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Urgh, Writing: What are editors? We just don’t know.

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After a few weeks of back and forth, I am mostly done with my edits for A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Yay! This was a pretty quick process, due to the incredible thoroughness and promptness of my editor, Kathryn Moore, and also probably my general lack of preciousness about line-to-line stuff. One thing I have noticed about some of my writer friends is that they generally have no real idea what an editorial process entails. Sometimes they seem uncomfortable talking about it, like it’s secret cabal stuff which they really shouldn’t be exposed to. But what are editors? Why should we love them? Are editors witches?

HOCUS POCUS, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 1993

 

No, well, not as a rule. But the comparison is worth making, mostly because of the weird medieval peasant attitude that a lot of writers have to editors. They seem to have this idea that they should go and see this person about fixing their gangrenous arm (manuscript) and that they are probably going to be better off afterwards, but the process might be painful and they aren’t really sure about the methods these witches (editors) will employ, such as satanic worship/track changes, and maybe their gangrenous arm is fine, it’s meant to smell like wet almonds?

In reality, unless you’re unlucky one of the very rare examples of bad editors, having an editor is a privilege that a writer should be endlessly thankful for. I’ve had several awesome relationships with editors or my shorter stuff, which has ranged from cutting the beating heart out of the obese flab of my story and placing the core of my story into a slick robot body from the future, to subtly pointing out that my story used the word ‘inexorable’ eight times. I’ve worked with editors who have helped me come up with the very beginnings of an idea and kept in close contact throughout the entire creative process, like with Justin Wolfers on my recent Alt-Txt series. I’ve had editors who after working with me once have championed my work and continually pushed me and offered me more opportunities and growth, like the wonderful Geoff Lemon. An editor is often the next person to be enthusiastic about your work after you, and much like in a relay, it involves you passing the baton over after you’re exhausted and sick of it and never want to think about it ever again, and then suddenly there they are, full of vim and vigour, ready to run the next mile.

Kaythryn and A Man Made Entirely of Bats was my first experience with a book-length project. The key things that Kathryn did for me was identify tone and voice in my stories and make sure they were consistent throughout them. Because a lot of my dialogue is ‘comedic’ in nature, I have a tendency to follow patterns and repeat words that are almost invisible to me, because that’s how my brain works.

I think writers feel like editors offer a kind of binary choice – like an editor says ‘your sentence where you liken a horse to a government-run skatepark was confusing at first, perhaps some kind of other park? Perhaps a jungle gym?’ The writer thinks he has two choices – go with what the editor says, or stick to his guns. Except the editor is a reader, first and foremost, and if they are confused by an image, it’s very likely that everyone will be. One confusing sentence can fuck everything up. But actually there are three options, and that secret invisible one is to say something like ‘I just really feel that a government run skatepark has a lot of humorous implications which I’m trying to explore – how about I shorten the sentence so there’s not so many confusing nouns, and follow it up’. If the editor feels that works, they’ll be like, yay! Great! Ps, that analogy I just used was so fucking torturous, I could really use an editor.

I think because of my theatre background, I’m very used to the notion of collaboration in art. For the majority of my plays, I had the very good fortune of writing my script, and then throwing it to my director and actors and other creative in Sexy Tales and getting their input. So much of this wasn’t simple ‘workshopping’ but important factors like ‘Patrick, we can’t have an actual bear on stage which breathes fire’ and then I would have to discover why I wanted that bear, and was it really necessary (no) and could I change it to a pair of creepy retail twins? In the theatre world, working as closely as I did with a director is a bit of an anomaly. It’s entirely likely that the writer would only see how their play had been translated onto stage on opening night. In a lot of ways, it’s the editors job to take the idea that the writer has written down and translate it into a book that people can read.

A lot of the debate around self-publishing focuses on the fact that an author has the potential to do a far more thorough and sincere and effective marketing and publicity campaign for themselves than a publishing house can in the long run. The vast majority don’t have the skills or background for this, but could learn and do a really great job at it. This is because of lots of reasons, and deserves a whole different article, but the essence is 1. marketing in the current climate is about facilitating genuine and sincere connections between author and reader, and an author doing that will tend to have more sincerity on their side, being actually the author and 2. An author is only working on their book, whereas a marketer/publicist is probably juggling around twenty books at any one time. What is often and generally disregarded in this conversation (and I almost did it again) is the role of the editorial process. A self-published book does not have the standard of editing put into it that a publishing house provides. This is often as basic as layout, format – but a poorly laid out ebook is a deal-breaker for me personally. It’s usually noticeable in punctuation and grammar, and I think the rule with novels anyway is not about this crazy idea of elaborate and painstakingly correct grammar that an editor enforces, but rather about making grammar as unnoticeable as possible. And that takes practice. But a good structural edit, which gets in there and restructures the order, examines motivation, gets rid of a surplus character – that’s impossible to replace. I didn’t really explain the editorial process. Does anyone want to know? I dunno. Ask me anything, I’m cool.

