TINA 2010 Tales (Part Two)

In a town far, far away, my boyfriend and I are walking down the street, holding hands. Heading in the other direction, an old Asian man sees us and shouts, ‘Hey!’ He glares at our smallish public display of affection with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, and continues to do for the next three hundred metres.

The moral of the story: interracial dating is not the done thing in Asia Newcastle.

Racism aside, Newcastle CBD is a Gothic town. Its streets are a mixture of Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco. There’s a sense of decay. In every strip of shops, there’s a building that has been abandoned. Some advertise rental reductions, whilst others are unsalvagable husks—windows boarded up, ceilings blackened with soot, walls vandalised.

Naturally, there’s signs of revival. New apartments have popped up along the foreshore. Darby Street is a collection of trendy cafes and kitsch boutiques. But this is only a veneer of gentrification. The town and its inhabitants still seem rough and unpredictable, and I never feel safe. In some ways, it’s a bit like St Kilda…

There once was a lass from St Kilda

Who went by the name of Brunhilda

Of the gentlemen there

She had nary a care

As they tried with small cocks to fulfill her.

And that’s a craicin’ limerick about St Kilda. Okay, so that wasn’t my best segeway, but that was my partner’s best (and possibly only) limerick, which was the result of Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s ‘How to Write a Craicin’ Limerick’ session at TINA 2010.

During the session, Guerney spoke about form. Limericks use the following meter:

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – /

– – / – -/

– – / – – / – – /

This meter is to be strictly adhered to, though there are exceptions to the rule (wtf). Limericks also follow A, A, B, B, A rhyming and their content should be witty and bawdy.

He then followed up with a limerick workshop in which we came up with folks from Helsinki being flexible like slinkies and losing their primary/secondary pinkies. It was a fun session, but perhaps it was not as fun as ‘Lit Journal Survivor’, where windows were broken and genital-constricting shorts were worn.

‘Writing About Place’ was a more serious workshop. Run by Voiceworks, it consisted of various writing exercises. For instance, we had to think of the worst place we had ever been to and write an advertisement for it. Another exercise required us to use industrial-sounding modifiers to describe natural settings and vice-versa. The exercises were great but the size of the workshop was intimidating. I don’t know about everyone else but my responses to such prompts tend to be shit, and I’d rather not share them with a score of strangers.

Socialising has been less fun. This year, Newcastle has been invaded by packs of writerly hipsters and the occasional lone wolf. It feels like my pack of two is having a bit of a standoff with the other packs. Or maybe we’re just standoffish. Who knows?

‘The American Gothic Ball’ was less crazy compared to last year’s Great Gatsby, while the Zine Fair was again full of pretty things. I picked up a Lets Learn Lao with Mechelle B zine, which teaches one how to say important things like ‘your undies smell’ (‘salip-jow-men’) and a pair of awesome scarves from her sister.

Hosted by Benjamin Law and Michaela McGuire, this year’s ‘Spelling Bee’ featured ‘Who am I’ dinosaurs, and ‘Televangelist or Dental Product?’ It also challenged contestants with words such as ‘jurisprudent’, and ‘verisimillitude’. I managed to fluke my way through ‘gleet’, but not ‘ukulele’. Anyway, reigning champ Geoff Lemon was deposed by the word ‘beryllium’, and Garth, last year’s runner-up, took home the trophy.

I was wondering whether it was time to go home yet when we decided to try the Royal Exchange reading. Thank dog we did. Guest speakers Rochelle Jackson, Will Kostakis, Mandy Beaumont, and Patrick O’Neil entertained their mellowing crowd with tales of crims, inappropriate jokes, Brisbane’s West End, and supposed human rights abuses. But the best tale of the night and the highlight of my festival was open mic’s Ben Jenkins who spun us a story about fearlessness, cat poo parasites, and ice addicts. While his reading was perhaps overly long, he captivated his audience until the end with his manner of speaking and his factual asides, and won a standing ovation from Mister Geoff Lemon. Thanks Ben Jenkins for putting my faith back into the open mic section.

