There was no way I was going to miss posting a reflective message about the end of a whole goddamn decade. 🥳🥳
I chose these two photos to juxtapose because they exhibit the positive change a decade has wrought on me. 😁😁
The biggest change is not on the outside, but within.
The 2009 me on the left is smiling, but he has no confidence, no self-esteem and loathes himself most days. He thinks he’s not good enough. He cares what others think so much that he lets their opinions shadow, plague and dictate his own self-talk, words, and life. 😔😔
The 2019 me on the right looks a bit aggro, but he is confident, assertive and likes the bloke he’s become. He knows he is good enough just as he is. He is the captain and master of his own self-talk, words and life: he is his own. He also looks really fucken buff here. 💪💪
What a metamorphic, Saturn-Returny decade it’s been. 🤩🤩
And hell, what a wild year 2019 has been – marrying my beautiful husband Raphael Farmer and my debut novel, Invisible Boys, being released were the highlights. 😍😍 Thanx heaps to each of you for being a part of this massive year. Your messages, reviews and photos this past few months have made my heart incredibly full. Thanx for supporting (and sometimes tolerating) me, my book, my writing, my penchant for talking about my dick, my entirely healthy obsession with Alanis Morissette, my Witcher song singing, my runaway ego and my neuroses, and my shameless shirtless gym selfies. 😜😜😅😅
And here’s to the Roaring Twenties 2: Electric Boogaloo. Although sequels are usually worse, let us embrace the next decade with the same foolish optimism that I embraced Jumanji: The Next Level. It could be awesome, who knows? We should experience it first and decide later, right? 🤷♂️🤷♂️
May this new year and decade bring you each growth, comfort, strength, opportunity, fucktons of fun, challenges, solutions, liberation, balance, and most of all, the doggedness and determination needed to build and live whatever kind of life you want. It’s yours and we don’t live on this planet for very long, so go on and do what you want before it’s too late. 🤘🤘🤘
So, this weekend, a bookseller from Dymocks Busselton sent me a photo of two chefs on stilts reading my novel at the Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival.
I cracked up laughing, because I had no context for this image and it seemed like the most random thing I’ve come across in this book’s promo cycle so far. (Sidebar: the bookseller has since told me there was absolutely no context for this photo, she just took it because she thought it would be a cool pic – so that’s even funnier to me.)
Anyway, yesterday, for some reason, this image stirred up an idea. I remembered how one reviewer had mentioned the role food plays in the book. I also hadn’t written anything creatively for three months, since I’ve been so hectic with touring and promo. Apparently a day and a half was enough rest time to have recharged my creative batteries a little: I was eager to write something creative and fun, and I churned this piece out: a menu based on the culinary dishes that feature in the book.
If there’s anything more random than the photo of the chefs on stilts reading Invisible Boys, it’s probably this blog post. But I had fun writing it and it was a great way to reflect on my novel and also ease back into writing creatively again.
Happy reading – or bon appetit!
INVISIBLE BOYS: THE MENU
Anna Calogero’s Traditional Sicilian Potato Salad
How dare those Skips try to put mayonnaise in a goddamn potato salad? This traditional dish is the same Italian recipe handed down by the women in your family since the 1930s and it is not going to change now just because of some Aussie tart pushing her way into your family. This refreshing salad includes peas, red onions and eight litres of olive oil. A versatile dish, it will simultaneously please the palate and, when paired with a hearty spray of Lynx Africa, can competently mask the odour of unexpected bodily fluids in the kitchen bin.
Charlie Roth’s Gummy Shark & Chips
This simple, classic Aussie favourite doesn’t need cutlery or crockery, much in the same way that you don’t need anyone else in your life because they’re all phonies anyway so fuck ‘em. Salty and satisfying, this dish is perfect for hot February nights on the Geraldton foreshore before you dip into the Indian Ocean for a swim, or lurk by the wharf to cruise men for anonymous sex.
Natalie Wright’s Tiramisu
So your Italian mother-in-law hates you, but that’s no reason to stop trying to change her mind. Instead of bringing around your usual pavlova, spice things up by making your own version of the one dessert she prides herself on. Moist, creamy and soaked in liqueur, it definitely won’t trigger her defensive tendencies or remind her of how you’ve swanned in and usurped all influence over her son. Buon appetito!
Matt Jones’s BBQ Snags
Who says the gays need to be known for delicate baked goods and effete brunches? Be true to you and embrace your retrosexual masculinity by treating your Valentine’s Day date to a hearty slab of your meat. Best cooked with plenty of ventilation to ensure just the right amount of smoky barbequed richness. Pairs well with a Bushchook or eight. For added Northampton flair, surprise your beau with snags made of native Aussie meat and wait to see how long it takes him to notice.
Zeke Calogero’s Gnocchi in Traditional Sugo
Perhaps these potatoes wanted to end their lives rolled into lumpy gnocchi, perhaps they would have preferred to be French fries, but the existential anthropomorphism you try to project onto them doesn’t detract from how deliciously filling they are in your belly. A staple of the Sicilian peasant diet, these hearty dumplings are enriched by a homemade Italian tomato sauce: just because you can’t squeeze a drop of goddamn empathy out of your rigid Catholic parents, doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze some ripe tomatoes to form a zesty and herby condiment. Bellissimo!
Kade “Hammer” Hammersmith’s Onion Rings á la Bilby’s Burgers
Nothing says “self-sabotage” like interrupting your closely-monitored diet of protein shakes, creatine and BCAAs with a greasy post-footy feed from Bilby’s Burgers. Whether you’re dining in or sequestering a lover away in your brother’s ute, these crunchy, beer-battered onion rings are the perfect, masculine accompaniment to your 100% Aussie Beef burger from Bilby’s. Do your best not to tell your date how you wonder if your dick would fit through the middle of the onion rings. Best served with aioli, or any other salty white sauce.
(PS. Did you really think this post wouldn’t end up where it did? :P)
I feel like I won’t know how I feel right now until I look back a decade from now when I’m 41 years old (or maybe still 29 ;)) and I have some distance from this whirlwind and I can appreciate that really in the scheme of the industry I was only ever a small fish with a book that was an indie hit for a few months and then maybe it will stall maybe it or I will flail or sink and in a decade none of this or me will even matter to anyone at all or maybe it will get even bigger than that even bigger than it is now and maybe it will launch rockets from here hurl me up into the stars like that ambitious fucker Orion
I kinda hope it does no who am I fucken kidding of course I want it to get bigger its like when they interviewed me on that podcast after I won the Hungerford and the bloke asked me “what’s your goal in life, Holden?” and I said “world domination” and he laughed and I looked him square in the eye and said “but I’m really not joking”
yes I want bigger I want enough money to live off I want to be able to focus just on writing I want to not be transferring money between my accounts so I can afford red rooter for tea or fuel for my shitbox Commodore I want to be not stressing about paying the rent or fixing my car or can I really afford this massage of course I can’t afford any massage it’s all beyond my station in life but sometimes it feels good to say fuck it all what’s the point of any of this if I can’t feel good every now and then
and I don’t know how to put up more boundaries than I already have I feel intruded upon constantly but that’s what you get for putting yourself out there so vulnerable it’s like you can’t stop yourself it’s vulnerability porn really and eventually I know someone is gonna get sick of it and me and say I’m old news and I’m beating a dead horse flogging flogging and what else do I really have to offer other than baring my flayed skin for everyone?
fuck I live for the attention my ego loves it and I try to tell people I am Hammer I am a cocky arrogant dickhead and nobody seems to properly believe it but I am (but you seem so down to earth! But you’re helping people to process their arcane trauma they shoved down for three decades!) well I’ve been deep in the earth my whole life I’ve rolled in the dirt I’ve tried to hide myself in the soil I’ve soiled myself to survive the scrutiny of being so different so fucken different and so yes I know how to be down to earth and yes I’m self-deprecating to the point where it’s not funny anymore and I do have the pain I have all the pain in the world I have my own and I have yours and anything you have felt in your deepest darkest most alone most depressed most suicidal most dissociated I have felt too I understand you (even if we haven’t met, haven’t spoken, and we don’t need to) I have kept my pain and siphoned it out of my body I decanted the poison out of my blood and it’s outside of me now and you read it and now we see each other
and everyone sees me now and it is like glare like stepping out of a thirty-year dungeon into the brightest sunrise I feel like all I’ve done for the last month (the last year!) is blink and blink and try to get my eyes to adjust but it’s always getting brighter too bright and a little part of me wouldn’t mind crawling back into the dungeon for a bit of rest but I can’t rest the way I used to rest I can’t sleep I can’t switch off I can’t think straight I can’t eat right I can’t get into a routine because I’m driving and flying and I’m always ON which I’ll gladly do a thousand times not just to sell myself (like on a street corner) but so that telling this story helps you not do what I nearly did – I want to help you save you rescue and protect which is too much for anyone to take on but fuck it I’ll try and if I can help you process the nightmare you barely breathed through then that will make it all worthwhile and god knows I live for the attention my whole life is thunder and I live for validation and acknowledgement and I live for the applause applause applause but sometimes when I get it I shrink and think “why the fuck are all these people being nice to someone as shit as me? I’m a fucking arsehole!” and some days I can’t handle a single further word of praise and other days I’ll fall apart if I don’t get it we artists really are a unique brand of needy boofheads
and some days I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I hear from people who went through the same as me (decades apart or minutes apart) or something goes well like the morning I found out we were going into reprint after just 7 days on sale and I stepped out of my mate’s shower in Richmond, Victoria and dried my Mohawk with his spare towel and then clutched the bathroom sink to hold myself up as I collapsed into a fit of sobs realising oh my fucking God I’m not a failure anymore after 23 years of trying my guts out and being a loser being THE loser that everyone sneered at and said “oh, how’s that writing going lol?” I have finally made this shit work and it was guttural sobs of joy and relief and arrival with my tears splashing on the slate-grey tiles of his modern Melbourne apartment while I listened to ‘I can go the distance’ from Hercules and I realised I had actually gone the distance
and I’m not ashamed of it I’m not ashamed of anything no shame no sacred cows no fucks shall be given because I am good and I am mine and I’m not even ashamed of writing a stream-of-consciousness on a Friday night when I should be (partying? Socialising? Fucking my husband?) but instead I am here putting words on a digital page because when I don’t write I get sick and I haven’t written a word for too long now and so don’t worry this isn’t me being sick in front of you, this is medicine probably the best medicine i have known
This month on my author interview series Holden’s Heroes, I chat with the latest writer friend I’ve cornered and blackmailed invited to share their craft: author, editor and doctoral student Rebecca Freeman. I’ll be asking her the tough, intelligent questions, like how does she manage to do so much with a cat sitting obstinately in front of her keyboard.