Anyway, editors are great. They rarely get thanked publicly either. Can you name who edited famous books? They’re like ninjas.

Grammar ninjas.

Urgh, Writing: judge my cover

So, I had a meeting with the designer who is hopefully going to design the cover of A Man Made Entirely of Bats. As per usual, I over-planned everything and arrived with a folio of covers I like and then babbled about colours and stuff, before finally having to admit that I am actually colour blind.

But covers are really important, it’s this horrible fact. I’m afraid that some books fail because the cover isn’t great. So, yeah. I’m heaps keen to show you my designers art, because he’s a genius, but I’ll wait for later. But I will show you so covers that I like. I asked people on Facebook too, and got some good uns. Are there some covers that you really like that deserve a mention?

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BATS

Urgh, Writing: A BOOK OF MINE IS GOING TO BE A REAL THING!!!!!

I’ve known about this for a few weeks now, but I haven’t felt like I can make it ‘blog post official’ yet. I’ve felt like maybe at some point someone will be like ‘no, we made a mistake, your short stories are godawful, we thought you had a cookbook?’ But I’ve spent the day working on the first round of edits on my manuscript, so I suppose it is now time for me to be Officially Excited.

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I am very excited to announce that next year, a collection of my short stories called ‘A Man Made Entirely of Bats’ will be published by Spineless Wonders. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a collection of short and micro fictions that humorously swarm around the idea of superheroes in popular culture. It has stories in it called things like ‘Radioactive Jerk’ and ‘Guerilla Mum’ and ‘Infertility Man’. It also has some previously published stories in it, like ‘Mooncat’ and ‘Believe’ in it.

We don’t have a lot of small press in Australia, and we don’t have a lot of publishers who are actually devoted to short stories as a form, which is why I’m so excited to be accepted by Spineless Wonders. I’m inspired by Angela Meyer’s ‘Captives’ and I’m inspired by Tom Cho’s ‘Look Who’s Morphing’. Also, the entire concept for this book came from the Flaming Lips album ‘Soft Bulletin’. I’m inspired by like a thousand alt-lit people who are writing and publishing stuff which traditional publishers aren’t doing and stuff which is fun and awesome and experimental.

I just feel this whole collection is so dumb, so weird and like, devoted to being silly before ‘meaning’ anything, so I’m really excited that it is going to exist. I am excited to be able to hold it in my hands and i’m also excited that it is going to be available as an ebook for people who don’t want to have another physical book. Every day when I think about it, I’m like ‘yay, this is great’ but also ‘what, what are we thinking, this is such a dumb idea’.

I’m also going to be pretty transparent about the process, because obvs I’ve never had a book published before, so I’m pretty interested in the process. Sometime this week I’ll write a post about pitching? People interested in that? I dunno. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I also work in publishing, so you can just ask me stuff. I dunno.

When I found out that my pitch had been accepted, I got expansively drunk a the Pan Macmillan sales conference and kept yelling at people ‘I’m celebrating’ in between shots or dancing on my own to ‘Suffragette City’. “I’M CELEBRATING”

I’M SO EXCITED!

 

 

Minor Act of Bio-Terrorism

Friendship

So, this morning I was standing at the station listening to ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Gillian Welch and I was thinking about a romance book I’d just read which said something about passion being important in life, and I was trying to think what passion feels like, but I just kept thinking about the flu.

When the train pulled up, I looked at my reflection in the train doors because I accidentally shaved my whole sideburn off the other day and I can’t stop looking at it, and saw a wasp fly directly into my neck. I was already stepping into the carriage by this point, and I really wasn’t worried because in my heart I was a sad southern woman, and I kind of loosely grabbed the wasp in my hand and flicked it away. I then went down the stairs and sat. In reality, what I’d just done was grab a wasp and throw it directly at a bald guy in the standing section, and for the rest of my trip I just kept hitting ‘repeat’ on Wrecking Ball and watching everyone freak out and run around as this wasp kept landing on people, and every station more people would get on, tired-eyed commuters in suits with running shoes who don’t expect to be in any danger and there was always this moment, where they look at everyone else ducking and screaming and they just stand still, listening to music or playing on their phone and then suddenly they’re like ‘holy fuck, there’s a wasp on me’.