And that’s it folks. I’ll be attending a couple more events, and hopefully finding some prompt tucker in this dogforsaken place. Bloody public holidays. Grrr.


On God, the Creator of Buffyverse and all other good things

Sue Turnbull: How does it feel to be God?

Mr Whedon: [after boasting how good his mountains are] …I don’t believe in Me.

Joss Whedon is one of those comedic personalities with full-formed quips flying out of their mouths, and this Melbourne Writers Festival interview sounds scripted. Whedon knows how to work the dramatic pause, how to play the dunce, the megalomaniac, and the guy-next-door. And as he scores humour points with his audience, I’m thinking, ‘God, I hate You…even if you did create Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.’

Interviewer Sue Turnbull is a Buffy buff and many of the audience members are Whedon fans, so much of the introductory ramble which accompanies such events is excised. The interview makes quantum leaps from Buffy/Angel to Alien Resurrection to Dollhouse and Fray, as Turnbull tries to nut out a coherent trajectory of the screenwriter’s career.

As a child, Whedon ‘spent most of…[his] time creating science fiction universes rather than stories’. He moved onto studying film-making with the hopes of creating a huge summer blockbuster, instead of a Sundance movie. His excuse, stated rather proudly: ‘I’m a Star Wars guy.’

Screenwriting was a way to earn money after college. Despite having his father and grandfather in the TV screen-writing business, he tried to stay away from going ‘3GTV’. He confesses to being a snob back then. TV was dumb, ‘mostly Fantasy Island, and stuff you can’t excuse.’ While writing five spec scripts for five TV shows in the year before getting work, he realised that he had found the great love of his life.

Television writing is like ‘living with a story for years and years in a collaborative fashion’. ‘TV is special like that,’ Whedon notes, ‘something you don’t get in movies at all.’ Over the years, Buffy characters moved beyond the initial spark of life: Willow got cooler, Giles became more hip, and Anya went weird.

‘Buffy was very much a study in actors influencing their roles.’ The whole process can be very organic, and when it isn’t, when there’s too much creative control, the end result can feel stilted.

In many ways, Buffy was a special project for Whedon. During its broadcast, longform TV series evolved into a respectable genre, allowing its creator to tinker with the form. ‘Ultimately…the real pleasure in playing with the structure came later [during the series],’ Whedon admits, bringing to mind ‘Restless’ and ‘The Body’, two memorable later season episodes that were written and directed by the man himself.

Strangely enough, Buffy’s first season coincided with the launch of the internet, and Whedon and Turnbull discuss the then-fledgling phenomena. The internet community made small network shows like Buffy viable. ‘They invented the internet for me,’ Whedon jokes. ‘Now they use it for other things…porn…you know.’

They touch on Firefly and writing comics, before turning to writing methods. It’s dark, you can’t see much of the audience in the Melbourne Town Hall, but I’m guessing that the writers in the room are leaning forward. Turnbull asks whether Whedon circles around his work like a vulture?

‘I circle like a beautiful dove that wants to peck at the flesh of a dead man.’ Everything needs to be there before he can sit down and write. He works on the big scenes first, before joining the dots with exposition, etc.

Even though a lot of his work comments on social and cultural issues such as feminism and corporatisation, he writes with no particular grand theme or message in mind. It just doesn’t work that way. (Dang.) But he has always put up with a ‘social monkey on…[his] back’, even as a boy scribbling stuff that wasn’t going to be read by anyone else.

The interview wraps up with talk of the upcoming Avengers movie. Since the release of Spiderman (2002), Whedon has wanted to try his hand at making comic book adaptations, despite being always entangled in this or that project. When postmodern comic book movies such as Watchmen and Kick-Arse appeared, he lamented, fearing that it would be too  late to make an awesome but standard comic book movie. Hopefully, The Avengers will be a return to the original form.

After the interview, there are numerous intellectual questions on corporatisation, mental illness, and getting into the business of screenwriting. Many in the Town Hall have been one with the Whedon. But my favourite question comes from a true fan who just, like, wants to know what Mr Joss Whedon, God and Creator of Buffyverse and all other good things, yearns to be involved with. Whedon gushes, ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ And it’s geeks for the win.

