Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Author, I feel like I know you because I read your book.


What am I talking about?

Well, you know that moment when you first read a book and you just completely lose yourself in it? You know that feeling you get when you think of that book long after you closed the last page, and you remember exactly when and where you read that book?

I remember reading John Marsden's 'Tomorrow' series when I was a young teenager, and I remember reading the series for the second time and thinking "fuck, I wish I could read this part again for the first time", as there's nothing quite like not knowing, and then knowing, and the pleasure of feeling that for the first time.

More recently, earlier this year, in fact, I read a book and I can tell you where I was when I read it, and while the author may not have any association at all between the book and the place, those two will always share an intimate relationship as the place I first read that book.

Dorothy Porter's 'The Monkey's Mask'. I was on a plane going from Perth to Melbourne. I first heard about it last year at uni, it came up in my creative writing class and we read the first probably half dozen poems from the book. I'd been keeping an eye out for it when I went book shopping. It was quite the coincidence that I'd find it in a book store at the Perth domestic airport.

So I bought it and I started reading it in the terminal, waiting for the flight. I got through most of it on the plane, and I finished it in the hotel that night. That flight to Melbourne was running on Dorothy Porter time. That time was all about her words, her poetry, her made-world.

And now, as I attempt to write a verse novel of my own, I find the sheer possibility of it all rather comforting, that, maybe, with some dedicated hard work, maybe a bit of talent, a bit of luck, maybe someone will see my book in an airport bookstore and read it on the plane, and forever associate my words with that flight...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scriptwriting and the elephant in the room: DIALOGUE

People sometimes say that I'm good at writing dialogue. And people sometimes say that when it rains it pours. But it's not always raining.

Now, I'm going to go right ahead and state the obvious. While writing can be inspired, while it can sometimes just flow onto the page, and when it rains it pours, writing is always something that you've got to work at. Whether you're J.R.R. Tolkien spending your life's work dedicated to one vivid, ever expanding horizon, or whether you're Stephen King and every time you cough a new novel falls onto your editor's desk, you've got to work at it.

I'm not saying that my dialogue is the work of some divine inspiration that I somehow just tap into and I somehow just manage to pluck whole conversations from what might as well be my butt. What I'm saying is that dialogue doesn't have to be that hard. Inspiration helps me, yes, of course, but when I don't have that, I've got to have good old fashioned work on my side. Sometimes it's easy to confuse the two. I like to think of it this way: if you don't know what you're doing, if you don't know why you're doing what you're doing, or if you don't know what you've done until you've done it and stood back and had a good look at it, that's inspiration. Whereas work is something you've got to be switched on, tuned in to. When you're working, you can listen to that inspirational voice and you can ask yourself why it might be telling you these things. If you can explain your writing, then you're certainly working at it.

I guess that the point I'm getting to now, is that no matter how inspired you may be, you can't really do much without the drive and the work put in to produce something. When it rains it pours, that is, unless it doesn't. I started writing the script for my "Writing for Performance" class today and didn't really like it. I think it's because I haven't figured out what I'm doing, or what I want to be doing just yet. I'm pulling the script from my short story "The Giant", which is set in an American Carnival, so I know what I'm doing, but I think the precise thing that I'm looking for is 'how'. How am I going to get them to do what I want them to do?

Dialogue is a big issue with scriptwriting. It's a given that there will be dialogue in plays, but I think I need to get used to the idea that there doesn't need to be dialogue everywhere. I think I really need to visualise the scene and write that. The dialogue, the actions, the expressions. What I'd really love to do is be overt and clever about it, use the dialogue, use the expressions and actions and body language of the characters to betray little secrets about themselves to the audience. That's what I'd really love to do.

Right now I just want my characters to shut up and take a smoko and give me some time to collect my thoughts. I'm in unfamiliar territory here, and while it's fun and exciting, it's also bizarre and intimidating. I'm not desperate or anything, but I think some rain would be good.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading and writing and all that jazz

I need a new bookshelf desperately. My books are just about overflowing from my little bookshelf in my little bedroom. Literally. I have no room.

But I'll keep buying more books anyway. ;) There's still a few more at the moment that I've got an eye on. I'm thinking of maybe creating a list of the books I own and the books I've read and maybe talk a bit about them here. Well, the interesting ones, at least. A lot of them are classics or cult classics or written by authors who have written classics or cult classics.

The last book I finished was Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis. Which was absolutely brilliant. He had it published when he was 21. Fuck me, people like him make me so jealous. If I write a Less Than Zero by next year I'd be over the fucking moon.

