an ordinary pen geek.) He said, "Well, what kind of paper are you using to write on?"

That blew my mind. Turns out paper quality strongly impacts fountain pen use. If the paper's crappy, the fountain pen tears it up as it writes, and the paper fibers clog the pen nib. Or the paper just gets soaked with the ink and bleeds through. And in some rare cases, the pen nib just needs to be tuned up by someone who knows what the hell they're doing.

Which led me to research better quality paper and notebooks. I figure I could spring for this kind of luxury since it's ostensibly related to my profession. I'm currently writing my way through a lot of different notebooks. Suffice to say that the paper in these books is smoother and stronger. They don't shred under the pens, and they don't bleed. In the parlance of stationery geekdom, these notebooks are "fountain pen friendly." Well, wouldn't you know, these old pens of mine are behaving like totally different instruments. It's amazing.

I'll share more about this development soon enough, but the current batch of notebooks are shown above. Most are destined to be the daily notebook I keep on my desk. Some are already dedicated to one specific project or client. Most are A5-sized notebooks, which is the size I like best for my desk and which is roughly 6 X 8.25 inches in size. I've bought them variously at Amazon, Nanami Paper, and Goulet Pens. More on the latter two indie businesses one of these days.


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