Me and the Melbourne Writers Festival

MWF 2011Well, look out; I’m one of five UNblogger competitors selected for this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. My pass is in the mail and I’m excited. A minimum of ten events are on my obligation horizon (oh, what a hard life it is) and from them I’m to wrestle at least eight blogs, so watch this space! This year’s festival is all about …

Stories Unbound

Ye gads, the title makes me think of ebooks. But maybe that’s just because I’m involved with the possible creation of one; a collection of short stories for an otherwise papery literary journal; and I’ve already been confronted by the question that perhaps the ‘good’ ones are ‘too good for an ebook’ and wondered if I should go ferreting around for an Arts grant to make a ‘proper’ paper publication possible. An idea that doesn’t stray too far from my heart’s desires.

How to tell a good writer I want to include their work in a compilation that will probably sell for $5 or less (that’s fewer to all you grammarians out there)? Is that a bad thing, or a great thing? The writers will be paid as much for their e-version as they would the print version … but they will literally be ‘stories unbound’ – there’ll be no binding, no papery love, no texture.

But the stories have to get out there and isn’t e-publishing a great way to go because it isn’t such an economic investment and don’t they say that short stories never sell? Unless you’re Margo Lanagan, or Nam Le, or Lydia Davis or Junot Diaz, or Flannery O’Connor, or … but you know what I mean. And stories are important.

Aren’t they?

Yes! Stories are a primal impulse of the human psyche. Stories are how we make sense of our world, of each other, of ‘fear and dream and death and birth, [that] cast upon the daylight of this earth, such gloom …’ They’re ‘why man [sic] hath such a scope for love and hate, despondency and hope’.

Unlike the romantics, we’re not as clear about such things in 2011. Even ‘story expert’ Robert McKee seems a little confused about where stories come from and what they’re for. On the one hand he says stories aren’t buried like treasure ‘in the ground of life’, wanting to be told and just waiting to swarm from their graves, but that they’re in the writer and sparked to genius by the inspiration of unearthing the treasure buried in the ground of life … erm, see how tricky it is?

And here we are, in Melbourne, ‘city of literature’, flocking to writers’ festivals, and it’s not because we want more celebrities (the music and film industries have that sewn up), but because we want to know and hear those who have the talent and courage to go searching for that buried treasure (and don’t forget the graves); because we want genius to visit; we want stories unbound. And because we understand their delicious value; even at $5 or … fewer.

Cross-posted from 9fragments.

Clare Strahan

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

More by Clare Strahan ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. heh, my news seems rather (and rightly) inconsequential compared to the great tragedies and events of the world. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the festival and feeling blessed we live with a stability that allows such events to occur (we hope) unmolested.

  2. Congratulations on the UNblogger position.
    Re: ePublishing – I’ve had this discussion in numerous fora. I think we’re in an exciting period of transition, I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare epublishing with the Gutenberg press.
    There is, of course, a fear that all manner of sewage will slip from the internet pipes. This is where people will look to reputable names. If an epublication is attached to a journal of some renown then it is a natural progression and a price of $5 (or fewer(!)) is good, as a middle ground between administration costs and affordability. The administration has done the hard work of cutting away the ‘slush’ and polishing the pieces, the journal has an established reputation to protect so people know their $5 is well spent.
    I’m reading a lot on my ereader at the moment (though mostly classics) and am anxious for my favourite journals to make the jump. Going Down Swinging has released issue 31 on iPad, (I’m running a Sony but hopefully, soon, an ePub version of the text will be out).
    As a writer I’m happy with an acceptance from a quality journal, I wouldn’t allow just a post on a hastily produced blog as publication but have submitted to good journals publishing in pdf and posting for free online.
    Anyway, I waffle, congratulations once again on the UNblogger selection, looking forward to the updates.

    1. Cheers Mark. It’s good to hear “As a writer I’m happy with an acceptance from a quality journal” whether it’s epublishing or regular. The Gutenberg press reference put me in mind of this: and also some of the discussion over at Meanland. I think you’re right and it is a transition — your comments about the groundwork already done by journals of integrity are pertinent and warming. And thanks for the UNblogger well-wishes 🙂

  3. Yes congratulations Clare, this is excellent news.

    And I great points MW Jackson, I agree that epublishing is comparable to Gutenberg press, have just been writing about 15th century and it’s very very similar, similar fears, similar opportunities.

    Also agree with you MWJ that an epublication attached to a reputable mag gives potential readers some guarantee of quality and therefore that they’ll be able to trust it etc.

    And Clare, I think if whoever said ‘too good for the ebook’ realised how little space there is in print mags they might reconsider the value of the ebook. At least it will have the journal’s imprimatur, therefore some value in the cultural marketplace, which will make the stories worth people reading and taking seriously.

    1. Thanks Jane. The ‘too good’ comment was made by someone who supports the ebook project, just took me aback and made me think: which is never a bad thing. Also, I’m nostalgic for papery books. The comments in this thread have influenced me in a good way: viva la publishing.

  4. Congratulations, Clare, and best wishes. I agree that not so long ago anything e-published was considered ‘unworthy’ of print publication, but I think that’s changing (although it still accounts for an unfortunate number of self-published books.) I’m wondering though, how many people have e-reading devices in Australia – do you know? I’m slowly changing my attitude to the concept of e-reading, but I can’t stand reading at my computer. That’s where I work.

    1. Cheers, Susan. I don’t mind reading articles and blogs on the computer, but not keen on the thought of a novel or series of short stories (unless they’re very short).

      Stats on e-readers: anyone?

  5. Yes, good point Susan, about ereading devices. Think my mind’s opened because I’ve been reading on my iphone, never thought I’d find something so small so readable. I love it.

    And yes Clare the ‘too good’ comment also struck me, which is why I had to comment. My original comment doesn’t reflect the complete turnaround I’ve had on ereading. Now I see it as an opportunity for more people to be published, even if a lot of that is, as you say Susan, self-published. Not forgetting that lots of people self-published in the old paper regime, including bestselling authors like Matthew Reilly.

  6. It’s only a short while ago that I would have agreed that some short stories were ‘too good’ to read online.

    But I’m going through quite a change in my thinking now that I’m downloading ebooks. I like the instant access when I decide to purchase, seeing them on my ebookshelf and reading them online (the e-reader’s in the mail).

    All those wonderful short stories going to waste for lack of a home can go online in collections and anthologies which seems like a win for those who write them and those who read them.

  7. Thank you Trish :).

    Trish, Jane & Susan: I have a confession: when my sister got her Kindle I called it (and still call it) ‘the book killer’ — such a fetishism have I for papery goodness. I guess now I’m thinking less either/or.

    And the idea of someone seeing a short story collection and it not costing too much and being so easy to access, is pretty exciting.

  8. I have to confess, Jane, I’m not actually sure what an i-phone is. And to think I used to work in technical support. Really. I was once a DOS head. I just can’t cope with user interfaces.

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