Let’s dive in and find out more!
Holden’s Heroes ~ September 2019
Holden: Rebecca Freeman, welcome to my house! Don’t mind the cans of diet coke all over the patio – that’s just the fallout from when Lana Pecherczyk came to visit. I’m not supposed to mention this, but she also stayed for a cheeky gin. What a wild child.
Rebecca: Oh please. I live with an Adam, our four children, dog, cats and chooks. This is nothing. I’ll just move the nail polish and tin of supplement and sit myself down here on this milk crate.
H: Classic me, painting my nails punk style while making my protein shake, ha! Anyway, Bec, welcome to trashville, population me and my husband. Now let’s start with the most exciting news first: your brand new novella Alt-Ctrlis a dystopian story and it’s hitting our shelves on Monday, 30 September! Tell me, what’s it all about?
R: OMG I KNOW. I can’t quite believe it. September 30th seemed like such a long time away when I was discussing it with my publisher and now it’s nearly here! So Alt-Ctrl is set in Australia in the near future, and centres around a young woman, Finn. She lives in an enclosed City, which is one of the few safe places to live since the climate collapsed. Outside the City are the Badlands, and Finn has grown up hearing all kinds of stories about the people who eke out a living there, suffering from radiation poisoning and starvation. But as it turns out, the stories weren’t true, and there might be more to fear from within the City than there is without.
H: It’s such a great premise and flips the classic dystopian setup around. Where did the idea to write something dystopian come from? The cli-fi aspect seems to be relevant currently, what with the way the world is going and the recent global climate strike. What inspired you to write this novella?
R: Well, weirdly, the story itself was inspired by losing access to a blogging platform I used and it made me think about how connected we are to the online community, and how it can feel like you’re completely cut off if that drops away.
H: This would actually have such an impact – so many creative careers would be poleaxed without access to blogs and social media! Including my own probably *sad cough*. What about the plot?
R: The plot came to me in a dream! It was one of those times when you wake up from a dream and write it down and the next morning it actually makes sense, unlike most of the time when you wake up the next morning and see that you’ve written ‘Sliced oranges’ or something equally confounding.
H: So many writers I know have done this, and it’s usually even less coherent than ‘sliced oranges’.
R: I later wrote a short story called ‘And then it rained’ which was published in an anthology of Asian-Pacific Speculative Fiction (called Amok). And the characters really stayed with me, and so I started writing a story which featured them, and that turned into Alt-Ctrl. But cli-fi in general, I love it so much, because I think it’s an example of how incredibly powerful fiction can be in affecting change in subtle ways, you know, without being too preachy. We change our minds because of stories, and now more than ever we need a shift in perspective, a way of finding new solutions. From what I read about how your writing impacts people’s lives, I imagine you can probably understand that too.
H: Yes, I totally get it, and that’s something that drives me in terms of opening up new conversations without preaching – letting the art do the talking. I’m sure your novella will do the same as it’s so pertinent to what we’re facing globally at the moment. I love the boldness of the cover of Alt-Ctrl. I remember from our chats a few months ago that this wasn’t the original title. Can you talk about your process in choosing the right fit for the novella’s title, and why you chose this one?
R: Thanks, I love it too! But ugh, don’t talk to me about titles. I haaaaate titles. Hate them! If it were up to me, I’d call them ‘Story A’, ‘Story B’… haha. But I guess that’s not very interesting. You’re right though. Alt-Ctrl was Collapse the whole time I was writing it, and then at the end, I sat down and brainstormed with my publisher and Adam and we came up with this, and then I thought, ‘Yes, that’s it.’
H: The title immediately tells us we’re dealing with spec fic, I reckon – nice work. Now, you’ve also had some other wins recently, with your novella pitch to the Drowned Earth competition shortlisted. How did it feel to get that recognition of the quality of your work, and what’s happening with that project currently?
R: That was so great! As you know, both Mike [author Michael Trant] and I were shortlisted for this competition which was fantastic – it’s awesome to share that sort of thing with your friends. It also sparked a new story and to be considered for the shortlist, I had to write a synopsis and the introduction, so now I have the beginning of the story. I’d love to get back to it, and I’ve got a notebook with a few thousand words in it, but obviously there are only so many hours in the day!
H: And from where I’m sitting, I’m pretty sure you are using literally every one of those hours already! You’re incredibly busy and productive, as you’re also completing your PhD through Curtin University. What’s your thesis on?
R: Yeah, so I’m doing a creative PhD, which means I need to produce a creative project and then a short thesis of about 30,000 words.
H: *hears distant screaming of people wondering how 30,000 could be short*
R: I’m writing a steampunk novel as my creative project and both that and the thesis are focusing on how steampunk explores colonisation, and how it portrays nature and technology. The setting of the novel is here in Albany in the late 1800s but it’s obviously quite a different place. I’m really enjoying playing with an alternative world and weaving in some of the real-world problems and conflicts during that time. Even the research is interesting. Did you know that we had a massive depression in the 1890s?
H: Somehow, yes, I did. I can’t remember most of high school but I do remember that we had an economic depression in the 1890s. Go figure.
R: And did you know that in 1893 the Australian Federal Bank failed?! So incredible.
H: I didn’t know about that! I guess knowing the fine details makes you such a great editor, which is my brilliant segue to my next question, because you also work as a freelance editor! How does that experience differ from the creative writing process and is it difficult to switch between the two?
R: It actually balances out really well. When editing, I’m in a different mindset, I think. It’s more methodical, more critical. You can’t approach writing in that way – at least not when you’re doing the first or second drafts – or you’ll get totally bogged down in the details. But it always surprises me how I still need to draw on creativity when I edit, because I have to phrase my feedback in a way which is helpful and constructive. I’m glad I get to do both, though. I think being an editor helps my writing, and that could be simply due to the fact that it requires lots of reading, and that’s always good for writers to do.
H: I think Laurie Steed told me something about that once – and if he didn’t, he totally could have, because he’s also both an editor and a writer, and his writing is exceptionally well constructed. Now, being an editor, you must see a lot of rough-looking drafts from writers before you work your magic on them. What are some of the most common mistakes you see and what can writers do to improve their work?
R: Most of the time writers have done a great job with the manuscripts they send me, and I’ve been so amazed at the incredible stories I get to read. Occasionally I’ll get something which really is a draft, and I have actually sent some back to the writer, to tell them that their story is not ready to edit yet. So I guess my advice would be to not be in too much of a hurry. When you finish a draft, let it rest for a bit. Leave it at least a few weeks before you go back to it and read it again – and that time can really give you some perspective.
H: Totes agree on letting manuscripts rest! Speaking of rest (someone is going to scream at me for this segues soon) but – when and how do you rest, because as if being a writer, editor and doctoral student wasn’t enough, you’re also raising a family of four. Now, I can barely take care of myself, so forgive the cliché question, but how on earth do you manage your time?
R: Oh, I just leave a massive bowl of fruit in the kitchen and leave them to it! Haha, just kidding! (Well, sort of. They do eat a lot of fruit.) But having lots to do is fun for me. I generally thrive on it. I mean, there are days – like today, in fact – when I’ve barely had time to eat, but those are few and far between. Most of the time it’s about managing my time well while the kids are away at school or asleep. That’s why getting up early is really good for me. Now that they’re all starting to sleep in, I can get a good chunk of work done in the mornings. As for everything else, I recommend menu planning and a large diary to write everything down!
