Top ten blog posts of 2010

This is one last post before I head off, I swear. Or I could possibly blog next week at some point, but that’d be unlikely. I’d like to sum up the top ten posts I wrote this year, according to what I thought were significant posts – even if they didn’t get that much attention.

A big shout out to Sam Van Zweden from Little Girl With A Big Pen who did a similar thing.

1. A dream-logic London squid riff: an interview with China Miéville (Part One and Part Two)

I said this was my highlight of 2010 yesterday. It’s my favourite post(s) too, and it’s not even on this blog. A joint interview with Angela Meyer on LiteraryMinded, we asked China all kinds of things and it came in two awesome parts.

2. Talking writing and politics with Kalinda Ashton (Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four)

This was one whopping big interview. It blew my mind. After chatting with China Miéville earlier in the year, and all these questions coming up from festivals and from my politics and writing becoming closer together, I was very fortunate to nut out a whole heap of issues with Kalinda.

3. Capitalism and Consumerism: In Defence of Buying Stuff

This post was one I was grappling with for a while and I think I did pretty well to lay out what I think about the issues of consumerism, worker’s rights and where capitalist inequality comes from. It’s a timely one to highlight now given I always get pissed off around Christmas time when lefties attack workers for daring to buy presents.

4. Sorry, this title is unavailable: the state of digital book selling in Australia

Following purchasing a Sony Reader, I was disappointed to find an amazing gap in what books were available digitally, especially for Australian readers. This post and my others around digital publishing always managed to get a bit of attention, mainly thanks to the Meanland and AustLiterature twitter accounts.

5. Asylum seekers: Rejecting the logic of needing to turn the boats back

The debates around asylum seekers and mandatory detention were once again a major feature of this blog this year. And this post tackles the idea that ‘we all want to stop the boats’ that the right sometimes use to justify their disgusting policies under a more compassionate guise.

6. Atwood refuses to take a stand and accepts apartheid prize

This piece condemns Margaret Atwood for accepting the Dan David Prize for literature from an Israeli university, breaking the boycott and blockade of Israel. I looked at her response and reasoning for accepting such a prize and argue that writers like her ought to take a side.

7. On Short Fiction: Why it gets a better deal out of Digital Publishing

A pet favourite topic for me and this explains my position clearly though the barriers to this becoming true are largely due to the reasons I state in post no. 4 above.

8. Anti-Capitalist Themes in Fiction: Cliché or Over Scrutinized?

Following debates around Avatar and some criticism of my own work, I look at why people are saying anti-capitalist themes are cliché

9. Contradictions in the Vampirism to Homosexuality Analogy

I look at the politics of using vampires as an allegory for homosexuals, particularly in response to True Blood. It’s worth reading the comments to because the discussion clarifies things and my position changes a bit.

10. In defence of horror, writers’ sanity and the meaning behind it all

I defend why I like horror, what it all means, and why it’s not just about ‘enjoying’ dark things.

Perhaps some of those catch your eye if you missed them when they were first posted.

I’m not going to go into the top ten posts by hits, but it’s interesting to note that my review of American History X was the most visited post this year, mainly thanks to the odd workings of Google and it’s users. Two other movie reviews featured in that top 10 list.

Keep watch on my Twitter page and Facebook page for a link to a short story of mine that’s coming out in the next few days as part of Jodi Cleghorn’s ‘Deck the Halls’ which is part of a new project of ‘literary mix tapes.’

And I hope people enjoy their holidays and remember that we wouldn’t have them if it wasn’t for workers before us fighting for them. You can use that line when a right-wing relative tries the old ‘unions have done nothing for me’ line because they’d be working through Christmas if it wasn’t for unions (Yes, even if Christmas Day falls on a weekend because unions fought for the weekend too) /rant

2010 in review

I’m off to Sydney tomorrow night so this could possibly be my last blog post of 2010 (“Awww!”) and in the theme of it being the end of the year and getting all nostalgic and stuff, I thought I’d look back at all the things I achieved this year. I kind of think I did a lot and made a bit of a leap forward.

