Letters to the Editor: Disgruntled about Fading Twilight

Dear esteemed debaters for Team Bella and the Anti Sparkly Vampire League,

I have listened to your arguments in regards to a ‘fading Twilight‘. They have been informative. For instance, I never knew that President Bush had pushed for sexy abstinence programs in American schools: ‘not only should you not have sex, but you should be sexy at the same time’ (Jeff Sparrow). Nor did I realise that many boys consider porn ‘educational’, that one in three teenage girls have been coerced into sexual acts by their boyfriends (Van Badham).

You’ve used smutty humour such as ‘sub-zero penises’, and ‘frozen sperm’ to point out that ‘promotion of abstinence…is outdated, out of touch, and insulting to women’ (Chris Flynn), and accused us of literary snobbery (Kate Forsyth) and Stephanie Meyer of bad prose (Ben Chandler) . You’ve even brought up my favourite topic of the month, Mr Joss Whedon, via musings on Angel/Angelus, a real vampire (Ben Chandler).

But only one argument came close to the debate topic, ‘Fading Twilight‘, and that was the number-crunching. Nineteen thousand Breaking Dawns being sold per week (Bec Kavanagh)? That’s suggestive of a here-to-stay phenomenon. If only you had produced evidence of unmitigated sales as well, instead of making vague references to the New York Times Best Seller lists, we might have all been convinced one way or another.

Unfortunately, you did not, and as a result, the debate on ‘Fading Twilight‘ had strayed completely off topic. Come on. Who cares if Edward’s a prude? Or how male-dominated the publishing industry is? And why on earth are we talking about ‘pink icypole penises’?

Instead, we should have been examining Twilight’s continuing impact on its readers and the rest of society. Has it improved the literacy rate in children and adolescents? Has it affected reading patterns? Kavanagh mentioned increased sales in Wuthering Heights; that’s a good start. Has Twilight become set texts in schools that promote abstinence? Has it been duplicated by other writers (YES), adapted for film (YES) and graphic novels (YES), and parodied (YES)? These are the questions that need to be answered in a debate about the staying power of Twilight. That little girl in the audience might have been laughing at your jokes but even she wasn’t convinced by the pointless rhetoric.

See, that’s the thing, esteemed debaters from Team Bella and ASVL. This debate was part of the MWF’s Schools’ Program. We’re supposed to be teaching kids how to make a proper argument, instead of teaching them bad habits. ‘So long as you’re eloquent, the devil may care’ is what they’ve learnt today, thanks to you. You should be ashamed of yourselves.




EWF 2010 Photo blog

I have been carrying a camera around with me for the last ten or so days, but have been unable to post them up until now, so I thought I’d do a pictorial recap of my experience of the EWF 2010 festival. Some of the shots are unsalvageable, so please forgive me if your photos aren’t here.

2010 Page Parlour punters pick up The Lifted Brow No.5 at Federation Square. (23/5/10)

Storytime with Lucienne Noontil (centre) and Rusty the Possum (right). Estelle Tang (left) tries to keep mum about the 'happy ending'. (24/5/10).

Homemade 'I Heart Jeremy Balius' tees that failed to dry in time for The Last Hurrah. Boo. (26/5/10)

A.S. Patric reads from his chapbook, 'Music For Broken Instruments', at The Last Hurrah. (26/5/10)

After the gig, the bf made the observation that many of us Black Riders were not looking up from the page, his hero Eric Dando included. Oops. (26/5/10)

Lunchbox/Soapbox: Chris Flynn knows how to entertain with quirky tales about heroic hounds from film and literature. (27/5/10)

You Want Me To Do What? panellists (left to right): Declan Fay, Katherine Charles, Sean M. Whelan, Natasha Campo, and Kelly Gardiner. (30/5/10)

Kirk Marshall (left) and Jeremy Balius (right) discuss the two modes of literary translation at From Here to There: The Adventures of Kaisu and Kalle. (30/5/10)

The Melbourne crew chillax at the end of the festival with Islet editor Anica at the Horse Bazaar. No underaged bar-children working today! (30/5/10)

Willylitfest *giggle*

Blue skies and a ‘Let’s Be frankie‘ panel lured me and my bike out to Williamstown on Saturday. I didn’t think I’d make it back home before sunset, so I picked up these cute bike lights along the way:

Skully front light

Skully back light

On my ride, I caught the Westgate Punt, a scenic shortcut across the water. It was temporarily commandeered by someone’s youngster, but I arrived safely at the Scienceworks Museum and continued along the coastal trail.