H: I’m taking notes that I 100% know I will not follow, because my career is so tightly managed that my personal/home life is a tyre fire and I don’t see that changing haha. Sidebar to anything writery, I grew up in a family of six kids and loved it because there were always people around and plenty of noise. Do you find that’s a great environment to write in, or do you prefer to quarantine some quiet time and space for yourself to get work done?
R: I need the quiet. I do love being in a household full of people – on weekends we often have extra kids coming and going, and it gives me a sense of contentment that our kids like being at home and that their friends like visiting them here. When I grew up it was often just me and my parents as my siblings were a lot older, so having a busy house is different from my childhood, but not in a bad way. Still, when we moved here a few years ago, we worked out that we could convert the enclosed verandah into a study for me, and recently we put up bookshelves and most importantly a LOCKABLE DOOR. Since I work at home, there have definitely been some BBC-Dad moments.
H: That is one of my favourite memes ever, and I love that you’ve been able to live that moment yourself haha – hopefully while not on live TV though! I have major envy looking at your beautiful home study. Now, you live in the rugged and beautiful town of Albany, on Western Australia’s southern coast. What is your experience of being a writer in a regional town, and do you feel there are some services and opportunities you miss out on being in a more isolated location than the metro area?
R: I adore living here. I grew up on a farm near a tiny town only a few hours drive from here, so moving down here was like coming home. And sure, there are some things I know I miss out on, like writers’ festivals and events. It’s very different meeting people in person and going to talks or conventions, that kind of thing, and it can be frustrating that we don’t get that as much in regional or remote communities, although of course I understand why. Saying that, I’ve found a vibrant writing and arts community here, and I belong to two writers’ groups. The library is also outstanding in its support of local artists and writers, and I’m working with some other local people to bring a writers’ festival to Albany in 2020.
H: Agree with Albany Library being amazing – they’re bringing me down to Albany in November for an author talk and I can’t wait – I’ve never visited. Great news about the potential for an Albany writers festival in 2020 – go you. Does this mean you’ll have to put some other projects on hold to make that happen, or will you still be writing new stuff?
R: I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time but as you can imagine, I’m not doing very well with that. Now that Alt-Ctrl is finished, I’m probably going to try and focus on my PhD. But I have a magic realism novel which I’ve written about 20K of, and a cosy crime series which I’m plotting out, and then there’s that Drowned Earth novella idea I mentioned earlier … well, you know how it is. I have a very long ‘to-write’ list!
H: To-write lists are both exciting and stressful as hell. Speaking of hell, it’s sometimes hellish to get up at 5am, and yet we both aim to do this by being in the #5amwritersclub (best segue ever). I feel like you’re one of the most committed in terms of checking in with the rest of us each morning and trying to make us accountable.
R: Aw, thank you! It’s probably less about commitment and more about procrastination! But I think since I work at home and also with the isolation of living in the country, it’s really helpful to have that online accountability. I have deadlines for work and but when it comes to writing, I need to say to someone, ‘I have to do 1000 words by tonight’ or ‘I have to finish this chapter by the end of the week’, and it motivates me to do it because I’ve told other people.
H: What made you join the club, and what made you stay?
R: When Lana [Pecherczyk] started posting the hashtag and suggested getting up early to write, I thought it was something which would help me carve out the time. And as for what made me stay, well, it’s everything: the camaraderie, the support, the laughs, the friendship. It’s such a cool group and I’m honestly blessed to be part of it.
H: Agree. It’s great finding fellow writers to hang with, celebrate with, commiserate with. Is that the advice you would give to new writers who are just starting out?
R: Yes. Find your people. They can be online or in person, it doesn’t matter! I think we consider writing to be a very solitary activity and it’s true that you have to get the words down on your own. I reckon any art needs to be created in solitude, because that gives you opportunity to reflect, but as artists we also need to live in the world, you know? So find those people in the world who will support you, who’ll give you feedback. You know, to celebrate the wins and lift you up from the rejections. It’s kind of lonely, otherwise!
H: Great note to finish on. Rebecca Freeman, thanks for coming over to my place – it was awesome to get to know you better. Care for a drink or two? What’s your poison?
R: I had a great time, thanks for inviting me! I’m not a drinker, as you know, but I brought some lemon balm and peppermint from my garden. Thought I’d make us all a pot of herbal tea.
H: Ah, music to my ears! I love lemon and I totally dig peppermint tea. I’ll chuck the billy on.
R: Oh, and can I tempt you with some homemade brownies? It’s cheat day, right?
H: I’m going to have a little cry at the prospect of tomorrow’s carb bloat, and then eat a brownie anyway, because if there’s a brownie involved, it’s always cheat day.
~ Social Media Links ~
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the wonderful Rebecca Freeman. She’s a solid friend to have, and a big supporter of others on her social media, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:
I’m about to set off on the book tour in support of my own novel, Invisible Boys, which is released on 1 October (four days away) but Holden’s Heroes will return soon with another interview with a local WA author – stay tuned. Until then, thanks for visiting! 😉
This is a day, and a cause, close to my heart because of what I went through growing up.
Getting help for feeling depressed and suicidal is something I have *never* regretted. As a man, it made me feel stronger, not weaker, to tackle my problems head-on by getting support. And it made me want to keep living. 💪💪
I say this in particular because male suicide rates are triple those of female suicide rates. Triple! And even worse for men who are gay, bi, trans or intersex, or who are indigenous, or who live in rural areas, or who are elderly. Instead of seeking support or help when we’re in crisis, us guys often stop talking, shut down and isolate ourselves. I want to help others but particularly boys and men know that talking about how we feel is a source of strength, not a source of weakness. Learning how to be vulnerable and manage our emotions will literally save our own lives. Showing our mates that it’s okay to be like this will help save theirs.
I wanted to share two things with you all today.
Firstly, I wrote a new article for my publisher Fremantle Press about my own experiences with mental health issues and suicide and how this led to my decision to become an ambassador for suicide prevention organisation Lifeline WA. If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14. These guys are absolute legends. 🙌🙌
Secondly, on a slightly more personal level, I want to share a song I came across when I was bleakly suicidal at the age of 18/19.
The song is “Joining You” by Alanis Morissette. This song was the one that blew my mind, that helped start to pivot me around to rethinking whether death was the best option, because it didn’t just say “don’t kill yourself, dude” or “life is worth living” or anything generic or meaningless.
It said, “Well, if I saw the world the way you’re seeing the world right now, I’d be joining you. I’d kill myself, too. But, this isn’t what the world is. You’re seeing it wrong. You aren’t your body, your culture, your future, your denials, your emotions, your afflictions, their condemnations. These things are not you and you’re more than any of them, and none of them are worth taking your life over.” The underlying message being, effectively, fuck everything that’s hurt you, and live anyway.
I’ve always found this song helpful – to getting through those moments of suicidal ideation, and also to processing the resultant trauma and shame of having those feelings in the many years since.
Big love to you if you’re struggling atm or if someone you know is struggling. Seriously, reach out, even anonymously. It makes it much easier to breathe once you tell someone else how you feel. You can always call Lifeline on 13 11 14, too.
Lyrics to “Joining You” by Alanis Morissette (1998):
dear dar(lin’) your mom (my friend) left a message on my machine she was frantic saying you were talking crazy that
you wanted to do away with yourself I guess she thought i’d be a perfect resort because we’ve had this inexplicable connection since our youth
and yes they’re in shock they are panicked you and your chronic them and their drama you this embarrassment us in the middle of this delusion
if we were our bodies
if we were our futures
if we were our defenses i’d be joining you
if we were our culture
if we were our leaders
if we were our denials i’d be joining you
I remember vividly a day years ago we were camping you knew more than you thought you should know you said “I don’t want ever to be brainwashed”
and you were mindboggling you were intense you were uncomfortable in your own skin you were thirsty but mostly you were beautiful
if we were our nametags
if we were our rejections
if we were our outcomes i’d be joining you
if we were our indignities
if we were our successes
if we were our emotions i’d be joining you
you and I we’re like 4 year olds we want to know why and how come about everything we want to reveal ourselves at will and speak our minds
and never talk small and be intuitive and question mightily and find god my tortured beacon we need to find like-minded companions
if we were their condemnations
if we were their projections
if we were our paranoias i’d be joining you
if we were our incomes
if we were our obsession
if we were our afflictions i’d be joining you
we need reflection we need a really good memory feel free to call me a little more often
So pumped to share the latest chapter in my author interview series, Holden’s Heroes.
This series focuses on fellow writers from my #5amwritersclub, and this month I’m stoked to be chatting to the woman who started all the #5amwritersclub craziness here in Perth. This month’s reluctant blackmailee technically consenting participant is my friend Lana Pecherczyk – an author whose work spans multiple genres, but almost always involves sexy heroes, thrilling action and kickass heroines. Lana also describes herself as a big fan of ‘pro-caffeinating’.
Let’s dive in and find out more!
Holden’s Heroes ~ August 2019
Holden: Lana Pechercyzk, welcome to my house! Don’t mind the cans of pre-mix whisky and cola all over the patio – that’s just me failing to clean up after Alicia Tuckerman came to visit. Anyway, welcome to my crib.
Lana: Thanks for having me here, Holden. And I don’t mind a bit of mess. In my opinion, it’s a sign of a creative person. Well, at least that’s what I tell my husband!
