Archive for January, 2009

Oh, come on, Queensland – women who don’t breastfeed are more likely to neglect or abuse their children? The fact that you’ve managed to correlate these two things does not mean that one is directly responsible for the other. Many women choose not to breastfeed: some for medical reasons, some out of personal preference, some out of necessity. The fact that abusive mothers go down a similar path, however, is not a rational choice, because for whatever reason, they are already emotionally disconnected from their children; and if this disconnect is caused by external or pre-existing problems, then breastfeeding will not solve them. In fact, if those problems concern substance abuse, alcoholism or chain-smoking, then breastfeeding could well harm the child in question. Fancy! 

So, no, Lane Strathearn: promoting breasfeeding is not a simple and “cost-effective” way of preventing abuse and neglect. The act of suckling a child will not cure post-natal depression, alcoholism or nicotine addiction, nor will it negate the consequences emotional trauma, poverty, single parenthood or poor education. Those are many and various battles; none of them simple. By all means, promote breastfeeding in public; educate women about their choices; help addicted mothers come clean. But don’t lay guilt on good, happy, bottle-feeding mothers by wielding poorly reasoned conclusions about their propensity for child abuse.

That kind of idiocy helps no-one.

After the first flush of reading  – and enthusing – about Authonomy, I’m ready to calm down, put on my serious glasses and give it a long, hard stare. Since first consciously deciding to Be A Writer at age twelve, I’ve maintained a cynical wariness about putting any novel-in-progress online, due largely to paranoid fears of plagiarism or concept-theft. Though I’ve posted dozens of poems and the occasional short story on various sites since then, I’ve always remained firm on the Magnum Opus rule. Good thinking! I tell my younger self, and through the veil of years she grins wearily back at me, slugging her way through pages of dross, half-oblivious to the few sweet embers strewn within. She’s like that.

As an unpublished writer, news from a publisher – any news – is like a kick to the heart. It doesn’t matter how old you are. The impenetrability of the publishing industry is there for a reason, we know; and yet the act of pounding desperately on theose heavy doors can’t help but instil the conviction of being wrongfully locked out; as though some lofty guardian need only peer over the ramparts, gasp, and let us through at once, a kinsman found. The unreality of this scenario does nothing to diminish its potency – more often, in fact, the reverse is true, with each successive rejection only increasing the perceived likelihood that next time, doors will open. So imagine, then, the collective heart-kick generated by hundreds of authors hearing about Authonomy! Small wonder they were gripped.

And yet now, it seems, even as published works are being announced, that old enemy of amateur authors, Print On Demand, has reared its head – at least according to one Authonomy member. HarperCollins have been swift to point out that POD will become a voluntary feature of the site, and not their primary mode of publication for Authonomy members; nonetheless, feathers have been ruffled. That kick to the heart is a traitor, methinks: the tug of hope over experience.

Still, the venture remains far from solely negative. Authonomy represents the efforts of a major publishing house to embrace the digital age and do something different for unpublished authors. If there’s a complaint to be levelled, it should be at the ‘greasy pole’ approach of rewarding the most-read books with an editorial glance. Realistically, this was never going to be more than a dangling carrot: apart from the fact that any editor can peruse the site at whim and select a worthwhile morsel off their own bat, the participants themselves have actively diluted the system. In fairness, it was easy to dilute, but it’s a simple thing to acknowledge that a you-back-my-book, I’ll-back-yours approach has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with networking – exactly the kind of scenario that most members, at least on the surface, purport to loathe. Small wonder, then, that HarperCollins hasn’t asked for more.

To this effect, there’s been ongoing debate between contributors, interested parties, and those being published as to Authonomy’s real agenda. (Ironically, in this particular instance, the forum is the Authonomy blog, arguably one of the concept’s most pleasing features.) With the rosy lenses still on, I’d even considered submitting my own manuscript, assuming it gets rejected again; but in a more sobering light, I’m inclined to believe that my adolescent self had the right idea. We unpublished authors might not like it, but the great filtration mechanisms of the publishing industry – selective submission, literary agents, slushpiles – are set in place to keep bad writing out. Peer-to-peer review is undoubtably good, but it’s not a useful arbiter of what is or isn’t publishable, while the egotism requried to continually get back on the horse is frequently ill-suited for objective self-assessment.

