Faking ‘Fresh off the boat’

FOB. Fresh off the boat. The worst kind of insult you can give an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) or any other ethnic minority equivalent. For Caffe Sospeso’s Racism poetry readings, I tried on a fobby Vietnamese accent, hoping to parody my own ethnicity; nobody laughed: they were either too polite or my attempts were really bad.

Tom Cho (via), on the other hand, does an awesome Singlish/Chinese Malaysian accent for ‘Aiyo!!! An Evil Group of Ninjas is Enterting and Destroying a Call Centre!!!’

The story itself is a colourful read with its ‘lah’ and ‘alamak’  and extra exclamation marks, and I’ve always wanted to do a Vietnamese equivalent, so I’ve been reading over essays written by Vietnamese Deakin students, trying to get a feel on how Vinglish works. One kid has this penchant for leaving out ‘the’ in some sentences, overcompensating in others. He also avoids using apostrophes or turning nouns into adjectives, preferring to use ‘of’ instead. I don’t blame him, apostrophes are more often abused than used correctly. (DVD’s from JB-HiFi, anyone?) My favourite sentence of his illustrates both of these quirks as well as the incorrect use of tenses: ‘The problem of corruption cannot solve in the short time, but the solution can affect in long time.’

Here’s a more substantial chunk of Vinglish from binhthuan.gov.vn:

A clod morning, from the Nguyen Tat Thanh avenue taking a look on the city center’s direction, one has the impression that huge changes have taken in a short time. To the people who live every day with and for Phan Thiet it is a surprise. The changes of their beloved homeland, to me, a native coming from far it is much more. Chatting with me, most people confirmed that the city had made achievements that were expected to be done in 5, 10 or more years. I remember when the city decided to carry out the Phan Thiet socio-economic development plan for the 1996 – 2010 period, a lot of people were worried and doubtful. Now what seemingly impossible became possible just in the first 6 months of 2002: the liberation of land for the Phan Thiet industrial zone has been successfully done. It was just one among thousand jobs the city finished. It was a proof of the determination and unanimity of the leaders and people of Phan Thiet, more vivid than whatever figures and nice words.

There’s some wonderful phrases here: ‘the liberation of the land’, ‘more vivid than whatever figures and nice words’, and ‘native’. It makes me realise how expressions often fail to translate from one language to another, and how difficult it is to actually create Vinglish. Not only does one have to mimic the grammatical idiosyncrasies, but one also has to think in Vietnamese, using a dictionary to churn out the supposed English equivalent. (Or chuck a whole heap of text into Babel Fish and see what one ends up with.)

Nevertheless, it seems like a fun exercise. I’m going to collect a couple more examples of Vinglish over the next couple of months, and get back to you on that story idea. Meanwhile, you can be a fob too*. Try saying, ‘Hai, mai name y <insert name here>. Sauree, I am unavailable. Plee lea a message after the tone…’ It’s fun.

*This only works if you’re Viet. Otherwise, you’re just being plain racist.

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The Jeremy Balius Fanclub

Writers are always being told what they should or should not do in regards to approaching editors. Angela Slatter has written some useful posts on submitting (‘A Note On Submission Guidelines‘ and ‘On the Fine Art of Submission‘), whilst Chris Flynn gave a speech about submission dos and don’ts, at EWF 2009’s The Pitch. However, there’s not much advice on being a good editor. 

In my first editing class, my tutor likened good editors to good doctors. Like doctors, editors should adopt the adage, ‘Do no harm’. In other words: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It’s simple enough advice, and yet there are dozens of literati horror stories about stories being butchered, gutted, and rewritten. And then there’s tales of poor/lack of correspondence, borderline unprofessionalism, and downright fails. At the NYWF panel, ‘Sweet Staple High: The New Class’, Kirk Marshall and Angela Meyer discussed the unprofessionalism of Cutwater: the journal had accepted their work, then followed up with a rejection letter a couple of months later. Kirk Marshall then brought up Jeremy Balius, founding editor of Black Rider Press, as an example of a Good Editor, and during the panel’s Q & A debate, I also threw in a good word for Balius. 