H: I’m going to start claiming this, too – although my husband is also a creative, so we’re just screwed. Now, tell me about your writing: you write both urban fantasy and paranormal romance. What is it that attracts you to these genres, both as a reader and as a writer?
L: The action, the magic, the romance. Basically, it’s those three things that you’ll find in most of my work. I’ve always been a huge fan of the paranormal, and if I have to pick a movie to watch, it’s always got to have heart pounding action and suspense. When I grew up, firstly, I didn’t have a TV for many years, so I lived through the character’s lives in books. As I got older, we had a TV, but I had to share it with five other kids. In the end, I preferred the adventures in my books.
H: I’m hearing you about the growing up with lots of other kids around – why compromise when you can have the book world all to yourself, right? Speaking of, your own book world is impressive: you’re incredibly prolific as an author – seeing how many books you’ve already published is absolutely staggering and also makes me want to weep with envy as a fellow author. What’s your secret?
L: Well, I wasn’t always a prolific writer. It took me three years to write my first book, and I redrafted it eleven times. With every book, I get faster and better. The secret is to keep going. Don’t look back. As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” So keep writing.
H: Maybe a more pragmatic question for me to ask should be what’s your process that enables you to achieve such a great rate of output?
L: Don’t freak out and don’t read your reviews. After the first novel, I freaked out. I thought it would fly off the shelves. I thought everyone would LOVE IT! Of course, it dribbled off the shelves. I took it hard and spent the next two years not writing anything!
Then I met some amazing authors at RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) and learned that’s just the writing business. Most authors in Australia make a poor income. If I wanted to actually make more money, I had to push myself. Treat the writing as a business, and turn up Monday to Friday, nine to five. I block my writing in a schedule (I don’t always keep it, but I try) and I put that schedule up on the wall where I’ll see it daily. I also have some great friends who push me and encourage me. I think you’re familiar with the #5amwritersclub on Twitter, Holden 😉
H: I am indeed – in fact, we’re both part of the club, though let’s face it, we don’t always wake up on time. What made you join the club, and what made you stay?
L: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I think I was one of the first in Perth to use the hashtag (in relation to our little group).
H: I was aware you were one of the early adopters, but I didn’t know you were the one to blame for all the early starts I’ve inflicted upon myself this past 18 months, ha!
L: I was on one of my writing binges (deadline looming) and was a bit lonely that time of morning. I got up early to beat my kids before they wake for the day, used the hashtag (when I should have been writing) and Louise Allan was up and noticed. She joined in and then we found more Perthites, and more. Don’t you just love social media?
H: I remember you all ganging up on me and saying I had to join you. I have to be honest – I really didn’t want to. I felt like waking up at 5am would be hideous. But when I saw how many of you there were I was like “these could be my people”. And the desire to find my tribe was stronger than the desire to sleep in. I don’t regret this at all, now, even if I struggle to check in all the time.
L: I must admit, that lately I’ve been drowning a bit in other jobs and responsibilities, so getting to the group isn’t always easy, but that’s the great thing about the friendly group of writers… you can just drop in any time, and everyone is very welcoming. Find your tribe! And if you can’t, jump onto someone else’s. Another great hashtag on Twitter is #amwriting.
H: Finding your tribe needs to be one of the things we tell other writers more often, I reckon! Okay, let’s talk about your Paranormal Romance series, The Deadly Seven. You’ve released three books in this series already, as well as a novella. What was the inspiration for this book series, and what can readers expect next?
L: This is the first series I’ve gone, you know what? I actually LOVE superheroes, and I LOVE romance! I wish there was story behind Lois Lane and Clark Kent. You watch the movies, and you see the pivotal influence the love interest has on these heroes, but we never really give credence to it. That’s what I wanted to do. And I amplified it tenfold in TheDeadly Seven.
The inspiration for the type of heroes came from the words “deadly sin” and I just thought one day, wouldn’t it be funny if they were actually deadly? Then that sparked the entire series plot around genetically modified heroes who are created to defeat deadly sin in the crime drenched cities.
Usually I get my ideas from songs, believe it or not, so this was a bit different.
H: I really love your inspiration about them being *actually* deadly – what a cool concept. I think there’s a perception that Paranormal Romance refers solely to Twilight and vampire stories of that ilk. Have you come up against pre-conceived notions of your genre previously and how do you tackle this?
L: I have a bad habit of writing between the genres. I don’t stick solely to one, and it’s hard to market my work. But I swear I’m getting better at this with each series. I think you get these sort of confusing comments from readers when you haven’t marketed your book in the correct genre, and you haven’t managed expectations. It’s important to let readers know in the blurb, and with your cover, what story they’ll be reading. I’m very clear that my new series is a superhero romance, so that I don’t get any hardcore superhero fans reading it and complaining that there’s kissing scenes in there. Lol.
H: I’m thinking of that moment in The Princess Bride. Is this a kissing book?
L: If you do get some strange comments, then I think it’s important to take a look at your branding, and work out whether you were throwing out a mixed message. If you’re clear, then, my advice is to ignore it. Sometimes haters just gonna hate.
H: Agree. The other main genre you write in is you also write Urban Fantasy, with your The Game of Gods What’s the best part about writing fun, action-driven stories like these and how does it differ from your romance novels? Less kissing?
L: Okay, so both my series have crazy amounts of action in them. The difference with the romance ones is that they spend a little more time on the relationship. When I write and read these scenes, I feel as though I’m in the thick of the action. My brain fires better! If only I could have that amount of clarity all day.
I actually find fight scenes and love scenes don’t differ too much. When you drill down to the basic core reasons for these scenes, you find the best fight and love scenes both get your heart racing, both should only be in the story if they move the plot forward, and both have crazy amounts of tension, and both start with characters wanting two very different things. It’s just a different kind of battle *winky winky*.
H: Battle … now there’s a new euphemism for me to use for it, haha. You also have another book out called Robin Lockslay, which is described as a fun, gender-bending twist on the evergreen Robin Hood story. I’ve noticed the enormous popularity of fairytale retellings over this past decade. What’s the appeal of revisiting these very old stories and giving them a modern twist?
L: This was so much fun to write and I will get back to it. I’ve been getting rapped over the knuckles by a writer friend who’s helping me stay on one genre track. Fairytale retellings are not only a familiar story for the reader, but familiar for the writer. You’ve got a guideline to follow, and creating characters and plots completely from scratch isn’t needed. The story comes easier.
H: There’s also that concept of having an pre-prepared audience: if people like that particular fairytale, they’re more likely to pick it up, right?
L: Readers like to relive their favourite characters over and over. I think that’s the beauty of retellings. You get to do it all again, but a little bit different.
H: You’ve been incredibly prolific and are having a lot of success as an indie author. What’s it like being an indie author and how do you manage your time between creative practice and admin and marketing duties?
L: Aw thanks. I wish I was super successful money wise, but I think I’m on the right track. As long as I keep consistently putting out work, I’ll build a loyal readership. With managing my time, I’ve learned by trial and error. Always learn! Never believe you know everything. The writer that does that will be the writer to fail.
I’ve learned about my own process. I know that if I stop, get distracted, or don’t have a deadline … I just find other things to fill my time. So, I block in my writing first. Then I limit myself to only a certain amount of freelance or book cover design hours a day. Getting out of the house, and away from the internet and design computer has been the best tip I’ve received to keep my writing on track. I like to go to a cafe, sit in the same booth, put my headphones in and listen to the same piano music of pop songs, and then write. When I don’t get out of the house and go to writing “work”, I inevitably get distracted.
H: Distraction is the devil! But some distractions – like socialising with other writers – can be beneficial. You’ve previously been involved with the Romance Writers’ Association of Australia in a committee role, and recently went to their annual conference in Melbourne. Tell me, what is the importance of writing organisations like the RWA and how has being involved helped you?
L: RWA helped me find my tribe. Writing is a solitary gig. It’s lonely and also one of the industries where you really need that feedback from peers – even if it’s a friendly bit of encouragement. And writers love to talk about writing. I don’t know about you, but I find that my non-writer friends (and family) quickly became fatigued with all my writing talk when I first started.
H: Oh man, yes, this exactly. I used to talk about my writing to my non-writer mates and family and a small few of them would listen, but most would look at me like, ‘Shut up. I don’t care.’ And it’s true. They really, really don’t care and most of them don’t get why we want or need to talk about it. And yet we listen to them talk about their jobs, but hey, that’s a bitter tangent for another day, haha.
L: But your writer friends will listen to you drivel on and on FOREVER! It’s amazing.
H: Agree. Tribe stuff again.
L: When I first joined RWA, I didn’t know anyone (naturally) so I put up my hand to volunteer. It’s the best way to network, be helpful and to learn from the best. I highly recommend it. You only need to write romantic elements to become a member. You don’t have to write full on romance. The organisation is open to many people.
Plus, if you meet a group of friends, it’s a business meeting and you can claim it on tax. True story. (Insert witty reference to consulting your accountant for official advice here!)