Performance Poetry
I think adding spoken word or performance poetry to my repertoire is probably the most significant thing to happen to me this year. In May, after some encouragement from Santo Cazatti, I read for the first time at an open mic night in Brunswick and haven’t looked back.

Over this year, I’ve read at many open mic nights, slams and events around Melbourne, regularly producing new work to perform. It’s paid off because next year I’ll do my first feature poetry performance.

Inspired by my foray into spoken word as well as my regular contribution to #FridayFlash, I started up a new thing, a kind of twitter meme, called #SpokenSunday where each Sunday I got people to record spoken word pieces or readings and post them to Twitter and on the blog.

It was a modest success, thanks mainly to Annie for keeping it ticking, as Sundays got too busy and I fell behind in keeping it running. It’s moving across to the writing blog, Write Anything with me next year.

My first eBook Reader
In September, thanks to my tax return, I bought my first eReader, a Sony Reader Touch. This is significant because eReaders and digital publishing have been probably the most talked about topics in the literature world this year and I wanted to be an early adopter considering I’ve been obsessed with the topic as well. I probably haven’t used it as much as I’d have liked but I bought an Amazon Kindle too that’ll be delivered in January.

The Red Pen – Issue One
In October, I launched the debut issue of my radical zine, The Red Pen, which is full of fiction and poetry from other radicals and was a way for me to get explicitly left-wing fiction out there. The launch with spoken word from some Melbourne’s best radical poets was one of the highlights of my year.

Chinese Whisperings and ‘Somewhere to Pray’
This project consumed up most of my year and I wouldn’t give it up for anything (and I’m led to believe I’m doing it again next year!). Thanks to Jodi Cleghorn for getting me in on this and teaching me so much in terms of writing and editing. ‘Somewhere to Pray’ is my story in the twin anthologies and if you’re allowed to have a favourite story of your own, this would be my one currently. It’s out as an eBook but is coming out in paperback next year too.

Interviewing China Miéville
This would have to take the prize for the most exciting opportunity of the year. When Angela Meyer asked me to do the interview with her at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I think my reply was something like “Fuck yes!” Angela and I got a little under half an hour to quiz China on his work and as could be expected, I asked about how it links with his politics too. This was amazing not only because I consider him the closest to my own style, but also because he’s an incredibly warm and intelligent man.

Launching the Sanity Juxtaposed eBook
I thought this one wasn’t going to happen. Between working out what to put in the thing, editing, proof reading and formatting the eBook, I learnt a lot from the process and am still learning now with the sale of it. I launched it in October and for Kindle this month. Working with Smashwords has been fun and I hope to experiment more with them next year.

50 Stories for Pakistan
I never actually blogged about this when it happened, but at the end of October, Big Bad Media and Greg McQueen launched 50 Stories for Pakistan, a book of short stories to raise money for victims of the floods in Pakistan. I have a little story, ‘Packages to Neighbours’ in there and it’s my first story somewhere in print (other than zines), which is a bit of a milestone.

In November, I won National Novel Writing Month for the second time, working with a story arc paced at around 50,000 words, which isn’t technically a novel but I’m looking forward to rewriting it after I finish that final scene. Writing felt tougher this year but I’m glad to feel like I’m getting better at this novel writing thing.

I don’t think I did too badly this year. I’m still missing finishing that elusive major project like a novel or short story collection but perhaps that can be for next year.

Christmas Island tragedy: they have watched them sink before

Another boat has sunk making the dangerous voyage to Australia fleeing war and persecution. More asylum seekers have died. This is yet another tragedy. And I read all the details I can find to help explain what is going on. It is almost too much, and is too much for some people.

The reminders are stark. I am reminded of the SIEV X tragedy where hundreds of asylum seekers were left to drown in the middle of the ocean whilst the Navy, under Howard’s watch, watched them drown. Indeed, the Labor government has had their fair share of boats sink whilst in government.

Both Labor and the Liberals have been quite happy to have these people drown in the middle of the ocean. They see it as better than them coming here.

I am reminded a poem I wrote and published on this blog a few weeks ago, They Kill Them. In particular these lines:
They cut the cue
Shut the gate
Force another route
They watch them
on the way

They kill them
In the end,
they kill them

It angers me that in response to this latest tragedy, both Labor and the Liberals have come out saying now is not a time to ‘play politics.’ Others have said this too. I think they only say it because they know the blame is on them and they want to save their skins.