I still maintain that the Authonomy interface is a positive step forward, particulary if adapted by smaller houses or used as a means to promote genre publishing and less mainstream titles. Similarly, as an avenue for critical feedback, no matter how flawed, it beats having no such avenue at all. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be improved upon – and at this juncture, it might behoove the collective interwebnological consciousness to remember that, as fast as things move in cyberspace, Authonomy is firmly rooted in the real world, weighted down by the terrible Slow Zone gravity of an actual corporation. It’s still a new venture. Give it a break.

 And HarperCollins? The bloggers are watching you. Kick softly.

Dear Australian Parents,

Stop freaking out about finding the perfect school for your precious progeny. Parroting the answers to standardised tests is not a form of intelligence, and tends to impart the lesson that memorisation is more important than comprehension, let alone independent thought. Kids at their best are creative, explorative, curious . Encourage their interests, but don’t regiment them – the best way to teach is to make learning fun, not to take something they love and make it joyless. If you really want children who are bright, articulate, interesting and well-adjusted, then learn with them: buy them books you’ll read together, play with them, ask what they’d like to do and, where possible, make it happen – but don’t just farm them out to a stranger for rote-learning.  

Not every child is a Rhodes Scholar waiting to happen, and that’s OK. Encourage them to do their best, help them if they struggle, but understand that no amount of money thrown at private tutors, schools or remedial programs will make them any happier or healthier. I understand your concerns, I really do: the world is a difficult place, and especially in times of economic turmoil, it’s natural to want an advantage for those you love best. But education, sadly, has become a commodity, something we buy and sell without anywhere near enough thought as to its intrinsic value. Our society has fathomened the letter of schools, but lost their spirit. When almost everyone finishes Year 12 and a vast majority attend uni, what sets someone apart isn’t their improved marks, but their genuine hunger for knowledge. And that, assuming it can be taught, is a much more subtle lesson.

Parents, let out the collective breath you’ve been holding. Love your kids – teach them, guide them, help them – but remember: they won’t be kids forever. The more you have to force them into something, the less fun they’ll find it. And all too soon, when they shoot up into rebellious, awkward teenagers who storm out, sulk, cut class and answer back, the very best you can hope for is that they want to learn, regardless of whether everything they busy themselves with is part of the curriculum. Like gumtrees that start out in verandah pots, you’re teaching them to be bigger than the space they’ve known. You’re helping them grow up. Whether you send them to public or private school, if they have a tutor or not, it’ll happen. They’ll cease to be meek, but they will inherit the Earth.

So don’t mould them after the system. Teach them to change it.

I watched Mississippi Burning last night for the first time since school. It’s based on real events following the murder of three Civil Rights workers by the Klu Klux Klan in 1964,  and as the date flashed up onscreen, knowing what was to come, I had a series of wrenching thoughts.

First: My mother was fourteen when the killings took place. She remembers Freedom Summer, and segregation, and protest rallies. And she remembers being in Darwin as an adult – not too long, even, before I was born – and still seeing segregation between the white and Aboriginal population: on buses, in the cinema. Enforced, but unspoken. Present. And even now, in that instance, I wonder how much has changed.

Second: Men and women who were young Klan supporters in the sixties are still alive today. How many of them raised children, now adults, in their beliefs? Not long ago, they even reared their heads. I find it sharp, strange, to think of these people living and breathing on my same Earth, who aren’t part of history, but alive now. 

And, third: Barack Obama was three when these killings took place. Forty-four years after the state of Mississippi refused to try Klan members who’d murdered three civil rights activists, America elected a black man to be the forty-fourth President. There’s a certain lovely symmetry to that.

And as remembrance of these things moved through me, I looked up and thought: How far we’ve come. And then I thought: How far we’ve yet to go.

But go we shall.

Barack Obama has been inagurated as President of the United States. Already, he’s signed an order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year and another to prevent the CIA from using illegal interrogation techniques. Innumerable stories of goodwill, tolerance and humanity have bloomed into the media since election day, and are yet to cease. Even for those of us overseas, there is a sense of hope: that something, finally, somewhere, is being done.

And yet, in the midst of all these history-making declarations, powerful speeches and political events, what’s really brought home the Obama win to me is a single line, delivered by new Presidential spokesman, Bill Burton, on the technological inadequacies of the White House.

‘It’s like going from an Xbox to an Atari,’ he said.

