Blog Hop

hopLast week, I was contacted by Brisbane writer and artist Julie Kearney about participating in a blog-hop, where one writer talks about what they’re working on and their writing process, and then passes the blog off to another writer or two to do the same.

Julie herself is currently working on the second of what she hopes will be a trilogy of historical novellas set on Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) in the 1860s. The first one, ‘True Story Man’, was written in just five weeks, and she’s now working on the sequel, entitled ‘Truth is Green’. She’s been published in The Griffith Review and other journals, was shortlisted in the Fish Short Memoir Prize, and the Finch Prize, and won first prize in the CJ Dennis Literary Award. You can find her site at (http://juliebowenkearney.wordpress.com/).

Two writers will follow me next week.

One is Beau Hillier, a Melbourne-based writer and freelance editor. He won the Grace Marion Wilson competition run by Writers Victoria in 2011, and in 2012 was featured in Possessing Freedom, an integrated YA short story collection. He currently is the chief editor of page seventeen, an annual collection showcasing emerging writers and poets. His blog will appear at http://www.busbird.com.au.

The other is Donna Joy Usher, the multi-award winning, Amazon best-selling author of The Seven Steps to Closure, Cocoa and Chanel, and Goons ‘n’ Roses. Born in Brisbane, she started her working career as a dentist. After fifteen years of drilling and filling she discovered there was more to life, and put pen to paper. Now she drills by day and writes by night. When not doing either of those things she likes spending time with her husband and two little dogs, fishing and camping, motorbike riding, stand-up paddle boarding, traveling and drinking wine on her deck. She has lived in a myriad of places: Melbourne, Perth, England, Rockhampton, Roxby Downs, Sydney, Cairns and is now situated on the New South Wales Central Coast. You can find her blog at http://donnajoyusher.com/.

Now onto me …

 
What are you working on at the moment?
A few things. I usually work on a couple of things at once – something completely new, and something in revision. Revision gets me in the headspace for whatever else I might write. Writing something new is always harder, so revision acts almost like stretching before exercising. This year, I’ve added the weekly blog to the schedule.

The new thing is my current novel, ‘House of Cards’. This was originally a (long) short story (almost ten thousand words), although when I was writing the short story I knew I was skimping over scenes to get it finished. Feedback from friends suggested it would work better as a novel. I had something else I wanted to work on, but went with this first because it seemed a story ready to be told (at least as far as my imagination was going). It’s about a relationship, and the things we keep to ourselves when we’re just starting out.

I’m also working on The Other Me, my regular blog here (updated every Tuesday), which is about my experiences with neuroses and how they impacted my life. The purpose of The Other Me is if it helps anybody else who’s reading it (and might be going through anything similar), then it’s done some good.

I’m also (slowly) revising some old screenplays I wrote about ten years ago. I should work on the last novel I wrote, ‘Prudence’, which I finished after ‘Just Another Week in Suburbia’, a winner of the 2013 Hachette Manuscript Development Program, but my screenplays have just been sitting there, unattended for ten years, and I’m a much better writer now than I was when I initially wrote them, so I thought I might be able to do something with them. It’s also nice to be able to work in a completely different field of writing.

 
How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
I don’t know if you can really differ in any way other than your own unique voice, and how you tell a story. That’s what makes your writing yours. I could say a number of other lofty things, but that’s what it’s comes down to ultimately. Whether you’re original with your ideas or you’re rehashing tropes in tried and true genres, it does come down to how you do it and tell your story which makes you unique.

 
Why do you write what you write?
I write whatever idea appeals to me, whatever gets my imagination going and which I’d like to tell as a story, although lately, that’s become more of an exploration of relationships and the way people interact with one another, and how they do (and don’t) fit into one another’s worlds. I think often, regardless of what you write, it’s a way of exploring your own head and making sense of the world (or what’s happened to you).

 
What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
I begin with the general idea of the story in my head. When I think I have enough, that I’m interested in taking on the job of writing it, I map out the world of the story. This involves naming all the characters and locations which I think might be involved in the story – so even if I think the characters might need to visit a café at some point throughout the story, I name the café, and the staff, even if they’re not used. But it gives me an idea of the world they’re navigating, and means that it’s there waiting should my characters go there.

Generally, after I finish writing for the day, I’ll bullet point any things that might happen later in the story, as well as any revisions I need to make. I usually address the revisions first thing the next day, as that helps me get back into what I’m writing.

