Renegade A to Z: E is for

…Eighty-Nine, the year and the anthology!

I wanted to write about eMergent publishing, editing, eBooks and the wonderful Emma Newman today, but as I wandered into our local Borders, which is like walking onto a sinking ship, it occurred to me, my up-and-coming anthology for Literary Mix Tapes is called ‘Eighty-Nine’. Tomorrow I can write about From Dark Places for ‘F’ and by default, Em Newman. And well, who really wants to hear me waffle on about ‘business’ which is what eMergent, editing and eBooks really are!

The first thing everyone asked when I released details on the next Literary Mix Tapes was ‘why 1989?’ Indeed, why! I could have picked 1973 the year I was born, 1969 the year of Woodstock (and hell, who wouldn’t want to produce an anthology entitled ‘Sixty-Nine’),  or 1345 – just for the fun of it?

For me, 1989 represents everything good and bad that was coming in my life. Of course I had no idea at the time, the year would be so important. It was my only full school year in Cairns at Smithfield High and perhaps for that reason it has this halcyon sheen despite the darkness which came crashing down on me at the end. Perhaps that’s why it remains etched so clearly in my head – the extremes of awesome and shit.

The friends I had in that year, both in Cairns and Ballarat, have gone on to be life-long friends. In the past fortnight my best friend in Ballarat, left a Facebook message on my wall telling me she’d be happy to repatriate my letters (something I’ve been thinking about for almost two years now). Most of them were written in 1989. I think I honed my fiction writing skills by observing and reporting life in that year. If I wasn’t with friends, reading, or doing the smattering of school work I bothered with, I was hunched over a ream of lined A4 paper scribbling letters. There is an old crush, from that year, who still doesn’t believe I have documented evidence of more of his day-to-day life than he can probably remember!

It’s a year, unlike any other, which unfolds like a movie, when I close my eyes and think about it. I had an uncanny knack in those days for creating film clips in my head, where life with the boy of my dreams would unfold just perfectly to a sound track provided by Eric Carmen, INXS, Johnny Diesel and the Injectors or Simply Red.

It was the year I discovered RAGE (a show of music clips on the ABC) and my double tape deck got a hammering recording my favourite songs from the top 40 on a Saturday morning. These were the original mix tapes, which the LMT anthologies derive their name from. RAGE on a Saturday morning, regardless of what was charting at the time, was the soundtrack to a household stirring – my Mum getting ready to drag us to the Supermarket at Smithfield to get the shopping done before it shut at 1pm, or to bleary-eyed wakings in any number of my friends’ homes – Melanie, Riki, Leanne…

The events of that year shaped huge portions of my life, a bit like the world events of the year: the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the destabilisation of the USSR, Tiananmen Square, the earthquake in Newcastle, all reflected in the weekly songs of the Doug Anthony All Stars who were my heroes.

I was young enough to still dance to the Village People in the privacy of my friend’s lounge room, but old enough to know who I wished I was dancing with on the slow songs at the end of the school dances each term, and what I wished might happen at some point afterward. It’s where I etched out a new world paradigm, where I expected nothing, after being crushed time and time again by unfilled expectations or mentally fried by cataloguing every possbility from any given situation (its no surprise ‘what if’ is such a strong motivator in my writing life).

I embraced a new mantra: expect nothing – if something happens, you will be pleasantly surprised. If nothing happens you won’t be disappointed. I still carry this with me today!

For all my sage-like wisdom about expectations, I really was clueless for the most part, and how I didn’t knock myself out cold walking into a pole along the covered walk-ways of school, while perving on boys, still makes me wonder. Years later when I went back to work at Smithfield High I’d walk along the same covered walkways and have weird de ja vu moments.

Oh, fifteen was such an awkward age, and I’m not just talking about trying to grow into your changing body!

And an awkward brief is what I have given the twenty-four intrepid writers stepping out into a speculative-fiction space, landscaped by the 1989. I think every writer at some point since the start of April has had problems settling into the literary mould ‘Eighty-Nine’ created.

The challenge this time around: to take the musical prompt assigned and combine it with a historical or cultural event from the time in a speculative fiction sense – that is, the story must be alternate history, science fiction, fantasy (in any of its permutations), horror, magical realism or paranormal.

