Sam van Zweden




Welcome To Gaysia! In Conversation with Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law is featuring on both sides of a slew of Melbourne Writers Festival events, both as a panelist and interviewer. His first book, The Family Law, is a hilarious memoir about his very forthright family. His latest book, Gaysia, explores questions Benjamin had about whether life would have been different if he’d grown up gay in Asia. The answer: almost definitely. Reaching this answer is a funny, sometimes shocking, always gripping journey around a handful of Asian countries, looking at how anything that isn’t mainstream heterosexuality is treated.

Benjamin Law. Picture from MWF website.

I enjoy Benjamin’s writing because it’s not just funny. I mean, it certainly is funny. Knee-slappingly so. But behind what he pokes fun at is always an almost childish curiosity, and he has the perspective to pull back from the particular humour to see the wider picture. He’s clever, and this makes reading his work a lot of fun.

In between his crazy MWF schedule, Benjamin was kind enough to answer some questions,  and tell us about how other people’s families are strange, how his and David Sedaris’ sex lives are similar, and a possible time frame on his next project.

SvZ- Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Firstly, congratulations on the release of your new book Gaysia, it’s a hilarious, fun and compelling read. Your first book, The Family Law, was immensely popular. That book was quite different to Gaysia. How has the experience of writing your latest book compared? And what made you decide to move away from writing about your family and into more immersive journalistic territory?
BL– It’s funny: in my day-to-day work life, I tend to write in two different modes. Sometimes I’ll write columns about personal experiences for magazines like frankie or Qweekend, and other times I’ll be writing longform non-fiction for magazines like The Monthly or Good WeekendThe Family Law was this demented, black comedy memoir about my family, so that was an extension of all that comedic column writing. Whereas Gaysia is gonzo-ish adventure journalism, looking at seven different LGBT/queer issues in seven different countries: Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar and India.

SvZ- Your new book, Gaysia, looks at sexuality in Asia. Do you think Australians have misconceptions about sexuality in Asia? How much of our understanding is shaped by mainstream travel?
BL- I think everyone has preconceptions about countries they’ve never travelled to. When we think of Thailand for instance, we always make jokes about ladyboys. We might even travel to Thailand and spot a few. But will we talk to them and have a proper conversation about what their lives are like? Probably not.

SvZ- Your writing is highly personal – a lot of its humour comes from the fact that the things you share would be closely guarded secrets for most people. Bodily functions, sex, awkward things that come out of your mouth. In the Melbourne Writers Festival panel Friendly Fire, you mentioned that this intimate style often means that readers feel like they know you. How much of that is something you willingly signed up for in writing memoir, and how much is kind of creepy?
BL- Meh, my family’s always been pretty comfortable talking about bodily functions, and I’ve always been amused by how easily people are shocked when I bring that stuff up. It’s like, “Dude, if you’re healthy, you’ve done a poo roughly once a day for every day of your life. Surely it doesn’t shock you any more.” So of course, people think you’re revealing these huge secrets about your life, but the story you’re reading represents such a tiny fraction of my life. But if you feel like you know me really well, that’s fantastic, because that’s what all personal essayists or memoirists try to do: create a sense of intimacy. It’s cute: when people come up and tell me they’ve read The Family Law, we often talk heaps about how it reminds them of their own family. That’s what I’ve really dug, how the book makes people realise their own families aren’t that strange either.

SvZ- There seems to be almost nowhere you won’t go for a laugh in your writing. Is there anything you won’t write about?
BL- Oh sure, I won’t describe what I do in bed with my boyfriend. It’s one of David Sedaris’s rules too. I’m not sure anyone wants to be subjected to that.

SvZ- Congratulations, also, on having Gaysia included on the Get Reading “50 Books You Can’t Put Down” list. This list is in bookstores nation-wide, and caters for pretty much every reader on the planet. How does it feel to have your writing placed among that of very mainstream writers like Kathy Lette and Michael Robotham?
BL – I’m not going to lie. My publishers and I have somehow managed to convince people that a non-fiction book about LGBT issues in Asia is super-readable and not at all niche. Pretty stoked about that.

SvZ- Where to from here for Benjamin Law?
BL- Every time I finish a book, I promise myself not to dive into a new one for at least a year or so. And yet, here I am again, drafting out the foundations of another one … Give it a year or two, and you’ll hear all about it.

Coming up this weekend, you can see Benjamin Law at the Melbourne Writers Festival events ‘In Conversation: Germaine Greer’, The Stella Prize Trivia Night, and ‘Inside Asia‘. 

Run! Don’t Walk!