H: Consult your accountant for accurate tax advice, please, readers! So, Lana, we’ve so far talked about your writing, but you also work as an illustrator and design your own book covers. I love your covers, not just because they feature hot guys, but because the artwork is really damn cool. Did you study drawing or is this something you’ve nurtured yourself? Do you do commissions, or just prefer to draw for yourself?
L: The hot guys really make it! Would you believe I still get embarrassed when I create them? I can’t believe I write romance sometimes! Lol.
Here’s a story for you. When I studied Fine Art and Fashion Design (these are just a few of the subjects I studied when I should have been writing), and I had a nude life drawing class, I would leave the butts for last. They had to be perfect every time! My teacher would always give me stick for it, and I never even knew I was doing that until he pointed it out in front of the whole class. “Lana, why do you save the butts for last?”
H: You have no idea how happy I am that we’ve ended up talking about butts, Lana. This is totally on-brand for me.
L: Anyway… that’s enough about butts. Yes, I studied art. I never believed I was good enough to write. That little voice inside me said I had to be a fantastic literaty (see? I don’t even know the right word there), but eventually I gave it a shot, and I discovered a huge factor in successful writing – it’s not always about the words, but the feelings.
H: Totally agree – I’m personally drawn to writing that evokes emotions effectively rather than writing that is technically beautiful and literary but doesn’t move me. Speaking of being moved by things, your bio paraphrases the English theme song of Sailor Moon, which is just awesome. Are you a big fan of Sailor Moon and has this or other anime influenced your writing?
L: Sailor Moon is my boo! She got me through the tough times of my mother and grandfather passing away when I was younger. She fights for love and justice. As a young girl growing up, I think it was important to see a good female role model. She was the kick-ass savior, not the man (Tuxedo Mask), although he does make a gratuitous appearance every episode to give her a little bit of supportive encouragement. Lol. As you can see, big Sailor Moon fan. I also loved many of the old school anime.
H: I feel you and my husband would get along well – he’s a big Sailor Moon fan. I used to dig it too, back in the day. Now, the first time we met in real life was at the West Coast Fiction Festival in November last year. What do you enjoy about days like that when you get to meet readers face to face and sign their books?
L: I love chatting to people, readers and writers. These events are great for meeting both. There’s nothing like talking to a reader who loves your book. It gives you a real boost, and sometimes, just one letter or email, can give you the fuel to write for weeks. I think these events are just as much about the readers as the writers. And I loved meeting you! You have such energy, I’m sure you’ll be the life of your book signings this year!
H: You’re too kind. *bounces off the walls* I can’t wait to have people read my book and actually tell me what they enjoyed. How about you – what’s your favourite thing that someone has said about one of your books?
L: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I love it when they say they couldn’t sleep because they had to stay up and read to find out what happened next, and next, and next! I also love it when they fall in love with my heroes. That means I’ve done my job to make them realistic and full of depth. To be honest, I love it when any reader contacts me. I’m lucky that I haven’t had the dreaded author hate mail yet, so fingers crossed I stay away from that.
H: Long may your inbox remain hater-free. So what are you working on next?
L: I’m currently working on my fourth book in my Deadly Seven series. It’s called Sloth and focuses on one of the two female heroes of the group. Being so heavily dominated by men, she’s dealing with a lot of self-pressure to perform at their level. I love to layer in real topics through my books, so it’s not all smash, grabs and stabs. And of course, being affected by the sin of sloth is another battle she has to win. I have eight books in this series planned, all about 70-80K words. Hopefully I’ll get the rest out next year.
H: I am seriously so impressed with how quickly you can write!
L: I’m also polishing a romantic comedy called Hate Expectations. It’s something I wrote a few years back when I was confused over what genre to target. Rather than letting it sit in the drawer, I’m going to get it ready to see the world. That’s the beauty of indie publishing!
H: Yes, it really is. Trad publishing is far more glacial – even once a manuscript is accepted for publication, it can be 12-24 months before it hits the shelves. Indie publishing gives you more control in that respect. Okay, we’re down to my final question: what advice would you give to new writers who are just starting on their journey?
L: Don’t read your reviews. I think I mentioned this before, but if you’re the kind of person who is affected by reviews, don’t read them. It’s an irrational thing for me. I know sometimes the review is wonderful, I still have trouble distancing myself from my story. I can’t explain it, but I know that I get massive imposter syndrome, and self doubt. So, for me, the easiest thing is to just stay away from that section of Amazon and Goodreads.
H: I’ve heard this from so many authors – to stay away from Goodreads – but I don’t think anyone has managed to do it successfully yet. Not entirely, anyway.
L: The second thing is: the minute you finish one book, write the next book. Don’t stop to market it. Do the marketing while you’re writing the next book. The longer you wait between books, the harder it is to get back into it.
Thirdly, hire an editor. If you’re just starting out, hire an editor to whip that first manuscript into shape. Every time I think I’ve written the best book, my editor will come up with ten ways to make it better (often more!) You learn better when you hae an editor, and unless you’re JK Rowling, you can always learn to be better. (Her name is Ann Harth, and she’s currently open to new business. Look her up!)
H: Solid advice – all authors need our editors to not just save our arses from rogue typos, but also craft our narratives into more compelling stories. Lana Pecherczyk, thanks for coming over to my place – it was awesome to get to know you better. Care for a drink or two?
L: Oooh, don’t mind if I do.
H: What’s your poison?
L: I’ll have the Diet Coke, thanks. And maybe a gin on the quiet, but not Coke and gin together. That’s gross.
H: I’ll keep your cheeky gin quiet. It’s just between you and me, and all the people on the Internet reading this, haha. ^_^
L: Thanks for having me, Holden. I love your work and enthusiasm. I think you’ll do amazing things with that attitude and I wish you all the best.
H: Ah, cheers bud. Means a lot and I’m really touched. Thanks for agreeing to the chat!
L: Next time you can come to my place. Just watch the land mines from the dog, and lost Lego from the kids. Peace out!
H: Floor lego! My old nemesis!
~ Social Media Links ~
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the lovely Lana Pecherczyk. She’s a force to be reckoned with in the world of Aussie paranormal romance, and she’s great to interact with on the socials, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow:
Your penitentiary life bunks in a dormitory suburb,
hopes mortgaged and remortgaged,
until you owe yourself too much.
When volcanoes are dormant they say they’re only sleeping.
Couldn’t erupt if you tried: your molten rage all cooled to stone
retaining walls that hold three-by-twos together;
hold you in like a final breath.
The cottage blocks get smaller each year, each subdivision
Contracting in a gasp
Like shrink-wrap over your open mouth.
Until you’re suffocating behind perspex vistas of tumbleweed streets
Dream homes rising like tombstones on traffic-calmed asphalt.
Don’t you ever want to throw the door open?
Race! / Run! / Thrash!
Wake the dead with a fire alarm guitar
Tear your wound open in the local park
Make lights blink on, silhouettes illuminate thresholds, heads tilt
As their neighbour bleeds on astroturf
Dying, but relieved
Finally: skin in this bloodless game.
– Holden Sheppard
Well, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to check in with my blog! To paraphrase one of the finest philosophers of the 1990s – one Miss Fiona Apple – I’ve been a bad, bad boy.
And also a bad, bad blogger.
I probably should have posted here a month ago to give you all the heads up about my brief absence: for those who don’t follow me on my social media, I have spent almost the entire last month abroad on my honeymoon.
In fact, I’m still swanning around Europe in a cologne-scented cloud of post-wedding bliss. I am currently in my hotel room in Rome, very close to the main bustle of the central Termini station. So close, in fact, that pretty much all we can hear from the hotel room window is:
cars beeping their horns (every fucking three seconds)
vendors shouting at people to buy their cheap-arse shit (yesterday it was raining and they were selling ponchos and umbrellas; today it’s sunny and they’re flogging hats and sunglasses – so adaptable!)
people at bars and cafes shouting for no apparent reason
people at bars and cafes laughing from being drunk
trucks revving their engines
police sirens blaring
trains pulling into the station
church bells chiming into oblivion
And, often times, all of these noises are happening simultaneously, which is kind of like living among havoc – especially since we’re up on the fourth floor of the hotel (shouldn’t it be vaguely quieter up here?). And having grown up in a country town and now living in the outer suburbs of Perth, all of this noise and chaos is foreign to me so it’s practically an adventure in itself.
By the way, I am absolutely loving being on honeymoon. So far my husband and I have visited Lyon, Nice, Antibes, Monaco, Cannes, Sanremo, Paris, Rouen and now Rome. It’s been awesome to see new parts of France and Italy, which are countries we both love. I really love the culture, language and food of both countries, and I’ve been digging having so much time to practice my French (which is decent) and my Italian (which is rusty, but given that I’m half Sicilian and spent 5 weeks in Italy when I was 18, it’s slowly coming back to me).
For those who have asked, *yes*, my husband is actually here with me on the honeymoon but no, we don’t like to post a lot of couples photos online, at least not to our public social media. We both put a lot of ourselves out there in the world – not just in our writing, but on social media and by going to events – so it actually feels really nice to keep our relationship as private as we can. So, that’s why you’re seeing a lot of pics of me on my socials but very few of us together. But rest assured, we’re both spending every day together and we’re having a blast. 🙂
The only downside is that I am defo eating way too much: pizza and pasta of course, but also overloading on crepes with cream, gelato with cream, hot chocolate with cream, cream with cream. We return to Paris this Sunday for our last week of honeymoon, so after that, I’ll be tightening the diet back up again, especially since I have some author appearances to do in about two weeks so I don’t wanna rock up on stage like the big fatty I’m feeling like currently. But the pizza in Rome is just so bloody good – how could I resist? And more to the point – why should I? It’s half of why we chose to come here anyway!
