Digital Wanderings

So, at the beginning of this year, I promised I would write to a schedule.

I’d have a minimum of 2500 words a week, with the ultimate goal of finishing the YA novel I’m working on. I might actually meet that minimum goal this week, having some 1700 words of poetry done, but overall, I think I’ve fallen well off that these past few weeks. Mostly, I blame the craziness of the Twitter Fiction Festival totally disrupting my discipline.

I was so excited by it, I let it distract me far too much – what followed was a minor social media storm (compared to what I’m used to). I worked a great deal on my short story “Aftertweet”, and on re-designing my blog, centralising my social media platforms, links, and so on, all of which took far more time and energy than it should have. It’s amazing how distracting and exhausting maintaining these profiles can actually be – feeling connected and engaged with an audience is a delight, to be sure, but it’s important to take a balanced approach to it, I think.

To not always shift to see what that (1) in your tab is, to check out that notification. I realise it can seem conceited to complain about social media connectivity, I just think for me lately there has been a definite lack of productivity tied to it – and if the choice is between constant distraction with online interaction, with arbitrary numbers, or producing the stories I’m always dreaming up, I’d pick the latter every day of the week. But my actions lately haven’t reflected that, so I’m now consciously telling myself to get back on the damn wagon and get off Twitter.

Ironically, just hitting ‘Publish’ on this post will send it zipping out to a half-dozen social media platforms, but I’m interested to know whether anyone has found it to have the opposite effect? Is anyone inspired by, or using Twitter, FB, Instagram, etc to increase their creative output? Of course, I often use Twitter for just that reason, to ensure I’m not just being a zombie or filling the ether because there’s space to be filled and nothing better to do. I try to use it creatively with micropoetry or the occasional short story — the other week I wrote several tweets as fables in the modern day.

Didya hear the one about Rumpelstiltskin? No? That’s because he deleted his Twitter, Tumblr, FB & killed everyone involved. ?

Didya hear the one about Snow White? She bit an Apple & wound up in a glass bar with 7 blue-shirted Genii. They laughed off her screams.

Instead of visiting Gran, Red Riding Hood Skyped her. “Google Maps says there’s 15km of woods b/w us? Lol. Y r u so far away?”

Didya hear the one about Cinderella? Lost a shoe at the club, saw it instagrammed by @royaldud ?

Or this short bit:

I gasped, curled up. Being kneed in the balls does that. Chivalry sniffed. “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

The other day, I was also reading about a poet using Instagram to great effect. So, while it can be distracting, I know it can and frequently is put to good use. I encourage that. I think I’m just feeling a little put off by the lack of progress I’ve made in fiction these past few weeks. I put a little bit too much pressure on myself with this novel, and this particular short story which keeps dragging at my focus. I need to finish the latter to get back to work on the former, and most importantly, cast off the shackles of seriousness. There is great freedom in writing just for fun — an euphoric joy that is lost when your ego gets in the way and keeps repeating This Is Important.

As my touchstone, Ray Bradbury, once said, “Don’t worry about things. Don’t push… The important thing is to have a ball, to be joyful, to be loving and to be explosive. Out of that comes everything and you grow.”

So maybe that’s what I need to do, step back, return to the basics of having fun with storytelling, and easy my foot off the social media throttle — unless it’s for creative purposes. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

…Right?

World Poetry Day

Given World Poetry Day was yesterday, the 21st of March, I figured I’d write a little something about poetry. Which, of course, led me to the very first and most obvious question. Below, you’ll find both question and answer (sort of, not really, maybe, ask me again, and it will change.)

What is poetry? 

It’s life.

Poetry has taught me to be concise but if you need more than that, I suppose I can elaborate. Poetry is akin to the ocean. We’ve lived in and around it for thousands of years, we’ve explored it in every way we know how, and as the years go on, the more we realise how little we know. There are unplumbed depths we may never reach. Every time we think we know all the different kinds of poem in the ocean, we see a new poem – a poem that changes gender before our eyes, a poem with a killer neurotoxin beyond our science to counter, a poem with lanterns for eyes, a small poem which breeds thousands more with every breath, a poem that pollinates the very water itself, a poem so perfectly camouflaged we don’t think it’s poetry at all, an infant poem capable of devouring the oldest.