At the ‘Let’s Be frankie‘ session, frankie senior contributors Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law described the magazine as frank articles plus cupcakes, craft, and rock & roll. Having never read or seen frankie, I started picturing shots of pink teacups, jauntily arranged on astroturf, juxtaposed next to awkward descriptions of bodily functions. Having written about personal experiences such as losing one’s virginity, Benjamin and Marieke discussed the ‘illusion of intimacy’* that they had manufactured. Marieke also used to blog; only 20% of her personal life became blog fodder, though her parents did develop a catchphrase rather like ‘and that’s not going in the blog’.

Right to left: Susan Bird (chair), Benjamin Law, and Marieke Hardy @ 'Let's Be frankie' (1/5/10)

I returned the next day for ‘From the Quill to the Kindle‘, a much more formal discussion between Sophie Cunningham, Chris Flynn, and Dmetri Kakmi about the so-called death of the book and eBook revolution.

left to right: Sophie Cunningham, Chris Flynn, and Dmetri Kakmi @ 'From the Quill to the Kindle' (2/5/10)

Working from a prepared speech, Dmetri described eBook trends that defied initial suppositions. Prime eBook consumers were not sci-fi/fantasy-reading, tech-savy geeks but tended to be thirty-five-to-forty-year-old females with tastes that reflected their hardcopy-buying counterparts.

Chris Flynn brought up environmental concerns. In a 2006 report, it was revealed that recycled paper makes up only 5-10% of books published in the US**. Publishers are aiming to improve this figure, but this means that thirty million trees are cut down each year for US books alone**. Our habit of collecting our favourite books is a selfish one.

Technology, however, is dictating the terms of the alternative. While you may own a physical book, you can never own an eBook, only the right to keeping a copy of it. If you breach your contract with Amazon, the copies get wiped. In other words, you can lend your Kindle to a friend, but you can’t let them borrow a copy of your favourite book. Libraries are screwed in this electronic universe, and writers/publishers can do little to help them, unless they release an open source version of their book.

Meanwhile, Sophie Cunningham examined how eBooks and eReaders may change reading/writing habits. Podcasts have already revived the audio book. Will access to social media on devices such as the iPad affect the way we read? Will collaborative processes, such as commenting/feedback on uploaded drafts, change the writing process? Computers certainly have. In the past, typewriting forced people to recreate drafts from scratch, whilst computers allowed for more sloppier writing via ‘cut and paste’ methods. Sophie hoped that the novel will survive this eReader revolution as a rarified form.

From the Quill to the Kindle‘ managed to outline what seems to be a mammoth topic. There’s a plethora of articles on eBooks available on the interwebs. Try ‘Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?‘ (via theliftedbrow), and ‘Amazon Erases Orwell Books from Kindles‘ for starters.

After Willylitfest *giggle*, I went down to Gem Pier with my fellow literary punters  who nearly incited a seagull riot with their chips. I have not seen The Birds, but seagulls are scary in numbers.

*Benjamin and Marieke also mentioned ‘frankie girls’ but never satisfactorarily explained the term. I did a Google search and found this.

**Figures confirmed via ecolibris.net.

NYWF 2010 Wishlist

Dear TINA,

For this year’s NYWF, I would like a spelling bee with words in it like phenolphthalein, scissile, dhoop, and bivouac.

I would also like free wifi at Festival Club. Internet cafes are expensive in Newcastle; some of us bloggers can’t afford to blog every day while we’re at TINA.

