Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Pleasing Dilemma

Square Pegs will from now on feature much more regular updates. I plan to post new content every day, but apart from the usual big Sunday post, the entries will be small. As a writer, much of my life is consumed with writing related activities. Most, though not all of my daily updates will be writing related. I will essentially write about whatever I want to because it's my blog.

I have received a contract offer with a traditional small press publisher. I have also received five offers from subsidy publishers. My manuscript, A Muddy Red River, will be my fourth published novel. I am still unknown and have not been able to break through yet, despite my best efforts. The attraction of the subsidy, or joint venture publishers, is the increased exposure through marketing and various listings. The downside is the risk. I may lose money for no discernible benefit in terms of exposure.

Any thoughts on which way I should go?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Grumpy Old Racist

In the superb drama, Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, is not at all a likeable man. This retired auto worker has a gruff disposition, a snarling visage and a narrow mind. He's a grumpy old racist. He also carries deep scars from his time as a front line soldier in the Korean War. At the beginning of the film we see him at his wife's funeral. She was possibly the only softening agent to have had any effect on him.

Hard as nails Kowalski, who uses abusive language for sport, remains alone in his house after his wife's death and battles on in the torpor of his grief and loneliness. He busies himself with the maintenance of the house and is devoted to his 1972 Ford Gran Torino which he helped to build, and his labrador, Daisy.

An unlikely friendship with two young Hmong people who live next door provides an opportunity for Walt to change, to open his mind, and to eventually have an epiphany which leads to him making the ultimate sacrifice. Sorry for the spoiler if you haven't seen the film, but if you haven't....may I ask why not? It's a must see film. Don't miss it.

I showed this film to my class of adult migrants, and it was interesting to see their reaction to the clash of cultures, and the power of common humanity to smash preconceptions and facilitate beautiful relationships. Sometimes it takes catastrophe to jolt us out of delusion, or to snatch us from the dark path which leads to nowhere. The catalyst for Kowalski's revelation that violence only begets violence was the brutal treatment delivered to his young friend as payback for his own actions.

Walt felt that his death was the only way to right the wrong. He was not to be a part of the new brighter future that he would help create for his two young friends. He would no longer share their triumphs, no longer provide guidance or comfort. He would never know what became of them, but he gave his life trusting that his sacrifice was worth the cost.
Members of the public and pro-Russian separatists have been able to access the crash site without restrictions, raising fears the site has been contaminated.

Two hundred and ninety eight people were murdered on Malaysia Airways MH17. My sincere condolences go to the family and friends of the dead. Grief will torture them, and they will ask questions which have no answers. Their lives have been forever changed by this act of terrorism. Death is the ultimate reminder of our fragility.

Have you ever experienced a life changing epiphany? Ever realized suddenly, by virtue of some disaster or tragedy, that you were totally on the wrong track? Please share you story with us.

Photograph sources:
http://www.smh.com.au/world/mh17-crash-site-freelance-journalist-filip-warwick-reveals-grim-first-views-20140719-zurxu.html
http://thegrumpysociologist.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/hegemonic-masculinity-run-amok-in-gran.html

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Opaque Soul

Rarely do I receive inspiration for these weekly blog posts. Usually, I fumble through the filing cabinet of my mind until something presents itself, until some notion or theme demands to be written. Sometimes, I hear something or see something, or am struck without warning by a pre ponderous idea from which I am unable to disentangle myself, and I write about that, but mostly it is more laborious and much less romantic than that. Writing is sometimes an act of discipline rather than desire.

Today, I feel vague and fuzzy. 

I've been watching Star Trek Enterprise and now well into season three, am amazed at how good it has become. I find the current ongoing storyline gripping and fascinating. Enterprise's mission to stop an alien race called the Xindi from building a weapon to destroy the earth is compelling. The Xindi themselves are intriguing, comprising five distinct dominant species, who do not get on well, and who in fact waged a hundred year war which resulted in the complete destruction of their home world and the annihilation of a sixth Xindi species.

If you're not into science fiction, and I find that thought both baffling and repulsive, then I have just lost your interest. Assuming of course that I had it in the first place.

My soccer team outdid Germany's performance in the FIFA World Cup against Brazil, by winning 9-0 against our opponents. It was a huge boost for team morale after a heartbreaking draw the previous week. The team I follow in the National Rugby League, the Bulldogs, had an outstanding win against highly rated opponents last night in an awesome defensive display. These results have puffed my sails, but if you're not into sport, then no doubt you are injuring your jaw with excessive yawning.

I have now sent off 61 submissions packages for my new novel, A Muddy Red River. I have had 5 rejections so far, and one acceptance which I subsequently rejected. I need to start writing my next novel, and I am going to have to start from scratch because I have decided to shelve the one I had already started. I don't feel able to continue with it due to personal reasons.

Still here? Bless your heart. Not a coherent post but perhaps sufficiently engaging to elicit a sagacious, humourous or even nonsensical comment from you, treasured reader. And thus to the prompt: what has puffed your sails this week?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Moment

Life is full of moments: both literally as a collection of sequential short periods of time, and metaphorically as an anthology of events which are themselves the product of either our choices or the choices of others, or both.

The moment you choose Monte Carlo biscuits instead of Tim Tams. The moment you grab your blue undies instead of your red ones. The moment when you realize a wild rodent has eaten some of your bread. The moment you sit down to write a blog with one idea, then quickly switch to another. The moment the ball hits the underside of the crossbar and goes into the goal rather than back into the field of play. The moment you walk outside and feel the bite of winter wrapped in the weakened warmth of the sun. The moment you pull your beanie on your head.

The moment your open your eyes in the morning.The moment you open your eyes in the middle of the night. The moment you close your eyes and you feel hot tears burn your cheek. The moment you put your glasses on. The moment you take them off.