I’ve been exercising a lot while here. Most days I’ve racked up anywhere between 15,000 and 25,000 steps which is probably the only thing offsetting all the food I’ve imbibed. I’ve been doing some bodyweight exercises in my hotel room and some basic stuff with a tiny 5kg dumbbell I smuggled in my case, but it doesn’t do much. In Rouen I found some free open-air gym equipment beside the Seine river which was awesome, so I’d do a few sets of chest and back exercises in amongst my morning jogs. And here in Rome, I found myself going stir-crazy not having been to an actual gym for so long, so I trekked into the San Lorenzo district (which is ghettoville.com) and found a grungy gym and got a day pass for 10 euros. I was the only tourist in the gym I think – everyone else was a local and most of them seemed to know each other. I smashed out some chest and biceps exercises and a bit of abs, plus cardio, and I felt a load better for it.
Anyway … I am 100% sure not a single one of you follows this blog to hear about the banal minutiae of my diet and exercise regime – apologies!
I’m really posting here just to explain why things have been a little bit quiet here lately. In fact, this whole year I’ve only managed one post per month compared to like one post per week or fortnight last year. I’ve had a lot on my plate. From Jan – March I was working on the copy edits for Invisible Boys while simultaneously planning my wedding. In April I was occupied with planning my honeymoon and also finishing the first draft of my next novel. And I have spent basically all of May away from home: first at the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival, then in Europe on honeymoon. Once we return to Perth, I’ll have a precious few hours at home before zooming up to my hometown of Geraldton, Western Australia for a week for the writers’ festival there.
Truth be told, I’m loving the magical air of suspension and lack of responsibility that comes with a long holiday – but in some weird way, it will be good to get back to normal life again once I’m back home in Perth in mid-June.
As for my writing (which, I remind myself, is what people *actually* follow this blog for), it’s been going really well. Some bullet point updates:
The cover for my debut novel Invisible Boys has been revealed – see the bottom of this blog post – it’s amazing and I love it!
Last week, I was announced as the winner of the 2019 Kathleen Mitchell Award from the Australia Council for the Arts. I am still pinching myself. Its a $15,000 prize, so it’s going to make a huge difference on how much time I can dedicate to writing over the next year. Plus it’s a huge vote of confidence in my book, which has now won three awards before even being published. I’m wildly grateful, still in mild disbelief that such good things could ever happen to me, and I’m desperately hopeful that people will actually like this novel once they finally get to read it in October.
My agent is now reading the manuscript of my second novel. I am freaking the fuck out on the inside while pretending to be a cool, jaded professional on the outside.
I promised myself I wouldn’t write while on honeymoon, as writing constitutes working. Instead, I allowed myself to read a lot, and think a lot. Not having regular access to Wi-Fi has made me pull my head out of my phone and has given my brain so much space to unwind and reflect and imagine, the way I used to years ago. Consequently, I now have a million and one ideas clamouring for my attention!
Among these ideas are:
my third novel, which I’ll say nothing about, other than I pitched the concept to my husband and his eyebrows leapt off his face and he said “whoa, you have to write that!”, which is saying something because he is usually more measured and critical in his feedback;
my fourth novel, which I’ll also say nothing about, but it’s incredibly important to me and I so want this book out in the world, like, yesterday;
a novella, which in some form has been floating around in the ether of my creativity since 2011-12 when I did my Honours thesis, and the other day I was on a train in France reading Bret Easton Ellis’ new book White and suddenly the novella idea just fell into place in a way it hasn’t for the past eight years. I can’t wait to write this one, too … and I can imagine it perhaps anchoring a collection of my short fiction in the future, maybe;
two other, entirely separate series (plural) of novels; and
a TV mini-series, which has been kicking around in my head for a few years now.
So, as you can see, I have enough to keep myself busy for the next few years at least!
In terms of what’s next, after life returns to normal-ish in late June, I’ll probably spend my writing time working on the edits for book 2, and getting back into the groove of a regular blogging practice.
Holden’s Heroes will also return in June with a new interview – I had hoped to do one in May, but it was impossible to fit in before I left overseas, and frankly, I need to learn to give myself a fucken break sometimes!
Thanks to all of you for being awesome, and I can’t wait to get back into the swing of regular blogging again in the month to come. 🙂
PS. Here’s the cover of Invisible Boys as promised – what do you reckon? I can’t get enough of it!
Sooo, this is kind of awkward. I didn’t mean for it to be this long, and I didn’t mean to just walk out on you like that, but everything went a bit nutso since we last spoke, and I sort of lost track of you.
And today, I felt bad, because it suddenly occurred to me that I never actually told you I wasn’t coming back.
I know that makes me sound like a dick. In my defence, you are a manuscript and not a sentient being, so I’m probably not really a dick.
But I’ll cop to being a tad abandon-y on your arse. I did the metaphorical version of pulling out, yanking my pants up and bolting from the room just as you were in a post-coital afterglow, when I probably should have stuck around and spooned you. I mean, for a minute or two. I haven’t got all day.
To be honest, I’m a bit surprised at my own treatment of you, because for a very long time, I thought you were My One True Book. When I had my epic meltdown at the start of 2014 and decided I was going to force myself to finally write my first novel that year come hell or high water, you were the idea that shone most brilliantly and the story I decided to write into a full-length book.
And everything seemed so exciting at the beginning. I thought your main characters were pretty cool; I liked your setting; I thought your plot was solid. I mean, of course I did, I was your author and I made all that shit up.
I also thought your action scenes and battle scenes were absolutely awesome, and I still stand by that. As objective as I can be about these scenes, I think they stack up pretty well against most published fantasy and adventure books.
I think this is what drew me to you in the first place, because you were exciting, and fun, and I was in a place in my life where I was working a very boring full-time job, and I felt unfulfilled, and I was treated poorly, and you were such a total escape from the banal 9-5 office life I was living.
But I’m afraid for all your fun moments and all the high-octane thrills you gave me, there was something missing in our relationship.
When we worked together with my mentor during 2016, I felt something between us wasn’t quite right. During a Skype call with my mentor – an incredibly esteemed editor from over east – I confessed, “This manuscript isn’t quite working … I want it to sing, and it’s not singing.”
And it’s not like I didn’t work on our relationship. After seven drafts, I thought things were looking pretty good, and my mentor seemed to think we’d taken things as far as we could. It was time to pitch.
I’m so sorry, but this is where the wheels fell off.
Because none of the agents I pitched to thought there was anything special about you.
Our relationship survived the total lack of response from one agent, and the form rejection from another, though I did curl up on the couch and sob uncontrollably that you hadn’t been good enough for someone to pick up.
But I’m afraid we couldn’t survive the third response. The agent who emailed me saying he was into your first three chapters and that he wanted to read more of you. That happened the day after the form rejection, and I was so convinced this was the universe opening a window after having slammed a door in my face the day before.
One day I came home from a walk around the block and got a phone call from the agent. I was so happy to hear from him, but he said my happiness was premature. He spoke to me on the phone for a whole 30 minutes, telling me not just that my writing was “competent” (a word that still pierces my ego, and perhaps always will) but that there were many, many problems with you.
Now, I could have worked on almost any of our problems, I swear I could have. The problems with the characters, the problems with the setting, the problems with the plot seemingly unsuccessfully straddling the two very different worlds of Young Adult and Fantasy.
And I would have worked on it because I thought you were the story I was *meant* to tell. I didn’t care how much money you made; I just wanted you to exist, and get out into the world and sing your lungs out. I would have been so proud of you just for doing that.
But this is the point at which I abandoned you.
The last thing I said to you, in this blog post I wrote in early 2017, was that I was going to come back to you. We were going to work on our problems together, we were going to do an eighth draft, and then a ninth, and however many drafts it took, because goddamn it all I wanted was to have a fucking novel published and why couldn’t I ever get anything right in my life. </writerfeels>
But I lied. I told you I was going to the servo for durries and I never came back.
I know it’s probably too late, and that you’ve probably moved on, but I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry I left the way I did.
And this is the hardest part to say: I didn’t bail on you because the agent didn’t like you, or that you weren’t good enough to get published.
I bailed on you because I didn’t love you.
This is why I spent a month feeling sad and fetal position-y in early 2017. This is why I cried. We’d gone through everything we went through only for me to realise that, when an agent criticised you, I didn’t have a comeback.
I could have fixed all the things he told me were wrong with you. I could have made your characters and plot and setting all breathe and operate just fine. But even if I did ten drafts, or a hundred, or a thousand, and even if, in that thousandth draft, all of those elements or plot and setting and character worked the way they were supposed to, it wouldn’t have been enough.
Because you didn’t have a heart.