Having said that, I felt that it resonated with me very much like Cormac McCarthy's The Road did. They're both minimalist novels without a difinitive plot and with a couple of holy-fucking-shit moments that really stuck in my mind alongside the rest of the hum-drum narratives. The key differences between the two stories are that one's first person and the other's third, and one's set in '80s LA and the other's in post-apocalyptic American wasteland. Both really gripping reads.

I'm currently reading my way through Neil Gaiman's epic novel, American Gods. I've got about 200 pages to go, and right from the get go, there's a sensation of bliss caused by his elegantly spun sentences. I don't know many authors who can just phrase sentences in such a beautiful and articulate way. It stands out, to the point that I've noticed the occasional sentence that isn't quite that brilliant and it makes me disappointed, where in your average novel the sentence would slip by unnoticed. The man is a syntactical genius.

Now, on to my writing, which is all over the place at the moment. Literally. I've got bits and pieces of poems and short stories all over my desk. I'm currently working on three poems for my experimental writing class, which, I must say, I'm having a lot of fun with. There are a few restrictions, but I feel like I'm starting to balance things out nicely now. 20 lines. First poem has to be a language based poem playing around with colours. I've got a kaleidoscope of overly wordy descriptions of surrealist imagery (the line lengths would only fit on the page landscape style), and I'm playing around a bit with alliteration, rhyme, disassociation and variation. The second poem has to be a referent poem. Based on a core idea or theme. Simple enough. I've got a suicide-poem written on a burger wrapper to play with the idea of consumerism. The third poem is open, although has to relate to the exercises in the first few chapters in our textbook. I've gone with a collage poem, where I've taken sentences from four of my favourite books at random and pieced them into a poem. I need to shorten this poem a bit, but I really love how it fits together and stands on its own, showing very little trace of the original source material.

That's been keeping me entertained, playing around with language and structure and technique. but I've also got a performance script (10 minutes) to write for three weeks' time. I've got a lot of work to do on this one, but I'm going to take the 10 minutes from a short story I wrote recently and pick a scene or two from that. I've started writing out the character list, and that's about it. But I've been doing the list from the whole short story, which, I'm sure all of them won't feature in the script.

I'll have to send away my short stories for the wet ink short story competition soon. I know I should edit through my pieces a bit before I send them but I haven't touched them in a while, and from the last times I went through them nothing really leapt out at me as being horrendously terrible.

Fast forward a few months to November and I'll be trying to write 50,000 words in a month again. Although this time I'm thinking instead of trying to slog it out on one work, I'll cheat and work on several major projects. Basically, there's three that are on my mind at the moment, which I'll probably start planning out quite soon, and one other thing I'd like to try out for that month, to see if it's a viable sustainable option for me. The first project is Utopia Ltd. My quasi-surrealist anarchistic novel that I left half-baked at the end of JulNoWriMo. I'm going to strip it back and try to have more of a logical progression to it. The second project is Perpetual Dreaming. A totally surrealist epistolary narrative about a man who starts having these vivid dreams within the wild and bizarre dream world of a child in a coma, of which he is unsure there is a genuine link to a real boy in the real world, or whether the boy is just a part of his imagination. And the third project is a verse novel. I've wanted to try this out since I read Dorothy Porter's The Monkey's Mask, and I think this would be a great opportunity. I think I'm going to try to adapt my short story, The Giant, into a verse novel (this is also the one I'm writing the script for).

And the one other thing I wanted to try was write a short story a day for the month of November. It could be 500 words, it could be 1,000 words, whatever. Just, at the end of November, have a short story for every day of the month. I read that Isaac Asimov would write a short story every day, and I read that Chuck Palahniuk follows this practice as well. And, yeah, I think Chuck's brilliant, and it's no wonder he can pump out a novel just about every year when he's deep set on writing practices such as this. I'll give it a try, see what comes out of it. Could have something that could become something more substantial, could have something that works into something else I'm writing, could be just gibberish and pointless banter. Who cares, I think it should be a good opportunity to get a schedule and just pump out new ideas. Yeah, it's not how NaNoWriMo 'should' be done, but it's all writing, it's all development, and I hope some really good stuff comes from it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

He can't do third person narrators...

He, me, you. If I could choose one perspectival style and just stick with it, I would go with the first person narrator. Hands down. I'm starting to think even short bursts of second person would suit me better too. I haven't written a third person narrative in quite a while, and I guess that's because I feel like I can do more with the other two, like maybe third person's already been done to death and there's only so much I can do with it.

