Stuff that I wrote earlier

…and when I say ‘earlier’, I’m talking two years earlier. My short story ‘The Intern’, was written way back in 2008 and has finally found a home in The Lifted Brow. I know, I know. I wasn’t going to contribute to the Brow, since it felt somewhat incestuous submitting to a journal one interned at, but The Brow seemed the best match for this piece, so, um, yeah…?

The Lifted Brow No. 7 (image courtesy of theliftedbrow.com)

Also, my review of Chris Womersley’s Bereft is now up on the Killings blog, so go read that while I sneeze all over my computer screen. Yes, Sam Cooney, I’m sick again. Boo.

Review: [untitled] – Issue Two

When I ran out of fresh literary journals to munch on, A.S. Patric was kind enough to give me a review copy of [untitled]’s second issue. [untitled] is a new Melbourne literary journal headed by Blaise van Hecke and Les Zigomanis from Busybird Publishing & Design.

Issue Two and Issue One getting cosy

The cover is stylistically similar to the previous issue’s, again using work from Busybird’s inhouse illustrator, Kev Howlett. The cartoon figure reminds me of Principal Skinner for some reason, and I think this has coloured my expectations of the stories inside. For instance, I couldn’t switch into a serious enough mood to take in Bella Ellwood-Clayton’s earnestly penned relationship-dance, especially after reading the journal’s tongue-in-cheek editorial. And again, Camilla Nurka’s delicate rendering of white man’s guilt and Indigenous Dreaming in ‘The Beach House’ felt more Etchings than [untitled]. I would have preferred more light, humour, and suspense, and a little less shade.

Thankfully, the second half of the issue felt more [untitled] and less [insert random literary magazine here]. The stories did manage to ‘take you away in the reading, …engross you, maybe even make you forget the world around you…’ They had ‘no pretensions’ and were ‘not on a mission to enrich the literary community’; instead, Therese Mobayad’s ‘Blonde Appetit’ made me laugh, van Hecke’s ‘An Unfortunate Series of Redheads’ and Hilaire’s ‘Out of Kilter’ kept me entertained, while Lee D Gordon’s ‘Coffins’ punched in the gut.

So what’s my verdict on [untitled], the Second? A mixed bag of short stories and poetry that might read better out of order. There are some great pieces that don’t belong in this publication, and some great pieces that definitely do. This is something that will undoubtedly be rectified in future issues once the editors and contributors finish nutting out a distinct voice for the journal.

[untitled] is available at selected bookstores (Readings!) and on their website. For those who want sneak peek, Violet Kieu has posted her story ‘Chardonnay’ online.

Story in Short and Scary

I got this in the mail before the Easter break:

Short and Scary - a whole lot of creepy stories and other chilling stuff

Titled Short and Scary, it’s the latest Black Dog Books anthology for readers between the ages of ten and fourteen and showcases pieces from people like Carole Wilkinson, Shaun Tan, and Andy Griffiths. My story ‘Garlic Cake’ is also in it, published under my western (hybrid) name.

I’m not sure when Short and Scary will be available exactly, but it should hit bookstores in a couple of weeks. Please purchase a copy for your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/randoms as all profits will be donated to youth mentoring programs.

Anyhoo, I think I’ll take ‘Garlic Cake’ along to Read You Bastards this Wednesday for some old-fashioned vampire bashing.

Review: Voiceworks Issue 79 – ‘Classic’

The last time I subscribed Voiceworks, I was twenty-four and spending most of my salary on clothes from high-end-fashion chain stores. When my subscription and my submission eligibility ran out, I bagged all of my old issues and donated them to a local high school. What was inspiring for other subscribers was depressing for twenty-five-year-old me: these ‘youngsters’ were creating work that I had no hope of emulating.

Two years on, and I’m ready to grapple this journal bitch. Lured to the Wheeler Centre by speak of a guest appearance from Nam Le, I went to the Voiceworks ‘Classic’ launch and picked up my copy of Issue 79.

In her editorial, Bel Monypenny writes about Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and her failed attempts to mimic their bush poetry style. Issue 79 isn’t about reworking what has come before in style and genre, but more ‘classic moments made new and intriguing by fresh eyes, distinctive voices and unique perceptive detail’: ‘familiar moments—drunken teenage rebellion, questioning the life you’re born into, your first big night out, the death of a loved one.’ However, as I read through ‘Classic’, this theme did not seem present in any of the pieces, which suggests that Issue 79’s writers have managed to avoid what is easy and cliché.

