Renegade A to Z: I is for

…Interview

I’m headed into the 4ZZZ studios in St Paul’s Terrace tonight to talk about the projects I’m involved in – specifically 100 Stories for Queensland and Literary Mix Tapes. For those outside of Brisbane 4ZZZ is the independent radio station here. We heard Josh Donellan on the show a few weeks ago, talking about his involvement in 100 Stories for Queensland and his projects and thought it would be a good platform to talk a little more about 100 Stories. Then I won ‘The  Hembury’… and there was a whole heap more to talk about.

At this point – I’m feeling just a little bit nervous. The last radio interview I did was with Cyrus Webb at the start of last year. I drank a glass of champagne before I dialled into Mississippi for a three way, three continent discussion about eMergent Publishing and Chinese Whisperings. I have to drive to teh studio so a big dose of pink bubbles isn’t going to work. And I will miss having Paul interviewing shot gun ‘beside me’.

The last time I was in an actual studio, I was 17, shit scared and trying to record a prepared speech for a public speaking competition the 3BA was running for Ballarat high school students. Ack – it left me traumatised!

I don’t’ have to wear a uniform this time this time, and I get the opportunity to talk about a bunch of things I’m passionate about… so what could possibly go wrong. You can listen in wherever you are around on the world via their webstreaming and the podcast will be available thereafter.

You can read other recent online interviews:

My Life In Short Fiction at Dan Powell’s website

An Interview with Jodi Cleghorn at Rebecca Blain’s website

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.

Renegade A to Z: D is for

depression, down time and drop-offs

I dropped out of the first A to Z challenge last month when I couldn’t face turning up to the page and admitting, in the most part, how I was feeling about a lot of things. Gone are the days of having the almost anonymity of a blog, a handful of online friends and the ability to just spill the beans on everything and anything. I had a professional appearance to uphold and I didn’t want anyone to know the terrain I was stumbling through.

Yes, I’ve been suffering from depression. April was the lowest and darkest month I have possibly had since late 1997 when I was caught in a bad job, bad relationship, in the middle of nowhere and I felt my only way out was through suicide.

The depression this time was the overt experience of joy being bleed out of life and an all encompassing numbness. I told my son, when he looked at me with big brown eyes full of confusion and concern, that I was ‘sick with sadness’, as I sat staring at the wall in the bedroom crying… or crying for what seemed to be no reason at all. How else do you explain depression to a seven year old?

I don’t know how long it’s been there –the depression. I’ve worked myself into the ground this year, and of course, the first hint of taking some down time.. and I got just that – ‘down time’.

And even when it was obvious to all and sundry, I was depressed and not coping, I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words, to be upfront and honest. I kept expecting myself to bounce back. At my worst, it’s a day or two of feeling down, and then I haul myself out and life goes on (and I pay attention to my needs a little closer for a week or two)

At my son’s school they teach them about resilience – the ability to bounce back. And that’s what I’ve always had, along with an enduring sense of optimism. But what happens when you don’t bounce back, when the only forward motion is a nose-dive?

The first step is always to admit to where you. What you’re feeling. To be honest. But I struggled to do so. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed or ashamed. It was more to do with feeling I would debase or diminish the experience of others if I did so. But the hole got deeper, I wasn’t finding my way out and the darkness seemed to stain everything. I started to search for meaning, but ended up going around and around in circles. My ability to want to do anything, rapidly diminishing and with it, my memory.

When I started telling those closest to me, including the most wonderful group of writerly friends, I was surprised by the number of people who shared in my experience. And in doing so, I didn’t feel so alone any more. No one wants to fix you, they’re just willing to share the space with you, by sharing the fact they’ve been there.

The darkness has humbled me in a way, perhaps I needed. I am far more empathetic to those around me now. I’ve always been sensitive to the needs of others, and been an advocate for asking for what you want – especially if its time out/time to yourself/ time to get life straightened out. But there is something about the month of April which has sobered me up.

And today, when the dark clouds gathered, after a particularly gruelling and soul-destroying school drop off, as the numbness started to creep in and I shuffled through the shopping centre like a zombie, with tear encrusted and swollen eyes, I wondered if I was going to bounce?

I came home and set myself the simple task of washing the dishes. I wanted to have a clean kitchen to come home to so we could bake muffins after school. I put on some favourite music and just lost myself in the menial task of cleaning. Bit by bit the numbness receded. I read the final few pages of my Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, went to school to change my son’s class readers and had a conversation with an adult waiting for the bell to go. As afternoon faded into evening, and the house filled with the aroma of butter chicken, cooked from scratch, the worst edges smudged into a more general tenderness. The prickle, without the cascade of tears.

It wasn’t a bounce, but it wasn’t a headlong tumble back down the rabbit hole. It was faith in the fact I can feel the depths without having to fall into them.

And tomorrow… it is a new day.