The lovely Phuong-Nghi from Run! Don’t Walk! interviewed me for their new column, “Fresh Meat”, where they talk to Melbourne’s “maddening young talent”. There’s a sample of my writing as an eight year-old, a Douglas Adams/Philip K. Dick face-off, and a discussion of whether writers need to engage in all the digital stuff.

Run! Don’t Walk! is a brand-new website run by young creative people from Melbourne. They write, draw, view, and absorb all that the world has to offer, and I admire their work for its considered approach to things – it’s young people showing that they have brains and know how to work ’em.

My interview here. Thanks to Phuong-Nghi for having me.

David Mitchell, Will You Marry Me?

On Christmas Day I finished reading Black Swan Green by David Mitchell.

Easily one of my favourite books of 2010… One of my favourite books of ever.

Hence, when I found this interview on Paris Review this morning, I was glad and interested.

He seems quite a lovable chap, no? I think I’ll marry him. Despite the wife.

A Very Energetic, Well Expressed, Quotable Guy Gets Interviewed. Here.

The guy is Randall Stephens.

Randall Stephens is a Melbourne performance poet. You may know him from the many, many events he performs at. Melbourne has a solid group of people who keep the poetry going and exciting – Randall is one of those people. He has a stupid amount of energy, and he’s artful. He understands what it is to perform a poem, he knows inside out the things that are available to his performance. Space, volume, silence. He’s an absolute joy to watch.

Randall is a very driven guy – he’s recorded loads of audio of his poetry, he has CD’s, he travels all over Australia to tour, and every time I think I’ll go out for an evening of poetry, there’s Randall. He’s reliable, and always surprising. He blogs very regularly (very, very regularly. And all of it’s GOOD!) at his blog, Tales Told By An Idiot. Next year Randall is touring New Zealand.

He was kind enough to interview for LGWABP. I have to say, I’ve never had this much fun reading interview answers – I feel like I’ve learned something by reading it. And Randall is very quote-worthy!
My favourite quote-worthy thing from the interview? “9 seconds … seriously, that is how long a poet’s grace period is.”
Read the whole thing below the picture of this screaming man, Randall Stephens.

– You’re a performance poet. What does that mean for you – what does it involve, and what’s the writing process like?

It means centrelink, it means getting up at 3pm for an early start to the day, shopping for new scarves, coffee in grimy cafes, complaining about the government and getting hysterical over spilt milk (well, I do actually do that occasionally –drives my housemates crazy).

But truthfully it’s weird. A lot of days I wake up nervously, expecting one of my old bosses will show to grab me by the collar and drag me back to the old work-a-day world, like the past few years doing this have all been a dream.  I still have a day job – technically a night job, casual, and very undemanding (I’m doing this interview from work, as it is), so my days are usually free to allocate as I see fit.

It’s not hard like packing boxes or waiting tables.  But seriously, it does involve lots of work though.  Developing your work to a professional standard ~ the rehearsing and editing, the  planning and co-ordinating of events with people, the tours, making the CDs, and of course promoting, this all takes lots of time.

There’s no career path to follow, no road map or responsibilities to anyone, but the flip side of that is, If I’m not booked for gigs or pushing my work forward somehow, then I’ve only got myself to blame.  I think Steve Smart said this once, that the performance poet really has to do and be everything themself, unlike other types of theatre, or performing arts.  You’re your own agent, publicist, writer, actor and director.  No one’s paying you, patting you on the back, it’s all up to you.

Writing is still the primary thing though, and the process is write constantly, but leave things a while once written, take another look and be objective by asking basic questions: is this poem interesting or relevant to anyone (else)? Is it clear? Will it grab people’s attention with the first line/s?  Does it ask or deal with questions? Does it then move along a dramatic arc? With few exceptions, that’s the process I put my work through before anyone else reads it.

Then you get feedback, for me that means the blog, and the truth is more people still see my work this way, than ever come along to my gigs.  Responses to the blog help me decide what’s worth developing, what needs more work, and what’s better left un-spoken. Simply put, if there are lots of responses, I know I’m onto something.

– You write poetry which often uses comedy to make statements about society. Is this intentional, or are you just a very funny man?

I am not a funny man. Not even a little. Not really. Really a man. A little man.  Or only really a man a little. Really. Man. Okay maybe I am a little. A bit. Of a man.  Who’s funny.

I find things in life funny, there’s a lot that’s worth laughing about.  Absurd things, observations about myself and other people.  We’re a crack up, what can I say?

– How much of the performative aspect do you write into your poetry when you first put pen to page, and how much just appears during later readings?

