Monday, June 23, 2014

Write like a Motherf$cker

Oh hello there ...
So, I'm broke, have no work on the immediate horizon, bills unpaid, the weather is rancid, been avoiding company and I'm getting into the habit of wearing the same clothes until the hairs on my hairy beastie bits are growing straight through them.
And you know what? I'm deliriously happy

This from Ernest Hemingway:
I knew how severe I had been and how bad things had been. The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one poverty bothers. I thought of bathtubs and showers and toilets that flushed as things that inferior people to us had or that you enjoyed when you made trips ... 
 But then we did not think ever of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. We thought we were superior people and other people that we looked down on and rightly mistrusted were rich ... We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.

I do wonder whether his wife felt the same way. Anyway, I can quote from Hemingway on A WineDark Sea, because a few weeks ago when I did have some money and was spending more time consuming stuff than producing stuff, I bought a first edition copy of this:

It arrived on my doorstep a few days ago. It smells beautiful. It has brown speckles over the pages like the brown speckles over my grandmother's hands. And then, you can turn another page and Hemingway just kind of saunters into your head and starts yarning.

And then!
This beautiful wee morsel of micro fiction by Angela Meyer arrived on my doorstep too! Winged from Melbourne west to me, from my most excellent blogger mate Jen (here).

So yes, I am rich - filthy rich - rolling in the paper stuff AND writing like a Motherf$cker. It's thesis work: research, references, footnotes and gnarly theoretical paragraphs and still I'm loving it. Look. Look at my desk. You can see I'm in heaven. Below are my favourite history books that have moved in and started arguing amongst themselves.


  1. I love A Moveable Feast. It is probably the only Hemingway book I do adore. Oh, that and The Sun Also Rises/Fiesta. Those two are lovely. And you have a first edition. Nice.

    And just because I was going through my cue cards with quotations written on them, and saw these, here they are for you, all from Old Hem:

    No man failed that ever tried.
    There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.
    Write hard and clear about what hurts.

    The last one I like the best.

    And on hair, I don't think my armpit hair has ever been so long, and my leg hair, well, yes. Amazing.


  2. Didn't your book sell out? And you're broke again already? Did you have debts to pay off or are the returns just that low as a writer?

    I don't know if that's an invasive line of questioning, but, well, I'm really interested.

  3. If I may: the returns probably shouldn't even be called returns. Royalties (10%) take time to come through, sometimes once a year, sometimes twice, in a lump sum. Plus, if there's an advance, that needs to be 'earned out.' No one is in it for the cashola.

  4. Thanks Melba, for the quotes - I too like the last one best. It sums it all up for me.
    And thanks for answering Alex in my absence. As for the royalty cheque? Well, the advance (which I spent on a ripper of a book launch), fixing my car, helping my daughter buy a car and something for Stormboy - and next thing you know it's all gone!

  5. Write another one, and then another one after that. Keep writing, keep spewing it up...


  6. Thanks for answering Sarah. Also, I think I have to agree with Ciaran.

    Melbs, is that 10% of the cover price? So, if your book was going for $20, you'd need to sell roughly fifty thousand to make a hundred grand?

    All very interesting.

    1. Melba's onto it. It's not the cashola.
      Maybe it's about producing something beautiful
      Or producing a snippet of history
      Or feeding an ancient need for stories.

      I have no idea what it's about but it's definitely not about the cash.

    2. It's something like this Alex:

      Print run x RRP x royalty rate DIVIDED by 50%

      So if an author is given $3000 as an advance, it’s the RRP of $30 with a print run of 2K copies and a royalty rate of 10%

      Then I guess once the advance earns out, you get 10% of the RRP price per unit. So on a $27.99 book it's 35,727 odd copies. Just to let you know, it used to be that if you moved 5,000 copies in Australia, that was considered a success. These days publishers are 'content' with 2 - 3K. In the old days a new author was given 3 - 4 books to start making money; these days if they don't make money on the first book it's really hard to get a contract for a second book.

  7. I KNOW that feeling - buried deep in ideas and ways of expressing them. Lovely.

  8. I met a man in Malta (sounds like a good start for a story) who's mother is Maltese and father Scottish. His mother passed herself off as Italian because there was no respect from the colonial Brits for the locals in Malta. He was in Malta as a young boy but has spent most of his life in Scotland and the UK. He's 75 and has written 200,000 words about his life. I asked him why. He said it all stemmed from his need to try and understand who he is. Brit, Scot, Maltese? It was a fascinating conversation.