There’s some striking fiction in this issue: Luke Rule’s ‘Pulling Down the Sun’ stands out as an example of literary speculative fiction; dealing with the supposedly banal themes of death, sex, and violence, Claire Marshall’s dark piece, ‘The Edwardians’, also grabbed my attention; and prize winner, Amelia Schmidt has created beautifully fluid, dreamlike work in ‘House-sitting for My Mother’—‘my mother and father disappear in an aeroplane and I pack myself into a suitcase’.

The non-fiction is also particularly strong: Michelle Walter’s ‘Getting Off the Staircase’ is evocative enough to work as either fiction or non-fiction/memoir; Sam Cooney’s column on writer workspace meanders from Roald Dahl to Jonathan Safran Foer, whilst Kate Leaver’s column tackles incest and society’s fascination with sexual violence.

What I enjoyed most, however, were the interviews. I’m not sure if this a recurring section, but Voiceworks talks to a few of its contributors in Issue 79. There’s also a conversation with emerging writer Jessica Au who discusses working on her novel, interning at Sleepers, and her writing process.

And so, despite its youthfulness, and my twenty-seven-year-old bitterness, I took a liking to Voiceworks or at least its current manifestation. ‘Classic’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.

Review: Peril Edition Eight

I’ve finally sat down and read ‘Why are people so unkind?’, Peril’s latest issue. For those of you who haven’t heard of the journal, Peril is an Asian Australian online journal on arts and culture run by the likes of Hoa Pham, Lian Low, and Tom Cho. It’s a bit patchy at times with editors choosing pieces that reflect the Asian-Australian experience over more polished prose. With the eighth issue, however, it seems that they’re finally finding a balance between the two. ‘Teh Halia’, a prose piece about an Indian daughter’s regret over cups of her father’s ginger tea, is touching and carefully observed, moving beyond ethnic literature into something more universal.

The non-fiction was particularly strong in this issue with many pieces focusing on gender identity: Owen Leong interviews two Japanese artists who both explore gender in differing ways, while Lian Low speaks to The Ladies of Colour Agency about sexuality, whiteness in political movements, and genderfucking. Benjamin Law’s article on Asian-American conservative Michelle Malkin is perversely entertaining:

…Malkin seems quite attractive. Even as a homosexual myself, I cannot take my eyes off her, partly because Malkin’s pretty, and partly because there’s some gland inside me that reacts to seeing an Asian—any Asian—with a broadcast media platform. It’s this same gland in me that’s triggered off whenever I see Penny Wong on The 7.30 Report, or old footage of John So cutting a ribbon in Melbourne, or watching Poh being interviewed on Masterchef.

There’s also a couple of opinion pieces on Indian-Australian relations from Amrita Dasvarma and Angela Dewan, discussing the ubiquitous exploitation of overseas students, and the pressure to assimilate as a migrant, as well as an interview with Kamal.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from such a strong collection, but Lily Chan’s poem resonated with me the most: ‘in my head i was scout finch / elizabeth bennet / nancy drew / stepped back, startled / from my own reflection’. In a few lines, Chan encapsulates an Asian-Australian girl’s experience: feeling white, being attracted to white boys, experiencing ambivalence to Pauline Hanson and guilt for having it ‘good’ compared to her brother. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Peril’s next endeavour will be about ‘creatures’, and I’m curious to see how this theme will be interpreted in an Asian-Australian context. For those of you who feel like submitting to Issue Nine, check out the journal’s submission page, here.

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.

Review: Harvest Issue 3

Last week, I promised that I would start doing a 3000 Books with literary journals. For those of you who haven’t come across her blog, Textual Fantasies’ Estelle Tang endeavours to read 50 books per year: ‘…when I started this blog I was 23 years old. The life expectancy for an Australian female is 83 years. 60 reading years left x 50 books = 3000 books. Why yes, it is very literal. Some might also say it is numerical.’

Knowing me, it is unlikely that I will be able to match Estelle’s reading voracity/velocity, but I will try my darnest to get through my metastatic pile of literary journals. This week’s sacrificial maiden was Harvest Issue 3.

 

Harvest Issue 3 with random sweet potato (19/11/09). Sweet potato courtesy of housemate.

I’m a big fan of Harvest. Not only does it publish meaty literary pieces, it is also beautifully presented, attracting readers outside the usual literary circle. Sarah, my doctor friend, picked up Issue 2 at Readings and gave it to me as a gift. She didn’t recognise any of the contributors; she probably purchased the journal on aesthetic merit alone.

