Peering out across this literary landscape, it’s eucalyptus trees for me

August 25, 2009 at 7:03 am (Uncategorized)

My editor seems to have forgiven my apostrophe rant; he’s just called in two more stories. This sudden burst of paid activity is such a shock to my system; all of a sudden, 2009 is looking quite lucrative. If he keeps up this rash of commissions, it’ll be a bumper crop (here’s hoping – my jeans are getting really quite risque). Anyway, I am between interviews so I thought I’d attend to first things first with a post. My day started with a rectangular shadow under the front door: the first of Lilian’s books, arrived via Amazon. Marvellous! Appropriately enough, it’s her debut, The River Midnight. Her second novel, The Singing Fire, should be hot on its heels. Lilian posted an excerpt from The River Midnight on her blog a little while ago, and I thought, ‘That’s it, this is ridiculous,’ promptly ordering them both from Amazon before anything could get in my way. Easy, in the event. And it was so exciting opening the door and seeing the package there on my modest threshold, knowing it was one of Lilian’s books. As far as I’ve been able to discover, neither one is readily available in Australia, but the World Wide Web, it doth provide.

As soon as I have dispensed with The Book Thief – which I’ve finally worked up to after my WWII glut a short while back, after which I just couldn’t face it – it’s on to The River Midnight. It’s by the bed in anticipation; I can’t wait. I honestly didn’t expect to make “blogging friends” when I started DoctorDi – I didn’t know what would happen, let alone what a “blogging friend” might mean – but here you all are, so lovely, so supportive, so present in my life, and it’s incredibly pleasing – it makes me positively gleeful – having a novel in my house that one of you actually wrote. People get their thrills in such a lot of different ways, and this ranks highly among mine.

In other thrilling writing news, a second Darkling is on track to be offered representation with Australia’s largest and oldest literary agency; they’ve requested JB’s full MS. Not bad, huh? A year ago, we were a week from meeting, and I can hardly believe all that’s happened since, so much of it positive (if not quite the full fairytale). It’s been an amazing ride so far, and I know you’ll join me in crossing all digits for JB as the Darkling assault continues apace. It’s enough to make one feel like one’s letting the side down, but I dare to hope that one day… well, one day. Let’s leave it at that for now, shall we, and instead cheer those whose day has already arrived.

Finally, I had coffee first thing this morning with my Man Town writer friend L. She’s off to Paris on Monday (yes, I do hate her, most sincerely), so no joint writing days at Chez J for a few weeks, that is unless Darkling C is up from the Gong (speaking of which, the final countdown has begun for the next Darkling writing retreat, timed just after the one year anniversary of our Varuna residency and taking place over a week at beautiful Cottage Point – I am ITCHING with excitement now we’re on the home stretch). I’m sure Paris will pulse with inspiration – let’s face it, it’s what Paris does – and L shall return (kicking and screaming, I expect) sporting not only a très chic new Parisian hairdo, but an expression of fierce determination. That promises to be no end of fun; even when L’s hopping mad, overworked, stressed out of her mind, or declaring herself The Pretty One in an ongoing and riotously amusing sibling rivalry stoush, she’s always laughing. Her younger sister – the unwitting opponent in the aforementioned contest – has beaten L to the bookstore, her first (non-fiction) book due for its North American release in late December. Naturally L is livid. Bursting with pride and violence in just about equal measure. Meanwhile, younger sister’s insights into the Canadian publishing industry are fascinating and flat-out hilarious (it obviously runs in the family), and, after regaling me with more tales from the other side, L put it to me that I would do better to try my luck overseas – she’s thinking particularly of trying to get an agent in the US – instead of sending the MS out here in Australia (which I’m not even doing at the moment because, well, you know why).