While I’d like to think all my stuff is at least readable, primarily my poems are designed to be heard.  Sometimes I might get a message from someone saying “can’t wait to hear you perform this” etc.

Starting last year, I’ve attempted to reverse this in a way, almost making the poem perform on the page, the length of a line can imply a mood, a character, the vocabulary can imply force or contentment or happiness, sarcasm, cynicism, confusion, the long breaks I leave between sections are dramatic pauses.  Almost always there will be a character, a person, who is supposed to have written or dictated the words.  I always want my poems to sound like they came from somewhere, they’re being said, by someone.  Words just don’t somehow exist in ether, so in that sense they’re all designed for performance, if not literally by a spoken voice on a stage.

But yeah, once I do start reading it aloud things always change, what might scan well on the page is gonna put people to sleep in 9 seconds when you’re up there (seriously, that is how long a poet’s grace period is).  What reads as vitriolic anger might need a more calm or muted vocal to be effective.  You have to find a way to arc your performance, you can’t (or very rarely) get away with a poem that goes sad-sad-sadder, or goes from love is great to love is really great.  Boring! Incidentally it’s one of the reasons why I have will continue to avoid political poetry like the plague, I just don’t see the same potential there for dramatic arcs, questions, journeys, personal discovery.  For me that’s what it’s all about.

– “Being a poet in Melbourne is a pretty glorious thing.” Discuss.

Well ok, but yes and no.  What Melbourne has when it comes to poetry is volume.  More poets more readings, more often.  I think by sheer mass, statistically we’ve produced some good poets.  But around the country, and in other countries where I’ve seen poetry performed (England, India, USA and Spain) people everywhere else are doing a lot more with a lot less.  Melbourne has a lot of potential opportunity here, because of those volumes.  But we’re complacent, and also have a lot of shit. Shit poetry, just tired, depressing, uninvolving crap that idiots clog up the open mike with, with no real understanding –that they are subjecting people to it.  I saw a convener of a new reading in Melbourne get up and stay that he kinda knew his poetry was boring, but shrugged and said he was going to read it anyway.  Then he complained to me later about how know one supports him or gives him gigs.

For me, that is quintessential Melbourne poetry arrogance.  As I write this, December 2010 poetry in this city is in serious decline. 5 regular readings that I knew have all shut down this year (Drunken poet, Spinning Room, Claypots, Sospesso and Ninja Slam), and frankly I think a lot of that has to do with not understanding or  appreciating the gift of an audience, especially with the respecting to the venue you’re in.

Sydney, Perth and also Brisbane have great things happening, some really great and lively readings coming up, and it’s easy to observe the difference in enthusiasm and energy in those cities’ where the poetry scene is a lot more DIY, and not a line up of crusty old venues run by vain and ineffectual organisers and presenters. Oh and yeah, BAM!

– You’re going on tour in New Zealand! That’s huge! You’ve toured before; do you feel like you know what to expect from this? What on earth happens on a poetry tour?

What happens on tour? …not as much as I’d like, hehe. Steve Smart (with whom I’ve taken 7 trips with to tour this year) and I like to create a certain hedonistic mystique around our touring, and while it can potentially be pretty debauched, it’s more often really tame, If you have a lot of days between gigs, and can’t find people to hang out with (not looking at anyone, Brisbane) it can get downright boring, lonely and isolating, as any travel can be if you’re just there killing time.

Poetry touring is basically just going to another city to perform, which you can arrange through networking easily enough.  Now there are lot of high profile poets in Australia who through winning slams or being invited by festivals etc, are given the opportunity to do this.   Steve Smart and I on the other hand, do it all on our own, by sending emails, cornering individuals at festivals or when an interstater is in town, travelling at our own expense, finding our own accommodation.

I might look back on this one day and laugh for not knowing any better, and how hard I made it for myself. Only recently have I begin to appreciate the significance of this, when I started asking around with some of the big kids about how they poetry-toured New Zealand,  how they did it/who they contacted, and the answers invariably came back “shrug, I dunno, someone arranged  it all for us”.  Until I discover the secret handshake, I just assumed that’s how it’s done.  It was the same as when I made my CD, for better or worse, I just… went and did it.

So New Zealand… yeah big time stuff for me.  I’m expecting a lot from myself on this trip, I think there’ll be many highs and lows, because this is not necessarily going to be the easiest country to find gigs in.  I’ve had a whole spectrum of responses to my enquiries from loving welcome open arms to downright xenophobic rejections.  My aim is win over all different types of audiences, young or old, north or south island, rural or urban.  I believe that I can.