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.

The pros and cons of writing pseudonymously

Pseudonym.ψευδώνυμον (pseudṓnymon). ‘False name’*. I had a discussion with Dion Kagan about my pseudonym at the Visible Ink launch last night. Afterwards, I jotted down a couple of notes on the pros and cons of writing pseudonymously.


  • You get to keep your friends (and your job).
  • Writing anonymously/pseudonymously can be liberating for those who work with a particular style, genre, or content. Megan Lindholm also writes as Robin Hobb. Mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.
  • Pseudonyms are often useful for people with lengthy or difficult to pronounce names. 
  • Or it can be used to create a new identity (‘branding’) such as in the case of Helen Darville/Demidenko.


  • There’s double handling: two Facebook accounts, two Twitter accounts, two email accounts, two personal websites, two blogs, etc.
  • New acquaintances/readers can get confused: ‘So, what’s your real name again?’
  • There’s a lack of consolidation in one’s writing folio, especially if one uses multiple pseudonyms.

When I started writing pseudonymously, I was attracted to the idea of anonymity. I didn’t want to be hostage to my life, and the pseudonym helped me detach and meditate on what was happening around me. But the anonymity didn’t last long. It might have if I was a writer hermit, but as I started meeting others in the writer community, I had to take ownership of my words again. Despite this, and despite the fact that the name looks unpronounceable, I still like my pseudonym. It’s a way to reclaim my ethnic heritage, as well as giving me the opportunity to challenge the ethnic writer stereotype.

Am I hiding behind a persona? I was, I guess, but not any more. Am I selling out? Probably, ethnic lit’s the current cash cow (though I’m writing less ethnic lit nowadays, so maybe not.) Do I still have my friends and my bread-earning job? Check and check. It’s all good, Sunshine.  

Speaking of challenging ethnic stereotypes, I’ve finally got that T-shirt from topatoco.com. I wore it shopping yesterday, and a guy at JB HiFi came up to me while I was browsing and said, ‘Ni hao!’ To which I replied in my ocker accent, ‘Actually, the T-shirt states that Chinese is not my native language.’ He was crushed. 

A couple of hours later, I saw Simon McInerney with the same T-shirt. *SIGH* On him, it’s whimsically nonsensical. On me, it just gets misinterpreted.

*As per  Wikipedia.

Read You Bastards 3

On Thursday, I finished my random pharmacy shift and headed down to The Empress for some Bastards action of the non-Tarantino kind.  I was bummed for missing out on the first set, which included a reading from Lisa Dempster, but I did get to see (and record) Allison Browning’s performance of an untitled piece. 

The sound quality isn’t great, so you might want to read the written version here

Spoken word nights are a bit hit and miss. Read You Bastards 3 isn’t an exception to the rule, though I do enjoy the mash of curated/non-curated prose/poetry and the ambience of The Empress, but Ozlem Baro’s ‘Hotel’ was the highlight of the second set, its vulnerability silencing the crowded room.

I also performed my piece, ‘Patrick Bateman’, a homage to American Psycho. I had consumed American Psycho during my Deakin years; the novel is a fascinating study technique-wise and I had wanted to reconstruct its style and write about the act of. Anyway, I performed the first half of ‘Patrick Bateman’, got feedback from Lisa (yay!) and ate some of her vegan birthday cake before trundling home. Lisa, I owe you a birthday drink…possibly two.

Reading 'Patrick Bateman' @ Read You Bastards 3 (photo courtesy of Read You Bastards peeps)

Reading 'Patrick Bateman' @ Read You Bastards 3 (photo courtesy of Read You Bastards peeps)

No. 3 was the last Read You Bastards for Visible Ink, but the 2009 editorial team may continue the Bastards tradition in 2010. Meanwhile, Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21 is launching on Monday, 9 November 2009. The cover’s beautiful; lets hope that the words are equally gorgeous.

Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21 (image courtesy of www.visibleinkmag.wordpress.com)

Lost and Found: Visible Ink 21 (image courtesy of http://www.visibleinkmag.wordpress.com)

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.