And the fact, the glorious, stupid, wonderful, geeky fact that someone in the White House actually knows what an Atari is, makes me grin like a damnfool yokel.

Bring on the revolution, guys. We’re with you.

Since discovering it yesterday, I’ve been ceaselessly intrigued by Authonomy, an online forum created by HarperCollins. According to boingboing, it’s been up and running since September ’08, and is currently still in beta; nonetheless, there are already hundreds of contributors. The premise is simple: aspiring writers upload their unpublished novels using a shiny new interface, tag the relevant genre/s, and let other site members promote their favourite books. Despite the sophistication of the website, the mechanism itself is nothing new; the real innovation is in holding a monthly top ten, wherein HarperCollins editors will read, comment on and – potentially – publish those books which get the most votes. They’ll also be looking for trendspotters: site members who consistently reccommend good or popular books ahead of the curve, thus strengthening the incentive for writers to spruik work other than their own. In the words of its creators, it’s a search for new talent: filtering the dross through howevermany pairs of eyes and seeing what floats to the top.

Conceptually, it’s a brilliant embodiment of killing two birds with one stone. For the publisher, it decreases the dreaded slushpile: by providing a sanctioned, online outlet for new submissions, they will likely cut down on receipt of unsolicited hardcopy, while simultaneously gaining a free, enthusiastic, slushpile-reading committee. For the aspiring authors, there is a drastically increased chance of receiving feedback or being published, plus a chance to participate in what is, essentially, a mammoth (but extremely well-executed) writing group. And for passive members like myself, there’s the fun of talent-trawling: reading free books, picking the best and pimping them.

Authonomy is such a deviously simple, workable, natural idea that I’m stunned nobody thought of it before; and if HarperCollins really does sign some new talent this way, it could revolutionise the publishing industry, particularly if other companies pick up on the concept. Especially for smaller, more specialised houses, it could be a fantastic way to expand the business without excessive outlay; and thinking of the local Australian market, where there are few dedicated genre publishers, it could help to demonstrate both the presence of new writers and a viable audience for their work. Even more importantly, allowing digital submission erases the barrier of distance: whereas UK-based writers might baulk at submitting hardcopy to a New York firm, there can be no such qualms about uploading to an internationally accessible website run by an internationally recognised publisher.

One of the biggest hindrances as a writer is the dearth of authoritative feedback: without an agent (or even with), it’s frequently impossible to learn why a manuscript was rejected by a given editor, or what might be done to improve it. While amateur criticism is sometimes unhelpful, creating a resource for such is nonetheless positive, especially where levened by the potential for more measured, professional commentary with an eye to commercial success.

In short, I’m excited by Authonomy and what it might achieve – and if its expanding membership is anything to go by, I’m not the only one.

Viral Monday

Posted: January 18, 2009 in Mixed Lollies
Tags: , , , , , ,

According to the lovely ladies at ButtercupPunch, there’s a viral Facebook music thingie going around, wherein participants shuffle their iPod and then list the first lines of the first 25 tracks, so that others can try and guess the songs. As I’m totally behind with this, and as being behind damages my intergeek cred, I therefore give in. So:

1. We’ve got stars directing our fate, and we’re praying it’s not too late

2. Crosslegged on the front lawn, she’s had a bad pill

3. You’re the Devil in me I brought in from the cold

4. Time on your side that will never end, the most beautiful thing you can ever spend

5. If you’re feeling low and lost today, you’re probably doing too much again

6. Purple haze all in my brain, lately things just don’t seem the same

7. Once upon a time I was of a mind to lay your burden down

8. A bold hippopotamus was standing one day on the banks of the cool Shalimar

9. He crys out her eyes, a fire unfurnaced

10. Aishiteta to nageku ni wa, amari ni mo toki wa sugi te shimatta

11. Wire’s coming back again, Elastica, got sued by them

12. Give me a word, give me a sign

13. Sometimes they’ll want to cut you down

14. Yo, this is a lesson in friendship, the depths of a kinship

15. Looking for a single thread of melody to help me get by

16. I think I’ll close my eyes and wait as the world goes by

17. I want a God who stays dead, not plays dead

18. I woke twice last night, walked to the window

19. All simple monkeys with alien babies, amphetamines for boys, crucifixes for ladies

20. I was lying on the grass on Sunday morning of last week, indulging in my self-defeat

21. You keep saying you’ve got something for me

22. There comes a time when you swim or sink, so I jumped in the drink

23. I hate to talk like this, I hate to act as if there’s something wrong

24. Well it’s not hard to see, anyone who looks at me knows I am just a rolling stone

25. It’s because I love you, not because we’re far apart

Knock yourselves out 🙂

It’s late last night, 11pm on a Wednesday. Having just celebrated my husband’s last day at work with dinner in Chinatown, we’ve decided to continue celebrating at Charlton’s, a nearby karaoke bar. I write down a couple of songs, put them in the mix and wait by the cigarette machine for my name to be called, while Toby and friends drink double whiskeys in the pool room. All is going well. A new song starts – three Asian guys get up and start yelling an 80s rock ballad into one mic – and I take this opportunity to go downstairs to the bathroom.

There’s one girl at the sink. We swap a cursory smile, and I go into the cubicle, where I am confronted with two toilet paper options: that one-play, waxy cardboard crap you normally only find in state primary schools, and some of the good stuff. This is located in a tall, rectangular holder mounted on the wall, made of clear plastic and designed to contain three rolls, so that when the bottom roll is done, the next one will drop neatly down and replace it. Except, somewhat expectedly, it hasn’t dropped, and so the roll is hovering about ten centimeters above the slot. 

Me, I’m a pro at this dilemma. I know what to do. I turn my hand sideways, twist it gently up through the slot, and start poking the underside of the recalcitrant roll in order to coax it down. Contrary to both my experience and my expectations, however, this doesn’t work. That sucker will not move. Irritated, I decide to give up and go with the cheap stuff for the sake of convenience, when I realise something: my hand is stuck.

Surprised, I give an experimental tug. My hand does not move – in fact, it’s beginning to hurt! A few more tugs; my hand remains fixed, and the pain increases. I am trapped in a Chinatown karaoke toilet.

‘Oh, lame.’

I say this out loud. The girl at the sink, who eviently hasn’t left, hears me. I can sense her awareness through the cublicle wall. Desperately, I wrap my free hand around my trapped wrist and pull, hard. This results only in agony. My hand is changing colour. Like a sea-turtle stuck in a plastic six-pack ring, I am incapable of freeing myself. I sigh, resignedly.

‘Is someone there?’ I call out, knowing full well there is.


‘Look,’ I say, ‘I know this is totally lame and completely stupid, but my hand is stuck in the toilet-roll dispenser.’


‘Are you serious?’

‘Yes. Completely. My hand is stuck.’

The briefest of pauses. Clearly, options are being weighed. Then she takes pity on me.

‘I’ll come in and help.’

‘Thank you.’

I unlock the door. She steps in, frowns at the situation, tilts her head onside, studies my hand. It really is wedged.

‘Stretch your fingers out,’ she commands. Hapless servant, I obey. She tugs experimentally on my wrist, then turns my palm as far to the left as possible. She wraps both hands on my wrist. I yank my arm downwards.

With a spastic, reverberating boioioioioing! from the plastic trap, my hand comes free. It is painful! Oh, how it is painful. I make a hissed-through-teeth noise of discomfort. The girl looks sympathetic.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.’ I look stoically up at her. ‘Thanks.’

‘No problem.’

She lets herself out. I lock the cube behind her, finish my business, and leave in turn. At the sink, I notice two deep, pinched, white-blue bruises on the back of my hand, as though it’s been inexpertly worried by a young Alsatian. A pox on toilet-paper-dispenser-makers and their inelegant designs!

Back upstairs, the boys have finished their number. Someone else goes up. I get a glass of water, burst out laughing, and tell my husband what’s happened. He blinks at me, grins, and sips his whiskey. I resume my post at the cigarette machine. My good Samaritan girl is back with her friends. We swap the tiniest of looks. No more. 

And about half an hour later, I belt out Don MacLean’s American Pie, to thunderous applause.

1. My being hungry is directly proportional to how bored I am. Thus, the greater the ennui, the greater the likelihood of my eating an entire jar of cocktail olives at the kitchen bench.

2. I find my fingernails genuinely fascinating. It’s not just that I flick them for lack of anything else to do; I actually enjoy paying close scrutiny to their ruined contours. I have no idea why this is.

