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Archivist Turned Novelist

NP: Did you find most of your materials in stores or online at eBay and so on?

CP: Half and half. I’d say half on eBay, and half from physical stores—all different kinds of stores.

NP: Did you actually type the text using a vintage Corona typewriter?

CP: I do have a vintage Corona and I did type some things, but for most things I was able to use an original Corona 3 font that was downloaded from a specific typewriter. I was doing too much revision, otherwise I’d be going out of mind. When I had corrections to make, I wasn’t going to re-type the whole thing. But I printed the captions out on old paper.

NP: When you went to assemble the book, did you assemble the entire book by hand and then scan it?

CP: I assembled it all by hand. Obviously it’s not all bound up in a scrapbook, but I assembled each individual page. A lot of it was original material glued up—the coins and the cigarette holder—all the real things were glued and assembled. And it was not scanned, in fact, it was photographed because we wanted to give it a real three-dimensional look. HarperCollins hired this amazing photographer to do it, Ray Buonanno. He does commercial photography for perfume ads, still life stuff. So he set up a rig for photographing each page flat.

NP: What do you personally collect?

CP: I’ve been collecting for years. I started collecting scrapbooks and ephemera, but I worked as an archivist for awhile and that took the collecting impulse out of me a bit as I was working with these fabulous collections I could never afford. But right now I’m building up my collection of scrapbooks to fill in the gaps. I’m fairly discriminating about what I’m collecting because they’re big and they’re bulky and I don’t want two hundred scrapbooks. I want a really good representative collection.

My original collection, along with scrapbooks, was a collection of valentines. I have a really nice, old collection of valentines. They go from about 1810 to the modern day. So that was one of my first loves.

Another thing I collect when I see them are quirky playing cards, not regular playing cards, but card games—fortune telling, and authors, and touring, and so on. I think there are cards from about four different games in Frankie Pratt. I think they’re so decorative and so interesting. I really do love card games.

NP: Any thoughts or advice on collecting ephemera?

CP: Collecting ephemera is really fun. People simply should collect within their interests. There are some really easy ways to start collecting, such as postcards. And one of the most interesting things is to collect vintage postcards from where you live. They’re wonderful, they’re easy to find, they’re not expensive, and you can create a wonderful display with them. Or products from where you live—can labels, and things like that. But I think the best thing is to just be spurred by your own interests. Things like scrapbooks are hard to collect because they’re bulky, and they’re a real preservation problem because they’re made up of old pulpy paper. To look at an old scrapbook is to generally make it full apart! So I think small is good—that’s my impulse anyway.

NP: Can you tell us about your next project?

CP: My next novel is a scrapbook from a bride in the first year of her marriage. It goes from her engagement through her first anniversary, from 1959 to 1960. So I’m collecting for that right now. Betty Crocker cookbooks, decorating books, sex manuals, racy novels like Peyton Place, Sears catalogues, bride’s magazines, all sorts of stuff from the fifties. It will be a scrapbook novel but with totally different characters. It will be the same size, but otherwise completely different. It will have the vernacular of 1950s scrapbooks. I think of it as a prequel to Mad Men.

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Nate Pedersen is a contributing writer at Fine Books & Collections. His website is
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