Tuesday, April 17, 2018

FAQ: How Long Are You Supposed To Wait?

These questions are about the short story “How Long Are You Supposed To Wait?”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.


This one was another one of those ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, right?
Yeah.  Although if I’m perfectly honest, I already had the idea for this story before I ever entered the challenge.  I make notes on my phone whenever I have an idea for a story, and this one said something like “person trapped under boulder, has to saw off own leg with pocket-knife to escape, moments before person gets rescued by large group of fit and friendly backpackers who could easily have just moved the boulder”.  It was just a twist on that “person has to saw off limb to escape” trope, something that I thought was simultaneously hilarious and brutally horrible.

What was the prompt-word?
“Lost”.  It reminded me of that idea, and so I went for it.

So what’s the appeal of making someone do something horrible for, in hindsight, no good reason?
I think it’s rooted in my own inability to ever make a proper decision.  I think, if I was in that situation, I’d always be thinking “hang on, don’t be too hasty, there might be another way out of this”, and then just end up dying of hunger and thirst or whatever.  I don’t think I’d ever be certain enough that sawing off my own leg with a pocket knife would be the right course of action.  I find it hard enough to choose something off a dinner menu.

Is this symptomatic of a bigger issue, Mr Blackwell?
I really don’t know.  It might be.  I mean, when my delightful life-partner asks me something like “would you like a cup of tea” out of the blue, I’m thrown into paroxysms of indecision.  I’m like, do I want a cup of tea?  How much desire is want?  I was fine without tea moments before, so clearly I didn’t want a cup of tea seconds ago, did things really change so drastically in the last few seconds that now I do?  I mean, a cup of tea might be nice, but do I want one?  How do I tell?  Is it based on thirst levels, or pure flavour, or just the warmth of the cup in my hands?  If she hadn’t’ve asked, I wouldn’t’ve got up and made one myself just then, so does that mean I don’t actually want a cup of tea?  Or that I do want one now?  How did things change so fast from not wanting to wanting, just based entirely on someone else making a cup of tea for themselves?  Am I really that much of a herd animal that I need to have whatever someone else is drinking?  Is that a healthy way to be?  What if she’d asked me if I want a cup of something else?  Do I really crave beverages at all, or am I just craving inclusion in a social act?  Is it about the tea, or the experience of sharing an activity?  Would any activity do?  And how much-

Does she ask you very often?
No, not any more.

I’m not surprised.
Sometimes when she asks now I just pick a random answer. “Yes, absolutely”, I’ll say, without even considering whether I actually do or don’t, avoiding the traumatic whirlpool of decision altogether.  Because, in the end, it’s just a cup of tea.  It’s not really worth all that stress of actual desire-interrogation and multi-level cravings-analysis.  The decision-making maelstrom is so much more bewildering and takes so much more energy than it does to just say a quick yes or no, and then deal with the consequences.  So I tend to do that nowadays.  Um.

So -
“Black with one sugar thanks.”  See, easy, done.  Boom!

So, the title of the story, “How Long Are You Supposed To Wait”, is really just you asking this question of yourself, isn’t it.
Yes.  Trying to get some handle on exactly what an appropriate time is.  Because if the character had just waited a few more minutes, she’d be out and safe and with the perfect quota of legs.   When are we being hasty?  When is it time to panic?  How do you panic properly?  I’ve never quite been able to get my head around this stuff.

I’m guessing you enjoyed the ending of that Steven King movie, ‘The Mist’?
Fucking best ending ever.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

REVIEW: Amalgamated - Solvé et Coagula

Weirdness abounds, in my favourite Amalgmated release so far.  Review written for Heathen Harvest, meticulously monitored by Sage Weatherford.

"Rather than striving to capture a particular nostalgic vibe, these pieces are busy using old tools to explore new ground. Each side is a seamless flow of sections and subsections without any clear divisions, so I honestly have no idea what bit goes by what name. Indeed, because neither side is clearly labelled, I can’t even say precisely which names refer to which stuff on which side. Which is fine, of course, because an experience like this isn’t about the labels, is it? It’s about the vibes, daddy-o—the vibes."




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

FAQ: The Importance of Lines

These questions are about the short story “The Importance of Lines”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.


So this was another of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, yeah?
Uh huh.

You didn’t win, right?
No, I didn’t win.  Although I never really went into any of these stories thinking “I’ll totally win this one,” I was always a little bit surprised when I didn’t.   I thought they were damn fine stories, and, if I’m going to be honest here, which I always try to do, I did always feel a teensy bit like “what, that’s the story that won?” while reading the winners.  Taste, huh.  You never can tell.