3. The way I roll my shoulders so that people can hear the crunching sound is psychologically identical to how I used to flip my double-jointed thumb and chase the others girls with it. Conclusion: part of me is now, and will be forever, five years old.

4. I have a secret desire to be 10 centimeters tall, so that I can ride people’s pets, climb into drawers, live in a dollhouse and wander randomly on strange desks.

5. I am neither religious nor a believer in magic. However, sometimes I still have to remind myself that science works, no matter how crazy particle analysis sounds. 

6. From time to time, I contemplate seeing a psychologist just for the thrill of being told I’m well-adjusted. Strangely, were I given the opposite verdict, I’d find it just a bit thrilling.

7. As a kid, I copied certain behaviours from watching animals: scraping my foot like a horse when waiting impatiently, tilting my head to scratch my neck like a seal, stretching like a cat. I don’t think I’ve learned any new tricks as an adult, but I’ve never stopped doing the old ones.

8. During highschool, I divided up my personality traits into three categories,  anthropomorphised each one, and gave them names. I still often think of myself in these terms.

9. Keeping a record of the books I’ve read makes me want to read more books, just for the sake of listing them.

10. Given the above, it seems increasingly unlikely that I’d come off as anything even vaguely resembling well-adjusted to a psychologst.


Posted: January 11, 2009 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , , ,

The last time I shopped my novel around, I sent it to a local Victorian publishing house specialising in young adult fantasy. They read the book, sent me a report on its pros and cons, and expressed an interest in seeing it again once I’d made some structural edits. As I agreed with about 98% of the constructive criticism, I set to work. This was back in early October 08, or so Gmail informs me. Anyhow, in a burst of creative energy, I finally finished this evening. It’s odd to think that the bulk of the task was actually completed this week, at the end of my holiday – sure, the biggest, newest, longest bit went in last year, but otherwise, I’ve pretty much ploughed on through since last Sunday night. And now it’s done, and I’m happy with the results. Extremely happy – not just because I feel like my writing is right on track, but because the publishers have confirmed their interest in seeing it again.

Which means I’m submitting tomorrow.

My job starts up again in the morning. In between the getting-back-into-the-swing-of-things and work-doing, I shall make my way stealthily to the printer. I will replicate my manuscript on paper. Lovingly, I will place it in a plain, purloined envelope. As always, I will touch a finger to my lips, rest it lightly on the cover page and then, unable to help myself, repeat the gesture twice, because if there’s one superstition I cling to, it’s that good things come in threes, and must therefore be encouraged by threes. And then I will send it off, and wait, with heart in mouth.

It may well get turned down. I’m ready for that. Well, no, I’m not – that is, in point of fact, a baldfaced lie. As before, there’ll be one soaring moment when I sight the crucial email and my whole internal infrastructure will clench, waiting; and then, as I read the reply in the negative, I’ll feel something burrow into me, devouring and deep. Only for a moment. It can’t be helped. But then, I’ll smile and move on, knowing that, if nothing else, my novel has come out all the stronger for the experience, and that I am stronger, too. And if the answer comes back yes? I have no idea. But I suspect shrieking will be involved.

In between now and whenever this is, I’ll develop a curious anxiety towards my phone. Any unfamiliar number will send a tingle of anticipatory fear through my hand, as though the buttons were humming. I’ll check it madly, pedantically, when I usually ignore the thing for days on end. I’ll carry it with me compulsively, reaching down to touch it, make sure it’s safe. These reactions are all ludicrous: whether the book is good or not, they won’t help me a jot. But I do them. They are my rituals. They anchor me to something more practical, more tangible than anxiety.  

I’ve written a lot already this year, given that it’s only the 11th of January. I’ve read three books, too, and taken something valuable from each one. The other night, for the first time since I first picked up a pencil with an idea to storytelling, I jotted down an idea from beginning to end, sculpted characters, scenes and scenarios without so much as a single guiding name in my head. If you’re not me, that probably makes no sense. But for years, I lead with character names; from them came the characters themselves; from the characters, a scenario; from the scenario, a story. The fact that I’ve suddenly learned this process in reverse thrills me, as did the spontenaity of its execution. I feel like my writing has kicked up a gear with the turning of the annum; or maybe I’m only just noticing what’s been there for a while. But either way, I’m confident now if I never was before: that I can write. I will be a published author.

Maybe not this time around. But someday. Soon.