It was pretty great, I felt pretty powerful, I wanted to poke the lady next to me and be like ‘I did that, I threw that wasp’. I think that passion is pretty nice maybe, which is probably the point of all these romance books that I sell, but I think life is all about throwing wasps at things, and seeing if they stick. You’re either a wasp thrower or someone surprised by a wasp. Or maybe you are a wasp. I dunno. What’s a hornet?

CURRICULUM WORSTAE #10: QUITTING

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There are some thoughts that you can only reach when walking through freezing, mist-filled streets at 4am, when a crazy man is screaming monotonously in the distance, when drunk nightclub people are still waiting for taxis to get home. My thought was this: I have made some mistakes. My thought was: Some people are experiencing worst things than this, like leg amputation and pregnancy and medically not being able to eat cheese. My subsequent thought: Those people are not me right now, this is still awful.

As I waited for the first train of the morning to lumber into the station like a long hippo with a stinky moist inside that we all sat in, my final thought was: I am quitting my job this month.

Probably the only thing I truly admire about myself is that once I have made a decision I will pursue it with the tenacity of a brain-damaged terrier chasing a seagull. That day at work, buzzed on the thousand coffees I drank secretly in a toilet stall, I made lists. Lists of potential things I could do, ranked and cross-referenced with pros and cons lists. Lists of all the lists I would make. Colour-coded lists. Secret lists.

A week later, I was enrolled in an Honours degree at university. The problem with my dum-dum dog tenacity is that sometimes it means the ideas I pursue aren’t GOOD ideas, but the fact that I then dropped out of that degree about two weeks in is another story for another time.

If you’ve never had the experience of quitting a job you truly detest, I thoroughly recommend you do so. It’s like walking down a shadowy alley and seeing all the muggers surround you, but unknown to them – you are a ninja robot killing machine. Inside you are only more indestructible steel.

On the day I discovered I’d been accepted into the degree and its subsequent Centrelink payment (which I never received, FYI) I stomped my metallic legs into my boss’s office and told her I was quitting. It’s not so much that I disliked my boss, it’s that I thought she was a terrible person and really bad at her job. Also, I disliked her. Fun things that we’d been through together: the time she threatened to fire me after a customer spat at me, the time she tried to deny me a day off for a funeral, the time she changed all my shifts to the 5am starts.

In my head, I dreamt our showdown would be full of snark and wit. I wanted to be like ‘say goodbye to all of this, you monster, good luck replacing my particular brand of apathy and incompetence’. Instead, I found myself being overly polite and telling her how much I’d enjoyed working in the place that had probably given me a minor drinking problem.
I told her I’d be happy to stay for another two weeks and help train my replacement, and also subtly sabotage things around me and really wallow in my leaving. I wondered if I could somehow take her down with me. But, being my diabolical arch-nemesis, she was like ‘Actually, this can be your last day. Please write a formal letter of resignation and… we can leave it at that.’ She tapped her sharp nails on the table as a dismissal, and I left the office, feeling cheated. This was supposed to be my amazing, drawn out and dramatic leaving, showing that i’d won. Somehow, she’d reversed everything and made me feel dismissed.

I spent the next few hours trying to work out a way to one-up her. I plotted stealing things, or leaving fruit somewhere. I schemed leaving a series of cryptic notes hidden around the store to mess with her mind and maybe even drive her insane. And then, when it was my lunch break, I realised… I could just leave. I could just walk out of there, and let all the anger and spite leak from the back of my head like baby drool.

So I gathered my stuff, said goodbye surreptitiously to the people I liked, left my resignation note on my bench and strode into the future, an uncontrollable smile pasted across my smarmy face.

But also because I am in no way above absurd spiteful gestures, my letter of resignation was a penguin holding a sign that says ‘I quit.’

 

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This was the LAST in my #curriculumworstae series. Thanks so much for coming along on the ride. I’ll be starting a new series on Facebook soon, which will also be published on this blog. The support for these stupid stories was amazing! YOU GUYS ROCK SO MUCH.

CURRICULUM WORSTAE #9: BEAN DOWN SO GODDAMN LONG

Robots

‘Err, umm, God bless?’ I muttered as I handed over my resume to the angry looking woman behind the counter. She immediately and visibly brightened.
‘And God bless you too!’
It had been rumoured for a long time that Gloria Jeans was owned by the Hillsong Church and was staffed entirely by brainwashed evangelists. I’d been wandering the streets forweeks by that point, desperate for any sort of casual wage so I could pay the rent. I felt that passing myself off as a believer was a small price to pay
She took a cursory look at my one page CV and winked at me. ‘We’ll give you a call.’