I’ve arranged gigs in the 3 major cities and a couple of towns, and made a lot of contacts through facebook etc.  For the rest I will just turn up, talk to people, find out who’s who and see what I can dig up, and hope for the best.

Some Randall-Related Links:

Thanks so much to Randall for interviewing for LGWABP. He’s one of the most supportive people I’ve met in Melbourne’s poetry scene, and I appreciate how open and accepting he (and others like him) make it. Cheers!

Talking Deliberate Practice with Tohm Curtis

My latest mantra is, ‘WRITERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN.’ It takes a whole lot of work, a whole lot of deliberate practice before you get good. Inspiration and genius do not simply descent in a constant stream on those who I admire. They work for it.

‘Deliberate practice’ is the idea that nobody is born supremely gifted, and that people who are ‘experts’ in their field are only so because they’ve spent a dedicated amount of time sweating over what they do.

I really admire people who realize this, and try to dedicate myself to a exercise program for my writing similar to that for my body. Time, sweat, tears, it all needs to go in there. One of my favourite deliberate practice projects was Christopher Currie’s Furious Horses, where he started a blog where he wrote a short story every day for a year. Let me say that again: a short story. every day. for a year.

That’s some awesome dedication. In a similar show of awesome dedication and bravery in putting himself out there, comic artist Tohm Curtis has started the blog “Twelve Moments“, which posts comics Tohm has created in collaboration with writers. These comics are restricted to twelve cells. The project itself is a deliberate practice mission to get “200 bad pages” out of Tohm’s system, having heard that “Every comic artist has 200 bad pages in them before they produce 1 good one…”

So I talked to Tohm about the project:



Can you explain the project?
The project is called Twelve Moments, it’s a webcomic that is collaboratively created. The premise is that other peeps write the comics and then I produce them (draw, ink, colour, letter and publish) and the sole restriction is that they have 12 pictures (or panels) to tell the story in. It came about because I was watching an interview by Bobby Chiu with Tim Sale. Bobby Chiu’s interview series with artists is great by the way because illustration is a lonely profression (much as I imagine writing is) and these interviews sort of bring a community together, particularly for peeps like me who live in Australia with no access to comic cons, particularly ones attended by people like Tim Sale and Bobby Chiu. Anyway, every artist Chiu interviews has the same advice ‘Do the work.’ Tim Sale quoted somebody in his interview ‘Every artist has 200 bad pages in them before they produce one good one. That number either defeats you or you say: I better get to work.’ Literally as I watched that interview I concieved of doing Twelve Moments and emailed my friend from the same computer to get my first contribution. The aim is to get to 200 pages at least. I still have a long way to go, it’s early days.

Would you call this a deliberate practice project?
I must confess I’d never heard of this term ‘deliberate practice’ until you introduced it to me and it took me a while to track down exactly what it meant on wikipedia. But yes, that’s exactly what I’m engaged in as it turns out and yes, I’m very much into this developmental model.
For me its sort of one and the same as my creative process. I guess the first example of deliberate practice I can remember was reading some articles on playing bass guitar online when one guy suggested exercises such as playing an Oboe part with your bass and trying to reproduce the sound, or trying to reproduce the sound an animal makes. In anything I do versatility is an appealing quality to me, so naturally this developmental approach appeals to me.
I actually wound up in the comic medium though through a trial and error phase. I really wanted to write some screenplays and TV scripts for like low budget Community Television stuff or webisodes. The thing was that while I could write the scripts, I simply lacked the networks and contacts to get them made. Everything I wrote actually got scaled back in terms of its production demands, less locations, less props, sets, less movement, less exterior shots… I still couldn’t get anything made. Then after having an emotional breakdown sparked by reading Noam Chomsky’s ‘Deterring Democracy’ on the streets of Rotterdam I decided I wanted to make a parody of old school sci-fi horror alien invasion flicks, and I concieved of ‘Fear Of A White Planet’.  The thing was that that moved in the opposite direction. I decided though that since I could draw (sort of) I should do it as a comic, and the amazing thing about that medium is that it takes just as much effort to create the illusion of two people sitting in a cafe as it does a far fetched fantasy city of the future with flying cars. This isn’t the case working in film. I guess it’s also the case with writing, but I wanted to include a lot of violence and action, and it’s much easier to draw action than write it.
So I wrote the script for that comic in like two weeks, it was one of those in the zone moments, then I tried to do prep work to draw it, and that blew out to like 10 months. The thing that appeals about deliberative practice is that one of the difficult aspects when you are self taught is that you just don’t know what you don’t know. In the end I had some time between contracts with the work I was doing at the time and decided to just sit down and draw it. I’m proud of that work in one way which is that it chronicles how steep the learning curve was for me. The supposed ‘talent’ I had for drawing that encouraged me as a child and the lack of probably discouraged many more, bought me about a ten page advantage I think compared to somebody who had never drawn a comic. But as you flick through that comic my progress and development is obvious. On the other hand I find the drawing so bad on a personal level I can’t bring myself to look at it anymore.
The thing with Twelve Moments is that it helps me develop by throwing stuff at me I would never choose to or concieve to draw myself. Doing a 100 page comic book before hand, not only did I learn a lot about what I could draw and what I couldn’t I unfortunately learned what I didn’t like to draw as well. That makes me lazy when writing my own comics. For example, I hate perspective, I hate more than 3 panels to a page, on a good day I can draw 5 pages in about as many hours, but whenever I had a page with 6 panels on it, it might take me one or two days just to draw that one page. I just find it unpleasant for some reason.  Probably because I measure my progress in pages.
Now I’ve cheated a bit with Twelve Moments because I’ve restricted the number of panels to twelve. Worst case scenario is that somebody asks me to draw a one page story with twelve panels on it, and I can live with that. But I am of the school that says ‘the artwork serves the story’ and although I want to be really good at drawing, the story comes first and I pick the style to suit it. Thus Twelve Moments as deliberative practice is great, for example ‘Arachnophobia‘ I drew on Bill Presing‘s work to determine my visual style and to a lesser extentWade Furlong for the spider-webs. The story ‘2020 Vision‘ I was drawing on Bruce McCall, and the golden era comic book artists like Kirby.
Doing so many one-shot comics forces me to create so many settings and characters and pick and choose styles and colour pallets that I am literally learning from every stroke, every line I throw down on paper. I learn even more from the ones I then have to erase. It is demanding, but I am in a position where I can look back at stuff I produced last month and just be embarrassed by it. That’s how fast I’m developing which is probably as much a comment on what an amatuer I am as the merits of deliberative practice.