So, what’s-
Which is why I think it’s super-important to write for yourself, and not pay too much attention to what other people think or say, with praise or criticism.  Because taste is inherently personal, and there’s absolutely no point writing for others.  You’ve just got to be as honest with yourself as you can, and make sure you’re proud of your own work, and try to ignore the haters.

I mean, someone will always hate what you do.  No matter how well you’ve expressed it, or how well you think you’ve tapped into whatever secret reservoir of true experience your fiction springs from, or how nicely articulated the argument, or how realistic the characters, or how perfect you think the flow of words is, there will always be someone who thinks it’s complete shit.  And that’s not a problem, but you can’t let that determine how you approach something.  Writing for a committee or a demographic or based on focus groups etc seems like the worst possible way to create something.  Because, even after all of that second-guessing and all of those surveys and so on, there’s guaranteed to be several million people who still hate it.  And are we playing “who can be popular” here, or are we trying to create art?

Sorry for the interruptions, I really am, and I will come back to your question, I promise, but I just wanna say this one thing first.  I was extremely high on magic mushrooms recently, and I had this overwhelming experience, this visual and experiential metaphor, really, where each conscious being is down a deep well, a well that is a metaphor for our own lived experiences and internal thoughts and ponderings etc, each of us are down our own well, and no-one else can ever know what it’s like in our well, what our particular well feels like or smells like or looks like, etc, but we can shout out of our well, and other consciousnesses can hear us.  And so although other consciousness can never experience our own personal well, they can hear us describing the well, and they can think to themselves, “wow, that person’s well is very much like my own in these particular qualities, I feel a shared kinship now”, or “wow, that person’s well is so different from my own, that’s really enlightening, I’m a wiser person now”, etc.  And it was made clear to me, during this fungi-enhanced experience, that making art is us shouting out the top of our own personal well, and sharing what it means to be the person we are, or how life can be, or something.  At the time, I found a piece of paper and scrawled the words “TELL THE OTHERS”.  I still have the piece of paper, it’s up so I can see it when I write.  That’s the mission of art – not pleasing a particular demographic or playing some numbers game with popularity, but telling the others what the experience of experience can be like, as truly as possible, so as to make all of our wells a little less lonely/dank/small/horrible/isolated.

…you’re done?
Yes. Sorry.

…honestly, no more interruptions.  Look at my hand, it’s zipping my mouth shut.

Okay.  So, this story, what was the prompt word here?
The word for this one was “Dirt”.  This one came to me really easily, almost fully-formed.

Do go on.
Well, in the early 90s I had a band, we were called gLOBALmINDfUCK (for some young-person reason we were always capitalised that way), we were like this Mr Bungle-meets-Helmet-meets-Hawkwind kinda thing, heavy songs with grooves and psychedelics and cross-genre shenanigans, it was my first ever live band, playing songs I’d written, I was in my 20s, we won a bunch of band competitions, and I was having some of the best times I’ve ever had.   Anyway, one of the songs was called Dirt, and the lyrics were some rant about the blinkered nature of nationalism, I honestly can’t remember them now but it as something like “what are these countries you’ve made up / what are these flags that you wave / what are these borders you’ve dotted / in the end everything’s dirt”, or something.  And so of course, being a relatively lazy sod steeped in life-long conceptual continuity, I thought about dirt and borders and the imaginary nature of nations, and the story pretty much wrote itself.  It’s a narrativised encapsulation of the gist of the song, basically.

I actually thought you’d ripped it off Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’.
Close, but no cigar.  Geddit?  That was a reference to-

I like how, in the end, no-one won.  That, essentially, all that death and violence and horror was all for nothing.
Yeah, me too.  Heavyhanded, yes, but also quite nice.

Hey, and I’m no meteorologist, but wouldn’t the sound of the rain drown out the buzzing of the flies?
Not if it was a light drizzle.  Incessant, but light, I was thinking. Um.

I know it doesn’t matter, but your protagonist is called Bec – is The Enemy also a woman?
I don’t know.  I deliberately avoided mentioning it, because, exactly as you say, it really doesn’t matter. 

Well, it does raise additional issues-
Which is why I didn’t mention it.  Because, no matter what gender The Enemy presents as, it brings up conceptual baggage.  It’s not a gendered story, it’s not remotely about gender or anything associated with gender.  I gendered Bec, because it’s from her point of view, and she, as a whole person, has a gender to herself.  That’s fine.  But if I gendered The Enemy as well, suddenly the story becomes about A Man and A Woman, or Two Women, or something, rather than about The Futility of War.  If we don’t know the gender of The Enemy, then we’re not thinking about the repercussions of the gender of The Enemy, and we can focus on the fucking story, rather than the potential meta-aspects of the story-

But you said you should never change your story for others.  Remember?  Never think of the reader, you said.  Thinking about demographics makes you a loser, you said.
Oh, touché.