Another trick I use is I leave my writing for the day at a relatively high point, where I know what’s happening – it’s easier to pick up and get straight back into it, rather than if you finished somewhere and were low on ideas as to what came next.

Finding Truths

stormcloudsi.
If I knew it’d be like a light going out, that one moment there’s everything and next there’s nothing and darkness, I think I’d do it, I really think I would.  But since I don’t know that, since stories of damnation and shit have fuelled my upbringing, I just lay in bed, knowing I should get up, but instead stare at the ceiling, thinking about everything I have to do today and how I don’t want to do it.
     The light seeping through the blinds covering my bungalow windows, as well as the sounds of neighbours, suggests it’s about nine.  Maybe later.  My body’s in agreement, my head cloggy from sleeping in, like somebody flipped it open and poured sand into it. 
     I roll onto my side and look at the clock radio on my bedside drawer.
     9.17.
     I try to summon the will to get up, like the day’s a freezing pool I have to build the courage to leap into.  Once I do, there’s no getting out, not until I go back to sleep, although that’ll be late tonight since I’m meeting Ash and Dylan at The Back Room for drinks.  Dylan says he’s got an announcement.  Ash has joked that Dylan’s announcing he’s going inside for having a seventeen-year-old girlfriend.
     I push myself out of the cosiness of my bed and undergo my morning routine: pull on my sweats and socks, turn on the computer, open the blinds, put on the electric kettle, drop a chamomile tea bag into a cup, and dart into the bathroom.
     My antidepressants wait for me in the medicine cabinet, an unwanted neighbour there’s no getting away from.  I pop one into my palm and dry swallow it.  There was a time I’d get side-effects: dizziness, stomach cramps, thumping heartbeat – emergency room stuff.  Not that I went.  It was bearing through the meds or facing the shit.  I bore through.  Since, the symptoms have faded to a bit of morning dizziness.
     I leave the bathroom, open the door of my bungalow, and stare across the yard at the house.  I should go inside and make myself breakfast – some toast maybe.  You’re meant to eat something with antidepressants because they’re so rough on your stomach.  But it’s too early to deal with my parents and their everyday recriminations about being thirty, not married, and living in a damn bungalow.
     At the foot of my door I spot a clothes peg.  It’s split in two – one of my mum’s victims when she’s in a hurry to pull down the clothes.  It saddens me looking at it.  It has one purpose, and now it’s done.
     I go outside, pick up the halves, and hunt around for its hinge, even as I hear my kettle whistling.  I’m just about to give up (at least for now) when I see the hinge resting by the garden.  I pick it up, reassemble the peg, and clip it back on the line.  There.  All better. 
     I return to the bungalow as the kettle shuts itself off, so I fill my tea cup, sit at my computer, and open my emails.  There’s a pile already there, including the one which came yesterday from Samantha.

    Hey! It’s been a long time.  Hope you don’t mind me emailing you.  Got your address from Facebook.  It’d be great to catch-up.  Get back to me, huh?