Do you usually work collaboratively like this, and if not, has this changed anything in the way you work?
Collaboration is new to me, but not to comics. I also give Tim Sale most of the credit for inspiring Twelve Moments, but my frequent collaborator H-Wang who wrote 2020-vision actually inspired me because he used to do this e-zine project where he invited his friends to contribute something relating to a theme and then he would do all the design work. He’s like a creative ad-man that works in print media so it was much more ‘design’ based than comics per se, but that definitely was an influence.
In the comic world currently you have two spheres competing against each other the Japanese comics that follow a tradition of ‘artist-as-writer’ and Western comics which are in the professional realm at least almost always a writer and artist collaborating. If you watch the progress of Japanese titles taking up shelf space at Boarders, then the western model appears to be losing out. I think collaboration though offers this neat efficiency, a good writer can work on multiple titles at once and with the artist that best suits their narrative. An ‘artist-as-writer’ model like is common in Japan means that a good writer can only work as fast as he/she can draw.
Furthermore with comic book adaptations dominating movie box-offices I was pointing out to my brother that aspiring screenwriters should move into comics. My brother pointed out that that was harder than it sounded because comic book artists particularly at the amateur/independent level are usually preoccupied with their own stories. This is largely true, and if I’m to defend western comics based on their tradition of collaboration I thought I better actually follow suit.
In terms of changing the way I work, it’s made me less lazy. I remember working at Honda they gave us like a book of wisdom from company founder Soichiro Honda where he talked about working as an auto-mechanic prior to WW2. He had this amazing attitude towards his customers because he knew that they would be really proud of their car and heartbroken when it broke down. So he always did the repairs and then cleaned the car and showed the customer what had happened and how he’d fixed it. That story sticks with me and I try to bring a similar attitude when I’m working on somebody else’s story. Even if it’s a story I would not normally be enthusiastic about, I want my contributors to be enthusiastic about comics and I try to make it as good as I possibly can. The story ‘Deus Ex Machina‘ I got out late, this was partly because I lost a week to exams but largely because when I was doing my least favorite part of the process – coloring I was trying something new, that was colouring the line work and then filling. I spent three days doing the first page and when I looked at it I just felt it looked terrible. So I scrapped three days of work and started over with a simpler technique I’d used before. It wasn’t a total waste of time trying something new I learned a lot, but I don’t want to a single contributor to think I did a half-arsed job on their comic.
The last thing I’ll say on collaboration is that comics and writing are lonely professions, you (usually) don’t do your work in some cool bar in the presence of your friends but some home studio/sweatshop slowly losing your mind. Collaborating brings somebody else into your work and that’s a big thing. Just to have somebody who knows about it, knows it exists and involved in decision making before the publishing date goes a long way. Although I hunger to write my own stuff again, collaborating is definitely the most rewarding work I do.
What has the project involved – any major hiccups or set-backs?
The biggest set back was just designing a site to publish it on, that I could update easily and so fourth. There’s stuff to consider like ‘Can I actually use it?’ since I’m not too programming literate, to questions of the medium like ‘how do I keep people from reading ahead? reading backwards etc.’ It’s currently published on a blog so it’s less than ideal but I’ll fix this when I have that magic combination of time + money. Shouldn’t be too long.
The other challenge is just getting contributors. Not to draw gender lines but it was really hard to get female contributors. Even though invitation wise I kept it pretty balanced, because I wanted to introduce peeps to the wonders of the comic medium, the ratio of contributors is still way to one side. It’s strange because my female friends are often my most vocal and enthusiastic supporters. I guess they live more fulfilling lives than the guys I know, who have time to sit around writing comics?
Otherwise, the big set-back is one of motivation. I have called drawing a two step process – figuring out, then colouring in. 90% of the effort is in figuring out how to draw something, I’ve gotten better/more efficient at this over time, but it’s funny some days for no reason at all I will just get stuck. It took me ages to draw Arachnophobia because I had to figure out these perspectives that allowed a tiny spider to talk to a full grown woman. The solutions weren’t necessarily hard, I just didn’t like the process of coming up with them. I did like a panel a day which is ridiculously slow for pencils. But then it was a breeze to ink and colour. Go figure.