Kirk had forwarded me the Black Rider Press callout in July, and I emailed Balius, wanting to get a better understanding of the project’s vibe. What followed was a flurry of emails; Balius was courteous and enthusiastic, and his friendliness won him a submission from me, called ‘The Beast’*.

During the editing process, he sent me his edits and I accepted all but a few, explaining my choice. I had liked the rhythm of a particular sentence, and thought one of his other suggestions had introduced some ambiguity. Balius then wrote back, stating why he had made his edits, but graciously accepted my decisions. His faith in my work made me a little less precious about my words and later on, during the lead-up to publication, he kept me updated on The Diamond & The Thief’s happenings. 

In other words, Jeremy Balius is win, and as President of the Jeremy Balius Fanclub, I, Thuy Linh Nguyen, motion for the production of ‘I HEART JEREMY BALIUS’ T-shirts.

Jeremy Balius Fanclub Vice President and founding editor of Red Leaves / 紅葉, Kirk Marshall, seconds this and has penned a gratisfactory speech to rouse the party faithful. Over to you, Kirk. 

 

KIRK: Hey Thuy Linh! It’s become immediately apparent that I owe Jeremy some long-deemed web-facilitated aggrandisement for his capacity as both a mentor and a svengali, so it’s only sensible in this forum of editorial adulation that I weigh in on the degree to which he’s improved my work.

So I first exchanged electronic words of a happy and high-falutin’ stripe with Jeremy when he contributed a creative work that will be showcased towards late December in the forthcoming inaugural issue of Red Leaves / 紅葉, the English-language / Japanese bi-lingual literary journal that I edit. In the context of the 100 creative submissions that my callout generated for this formative anthology, I’m obligated to claim that Jeremy’s satirical contribution of short fiction easily constituted the funniest submission, and that which – besides the material I secured by commission and solicitation – most closely dovetailed with the curatorial ambitions I possessed for the journal to showcase. For me, Red Leaves / 紅葉  is all about embracing literary work which strives to foster an ‘international flavour’ whilst simultaneously capturing what it means to subvert pre-established narrative convention, which is why – when Jeremy approached me to write for Black Rider Press – I was sidewinded by the thrill to furnish him with something equal to the melancholy and eccentric story that I’d originally secured from Jeremy. In the end, I willed myself to stop vacillating over choice (I possess an occasionally untraversable backlog of short fiction from a period of eight years grappling with the form, which means it’s never an effortless task trying to discern what I should send, and where), and I purveyed my micro-fiction ‘Hangin’ with Barack Obama’** Jeremy’s way, for the first issue of Black Rider’s The Diamond & The Thief online minizine. 

The thing with ‘Hangin’ With Barack Obama’ which Jeremy swiftly surmised – and that I at first resolved not to recognise due to unnecessary authorial preciousness – but which I soon couldn’t deny, was that the story ended on an excessively egalitarian, uncomplicated and collegiate note: the characters had neither endured conflict nor miscommunication, which meant the story’s causal arc remained as lacking in a foreseeable contour as a frozen snake. What Jeremy offered me was a solution of near genius sophistication, and it was beyond any editorial injunction I personally could have recognised because its simplicity was so lateral: He showed me what would happen if I directly swapped the story’s last two paragraphs around, and the underlying effect on the narrative preceding it was profound. Suddenly, the protagonists in the piece were problematised: the friendship between them seemed manufactured, almost fallacious, because the micro-fiction ended on a sentiment of resentment. This inverted all that had preceded it, and it demanded of readers that they review what they had previously understood of the story, ensuring that the work capitalised on demystifying the idea that all was transparent in the way the two characters interacted. Jeremy convinced me of this by making a comparison to the fractious dynamic between individuals in Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, which was perhaps unfairly advantageous in this circumstance, because it still prevails as one of my favourite novels. Basically, the guy knew how to improve my work without compromising its original meaning nor eroding the significance of my personal authorial inclinations; he enriched what was on the page, without imposing his suggestions, and I’ve rarely enjoyed such a rewarding editorial exchange.

