Go!

Two huge events kicked off yesterday—the Australian Writers Marketplace Online’s  Year of the Novel course I enrolled in back in March, and also the last three weeks of editing. Enough to keep me out of trouble for a while.

Waiting for the Teacher

We’ve long heard the adage “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well I’ve thought for years I was ready and sat patiently waiting for the teacher, wondering if I’d somehow wandered out onto the wrong road, trying to hitch a ride with the wrong travellers.

Turns out, it was wrong time and wrong place. Not only that, I had the wrong destination written on my sign.

When I won The Hembury last year, I put a small request out to the universe to please send me a mentor. In true form, the universe obliged by (among other things) sending Andrew McKiernan my way who helped me navigate my way around creating gorgeous looking eBooks through InDesign.

Not quite what I wanted, but I’d certainly never change it. Next time I send a request out though, I’ll remember to be a little more specific.

But I digress.

Absent Hunger

I’ve never been hungry to write a novel.  The allure has never been there. Short stories have always satisfied.

It hasn’t been for lack of ideas. I’ve had plenty, however I’ve horded and squandered them on NaNoWriMo. To date there are four unfinished manuscripts either on my hard drive or kicking around my house in printed form—everything from political thriller to historical/sci-fi set in the Victorian goldfields.

The ideas didn’t sucked and I could hack the pace… it was just never wanted a completed novel bad enough to keep chipping away.

Enter, Year of the Novel

I’ve always thought AWMO’s Year of the Novel (YoN) a fabulous course and know of several authors who have come out of it and had their novel published. In the last four years it’s never been the right time—idea, hunger, money, teacher… or as Dave would tease me, the planets just hadn’t aligned.

Then in March an email came through from QWC announcing my lovely friend Alan Baxter was tutoring the April cycle of YoN. I knew the time had arrived.  Planets aligned, pieces falling into place [insert relevant metaphor].

I’ve long admired Alan (for a long list of attributes, of which his generosity as a person and talent as a writer rate equal tops for me). He is the perfect tutor for me to grow and mature under as a new type of writer… as a novelist! Holy hell… yes I just typed that!

And I am hungry: actually, closer to starving, than anything else, to write a novel. Yearning to sink into a deeper, longer writing journey.

The final nod from the Universe came when I wrote Birthed and the visits here went off the scale. People loved the story.  They wanted more. A whole heap more.

So I bit the bullet. I scraped money from here and there. Paid up and waited.

Yesterday was the day. The day to press GO and have a quiet freak out.

A Recurring Dream About Failure

Over the weekend with my mind kept straying to Monday’s start date and in true me form, I had the recurring dream about failure.

Gratefully this time it was implied. I wasn’t wandering around my old high school lost, without my homework/assignment/speech, arriving to discover it’s final exams, or returning to repeat Year 12 and pass exams having never attended a class. You get the gist (strangely enough I’m never wandering around Uni, not turning in assignments, showing up to classes or exams, failing English Lit or withdrawing early because I’d accidentally fallen pregnant… or loitering around the commercial kitchens at the Cairns TAFE where I consistently chose not to turn up to class on a Monday afternoon and where I successfully bowed out of the first semester of a hospitality course because I just wasn’t into it that much any more… even the lure of Nick McKinnon still kicking around campus wasn’t enough to keep me there)

But I digress… again. Sorry!

The honest to Goddess truth is I haven’t completed anything since I left high school: dropped out of Uni twice, college once, started and never finished the doula course I signed up for and then last year I didn’t even manage to make it through a three week online writing boot camp. Even the six-month short story clinic I took, I managed to miss two of the six classes including the final one! I have managed to turn up and complete a raft of day courses, but committing to an entire year is epic (why I probably can’t fathom ever returning to Uni).

Editing to the Rescue

So my record as a student is less than impressive and I’d beat myself around the head with it, if I didn’t have at my disposal my track record as an Editor. As editor of Down to Birth Magazine I published 11 issues. Since establishing eP I’ve overseen the publication of six anthologies, and before I properly disappear on sabbatical I will have sent another three anthologies into the wild.