What do you hope to get out of the project, and are you seeing some results yet?
I literally want to produce that one good page after 200 ‘bad’ ones. I’m proud of the work I’ve done thus far, but it’s strange for a lot of them I drew them like 3-4 months before colouring and finishing them off and I really hate my quality of line, or use of space or whatever. I stop myself short of redrawing them, but it’s nice to know I’m developing so fast that I’m viewing stuff I only drew a few months ago as not up to my current standard. Switching styles too, I’m starting to develop my own style.
You can’t see it much in Twelve Moments output and you probably won’t for a while, because I’m deliberately imitating other artists in order to develop but when I draw something spontaneoulsy without reference all these different solutions are creeping in, like I’ll draw my knuckles like N8 Van Dyke, and do my facial features and anatomy like Humberto Ramos but my lines all straight and jagged like Lazy-Mills. Its still messy but the minute adjustments are starting to blend the different styles together into something more my own. This is really exciting for me and I hope to start simultaneously producing my own title in my own style.
I also as mentioned before am hoping to ignite something in my collaborators. I want them at base to be excited about creating something, more excited than they would be consuming something. Then I hope some of them get really excited about comics as a medium to write for. Unfortunately I can only offer them 12 panels, which is more than most independent artists do, but I realise is frustratingly small space to work with. Some of the things that work best in comics over any other medium – like time transitions and action sequences I know my collaborators just don’t have enough space to set up in 12 panels. But some of them have emailed me and said thanks for getting them to create something again. That’s the best result I can hope for.
My major challenge now is the same as anybody who creates anything has. Getting feedback. I have a lot of friends who are muso’s and while I do envy them their musical abilities and social nature of what they do, it is much easier for my friends to follow a link than it is for me to head out in the rain on a Saturday night to see them perform. It must be like throwing a party every week and wondering who will turn up. Having said that, how do you get peeps to comment? crit? give feedback? That’s the big mystery. I get more nourishment from feedback, or even a ‘Like’ on facebook than I do from most meals I cook myself (the sad thing is, I’m not even speaking figuratively). I wrote more extensively on this on my own blog, but peeps you got to realise we write/draw/play for you, you are an integral part of the creative process just by bearing witness. So don’t be shy, comment. It means more than you would guess until you’ve been in the same situation. Get down to those local gigs too, check out peeps’ photo blogs, comment on your friends blogs. It’s like the nicest thing you can do easily next to walking your dog. (Hey, a pet is a responsibility).

A huge thanks to Tohm for talking to me about this project, I look forward to seeing his work develop as the project moves along.
Also, sorry about dodgy formatting in this post. I’ve spent all my patience trying to fix it, and I’m out.

My brief radio stint

I did TV, I did a blog, I thought radio was worth a shot.

No, that’s a lie. Miss Jorja Kelly thought that I’d be interesting to talk to – little did she know!

It was incredibly scary being on a LIVE show, and as soon as the segment finished I felt like if I’d had more time to consider my answers I’d have much more helpful answers to Jorja’s questions, but on listening to the podcast, I’m not as disgusted or embarrassed as I thought I’d be.