This is why I, too, will wear the ‘I HEART JEREMY BALIUS’ T-shirt with a subtle fanaticism, and I’ll find myself able to sleep like the salmon in warm, shallow spring waters after the winter thaw, knowing that for every loathsome workshopping experience, there’s an editor out there who promises to perfect that most arcane art, the Jeremy Balius method. Mihalo!

 

'I HEART JEREMY BALIUS' designed @ foghorn.com.au

'I HEART JEREMY BALIUS' designed @ foghorn.com.au

*To read ‘The Beast’, check out Issue Two of The Diamond and the Thief online minizine. 

**To read ‘Hangin’ with Barack Obama’, check out Issue One of The Diamond and the Thief online minizine.

The Pitch

Fact: prior to this week, I was a writers’ festival virgin. There have been flirtations—a magazine launch here, some voluntary cyberspace work there—but nothing concrete. No, ah, entry of any sort. Angela Meyer’s ’15 Minutes of Fame’ was my first taste of a real writers’ festival event (for more on ’15 Minutes’, click here); I liked it so much, I decided to come back for more.

So, after work today, I drove down to the Melbourne Town Hall where the Emerging Writers’ Festival was being held. I managed to attend two panel sessions: ‘Truth and honesty in writing’ and ‘The revolution will be downloaded’. I also managed to make two somewhat transient friends, Stuart and Tamara, who offered to buy me a drink initially, then ditched me to chase after some writerly celebrity residing in a corner of the Portico Balcony.

I also managed to sit in for ‘The Pitch’, where editors from various print and online magazines gave helpful tips about pitching and submitting one’s work. Torpedo’s Chris Flynn was particularly useful, giving a succinct list of submission dos and don’ts:

  1. Do read the submission guidelines
  2. Do read the publication. It quickly becomes apparent to the editor when a writer hasn’t read the publication at all.
  3. Don’t submit your old work. Not only is it a poor reflection of where a writer is at the moment, it also encourages laziness and ‘laurels-resting’.
  4. Do submit one story at a time.
  5. Do submit the right genre. If the guidelines say ‘fiction’, it means exactly that.
  6. Don’t frontload. Keep your cover letter/email short and sweet. (Apparently someone once sent Chris Flynn a fifteen-hundred-word email for a twelve-hundred-word piece. He was not impressed.)
  7. Do keep formatting to a minimum. The editor’s going to have to remove it anyway, and he or she won’t thank you for the extra work.
  8. Do be nice. It. Gets. You. Places.

In regards to manuscript pitches, Aduki Independent Press’ Emily Clark gave the following advice:

  1. Know the publisher: how does your work fit within their vision?
  2. Know your market: who’s going to buy your book?
  3. Don’t burn any bridges: just because they didn’t love your first idea, doesn’t mean they’ll hate all of your future ones.

It was great hearing from heavyweights such as Meanjin, Going Down Swinging, The Big Issue, and Overland, as well as less well-known publications like Stop Drop and Roll and Tango. I also practise my pitching skills on Emily Clark afterwards: ‘Hi, I’m from The Lifted Brow…’ But more on that some other day.

Withdrawing submissions: fail or ftw?

For the last few days, I’ve been stressing over submission etiquette. What happens when you want to withdraw a journal submission? Is it done? Or is it like abusing apostrophes: something not done in polite (and literate) society? 

I asked Tom Cho about my dilemma. I had recently submitted a poem to Peril, but a friend who had helped me workshop the piece asked if she could publish it in another journal. What was I to do? Could I withdraw my submission?

‘It should be fine,’ was Tom’s answer. ‘Just contact them and say that you are withdrawing the piece – and that you’re doing it ASAP to avoid any inconvenience. I’ve withdrawn pieces from journals and anthologies a few times before and never had a problem. If you’re polite and the piece hasn’t been accepted or isn’t too far in the production process, it should be fine…(If you know you’ve already been accepted by a journal, then it’s not very good to do. But even then I once withdrew a piece!)’

So there you go. Withdrawing submission ASAP is for the win. Withdrawing submission post-acceptance is a fail. For more on failing, visit failblog.org for all your classic fail moments.