Sam van Zweden





The last few weeks have contained more questions than I’ve had to ask in quite a while.

I’ve found myself a spot reviewing books for RMIT’s magazine “Catalyst”, which is incredibly exciting. It’s a really well-produced glossy thing, with an incredibly patient and helpful editor. The last few weeks have seen me drafting and re-drafting before submitting, then re-drafting and re-editing, re-working, re-submitting. My final submission was something I’m proud of. It was a hard task to review a whole collection in just 500 words, but I feel like I gave it a pretty good shot, and produced something I’ll be proud to see in print.

Writing reviews for print is new to me. As was raised in a comment on my last post, reviews for my blog are quite a bit different – they can be almost throw-away, conversational pieces full of half-baked impressions. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with this difference, and want to move LGWABP toward a more permanent style of reviewing.

All this aside, the whole process of writing a review for print, to be put before an editor, made me realise how much I don’t know. I’ve sent out copious emails to various people in the last few weeks.

“Do I put ‘ed’, or ‘edited by’?”
“What’s conventional to include at the top of a review?”
“Invert the paragraph? What does that mean?”
“What’s a word for overly comprehensive, in a negative way?” (This question did get a pretty fantastic reply in the form of a metaphor about an obsessive lepidopterist whose rampant cataloging robs his obsession of beauty… Unfortunately that didn’t make it into the review, but by far the best answer possible to such a question. Thanks, Tully!)
“Can I have a random subjective paragraph in here?”
“How academic does this need to be?”
“Do I italicise the title, or put it in inverted commas?”

Even though I’ve been reviewing books for ages now, both for TV and for my blog, there’s so much I still need help with.

Somehow this gets me excited – I’m actively seeking out things I don’t really know how to do. Forcing myself out of my comfort zone. Getting stuff done.

I’ve got a similar project coming up – I’m writing an article about a new local not-for-profit organisation, which I’ve never done before, nor anything like it… But I know I’ve got plenty of people to ask when I run into questions, and that I’ll be learning and expanding my skill set. Wish me luck!


A question to the floor: this new gig with Catalyst means that more than ever I’m keen on keeping abreast of new-release books, preferably before they’re released. So my current question is, how do I do that? Do I just need to keep tabs on publishers’ websites, or is there somewhere that brings all publishers together and talks about future releases from everywhere?


The BAS review will appear in RMIT’s Catalyst, which comes out on the 14th of February.

Passive/Aggressive Cheek and A/I Excitement!

This is a messy post – I’m just putting that out there now, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Mess. Which proceeds thus…

I’m back at uni. We started back on Monday, and it’s been really good…Until today. I have a terrible tutor for a course that has the potential to be fantastic, and this upsets me. In an earlier draft of this post, I ranted about what was flawed about this tutor’s teaching style, but I re-thought that, as it probably has no place here. I’ll simply carry on with my passive/aggressive cheek toward said tutor for the remainder of the semester… Good luck to her.

I was going to post another “Comment July Challenge” post today, with highlights from the last week. But having done a lot of thinking in the last few days, I’ve realised I’m over-committed and things are suffering for it. So in an effort to de-frag my life, I’m culling those commitments which I don’t absolutely need. Unfortunately, the Comment July Challenge is one of them – I’ll still be commenting on as many blogs as is possible, contributing to discussions where I can, but without the pressure to do five per day. It’s an admirable project, and I wish Megan and the others involved the absolute best with it.

And now for the “A/I Excitement!” part of my title – tomorrow I’ll be posting the interview I was referring to the other day. The admirably haired and wonderfully talented Sage Francis (yes, that Sage Francis!) was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so that will be up tomorrow – get excited with me!

Paying Off

One thing I’ve found essential in this writing game – a thick skin.

I’ve been submitting my work to magazines and journals for about a year now, and it’s a really bizarre process. Most times, you email off your submission and you don’t know whether they’ve received it or not, then you sit on your hands for the allotted amount of time before assuming you’re safe to send the piece off somewhere else.

Occasionally I’ll receive a “Thanks for your submission – we’ll get back to you shortly,” and when I do my heart bursts with joy at some (any!) sort of acknowledgement.

Only recently have I got entirely practical and a little bit anal about this thing, and made a spreadsheet which details which piece went where, when, and when I should hear expect to hear back from them – and then the contact details of who I plan to contact if I don’t hear back. That was one thing that became really clear to me throughout the EWF – if you don’t hear from an editor within the timeframe they give you (most submissions guidelines will tell you how long you can expect to wait), it’s absolutely okay to contact them to check what’s happened to your submission. Editors are people too. They get busy. They lose stuff. They experience technical cock-ups.

