Fetish for Writerly Goods Lands Romance Authors in the Klink

O'Hara in happier times

“I just wanted to stay abreast of industry trends. Now look at me.”

As I push a consent form towards her, these defeated words are spoken by the unlikeliest of criminals:  Canadian, her once-trim waist thickening from middle age, an aspiring romance writer, Jan O’Hara buries her face in her hands and displays her shackled wrists. Combined with the pallor of her complexion against the orange jumpsuit, the look is not a good one for her. O’Hara knows this, which is why she’s agreed to speak to me.

“Tell them all. Tell everyone. Let my story serve as a cautionary tale.”

A year ago, O’Hara was just another romance-writing wannabe, dutifully composing novels by day and studying publishing trends by night. Though a fan of print books, a series of blog posts on the internet convinced her that a digital tsunami was about to sweep the publishing world. In O’Hara’s words, when that wave came, she was “determined to be a floater.”

She purchased her first eReader, downloaded several books, then talked about her ambivalence on her blog.

“My readership was encouraging,” she recalls. “When I didn’t instantly love my Kindle, they said I would adapt. They offered tips.”

In a moment that proved fateful, one commenter, Glinda Harrison of The eBook Evangelist, mentioned the eReader covers sold by Oberon Design. O’Hara looked at their website and was instantly hooked.

An example of a product the Obes coveted

Oberon is a custom leather and pewter goods company based out of California with a reputation for solid workmanship and delivery. O’Hara is clear she doesn’t hold them responsible for her downward spiral. “It’s not their fault that their products are my crack,” O’Hara says. “Plenty of people can purchase a journal or iPad cover without resorting to criminal activity. That’s obviously not true for me.”

To say O’Hara was obsessed seems an understatement. She purchased one product, then another. She juggled the household finances so her husband wouldn’t notice the strain on their accounts. At night, rather than sleep or write fiction, she’d dream of new designs and sketch them out. She sent so many suggestions to the Oberon Designs company, they took the unprecedented step of blocking her IP address.

O’Hara’s response? She moved to the public library.

Another Obe, Suzanne Stengl

Then she attended a local writing group and found others who shared her delight. What followed was a local crime spree that baffled authorities for months. Petty theft, extortion, prostitution – “The Obes,” as they dubbed themselves, used the inventiveness and creativity once reserved for the page as a means to fund their habit.

O’Hara won’t discuss her partners further, as their cases are now before the courts, but she will say they fed off one another’s zeal.

“When I could resist the dragonfly journal cover in sky blue, another in our crew couldn’t.” She shrugs, but I detect a hint of pride in her voice. “We were so gone.”

O’Hara doesn’t know if she can or would have stopped on her own, but local officials had caught a break. One Obe, Suzanne Stengl, was pulled over for speeding. The ticketing officer noticed her car held an inordinate amount of stationery. Stengl confessed during questioning, an elaborate sting operation was put into place, and only a few weeks later, O’Hara would lead law enforcement in a dramatic pursuit.

“I was driving my open-topped Jeep towards Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump.”  Behind her, police cruisers kept pace. Overhead, a police helicopter repeatedly broadcast instructions to stop.  In the seat beside her, whooping encouragement, was fellow writer Vivi Anna.

“We were going to pull the Canadian version of a Thelma and Louise,” O’Hara says. “I was so ashamed. What would my husband and kids say when they found out what I’d done for Kindle covers? And Vivi said there were no laptops in jail.”

Vivi Anna in her pre-Obe days

But O’Hara didn’t make the final commitment. She stopped inches just short of the ledge. When I ask what changed her mind, she laughs softly. “They put a French-Canadian on the bullhorn in the ‘copter. He said” – her eyes grow soft in reminiscence—“‘Madame, please pull over now. There is no need for such… drrramatiques.’” She blinks and seems to recall where she is. “Only, his accent was much better, of course. He could really roll his Rs.” She sighs. “I love it when they roll their Rs.”

O’Hara laughs these days at the irony of a print- and digital-monkey being seduced by the spoken word. “All along I thought that it was digital that would be the end of my career. In a way, I was right, but not for the reasons I’d anticipated.” She winks. “How can one prepare for a French accent?”

She signs the contract permitting me to release this article, pushes it across the metal table, but I can see she has something more to say.

She holds out her hands. Her palms hold the fountain pen which was given to me by my grandmother when I graduated from university. That pen’s been with me to every reporting gig I’ve taken, and I’m dismayed I almost left it behind.

O’Hara bounces it in a gentle motion, as if weighing it. “What brand did you say this was?” she asks, though the subject hadn’t come up before now. She glances up and in the pause I swear her pupils have dilated. “It seems to have perfect balance…”


Yes, peeps, this is a satire. I have never owned nor operated an Oberon product. I have never visited Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, though it is a world heritage site and reasonably close. 

What is true?

  1. All the people named in this article consented to their involvement.
  2. French accents are da bomb.
  3. I possess a rebellious streak that might push me to such extreme measures, someday.

