What’s going on?

I’m not writing. I’m not thinking about writing. I spend most of my spare time. thinking about domestic things like tomatoes and the mould colony on my bathroom ceiling. I haven’t been to a book/magazine launch since The Lifted Brow (though I did try to go to the Griffith Review but got waylaid by the Eastern Freeway/Carpark…oops). What’s going on?

A few years ago, when I was studying writing at Deakin University, I spent a dysfunctional amount of time learning salsa. I went dancing three or four times a week. It was fun for a while and then I started to enjoy it less and less. The dancing wasn’t so much of the issue, but I hated the random men who would try to chat me up, instead of concentrating on the salsa.

In some ways, writing is turning into the salsa. That high that I get from creating something new is getting harder and harder to chase as I get more and more bogged down with social writerly niceties and this crippling conscience that dictates that I should be doing the right thing but not necessarily the write thing.

Therefore, I think it’s time to stop. Not necessarily writing, but the other stuff: launches, journals, blogging, socialising. My partner says I should start keeping a diary and write about what I know for a while. It’s sounds like such a decadent and self-involved practice, but I think I need to gorge on cake for a while.

I will still keep this blog, but you might not see a post for a month, maybe two months, maybe a year. The idea is to make it fun. Angela Meyer once said that people should blog only if they want to. And so I shall.

The First Fifteen Minutes

Does anyone recall last year’s 15 Minutes of Fame? Angela Meyer perched on a stool, interviewing timid-looking writers also perched on stools. Free wine tastings. Small room. Guy slumped in the pod on the other side of the glass wall, oblivious to the EWF happenings.

Well, this year’s first 15 Minutes is like last year’s 15 Minutes on steroids. Think imposing  Wheeler Centre stage, bright lights, square armchairs. Think Estelle Tang with seductively husky radio voice, telling post-Catholic neurotic, Joel Magarey, to ‘suck it up’ on stage*.  Think Meyer and Tang having a face-off, with Meyer later admiting that Tang’s 15 Minutes was funnier than hers. You missed out. Yeah, you did.

Tonight’s line up included Miscellaneous Voices, Andee Jones, Lucienne Noontil, as well as Joel Magarey.

Miscellaneous Voices, an anthology of Australian blog writing, is Miscellaneous Press’ first title. Editor Karen Andrews and contributor Carla Del Vecchio represented the anthology; both discussed their blogs and why they loved blogging. In spite of the imperfections, blog posts are often written in the heat of the moment and thus have a ‘raw power or beauty about them’. Andrews tried to distill this in the anthology, choosing pieces that resonated with a coincidentally personal bent.

Reviews for Miscellaneous Voices were mostly positive. There was one reviewer who didn’t see the point of such a book, since they had already read five of their favourite pieces previously online, but Tang was quick to note that Voices would have been a great introduction to twenty-six other bloggers. Geordie Williamson’s review also came up. In response to  ‘some pieces show signs of having been gussied up at the last moment for publication’, Andrews declared that the edits were similar to that of any other book.

Andee Jones, writer of the memoir Kissing Frogs, started her fifteen minutes with a tongue-in-cheek performance, establishing the tone for the rest of the evening. Her memoir details a mature woman’s experience with internet dating. A child of the sixties, she had never been on a date before, believed it to only happen on sitcoms. But she had hoped that one got braver as one got older, so she gave it a try. Jones comes across as sassy and self-reliant and her book seems less cynical than Michaela McGuire or Clementine Ford’s thoughts on internet dating.

Next up was Lucienne Noontil who wrote and illustrated Possum Tales. Storytelling for adults is not quite the same as it is for kids. Noontil deliberately adopted a patronising tone in her reading and was rewarded by silly interjections from Tang. Afterwards, the two spoke about the editing process, how every word has to count in a children’s book and how one has to avoid offending readers. For instance, Rusty the possum leaves home, but Noontil had to word it in such a way so that it didn’t sound like he was getting kicked out of home.

In the last quarter, Joel Magarey spoke about his book Exposure, which details his global odyssey. He had hoped to replicate a state of being he had experienced while living with a tribe in Papua New Guinea; he believed that his Western existence had a surplus of choice, leading to bewilderment and anxiety.