Despite this, people keep asking the question. What is poetry? Has it been catalogued and categorised in its entirety? Have we captured enough poets, tagged them with little yellow numbers, and sent them back into the wilds whence they came and observed how they lived and loved and bred? Ask the wild poets themselves, those hanging from eucalyptus trees, or sailing on the wind, and even they cannot come close to a complete answer. This is because poetry is in constant flux, it is always changing, along with what we know of it. Much like life, you could say.

At least, that’s my spontaneous response. I’m only getting started in the world of poetry, so I’ll keep asking myself the question, and keep answering it, to see what grows and changes and is new in thought or feeling.

Touchstone by Melanie Rawn: A Review

Melanie Rawn’s Touchstone is a peculiar and intriguing fantasy novel. I came across it quite by accident, when my housemate sidled into my room and said, ‘Hey, do you have a copy of the Night Circus, and can I borrow it?’

‘I do!’ I said happily and, ‘If I can find it.’ It wasn’t on either of my bookcases, or the many piles of books on my desk, or by the bed, or downstairs, or in the large box of books I had in the corner. A box which I was delighted to discover had a whole range of novels I’d been meaning to read and entirely forgotten about. Probably because they were in a box. And there, nestled amid the steampunk, epic fantasy, magic realism, horror, and general literature, was Touchstone.

My housemate didn’t get the Night Circus sadly (turns out I loaned it to a friend over a year ago and he still has it), but I did come away with another book to add to the bunch I’m reading now. You’ll note that when listing genres, I conspicuously left out Touchstone’s and that’s because I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. I guess the closest subgenre is “High Fantasy”, but even then, that doesn’t feel quite right.

Touchstone is the story of Caden Silversun, a part Elf, part Fae, part human Wizard obsessed with the theatre. Though his artistic leanings dismay his high-born parents, Caden persists in forming a troupe, and taking to the road intending to become the best and earn his right to tour the Royal Circuit, the highest achievement in theatre.

Theatre, in this world, is a live magical performance incorporating projected sights, sounds, and even emotion. A typical troupe is composed of four members: there’s the tregetour (Caden), the playwright who also imbues glass canisters or ‘withies’ with the magic necessary to perform the play. The glisker (Mieka), who manipulates the magic into vision and emotion. The masquer (Jeska), or actor, who performs the roles, and the fettler (Rafe), who controls the output of magic to ensure the audience is never hurt by the forces at play.

It’s an ingenious system, and a joy to read about. Touchstone’s great strength is its complex, original worldbuilding and magic system, paired with interesting and well-developed characters. So, why is Touchstone a little difficult to categorise? Well, there’s no evil lord. No magic prophecy. No invading armies or triumphant hero. No world domination. No real antagonist even. In fact, if I had to summarise this book in a way we could understand, I’d say it’s almost like the fantasy equivalent of a documentary following the Rolling Stones from inception to fame.  Continue reading

Twitter Fiction Short Story

It’s past 1am, and I’m only now slowly coming down from the insane high. My short story ‘Aftertweet’, officially selected to be part of the Twitter Fiction Festival showcase, debuted live just a few hours ago.

I spent most of the day in a state of anxiety. It was a distant concern, however, while I was busy in the morning and afternoon, but as the hours dragged on, it became increasingly difficult to distract myself. In the last hour, just before 10am, I actively felt sick.

It’s always this way, just before I share my work. Dreadful stomach-churning performance anxiety. Less like ‘butterflies’ and more like an active war zone. So with just 20mins left before I began to tweet out this story, I ran a weary eye over it yet again.

Now, while I’d always planned to incorporate ‘random’ Retweets as part of the story, (when the protagonist literally falls into the internet and spins out a mix of bizarre/mundane tweets from other people), I hadn’t decided on exactly which those would be.

As such, I’d actively been saving whatever took my fancy on and off for the past two weeks. Naturally, it was only at the last minute I saw I had way too many. And what’s more, the structure of the piece would have to change to accommodate it – so I started editing and rearranging it on the fly.

Thankfully, I think it worked out okay, though I went straight from an intense finish to tweeting the story. Which, in itself, was a very odd experience. With writing, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. I’m used to waiting weeks and months before my work is published, or even to hear back about its fate, and even then, receiving feedback or responses of any kind from the audience is uncommon (unless you’re famous, anyway).