A week later I stood behind the counter at Gloria Jeans for a trial shift. The place smelt like coffee in pain. They taught me various ways to torture the beans – the crushing device, the milk burner, the thing where you put the ingredients and steam goes in it? In seemingly no time at all, I knew all the basics of how to utterly mutilate a cup of coffee.
‘Here you go, have a cup of the coffee you made!’ said my excited sixteen-year-old manager.
‘Please no’ I whispered. She looked at me like a puppy meeting a sassy tropical bird.
‘I’m lactose intolerant’ I told her.

My Bible-fearing, milk-hating web of lies collapsed by the third day, when my carefully contrived persona was shattered when one of the ‘baristas’ handed me a boiling hot metal thing that you packed full of beans and then shot boiling water through. The boiling hot coffee thing. He handed it to me, potentially to clean the beans out, but not being able to read his mind or identify the contraption, simply grabbed it in my hand.
‘JESUS CRAPPING ON A DOG’ I screamed, as the super heated metal burnt my hand skin.
‘God fucking mother shit’ I continued, running it under water. All the teen management looked at me scandalised. The customers, people who willingly put our boiling bean-swill in their mouths, couldn’t care less, obviously being either incredibly tough or devoid of feelings and taste. Later that day someone asked which church I attended. My breezy answer of ‘the one around the corner, you know, Saint MUrmbls’ didn’t seem to cut it. I was caught by a manager sitting at a REAL coffee shop on my break, desperately inhaling un-poisoned caffeine into my face.

When I was let go at the end of the week, in an exit-interview held by two High School dropouts, who were concerned that in the end, I might find somewhere else which would make me happier to work (re: literally anywhere else), I took my trial shift money and realised that sometimes, no matter how desperate you are, you have to draw the line. Look what I’d become – a creature of lies and malice, literally burned in the course of trying to make a buck. It was time to take a stand, and never again would I blasphemy like that – from now on, I would never impugn the holy name of coffee. Because if there’s one thing I believe in, in this crazy, mixed up world, it’s coffee.

CURRICULUM WORSTAE #8: KNIFE FIGHT

Mosquitoes

Hey, think you’re pretty tough working at the LAVA FACTORY or in the SWORD FIGHTING PIT, I bet you do. Oh, you save kittens from fires, do you? Oh, you climb tall mountains to study goats, that’s pretty dangerous, I suppose. If you’re, like, I dunno, a giant wuss?

Me? No, I don’t working in the danger-field anymore, I got out of that racket, you can bet on it, whoo-boy. Yeah, I worked at Boyles Hotel in Sutherland. Yeah – that Boyles. The Boyles on the ass of the Shire. They say bikies used to frequent the joint in the eighties, and start fights and do other things that bikies do. Like sing ‘Leader of the Pack’ and turn into werewolves. Yeah – bikie stuff. And you know, all the bikies who didn’t die from their violent lifestyle – they’re still there. Yeah, you can see them in the corner, on dialysis and shit. And let me tell you, they sure get mad if you don’t mix their Toohey’s Old and Toohey’s New in exactly the correct amounts. Real mad. Mad enough to cough a whole bunch and nearly die right in front of you.

And yeah – the bottleshop attached to Boyles was legit dangerous. Lots of undercover cops hoping to catch us selling to teenagers. And let me tell you – they were right to suspect us. Not because we made it a habit, but because I was so shit at maths, I would regularly fuck up calculating their age from their license. And once, and I swear I’m not even fucking with you at all, some guy came and threw a knife directly at my head. A knife! And then my supervisor, who now represents Australia in some form of martial arts, vaulted over the bar and chased him down and like, kicked him in the face. Apparently this guy was a serial repeat offender in the ‘throwing knives at us’ game.

Why did I leave? I guess you could say I got burnt out – staring danger in the face and not flinching takes it out of you. Or I guess I decided that maybe serving beers to the worst people in the world had lost its glamour. Or I guess, more truthfully, the managers were giant homophobes and took all my shifts away because “they don’t want to work with a fag” yeah, I guess that was probably it. And then one evening, I’m coming home on the train and one of the supervisors is high as a kite and he comes and tells me, ‘yeah, man, nobody would work with you because you were gay’ and for some reason the only thing I can think to say in response is ‘I’l show them gay’ and shake my fist a whole bunch, while this guy just chews and chews on his tongue.