Magarey described the process of writing Exposure as psychotherapy: he had been through the pain during his travels but learning to understand it was like light. What he noted was that comedy equals tragedy plus time and was darkness transposed, something he would talk about further in his other EWF gig, Going to a Dark Place. Yes, 15 minutes is all about the spruiking, people**. Get over it.

15 Minutes of Fame happens around seven at The Wheeler Centre each night until Thursday. That means you’ve only got three more 4 15 Minutes. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Now who’s up for some Madonna?

*She did apologise profusely afterwards.

**More spruiking: Literary Minded’s review of Exposure here, and Killings podcast on Joel here. It’s a spruik-fest.

Update: Damnit, Jodie Kinnersley beat me to it. She’s already posted on 15 Minutes. THIS IS NOT A COMPETITION.

Review: Voiceworks Issue 80 – ‘Missionary’

For those of you who haven’t already heard, Bel Monypenny is leaving Voiceworks and Missionary is her last issue as editor. Having only recently rediscovered Voiceworks, I am ill-equipped on comparing Monypenny with past Voiceworks editors, but Literary Minded describes her as ‘steer[ing] a less-showy ship, still understandably finding its path’ and choosing work that is ‘happily not as abrupt as pieces have been under previous editorship’ (24/6/09).

Missionary fits this description. The cover is a sleek black, white, and orange; the words inside are quiet yet articulate, barring the few shouts like ‘In the Name of the Father’ by Chancier Blame and ‘We’re Not That Bad?’ by Liam Wood.

Like its predecessor, Classic, Missionary has a strong selection of non-fiction and regular columns, and I found myself preferring these to the rest of the content. While fiction’s grasp on the theme seems tenuous at times—’Forrest Hump, Full Metal Jack-off, Missionary Impossible’ (Christopher Glenn’s ‘Typewriter: a Story in Four Parts’)—non-fiction seizes upon the religious, the ritualistic, the moral, and the ethical and plays rough like the Spanish Inquisition.

In ‘Videogames: a Virtual (and Violent) Reality’, Giles Fielke discusses how video games preach rule-breaking and the irrelevance of ethics, citing Rapeplay as an example (see Virgule’s excepts here). Liam Wood writes introspectively about being a white, middle-class tourist in Leonora, a (post) colonial frontier in WA. Claire Marshall recounts ritualistic shopping and the guilt that ensues at Arthur Daley’s Clearance House. These and other pieces are competently engaging like much of the fiction and poetry.

But it is Joseph Brennan’s ‘Not Before Dinner’ that eclipses all. Through prose bordering on poetic, Brennan replicates the reverence surrounding a dinner at Berowra Waters Inn, something that later is revealed as being quite ordinary. It’s a beautiful piece that marries fact with techniques borrowed from fiction and poetry, something that is often attempted but not always successful.

Overall, Missionary looks smart and its non-fiction is smart. It could have been smarter with more adventurous fiction/poetry cohabiting its pages, more of ‘In the Name of the Father’ which is full of contradictions like one particular religious text, but that would be bordering on miraculously smart and I am not one for miracles. Is it worth the eight dollars I paid for it? Hell, yeah.‘Missionary’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.

April 12: What’s happening, Melbourne?

According to my personal assistant, Facebook, there’s a poetry gig going down at Readings Carlton 6.30pm tonight. It’s free and it’s featuring Jodie Albiston, Jennifer Harrison, and Josephine Rowe.

The launch for Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing # 1 will also be held at Readings Carlton. Miscellaneous Voices # 1 showcases writing from writer bloggers such as Angela Meyer,  Lisa Dempster, and A.S. Patric. Things start happening at 6pm on Wednesday, 14 March.

Storytelling @ Dog’s Bar is now free and we like free things. We also like the starving artist’s specials in the restaurant next door. The likes of Angela Meyer (Literary Minded) and George Dunford (Lonely Planet) will be in the comfy armchair this Thursday, so have your $16 meal+wine and listen to some quality rambling.

The leather armchair at Dog's Bar (courtesy of Storytelling).

For all of those people who prefer swimming to jogging, drinking to eating, and drowning to spontaneous combustion, Waterproof’s performers will be splashing about in the Melbourne City Baths, starting Friday 16 March. Prose is by Read You Bastards’ Bastard Simon McInerney, aka ‘that guy who reads about murderers disposing body parts in Williamstown and the Maribynong River’, so it should be dark, fascinating stuff.

And, for those in a monogamous relationship with their computers and aren’t allowed to see other people, Elena Gomez has reviewed Issue One of Kill Your Darlings. It’s interesting comparing other people’s reviews with mine. Ditto in regards to Gideon Haigh, girl!

March 1: What’s happening, Melbourne?

I told somebody I was Tom Cho-ing the other day; they laughed and said Tom would be pleased to find out that he’s now a verb. (Tom Cho-ing – v. 1. going out to see Tom Cho at the Wheeler Centre on 1 March 2010 for Debut Mondays.) Other writers who might also be turned into verbs today will be Lisa Dempster, Andrew Croome, and LK Holt.

Read You Bastards is getting Lifted this Wednesday at the Empress. (Lifted – adj. 1. Lifted Brow-ified and therefore awesome.) Guest readers will be contributors from The Lifted Brow’s Atlas issue, including Nicolas Low, Angela Meyer, and Lorelei Vashti. No Atlases on sale this Wednesday (sold out), but there’ll probably be some back issues available at the door or you can preorder an Atlas reprint at www.theliftedbrow.com. I will also attempt to encourage/bully open mic newbie Christine Priestly into doing another reading.

Sketch is launching their second issue on Thursday night at Chaise Lounge. After hearing them talk about their lack of (wo)manpower at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, I volunteered to help proofread their second issue. I haven’t seen the final proofs yet, but hopefully Sketch 2 will be good. There’s this amazing story by new writer Clare Kitada in it and I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

Friday will be Domestic Rock ‘n’ Roll night for Sospeso Readings. Derek Motion and Nathan Curnow will be performing, along with a whole lot of open mic peeps. I won’t be able to make it because OHMIDOG I AM SEEING RICHARD DAWKINS, but I really really liked the last Sospeso and I think you should like totally go to this one, like yeah.

Signing off for now, lots of photos soon,

TL.

Lifted Brow’s Atlas Launch

Atlas liasons at Bella Union Bar:

gaijin geishas and short shorts ninjas

suicide bombers who can’t be farked after a beer

tie skirts and kilts and (hopefully) underwear

Angela Jolie with a basketful of babies

and fur stole translations

on a bright blue sea.

England represent (Laura Smith). (22/1/10)

Norweigan (Angela Meyer) and gaijin geisha (Lisa Dempster) at The Lifted Brow's Atlas launch. (22/1/10)

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 Humble Reader from EWF

In September, post-Melbourne Writers Festival 2009, I wrote a post about Writers’ Festival Withdrawal (WFW):

There’s a lot of WFW going around at the moment. The Melbourne Writers Festival is over for 2009, and everyone has been posting about their feelings of dejection (as opposed to the usual feelings of rejection), which is crazy since Overload and TINA (This Is Not Art) are coming up. (1 September 2009)

I didn’t understand why people weren’t coping. MWF  was great, but work, social engagements, and an evil real estate lady ensured that I was just a casual punter; I hadn’t experienced total festival emersion, and didn’t know any better.

TINA, however, was in another state. I was on holidays from work, friends, and family; TINA became my work, my social interactions, my drink of choice. I started getting the shakes when I landed back in Melbourne, spent a lot of time checking other writers’ Facebook profiles, but it wasn’t the same. I needed a literary Valium, so I went to the launch of EMF’s The Reader

After drinks and some amazing tempura prawns/beans/calamari and a discussion on the sexual preferences of Bret Easton Ellis, I started reading The Reader on the tram home, finishing the anthology the day after. With its mix of informative articles, artwork, themed poetry and fiction, The Reader puts me much in mind of Julian Fleetwood’s Sex Mook*, which is unsurprising since Death Mook editor Dion Kagan is captaining this EWF ship. The Reader is like a Writing Mook, elegantly bound in black and silver, exploring a diverse range of writing issues. There’s a how-to on re-writing screenwriting by John Pace, a frank article from Lisa Dempster on how much writers should get paid, while Jane Hawtin talks about turning academic writing into commercially viable publications. Scattered amongst the advice is a poem about rejection letters, reviews on writing books/software from Angela Meyer and Cameron White, and an adorable comic about making comics from Christopher Downes.

