I won the Thiel Grant for Online Writing!

Well, in stupidly exciting news I’m overwhelmed to announce that I’ve won the Thiel Grant for Online Writing! I’m very thankful and grateful to Mr Thiel and the judges who chose my proposal. And congratulations to all the amazing people also shortlisted.

star-trek-for-car-partyAs some of you may know, this will allow me to go forward with a project I’ve been working on for a LONG time. I’ll be tracking down and visiting people I played an online roleplaying game with when I was a teenager/early twenties jerkhole, and finding out what happens when internet friends become IRL friends. Magic, I assume. I’ll be writing a series of linked micro-nonfics for my blog during the experience and sharing them all over the goddamn place.

The grant will allow me to actually travel overseas and visit these people, something I would not be able to afford on my own. The next step for me will be getting a schedule in order, but I’ve already got a bunch of plans in place, including a roadtrip in June in the US with two of my roleplayer chums who I will be meeting for the first time, which is gonna be amazing.

I’m excited to explore the idea of truth and trust and online versus IRL personas, but also how funny it is when people meet? I love the idea that I know these people more commonly by the name of the orc politician that they roleplay than their actual name. I love the fact that they know me as a drunk elven lord named Mesildur, as well as Patrick the drunk jerk. I love that pretending as hard as we can to be elves is what will bring us together.

If you want to follow along with this project while I do it, I’ll be posting them on this blog and they’ll all be nice and tagged, and you can follow The Spontaneity Review on Facebook too.

I am very, very, very excited about all this! Big happy dance.
Http://teacherintherye.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/thiel-grant-winner/

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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?

URGH, WRITING: I only tell the truth – the dangers of non-fiction

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As a fiction writer, having any sort of commitment to the truth is the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, in my stories, generally I have no regard for the inherent truth of anything – from gravity to medicine to the eternal building blocks of the universe. I am quite happy to disregard all of them. It’s kind of my thing.

As a creative non-fiction writer, I have managed to almost entirely circumvent the issue of ‘truth’ by only writing stories about myself. This probably comes from a place of utter vanity, but I prefer to think that because it is my experiences, I can therefore use myself as a protagonist and focus on my ‘voice’ as the medium for both the comedy and any meaning that manages to seep in accidentally. But even that method, as self-centred and safe as it was, ran into an issue when my story included comments made by a dear friend’s parents. I was not only publishing the story on this site, but I was also reading it at Story Club, to a room which I knew included some mutual friends. The story in question is called Animal Cruelty. At first I felt that the story, even involving someone else’s parents and house and experiences was still MY story – it happened to me, it was through the (unreliable) narration of my memory, why did I have to ask permission to use it?

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt uncomfortable with the idea of someone I care about turning on the internet with their morning cup of coffee, whistling jauntily and then reading a snarky blog post about his own family and then spilling his coffee or something.  That would be devastating. Or having it get back to him through other friends. It didn’t seem polite. So, in the end I ran it past him and everything seemed dandy. Certainly I felt more confident about presenting it, and felt like maybe I was sharing a story. He might be nursing a giant grudge in secret, but on the outside, he seems fine, and I suppose that’s all we can hope for in the end.

As some of you might remember, I am trying to get a project off the ground where I travel around the world and visit all the delightful weirdos I used to play on the internet with when I was a teenager. I pitched it for last year’s SOYA, which I was a finalist in, most due to the sterling effort of everyone I know getting involved and expressing enthusiasm for the project. Anyway, I’m still working hard at getting this project off the ground, writing grant applications and the like (and I will be going for SOYA again this year, be warned, I will once again be doing my best puppy dog eyes so everyone can help me get this novel to happen). One of the few actual steps forward I have made is getting a series of flash fictions published by Seizure as part of their Alt-Txt initiative. Each of these flash fictions is a quick profile on some of the people I hope to be featuring in my book. They should be coming out in fits and bursts soon.

Anyway – after I finished my first draft of these, I realised that while I was focusing on MY interaction with these people, the things I knew about them, how I saw them, how we i-met, how we e-interacted, I discovered that some of the stories I’d touched on were definitely not mine to tell. In three noticeable pieces, they were not simply just stories I had no claim to – they were deeply personal experiences of horror and pain.

A quick disclaimer – 90% of these stories are just silly and funny, but it was the leftover 10% that I started to have issues with.

Srsly silly, I'm also doing 'art' to match each story. This is one.

Srsly silly, I’m also doing ‘art’ to match each story. This is one.

It became quickly apparent that I couldn’t post these stories on the internet – the place where these people live – without first consulting the subjects of them, and letting them read it. It was honestly a terrifying experience. Even though I was completely prepared to let them have veto on the stories for any reason whatseover, not even just if they objected to what I was saying about them,  even if they just thought I was shit at sentence structure, it still highlighted the fact that I was taking liberties with someone else’s life. Taking their experiences, their entire being and then having the hide to transform it into something to read and digest. Why on earth would I be qualified to do that?

Luckily, while I was having a genuine freakout about this, I asked all the wonderful writers I know on Facebook how they dealt with this feeling of responsibility. I was quickly reassured that the only thing I could do was run it past the subjects of the piece – and that some people actually make a habit of not doing that. I also realised that a lot of people I know routinely write about incredibly tricky interactions – troublesome family interactions, ex-partners, current significant others.