On editing

TLB6 edits are currently in progress, so I thought I’d put up some editing-themed links today.

Angela Slatter has posted a useful editing kit for writers, ‘Would You Like Editing With That?’, on her blog.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine’s submissions section is fascinating to read. How a magazine treats an unsolicited submission is often a mystery, but Andromeda has tried to make their process as transparent as possible:

The important thing to remember is that every other magazine goes through some variation of this process. We’re just more open about it than most.  Most magazines have longer response times than us. (Submissions FAQ, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine)

They also have a mammoth-sized  ‘Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had’.

And finally, some xkcd for the grammar Nazis out there.

The social/unsocial writer

Soph wrote an interesting comment about the social/unsocial aspects of writing on her blog, Snufft, last week:

But the more writing events I go to, and festivals I attend or volunteer for, the more the question keeps rearing its head, am I benefiting from all of this, should I just be locked away by myself tapping away happily on my keyboard?

The answer, for me, as far as I can see, is yes. Whether there are more opportunities if you know more people within the ’scene’ is irrelevant for me. Every time I attend something, I walk away feeling motivated, enlightened, fueled to write more, wanting more than anything to be just like my mentors…I think spending time with other writers is important, if for nothing other than to challenge how you feel about festival’s, and the new performance type nature, that readings seem to have taken on. (22 June 2009)

I disagree with Soph. Although writing festivals, book launches, and spoken word performances do occasionally inspire me, I usually find them distracting. Not only am I too busy socialising (not writing) due to such events, I worry over what everyone else is doing/thinking/reading; I worry that I am underperforming; I become a lemming and write my way off a cliff:

Conversely, I love writers’ group workshops. Not all feedback is constructive and not all suggestions are taken on board but I always love getting a fresh take on my work. I also learn a lot from workshopping other people’s work.

It’s not easy finding a suitable writers’ group however. I suggest shopping around until you find one that fits. The VWC has a list of writers’ groups in Victoria, and Caroline Allen’s post, ‘Advice for finding a writers’ group’, gives some useful tips on choosing the right group. If you don’t find one that you like, set up your own. I suppose this is where events, such as the  Emerging Writers’ Festival, come in handy. And now I’ve written myself into a catch-22.

Short Story Alert: ‘I, Dangle’ by Shannon Burns

Over the past year, I’ve been reading short stories from a variety of local literary journals. Since not many people read literary journals, and not many people read the whole journal (at least I don’t), I want to bookmark one story each month so that others may find them.

This month’s pick is ‘I, Dangle’ by Shannon Burns. I came across ‘I, Dangle’ in Issue Six (‘The Ethical Issue’) of Etchings, a story about a man debating whether to take his clothes off at a public beach. Through the insistent repetition of words and phrases, Burns achieves a wonderful neurotic monologue for his protagonist:

I say, she has revealed her breasts. Yes she has taken off the top part of her bikini and revealed her breasts. I should return the sentiment in some way. I assume that returning the sentiment is what is required of me. She has removed her bikini top and now it is time for me to make a similar gesture.

But how? What shall I do? I could take off my shirt but what will that accomplish? Every male on the beach has his shirt off. There is nothing taboo about a male on the beach with his shirt off, showing his male breasts. There is, on the other hand, something decidedly curious about a female prancing about with her breasts bared on this beach, on a beach like the beach we have come to. When I decided to accompany her to this beach I had no idea that she had it in mind to reveal her breasts. Is it legal for a woman to bare her breasts on a public beach? I’m not sure… (p. 114)

I’m a sucker for form, and Burns explores the issue of public nudity (male vs. female, adult nudity around children, etc.) in an entertaining fashion, so ‘I, Dangle’ is this month’s win for me.

If you haven’t come across Etchings, (the high quality triannual journal from Ilura Press), Issue Six is definitely worth a read with Ryan O’Neill’s beautifully written ‘Collected Stories’, and Christopher Lappas’ thoughts on Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation.



Courtesy of Ilura Press

Courtesy of Ilura Press

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.