The last year has been a long haul of ‘submit/wait/submit somewhere else/wait again/maybe get an actual “no”/cry for a bit/submit somewhere else/wait … ” (ad infinitum). But after all this, I think I’ve finally gotten somewhere, folks!

Yesterday I received not one, but TWO emails that made my heart sing. One said, ‘yes, yes actually we would love to publish your piece!’… the other said they thought my piece had potential, made some suggestions for re-working, and encouraged me to re-submit it.

I won’t name names of publications here, because I have a feeling that’s not entirely kosher. Let me give you all a bit of a spoiler about your first acceptance letters though – they are ABSOLUTELY the opposite of rejection letters.

The rejection letters I’ve received thus far go something like: “Dear Sam, Thanks for your submission to ____. Due to the volume and quality of submissions we have received, and limited space in the publication, the editorial process has been difficult. We are sorry to inform you that we will not be including your piece in our next issue, however we encourage you to submit more work in the future. Regards, Editor.”

They’re so vague and soul-crushing. “BUT WHY!?” I’m screaming at my computer, “WHY!? What was wrong with the piece?”

Acceptance letters though? Nice. Lovely! None of this vagueness. They say yes, then they tell you exactly why they think you’re awesome. I kid you not. It’s such a just payoff for all the soul-crushing the last year has brought. Finally, finally, finally, I got something past an editor!

So keep your eyes peeled, kids, I’ll keep you updated as to WHERE my work will be appearing closer to publication date.

And maintain a thick skin. It’ll happen.

Breakable Bags, Zelda and Reframing Rejection

8.30am. It was absolutely freezing this morning, but I got out of bed. I got to the city. I got coffee. When I walked up to the door of the Town Hall, a fatherly looking man in an entirely-too-endearing beefeater-esque hat shook his head and made me finish my coffee outside. There are some serious injustices in Melbourne.

Once safely in those doors, the caffeine starting to do its job, Festival Fever took over. They asked for my autograph (…on the door list), they handed me a WEEKEND PASS necktag, and they pointed me towards showbags. And I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this year’s showbag. Last year, the bag itself was awesome (I still use it on a daily basis), but the contents weren’t so crash hot, with more pamphlets for things not relevant to me than things I was actually interested in. This year, however, the bag itself is incredibly cool (great size and comfy to wear) but dangerously breakable. I can see myself having to carry another bag inside this bag, in wait of its breaking day. Until such time – awesome. And the contents! ABR, Inscribe, Readings’ catalogue, Bookseller + Publisher, Wet Ink. And even the pamphlets are actually relevant and interesting – I don’t know how much of this was planned and how much just came in, but I’ll be busy with its contents for a while.

The day had an insane amount of knowledge on offer, so I came out pretty tired. So much went into my brain, and such is the extent of the notes I took, that I simply can’t recall all of it. I can, however, retrace my steps in terms of rooms and events, and give you a little taste of the glory that was the Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Program today.

The day started with “Seven Enviable Lines”, which featured the Festival Ambassadors sharing seven pieces of advice they wished they’d received earlier in their careers. Natasha Campo’s “publish or perish” was quickly written down by me, and affirmed at every panel today. She also stressed the importance of being brave in asking for help from whatever relevant people you can find. Advice I’ll definitely be taking on board.
Sean Riley’s advice was not to be afraid to use the words “no”, “absolutely not”, and “go fuck yourself” – if, as a writer, you’re not backing your own work, then nobody will. He also said to remember to “arrive late and leave early” in scenes. An uproariously funny speaker, and certainly one I’ll jump to see if there’s an opportunity in future.
Jill Jones’ advice was to be aware that “writing is bad for your health – especially your posture”. As soon as she said this, everyone in the room wiggled in their chairs and straightened up self-consciously.
While this panel was on, it was nice to see each of the speakers nodding and each other’s advice. Also funny to see was Julian Shaw taking a photo on his iPhone – which soon appeared on Twitter. It was a reminder of the huge role that Twitter has played in the whole festival this year, and which was hugely present in every panel, whether through people talking about Twitter or just the guys either side of me posting tasty little snippets from their smart phones.

As I moved from room to room, trying to find zany ways to wear my necktag like they do on Survivor, I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the amount of people walking around with notebooks, madly trying to hold on to the pearls of wisdom imparted there. In fact, it was the people without the notebooks that looked somehow out of place.