I do have follow through.

Add to this fledgling arsenal of awesomeness: a story I really want to write—which already has traction in shorter form, a fantastic group of supporters who want to see me get over the line, a brilliant course to be part of, headed up by a most excellent tutor and hell, maybe I’ll not only have a completed novel and faced down my dreams about failure.

The First-Last Hurdle

But before I can really commit (there’s always something, isn’t there?) I have three huge weeks of editing. By 1st June I need to have finalised 60 stories for two anthologies (that’s 90,000 words!) and helped to organise another 60 stories for the Best of Friday Flash Volume II (another 90,000… I think I should stop with the Maths!)

As it stands I have 32 stories finalised between the Deck the Halls and Tiny Dancer anthologies, many more are almost there and only a handful haven’t been look over at all. Despite a horrid start to the week (my son came home from school with a panic attack and then we discovered nits yesterday…) I made the quota of three stories a day.  (And again today!)

I’ve said to Adam it’s all about chipping away at it—small daily achievable goals (mind you—some days three story edits in a day is like climbing Mount Everest). Momentum begets momentum and for the first time in a long time (perhaps it’s the promise of a not too distant reprieve) I have energy and focus for editing.

And as I do this, story ideas clamber through my dreams, stories write themselves in my head as I lie semi-awake in the dead of night and greet me again as the first slices of dawn come through the blinds. It’s like The Muse got the memo about unrestricted writing time but missed the start date.

For now, it’s about putting one foot after another, one line of tracked changes after the next. And while I do that, I’m manifesting this awesome feeling, this forward movement, this sense of achievement and worthiness ahead into the next three weeks to arrive at the end unbroken and ready to dive into The Rabbit Hole. But that’s a whole new blog post in itself.

From Fragmentation, Back to First Base

“Hey Dad, I’m multi-tasking,” Mr D said as Dave threw his bag into the back of the car at the bus station last week.

“There’s no such thing,” Dave replied, climbing into the front seat and closing the door. “It means you’re just doing two things badly.”

“Really?”

“Really. It’s a myth.”

I shifted into first gear and eased out of the pick up zone.

It just means you are doing two things badly. I shifted up into second and then third. Oh crap… he’s right!

Multi-tasking and the Sting of Stagnation

Dave’s comment struck deeply, not because I simultaneously talk on the phone, while chopping vegetables and watching Mr D do his homework. It stung because I’ve professionally multi-tasked myself to the point of stagnation.

Writer. Editor. Publisher.

I’m not effective at anything any more. I don’t function in any of my roles with the efficacy or efficiency I demand of myself.

I have struggled in the last three years to keep up with everything I need to satisfy professional requirements in all three of the disciplines I work in. I don’t read the blog articles I need to be reading, I’m forever behind on big news or have only the sketchiest idea about the latest rapid changes undergoing my industry. Just keeping up with the professional memberships is enough to gut my tiny bank balance.

You know the energy and effort required in cultivating and keeping up with your writing contacts… now extrapolate that out to the same number of editing professionals, and then to publishing professionals. I know as writers we keep our pulse on these areas, but a finger on the pulse isn’t enough if it’s your area of profession. I need to have a better understanding, because it not only affects me but 70 odd writers who work under the eP umbrella.

I’m not sure when it got too hard. All I know is it did; so I withdrew and focused on getting work done. Editing one story after another. Releasing one anthology after another. But it doesn’t serve the writers who work with me (us) if I can’t translate any of it across to exposure, readers and sales. It doesn’t serve me as a writer to be disconnected. I’m not even sure what markets exist for my stories it’s got that bad.

Stepping Up to Claim my Space

“I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in.”
Never Let Me Go – Florence Welch

I’ve been too afraid to step up and claim my space as writer for twenty years. In my Write Anything article today I write:

At the core, underneath all these layers of scuttling and sometimes fearsome demons, is the fear of being thought of as naïve. That is actually my greatest fear. It sounds stupid. It sounds, if I’m honest, pathetic. But I know this is the heart, this is what disempowers everything else.