Twitter, of course, is the exact opposite. Its catch-cry is immediacy; it demands that gratification and I could see immediately which Tweets were being favourited or Retweeted as I went. Could see the reactions. It was daunting, and distracting, but also incredibly exciting. The traditional walls between author and audience were gone, and the opportunities this affords us for storytelling cannot be understated.

Both in terms of digital writing, and interactive or participatory storytelling, as well as in terms of reading experience. Our first stories were spoken. Campfire tales. Words flung into the dark over fitful flames in order to capture and enthral the listener, to make sense of the world. This is, in some respects, a means of returning to that space through digital pathways.

I know for me, this experience will not be forgotten, and I’m so very excited to see where we can go from here. With all that said, if you’re interested, you can check out my story on this custom timeline. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Twitter Fiction Festival Selection

So, I have some exciting news to share. I’ve been selected as a Featured Storyteller for the upcoming Twitter Fiction Festival!

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This is only its second outing as an annual festival, and reflects the growing popularity and strength of  short stories, poems and other narrative mixes taking place on the micro-blogging medium.

The festival itself will be a round-the-clock live event taking place March 12-16th and will feature a mix of pre-invited authors/comedians/entertainers telling their stories as well as a group of 23 writers (like me) selected from a two-round submission process.

You can check out the range of projects here.

I think the field itself is outstanding in its diversity, from genre to the mixed mediums, to storytelling structure – using multiple accounts, using ‘found Tweets’ to compose a story a-la Teju Cole’s last short story, ‘Hafiz’, etc. Such inventiveness in the field of digital writing is incredibly exciting, and I say that not as someone who is (just barely) a part of it, but as a reader.

The tight formal constraints of Twitter, among other digital spaces, has already to wonderful experimentation – it pushes you to be extra creative, to be super-conscious of every word choice. One of the advantages to poetry, I’ve always found, over longer form writing, is its brevity allows you to feel the tautness in a line. You can almost pluck it in a sense, can feel and hear when it’s at maximum efficacy, which is much harder to do in stories spanning tens of thousands of words.

Twitter is, in many respects, synonymous with poetry. It’s why I find it so easy to create micro-poems on the fly; its boxed-in effect really allows you to feel every sentence, every word, and forces you to make each character count. With all that said, I make no claim to be pushing boundaries or breaking new ground, I’ll leave that for other luminaries. I will, however, have a great deal of fun telling an interesting story.

And you will, I hope, feel both entertained and provoked into thought that lingers beyond the reading, beyond Twitter’s often instant dementia. My story, if you want to follow along, will feature on the Twitter Fiction Festival website live on Friday the 14th, 10pm, Sydney time. Or around 7am in New York.

Terra Nullius

Originally posted on the ABC news site, ‘The Drum’. Just bringing all my work home, bear with me!

Terra Nullius

When night falls, you can hear the call
of the kookaburra in its tree. In this land,

cities are overrun with stick-figure people
prone to falling through the gaping cracks

while leaders feast on words with no meaning,
chewing it like gristle in lean-times. With relish.

They man the walls, maintaining the brick
and mortar shells even while flesh withers.

These deserts once burned with songfire – lightning
sparked wild bush into leaping stories, throats

into open exultation. Now, stone silence hangs
heavy in the baked air. Even the echoes are lost.

The steel remains; cracked glass towers
and fractured suburbs tracked in tyre-marks

seared into roads that stretch
into the horizon, thick black tongues licking at

shores woven with reefs of barbed wire,
still tangled with frayed threads and bits of hair.

 

On Creative Writing Courses

Another day, another grumpy old writer proclaiming creative writing courses are rubbish and writing can’t be taught.

This time, it’s Hanif Kureishi. It seems I can’t go more than a few weeks at a time without stumbling over the same nonsense, albeit spewed from different mouths – now partly, that’s my fault for being plugged into the literary-arts cycle of blogs and papers. However, I’m getting real tired of seeing the same thoughtless drivel recycled. So rather than just be irritated and turn away, I figured I’d explain the value and purpose of creative writing programs, because if the thoughts of cranky old writers are anything to go by, they haven’t the faintest clue.

Considering I’ve been in no less than three creative writing programs, and I’m angling for a fourth, I think I’ve got more than enough experience to speak about this subject.

Continue reading