Dion Kagan hosted the panel on interviewing, titled “The Gentle Art of Persuasion”. Dion cited many of his own “train-wreck” interviews as proof that the only real way to get better is to practise. I must say, I took a lot of encouragement from this – my first two interviews for camera aired just over a week ago – I’m still waiting to see them. I know now, though, that if they’re terrible it’s just a right of passage. Panelist Barb Lemon compared interviewing to adding character voices when reading a children’s book – I’d never thought of it like this, but now that the thought’s been introduced, I’ll be sure to approach story material in a much more interview-y way.
Travel writer Brian Thacker had some insanely wonderful stories, and he approached all his travels in this way – no formal interviews, just approaching it all with curiosity, taking notes, quotes in shorthand.
All the panelists also offered little hints to make interviewing much easier – check, double-check, triple-check all the technical stuff. Press record before you enter the room to make it more comfortable in dictaphone interviews. Have questions in a notebook, but don’t read them out verbatim. Best piece of advice for the panel, though?
Tate Ischia shared his favourite piece of advice about writing – that the whole thing is like Zelda. You have to go on weird quests which seem to have nothing to do with anything, meeting lots of people and doing lots of little tasks. In the end, all of this means you slay the dragon. You win the game.

The “Taking It Online” panel (exactly what the name implies) started with Phillip Thiel’s embracing of the impermanence of the internet. “It’s writing made to fade, and quickly forgotten”, he said. While that’s a scary thing in many ways, Phillip seems to have come to terms with it, embraced it, indeed turned it upon itself: his work centres around “a year of…” projects. This year, Phillip is kissing a different person every day – today it was festival director Lisa Dempster.
Also in this panel Mel Campbell put forward a convincing case for writers not to allow themselves to be taken advantage of just because of the newness of writing for online audiences.

In “Never Surrender”, the amazingly accented and very funny Paul Callaghan encouraged us to “reframe” rejection and accept it as part of the process not only of being a writer, but of being a human being. Elizabeth Campbell echoed this, saying that failure can be treated as something both inevitable and productive. By far the most entertaining speaker of the day though, was Sean Condon, who lamented his failure. Indeed, his failure at even failing saying he “counts actual rejection as something of a success!” – he by far prefers a rejection letter to being utterly ignored.

The final speaker of the “Mining The Personal” panel, Lou Sanz, was an absolute hoot: while her contribution wasn’t rife with advice, it was certainly a nice piece of comic relief when my mind was getting too full of information.

Today’s program ended with “The Pitch” – a panel featuring representatives from different publications and publishing houses. While most of the information boiled down to “read the submission guidelines, be considerate”, some more specific tips from certain publications will hopefully give me a bit of an advantage next time I submit something to them.

It started at 9.00am. It finished at 5.30pm. It was a damn long day, but one I’m so glad I didn’t miss.

The EWF Town Hall program is on again tomorrow, so if you’re free you should come down and soak up some of the fantastic advice and inspiration on offer.

Too perfect = blank pages.

I’ve had this problem for a long time, and I suspect that for a lot of writers this is the root of the “terror of the blank page” problem.

This morning I came across a post by Fiona Gregory of “Bootcampers 101” blog. While the writers who contribute to this blog are all romance writers, they often have something to say that applies to the rest of us literary folk.

In this post, Fiona talks about how her perfectionism often holds her back from writing at all, or at least following through on anything because what’s in her head struggles to match what ends up on the page.

Thankfully, this post isn’t just a whine about how hard it is to get the cogs moving.

Some of the more helpful solutions Fiona suggests include:
– Writing to a timer. Set a timer for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or two, and don’t move until it goes off. Just write. Don’t edit either – that’s for later.
– Scheduling a time for editing so that it doesn’t creep into your writing time. I certainly find that the more I allow myself to edit while I write, the more that filter gets in the way of my getting anything at all onto the page.

While these are small tips, and almost a bit obvious, I found them helpful. Especially as I sit in front of an impending deadline or five, banging my head against a brick wall.

Teaser Tuesdays #3.

Now, I know I haven’t done much here lately. Missed me?
I’m in the process of clambering back on the horse. I’m back into school, Irvine Welsh speaks at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow, hopefully next week I’ll be having some writerly researchy experience with some people from Streat, and I’ve been writing a whole lot, so more of my own work might start appearing… Also back into Yartz filming next week and hopefully my first on-screen appearance on Monday. In the meantime, here’s today’s Teaser Tuesday post!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

” ‘Cyclops, the men you snatched with such brutal  force
and ate within your cave were surely not
the comrades of a coward. You have caused
much grief; and it returns to haunt you now:
you did not hesitate; hard heart, you ate
your guests within your house; therefore lord Zeus
has joined with other gods to batter you’ ”
                    -from Homer’s “The Odyssey”


I’m beat. Bushed. Buggered. Sooooo tired. I feel like I woke up on Saturday, and haven’t stopped since.