There are a few particular elements of writing that I find myself drawn to, particular styles I like to play around with. One of them's the blurring of poetry and prose. I like my poems to convey a clear narrative, and I like my prose to carry strong metaphoric tones. I feel like I can extract more meaning out of them that way.

Another would be grammar and sentence structure. I guess phrasing sentences to sound more natural in terms of 'speech', rather than textbook 101 English. That sort of ties back to making prose sound more poetic and poetry sound more prosaic. I think there's something inherently wonderful in the way we naturally piece sentences together, and I really enjoy trying to tap into that natural voice, to play around with the way sentences are phrased until they feel like they're weighted just right.

And then there's the narrator as a character, the narratorial voice. We live in an age where complete objectivity is pretty much obsolete, we know that meaning is subjective; to the author, the author's context, to the reader and their context, meanings are never objective or neutral and are never fixed. I feel that if I attempt to write third person, I'm just trying to hide the subjectivity of my writing (which, in itself is a challenge not without its rewards), whereas I feel that I can say more with my writing by embracing the subjectivity of my writing and just running with it. I feel that I can write a genuine first person character much better than I can a third person. I'm hesitant to use the word 'realistic' because I think that restricts the characters to a world too similar to our own, where I prefer to focus on the strange, and heighten them to what I suppose you could call a hyper-reality. I like my fictive worlds to allow for a bit of a stretch of the imagination. And I think that placing my narrator, first person, into that world, is the best place to start in shaping the world, the characters, the events, through the tinted lens of this character, so that it's all built around a particular perspective, so that it's more focussed.

I've started playing around with second person narration a little lately, and while I don't think I'll write a second perspective novel any time soon, I think that it's capable of taking a narrative in a direction that isn't possible through first or third person. It's a bit of a risky perspective to go with, particularly because people tend not to like reading a book that tells them what they're doing or how they're feeling. As a result, it's most important to set the narrative up well enough to give time for the reader to sink into the narratorial style. I've figured there's two distinct ways it can be written. As active or passive, where active has you, the narrator making the decisions and acting upon your surroundings, whereas the passive internalises the narrator and places you in a world where your surroundings act upon you. I think it's easier for a reader to experience the latter, although, for larger works, I think it comes down to a seamless instance of cohesive interaction that will both naturalise the narrator and naturalise the world in which you exist.

I don't know, I guess I'll just keep playing around with language and narration until something feels right.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Oh my god competitions!

Sometimes I get caught up in my writing so much I feel like one of those Mr Potato Head toys with play-doh squeezing out of my ear holes. I get all caught up in sending my uber awesome stories to magazines and writing uber awesome novels that the reality doesn't live up to the hype in my head. Sometimes I just can't help it. Sometimes I'll start something that I was never realistically going to be able to finish. But when I look at what I have done this year, it hasn't been a great deal. At the moment, I'm supposed to be writing a novella, editing two short stories for one competition, writing another short story for another competition and writing another story based on an incomplete novel for an amateur online anthology.

I haven't submitted much short stories or poems to any magazines this year. One poem to dotdotdash that I'll hear back from in early September, and a few bits and pieces to Grok. I've got a short story being published in part in Grok at the moment, that'll be my third publication with them, my first for the year, so I'm really glad for that.

I've known about the Wet Ink short story competition for a while now, and I'll be submitting my short story from my last semester's final creative fiction piece. People seemed to like it, and it recieved a good mark, nothing outstanding, so I doubt it'll take the prize, although I'd still like to have it in the pool for consideration. I'm also submitting a second piece for the competition, a second-person stream-of-consciousness piece about two people in a bar and their coming to grips with the outside world. I wrote it for the zine I'm planning for my Experimental Writing class, but it feels right. I'll need to tweak a few things here and there, but it's certainly got an experimental edge to it that will hopefully make it stand out in the competition. First prize is $3000, deadline is the end of the month.

I came across the John Marsden Young Writers competition the other day, for which the prize (in my age bracket) is also $3000. The deadline is the 20th. Less than a week to scramble something together and mail it off. I'm really pushing it for this one I think, but I started writing something today which should be interesting. It's a first person narrative told from the perspective of a sardonic clown about his relationship with a poorly treated and misunderstood freak, the tallest man on earth. The idea sort of came from a documentary I started watching on TV a little while ago about an Asian woman with a disease which kept her constantly growing. She was in constant pain and had people gawking at her all the time, I guess it's just another opportunity for me to play around with perspective and character development.