Issue 3 is of similar attractiveness with the front cover designed by Allison Colpoys. Fiction tended towards lyrical, somewhat traditional, not as punchy as I would have liked, though there was masterful use of language in many stories. Jessica Au’s ‘Old Man River’ is almost poetic, her flourishes are something I could never possibly emulate. Paul Dee’s ‘Murder in the Snow’ focuses on the mundane with microscopic detail, and is appropriately accompanied by Stella Kalaw’s  photos of shower taps and rusty oil fin heaters. Borrowing stories from How a Moth Becomes a Boat, Josephine Rowe tapers off sections elegantly with paragraphs like the following from ‘Hole’:

She’s out west now, you heard. Someplace like Yarraville. You kick soft dirt into the hole. See her sitting out there, nights, looking up at the lights along the West Gate. Making different escape plans. Small cat winding round her thin legs.

In regards to poetry, I particularly enjoyed the play of Michelle O. Bama’s ‘Can I Call You Barack?’ and Simon Cox’s ‘Fragments in Defence of The Latter Halves of Half-Truths’*; feature poet Kylie Rose also had some startling imagery: ‘…Mum resumes her pop-dance / over the stuck bubbles, / their ink tails scribbling back to the surf.’ 

Non-fiction had a couple of strong pieces like Greg Foyster’s ‘The New Generation of Readers’ and Lisa Mamone’s ‘In Defence of Wodehouse’, though I was disappointed with finishing on Belle Taylor’s ‘Even Serious Books Have Kissing in Them’, a two-page personal narrative which felt lightweight when read alongside the journal’s lengthier works.

While content was lyrical, entertaining, evocative, thought-provoking, and inspiring, Issue 3’s layout was a bit of a letdown. I got confused with the split in Foyster’s piece: I thought the article ended oddly after reading the first two pages, later realising that it continued on page 49. Admittedly I was tipsy and on a tram at the time of reading, but it would have been nice to have ‘Continued on page 49’ tacked on, in brackets, to the end of page 2’s last paragraph. Marc Martin’s artwork, ‘Bookplates’, might have been more well-placed near Belle Taylor’s personal narrative on book clubs. And Belle Taylor, why is your piece sandwiched between a Harvest advert and the contributor bios? Nobody’s going to read it there.

It’s a small criticism (okay, it’s a big criticism…biggish…) and I’m sure the Harvest team had good reason for making the layout choices that they did. There are only so many ways you can arrange the order of a journal, and sometimes all of your options suck. And bad layout rarely detracts from quality content. So no biggie, Harvest. There’s always next time. Thanks for publishing my poem by the way. It looks very pretty next to Irana Douer’s work. 🙂

Next review will be Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21. Expect it some time next week/month/year. 

*Cox also managed to sneak ‘Fragments’ into the October ’09 issue of The Diamond & the Thief. You can read it online here.

The Diamond and The Thief

Here’s some freshly brewed writing for you: Black Rider Press has just launched its first issue of The Diamond and The Thief, a monthly minizine with just a thimbleful of poetry and surreal prose to wake you up on a Friday morning. This issue’s beans come from Graham Nunn, Robert Lort, Marcus Roloff, Kirk Marshall, and Eric Dando.

Here’s a taster from Eric Dando’s story ‘Tiny Little Pirates’:

He has made all these sailing ships out of matchsticks, hung them in the windows. He likes the look on my face. I tell him that I think his little boats are amazing and he glows and swells there for a moment on his brown Celtic linoleum. He is fingering the keys, swinging the little golden lion badge on its chain. ‘They really float.’ He says, ‘I’ve tested them. Down Wanambool, ever get down to Wanambool? Know a beaut little place down there. A beaut little place.’

The next issue shall feature my story about druggies, Toobs, and a grumpy-pants Beast; I’ll post the link as soon as it’s up.

[Untitled] Magazine launch

My short story ‘Dermatology’ will be appearing in the inaugural issue of [Untitled] (ed. Les Zigomanis). Detailing the humiliation of a boy with severe acne, ‘Dermatology’ is an exception to the usual stuff that I get published. It is not ethnic lit, and it is over 700 words, so I’m excited to see it in print. Here’s an excerpt for all you peeps who are excited with me:

The tablets didn’t give him indigestion, but they made his face worse. At the station, he’d keep his head bowed and his eyes on the yellow line whenever the girls from MLC walked past. He could still see their legs though. He saw a lot of leg: the girls always wore their skirts above the knees with their socks pushed down to their ankles. If he was lucky, one of them would whip out some concoction smelling of passionfruit or mango, and swirl it over their calves. My skin’s way dry! they’d exclaim. Look. He never did though. He’d move further down the platform. He didn’t want the girls to point at the craters scattered across his cheeks.

