Friday, 9 May 2008

Before the Dust Settles

Well, it’s finally a reality!

During the second half of 2007, I took a creative writing unit as part of my degree at Murdoch University. The unit was designed to allow students to work on and develop one 6000-word piece over the course of the semester. However, unlike previous creative writing units, this one didn’t allow for a reading of each student’s completed work. We were only privy to extracts as they were workshopped over the course of the semester. As such, it was suggested that we somehow publish our work—for ourselves—so that everyone had an opportunity to read everyone else’s finished pieces. I volunteered to compile this humble anthology, which at the beginning was merely going to be spiral-bound photocopies done on the cheap. Concurrently, I’d been reading Jeff VanderMeer’s very interesting essay on the publishing history of City of Saints and Madman, which was where I first came across the term POD, or Print-On-Demand publishing—a digital printing process which allows for cheap reproduction, making it financially feasible for small runs like ours (30-odd copies). So I put it to the group that we pursue this avenue, making our anthology as professional-looking as possible, which increased my workload since I was now compiling and designing and editing—all for the first time in my life. In keeping with the nature of the anthology, it was title Before the Dust Settles, representing our first foray into published writing, and was ostensibly published by Liminal Press... hopefully my fellow classmates will get the (admittedly not very funny) gag.

Today, I received the proof copy (many thanks to Cory @ Digital Print Australia for putting up with such a newbie), and it looks fantastic. Our cover art is a fantastic line drawing by Petri Ivalo Sinda, a fellow classmate who also has his story included. The full contents is:

Introduction – Peta Mulcahy
Peta was our tutor and an experienced writer and editor in her own right. She expected the best from each of us, and wouldn’t let anyone settle for second rate writing.

Of Life and Death – Lesley Ward
A story with a social conscience and distinct local flavour. Lesley doesn’t mind telling it like it is, but does it artistically and with an economy of language that I envy. A young man’s experience of life and death in the vibrant world of Fremantle.

Saving Eyes – Michelle Tan
Michelle writes with a kind of simplicity that draws the reader in its warmth and heart. Saving Eyes is not a sentimental story by any means; rather, it makes its point gently and carefully. It is about a young woman’s last day in an anonymous city, and what it means to find yourself.

I Slipped Away – Seth Merlo
My own story is the only real fantastic piece in this anthology. It was also an opportunity to work through my own feelings regarding my father’s unexpected death. A dying man has an opportunity to see his father one last time.

Circles – Rachel French
Rachel’s contribution is a collection of poetry about the cycles of life and death as she sees them played out in her local context, allowing her to tackle a range of issues including the murder of Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu in 2006.

Satisfaction – Penny Morgan
Penny’s story focuses on a cast of middle-aged couples and the interplay and sexual politics between them. She writes with a wonderfully controlled prose reminiscent of Virginia Woolf (who I understand Penny is heavily influenced by).

Chessday – Bernard Booth
This pseudo-science fictional piece zips along at an incredible pace thanks to Bernard’s rapid-fire and witty dialogue. A physics professor decides to get rid of the verb to be from his internal lexicon, with disastrous consequences. It also raises the question of how physics as a discipline might be advanced when it takes a lifetime to learn all the basics.

Love and Other Agnosias – Petri Ivalo Sinda
Petri has already had stories and artwork published in the likes of Eidolon and
Daikaiju and is pursuing a creative writing Honours degree. His story here displays his penchant for experimenting with technique and language without sacrificing a good story. A man with a strange medical condition manages to find love and fulfillment.

Flowers for the Queen – Pearl Sumner
An autobiographical piece that chronicles an incident in Pearl’s childhood. Pearl is blind, and this gives her writing an incredible aural sense that the rest of us simply couldn’t achieve—while we tend to focus on the visual and struggle with the aural (if we attempt to deal with it at all), Pearl pins sounds down to the page as if she plucked them out of the air. Her story is poignant and representative of the kind of society we had at the time.

It’s a diverse collection, which is as it should be, given the unit ostensibly caters to all types, though I struggled against the program’s general dislike for speculative fiction and was told on one occasion that my talent was wasted on Fantasy. If I have any talent at all, I think the greater crime would be in not using it, in not writing at all, and I find it rather disparaging to claim that the fantastic offers ‘real’ writers no genuine opportunities to flex their creative and intellectual muscles. At any rate, this anthology represents an opportunity for me personally to have a go at editing and publishing, an activity that has fascinated me for a while and which I wouldn't mind moving into as a potential career. Already, there's things I'd do differently next time around, but everyone has to start somewhere I suppose.

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