An electronic graffiti installation would be neat too. NYWF punters can scrawl words and diagrams onto tablet PCs and have it projected onto a wall. It would be just like Perth’s Street Art project. Or, if electronic graffiti is a no go, at least can we have a tweet screen similar to Eat Drink Blog 2010’s?

Finally, I would like a ‘Money is not a dirty word’ panel with Lisa Dempster, Tom Cho, and Chris Flynn discussing money, an important but often neglected part of independent publishing and early writing careers. Lisa would talk about freelancing and making money via web publishing (as per her articles in The Reader and Unwakeable), Tom would talk about the grant application process, and Chris would talk about his experience running various journals. It’s something I haven’t seen before, and TINA, if you make this happen, you’d make me so happy, and I’ll promise to be the most enthusiastic festival punter ever.

Yours Sincerely,

Thuy Linh

Storytelling No. 2 @ the Dog’s Bar

A couple of months ago, I happened upon the first of what hopefully will be many Storytelling events at Dog’s Bar. Storytelling is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of people telling stories. Storytelling II is on tonight, 8pm – 9.30pm, with MCs Chris Flynn and Josephine Rowe and guest storytellers Ronnie Scott and Micaela McGuire. There will be snippets of open mic as well; I’m not sure how people sign up for such, though Chris does say Facebook him (via). Hmmm. Cupcake/brooch bribes anyone?

Death of the printed journal: an interview with Chris Flynn about electronic distribution (Part 2)

TL: I guess that’s the good thing about Kindle. You’re only getting 35% of RRP but you’re guaranteed that 35%. And you don’t have to worry about print runs, etc. Does this mean that the 35% will go to the creatives?

CF: And don’t forget after June 30th we’ll get 70% from Amazon, and 70% from Apple once they launch the ibook store and we convert to that format. You’re also right that without print costs any money made will mean I can finally pay contributors a small stipend each, which I was never able to do in print. Although the huge assumption here is the mythical, oft-forgotten last link in the chain, the reader, will actually buy the damn thing. Torpedo sales were never anywhere near those of Meanjin or The Brow and in theory we might have a much wider audience now and be offering a journal much more cheaply and directly into the palm of the hand, but that doesn’t mean readers are queuing up to hand over their five bucks.

Marketing is the biggest skill absent from most independent publishing houses. Having a bunch of creative, artistic people working together to produce a great journal is all very well, but how does the reader find out about it? It’s easy to cover the six hundred or so people in Australia in the indie publishing scene, but what about the other twenty million Australians? How do you even reach 1% of those without a marketing budget and plan? It’s easy to believe people will love your journal, but the reality is most people will never hear about it. I have no solution to that one. If I did, I’d be selling a few thousand copies per issue and still working in print.

TL: True, marketing isn’t taught much in the writing and editing courses (or at least not in mine). I know The Brow has a couple of marketing advisers, which helps, though Ronnie Scott seems to have a knack of making things that sell.

So that’s it? No more beautifully designed bound copies of Torpedo?

CF: The thing is I paid for everything out of my salary when I worked full time and never made a penny from it (or never got my money back for that matter either). I don’t work full time anymore and because each issue made a loss that’s the end of that unfortunately. I’ve outlaid almost twenty grand in the past two years for no return. Quite a sobering thought. It’s been great though and I don’t regret it. I just wish a few more readers had been interested in buying it so it could have survived in print form, but them’s the breaks. I’m happy to let all the other journal editors worry about printers, distributors and postage from now on.

Torpedo will continue to publish work that I think is exciting, but on a different platform, hopefully one that will have an ever increasing audience rather than a dwindling one…I’m glad I was bald when I started all this, otherwise I would have pulled all my hair out.

TL: That has got to be the most depressing thing I’ve learnt all week. And I’ve noticed that we’ve just been discussing money for the last couple of hours. Money’s a dirty word in the literary scene (even more dirty than ‘networking’). But maybe there’s something to be learnt from Torpedo? Your thoughts?