Up until this point, I’ve avoided blogging about my latest achievement simply because I was terrified it wouldn’t stick – that I’d get there and the collective psyche would vote me out. However, on Saturday afternoon the first episode of Yartz featuring my pretty porcelain face was filmed.

Yartz is an awesome community TV show on Channel 31, (airs at 10pm Mondays and a repeat I think on Thursday night – also on youtube) which basically acts as a very independent cultural commentator, picking out all the cool things in the world and letting you know all about them…At times fanatical, at other times utterly scathing – which is where I come in.

I have been appointed book-fan extraordinaire, working with the Yartz crew and contributing to the bookish side of things. A more lovely bunch of people you could not find, so a big thankyou to one Misha Adair for his expert casting skills, and to the rest of those I’ve had anything to do with thus far for being so ready to have me on board.

Not having television myself I won’t be able to tell you when I’m on, I’m not sure if it’s this week or next, BUT as soon as it hits youtube you can expect to hear about it.

In other beginnings, today was the first day of my life at RMIT completing their Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing). AMPED! First days are always less productive, and it did enough to get me excited about the course overall. It’s still a very new course, only in its second year, and it’s a very small group. There’s 42 of us in first year.

Today I had Cinema Studies, which consisted of Lumiere shorts and The Wizard of Oz… While it’s a 9.30 class, I get to be all cozy in a Hoyts cinema and watch films, so it’s bearable. Enjoyable, even. The news of needing to purchase a $110 textbook was a little less than welcome, but I’ve since found a filmmaker-friend who is willing to lend me a copy – thank god for commonly used textbooks!

I have to admit, this viewing of The Wizard of Oz was the first time I’d noticed the Wizard calling Scarecrow a “blundering bale of bovine fodder”… That’s the kind of insult I wish I’d penned!

The afternoon saw an “orientation” type talk in the space where Telling Stories would usually take place – and my goodness, the second year students have got me excited! The thing that always discouraged me about Swinburne was the lack of community feeling and a total lack of enthusiasm for writing. It was seen as an easy elective and not something to be pursued outside of what was forced upon us. That didn’t stop me, of course, but I was always chasing the extracurricular opportunities by myself.

Now, writing’s such an alone activity that I feel that this community feeling I’ve been wanting is absolutely crucial to being able to do it. The second year students in my course are so excited about the writing opportunities they have and create, especially those they do outside of school and share. They’re really pulling together as an artists’ collective and making it all work for themselves. Good on them, and I can’t wait to join the ranks!

So, a few new beginnings and much, much, MUCH excitement.

…just a bit proud of myself at the moment.

It’s pronounced “In-oh-go-loh”

Remember when you first came across the name “Descartes”, and never realised that was how you spell “Day-cart”? This happens to me all the time

I constantly have trouble pronouncing things. I spend so much of my time “hearing” about things in print, that I inevitably come up against words I cannot pronounce. Up until recently I just had to spit out my own pronunciation and hope it didn’t discredit me too much. But no more! 

I introduce to you: 

  Inogolo prevents any more of those awful moments where you say “don quicks-o-tee” and everyone gets a little awkward.
Just type in the name, place, or “stuff” you want to know how to pronounce, and inogolo gives you the correct pronunciation, along with a sufficient definition. 
So, I just tried it with “Chuck Palahniuk”… I’d previously been pronouncing it “Pall-ahn-yuk”… Turns out it’s “Pall-uh-nik”… In my defence, my previous pronunciation was much less ridiculous than some I’ve heard, like “Pa-laz-nik” (where’s the z!?), or “Pa-lah-niu-mik” (magical extra syllable)…
Next time I hear one of these more ridiculous pronunciations, I’ll be referring them to inogolo. 


I’d like to briefly blog today about the latest fantastic installation in Melbourne’s “UNESCO City Of Literature” status…

This has been a long long time coming, but it’s finally here! In February, The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas opens its doors.

Trying to books tickets for its first event proved disappointing – I had to wait until a pay day, and even then there were still four weeks to go until the event – plenty of time, I thought. However, many many fellow Melburnians are excited about this event, and beat me to it. Sold out. Fail.

However, there’s some really exciting stuff coming up there, (apart from the fact that it’s just going to BE there) – Irvine Welsh will be talking to Alan Brough on the 10th of March. I have tickets for this. I got in early.

Good news; the website is incredibly up-to-date and user-friendly. They daily blog about interesting things reading and writing, and their events calendar is posted pretty far ahead of events – the current calendar already runs up to May.

In other news, I went yesterday to enrol at RMIT. I’m officially itching to start, having talked to lecturers and convenors about what we’ll be working on, the fact that RMIT is across the road from the Wheeler Centre and the State Library, what’s expected from us, and what we can expect from the course. Let me at it! Now!

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