Monday 29 April 2013

Newstead Short Story Tattoo

It’s on again – the biannual Newstead Short Story Tattoo, in our gorgeously autumnal locale of Newstead, from Friday 3 May to Sunday 5 May.

So take the road less travelled by, and check it out!  There will be campfires!  And a zombie disco!  And of course, stories – more stories than you could poke a stick at.  All organised by the amazing Neil Boyack, seasoned with a cast of thousands!

Go here if you’d like to have a look at the full program, and please come along.  Entry to Newstead Community Centre is largely by donation, and there’ll be a bar, and music, and loads of friendly hillbilly folk.

I’m going to be reading at the Sister’s Salon, on Sunday May 5 at noon, alongside Cate Kennedy, Tru Dowling, Annie Drum, Megan Anderson and Emma Scherlies.  There will be an open mic as well, so if you’re feeling brave (or even if you’re not) come on up and give it a whirl...

Hopefully I'll see you there :)

Sunday 21 April 2013

Social Media Mystery Tour

You might have noticed me lurching towards a better understanding of social media.  This has been a weird experience for everybody.

For my family – they’ve been exceedingly patient with my experimenting, and with all those annoying doodly alert noises from my phone.  Although my partner has been threatening to take my phone and throw it in the dam.  He claims we wouldn’t hear the alerts if my phone was four feet underwater.  My kids all think it’s hilarious – they keep urging me on.  They want me to send a gushing fan message to JK Rowling.  I tell them that I am far too mature and intimidated to do any such thing, and that it’s poor etiquette.  They ask me to explain what ‘etiquette’ is.*

For those of you who read my Facebook page – yeah, apologies for spamming you with recent tweets.  That is poor etiquette.  I know it’s extremely uncool, but I still haven’t figured out all the little dials and buttons yet.  I am trying to figure out how to selectively retweet and stuff like that, so I don’t come off as a complete wanker.  I guess I’ll just have to settle for looking like a confused idiot until I come to some arrangement that works.

For those of you who’ve witnessed me blundering about on Twitter – thank you for your kind patience.  I feel like someone who has walked into a party that wasn’t supposed to be a fancy-dress party, but I thought it was a fancy dress party, so I’ve come dressed as a snail.  Or maybe the other way round – everyone else is dressed to the nines, and I thought it was ‘come-as-you-are’.  Or something.

I’m sure I’ve intruded on a number of quiet conversations that were none of my business, and I’m also sure I’ve introduced myself to various people who wonder exactly why I am talking to them.  I’m trying to glide elegantly around the room, listening to the hum of conversation and injecting the occasional witty bon mot – but I’ve always been terrible at that.  I am the person who laughs like a hyena at other peoples’ jokes, and then trips over the hem of her skirt while trying to get up from her chair.  Dorothy Parker I am not.

I just try to be uniformly nice to everyone.  I’m not trying to make a great impression.  My experience tends to be that when I try to do that, I make an impression of ‘wow, that girl sure is good at falling on her face’.  So I resist the urge to make myself look good.  I just try to be nice, and then maybe someone will invite me back next time.

Sincere apologies to anyone I’ve offended - it was an honest mistake – and I’ll try to obey the rules of propriety.  Or at least the rules of sobriety – someone said recently ‘Never Tweet while drunk’, which seems extremely sound to me.  I’ll steer clear of the bubbly.

But Twitter is a truly eye-opening experience.  I admit I pooh-poohed the idea at first – why would I want to tweet?  How much more stuff about me can I be bothered to write? (or would other people be bothered to read?) – but it’s a very different type of engagement with people.

For one, it’s extremely personal and immediate.  This was amply illustrated to me within a few short days of starting up.  I’d only just figured out how to send messages and give myself a picture when the Boston Marathon bombings happened.  Suddenly it was six in the morning, and I was reading all these cries of distress from people in the US – not just messages of commentary, but actual people, shocked by what they’d experienced, or what they were watching in ghastly ‘on-the-scenes’ photos and clips taken by those who were right there at the time.

There were messages of anger and worry, people trying to get word to their families that they were okay, people trying to find their loved ones…  Those were the most distressing.  One author was receiving messages from people who knew his wife, so he knew she was all right, that she hadn’t been near the explosions (they live in Boston, he was overseas).  Other people were offering their homes to those who’d been in Boston and were too hurt or weary to get back home, or whose flights had been cancelled when the city went into lockdown.

I got a strong impression of a community in distress – this wasn’t a party anymore, this was a crisis, and people were bonding together to grieve, or express their horror, or offer support.  It really affected me: coloured the whole day with the fear and distress that people were experiencing so far away.