Samantha’s a girl who chased me all through high school, but depression and life (like there’s a separation between the two) got in the way.  She got married to some dick, which might be unfair, but I remember hearing at the time that he was a dick.  Suburbia swallowed them into domesticity, and I’d heard they had a couple of kids.  Her email is a surprise.  I don’t know how to answer it, other than to say something noncommittal, which isn’t answering it at all.
     I have other emails, which I don’t read, but I can guess what’s in them depending on where they came from.  There’s the usual circulars people send when they’re killing time at work; some from Advanced Business Solutions, as well as Healthy Plus, for whom I copywrite on a freelance basis; as well as a couple from fiction anthologies to which I’ve submitted.
     I stare at the emails from the anthologies – Collected Works, and The Bold Writer.  They’re two of the country’s premier journals.  You get published in them, you’re making a name for yourself, which is something I’d like to do – especially after ten years of trying.
     I nurture a quiet expectation that when I read these emails, they’ll be acceptances.  No, it’s not even an expectation.  I know they’ll be acceptances.  I don’t mean to build myself up.  I always tell myself not to, because it makes the fall further.
     Of course, over the years, I’ve submitted my work hundreds of places, if not bordering on a thousand, and I’ve had this feeling a lot, with little return.  The handful of stuff which has been accepted was stuff I didn’t give a chance, and had even forgotten sending out.  Journals are notoriously slow.  Publishers are little better.  I just sent my book out and am sure it’ll be months before I hear anything about it
     My mobile rings.  It’s Ash.  I answer it.
     ‘Hey, filth,’ he says.
     ‘Filth.’
     We don’t mean anything by ‘Filth.’ It’s like ‘buddy’ for us.
     ‘What time tonight?’ Ash asks.  ‘Nine?’
     ‘Yeah.’ I go through the emails from Advanced Business Solutions and Healthy Plus.  They’ve got a shitload of notes there and want brochures – usual stuff.
     ‘Okay.  I might be a bit late.  Stuff happening with Cindy.’
     ‘Okay.’ I don’t bother asking about Cindy, Ash’s wife.  Cindy’s great.  She would’ve made somebody an awesome wife.  Just not Ash.  Over the years, he’s mentioned her less and less, and we’ve seen her less and less.  It’s like Ash is making her invisible, or at least erasing her from his social circle, although that’s probably not surprising given the way Ash behaves.  It’s amazing their marriage is still going.  And strong, too.
     ‘I’ll see’ya later, filth.’
     ‘Filth.’
     He hangs up and I go through the circulars, working out what I’m going to recirculate and what I’m going to delete, but I’m really just holding onto the anticipation before I check the responses from the journals, because while I hold onto the anticipation, the unopened emails remain possible acceptances, and my dreams could still be going somewhere.  Life could still be going somewhere.
     Finally, I look.
     Rejections.
     I delete the fucking things.

ii.
The Back Room is a third-storey bar which sits on top of an Italian restaurant (Agostini’s – overpriced, but awesome pizza), and a floor that’s been vacant for as long as I remember.  I think now Agostini’s use it for storage.  You get to The Back Room through a stairwell so narrow it must violate fire-safety regulations.
     The bar itself is split into quarters: there’s a lounge with couches and little tables, like you might see in a coffee shop; there’s a dance floor, where some nights they’ll have a band – usually Incandescent X, this awesome three-piece acoustic ensemble headed by a woman with the most amazing blue eyes; a hall with rows of pool tables; and one corner out in the open with tables and chairs, like an overblown terrace overlooking the street, although you’d freeze going out there tonight.  A circular bar sits right in the middle, like an axis, accessible to every quarter.
     We’re in the lounge, draped over the couches – me, Ash, Dylan – and drinking Coronas.  Since it’s a Monday night, there’s not a lot happening in The Back Room.  The place started as a nothing bar years ago, and had its regulars every night.  But then it developed a nouveau trendiness, the way places do.  Now, it grows busier the deeper the week goes, and overflows Fridays and Saturdays.
     ‘So what’s happening, filth?’ Ash asks Dylan, but Ash has his eyes on a blonde at the bar who’s wearing tight, faded jeans which shape her butt like a pear. 
     Dylan sits on the couch opposite us, rocking, Corona between his hands.  The way his shock of already-receding hair stands up defying gravity makes his contemplation almost comical.  He takes a drink, gazes up at us, then shrugs.
     ‘Come on,’ Ash says.  ‘Otherwise, I’ve got something to say.’
     Everybody’s got something to say.  I wish I had something.  I think of the rejections from the anthologies.  An acceptance would’ve been something to talk about.  Maybe I could tell them about Samantha, although it’s hardly newsworthy.  That’s something you’d mention as a throwaway.
     ‘It about Lauren?’ I ask, as Ash’s attention drifts back to the blonde, who’s ordering drinks.  One of her friends – a brunette in a tight skirt – has joined her to help her carry.  It’s not going to be much longer before Ash’s dick becomes his rudder.
     ‘It’s not Lauren,’ Dylan says.
     ‘Why didn’t you invite her?’ Ash says.  ‘Oh, that’s right, she’s underage.’
     ‘Ha ha.’
     ‘You idiot,’ I tell Ash.  ‘It’s obviously past her bedtime.’
     ‘How brave,’ Dylan says, which is our way of wry condemnation.  It’s all mocking, in its own way – and Lauren’s great mocking material given her age.  It’s weird, because Dylan isn’t much to look at – not like Ash, who’s rugged and sporty – but he’s never had trouble with women.  Lauren’s his first relationship which has become serious.
     ‘Okay, if you don’t tell us your announcement,’ Ash says, ‘then I’m going with mine.’
     ‘I’m getting transferred for work,’ Dylan says.  ‘Interstate.’
     We’re quiet.  It’s not like Dylan’s told us he has cancer or something like that, and we should be happy for him, but we’ve been friends a long time – Ash and me twenty years; Ash, me, and Dylan ten years.  The dynamic between us meshed from the start.  It’s the way friends work.  It’s not about interests and shit.  That stuff comes later.  You click or you don’t.  But that’s relationships in general.  Life in general.
     ‘They do that in construction?’ I ask, because Dylan’s a roofer for BusyBuilt Construction.  Surely it’s not like needing a neurosurgeon, no disrespect intended.
     ‘Transfer-promotion,’ Dylan says.  ‘Boss likes my work, and recommended me to head office, so they offered me a foreman’s position on-site for some townhouses they’re putting up.’
     ‘Are you shitting us?’ Ash asks.
     ‘This is for real.’
     ‘You take it?’ I ask.
     ‘Had to for the money they’re offering.  It’s like twice what I’m getting, and they’re setting me up with a place to live and everything.’
     ‘When?’
     ‘Six months.  First thing in the new year.  That’s when this townhouse project starts.’
     Again, quiet.  Maybe it is like cancer – the killing of a friendship.  You take them for granted.  You really do, thinking they’ll be around forever.
     ‘What about Lauren?’ I ask.
     Dylan shrugs, and it’s like he wants to be blasé about it, but it must be on his mind because he doesn’t laugh it off the way he usually would.  ‘It’s six months away,’ he says without conviction.  He takes a drink from his Corona, then lazes back on the couch, trying to relax.  ‘What about you?’ he asks Ash.  ‘What’s—?’
     ‘Cindy’s pregnant,’ Ash says.
     ‘Really?’ I say.
     ‘Yep.’
     ‘No shit?’ Dylan asks.
     ‘No shit.’
     ‘Who’s the father?’
     Ash laughs.  ‘How brave.’
     ‘You’re going to be a father?’ I ask.
     ‘What?  I’ll be a good father,’ Ash says, but his eyes rove the lounge until they target the blonde on a couch in the corner.  I walked into the toilets once and Ash was banging a redhead in a cubicle while a crowd of onlookers watched.  Whatever loyalty he’d had to his vows, debauchery and drinking have beaten senseless.  Not that Cindy knows, or even suspects.  She’s the model wife living her model suburban life.  Ash, though, cheats, gets in fights, and goes on drinking and gambling benders.  He can be a prick, which is an awful thing to say, but you still couldn’t find a better friend.  Most of the time.
     ‘Well,’ Dylan said, leaning forward on the couch and offering his Corona, ‘congrats.  To your baby.’
     ‘To your job,’ Ash said, thrusting his Corona forward.
     I thrust my Corona forward and can think of nothing to add.