Politicians are crying crocodile tears for the cameras, pretending to give a shit about these desperate people when underneath the façade of public politics, we all know that it is the policies of the Labor government that has driven these asylum seekers to this situation where they have lost their lives.

The question is being asked: Why is that, in a body of water so heavily patrolled, that the Navy intercepts boat after boat trying to safely reach Australian shores to seek asylum but they manage to miss a boat that is heading toward cliffs on Christmas Island?

I think they knew all along. As I said at the start with SIEV X and numerous others, they have watched them sink before.

David Marr’s piece in The Age asks the same question today.

And finally, The Age also reports on Wikileaks cables that have been released concerning conversations between the US and Australia around the issue of asylum seekers. It seems even the US have cautioned Australia on how the Labor government have dealt with the issue.

Mind you, they’re only concerned about it from the point of view of how it looks with the logic of PR politics. It’s also the height of hypocrisy given how the US treats Mexican immigrants and Cuban refugees.

I’d certainly like to see some more Wikileaks concerning what our government is really saying about Christmas Island and this tragedy. Whilst the world community attacks Assange, they’ve learnt nothing from this and I’m sure there are plenty of details they’re trying to hide and we need to expose. They did it with SIEV X as well.

Now is the time for politics. We need to blame the policies of the government for leading to this tragedy and we need to stand up to actually turn this around. Asylum seekers should be able to safely land on Australian shores and seek asylum.

In fact, instead of intercepting boats to lock up asylum seekers in places like Christmas Island – or watching them drown, wouldn’t it be nice if we helped these people get here? They certainly deserve it but our government isn’t going to take anything like a humane approach unless we force them to.

On not writing, political action and doing other things

It’s been two weeks since the end of November and National Novel Writing Month, that month that saw my time taken over by forcing myself to write. Now that it’s over, writing is becoming hard. It happens each year. In December, you’re relieved you don’t have to write anymore and so you don’t, you don’t force yourself and you don’t feel like it.

In part, I deserve the break, but also, it’s probably my main gripe about doing NaNoWriMo. I don’t like to feel like I’ve spent everything. There’s some opportunities open to me that I just can’t motivate myself to pursue.

The current attention around Julian Assange and Wikileaks has thrown me into political action and shifted my focus. Which is a good thing. I’ve spoken about the see-saw nature of me going from writing and activism and back to writing again. There’s another demonstration on tomorrow night at 5.30pm back at the State Library. We’re hoping to keep the momentum going and I’ll try to actually blog about this one. I had the megaphone in my hand on Friday.

Political activity and my mind thinking about the political questions around this attack on freedom of speech will probably help to foster ideas for writing again and political activity has always helped to provide some actual content to my words.

This as well as reading fiction and watching movies will help to begin filling my well of ideas again and push me to the keyboard. I’ve also been playing a lot of video games, which probably doesn’t foster anything deep but has been a welcome distraction whilst some of the creative elements of customisation in some games is a bit of an outlet. I love games that let you create your own characters and worlds and shape the game around your personality.

I’ve also done some visual art. I have no skills like drawing or painting so it’s more using other materials to create more three-dimensional visual art. I want to do more of that as well as keep reading poetry I’ve already written.

I don’t think there’s much to be gained by forcing myself back to writing so I guess I will let myself be immersed in political action, video games, other media and other art and see how this helps me to recharge.

War criminals and Wikileaks: hypocisy and double-standards

The story about Wikileaks and their leader, Julian Assange has exploded over the last week with probably more attention on Assange and releasing the documents than what the documents actually say. If the government’s of the world thought arresting him would make the whole thing blow over, they’re in for a huge surprise.

WikileaksThe word that continually comes to mind when people like Julia Gillard or Hilary Clinton open their mouths to attack Assange for putting people’s lives at risk is ‘hypocrisy.’ The most obvious point to make out of this whole thing is that it is what the documents report that have put lives at risk – and actually taken lives.