It also made me realise that this platform, which is often derided (which I often derided) as a place where people list what they had for breakfast to no useful effect, was actually a means for people to draw closer, and share of themselves, and connect in a genuine way.  It’s a bit like a being at a party, as I said, but equally it’s like being together with a bunch of people on a mystery train trip – or in this case, trapped together in an elevator during a gunfight.  People talk, they connect.  And it is so immediate – that connection is right there, miles and miles and barely a fingertip away.

I wouldn’t have continued with Twitter without this experience.  I think I would have just treated it as a novelty activity, and only poked my nose in every now and then, to see if there was something interesting people were chatting about.  But I can’t approach it like that now.  I’ve seen a different side of it.  And I’ve seen that people are people, regardless of the place they live, or the platform they communicate on, and I quite like the idea of being involved in a community like that.

If they can put up with me falling off my chair and speaking at the wrong moment occasionally.

*omg, Parenting Fail

If you’d like to join me, go to @elliemarney and say hi.  I will try not to bump into you with my drink.

Saturday 13 April 2013

And another thing…

This is a little idea that’s been percolating in my brain for a few days, since I had the wonderful gig at Castlemaine Word Mine, wherein Simmone Howell and Kirsten Krauth and I got to bang on about YA literature, and genre, and writing process, and anything else people in the audience suggested we have a crack at.

Now something that made me look up was that the first question we were asked is Why don’t more men write YA?  Which Simmone and I (being the two YA authors on the panel) found kind of curious, because between us we could list about a dozen male authors of YA off the tops of our heads – I mean, there’s John Marsden, who’s probably the most famous YA author in the country, and John Flanagan, and Scot Gardner, and Barry Jonsberg, and Tim Winton, and Markus Zusak…  And then we could list other non-Aussie YA authors like Jay Asher, James Dashner, Charlie Higson, Michael Grant, Shaun Hutchison, David Levithan, John Green, Andrew Fukuda, Nick Earls, Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Cory Doctorow, James Pattinson, Christopher Paolini, Derek Landry, Walter Dean Myers, Lish McBride, Mark Haddon, Darren Shan, Robert Muchamore…

Basically, we found this question confusing.  Well, I found the question confusing.  Although I can see how the question may have arisen.  It’s true that the numbers of female YA authors are higher than male authors.  Also, many of the big name YA authors are female – I’m thinking of Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling and Cassandra Clare and so on here.  But it’s not like male authors are non-existent.  In the most recent list of ‘100 best YA books’, while women took out the top 3 spots, the ratio of male to female authors was almost 50/50.

But this issue of gender bias in YA may have come about because of a few other things:
*a perceived bias in YA towards female authors, as perpetuated by articles like this one in the NY Times as analysed in The Mary Sue (about how YA has become ‘too girly’) and a strange understanding that seems to have emerged that boys’ interests are not being met in contemporary YA literature
*peoples’ tendency to think of boys as more ‘action-oriented’ and less interested in reading during adolescence (which may be a combination of both reality and stereotype, and no doubt does them a disservice)
*a lack of equality in both education syllabuses and in the broader field of literature and literary review, which means that if female authors are included, they ‘stick out like dog’s balls’ (as a male friend likes to colourfully say)
*a pre-existing societal trend towards male authors and male-centred stories that focuses attention on men’s literary contributions to such an extent that if women begin to attain popularity in a category or genre, then there’s an impression that the field has been ‘swamped by women’

Anyway, we didn’t point all this stuff out, merely pointed to a large number of male YA authors that we knew who had a wide readership.  So people, like, knew they were there. (If you want a silly version of this, go check out ‘The Dudes of YA’ article in The Weeklings)

But the idea persists that YA is a field dominated by female authors, writing stories aimed at teenaged girls, and largely excluding the needs and interests of boys.  Which I sometimes get cranky about, because y’know, it’s dumb.  In YA awards since 2000 (see this article in lady business), the ratio of male/female authors is almost equal – 44/56.  Male authors get a pretty fair shake.*

Also - so there’s only two fields of literature that have a higher proportion of women than men?  (I’m including romance writing here.  Some people would argue that crime writing is edging in)  And…this is a problem?  Why exactly?  I mean, I grew up on a diet of male authors – in school reading lists, on library shelves…  Most women have.  (See Maureen Johnson’s take on this) So is it okay if we have a category of literature that has a strong representation of female authors now?  God, I hope so.  That would make a nice change.

Anyway, what was interesting about this was that it serendipitously came to my attention soon after that people have been talking for some time about the ‘state of women’s writing’.  I knew this, but specifically I read an article by Deborah Copaken Kogan, about all the crap she’s had to deal with while trying to attain distinction in the literary field.  She’s just been shortlisted for what used to be called the Orange Prize, and is now called the Women’s Prize for Fiction (UK).