I don’t need to be a ‘fraidy-cat naïf any longer. That fear no longer serves to protect me from the harsh criticism of the world at large—or should I say, the literary world at large.

Freed of the fear I am stepping up to give myself the chance to be Writer in Her most elemental and fundamental form. The one who steps up and says loud and proud “I am a writer”. The one who turns up every day to hammer out a new chapter of a novel until the novel is completed, then have it critiqued, rinse-repeat and then go through the grueling process of trying to secure a publisher. The one who pens shorts and sends away to magazines, journals, anthologies and competitions—who puts herself “out there”, rather than hording stories on a hard drive and cowering under a mushroom. The one who participates and engages in the community of writers she misses so dearly. The one who will to continue to support her circle of colleagues with beta reading, line editing and proof reading.

As One Door Closes…

To do this, at the end of May I will step away from editing to undertake an extended sabbatical to focus on writing. No more dallying from the safety of the sidelines.

I’m not walking away and leaving everything unfinished. And I must emphasise I am not walking away forever; this is most definitely not the end of the fiction arm of eMergent Publishing. I am brimming with ideas: two Chinese Whisperings concepts I’m yet to try out, four Literary Mix Tapes queued to roll out to new leagues of hungry writers, a collection of novellas to work with Stacey Larner on, another anthology Tom Dullemond pitched to me last year… and well, the list could go on forever. I will be back next year revived and full of passion.

This month I am madly working my way through a backlog of stories to complete Deck the Halls and Tiny Dancer. I’m lucky enough to have an ace up my sleeve, with Amy Stevenson eP’s first QUT intern about to come on board with the editing.

After May I will be combining writing with the publication and release of Deck the Halls, Tiny Dancer and Best of Friday Flash Volume II (which is eP’s community project for the year).  By September I hope to have released all anthologies and will step away from running any new projects until February 2013.

From Fragmentation to First Base

This time next month I will be pulling all the fragments together and staring out from first base, ready to start again, not as an apprentice but as journeyman. I’m taking with me my editing, organisation and publishing skills, my penchant for innovation, the passion and focus that have carried me through until now, and investing them in my writing.

For the last four years I’ve watched you grow, develop and mature as writers.  I’ve watched you work on novels and stories, watched them go from work-in-progress to published novels, anthologies and short stories. I’ve seen the hard work you’ve put in, the dedication and tenacity with which you greet each day.  The never-say-die attitude that sustains you through the lows and allows you to soar during the highs. I’ve seen you grow readerships and support circles who motivate, nurture and encourage you. For fleeting moments I’ve been part of that circle and I don’t regret one moment of it.

Now it’s time to follow in your footsteps.

Telegraph Road: a Treatise on Being Broken

“I’ve run every red light on memory lane
I’ve seen desperation explode into flames
And I don’t want to see it again…”
Mark Knoffler – Telegraph Road

It’s Tuesday and that means a new correspondence over at Post Marked: Piper’s Reach. We’re back to Ella-Louise this week and the darkness which has been scratching and whining, finally bolts through the crack between the door and jamb.

When Ella-Louise arrived on my doorstep in January with bulging suitcases of emotional baggage I had an inkling she was troubled (I’m quick, aren’t I?). I saw glimpses of her past in the early weeks; people she’d lost, the jobs she’d worked and what she’d done out of duty which almost killed her. But it took writing the 22nd February letter to see Ella-Louise wasn’t troubled–she was broken, and the extent of the damage.

My descent into the dark with her started when I tried to work out why Ella-Louise hated Grace Wyatt so much: more than a teenage tiff and much more than competition over Jude. Ella-Louise’s seething hatred is the kind which doesn’t mellow with time. What on earth could have happened to make her feel like that?

What came out surprised me, but no spoilers, other than to say when you read the letter you’ll understand Grace’s part in Ella-Louise’s departure from Pipers Reach in 1992.