And that’s why you couldn’t sing. There was nothing wrong with your lungs – you could produce the notes just fine – but no music can ever be made unless there is a heart involved.
So that is why I left you. I realised I didn’t love you, because you didn’t have a heart, and I didn’t say goodbye because you don’t need to say goodbye to things that don’t have a heart. Plus there’s the whole matter of you not being a sentient being.
I suppose I am writing this mostly to assuage my own guilt, because I think it seems like I dropped you like a hot coal the moment I realised you couldn’t make me rich and famous. But that isn’t true. If I loved you, I would have pitched you to every agent and publisher on the planet and, if that failed, I would have self-published you like I self-published my short story, “The Scroll of Isidor”. I had no qualms doing that.
So, for the record, I am afraid it is over between us. I believe you, in your current form, will remain in the drawer. There are parts of you I really like, and perhaps one day, if things go a certain way, I will be able to revisit you and maybe we can do something radical, like give you a heart transplant. Maybe then you will be able to sing. I really like this idea. Or perhaps I will revisit you and borrow some parts of you for another attempt at this story one day, if and when the time is right.
In the meantime, I have several other novels clamouring for my attention. These novels have been successfully pitched to my agent and are waiting to be written. But know that while I’m saying goodbye now, I am leaving the door open on our relationship, at best for the heart transplant, and at worst, for me to one day open the drawer and leaf through your pages and get lost in you again, just for old times’ sake.
As for me, I’m much happier now than when we were together. I wrote a new novel called INVISIBLE BOYS that I love very much. It has a heart that pumps real blood, and it won an award and it’s getting published, which is super exciting (sorry to rub it in).
There is one more thing, and I’m afraid it is the proverbial vinegar-soaked sponge to the spear wound.
I am so sorry to do this to you, but I am afraid I can no longer call you “my first novel”.
I mean, you will always, always be the first novel I wrote and nothing can change that immutable fact.
But now that I have my debut novel soon due for publication – which I have spent a couple of years calling “my second novel” – I’m afraid the nomenclature is due for an overhaul, lest I will have readers hunting for a “first novel” that, to the world of publishing, does not exist.
So my novel, INVISIBLE BOYS, will now be referred to as my first novel, and the book I am currently drafting (and have nearly finished) will be my second.
But I won’t ignore your existence completely, because that feels wrong. So, I am going to call you Novel Zero, instead, because you and I had some good times, you know. You were the first attempt; the training ground. Sometimes your exciting twists and turns captured my imagination and made me dream; other times, you made me want to beat my head against a brick wall.
I wrote you under the influence of caffeine, when I still drank real coffee; so many cups of cheap black instant Nescafe were spent on you. And I wrote you under the influence of nicotine, back when I would break every hour and take my pack of Benson & Hedges out onto the patio for a dart or two. I remember the incredible NaNoWriMo marathons and the all-nighter I pulled to finish you, when I emerged from that electrified room and onto the patio and smoked a celebratory cigarette while watching the sun rise and listening to “Desperado” by The Eagles.
In fact, that was one of the most special moments of my entire life, so thank you, profoundly and sincerely, for being the first novel I ever finished. You showed me that my dreams could come true if I worked hard at them, a lesson I have taken on as a life mantra.
For that, I will be grateful for the rest of my days.
So stoked to share the second interview in my new blog interview series, Holden’s Heroes. During these interviews, I’ll welcome writers to my “home” (virtually) and have some fun asking them all my burning questions. For 2019, I’m focusing on interviewing the fellow members of my #5amwritersclub.
This month’s victimhostage guest is my friend Raihanaty A. Jalil, who has been known as a teacher, trader, hoon, poet, rapper and more. Let’s jump in and see what she has to say for herself!
Holden’s Heroes ~ March 2019
RAIHANATY A. JALIL
Holden: Raihanaty A. Jalil, welcome to my house! As you can see, I haven’t really tidied up since Michael Trant came to visit … our empty bushchook stubbies are still all over the patio, my bad.
Raihanaty: Haha, thanks Holden. I’m actually used to mess and noise – I’m the oldest of five siblings, all living under the same roof with my parents, so it makes me feel more at home!
H: And don’t mind that noise, it’s just the fridge emanating its hourly caterwauling. We suspect it’s haunted by a poltergeist. No biggie. Maybe just sit over here near Raphael’s bookshelf. Much cosier.
R: Actually, the poltergeists were keeping me company during the (un)expected wait …
H: Ahem! I was in the bathroom – this Mohawk doesn’t hairspray itself, you know. Okay, let’s dive into what’s been happening lately for you. You recently won a place on the Indian Ocean Mentoring Project, facilitated by the Centre for Stories. Congratulations! What story did you work on, and how did that piece change during the mentorship?
R: Thanks! Would you believe it’s been half a year since I started the mentorship? Crazy how time flies … It’s quite “magical”, actually, how my final piece came about. I originally submitted a creative non-fiction piece called “Skin in the Game” about my first experience attending a WAFL game. I wrote it about six years ago, so I figured, I might as well do something with it.
During the process of working with Elizabeth Tan, the writing mentor I was partnered with, we both agreed that the piece lacked something- depth, meaning – so Liz gave me these exercises around breaking down the title through word association/manipulation, that kind of thing. That’s how I came up with the phrase “Gaming the Skin”. Also, truthfully, I was a bit sick of the “Skin in the Game” piece—I had literally already spent over six hours editing it before submitting it for the Indian Ocean project. So I decided to write a completely new piece drawn from the phrase/title “Gaming the Skin”.
H: It’s a clever play on words – sounds like you had a really talented mentor. And with that mentorship now finished, what did you get out of the experience of having a mentor, beyond simply reworking your story, and how do you hope it will help your career moving forward?
R: The mentorship was so so invaluable and Liz couldn’t have been a more perfect match, especially because I’ve never formally studied writing while Liz teaches it. I learnt a lot about my own writing – that I’m very verbose (I’m still working on this, as you will see!). I’m sometimes too descriptive when I don’t need to be yet vague when the details matter. There were misconceptions I had about what I should and shouldn’t do—like when to use commas!
On top of that, the more Liz and I worked together, the more I learnt to trust my own instincts because I started to notice that she would bring up something I had already felt may be a problem. That felt really good. Overall, Liz helped me a lot in the “craft” of writing and my self-confidence, which will definitely benefit my career going forward.
H: On that note, would you recommend mentorships to other emerging authors?
Yes, I think my experience answers that question! I should acknowledge, though, that having the “right match” matters. It can make or break a mentorship – however (I know clichés are a cardinal writing sin but …) nothing ventured, nothing gained.
H: I will forgive you your cliché indiscretion this one time, Rai. In my experience, when it comes down to it at the end of the day, clichés should be avoided like the plague. Don’t touch them with a ten foot pole, okay?
R: Please stop.
H: Okay, next question! So, I saw you a couple of weeks ago at Perth Festival Writers’ Week, where you appeared as a guest author on a panel called Home Currents. Tell me, what was it like being a part of that panel?
R: I enjoyed it so much! Priya, Rushil and I actually caught up a few days before over lunch and we just clicked, so I already knew that it would be a relaxed, comfortable experience sharing the stage with them. But it was also the warm atmosphere around the room, I think, that made the whole experience so memorable and being myself easy. Don’t get me wrong; I still felt nervous inside, but I’ve been “forced” into public speaking from school assemblies in my primary school years, so it is something I’ve grown to really enjoy.
H: I totally get that. I practically crap my dacks before every speaking gig, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also enjoy the thrill. The thrill of speaking publicly, that is, not the thrill of soiling myself.
R: Truthfully, I’m also a bit of an adrenaline-junkie, so maybe that’s another reason why I get a kick out of public speaking?
H: We may be cut from the same cloth! Was this your first time appearing on a panel at a writers festival?
R: Yes, it was my first time appearing at a writers’ festival. When Caroline [Wood, Director, Centre for Stories] emailed me asking if I was interested, I was like, “Hell yes! There’s no parallel universe where I’d refuse such a humbling opportunity!” Okay, that wasn’t my literal reply, but it was the reply in my head.
H: It was really cool to see you up there on the panel. We first met on Twitter about a year ago, and I think the first time we chatted extensively was when you took part in Camp NaNoWriMo last July and we were in the same (online) cabin. How did you find the NaNoWriMo experience?
R: NaNoWriMo is the reason I finished writing my first ever novel! That was the November 2017 NaNo, though, my first time participating. Oh, I should add, I only finished the first “vomit draft”—you know, that draft no one will ever see, not even if a gun was put to my head. It still needs a lot of work. So that’s what I’ve been doing in the Camp NaNoWriMos, setting a time-based goal to work on polishing my WIP(s).
I think what I like about the NaNo concept is that blocking out of a finite time period, only one month, to focus on a writing goal. I just work better with deadlines, although they do often stress me out. It’s a catch 22 (whoops, another cliché …). But in all seriousness, I actually had a lot of self-doubt about if I even had the ability to write a novel. The longest story I’d ever written was about 15,000 words – a cringe-worthy love story I wrote in high school. So to me, overcoming that hurdle, learning that I did have the ability to write longer-form-fiction was the most invaluable part of “winning” NaNo.