The two stories I have read to date nail the brief! Maria Kelly’s,  sci-fi story Nowhere Land, with a gorgeous smattering of zombies, leaves you on the edge of your seat (gratefully you don’t have to teeter there long as it’s only 1500 words). It leave you with an uplifted sense of hope at the end. Not too bad given it’s a dark story. Jason Coggin’s Paragon, a dark fantastical fable, will leave the reader gobsmacked, and like Maria’s story, it’s dark but with the most amazing and unexpected ending. It’s a story which left me with an all-over body tingle.

I can’t wait to read the other stories as they come in (Jo Hart’s Eighteen for Life is in there waiting for me to read and I’m hoping for a spare few minutes beforebed to devour it). Having seen snippets in the Facebook group to do with the fusion of ideas, as they drop in and out of the creative static, and the idea pitches sent to me, I know this will be another collection of high quality, original fiction. I feel really lucky to work with such amazing writers… who keep letting me push their limits.

And speaking of pushing limits, there’s nothing like writing late, and in the awe of the stories already turned in, to really amp up the level of masochism you inflict on your creative self. Yet, this is what keeps me forcing myself to raise my writing game, working with people like Maria and Jason, to ensure any story I write for an LMT anthology deserves to be in alongside the other stories! I don’t deserve automatic entry just because I’m the ‘boss’! (Oh very bad flash back to Tony Stanza there… out out out!)

My story riffs off the REM song ‘Stand’ (but also influenced by ‘Thiry Years in a Bathroom’) and incorporates Tawriffics 1989 win of the Melbourne Cup. It is Memento-ish, with a mid-narrative sliding doors moment. It’s a story about regrets and wishes, and how the grass is never really greener on the other side, in fact it can be horrifyingly worse. It’s  dedicated to the person who owns the initials ‘MJ’ (privately, but voraciously scribbled throughout books from the year 1989) and I can tell him now, now I’m not trying to kill you off!

Stylistically, what I’m writing  is heavily influenced by Dan Powell’s Driver and the Beautiful Highway. And yes – I’m not even entirely sure I can pull it off in 1500 words. It will be the most pared down fiction I have ever written… and currently is a collection of fountain-pen scribbled A4 sheets (harkening back to those letter writing days –though my handwriting was better at 15!)

Eighty-Nine will be delivered in the same way as Nothing But Flowers: free for 48 hours on the web, then for purchase as an eBook and paperback (hopefully simultaneously now I’ve walked the publishing walk and have a better understanding of the time frames involved) The tentative release date at this stage is early to mid July. It will be my first solo commercial anthology (Deck the Halls was free, Nothing But Flowers goes to charity and the rest belong to community or eMergent projects) so I am keen for everything to fall into place with as few, or no delays as possible with hundreds of copies finding their way into the hands of paying readers.

As it’s ‘E Day’… I’ll leave you with my favourite ‘E’ entitled song from 1989, which I believe still has one of the best film clips and to which, I’m certain I sweated several litres of perspiration to, on the dance floor, over the years.

IMAGE: Eighty-Nine was a year of awesome hearted scribbles – with intitals MJ, BW and BS gracing folders, margins and rulers at some point. I dare you to go and write some initials in a love heart… go on, do it!

PS: ‘E’ is also for exhaustion – that that’s why you’re getting this today… and not yesterday.

4 thoughts on “Renegade A to Z: E is for

  1. Thank you! That was a wonderful insight into everything E that you’re doing right now. I’m so glad to see emergent and Em taking off, too.


    • Literary Mix Tapes is a little side project (little huh, I so haven’t go a way with words tonight!)of mine and not officially attached to eMergent at the moment… may be one day, if I ever get around to talking to my business partner about it.

      Going solo is nice.. and working with folk like Em is just a blast. Before we’d finished I was already poking her about the next project… just because I love working with her so much.


  2. I have always treasured your wonderful letters and missed you deeply from afar after such a brief friendship. If I have never said so much, thank you for welcoming me to Cairns in 1989! Always talented beyond the average persons understanding, I am pleasantly rewarded in reading your work again. xoxo


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