The documents blow open the secrets and lies and covert operations that the US and it’s allies have used to get away with fucking over the rest of the world, namely the Middle East, and doing what it likes, without accountability. The media in Australia has largely ignored some of the big revelations in the cables, such as the secret bombing of Yemen that has been going on for years.

Clinton and others try to claim that revealing secrets especially to do with diplomatic relations between nation states puts lives at risk. They think that they should be able to go around and say what they like without impunity, without accountability. It just shows that the whole notion of diplomacy is a joke.

Do people honestly think the US and Saudi Arabia should be able to secretly conspire to bomb the shit out of Iran? Exposing this fact is not the problem. It is the very fact that countries do this that is the problem.

Some journalists have even gone so far as to claim the documents might spark war, not prevent it, but they seem to absolve the US of all its crimes. Perhaps some fire should be aimed toward the US. You know, the ones with the guns and the planes that go around the world and occupy countries?

The other double-standard is around freedom of information. In the age of the War on Terror, the civil liberties of ordinary people and our right to privacy has been massively curtailed. Our lives are monitored in every aspect. This is done in the name of ‘security.’ Ordinary citizens, just for the crime of flying, have been effectively sexually assaulted by security guards in the name of security.

But for some reason, this does not apply to those applying the laws. Why are the ones actually going to war, the ones with the bombs and military arsenal not subject to the same surveillance?

In the name of ‘national security’ and other such terms used to beat down any threat to the powers that be, they justify monitoring the lives of the general population whilst justifying covering up all of their war crimes.

The world would be a more peaceful place if the US and its allies just didn’t go around and bomb and occupy and corrupt countries to serve their own interests. That seems logical to myself and most people, but it’s outside of the logic of capitalism and imperialism where the right of a few to make profit goes ahead of the lives of the majority.

Wikileaks threatens the ability of governments to lie and cheat to go to war. In my opinion, that’s a bloody good thing.

There will be demonstrations around Australia to defend Julian Assange who has been arrested in the UK:
Melbourne: Friday, December 10 at 4.30pm at the State Library (demo should go until after 6 so people should come after work)
Sydney: Friday, December 10 at 1pm at Sydney Town Hall
Brisbane: Thursday, December 10 at 5.30pm at Brisbane Square, top of Queen Street Mall

Writing Goals: November to December

With NaNoWriMo and the insanity of November out of the way, it’s time to plan out some things I want to do in December before the end of the year and all that.

November Goals

  1. Write 50,000 words toward my NaNoWriMo novel
  2. This was my only goal and I was sorely focused on pumping out those words everyday. I did it and now I’m proud of myself. But you can read about that elsewhere.

December Goals

Dart BoardIf there’s a downside to the month of writing 50,000 words it’d be the inevitable flat period for about a week after. Pushing yourself means you want a break at the end – but I guess that’s okay. With December being the season of holidays and all, there is less time for writing anyway. That said, I do want to do achieve something.

  1. Finish the last scene of my NaNo-novel and put it to bed
  2. I passed the 50,000 words mark in the middle of the final scene. I need to finish it off, which shouldn’t be too hard, and put it away for a bit to work out what to do with it, if anything at all.

  3. Rewrite, edit and submit ‘the Bunyip story’
  4. A competition that closes in two weeks (thanks to Jodi Cleghorn for the heads up!) prompted me to go back and find a story that’s a twist on the old Bunyip tale that I was meant to edit ages ago. I’m think short fiction might become a post-NaNo focus and I wonder if I can finalise at least a short story a month for a while.

  5. Begin formatting print version of Sanity Juxtaposed
  6. With the eBook of Sanity Juxtaposed out and available in places like Kobo Books and the iBookStore, it’s time to get a started on the print-on-demand paperback version which requires a bit more work with things like typesetting. I think I’m going to go with as opposed to but still trying to work out a suitable desktop publishing method.

  7. Finish reading The Danger Game
  8. My reading goals are becoming increasingly delusional given that I never actually finish the books I attempt to. This is my fault, not the awesome books such as Kalinda Ashton’s amazing novel that I’m reading now. But given I’ve posted a four part interview with Kalinda, in which she said I ought to finish it, I think I actually should do so. (Blog post coming soon lamenting and pondering my poor reading habits and how to improve them.)

  9. Update and systematise a bibliography for my blog/website
  10. I’ve actually had some stuff published or writing appear elsewhere in the last couple of months, which has been nice. It’s mostly been guest blog posts or other non-fiction on the interwebs, but there’s been some fiction too – one of it is even in print!

    Anyway, I have a writing and bibliography page on the website but it’s not attached the blog so I have to edit it in raw HTML which means it doesn’t happen. I had a spreadsheet too I was updating but forgot about that as well. This month I hope to fix this up and make it easy to keep up to date.

You might have noticed that I’ve axed the Cultural Goal, Political Research Goal and Blogging Goal thing, but there is a cultural goal (reading) and a kind of blogging goal (the bibliography) but forcing myself to come up with goals in those categories, especially the research, has become tiresome so I axed it.

I’m even considering whether or not to continue posting these goals posts. I did say they were for me and were worth it even if people don’t read them but I’m wondering if they’re annoying or a put off. Other bloggers and regular readers should let me know what you think if you’ve read this far.

Sorry, this title is unavailable: the state of digital book selling in Australia

I’ve owned a Sony Reader Touch edition since mid-September. It’s a device I’d been waiting to hit the Australian market and I believed more access to devices like these, as well as the Kindle and Kobo, would mark an increase in the popularity of eBooks in Australia.

Print and DigitalSadly though, I haven’t read all that much on the Sony Reader and as such, haven’t been able to come to some sort of conclusion about the device to post a review. The problem isn’t the device, it’s the lack of availability of books to put on the device. So long as the books I want to read are not available as an eBook and only available in print, print book reading will remain the dominant way I consume books.

There are plenty of books available, if I want to read the selection available at provided through the Kobo eco-system, but I would be selecting books on the basis of getting to read them on the Reader, not the books I want to read.

It seems to me that the range available consists of mostly best sellers and mainstream titles and at the other end, unknown titles and some small or independent publishers. There are a lot of mid-level or small press publishers in Australia that haven’t made their books available yet. Of all the books on my to-read list, most are not available.

In doing research and investigation for a piece for Ricochet Mag’s blog, I contacted some publishers about the progress of transitioning to the digital marketplace. In searching for some titles, such as John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, I found that whilst it was available overseas, it was not licensed to be sold in Australia. In a global marketplace such as the Internet, this makes little sense to me. Why would someone want to stop me from wanting to purchase their book?

Kobo Store

A quick search on Google led me to numerous pirated files of the same book (poorly formatted, mind you) and so the archaic divisions around territorial rights seem even more absurd and counter-productive.

I was pleased and surprised however to hear that some publishers are on their way and it’s just a matter of the titles being converted into the right formats. So it’s not all just lost in the purgatory of bullshit legal negotiations.

I can’t help though but be continually frustrated with the whole marketplace at the moment. It is moving too slowly for my liking and even from the perspective of capitalism, it seems problematic. The progress of publishing and reading is being held back by sectional interests and this unwillingness to realise that this is what is happening.

Looking across at competing devices and eBook eco-systems such as Amazon and their Kindle hasn’t brought much more hope. The same titles I’ve been looking for are unavailable there too. Even if it was a closed system with annoying DRM, if the titles were available, I’d switch. As it’s not like and the EPUB format are free of DRM and bullshit restrictions.

The Borders eBook store powered by Kobo is horrible to find books and the process of ‘authorising’ the use of files you paid for is unnecessary, frustrating and bug prone. Even after authorising a file, there can be problems accessing it. Also, some titles have formatting not suitable to certain devices and makes the files unreadable, this includes titles from major publishers.

The problems with DRM and finding books make Borders and the Sony Reader not that much better in my opinion from Amazon and the Kindle.

Aside from releasing my own book, Sanity Juxtaposed and having access to a whole range of DRM-free eBooks released by independent publishers via Smashwords and other avenues, my digital reading experience has been frustrating and underwhelming.

Publishers and digital book sellers need to pick up their act and remove a lot of the unnecessary barriers that get in the way of honest readers just wanting to read books.