H: Winning NaNo is extremely satisfying in and of itself, I agree. What manuscript were you working on for NaNo and is that still your current WIP?
R: My NaNo novel is a cross between the Women’s Fiction and Self-Help genres. It’s based on two themes: communication in a relationship and personal finances – two things that fascinate me. So, it’s ultimately about a couple who are struggling with the two and their personal development along the way. I’m still working on it – along with a few other things. (I suffer from “Shiny Object Syndrome”…)
H: Oh yeah, I totally understand that. It’s so hard to stay focused on one idea when you wake up some mornings with a wave of inspiration for a new idea altogether. So what are you going to be working on next?
R: I’m actually exploring writing a collection of flash fiction around the theme of personal finances. It’s a bit of a business decision, to be honest. It’ll be a way for people to experience my writing style in a smaller bite, which could lead to interest in the novel. But I still have a long way to go with all my WIPs.
H: I think that sounds like an honest creative decision, too, though – you are passionate about personal finance stuff. Another topic I’ve seen in your writing is racism, for instance the everyday manifestations of racism that you explored in ‘Gaming the Skin’. Is this a common theme you tackle in your other writing?
R: In short, no. That was probably my shortest sentence so far this whole interview!
H: Well, I guess that wraps it up. No more questions for you.
R: No, wait – I was going to add … for me, reading is a form of escape, so I gravitate towards light-hearted stories that don’t remind me of real life. Even my NaNo novel, I actually found it a bit of a struggle because of the serious tone it needed to have. In shorter pieces like “Gaming the Skin”, I don’t mind experimenting with themes and genres I wouldn’t normally write in. But sustaining heavier themes for a whole novel – that would kill me!
H: This actually segues perfectly into my next question. There is a movement within the literary scene at the moment known as #ownvoices, and this was raised during your panel at Perth Fest. I thought your answer to this was really interesting – would you mind sharing your thoughts again for my blog readers?
R: Absolutely, I don’t mind at all. When it comes to this idea of diverse characters being written by authors from the same diverse groups, I personally feel a resistance to write what is expected of me.
Just because I happen to be a “Muslim Hijabi Aussie Chick”, it doesn’t mean that I want to write stories about a Muslim girl living in a Western Society and how she manages her multiple identities, etc etc. Not to say I’ll never write this story, but rather, when people tell me, “You should write this story,” if my heart’s not in it, I feel it’s almost tokenistic.
I personally love surprises and twists and the unexpected. I thrive on a challenge while I get bored quickly with the ordinary and mundane. At the same time, I want to make a lasting impact but in a creative way. These are some things people could expect from my stories.
H: I think your response to this is so important and I wanted to amplify it here. I know a lot of #ownvoices authors who want to be able to tell their stories in their own voices, and this is so needed. Hell, this is what I’m doing with Invisible Boys. But a lot of diverse authors also want the publishing world to take them seriously as writers in their own right, regardless of the ‘diversity’ angle; that is, they want to be seen as capable of writing stories beyond solely their own unique experience. We should be liberating these voices, not confining them, in my view.
Anyway, thank you for coming to my unexpected sermon. Back to the interview: I love your bio because it mentioned you have previously been a rapper and a hoon. Please tell me more about both of these! Am I likely to find you blasting 50 Cent from a car and doing doughies in Armadale one day?
R: You know what’s funny? I love Hip Hop as a form of artistic expression, but I actually don’t like a lot, no, most rappers. I’ve always written poetry, since primary school. To me, Hip Hop is a form of poetry that you simply “spit” in time to a rhythm or beat. The first piece of Hip Hop I heard that made me fall in love with this art-form was actually, would you believe, on Microsoft Encarta! If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, it’s a digital encyclopaedia where I discovered one of the “fathers of Hip Hop”, Grandmaster Flash.
H: Okay, I’m not *that* embryonic haha – we had Microsoft Encarta too when I was a kid in the mid-90s. I didn’t use it much, though, because I preferred poring over our World Book Encyclopedia set. I was a seven-year-old Neo Luddite, I think. So, this Encarta discovery led you to hip hop?
R: Yes. I mostly write “normal poetry” but I have written and “spat” some verses on the odd occasion, in particular when I was a youth worker. Actually, funny story, one afternoon, I was walking through the city with a friend. There was a teenager who had a mic and speaker setup and some beats playing while he freestyled. We were about to pass but I caught him mentioning us “girls” and a stupid comment rappers always make about women that isn’t worth mentioning. I just couldn’t let it go. So I spun around, walked up to him and gestured for him to give me the microphone. He was so shocked he nearly dropped the mic as he handed it to me. Then I gave him a schooling on how to “spit”. When he took the mic back, he nodded at me – this is a rapper gesture meaning “respect”.
H: That is brilliant! Remind me not to mess with you. Does this explain your ‘hoon’ status?
R: Haha, no – actually, I’m into sporty cars and V8 racing on a proper racetrack, which I did at Barbagallo Raceway for the first time in 2018 for my birthday. Best experience ever! I’d go every week if it wasn’t so pricey. But I’ve also bought a “drifting” experience that I’m rewarding myself with when I achieve one of my writing milestones.
H: Man, that’s an awesome writing reward, and it has no calories, too! I might need to look into this. Now, we’re both part of the same #5amwritersclub. What made you join the club, and what made you stay?
R: I love my sleep, so the thought of waking up at 5am to write wasn’t at all appealing. As you have seen, I write for, maybe, a token 5-15 minutes to be able to still say, “Yes, I’m totally a 5am writer!” It was more the opportunity to connect with writers like you, Jess [Gately], Louise [Allan], Michael [Trant], to name just a few of you. You all inspire me and I have learnt so much from your experiences. So really, you guys are the reason I’ve stayed and, sort of, write at 5ish.
H: Aw shucks, that’s nice to hear. Likewise, I love connecting with other writers because you discover new methods and new ways of writing. Something I’ve noticed about your writing is how you can write in really short, sharp blocks of time – like you just mentioned above. Can you talk about this? I find it fascinating and I am always a bit envious of your ability to do this!
R: Sure! During my entrepreneurial days, I had a business coach, Mahindra Raj, who taught me this time management strategy called “The Pomodoro Technique”. You use a timer to break down your work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes, separated by short breaks, because our brain can only hold attention for so long.
The way I apply it for my writing is, I set a 5-15 minute timer (depending on my mood, energy etc.) and attempt to write. I emphasise attempt because, my aim is to just stay seated with the intention to write. Sometimes I’m in the zone and when my timer goes off, I actually hit the repeat button and remain seated and work for longer. But sometimes, I’m just dog-tired and after 5 minutes, I’m done. Other times, at a 15 minute interval, I can feel my brain waning, so I’ll get up, stretch, grab a drink of water before sitting back down for my next 15 minute block.
I’ve been able to write like this, literally, for over four hours and not feel tired at all because I’m doing it in these short blocks of time. But also, I use this strategy to overcome my lack of motivation some days by telling myself, “I’ll just write for 5 minutes”, but once my head is in my writing world, I often feel like working for longer!
H: It sounds fascinating. Tell me, Raihanaty, what advice would you give to aspiring authors who are just starting out – or, rather, what do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning?
R: Be kind to yourself. More often than not, we are our worst critic. We set such high expectations on ourselves then beat ourselves up when we fail to meet those expectations that were unrealistic to begin with. We verbally abuse ourselves in ways we would never others, then we wonder why we lack motivation the next time, why we may even be depressed.
I remember hitting a mental block in my writing at the beginning of 2018 because of the stress of unachievable deadlines I had burdened myself with. It was when I decided to become kinder to myself, patting myself on the back for the 5 minutes of writing I achieved (instead of reprimanding myself that it should’ve been 1 hour), that I started enjoying writing and life again. So, be kind to yourself from today!
H: That’s a warm fuzzy note to finish on – almost. I’m a huge believer in setting goals, and with your own interests in personal finance I get the feeling you might share my focus on goal-setting. For our last question, tell me, without this being too job-interviewy, where would Raihanaty like to be as an author, five years from now?
R: Five years from now, my aspiration is to have released at least one self-published novel and one traditionally published book and – well, I’ll just say it – I hope to have been on the New York Times Best Seller List for at least five minutes – long enough for me to capture a screenshot! I just hope I’m awake if it happens!
H: That’s an awesome goal, and I can’t wait to see you achieve it. Raihanaty A. Jalil, it has been such a pleasure to have you over for a good yarn. Thanks for sharing such insightful responses.
R: All good, Holden. It’s been a lot of fun! I really appreciate the opportunity and the thought you put into non-generic questions. I was actually pleasantly surprised when you sent me the brief.
H: Aw cheers cob, I aim to please. Hey, do you want to stay on for a drink or two? What’s your poison?
R: Sure, do you have peppermint tea?
H: Does the Pope shit in the woods? Wait, I think I’ve got my metaphors mixed up. Yep, let’s hit the hard stuff and crack open a couple of peppermint teas!
~ Social Media Links ~
I hope you enjoyed this interview with the fascinating Raihanaty A. Jalil. She’s a good egg and even more fun to interact with on the socials, so here’s where you can give her a like and a follow: