Contemplating the Category of the Real

September 16, 2008 at 6:37 am (Uncategorized)

Sitting in bed last night, I was compelled to read aloud to Llew from Wasp Season. I’ve seen enough documentaries in my time to know it’s actually no picnic out there in the natural world, but I was still astonished by the knock-down, drag-out horror of life in the main character’s garden. There was so much violence. And it made for very gripping reading. Llew was trying to read something about golf swings (seriously), but I just had no choice but to keep interrupting Greg Norman with another classic battle scene from the pages of Jenny’s book. I can honestly say I’ve learnt a lot reading her novel, and I will never look at insect and animal kingdoms the same way again. Once I was on a roll, I actually flipped back to near the beginning and shared a passage with Llew about how a native wasp species paralyses spiders as future meals for the developing pupae. Um, incredibly disturbing. In the book Jenny describes it as a kind of ‘gothic horror’ and I’d agree. The wasps basically bury the spiders alive and then pluck them limb from limb after keeping them paralysed – but alive – in seriously deprived conditions for some incredible period of time like 30 days. All that suffering, only to be devoured bit by bit.  That sort of psychotic violence would have any human being imprisoned for a very, very long time, and a good thing too. And there I was afraid of the spiders; I can’t tell you how I pity them now. There’s so much more of this: a bee massacre, a slaughter of sleeping queens, rampant cannibalism and inter-species warfare. Unbelievable and gruesome stuff. But yes, very educational! Very. 

Rich with ghoulish detail, Jenny’s book was far and away the highlight of my day yesterday, because late afternoon I received notice that neither of my short story submissions were accepted for inclusion in the next issue of Going Down Swinging, an Australian literary anthology. I re-read both stories yesterday, as well as other starts I’ve made on several other manuscripts (there’s a lot of words I’ve written that have never seen the light of day…), and the good news is I still actually quite like them both. The bad news is I’m kind of sorry neither one made the cut because it means I won’t successfully reach my little self-imposed milestone/deadline of one fiction acceptance by my birthday. I turn 36 on Friday. Time’s up. The GDS notification was my last hope of making it (can you hear the final grains of sand sliding through the hourglass? I can). 

FUCK FUCK FUCK BUM SHIT FUCK. There. Better now. They received – get this – over one thousand submissions. One thousand. For an anthology you can either buy online or write away for in the post, so it’s not exactly front and centre at your local bookstore. But they’ve still selected a bunch of pieces for the issue, and neither of mine made the cut. Still. Again. Haven’t we been here before? Indeed we have, my dears, indeed we have. Pleasant, isn’t it? Sigh. Is it just me in competitive mode (just how big is this field of competitors, anyway??), or are more people writing these days? It’s a great thing, really, if that’s true, because it means there will be even more wonderful writing out there to enjoy, but boy, it makes it tough when you’re trying to rise not even to the top of the pile but the bottom of the IN tray. I’d love to just make the IN tray. I wouldn’t mind finding out AT ALL that they had to flip a coin to decide if they’d try and squeeze my borderline entry into their book. Nope. Borderline is fine. Just so long as it’s their side of the borderline. As it is I’m in the OUT tray. If this is Checkpoint Charlie, then I’m not on the cool side of Berlin. I’m stuck with the people who know perfectly fucking well that the grass IS greener on the other side (“You have grass?! I want grass! I love grass!”). And I’m firmly excluded, too, with not one, but two more rejections to add to my list. A double whammy. Efficient of me, don’t you think? Yes, I think so too. Marvellous, really. Almost Germanic. 

So here I am having another identity crisis about my writing and the manner of writer I am. I think about Varuna, and everything Peter and the Dark Girls (yes, we have a name for ourselves now, and it’s come out of the fact that Varuna is made possible by the Eleanor Dark Foundation. Eleanor Dark was a prolific Australian novelist, and her son, Michael Dark, established the Foundation and the Varuna model after his parents left the Varuna home to him after their deaths. It’s an incredible thing he’s done for Australian writers, really incredible, and we five women also especially loved the fact that Varuna was the home of a great Australian female writer, so the Dark Girls it is) said about my manuscript, and I am left wondering what to do. My interests are fixed so firmly in the ‘Real’ that even when I make things up it seems people assume it’s true. Am I, in my heart, a non-fiction writer? And are my cherished fantasies of one day becoming a ‘Real Writer’ a little too wedded to fiction as the only ‘Real Writing’ there is? Of course that’s absurd – just look at the wonderful David Sedaris – but that doesn’t mean it may not be precisely the mental block that’s been (and remains) lodged in my way. Maybe it is. Maybe the hard truth (and there it is again…) is that I’m no fiction writer. Maybe my only chance of ever becoming a ‘Real Writer’ lies in ‘Writing the Real.’



  1. Jenny said,

    Thanks Di, for your response to Wasp Season. I was afraid I’d get the treatment of your WHO review. Has that come out yet? And on rejection, I think I told you I bought a big, big box file and wrote ‘rejection letters on it.” Only when it was quite full would I get down on myself. You’ve really only just started, and I’m sure you know that persistence is at least as important a quality as talent. If you’re so worried about genre, could you redo it from 3rd person? Noone ever seems to argue non fiction then? Otherwise, give it another going over and submit it to the Harper Collins thing at Varuna. That’s what I’m going to do. As Alumni, there’s not even a fee, and it gets another look from Peter. Just take it easy ……
    Jenny xxoo

  2. doctordi said,

    The WHO review is in the issue that’s on sale tomorrow, my dear Darkling. I thought the review of Wasp Season in the ALR was pretty salient on ‘the people problem’; you’re totally aware of it, in agreement with it, and working on it, so I didn’t think there was any call to go into that side of things. The point for me was how effectively you created tension and real pathos when it came to all the life in the garden. It was amazing, actually. There are certainly passages and lessons I’ll never forget.

    No, you didn’t tell me about your rejection box – what a good idea! Yes, I agree – and tenacity I have. I just think aloud on this blog so often that I sometimes post about things I haven’t fully digested myself. It’s very immediate sometimes, which can be misleading because I’m working through issues sometimes literally as I type. I rarely feel as confused or upset once I’m done, so the mere act of typing seems to be clarifying. As you know from our email exchange this morning, I am feeling really excited about the fog clearing, and like I am starting to understand both what’s been holding me back (my misguided, self-inflicted attachment to a literary pretension about fiction being the only true art-form of the written word), and where I need to go (with my own creative heart).

  3. doctordi said,

    FYI, Jenny, that poor old review in WHO lost even more words between the final edit and publication… it’s all a bit blunt sounding now, unfortunately.

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