I've got less than a week, I might do it, I might not. I've had times in the past where I'd be doing assignments and study and all that at the last minute, and I guess this is that sort of situation, and I think sometimes some people feel like I fluke my way through some of this shit. But I don't half-ass things like this. I've written down some of my thought processes on this blog, what makes me write what I do, what I'm thinking about when I tie a story together, that sort of thing, so I guess what I'm saying is that the amount of effort I put into a story or poem isn't in the time I spend writing the damn thing, but also in the premeditative thoughts that lead up to it.

I don't mean to sound like I'm full of myself here, but the most common compliment I get is that I write good dialogue. Which could be interpreted as strange because I spend precious little of my time talking. But again, there are quite a few instances in my day-to-day life where I think things through before I open my mouth. Of course, I may appear slow or quiet or whatever, but I've got whole conversations going on in my head before I mutter the word "hello".

Anyway, with all of that going, my proposed novella has taken a breather and I don't know what I'll end up doing with it. Possibly do it as a NaNoWriMo thing where I'll write my 50k in short stories/novellas, and hopefully try to finish some of the projects I've started this year but have abandoned somewhere in the nether-regions of my computer.

But I'm pulling together a handful of what I believe are interesting ideas for a chaotic, yet somewhat rigidly structured zine. I've got my stream-of-consciousness piece about good intentions and bad intentions, a bible parody in its rough first stages, probably going to change a hell of a lot (pun intended) and a series of postcards sent from my future self in hell, warning me what I'm in for. I'm playing around with a lot of ideas and having a lot of fun with it. My latest idea was to present the texts within the zine, rather than running down the page, separating them into three or four parts and running them through the pages like the narratives are sinking through the paper.

So, yeah, a lot on my plate, a lot in my head, fingers crossed I'll have my carnival piece ready to mail some time next week. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing badly on purpose

I'm all for proper grammar and spelling in most instances of literature. I don't like it when people don't bother with apostrophes or full stops because they can't be fucked or when they don't even notice that they're supposed to be there. But I'm a bit of a two-faced bastard because I love playing around with conventional notions of spelling, grammar and syntax. Oh my god beginning a sentence with And or But? Preposterous! Capitalising letters in the middle of a sentence? Ridiculous! Usually there's some sort of motive for the crime. Like drawing attention to a particular character, or portraying a particular narratorial voice. Like the one I'm using here, I like to put full stops in the middle of sentences to break up the phrases to appear more conversational. I do that a lot with my short fiction too. I like it.

The last exercise I've taken up started out as a stream-of-consciousness piece that was meant to be autobiographical but then sort of turned into a second person perspectival piece about something altogether different. But there's still that stream-of-consciousness feel of thoughts simply spilling out onto the floor and running into eachother and milling about pointlessly like no one really communicates this way but it's the best way to get everything onto the page. What's a comma? What's an apostrophe? I can leave the last full stop a kilometre behind without batting an eyelid. One word to describe it would be liberating. Another word would be self-destructive. I look at the clusterfuck of words on the page and wonder how many people would string all these thoughts together and follow this narrative of a stream-of-conscious that is sort of like an out-of-body mind directly addressing you. Would people enjoy something like that? Would they drink fine wine and nibble on exotic cheeses and mutter "mmm, quite, that S.T. Cartleford gent is quite the literary marksman"? Or am I going to be one of those guys that becomes famous once I'm dead? Probably neither, but it's fun to screw around with words knowing that I can take pride in having written something that could potentially cause headaches to those who read it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Being lethargic is a pain in the arse

So I'm still crawling out from the tail end of my cold. Writing very little. Reading a little more. Still having ideas. One problem I have a lot is not feeling like doing stuff. I think that's the medical term. That, or Can't-be-fucked-itis. But while I'm spending all this time not writing and I'm doing other stuff (like uni or work, or whatever), I'm getting ideas for more new ideas that will also probably never see the light of day. However, my latest brainwave has got me feeling a little giddy. I'd like to write a zine for my experimental writing class. Just the idea of it feels so organic and underground.

But there's nothing really experimental about that, right? That, I think, comes solely down to material. I've found that lately I've been writing as a sort of exploration of the self, or to criticise consumerism, or something. The idea so far is about doing things I wouldn't normally do because it may offend some people. I think I'm far too polite for my own good, and I think something like this could teach me something interesting about myself. And while I may not wish to find a living in being offensive 'n shit, I feel like it's something I need to do. I've got a few ideas of different pieces I could use in the zine, a few different narrative techniques, all based around the theme "I am going to hell for this..."