CF: I hope there is a lesson to be learnt, and I’m quite happy to talk openly about the unmentionable issues. The most important piece of advice I would give any aspiring journal editor/publisher is this: Don’t kid yourself. You’re not breaking any moulds or doing anything that previous generations (or people you don’t know about in your own generation) haven’t already done. No matter how awesome you think what you’re doing is, you have to be realistic. If you don’t have much money starting out, you’re not going to make much money back. Morry Schwartz told me that if you were able to convince every single tertiary educated, discerning Australian book-reading adult that your fiction journal was something they absolutely must have (and how on earth would you manage that) then chances are you might just sell 4000 copies. Max. And he has half a billion bucks in the bank, so his reach is greater than ours. That’s why he doesn’t publish one. McSweeney’s only sells 16,000 copies worldwide and it has a superstar editor. The average published book only sells 800 copies and if your Aussie lit journal sells that many, you deserve an Order of Australia medal. It’s worth remembering that it’s not all about sales, but if you want your journal to be around for more than a couple of issues and don’t have any grants to sustain you, that’s the beast you’re going to have to confront.

Torpedo opened so many doors for me personally and it might be one of those retrospective selling things once I’m accepting an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical Comedy, but without the Eggers wow factor, a new journal is equal parts foolhardy, brave and insane. I’m sure Ronnie only sells The Brow because people think he’s a ninety-nine-year-old jazz legend (who is in fact deceased).

TL: Well, I think that’s a wrap. Thanks Mr Flynn for your honest advice, and now I owe you a coffee or perhaps some badly baked cupcakes.

CF: There’s no such thing as a bad cupcake.


Back to previous post, ‘Death of the printed journal: an interview with Chris Flynn about electronic distribution (part 1)’.

Death of the printed journal: an interview with Chris Flynn on the hows and whys of electronic distribution (part 1)

Less than two weeks ago, Torpedo announced the release of its back catalogue on Kindle and the demise of its print issues. According to its blog, Torpedo is the first Australian journal to embrace the Kindle format, citing prohibitive printing and postage costs and a saturated lit market as its reasons to go digital. I thought this was a bit space age, so I started bugging Torpedo’s editor Chris Flynn about the transition process; he was nice enough give me some decent replies.

TL: How does it feel to be the first Australian journal on Kindle?

CF: In Australian terms, it feels good to be a pioneer and to be embracing new technology, though there are virtually no Kindles in circulation in Australia, so that’s unfortunate. Still, it means we’re available on iphone and PC through the apps, but people seem to be unwilling to make that much of an effort. Since launching it on Kindle last week, every sale we’ve had has been in the U.S. No Australians as yet. Part of the problem there is that we’re so far behind with this technology. Americans have had Kindles for almost two years now and Amazon sold several million in the last quarter of 2009 alone. In New York, it’s not so much a case of ‘have you got a Kindle’ but ‘what sort of skin have you got for your Kindle’. We seem a long way off that here in Australia and I find that a little embarrassing.

TL: Yeah. We’re a bit backward in the outback. I don’t have a Kindle and I don’t have an iphone. I didn’t even know that we could put journals onto Kindle. Is it easy to set up? How does one go about it?

CF: It is and it isn’t. You have to register with Amazon as a publisher and present your credentials to them so they know you’re not uploading books you don’t have the rights to. All that takes a little while. Once that’s done, it’s a matter of playing with their desktop publishing software, which is easy to use, and creating html versions of your books. Having some coding experience is handy, but html is not as difficult as it might seem to the layman.

You definitely need a physical Kindle to test how your books look before putting them up live on the Amazon store though. There are limitations to what they’re capable of at this stage too. Although they can handle 32 shades of grey, some photos, illustrations and comics don’t look very good, mainly because you can’t zoom in the way you can on an iphone, and will be able to on an ipad. Plus, no colour. So for the moment the Kindle versions of most books are relatively simple text-only format. But hey, it’s a book, what more do you want? Once they go colour and touchscreen, graphic novels and photography will be perfect for the format, as it will be an inexpensive method of displaying rich content.