What have you done for awesome stationery and writing supplies? What will you do? Tell me a story in the comment section.

32 thoughts on “Fetish for Writerly Goods Lands Romance Authors in the Klink

  1. I have to hide my blank journals from my daughter — I stuff them behind the books in my office. She’s as much of a stationery hound as I am!

    1. That’s so sweet. I started journalling in my early teens and thought Molly would be the same, but she writes in hers maybe three times a year and uses it to summarize her life. I need to journal a few times a week, if not daily

  2. This was a hoot and all I can say is that the “addiction” to paper escalated to fabric and on any given day you might have found me fondling rolls in Joanne’s or the discount guy on the Lower East Side. It’s better now. I can even walk into a fabric or stationery store and resist another hit. My daughter took this to another level and filled our home with stickers, spent endless hours in sticker stores and to this day, still gets a secret thrill from designer stamps. Love this too much, Jan 🙂

    1. Thank you, Florence! You know, I used to be into fabrics, too, but that’s another hobby that’s fallen by the wayside of late.

      Stickers are fun, though I never found them to be as flexible in their use. Which reminds me, does anyone collect stamps any more?

  3. I loved this so much! And I confess I’m a sucker for a French accent.

    I have a secret addiction to cards. You remember those old fashioned folded things with jokes and sentiments on them people used to put in envelopes and send for birthdays, Valentines and oh, just because? I have a large plastic container stuffed with them, filed by occasion or blank. I even have an obsolete section that say things like, “I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written, but…” Haha, who writes any more? But I love them. And there is always a selection of cards for the boys to pick from for their Dad for Father’s Day.

    And I have my lesser, but equally beloved, collection of blank journals with covers of tooled leather, pretty designs or spiritual meaning, which should keep me hand writing my thoughts with pens until 2024!

  4. Um, Jan…. Does this mean that I am the only one who actually owns Oberon Products? Honestly, I dont really consider myself addicted. I mean, I only own 2 Kindle covers, a business card holder and an iPod holder from them. Plus a lot of their pewter jewelry, but that doesn’t count, right? And the other Obereon items I bought as gifts don’t count either, right?

    Look, I am not one of those people who get addicted. I really need those things! I mean I have 3 Kindlesand a Nook. Plus a Kindle Touch and a Fire tablet on order, but those don’t count because I don’t actually own them yet right? And I am thinking about a Kobo reader as well. But I blog about this stuff, so it’s reasearch, right? I tell you it’s research!

  5. Delightful! The blocked IP address especially made me laugh.

    I’ve learned not to buy notebooks, because I always want to save them for something special. I lapse maybe once a year…BUT. A friend gave me some skinny Moleskine notebooks for my birthday, and I love them. They’re the perfect size for random jottings. These: http://www.moleskineus.com/cahier-large-ruled.html

    Gah. Must stay away; orange isn’t really my color, either.

  6. Scribblers are my addiction. I’m not sure where they keep disappearing to, so perhaps someone else in my household is addicted to them, also. Hmmm, time to bring out the interrogation lights. Jan, could I please borrow your Frenchman?

  7. Don’t worry, computers will be invented a few decades from now. Their electronic memory files will be so perfect and reliable that even die-hard collectors will cringe at the very thought of actually writing on a precious piece of paper (and pens will disappear too, replaced by something called ‘electronic ink!’)

    What? They were!? And they didn’t?!? SCANDALOUS!!!

    Sorry, Jan. The closest I can come to your experience is the hunt for brads for my screenplays. They have to be the right brand, the right size and the right metal (brass.) I found the last box in the town where I live. Seriously. I hunted through all the stationary and craft stores, so score!

      1. It’s always been about the technology with me. I was ‘typing’ –hunt & peck– before the rest of the children had figured out what that thing was for. (Ironically, children today might be even more puzzled by an old manual.)
        When I couldn’t find a new one I bought a ‘Jornada,’ a forerunner of the iPAQ, and a folding keyboard. A newer Jornada and 2 iPAQs later and you can’t find them anymore. But I’m still smitten with the keyboard–I detest the idea of tapping a flat screen. And I can’t wait for the virtual keyboard–no fingerprints! So it’s a parallel in particularities.
        PS: was anyone else thinking of creating a bail fund? ‘Free Jan, Free Jan…’

  8. Walking into a stationery store, I feel like a junkie walking into a pharmacy. All the pens – and unlike you, Jan, I even like the cheap ones. The paper, the glorious reams of paper – high quality, thin and flimsy, decorative holiday borders – I want one of everything!

    And don’t get me started on the notebooks.

    Maybe we need a 12-Step program.

    1. If we start a 12-step program, can I be the note-taker? 😉

      I actually like cheap pens, as long as they fit my hand. Just moments ago I used a Papermate Flexgrip Elite in medium blue, purchased in a 12-pack at Staples. I tend to save the pretty stuff for “some day” — a choice I’m trying to alter.

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