The moment you say yes. The moment you say no. The moment you hesitate, and your pause is interpreted as an answer. The moment you finally make a decision about which you have agonized for too long. The moment you tell someone about that decision.

The moment you understand yourself. The moment you understand someone else. The moment you become suddenly and painfully aware of how little you know, of how wrong you have been, and how lost you are. The moment when you are found. The moment you experience grace. The moment you show it to another person.

Life is full of moments. They come and they go: never to return, never to be changed, never to be corrected. Make your choices and live with the consequences. Be grateful when you don't receive the pain you deserve, and humble when you do.

Photo source:
http://www.dezeen.com/2011/09/15/watch-sculptures-moments-in-time-by-dominic-wilcox/

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Emotional Locomotive

National Rugby League club, Cronulla Sharks set an unenviable record last week in their 0-26 loss. It was the third consecutive match in which they had not been able to score a point. No team had ever done that before. Imagine going out to play your next match with that record on your mind. Early in the second half of the subsequent game which they played away from home against a much more highly rated team, the Sharks were behind 0-22. It was clearly a case of de-ja-vu.

As they ran out on to the ground to start the match, were the players hopeful? Or did they expect to lose? Were they thinking that regardless of their effort, they would be defeated? As their opponents racked up points against them, did what little hope they might have had, perish in the fire of reality? Did the players still believe they could win that match, or did they give up? 

It has been said that sport, any sport, is mostly played in the mind. Attitude impacts significantly on performance. Many games are won or lost before they have even been played. This is true of life. Our emotions want to run our lives, and for better or worse, we often succumb to their demands. Our heads might shout loud statements of logic but our feelings block our ears with stubborn stupidity, and insist that their way is right. 

Sometimes, the supremacy of emotion works in our favour. Positive feelings can empower us, and provide strength to do what the head says we should. Our feelings can help us, inspire us and inspire others. Negative feelings can, on the other hand, cripple us. Feelings can be nearly impossible to control. Have you ever tried to tell yourself to cheer up when you feel depressed? Ever tried to tell yourself to calm down when you are angry? We are not robots, and yet we have this sense that our feelings are not the most reliable of advisers. Emotions should be the caboose, not the locomotive of our trains. We risk running off the tracks when we are led by our hearts instead of our heads, and yet this is how we live: fragile, broken humanity feigning total control when the truth is we are quite helpless.

The Sharks battled their demons of doubt, their feelings of inadequacy, their frustration and the sense of inevitability that the scoreline delivered to them. The final score was 24-22. This victory by the Sharks was easily the most inspirational moment of my week. What has inspired you recently?

Photographs courtesy of
http://www.sharks.com.au/

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nice Haircut, Gizmo.

My life is a cantankerous Shitsu with a personality disorder and a bad haircut. Actually his haircut looks bad because it is not finished and it isn't finished because Gizmo, that's our dog, a.k.a. Captain Grumpypants, decided that despite his initial cooperation with the groomer, he did not want to continue. Ergo, bad, unfinished haircut for which we were only charged half price.

Gizmo has caused a number of problems for us over the years, but he's one of us: he's a part of our family. We endure his moods, take his affection when it is on offer, feed and house him, and we'll continue to try to find a groomer who can form a 'full haircut permitting' bond with him. His hair will grow out and before long he will be a four footed mop once more.

I am currently in the middle of what is easily the most emotionally traumatic experience of my life. I have been spared misfortune and escaped tragedy. God has given me grace to look with compassion on those who have suffered, while expressing my gratitude that I have not been a victim of life's myriad cruelties. The pain I feel will pass, although I don't know when and I don't know how. There are deep wounds to be healed, and divine intervention will be required. Forgiveness will beat a path through the jungle towards restoration, but it will be a monumental struggle. A long, tearful and intense battle.

Gizmo has a terrible haircut and a bad attitude but he's a dog, and his life is very simple. He doesn't care about his appearance but he has become a powerful symbol to me of how complicated my life has become, how awful I am, and also, how incomplete. Every time I look at him, I see 'unfinished business'.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Anxious anticipation

With the manuscript for my fourth novel now complete to my satisfaction and ready to send, I have begun the dreaded querying process. There are a number of reasons why I don't look forward to, and I don't enjoy, this period of anxious anticipation, but the least of them is rejection. 

I've been writing for 16 years and I'm still wandering around in the forest of anonymity. I'm used to rejection. I've become very philosophical about it because I believe that I am a good writer. When an editor rejects my work, they are voicing their opinion, and that is all. If they offer some constructive criticism, which is rare, I take it on board, and then I send my work to someone else. If they say nothing, or offer some generic 'thanks, but no thanks', I send my work to someone else. I keep looking for the editor who 'gets' me. The one who reads my writing and says: 'I like this. This is good. This works for me.' I'm looking for that person right now.

No, it's not the rejection that bothers me as such. It's the process. Find a suitable publisher, read their submission guidelines, put together a submissions package to meet their requirements, send it, then wait. There are a few publishers who unfairly do not accept simultaneous submissions, but the majority understand that, given some quite long response times, it is reasonable for writers to reach out to as many publishers as possible, as quickly as possible. The query process is a rolling sales pitch.

It's time consuming, and somewhat annoying due to the diverse submissions criteria of various publishers. I understand why some of them are so exacting. With so many submissions coming in, they have to use whatever means available to sort the wheat from the chaff, and to make it as easy as possible for themselves.

Time consumed by querying, means less time for writing. I'm pretty confident of finding a publisher, but feel no less anxiety as I send each query off on a wing and a prayer. I wonder when. I wonder who. I wonder if this time, I will break free from the prison of obscurity. Wish me luck.