    Writing and money!! My book about Political Theatre in Qld (an obscure topic) sold about 1000 copies and I was getting better than 10% from a local publisher but I had edited it, so I then had to split the cashola five ways. It's not about the money. It's about having a passion for something. The best reason to do anything in life.

  9. I have no idea what it's about but it's definitely not about the cash.

    Sure, but it doesn't hurt to know how stuff works. I guess I'm feeding an ancient need of my own. Besides, regardless of how passionate you are, at the end of the day, you still have to eat, right?

    Much appreciated, Melba. I think what I find most surprising is how small the print runs apparently are. I guess the domestic market is even tinier than I thought it was. How is the Kindle crowd changing things, I wonder? Are things better or worse on the ebook front?

    Mr Hat, was your book on "theatrical productions about politics", or "the theatrical nature of politics itself"? If the later, I'd be keen to know more. Actually, I might be keen to know more anyway.

  10. "Besides, regardless of how passionate you are, at the end of the day, you still have to eat, right?"

    I think this is why so many writers, poets and artists work as teachers (or journalists, Roy). The old adage was that if folk are unsuccessful at their art they have to teach it instead ... that schools are stocked full of failed artist/teachers. This is a cruel, cruel furphy which needs to be blown up with its furphy eyeballs dangling on the footpath.
    Unless we are of the moneyed class or have the most excellent sugar daddy, then of course we need a fucking day job.

    1. (That was a sideways rant Alex and only obliquely connected to your questioning on cashola)

    2. As an artist AND a part-time teacher I couldn't agree more Sarah. It's just more artist-bashing to suggest that those that can't do well, teach. It's treufor some, but even so, some of the best teachesr are maybe not the best artists, but still support others in really positive ways. It's also a case of an economic system that doesn't support creative approches to living - the accountants would prefer it if everyone was doing a 9-5 and not making any waves. Creatives by nature are compelled to rebel against that sort of framework, and we get constantly punished for it. I still reckon ALL artists should get together and put an embargo on ALL creative products for a week, that would do it - no films, no books, no images - then the ignorant masses might start to realise just what artists contribute to what would otherwise be a very one-dimensional and meaningless existence. Another sideways rant.

    3. Apologies for length. Spent ages trying to whittle this down. Gave up. All comments and questions posed in utmost sincerity. No snarky rhetoric or irony intended.

      With very few exceptions, I think, most people see themselves as over-worked and under-appreciated. I've seen interviews with investment bankers who had a direct hand in the '08 crisis, bemoaning the scorn leveled at the financial sector; and read articles written by people who inherited incredible wealth, extolling persistent hard work as the key to success. As much as anything, I guess it's an evolutionary survival mechanism (things tend to get a bit unbearable when you see yourself as an undeserving parasite). And there's an element of relativity too, I suppose. Like how a small part of me smiles every time I hear someone who's never picked up a shovel or a sledge talk about how hard they work; or like how some folks who've been in a war zone shake their heads when others complain about stressful situations.

      I agree that society would be lesser for it if all the artists suddenly downed tools, but isn't that the case with most groups (except lobbyists, and telemarketers, and the clergy, maybe)? At least you wouldn't get the outbreaks of pestilence and disease you would if everyone in waste management, and sanitation walked off the job.

      Not only that, but an artistic embargo doesn't make a lot of sense to me, because, well, I'm inclined to think that most people are, or can be, or should be artistically expressive. I'm one of those people who tends to see more value in the act of creating art than the act of consuming it (I feel the same about sport, too). There was a period there, before television and whatnot, where people told stories and danced and sang and made their own instruments. And toys. And furniture. They built things and fixed things and sewed and knitted and carved and embroidered. And then, at some point it seems, we all got so specialised that creative expression became something that only certain "special" people did, and everyone else sat passively and consumed it in their leisure time (just like sport).

      I've heard plenty of conjecture about whether or not the internet is fueling a resurgence in "participatory" culture, and I suppose you only have to look at Youtube and Soundcloud and Deviantart and such to see where that theory's coming from. Sure, a lot of it isn't of a professional standard, but is that important? Isn't it better just to have more people doing it, and sharing it, and collaborating, and inspiring each other to do even more?

      On the flip side, I don't know what a practical economic system would look like that could afford to indulge everybody's creative pursuits in this way. Some oil-rich nations in The Gulf do it by relying on cheap/indentured/slave labour from poorer countries, and I suppose we might eventually reach a stage where cheap robotics become sophisticated and ubiquitous enough to fill the void. But apart from that, well, I'm open to being educated ...

      And I guess the thing about a competitive market system is that you have a limited reward pool; which affects most people pretty equally. For instance: There might be forty passionate, top-notch bakers in your village, but at the end of the day, your neighbours will only buy so much bread. And if one baker is enjoying massive success, it's usually at the expense of one or more of the others. This also tends to favour products with the broadest appeal (or lowest common denominator). And while there do seem to be creative types who thrive in such an environment, it's an open question to what extent you want to dismiss a lot of these people.

    4. I just replied and my comment was deleted (on my own blog!) but what I wanted to say was,
      Well said Alex ... a true philosopher/argumentalist/old hippy. x

    5. And separate to anything above, but related: Artists or people in the creative industries have always either had regular day jobs or patrons/sugar daddiesslashmummies/trust funds/family money/been poor and starving in garrets.

      But I'm noticing there's a new discourse that's focused on writers NOT being paid, waah waah. I wouldn't air this view elsewhere but will here: artists have *always* struggled for money. It's nothing new. There is choice and if people choose to create (and some would argue there's no 'choice' about it), then you don't get to whinge about not making/having money. It's on spec, it's always been on spec, so you make money elsewhere/elsehow. (Not talking freelance writing, that's different but that's always been hard and it is what it is and always has been.)


  11. I've got about a hundred teachers in my family, and I agree, it's a fallacy that failed artists and creative types are amassed in that profession.

    Unless we are of the moneyed class or have the most excellent sugar daddy, then of course we need a fucking day job.

    Well, there's the iconic "rags-to-riches" stories, like the Harry Potter woman; and I know there's at least a few people out there who make (and have made) a ~comfortable~ living from writing. What's interesting to me is getting a sense of just how small that boat is and how fortunate you have to be to get a seat in it.

    1. That boat is small Alex. And the size of it is revealed by the fact that we hear of these stories in the first place. They are the massive exceptions to the rule, and not the other way around. And it's always been like that. There are so many people in the world writing novels, for example. Then all the other people doing other creative things. Mere handfuls, comparatively, are making excellent money, then all sorts of in between amounts down to zero. No make that minus zero, for people who spend on their craft/hobby/art without ever making anything. There'll be a ton of them (workshops, tickets to writers festivals, loads and loads of how-to books as well as novels. Etc. Etc.)

      What's fantastic is the drive to create, and the pleasure I hope it brings everyone who endeavours. But when people are focused on money, then ironically it probably is less likely to yield any $.

    2. a true philosopher/argumentalist/old hippy

      I'm flattered by that appraisal, Sarah.

      Thanks Melbs. Interesting stuff. Particularly this:

      That boat is small Alex. And the size of it is revealed by the fact that we hear of these stories in the first place. They are the massive exceptions to the rule, and not the other way around.

      I think there's elements of that in every field. We always hear about those who make it big. The exceptions. And there's a temptation to use those stories to form a concept of a "formula for success". But I think what often gets overlooked is that there just isn't that much room at the top. Often times you can be exceptionally good and do everything right and still not get a look in. Like winning the lottery, the key ingredient to "making it" is plain old good luck.

      ... or having a friend at the lotto office.

  12. Hi Alex, just back from a week of dreaming or something which stopped me from revisiting Wine Dark Sea. A bit of my own writing involved in that distraction - which has been good (about 20, 000 words good since arriving in Malta - it's paying off). Anyway about my book. It's not a theoretical treatise or anything fancy like that more an account of the role three political theatre companies played in Queensland during the Bjelke Petersen era. It consists of an account of the work of these three companies by three different writers. It's more of a documentary really with a great introduction by an academic from Newcastle - David Watt. And a few scripts. Title: Challenging the Centre.Two Decades of Political Theatre by Steve Capelin (ED) Published by Playlab Press. There's a couple of reviews on line and a Wikipedia entry on the theatre Company I was part of - Street Arts Community Theatre Company. Definitely not available at a good bookshop near you (Avid Reader the exception) but in many University and public collections. I still think that the work of those companies was semnal in establishing a new way of thinking about theatre in Australia though Joan LIttlewood, Albert Hunt and others had a head start in the UK.

    1. Thank you Sinjur Hat; and it's nice to hear that you're enjoying your time away and getting so much done at the same time.

      Title: Challenging the Centre.Two Decades of Political Theatre

      As someone who's written about the subject then, how much do you reckon "the centre" moves in a two decade period?

      And what's the state of contemporary political theatre in QLD these days? I can't remember the last time I even heard about any.

  13. I'm thinking, Sarah, this silence means lots of writing? I hope so. x

  14. Oh hello again Melba! Yes it means just that. And I seem to be suffering a dearth of anything else to say. Keep thinking I should write something on A WineDark Sea and the weeks just roar along ...