What I loved most about The Reader was its ability to play without sacrificing content, with self-help on self-promotion juxtaposed against fears of selling out. Each piece had something to offer to the emerging writer, and was written in an engaging way. Some pieces were earnest, like Stephanie Honor Convery’s Black Saturday experiences, or parodic like Clem Bastow’s ‘Free(lance)-Falling’. But what seemed ubiquitous in such a diverse range of pieces was a self-awareness, a sense of ‘not having quite made it but hopefully getting there’; The Reader’s a humble but essential guide for any emerging writer. 

 

The Reader, image courtesy of EWF.

The Reader - available for $20 from all good bookstores (image courtesy of EWF)

*I have yet to read Death Mook.

NYWF 2009: Goodbye NC

Newcastle. Unreliable taxi services. Drunk youths. Cheap retro. Love it, hate it, can’t stand the sight of it. Home of TINA (This Is Not Art Festival) and, consequently, the National Young Writers’ Festival

Over the last four days, I’ve hugged Lawrence Leung, discovered Chris Somerville and Michaela McGuire’s work, hung out at a Lucky Seven with Angela Meyer, and learnt swing-dancing from Visible Ink’s Anthony Noack. I’ve chatted to distro owners, potential subscribers and contributors, and random punters at the zine fair, and compared Buffy notes with Thomas Benjamin Guerney. Oh yeah, and I started crying during the Artistic Resilience Intensive’s meditation exercise (which wasn’t very resilient of me). I’ve drunk, and danced, and done the meet and greet. It’s been fun, but I’m glad to be home and finally catch up on some sleep.

Thank you Amy Ingram, Daniel Evans, Sarah Howell and Ronnie Scott for a wicked festival, and thank you everyone else for being the cool cats that you are.

Until next year,

TL

NYWF 2009: Day Three

Angela Meyer and Kirk Marshall were on another panel, alongside Bel Monypenny (Voiceworks), Alexandra Neill (Good News Week), and Madeleine Hinchy (Belle magazine). Called ‘Crimes Against the Industry’, the panel discussed interning: why do it, how to do it, and where to go for it.

While a writing degree might help ‘speed things up and [help you] learn things quickly’ (Bel), internships help graduates get that first foot in the door of the industry, giving opportunities to network, upskill, or, if you’re an exceptional intern, score a paying job at the organisation. (And if the internship sucks, then at least you’ve narrowed your interests.)

Before applying for an internship, you should keep a few things in mind:

  1. Bigger is not better. Working for Sony or Macmillan may seem lucrative but you probably won’t learn as much as working for a smaller-scale operation such as Sleepers or Ilura Press. Bigger places are often departmentalised; smaller places usually have just the one workspace; you’ll probably get to see/do more at a smaller place. Goliathesque companies are also more likely to use and abuse their interns: with so many applicants for the position, they usually see an intern as a disposable asset as opposed to an actual person.
  2. Target your organisation. Do look for a position that you’re interested in. Don’t waste your time learning stuff from people you don’t like, and don’t waste their time either. Also, do your research. Tailor your application to the position and to the person you’re sending it to. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a letter addressing the editor of Voiceworks as ‘Mr Moneypenny’.
  3. Know what you want. Tell your supervisor what you’re interested in. Not only does it show initiative, it also helps the organisation determine what they need to teach you. However, this does not mean throwing a tantrum at the first ‘plebby’ job that comes your way. Being tactful always helps.

For more on interning, check out Estelle Tang’s ‘Hello Intern’ interviews. For laughs, check out The Intern (thank you Angela Slatter).