iii.
I stand on the terrace, looking at the street three-storeys below.  Traffic whizzes by, people moving obliviously on with their lives.  I sip on my Corona.  The night’s freezing, and the barrel of the bottle threatens to stick to my lips.  The beer’s not going down well, and it’s not a night for big drinking, but that’s exactly what I want to do.
     Taking a swig, I look back into The Back Room.
     In the lounge, Ash sits on the couch with the blonde.  She throws her head back and laughs at everything he says.  Give it an hour, and Ash will be fucking her.  His magnetism is inexplicable.  I wish I had it.  An ounce of it.  It makes you wonder why he got married.  I think he was hoping to find somebody to save him, and Cindy did, for a little bit at least.
     Dylan’s playing pool with Lauren, who showed up about half an hour ago.  Sometimes they card her, but most times they don’t.  Bars are always stricter on guys than girls.  Girls are good décor, while guys are a hazard.  It’s obvious which you’d prefer given the choice, and Lauren’s gorgeous with her blonde hair and dimpled smile.
     I turn away from them, gaze back down at the street, wishing I had a Cindy, or even a Lauren, not that Ash knows how good he’s got it, and maybe Dylan’s just finding out.  I wish for anything, but realise I have nothing.
     I know now what I want.
     And what I don’t want.
     I don’t want this life.
 


 
Credit and Genesis
This story appeared in issue twenty-three (2012) of fourW, the anthology of the Booranga Writers’ Centre.

This story is actually a prequel to a screenplay I wrote back in 2004, which one day I’d like to turn into a book.

LZ.