The Lay of the Land

August 4, 2010 at 1:32 am (Uncategorized)

“The time has come,” the Walrus said… yes, the moment has arrived: I have to go back to work on the MS. I’ve had a decent break away from it after the last disappointment. Because of the coincidental timing of that, I haven’t looked at it since I got back from the Varuna residency – more than a month ago now. The whole of July was given over to other things – redrafting a couple of short stories, writing a first draft of the new one, reading and giving feedback on a new Darkling MS, looking for a mentor, following the forthcoming federal election with a sense of mounting horror (sorry, but if Tony Abbott is the next leader of this perplexing country, we will have no choice but to start engineering our way out of it), and finally filing the latest Varuna Alumni News feature.

Speaking of which, I should probably mention its debut: as of this month, the Varuna Alumni site is going public, and the News will now be accessible via Varuna’s own main website. This month it’s listed on the RHS of the home page under ‘Announcements’ – by clicking on the ‘Varuna Alumni Website’ hyperlink, you’ll go straight into the August edition of the News.

This month’s feature is on endings – and was very nearly the end of me, that’s for sure, as I wrestled with Shuckin’ Charlotte’s absence (she’s usually my gatekeeper, and the brains of the operation), and the new formatting requirements (my technical skills are strictly on a need-to-know basis, and up until now, I’ve only ever needed to know how to send a Word doc). Next month I plan to conquer images – Llewie’s given me a little tutorial after I tried and failed to figure it out for myself. Anyway, it’s Out There, and over time I hope the change from private to public proves beneficial to all.

Meanwhile, the mentor situation has presently failed to resolve itself. I’m not going to just sign up in desperation with any old mentor; I can’t afford to risk it backfiring from either a practical or financial perspective (because wow, do these baby costs keep mounting). I’d rather wait, keep my ear to the ground and my eyes peeled, and see what eventuates. But I am on the clock: our little friend is coming (and maybe isn’t so little after all…), my alone time is running out, and I need to get cracking.

I’ll admit to being a little scared about going back in there. I think I’ll just try to focus on not having finished the latest redraft anyway, because my job wasn’t done even before the disappointment of not making the Penguin/Varuna shortlist (which still stings). Usually these bruises fade pretty briskly, especially now there’s been quite a few, but not this time. In my mind, I use these things as a kind of marker of progress, and failing to make that shortlist was so violently disheartening because I truly believed – still believe – that the MS had come a long way since it did make one of their shortlists, so the negative result was blistering.

Not making that list is one of those things I cannot change, and while I accepted it within a day or two of the announcement, what’s taken longer is figuring out the implications for what is still in my power to control. How should I read this rejection, how can the MS benefit from it, and what do I do now? These questions don’t have immediate answers, and the reason I so deliberately stepped away from the MS at the time is that I have learned my instinctive temptation to rush in must be curbed at all costs. I still don’t feel like I have the answers, but I do feel like it’s time to face up to the job at hand.

I do worry a little that the time for my MS is already upon us, culturally speaking, and that I am missing the good ship Zeitgeist. Graphic novels are much in the press right now, and the master himself, Neil Gaiman, is appearing at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday night as part of a weekend-long Graphics Festival. Gaiman’s Sandman has become an influential component of my MS, both structurally and thematically, and it’s been very difficult watching this wave of mainstream interest rise when I haven’t even been able to get the MS to leave the shore. I feel like the MS is probably missing its moment, and I am powerless to stop it because I haven’t managed to do my job well or fast enough. That’s a pretty terrible feeling, I must admit, because I think the MS has potential it isn’t reaching because I am its lumbering guide, and it’s stuck with me, and I am holding it back.

Timing. It’s never been my forte. Maybe I’ll iron out the problems, maybe eventually I’ll succeed in doing what needs to be done, and maybe one day the MS will meet with someone else’s approval, but I seriously doubt it’ll be in time to surf this current wave, and that’s a shame.

For now, onwards.



  1. Norwichrocks said,

    Okay, breathe. The graphic novel wave isn’t going away anytime soon – there are a whole bunch of gn-inspired films on the way and the iPad/iPhone format has proved a surprising success for graphic novels, which is fuelling more interest in the genre – all of which explains the SOH weekend, if you ask me. So, I don’t think you’ll miss the MS being able to surf the waves, that break is only going to get bigger 🙂

    • doctordi said,

      Truce, I am following your advice and breathing deeply – in out, in out. I hope you’re right.

      Yes, you’re right about iPads and GNs, and while mine is not a GN per se, I do think the MS would also work well as an e-book, much as it’s difficult for me to admit that because of my lifelong attachment to the conventional published novel. Still, it would be great to have the capacity to click on images and so forth as the technology develops, and because my MS is fairly lawless in terms of keeping within certain literary boundaries, there’s no question the new e-publishing possibilities are compelling for this particular project.

      • Maryanne Khan said,

        Your Doctorness

        I recently attended an ASA seminar and one entire segment was devoted to electronic media, games etc, the general wonder of what’s now available out there etc. Fell on deaf ears in my case as I’m not hip enough to think of an electronic application for my novel, but I’ll see what the presenter gave us. Well there was the Australia Council’s ‘A Writer’s Guide to Making a Digital Living’ guide.

        This presenter was really, really excited about it all and said that it’s not a linear industry but offers multiple facets like games etc as spinoffs (spins off?). I felt terribly passe, sitting there without a clue in the world.

      • doctordi said,

        Oh, Maryanne, I’m sure I’m *not* hip enough, it’s just the way the MS has evolved – the potential as an e-book is undeniably there, though I am not sure the applications are advanced enough right now for what I am imagining in my mind. I really don’t know what they can do, I just know I can imagine the world in which you’ll be able to have drop out boxes and hyperlinks and floating graphics and anime… all would be extraordinarily useful to me in terms of this particular story.

        It will happen, they will develop really sophisticated apps for e-books, it’s only a matter of time, and I do think it’s pretty exciting too – even though I am a thinly disguised Luddite.

      • Norwichrocks said,

        ah, we must get together soon then, cos I have an iPad with a whole bunch of stuff on it that I could show you to give you a tour of the possibilities 🙂

        Whatchaupto this weekend?

      • doctordi said,

        I was going to the GRAPHIC festival! I wondered if I’d run into you there – did you go??

        But thanks, Truce, I would be very interested in that chat, although as I say, I have no plans to self-publish. I’m just interested in what’s possible now, and what’s going to become possible in the near future. Weekends are tricky, so maybe one night after work? i can come your way.

  2. Maryanne Khan said,

    Six years ago, I started a novel , Walking to Karachi, that was based on the incredible memories of my Pakistan-born husband of ten years, Raja. At that time I said, “Pity it’s in Pakistan, no one gives a damn about Pakistan.” True at the time. Submitted it to a major competition. No shortlist but back then, you got some feedback, so one of the judges had something to say about it and I took it on board and did a rewrite. Submitted again the following year and two more after that, always listening to the feedback and rewriting. Submitted also to another regional writers thing, where it made the shortlist, but, more importantly, it gained the attention of the guy running the thing. He came to Canberra and I booked a meeting, during which he told me it was an important, timely (and in parts, very funny) novel and he was going to make sure it was seen by a publisher. Try again next year. Rewrite. Submitted the mss.

    Meantime, every place I mention in the novel was the site of a bombing or a disaster of some kind, The Qissa Khwani Bazaar bombed, Peshawar bombed, Abbotabad bombed, Dera Ismail Khan bombed, the Pearl Intercontinental — every damn place in the book in the news. Not to mention the Taliban and the complicity of the Pakistani ISI. . . as recently as this week when even Multan was on SBS as the site of major flooding. (Ironic as Raja had worked on the first irrigation systems in that area 30 years ago.)

    In 2008 I won the comp and went to meet the editor who’d selected my novel, excited, only to be told that I should axe the last third of a 140,000 word manuscript because the immigration experience of the protagonist was too hard to bear for a reader who had been following a rather heroic character only to see him forced to immigrate to Australia where he was disoriented, alienated and all that jazz. So I had to invent a new last third, 40,000 words.

    The novel is based on what actually happened, but all the characters were invented by me and the whole book is written from the point of view of a Pakistani, no western ‘filters’ in there . . . which was what made it unique in the publisher’s eyes.

    Rewrote the end in 2 months, submitted it to my editor who did not answer me for six months with any comment on the revised ending. Then he called, saying I’d done fine, well done! new ending was great and by the way, he was leaving and going off to another publisher.


    I was what they call ‘orphaned.’

    Then it went straight to the Acquisitions Editor, Literary Fiction, in December last year. ‘What is it, fiction? Non-fiction?’ No idea what it was on her part. On the To Read pile.There it sat (after I had been told she needed a couple of weeks to look at it) for months until I heard that she had started to read it and was enjoying it very much. Encouraging! But what she might think of the whole is another matter. Worrisome. . . . tenterhooks . . . what if it falls apart somewhere?

    Then months more with no comment until May, when I was told that she liked it ‘very, very much.’ I was also told that she had communicated as much previously, which had not happened. No cigar for the June acquisitions meeting (for very good reason as she had a couple of other ‘debut’ novels and she wanted to single mine out, getting sales, marketing and publicity to actually read it before it went through in July.)

    ‘You’ll know at the end of July’.

    Right, so I wait through June and July until I hear from a colleague on 29/07 that she heard through her agent (I ain’t got one) there was uproar in the publisher’s over the boss leaving and there had been no June meeting after all. So . . . where does that leave me?

    Email to editor, asking for any news. Nothing.

    In the meantime, Pakistan is in the news daily, people are asking why, why is it like that? and all the answers are in my novel.
    the same lot have published ‘Marrying Ameera.’ Set in Pakistan and Australia. Young girl shipped back to Pak to a ‘forced’ marriage. Postscript thinggy rants against this custom, mentions that it’s traditional but now illegal and there are western agencies set up to provide refuge and blah blah. YA novel full of kids with iPods, boys looking at girls, vice-versa, clandestine sms happening, strict Pak fathers and an Aussie mother who let her daughter go to Pak in full knowledge that her daughter’s passport and tickets were going to disappear and she’d be forced to marry a cousin . . . all very western-centred, all very ‘lookit! Savages!’ YA in fact. Nice cover with a girl (wearing exotic makeup) in a veil with only her eyes showing and another image below the title of same girl ‘fleeing’. Great. JUST what Pakistan needs right now.

    But back to me.

    So. No June meeting means, June stuff slipped into July, and July will slip into August . . . but hang on! August has Melb WF, Brisbane WF and at least three other major festivals that this editor must attend. It goes on until mid-September.

    So when will there be ‘my’ meeting?

    Not a word.

    Call it patience, but you need a lot of it. 6 years of it, and counting, in my case. And I have this ripper novel of which my ‘mentor’ in all this says if this lot don’t take it, someone else will.

    Meantime, Pakistan is imploding, floods are following on the heels of the worst earthquake in decades, the US is interfering, the government is taking aid and fostering the taliban simultaneously and if you want to know how and why, my book tells you.

    IF you could read it.

    • doctordi said,

      Maryanne, that is so, so, SO frustrating. Thanks for sharing all this, because it’s very valuable reading your experience.

      The tale of your ms’s path to publication is almost as riveting as the story itself sounds. These time lags are just punishing. I’m also continually gobsmacked by (not uncommon) disturbing tales of how new writers are treated by various publishing houses, agents, editors and so on – I think we’re all so snivelingly grateful for any contact at all that we do tend to accept pretty unacceptable treatment – they know that we’re on tenterhooks, and consciously or not, some members of the publishing industry do seem to exploit it.

      It’s impossible to know what to do in your case… is it time to say, ‘Look, if you’re not interested, I really need to take this elsewhere, because it’s timely NOW’?? Have you fulfilled your agreement with these people as far as it goes? I really feel for you – and I think it’s been long enough that you are well within your rights to insist on some kind of contact in a timely manner. GOOD LUCK getting your meeting – and please let us all know how it goes.

  3. Maryanne Khan said,

    Remember the scene in Crash where the black wife is berating her husband for submitting to police ill-treatment, ‘Sorry Mr. PO-lice man.”

    A bit like “Yes your majesty, no your majesty, tell us how low to go your majesty, make some more decrees your majesty, don’t let us up of our knees your majesty . . .”


    anyway, I put this up so that others might see that it’s tough out there and whilst I might feel badly done by, the publishers are running a business. They sell our writing, which we cannot manage to imagine as a commodity, but it is.

    I used to sell art, and the painters and printmakers etc used to have to follow my advice and were dependent on me to sell their stuff. I tried to be sensitive, but I was a damned good salesman as well. Reminds me of the story of Vincent Van Gogh, who used to take one of his paintings to Toulouse Lautrec’s house when he had a soiree and Vincent would set up an easel, hoping for someone to comment, or maybe buy the painting.

    Vincent never sold a picture in his lifetime and his ‘friends’ had all agreed (for fun) to never even give his stuff a glance. They pointedly ignored him and his pictures.

    He’s laughing now!

    • doctordi said,

      Poor darling Vincent – he gets quite an airing on DoctorDi, Maryanne, which is a little bit concerning now I think about it, given his fate!!!! I hadn’t heard that story of the evenings at Lautrec’s house… wow, with friends like those…

      Yep, you’re right: publishing is a business. And books are in a difficult, unique situation, because they are mass produced commodities, so it’s impossible for writers in pure perception terms to argue the case for their work being art, even though it is. Compared to a painting or sculpture or even a limited edition photo- or lithograph, a book in the minds of the average person simply doesn’t equate. And it’s pretty cruel, really, particularly as of all those things, it’s by far the novel that will take the longest to complete.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    I agree that the GN isn’t going to disappear. My kids have grown up with them as part of their reading repertoire and when they’re ready for adult books, they will be interested in a GN themed one. And I’m sure that is common.

    • doctordi said,

      I guess you’re right, Lilian. And panicking about it won’t help me finish the book any faster, so there’s zero point worrying about it! Yes, I guess kids are so exposed to multi-modalities now that GNs aren’t even unusual anymore… which is great for the genre.

  5. Maryanne Khan said,

    Ah. Further to my post regarding what happens in publishing. There was Candidate No2 from my Varuna batch running into creative director of said programme at writers’ fest, being congratulated on publisher’s decision to offer a contract and she not havin’ a clue. AND she has an agent!

    Confirmed by roped-in publisher’s editor to assure her now that the milk was spilled, that yes a contract was forthcoming.

    Colleague No 1( already with contract) also at same writers’ fest, reporting to colleague No2 she’d heard that my book was coming up next and that it was held in ‘high regard’ by whomsoever.

    I won’t attend writers’ festivals until I have a book published. Until then . . .

    • doctordi said,

      Maryanne, that sounds super, super encouraging – I guess I shouldn’t be at all surprised that the Australian industry appears to be strung out along one long grapevine, but at least it sounds like your book is being prepared for harvest – congratulations, this is great progress! Hang in there.

  6. Maryanne Khan said,

    Thanks for that.

    The phone call I just made to the coordinator of the programme has shed no further light other than to be told that he had mentioned to her that I’ve been waiting a long time and her reiterating that the problem is it’s a big book (140,000 words, almost 50% over the ‘problematic’ 100,000 word mark.)

    So no further news at all really. Just a question of waiting some more. One has to be a paradigm of patience eh?

    • doctordi said,


      Well, hang in there – it all sounds very promising, and yes, I guess these days that is a big book, so let’s cut them some slack!

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