And a number of other women have been sending shout-outs to her, and to the world in general, about the pitiful situation made obvious by the VIDA statistics from 2012, which emphatically displayed what most female writers in the lit field have known for some time, that women reviewers are more conspicuous by their absence, and that by and large, books written by men get the lion’s share of reviews/awards/publicity.**

And I started to think about it.  My first thought was, ‘Hey, I’m really lucky that I’m writing in a field that has a more equitable balance of male and female writers – phew, thank god I’m not trying to write lit fiction’.  And then I thought, ‘It’s lucky too, that the field I write in enjoys strong popular support, and female writers have a solid fan base and enjoy access to good reviews/awards/publicity’. (Which is still curious to me, that a field where women authors out-number and outrank male authors, why is the award business split almost 50/50?  What’s that about?)

And then I thought, ‘Hey – is YA the only vaguely equitable field of writing, where women and men can stand side-by-side on their merits?  That’s cool.’

And then I thought, ‘Good grief – in a world where Cassandra Clare can get awesome reviews and enormous fan support and movie deals and stuff like that, and lit fiction authors like Deborah Copaken Kogan get shafted…why the hell doesn’t Deborah start writing YA?’

Damned if I know.

*  See ‘List of Male Authors’ above – and these are just the big name ones.  Also check out the myriad books written by female authors who have male central protagonists eg: Melissa Keil’s gorgeous Life in Outer Space, Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things, Holly Black’s Curseworker series, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood series, Susie Hinton’s Outsiders etc etc etc…I could make a longer list but it would be very long and would take all day…

** These are execrable statistics, btw.  So shocking…so not surprising.  Which I think means that the original question should have been something like Why don’t more women get published generally?

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Blackberry cider and a teenage view of the world

Slowly coming down from the excitement of my first author talk – I was way too nervous to take photos, and I’m really glad Klare Lansen and Lisa D’Onofrio had the presence of mind to take a few happy snaps!

A lovely evening was had by all at Castlemaine Word Mine (aka the Castlemaine Anglican Church Hall), and the audience was small but welcoming.  Once I got over the knee-knocking terror I always feel before speaking in public – and reading out an excerpt from Every Breath that has never been heard by mortal ears before – I had a really good time.  Simmone Howell offered me blackberry cider and encouragement, and Kirsten Krauth admitted she was as nervous as I was (it’s always good to share the pain!).  We all read bits from our respective novels, then opened the floor for questions, and some really interesting ideas came out.

What is YA? I guess was a big theme, followed closely by Why does YA exist?

It’s hard in retrospect to figure out whether you’ve answered the questions properly, but I’m hoping that our combined responses provided the right answer.  What was interesting to me was how people’s questions and Kirsten and Simmone’s responses gave me a bit of a contemplative moment about my own ideas on the subject.  Some people in the audience pointed out that before YA existed, kids just used to read adult books, and does YA literature really add anything new to the mix?

But I suppose my feeling is that before YA, kids were always reading about life as viewed through the eyes of an adult.  It’s different, that feeling of reading through the lens of someone who isn’t at your own stage of life.  I remember reading The Outsiders by Susie Hinton, and having a ‘wow’ moment – I was so amazed that someone finally got it, that feeling I had, of being a teenager, and had managed to encapsulate that in Ponyboy’s story.

Someone asked what Simmone and Kirsten and I had read as teenagers, and we realised that I was reading Stephen King, Simmone was reading Jackie Collins, and Kirsten was reading Virginia Andrews.  But I have to confess that I didn’t always get everything that happened in those adult books.  All the emotional turmoil behind the sex scenes in Peter Benchley’s Jaws went completely over my head (probably because I was, y’know, twelve).

So I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to find your own experience in the literature you read*.  I think of how teenagers, for a long time, were supposed to just accept that their stage of life was merely a prelude to something else – the bigger adventure of adulthood – without having the chance to enjoy where they were at.  And until YA became an accepted publishing market, teenagers were expected to gain all their insights about life purely from an adult perspective, without the feeling like they themselves had some insights to offer.

Teenagers have a lot to offer – as a high school teacher, I appreciate that all the time.  Their view on the world is unique, sometimes muddled but always interesting.  It’s why I like to put myself back in the mind-set of being a teenager and write what I see and feel.

Here’s a quote, sent to me by my amazing local librarian Robyn Annear, from Adam Phillips’ book ‘Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life’  -

‘ “Perhaps it is only in childhood,” Graham Greene writes in his essay “The Lost Child”, “that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already
‘ “But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much.”
‘The desire in childhood reading, Greene tells us, is for experiences we haven’t had yet; as children we are not just lacking these experiences, we are not yet ready for them; because they are what we want, they are what we want to know about. What the child divines in the book is what he (sic) may be capable of; childhood is the developing of an appetite for future possibility.’
I think YA books really capture that sense of future possibility, and do so through the perspective of someone who is directly experiencing it.  That’s why I love to read YA, and love to write it.

* I was thinking about this recently when I came across this fantastic article on how LGBT experience is really becoming foregounded in new YA fiction.  It must be good to finally be able to read about your side of the story.