The financial model has come under question since Apple’s ipad announcement. Amazon currently take 65% of the list price of every book sold on their store, but on June 30th that will change to 30%, in line with what Apple are proposing.

TL: So Amazon takes 65% from your RRP (hopefully less in the future). How does this compare to the middle-men who distribute print journals, for example Readings, Mag Nation, and Selectair?

CF: Selectair (or Speedimpex as they are now known, since their amalgamation with Europress) are the only Australian magazine distributor who will distribute independent titles…Selectair also take 65% of the cover price, which is quite a lot considering how much it costs to print. Getting 35% back on the cover price makes it very problematic in covering print costs and paying staff/contributors. Also, you have to pay to ship your stock to Sydney where they are based.

If you distribute yourselves through shops like Readings and Mag Nation, you may be able to strike better deals (where they take as low as 35-40%) but you have to manage that distribution yourself and that is very time consuming. Plus, you have to chase up invoices and as a small player it can be very difficult getting money back. Readings are good eggs in this respect, but there are unfortunately many independent bookstores that I have found to be sadly unreliable when it comes to paying me what I’m owed. They’re keen to have the stock to make their store look good, but less enthusiastic when it comes to paying their bills it seems. That’s a real shame and it makes it hard for an independent publisher to get behind independent bookstores.

TL: You’ve mentioned in private that you’ve lost a bit of stock through dealing with unreliable independent bookstores, a common pitfall that emerging journals are often unaware of. Can you tell us more about this? Who are the bad eggs?

CF: Obviously I can only speak about the stores I’ve had personal dealings with, despite having heard about the problems other journals may have had. When I self-distributed my magazine Litmus Journal prior to Torpedo, I had problems getting money back from McGills (now closed) on Elizabeth Street, and unfortunately Metropolis in Curtin House. I like that bookstore, and I’m sure the hundred bucks or whatever it was at the time wasn’t high on their priority list, but when you’re an indie publisher it only takes a few stores to be slack in paying their bills for your next issue to be screwed. Perhaps other editors/writers will tell a different story, but I’ve heard too many people talking about this topic to stake the future of my journal on it. That’s why I chose not to distribute Torpedo in any bookstores at all (except Readings). I knew if I ended up waiting six months for a few hundred bucks here and there to be paid back to me, the next issue would be put in jeopardy and I didn’t want to spend half my time chasing up invoices that I felt should have been paid automatically at the end of the month or whatever.

There’s a strange symbiotic relationship between independent publishers and independent bookstores. They rely on each other. I just feel personally that the bookstores aren’t as invested in keeping the publishers alive as the publishers are in supporting the bookstores. That’s short-sighted and makes no long term business sense and I know no one likes paying bills, but if stores want fresh stock on their shelves then they have to understand that’s not possible unless they tighten up their invoice-paying process.


More ‘Death of the printed journal’ will be posted up on Thursday. Meanwhile, read Torpedo’s post on Kindle here.

Review: Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21

Alrighty. I said that I’d review a journal per week and already I’ve started outsourcing on the second week (thank you Sam Cooney for your thoughtful words on Cutwater). It’d be poor form to outsource again on the third week, so I’m going to review Visible Ink’s latest publication, Lost and Found.

I met half of the 2009 Vis Ink crew, Allison Browning and Anthony Noack, at this year’s NYWF. When Allison and Anthony spoke of their desire to start up their own literary journal once they had finished Visible Ink, I professed some scepticism. Did Melbourne need another literary journal? Seriously. It was getting crowded down here.

It has been tradition for some time for creatives to flock to Melbourne, to take advantage of the scene. The problem we now face is there’s too many of us here and not enough people amongst the public interested in what we’re all doing. We are our own audience, and since we’re all broke, we can’t sustain each other. (Chris Flynn, 14/10/09)

But after attending a couple of Read You Bastards fundraiser nights, which have become established events in their own right, and the Lost and Found launch, I wouldn’t mind if these guys go all Harvest. Unlike 1908, Lost and Found is one good-looking journal with colour art and photography gracing its covers and pages. Paper is of the recycled kind, and the the text is easy on the eye. Looks like Lost and Found knows that it’s a literary journal; it’s ‘noice’ without being overly designed.