So here it is. And keep listening to “In Other Words”, weekly on Tuesdays from 3 – 3.30pm.

In Other Words… I’m On The Radio!

I’ll be chatting to the lovely Jorja Kelly at Syn (90.7 FM) tomorrow afternoon. Jorja hosts “In Other Words“, a Syn show about all things language. It airs from 3 – 3.30pm on Tuesdays.

And it’s LIVE! Terrifying, no?

Tune in to discover a new must-listen show, and hear me put my foot in my mouth on live radio!

In Other Words:
Tuesdays at 3-3.30pm
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Admiration/Inspiration Thursdays with Mercedes M Yardley

This week, Mercedes M Yardley is our very welcome guest.

Mercedes is from Vegas, and she juggles two kids, a husband and a writing career. A writing career which is shooting pretty rapidly upwards at the moment, too. She writes pretty much everything – fiction, non-fiction, short-stories, a novel. Her blog, “A Broken Laptop” is updated regularly with updates about her writing practice and her thoughts on the world.

I came across Mercedes when I first joined WordPress, and have been reading ever since. I’ve even taken up some of her methods for working. My favourite? Her commitment to always have a certain amount of pieces out with publishers. I now have a running note in my journal: “Pieces out: X. Goal: Y.” It keeps me honest. And it’s paid off for Mercedes: her name has appeared in a huge number of publications, she’s won a bunch of competitions, and has just been picked up by an agent.

I admire Mercedes for her absolute commitment to making her writing work, despite all the crap life throws at her. Between caring for one child with Williams Syndrome and another who suffers from seizures, and being a good wife (she bakes!), Mercedes makes time in her day not only for writing, but for joy. Hats off to that!

She also takes FANTASTIC bio shots – check it out! :

How long have you been writing? 
I’ve been writing forever, but I’ve only been submitting to markets for about three years.  I’m still bright and shiny and new.

Your fictional work is about horror – what attracts you to the genre?
I like the darkness.  I think a little bit of fear is sexy.  That said, I tend to write “whimsical horror” instead of straight-up horror.  I don’t enjoy gore and I don’t enjoy scenes where the characters are being abused for the sake of abusing them.  I like my darkness to be twisty and fun.  Think Tim Burton.  Think Neil Gaiman.  That’s what I get a rush out of.  So my character stabs a boy in the heart with a sharp stick.  She did it out of love.  She did it to save him.  There’s always a lightness even in my darkest dark.  That is very much by choice.

What does a typical day in the life of Mercedes M Yardley look like?
My typical day is full of glamour and butterfly wings.  I wish! I’m a stay-at-home mom with two small kids.  My days are spent rushing about madly.  I try to keep up with my reading (Shock Totem slush, books for review, stories to critique for others, and, oh yes, fun) and fit exercising and writing into every day.  It’s a struggle sometimes.  But I try to keep the whimsy with me.  Every day I try to do something creative.  Writing, certainly, or I sit down at the piano and play.  The kids and I dance a lot.  I’ll jump on the trampoline and swing on the swings pretty much every day.  I’ll bake.  If I don’t keep things interesting, I get bored and become An Adult.  And we all know that Adults never have any fun.

Describe your writing process.
I’m very free-spirited when it comes to writing.  I don’t plan things out; I just type as fast as I can and see what happens.  I think that one of my strengths is that I’m hungry.  I get an idea and I want to see it, I want to know how it turns out, I want to fall in love with the villain (I love villains) and I want this to happen as quickly as possible. I’ll think about my characters and their traits, but I don’t really plot in my head or have an outline.  It’s like a lovely rollercoaster ride.  It’s thrilling.

You have an incredibly busy life, what tricks do you use to make the time and keep yourself writing?
I never sleep.  That’s pretty much true.  It’s always been this way.

I have also learned to budget my time and make sacrifices.  It’s impossible to write when both kids are home, so I know that I can only write when my son is at school or when they’re both in bed.  When that time comes, I’m not dawdling.  I’m writing RIGHT THEN because it’s the only time that I have. It is very precious.  I have to sacrifice some of the other things that I’d rather be doing in order to write.  I have to look at the long term.  In another ten years, will I be pleased that I spent an hour tonight looking at, or will I be pleased that I wrote that new scene for my book?  It’s horribly pragmatic, but it helps keep my priorities in order.  (Maybe just ten minutes of HappyChair.)  😉

Here’s another trick: Twitter.  I get on there, stomp around, make writing friends who support and encourage me, and then I challenge them to some sort of a contest.  A “I can write more than you!” or “I can publish a star story first!” or “Whoever makes it into this anthology wins” contest.  With consequences.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s extremely motivating, and it’s an excuse to play with friends and call it “working”.