The acne was on his back too. He didn’t mind that so much. The only time he took off his shirt was in the guys’ change rooms, and the guys rarely treated him with the same sneering scrutiny. Nobody commented on his face, not when he could catch a ball and hit a six.

But he wanted to get better, and the GP did say that it would take at least a month before he’d see improvement, so he went back to the pharmacy to get his next lot of tablets. Richard Gere in his crisp white coat was once more on duty. Instead of rehashing warnings on sun exposure, he praised the virtues of benzyl peroxide, speaking from experience. Michael searched his face for signs of scarring and found none. His basket of medication was pushed to one side. The pregnant woman next in line took Richard Gere’s words as a cue to start complaining about her constipation.

This Thursday, [Untitled] is getting launched by Kalinda Ashton, author of The Danger Game, so come along and grab a copy for $12. If acne boys don’t rock your world, there’s a sweet selection of short stories from Sophie Moon, Myron Lysenko, Tess Evans, Ryan O’Neill, Stu Hatton (who’s also performing on the night), George Ivanoff, Lena Pasqua, Mal McClenaghan, Elizabeth Jane, Melissa Ferguson, Laura Bovey, Amy Jackson, and Claire Varley. Whoop. Launch details are as follows:

[Untitled] Launch

Thursday 10 September 2009
Watsonia Library
4/6 Ibbottson Street
Watsonia (Melways ref: 20E4)
6.30 – 8.30 pm
Gold coin donation for wine & nibbles would be appreciated

 

Image courtesy of [Untitled].

Image courtesy of Untitled.

Workshop with Wells Tower

After finishing Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, I am ashamed that I needed a workshop to force me into reading Wells Tower’s work. Angry, frustrating, dark, and full of pain, his stories succeed without trying to be clever; they push so much emotion without getting lost in sentimentality.

There are many ways to describe the short story, and today, Wells Tower used a punch bowl allegory. A friend of his couldn’t seem to hold onto a long-term partner; at some point in the relationship, he was afraid that someone would make him hold a crystal punch bowl. There were different kinds of punch bowls out there, and short stories had different kinds of functions. Maybe you wanted your reader to enjoy the language of your piece, maybe you wanted them to invest in particular character. Whatever the case was, that function was a punch bowl, and you had to convince your reader to hold it.

During the workshop, we examined two different short stories: ‘Bullet in the Brain’ by Tobias Wolff and ‘Forever Overhead’ by David Foster Wallace. While ‘Bullet in the Brain’ moved efficiently, ‘Forever Overhead’ meandered in its description of a thirteen-year-old boy sensory experience at a public swimming pool. In each, Tower discussed the overall structure of the piece, the techniques used, and his peculiar notion of ‘credits’. He spoke of checking sentimentality with the analytical. For instance, ‘Forever Overhead’ begins with clipped sentences, growing more sensory, more lyrical, before tapering off, returning to the clipped and analytical.

After lunch, he emphasised the importance of revision. For one idea, Wells wrote up to ten completely different short stories, and he ‘expose[d his stories]…to every single piece of editorial violence’ until nothing in them felt like a ‘cheap trick’. He then handed out two different drafts of  ‘Door in Your Eye’, and it’s fascinating comparing the two. In the earlier draft, his protagonist is a twenty-year-old who checks out the ‘hooker’ next door. In the final draft, the protagonist is recast as an old man who is looking for his last erotic experience in life: ‘…it came into my mind that maybe this would be the last woman I would ever get the chance to touch.’

Most of the writers who attended the workshop had been previously published, so much the workshop material was of a decent standard: Samuel Rutter had a piece that read beautifully, a novellist gave us a chapter from a draft manuscript, and Chris Currie snuck in a piece published in the current Lifted Brow. Among such literary types, I felt a bit audacious sounding out my second draft of a sci-fi short story—’She brought science fiction to a serious writers’ workshop…how dare she!’ There were a couple of ‘I don’t usually read science fiction…’ comments, and I think Wells Tower was being conciliatory when he complimented my writing style, but I got what I wanted. I knew the piece needed more depth, and it was good to have that reiterated by other writers. I wished I had been as equally helpful with other people’s stuff. ‘Tis hard listening to people’s stories; reading them is much easier on the noggin.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: a collection of short stories by Wells Tower

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: a collection of short stories by Wells Tower

For more on Wells Tower, Bookslut has an interview with him on their site. Chris Currie will also be putting up his interview with the author on Literary Minded in the near future. Aaaaand to get a better sense of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Estelle Tang has reviewed his book on her blog, 3000 Books.