There seems to be a couple of odd editorial decisions. Moreno Giovannoni and Simon McInerney are published twice. One might indulge in a couple of poems from the same poet, but two short stories from the same contributor seems a little excessive, especially in a journal that spans a little more than a hundred pages. I found out at the launch, however, that pieces were selected blind; it is credit to Moreno Giovannoni’s versatility that both ‘The Percheron’ and ‘Sally’ made the final cut. Simply and carefully told, ‘The Percheron’ unfolds without embellishment or trickery:

The man knows that the only way to work with a horse is to use a psychological approach, because his strength cannot match that of the horse. He normally tries to anticipate the horse’s likely behaviour and gently encourages responses consistent with the needs of the work. So what happens that day is a shock to both the man and the horse.

‘Sally’, on the other hand, is colourful in its colloquialism:

On the oval he’d go nuts in the middle of a pack. Didn’t care who he hit or which part of him got whacked. He knew that he’d get the ball if the others sensed his blind desperation. Crazy-brave. The opposition could tell he was going nuts so they’d let him have the ball. You would’ve thought he was prepared to die in there and that was scary.

Other pieces that particularly stuck out for me were Susan Fox’s ‘Waiting Room’, Bernadette Zen’s ‘Tramjam’ with its sweet, youthful earnestness, and Emma Starr’s photo ‘Solitude’, but almost every contributor had something to offer, and because of this I’m peeved at the 2009 Vis Ink crew for their wasteful use of four pages on editorial. But still, great job guys. Hope to see you manning another literary ship some time soon.

To order Lost and Found, check out Visible Ink’s post here.

Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21. Courtesy of visibleinkmag.wordpress.com

Next week, I’ll be reviewing another journal (not sure which one yet) unless I find someone else to review for me of course. Do you want to review something? It’s fun. I know you want to.

Until then, New Zealand-styled beached whale and sea gull on YouTube:

Inaugural night of storytelling at Dog’s Bar

Were you at Dog’s Bar last night? Because I was. Imagine a stage curtained off from the noise and lights of Ackland Street, a spindly desk lamp, and Josephine Rowe draped over a leather armchair Dickens might have favoured, her pale feet dangling over the side. Or Chris Flynn, straight-backed, introducing guest readers with a Belfast lilt, needing a tweed suit to go with his cap. Delicately drawn characters from Steven Amsterdam and Luke May, conversations about boxing with Mischa Merz, and an impromptu travel story from Cate Kennedy that was so well-constructed, it was sleight of hand, the audience straining to spot the chicanery of wires and pulleys in the dark. And then wine after, and dinner, and conversation about books. ‘Twas good. You missed out.

Launchfest wind-up

It’s been a fun week with Harry PotterJosephine Rowe, and TLB5 with guest appearances from Chris Flynn, Sean M. Whelan, and others. 

My highlights included

  • seeing the Hogwort’s team at their finest;
  • hearing Chris Flynn’s piece, ‘Falcon Vs. Monkey (Falcon Wins)’, at Josephine’s launch; 
  • For those of you who don’t know who Chris Flynn is, he runs a small publishing company called Falcon Vs. Monkey (Falcon Wins). Apparently a lot of people ask him how the name came about, so he decided to write an origins story which featured pilgrims, bandits, falcons, and (naturally) monkeys.
  • listening to Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s epic rhyming sci-fi audio drama on the way to work; and
  • convincing a girl who had bought a stack of Voiceworks magazines to part with ten more dollars for some awesome Brow action.

Speaking of Brow action, I had better put up some photos of the July 17th launch while I still have reliable internet. Hopefully, this week will be equally thrilling (and internet friendly).