And last but certainly not least, I have The Best. Writing Group. In The World.  I am not kidding you.  We read, we write, we nearly come to blows over our critiques, we hang out together and we have fun.  That’s dedication.  We have these amazing meetings every Tuesday night, and if you don’t have a piece to present, you can’t come.  That rule alone forces me to churn out something every week.  My Interdimensional Wombats are gold, I tell you. 

What kind of a role does your blogging play in your writing?
A blog is extremely valuable to me because I’ve met a lot of people that way.  Twitter is fun for conversation but blogs are better for content. My favourite bloggy thing right now is a series that I’m doing called “Be Mysterious: Writers in Masks” where authors send in a picture of themselves with their faces obscured in some way, and a blurb.  I dig it.  I love seeing these fabulous people portraying themselves in a mysterious light.  I look forward to every piece that comes in.

And right now my friend and fellow author Simon C. Larter and I are doing a kind of noir-ish serial blog project.  We each write a section a week and post it to our respective blogs.  Sometimes I forget how much fun writing is, but this project has reminded me. It’s wickedly delicious.

One of your latest projects is “Shock Totem”, a journal with the subtitle “Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted”, which I have to say is a pretty gripping title! Tell us a little about that, and how it’s all going.
It’s going quite well!  My piece “Murder for Beginners” appeared in the first issue, and about six months later they asked me to join as staff.  It’s a great experience for me.  I get to hang out with very cool people who care a lot about literature.  It takes an insane amount of time to choose stories and cover art and that sort of thing.  I never realized how much time, so my respect for magazines has skyrocketed.  I also write nonfiction for them, and it’s cool to write about real life horror.  We just released Issue #2, and I have a very personal, very soul-baring piece in there.  I’m a bit terrified to have it out there, quite honestly, but you never grow if you don’t do scary things.  In fact, my New Year’s resolution for the past few years has been “Do Things That Scare Me”. 

Congratulations are in order, Mercedes – a piece of yours has just been accepted for “Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters With the Beasts Within”. Your work appears alongside names like Chuck Palahniuk, H.P Lovecraft, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman – you must be absolutely stoked! What’s that been like?
Oh my goodness, it’s been a dream!  I feel very honoured.  I also feel deliciously devious, like, “Yes, I crept into this anthology and it’s too late to kick me out!  Bwa ha ha!”  Working with John Skipp has been a pleasure.  He’s a delightful man, very encouraging and friendly.  He makes me feel like it’s perfectly natural to be included with such high profile authors. He acts like it isn’t strange, no, it isn’t strange at all.

You work on a really wide variety of writing – poetry, short stories, non-fiction, novels. Do you choose to work this way because you’re unable to pin yourself to any one genre, or is it more that you’ve just seen opportunities arise and made your writing fit those opportunities?
I like variety.  I like to see what I can do, and I like to stretch my wings.  I’ve always written stories and I’ve always written essays.  I’ve never seen them as mutually exclusive.  I enjoy it all, and the versatility is nice.  I see no reason to confine myself to one genre. Why do that when there are so many different things to explore?

What’s on the cards next for you, what can we look forward to?
Well, Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beast Within comes out in October.  I’m in the Hint Fiction anthology with some other astounding authors (Joyce Carol Oates, Ha Jin, and F. Paul Wilson, for example. I die!) and that comes out in November.  I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by the very cool Jason Yarn at Paradigm (Yay! Yay, hooray!)  so perhaps we’ll hear something on the novel front.  Right now I’m working on a memoir about my son’s rare genetic syndrome and also a book of short stories.  So I’m busy, and maybe these pieces will see the light of day.  Who knows?  Life is such a gamble.

Thank you so much for having me, Sam! It’s been fun.

Thanks to Mercedes for joining us today for A/I Thursday – check out her blog and keep an eye open for this woman, she’s on the way UP!

Aiming High

People achieve things by aiming high, right? They set their sights on things that are worth aspiring to, and they chase it.

I never aim high enough. I don’t bother to even ask about things that seem hard or out of reach, because I somehow believe that I’m not important enough for dreaming so big.

This morning I proved myself wrong. I emailed someone who’s a hero of mine, and asked if he’d care to interview for LGWABP. Within a few hours, he’d emailed back to say yes.

The lesson I learned: I can aim high. It won’t always work, but it’s not impossible. I just need to believe in myself and try. I can surprise myself.

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