Should be a bit of fun. Now, I'm hoping to get a bit of writing on my novella out of the way tonight, and I'm hoping to get a bit of study done too. Now that the holidays are over, I feel like I'm trying to cram so much stuff into a small space of time, but that round peg won't fit through that damn square hole...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Minor delays

So I was planning on writing a little each day on my proposed novella, and I was planning on juggling it with uni and work, and I was planning on getting my study plans in order so I can keep on top of everything this semester. Well, plans are good in theory, but unforeseen circumstances can tend to throw plans off balance and set them back a bit. Waking up early for uni and staying late for work has been a real challenge over the past couple of days due to the presence of a despicable cold. On Monday, my novella's word count was 1,273 words. And on Tuesday it didn't move at all. And I haven't written anything at all yet today. However, I've had the whole day off and I've spent most of it lounging around watching That 70s Show. I've done a little study, but I still haven't touched my manuscript yet. My cold is just about gone, and with the whole morning free (and most of the afternoon) tomorrow, I should be able to get quite a bit more study done, and hopefully get my novella up to around the 4,000-5,000 word mark. Here's to wishful thinking.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The writing experiment

First day back at uni. Year two, semester two. Experimental writing; what's it all about? In the words of my tutor, "fucking shit up." Nuff sed. He also said something about the unit being nigh on impossible to fail. So I'm just going to focus on fucking shit up for that unit. I'll fuck shit up so baddd....... (tempted to write an assignment on an empty burger wrapper for the 'avant-garde-ness of it all)

I'm competing with a cold with some pharmaceutical-strong lozengers and a lemon drink that tastes so foul. I'm Mr-Mucus-Face right now, but I'm taking solace in the fact that it could be a lot worse. It's not so bad.

In terms of my writing goals, I started my novella last night and wrote 1,026 words. That's the target. I've had uni this morning, bright and early from 8:00, with a two hour class that finished an hour early. So I went to the library cafe and inhaled a delicious bacon and eggs breakfast before my 10:00 experimental writing class on the top floor of the labyrinth that is the Architecture building. I've got work late tonight, but I'll have a good three hours to eat, rest and write my 1,000 words before midnight. That's my self-appointed curfew because tomorrow is another 8:00 start at uni.

And in my experimental writing class is the Grok editor, who informed me that a segment of a first semester piece of mine is in the next edition of the magazine. First publication of the year. Hopefully, with this new connection, I might have a spot in the next two editions of the magazine.

I'm going to try to keep record of my progress on here, to make things easier to manage. I know not many people read this (maybe just person?) but at least it's out here and all like "hey guys, this is what I'm planning on doing."

Sunday, August 1, 2010


There are two different ways I go about my writing: Planned and unplanned. Basically, a planned piece of writing has a lot of thought put into plot, characters, meaning, that sort of thing, you know, so it's all cohesive. My unplanned efforts are, of course, more spontaneous, more experimental, and more prone to failure. I usually have trouble planning large projects. Sometimes I lose interest, sometimes they just suck, and sometimes they just fall through.

My latest proposal is a little less strenuous than a NaNoWriMo type 50k-in-30-days ordeal, but rather, a 20k novella over the next three months. August, September, October. Then on to NaNoWriMo 2010 (perhaps I'll try writing my JulNoWriMo story again).

So anyway, here's the plan:
I'll have my first draft finished by August 20. That's 1,000 words a day for 20 days, not too hard, considering it'll be alongside uni and work, it's not an insurmountable task. My idea at the moment is an Epistolary narrative of a guy who starts keeping a dream diary when he starts having vivid dreams which are actually sections of a continuous dream from the mind of a young boy in a coma. The working title is "Perpetual Dreaming".

Continuing on the target of 1,000 words a day, I'll go through and rewrite the story, aiming to finish by September 9.

Then I'll spend the rest of September spending time on the weaker parts of the story, tightening the narrative up. That gives me 21 days, three weeks. My third draft, of sorts.

That leaves a full 31 days to spend on editing, going through the whole thing with a fine-toothed comb. I'll probably try to go through it all as early in October as I can, so I can sit on it for a few weeks before giving it one last look-over in the last week of October before submitting it for publication in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

I've been meaning to send something to that magazine since I came across it, but I haven't been able to get a working narrative up and ready. I came back to their site the other day, read through the guidelines again, saw their word limit was 20,000, and I thought I'd take up the opportunity to produce something a bit more ambitious than a simple short story.

I'm also going to send a short story to the Wet Ink magazine by the end of August, so, fingers crossed that all goes well. I'm starting semester two of year two at Uni tomorrow, where I'll be studying writing for performance and experimental writing, amongst other things. Hopefully I'm going to have a busy few months ahead of me.