Adam always said there was beauty in the brokenness of Ella-Louise… with distance I can see it. Even if I still feel the razor blades of Ella-Louise’s past flowing through me, down my fingers and into the ink staining the page. Where Ella-Louise took me for three weeks–I haven’t been to such a desolate place before with a character. Felt such raw depth of grief, confusion and regret all underpinned with hopelessness. A kind of warped destiny: once soiled, always soiled.

I see now how Ella-Louise’s darkness mirrors my own last year.  I shouldn’t find it surprising that in January she found her way to me. She didn’t come with promises of adventure or escapism. In fact it was a case of what you see, is what you get. No bells, whistles and certainly no satin bows let along the ability to exchange or get my money back.

Together we’ve traveled the road back to wellness. Found our place in the world again. In May 2012, we’re both in a better place. I’m not sure if it is art imitating life, or life imitating art here. Either way, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. For once it’s all about the destination and not the journey.

But in the world of Pipers Reach it is still February. Summer. Ella-Louise’s first crashing steps out of the safety of the tentative, newly-forged connection with Jude. The 22nd February missive is the start of Ella-Louise’s descent. Like Inna into the Underworld Ella-Louise will be stripped of everything, she will be forced to face up to a past she’s been running from and will be left naked, hanging on hooks of her own fashioning to decay and die. And you’ll be there to bear witness to it across the next three weeks.

Farewell, and Thanks for the Memories

When we moved five years there weren’t enough bedrooms in our new home for a dedicated writing/office space. There was however a bizarre alcove in the lounge room, above the internal stairs, so I moved in there with my books, pens, computer and my newly minted desire to write stories. Our housemate secured a desk and chair and I  joyously jettison the three-foot high drafter’s table and green Ikea kid’s stool I’d produced 10 issues of Down to Birth magazine at. I was pretty pleased with it all until I read Stephen King’s “On Writing” several months later.

King mentions the importance of a door in the third chapters of the “On Writing” section:

The space can be humble… and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door it your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

So for the last four and a half years I’ve had door envy. I’m pretty sure there’s no Freudian evaluation for that particular psychosis.

I’ve written and worked in all manner of locations in the last five years: a crowded indoor kid’s playground, a park bench, in the car (not while driving!), cafes, the library, bed, the kitchen table… As long as I had music (my metaphorical door) I could write. The lack of a door didn’t really hamper my sporadic writing and I never suggested my lack of writing was due to the lack of a door. What the non-existent door hampered was my ability to step away from work. Work was always there—I could see it from the kitchen table every night. Walked past it every morning on the way to make breakfast. It never went away. And I struggled to turn it off.

Work got between Dave and I, between Mr D and I, and between writing and I. If you never turn off the work part of the brain, the fun part, no matter how insistent the flashing lights are, doesn’t get a see in.

Arriving home from a much-needed three-week holiday in January this year, and with the worst of my last bout of depression behind me, I set about rearranging rooms. It seemed ridiculous to me that our guest room was occupied less than a month every year and I spent up to ten hours a day crammed in an alcove up to six days a week—too cold in winter and too hot in summer. As for the spare room, Mr D seemed to occupy his room (where he refused to sleep), our room, the spare room (where we played musical beds in the dead of night) and the rumpus room downstairs. How much space did one small boy require?

Mr D never slept well in the room he’d been set up in, so after years of promising to move him, we dismantled and emptied the spare room, gave it a lick of paint and decked it out with new furniture. All the (going-to) sleep and staying in bed problems disappeared over night. We then set about making over Mr D’s old room as an office. It’s always been the best room in the entire house and every Winter I’ve stood at the door and coveted the space as my own.

While I was away in Sydney over Easter Dave painted the walls and the last two weeks we’ve been tidying up the trims, doors etc. Thursday I began the process of pulling down my old office space, throwing out boxes and boxes of used papers and general dead energy. I did find gems among it all—my signed copy of From Dark Places and the card Em sent with it which reads: “next time you doubt yourself, pluck this book from the shelf and remember ‘I made this’. I discovered my copy of 50 Stories for Pakistan and my world building notes from a master class three years which I’ve been searching for.