 IMAGE: this is the tracked floor lighting in the local movie theatre. Sitting there in a haze mid-April, attempting to be a decent Mum during the school holidays, the idea of being able to follow the tiny bits of light, back out into the blazing afternoon sun was appealing – on all levels!

Renegade A to Z: C is for…

…completion, commencement and collapse

Today is launch day for 100 Stories for Queensland. It was meant to be launch day for both the eBook and for the paperback, but well, things got in the way of the paperback. I could be lead to believe I am cursed (oh there’s another ‘c’ word for you) when it comes to paperbacks if it weren’t for the successful launch of Em Newman’s From Dark Places – which included, yes, boxes of actual books.

I’m exhausted, ready to collapse, after being up until 3:30am straightening out the website, completing the proofing, the corrections, formatting the eBook, getting all the files on the server. I wasn’t going to bed yesterday without knowing I could wake up and it was all done.

There’s the downer of realising the printer doesn’t have the kind of POD capabilities I assumed it did – which is why the paperback is held up. While it’s bad everyone will have to wait for an additional two weeks, its good because we can try and rush the chart (bing!) on Amazon, and for Australian folks – they can order through Book Depository and get free shipping. The list price will also be lower as it feeds in from the UK price point.

And now, uppers and downers aside… a feeling of euphoria? No – just the feeling that I need to sleep for a week.

I wrote last week about the love-hate relationship I’ve had with 100 Stories for Queensland, so at the end, I feel as though I should feel some type to release, like the doors of the prison swing open and I’m told I can go forth and…

Yes, go forth and what? (other than sleep that is, and of course, catch up on all those writing deadlines which have gathered DUST in the past month)

I am a project whore. I’m always working on the big details for the next project before the project I’m working on is done – why magazine and anthology work is perfect for me –short time frames, differing material… I’m like a publishing goldfish, with only a slightly longer attention span.

With the completion of 100 Stories for Queensland (bar the publicity and promotion – which is like the phase three rocket taking you into totally unknown territory) it’s time to think about the proper commencement (bing!) of my next project, Literary Mix Tapes’ “Eighty-Nine” anthology, which gratefully has been quietly written as I’ve been finishing up on 100 Stories.

The first stories are about to land in my inbox.

But first… sleep.

IMAGE: ‘c’ is also for catastrophe. Not long after this photo was taken I knocked said groovy cup of jasmine tea all over the book, the table and my iPhone. Now Gracie Motley’s story “The Car Trip” has a slightly yellowish tinge to the top half of it. Bugger!

B is for “Broken Angel” and “Bondi”

Welcome to my first fiction-retrospective for April.

The two stories I currently have up under my FICTION tab begin with ‘B’. As it turns out – both these stories were written for Christmas and purposely set in Australia.

Bondi appeared on the 12 Days (2009) website and remains the longest piece of short fiction I have penned.  Broken Angel appeared on Literary Mix Tapes website last Christmas and will be published in the combined paperback version of Deck the Halls and 12 Days (2010) later on this year.

Take the time to read both stories and then I’ll share five facts about each of them.

Bondi

  • The original inspiration for this story came from the Christmas Carol The 12 Days of Christmas: seven swans are swimming.
  • Giving up on twee stories about depressed Christmas ballerinas, I sent a message to some friends with the prompt and asked them the first thing to come to mind. A friend in Melbourne returned my shout out for help with, “How about the Sydney Swans?” Immediately I had the image of  seven Sydney Swans football players at Bondi. This gave me a setting for my story and a way to weave in the prompt.
  • Melbourne author Claire Halliday tweeted about the stupidity of the legal hoops her daughter had to jump through to busk Christmas carols. This gave me the idea for the opening scene of the story. All the legal paperwork  detailed comes from Claire’s tweets. To honour this (and with her blessing) I christened the daughter Claire – the only time I’ve ever purposely named a character after someone active in my life.
  • The closing scene was the first bit I wrote. Louise’s voice came to at 11pm as I fell into bed exhausted. It was written in a frenzy of words in over about 50 minutes. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a story backwards.
  • The story was originally about the guilt and grief of losing a baby, but during the writing, the identiy of who  died changed. In the beta reading phase my friend Diane (who is an avid reader, but doesn’t write) said she thought the story was about the grief around the changing relationship between mother and daughter, and the difficultes this brings up for them (and this spans three generations, not just two) This gave me the creative putty to make the whole thing hang together and tempered the expression of the grief through out the story.

Broken Angel

  • This story was inspired from a line in the Christmas Carol Deck the Halls: While I tell of Yule tide treasure
  • It was originally going to be a Christmas episode of Captain Juan – Christmas treasure and all – but the crew of the La Gongoolza were unusually quiet.
  • I specifically chose to set the story in the 1970s because it allowed me to be politically incorrect and to put the Dad in mission brown short shorts and a camel cigarettes t-shirt (my Dad had a t-shirt exactly the same and if he had similar shorts – I’ve blotted that from my memory!)
  • Chris Chartrand suggested the sound of the cement mixer at the end… I had only ever intended for the treasure box to be bricked into the wall! Once it was written it reminded me of a story I read as a kid about a woman who was bricked alive, inside a wall and was discovered several centuries later when rennovations were done to the stately home. It still gives me a chill – what Marcia’s hand may have touched had she reached in further.
  • The year I turned 18 we celebrated Christmas with my mother’s best friend and it was Boney M and mimosas all morning. I’ve waited years to wind this little bit of history into a story.