It was the first time I’ve felt in a position of responsibility as a writer. As a producer or creative director of projects, sure, I’ve had huge degrees of responsibility to other people. But as a writer, writing about the things I write, the only person I had to worry about displeasing is myself, and I shed any dignity or embarrassment years ago. One of my fiction pieces, which was fairly widely circulated, including in newspapers, was about a family at a funeral. It just so happened that it was re-published shortly after my grandfathers funeral. Even though the dead person in this story was a grandma, my grandfather’s side of the family decided the story was about them, and also decided it wasn’t a flattering depiction and therefore decided to get offended. I think non-writers constantly look for themselves in the writing of people they know. And I think as writers we all know that inspiration rarely works in a A+B= C scenario. It’s quite likely there was some of that family somewhere in my fictional depiction. However – considering it was originally published a year before my grandfather’s death, I felt quite safe in ignoring this particularly brand of self-entitled butt-hurt, unless they suspected I could foretell the future and was using that ability for literary gain.

The majority of the subjects of the Alt-Txt project (People I’ve Never Met from Places That Don’t Exist) were completely fine with the stories I’d written about them. In some cases, the sensitive topic I was bringing up allowed us to have a bit of an air-clearing chat, mostly about the ‘follies of youth’. I realised that through writing about these experiences, some which I’ve held to my chest for over a decade as something unresolved, has allowed me to tick them off in a sense, to put a full-stop at the end of that particular life experience. One particular subject, whose profile included an immensely difficult time of their life, decided that I should know the details about what actually happened to them, and not just what I vaguely remembered or had perhaps heard from other sources. What became immediately obvious is that their story was not adequately being told my me, was not being given justice. They didn’t mind that I was attempting – they just wanted my attempt to have all the information that it needed to work.

My responsibility to their story quickly told me that a flash fiction was not the place to attempt to tell the entirety of it. This was something that will have to wait for the novel, I think. There was also the issue of how someone is represented by something as transient as a mico-non-fiction. Does something that happened TO them have to be included in something so small? Is it an essential part of them? All I can do is provide a snap-shot, a preview of a person in this project. Thematically for this work – internet pieces about the internet – it fits. And does shying away from something more difficult to tell mean that I am simply being a coward, that I am whitewashing their life? I’ve endeavoured to make a compromise, and will be sending the final draft later today to see what they think.

I think as a writer, I have to be aware of the increased responsibility I have in telling a story that isn’t mine, and that all I can endeavour to do is write it as well as I can, and be as transparent as possible with the people it directly affects. I think that’s what is expected of me. I think there is still danger present, but perhaps with increased risk comes an increased reward, and I might be telling stories that deserve to be told. Maybe. I miss writing about SASSY HAWKS.

Urgh, Writing: ‘to write the same way that you… are!’

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I saw this the other day on Shabby Dollhouse and it was one of those perfect moments. I started writing creative non-fiction memoir stuff on this blog kind of by accident, but it wasn’t until Ben Jenkins asked me to read a story at Story Club years ago, that I realised how much that type of writing suited me. Apart from the fact it is ABOUT me, it’s also the kind of writing which best expresses how the interior of my brain works – all seemingly random connections and memories of weird things.

Lately, inspired by the kind of stuff I’ve been seeing on Shabby Dollhouse and other great internet lit journals, I’ve been trying my hand at non-fiction microfictions/ flash fictions or whatever they’re called. The beauty about these Curriculum Worstae pieces is that they’re meant to live in Facebook statuses. Not only are they actually fun to write, but I’m getting to the point where I start to think in terms of that medium, structuring a story in miniature. And it’s also great because a lot of stupid things that have happened to me aren’t really deserving of anything more than 200 words, they can’t be contextualised into a larger concept, a larger narrative except for maybe ‘things that happened’.

A lot of people I’ve been reading lately who are experimenting with creat. non.fic are not only engaging with theme and tone, but also structure and presentation. It’s really, really interesting how the kind of experimentation often reserved for poems has made its way into presentation of prose. A lot of this takes the form of a literal interpretation of Ginsberg’s above quote, trying not just to imitate ‘speech’ or ‘stream of consciousness’ like we’re used to, but more common and contemporary forms of communication like txt speech, etc. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to embrace misspellings or leaving mistypes or grammatical errors in the text – but it would also be disingenuous of me to try, because it’s literally the opposite of how my brain works. When I speak, I am subconsciously spelling each word – when I ask for a person’s name, I need to know how it is spelled, because that’s the only way I’ll ever remember it. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stuff OTHER people are writing. I get it, I’ve been on a chatty room.

Anyway, one of the few things I’ve learnt for certain about writing is that you learn the same lessons over and over again, so quotes from people like Ginsberg on writing the way that you are will mean so much to you and be relevant again and again, in different ways, and will follow your writing as you develop and unlock new meanings and it’s great.

*SIDE NOTE: I’m a big fan of the beats, and there are SOOOOOO many correlations between the alt-lit ‘movement’ and the Beats, and they are seriously getting almost EXACTLY the same criticisms, from the more established movements, from other artists accusing it of being nothing more than a ‘clique’. Lit movements are cliques, but the reason it’s a movement and not a club is that the message behind the content is transferable and will last longer than the spotlight on the personality of authors, which even then I’m not against. Authors are interesting people, I’m interested in them. Oh my god, I am so tired, I haven’t slept all night, this is an incoherent rant, is it not?