It’s late autumn, a little after 2pm and I’m sitting here in my new space, drenched in afternoon sun. In summer the room remains cool, getting next to no sun. In winter it is filled with light and natural heat. The room is more empty than full and I like it that way. I’m being selective in what I bring in here, what energy I infuse this room with. I’m not thinking of it as an office. I’m thinking of it as wide open terrain for a free ranging author-in-waiting. One who is not going to be waiting much longer. I wanted a door to close out work so I could have a life, now I want a door to close me in so I can have a writing life.

I wish I there were nice things to say about my old space or good memories, but no matter how hard I tried it was never a creative space, just a place of hard graft and late nights. I produced six anthologies sitting there and hundreds of stories, but ask me which story I enjoyed writing there the and it’s a blank. I penned my first publication Demon Lover there in 2008 and The Man Who Would in 2010, but beyond that my stories have come to life in cafes and the library, from the comfort of my bed, the chaos of the kitchen table or a makeshift space I set up in the corner of the rumpus room during summer.

Now it’s time to make new memories and pen new stories, surrounded by my favourite books and authors, in a space which is all mine.  It’s not the answer to all my problems, however I feel it’s a good start, a clean slate as I prepare for the next phase in my life.

Kelip-Kelip

It’s the Year of Writing Dangerously and keeping with the theme I entered my first competition last week. The self addressed envelope arrived yesterday with the stamp – meaning the story made it there. Putting something in the post seems archaic in the digital age and I was beset with a thousand worries about where my short story manuscript may end up (even though none of my letters for Pipers Reach have gone astray).

If you’re wondering about the title of the post – it’s not some medieval evocation for safe, speedy travels or blessings for the Goddess of Postage Delivery. Kelip-Kelip is the Malaysian word for firefly. It means ‘to twinkle’, which if you’ve ever seen fireflies in action, you’ll know is a very apt name.

The Selangor River fireflies provide the backdrop for my story “Firefly Epilogue” – and science fiction cross over story. It is a story which has its roots in Tony Noland’s Great April Fools Day Blog Swap last year. I was partnered up with Kate Pilarcik and we were given the prompt “insect repellant”. My first thought was – fireflies! We’d had to douse ourselves in super strength stuff in Malaysia to venture anywhere near the Malaria sodden river. Kate agreed and off we went.

I have no idea how I thought I could pen a story of suitable quality while juggling three anthology projects. The upshot of it was: I couldn’t. To make matters more tricky, the story I wanted to tell would not confine itself to flash fiction. It wanted to longer. Much longer.

Then Kate’s Mum, Franny, got sick and we wrote to Tony asking if we could withdrawal. It just wasn’t a good time for either of us.  Several months later, long after I’d decided on the core premise for the story, Franny slipped from this world.

I always intended to come back and finish Firefly Epilogue. If not for myself, for Kate and Franny. It was a story that needed to be told. When I discovered The Raspberry and Vine competition was open to all genres and had an upper word limit of 4000 words, I pulled out the original draft and set about fleshing it out and tidying it up.

With the help of my writing partners Adam Byatt and Laura Meyer, along with Daniel Simpson from my online writing group and Janette Dalgliesh who has been my coach and mentor, my story clocked in just under 3000. I’m not used to people telling me my writing is “beautiful”… I write dark, disturbing narratives. I sent the story to Dan Powell, my long time beta reading buddy (just for a little bit of light reading!) and he said: “I think this story is great example of what you do so well, worlds recognisable as our own but with a tweak of the future here and there, grounded in characters the reader cannot help but care about.”

Here’s hoping the judges care too!

Firefly Epilogue has a special place in my heart because it was the last story I wrote in our Borders store before it closed in April last year. It only occurred to me, when I sat tidying up the final draft, that the story represents the end of an era in my writing.

Now I play the waiting game. I’ll hang out with Zena Shapter’s Pati Ence and think about the next big writing project, while I plough through the back log of editing.