Now, I have very mixed feelings about this, and part of it is ignorance. I don’t really know how it all works, here or elsewhere, but as an Australian writer with a MS set in Australia, and as someone who desperately, desperately wants to support and be part of the Australian publishing industry, I’ve just always imagined the best home for Spill is the same as mine. That’s not to suggest I don’t have elaborate fantasies of international acclaim – that would be a gigantic porky pie – only that in my reverie, it all starts right here, at home, where I know a big part of me will always belong. It seems a bit counterintuitive, and worse – ungracious, or even ungrateful – contemplating approaching American agents instead of ones right here in Sydney. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me before. It also feels a bit, um, arrogant, although I couldn’t easily tell you why. L could see how uneasy the conversation was making me, my eyes kept sliding away from hers, everything out on the street was suddenly fascinating, but she persisted in that peculiarly confident North American way until I started wondering if maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree… except ours are gum, and so help me, I love ’em.



  1. litlove said,

    My gut response is that you should stick with the Australian market. International fame will surely follow, but I think it’s even harder for non-native authors to be accepted by agents. There’s so much competition, it’s another reason to say no. And how exciting you have Lilian’s book – I do too! And am looking forward to it very much. Can’t wait to hear what you think.

    • doctordi said,

      There’s no shortage of competition here, either, Litlove, it feels like half the country is writing a book! L suggested I would be more exotic to an American agent, but personally I don’t really believe that’s true, particularly not as she also started to say Australians are considered second-class citizens internationally because of our convict past… she trailed off once she caught the look on my face, but I made her finish her sentence. I won’t lie. I was shocked. And now I’m curious. Is that honestly how Australians are perceived?

  2. Fugitive Pieces said,

    I’ve always rated this blog: for general advice, how-to, and thoughts about the American publishing industry. Worth especially looking at her “Favorite Backlist” down the right-hand column.
    However, I do think it’s worth trusting your instincts about the manuscript’s place in the world. Naturally, any agent and publisher upon whose dotted lines you sign – their international profile and partnerships would be a big part of your decision to go with them, in the long-term. BUT – if you really feel that you’ve written an Australian book, then have faith in that. No one knows the book better than you, and there’s a difference between being located and being parochial.
    PS I am truly sorry to keep hitting you (around the head?) with links. I do occasionally have thoughts of my own, sans interweb links. Not so much this week, however. Very few thoughts, many neural tumbleweeds __@______@_____________@

    • doctordi said,

      Fugitive, I love the neural tumbleweeds, they’re cool! ‘Moonrat’ is familiar, although I’d swear I’ve never seen that blog until now… And I’m enjoying the links, especially as they’re usually accompanied by your own thoughts. I’m just impressed by the speed with which you pull these things to hand, it’s quite a trick.

      Now, to your other point… have I written an Australian book? The obvious answer is yes, of course I have. It’s set here, its characters are predominantly Australian, the narrator is certainly Australian, and the vernacular is, I think, Australian. But I think that – as with the real Australia and real Australians – its frames of reference are without the country as much as within.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    Congratulations to all darklings and fingers crossed for JB. I’m thrilled that you and Litlove have RM–it is so amazing the way this internet has connected us. As for approaching a U.S. agent–if you don’t have satisfaction in Australia why not? But there are many pluses to dealing with someone local. So that’s where I’d start. You’ll get much more of a personal touch that way.

    • doctordi said,

      Lilian, it’s even better knowing Litlove will be reading it at around about the same time, it is all very connecting, isn’t it? It’s lovely! I do love the web.

      Yeah, I think you’ve just answered whatever questions remained. Say I did truly exhaust all Australian agents and publishers and still couldn’t find anyone to take on my MS, the last thing I’d do is send it overseas. Nope. I’d take it back to the privacy of my own home and ask myself what went wrong. In that scenario, I would never remotely believe They Were All Mistaken. And I agree being able to see an agent would be highly preferable.

  4. Grad said,

    You know, a couple of years ago I was either in the bookstore, or looking at a book mag, can’t remember which, and I saw the cover of The Singing Fire, and bought it on that basis alone. You know how it goes, you get a book, and want to read it, and put it on the shelf and the years drift by. ANYhoo, I started reading comments by this Lilian Nattel on the blogs I liked to visit. Lilian Nattel, Lilian Nattell – it was driving me nuts. Where or where had I heard that name? Then, in one of those Newton’s Apple moments, it hit me. I had her book up in the shelves, somewhere, somewhere. Now…where…did…I…put…that…book?? Ah ha! Here it is! Read it, loved it. I understand your point exactly about “blogging friends.” The book felt special even before I read it because I felt a remote connection to the author through my “blogging friends” blogs. I am eagerly anticipating yours – in Australia or America or somewhere else, I just want to see it published.