(Disclaimer: also written on Sunday.. but now I’m on track!)

Original image from Interior Design

“A” is for All About April


I came across the fabulous Blogging from A-Z Challenge in the middle of March – around the same time I faced up to the prospect of a pending meltdown if I didn’t do something about my work schedule. The answer of ‘what do I do?’ was apparent within an hour, amid the mess of tears, shakes and while the echoes of my yelling still echoed around the house – I needed a break – a month. One month away from the rigours and stresses of work. One month to get myself grounded and focused on what I really wanted for the rest of the year. A month to get my home cleaned and tidied. But most importantly, a month to write.

So when I stumbled across the A-Z of writing I knew it was something I definitely wanted to do in April, given also I was taking the entire month of April off. One of the points on my yet-to-be-committed-to writing plan for 2011 is to aim toward being listed as one of the 50 Best Australian Writing blogs. It’s unlikely given the start to the year I have had – but it won’t stop me trying for an honourable mention.

For the next 26 Day (Sundays exempt) I’ll be blogging. What will I be writing about – life, the Universe and everything, most probably. There will be some interviews from my writing fraternity. At the moment I can say there will be questions pointed at Emma Newman and Carrie Clevenger, about their respective projects From Dark Places and Crooked Fang (but that’s only because I’ve really only thought up to “F” in the alphabet – though Carrie’s is likely to fall under “V” for vampire!) There is likely to be reflections on returning to the page to write, possibly some flash fiction and articles about writing, editing and publishing. I’m trying to plan ahead – but I’ll probably fly by the seat of my pants.

April, other being my month of ‘authenticity’, is also mostly given over to the backward tracking of Mercury. To honour this energy I’m returning to read two of my all time favourite books – The Time Travellers Wife and The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve committed to The Inaugral Sub-date Challenge so I’ll be reviewing my back catalogue of stories and doing what needs to be done to prepare five of them for submission. There is an unfinished letter writing project I started that I’d love to finish (inspired by Mercury Rx in 2009). I’m also aware my thoughts are closer to the surface than normal and as a consequence more powerful. It’s time to really start manifesting what I want.

April is the month I’ll be hitting the footpath in an attempt to return to some kind of regular physical activity. I love this article about Walking as Meditation for Writers by Patricia Fry. Back in October 2007 when I first decided to start writing fiction again, I came across this awesome article on Kim Falconer’s website and it struck an immediate chord. I’ll be back on the caffeine-free, sugar-free and alcohol-free wagon after a month off it and feeling gross as a result. Of all my vices, I’ll miss a beer on a Saturday afternoon the most.

As I’m writing all month, I need to stoke the creative fires – firstly with lots of walking, but secondly with lots of mundane work around the house – cooking, laundry, cleaning etc… to support that inner creative landscape (I love the fact my creativity intended for us all to eat and have clean clothes… but not so interested in us having a clean house!) My plan is also to cull books from my bookshelves – mostly the birth, breastfeeding and early parenting books which I’ve moved beyond. Have yet to decide if I will sell them or just give them away. We have many boxes of books which need homes on shelves. I also have several sewing projects to tackle.

Lastly April is dedicated here in Australia to honouring and recognising Australian Writers. While my novel stack isn’t reflective of this, I have three copies of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (including a brand new one which arrived Friday) to read. I might step out of my comfort zone and review some of the short stories. There are also a number of events I’m planning on attending in honour of the release of Anita Heiss’s Paris Dreaming here in Brisbane. Anita is a beautiful soul and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person after months of conversing on Twitter and a quick chat on skype during January and the initial phase of 100 Stories for Queensland.

All in all, April is about me – working out what I want from here on in (perfect to do during Mercury Rx). My plan at the moment is to return to business in May working three days a week and writing the other two. When Paul and I first set up eMergent it was with the view it would open up time and support our writing – we’d be able to work half a day and write half a day. It hasn’t panned out that way so far, but it doesn’t mean that it has to continue like that intot the future. I know I have big plans and the time at my disposal doesn’t allow for all big plans to see the light of day. But I know I can’t keep going on at the pace I have been this year. I also know I can’t keep going, surviving on next-to-no writing. After all, I gave up editing and publishing in 2008 to pursue writing. I must never again lose sight of that.

(Disclaimer: this was actually written on Sunday – compliments of the day from hell on Friday.I just refused to let work stop me from doing something I so desperately had my heart set on!)