    • doctordi said,

      Aw, thanks, Graddikins, I wish I could deliver! Sigh. I am finding this draft really difficult, so I’m afraid it’ll be a while yet before it even goes out for a round of rejections. A mug’s game, pure and simple. That’s SO COOL about your buying Lilian’s book just because, just in the way of the universe. It’s very YOU to have done that.

  5. Grad said,

    P.S., Didikins, I loved The Book Thief, but it took me a while to re-group and recover afterwards. I dreamed about it, and I never dream about what I read. I dreamed that people were lined up at my front door. The line stretched down my walkway, and the street beyond, and over the island bridge. The people were poorly clothed, all held bowls in their hands, and I stood at the door, next to great vats of soup, and I was ladling soup into their bowls, one by one. And I kept looking down the street wondering when the line would end; but, it never ended. They kept coming; I kept filling their bowls with soup, until I awakened. I think they were from a concentration camp – it was not something I’d wish to experience again.

  6. doctordi said,

    Grad, that is thoroughly flesh-creeping and awful.

    As I told Litlove over at the Reading Room, I had the single worst dream of my life last Friday night, so terrible, so vivid, absolutely something I’ll never forget and can’t imagine how or why it was conjured out of the recesses of my mind, inconceivable on so many levels, that believe me when I say I know how disturbing that dream must have been. But there you were, trying to help. It’s something.

  7. litlove said,

    Books really do get down deep in the mind and cause trouble there, sometimes. But then when you think about how much they can comfort and reassure, I suppose the opposite is logically inevitable too!

    I most certainly do not think that Australians are the world’s second class citizens and it’s a bit shocking that your friend would say that. I can only assume it was one of those awful times when something bad happened to an innocent sentence. But I do think that people are sort of fundamentally patriotic, and so when an agent has twenty proposals in front of her, she looks at the overseas one and says to herself ‘why have I got this? Can’t the author find representation in her own country? It’s going to have to be pretty special if I’m to prefer it over all this home-grown talent…’ etc, etc. Because I DO think agents look at manuscripts in order to find ways to reject them. But that could be too much cynicism on my part…..

  8. Pete said,

    I am holding thumbs that your (new, improved) MS will be accepted by an Aussie agent and will be greeted with widespread acclaim (even here in darkest Africa, where I will be the first to read it). Love the interweb (especially the blogging network), and my RM is on its (slow) way to me. By the time I read it, you will all have moved on to other things and I will feel like the “agter-os” (the behind ox) that is always late to the kraal. But still exciting. As for Aussies as second-rate citizens, that’s sooooo 19-century (or before) and so not true. From the perspective of Cape Town, Sydney seems very glamorous. It’s the place that lucky people move to when they want to escape the crime and the sordidness of South Africa. I still love SA and am fiercely loyal but it does really get to me when a relatively small thing (such as one of our athletes being asked to take a gender test) gets blown out of proportion to become a racial slur against the country. Sorry, got sidetracked there. But just to add that just like Aussie wines are now highly regarded internationally, it seems to me that the world is taking far greater notice of their writers too.

  9. doctordi said,

    Books do burrow, don’t they? As you know, LL, The Road gave me and half the members of my book club nightmares, and Crime and Punishment did very strange things to Llew. It’s a good topic for a blog post, actually.

    I’m so glad to hear you both say that, LL and Pete – it is very anachronistic thinking, and very surprising from L, a Canadian. I always think Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Canadians just sort of get each other as members of the so-called “New World,” so this was unexpected. It’s not that I need reassuring – I love Australia, I am SO Australian, and I feel very lucky and grateful that this is my home – it was just one of those curious moments when you feel like you’ve had milk on your lip your whole entire life and no one’s bothered telling you. It was a nasty second of thinking, “They what?” Which I then consigned to a mental dustbin (cough cough, overstuffed that thing), but still. It perturbed me, but no longer. Thanks, chaps!

    Hear that, Lilian? Pete’s getting RM too! Fun, this is very fun.

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