Australia has a long and glorious tradition of – how shall we put this – adopting New Zealanders as our own. Sometimes, one can’t help but feel that we got the raw end of the deal and that our Kiwi cousins are quietly sniggering to themselves after off loading undesirables on us, see Russell Crowe for an example. But, more often, we benefit immeasurably from the export and end up with a Phar Lap. Tracie McBride falls squarely in the latter category. A talented short story writer, her short fiction is creepy and haunting and will make you very uncomfortable and her “little collection of short stories” as she calls it is one of the best investments of time and money you will make. And, not content to stop there she is also trying her hand at publishing! *sigh* The problem with Wednesday Writers is that my guests always make me feel like an underacheiver!
Meet The Local Authors (How I felt the fear and did it anyway)
When David invited me to contribute a post to his Wednesday Writers series, I went through an emotional process that is common for me. First, blind optimism – “Sure! I can do that! I’d be happy to do that!” Then, after looking at all the accomplished and eloquent Wednesday Writers who had gone before me, came crushing self-doubt and despair – “Waaaah! I can’t do this!” And finally came a grim, fatalistic determination – “Well, I said I would do it, so now I’ll just have to get on with it.”
I went through the same process when I attended a Meet the Local Author session at my local library recently as part of their annual Booklovers Festival. I saw the flyer, and thought, “I’m local. And I write stuff. Even got a book to prove it.” So I signed up. About an hour out from the event, I got the jitters. Aside from the venue and the time, I knew nothing about what to expect. What if there were so many accomplished authors there that my little collection of short stories published by a start-up small press was laughingly dismissed? Or worse, what if I were the only author to attend and wound up sitting on a table by myself? I briefly considered not going. But no – I had put my name on the List. And Lists are Sacred. I put on my Big Girl Panties and my best nervous smile and got on down there.
Upon arrival, the librarian gently herded me in the direction of the Local Authors table and introduced me to fellow author Daniela Zannoni. Daniela had arrived early and set up. She had flyers and posters. Her book “My Mother’s Memories (The Successes and Tragedies of An Italian Migrant Family)” was lovingly displayed on gilt book stands in two different editions, English and Italian. I was duly intimidated. I laid out my half dozen copies of “Ghosts Can Bleed” at the other end of the table and tried to look halfway competent.
For a while there it looked like Daniela and I were going to be the only authors in attendance. Then along came Arthur Yong. Before coming to Australia from Malaysia, Arthur Yong was a biochemist (let’s just ratchet up the intimidation factor a little bit more…) Unlike Daniela and me, Arthur didn’t have a stack of books for library patrons to peruse; the librarian found his book on the shelves and brought it over to display between ours. It is a handsome A4-sized volume entitled “Chinese Settlement in Whittlesea” which tells the story of sixteen different Chinese migrants and descendants of migrants living in the Whittlesea region of Melbourne. On the surface, the niche market sounds extremely small. And indeed, Arthur doesn’t even think in terms of ‘market’ for his book; when I asked him where and how he sells his book, he looked surprised and said, “I don’t. I got a grant to write and print it, so I just give it away.”
It was an interesting concept which, as a genre fiction writer, I had never considered before. Of course, I had heard of writers obtaining literary grants to complete works of fiction, but they generally went on to sell the book they’d been paid to write, and it got me thinking about the nature of the capitalist model for book publishing and marketing versus a model of literary patronage. In any case, after leafing through Arthur’s book and having to force myself to put it down lest I appear rude for reading instead of talking to people, I thought it would be of interest to a much wider audience than the handful of local libraries, historians and contributors to the book to whom he had gifted a copy.
The fourth author to join our group was Ian B G Burns, a prolific author and self-publisher, mostly of historical children’s novels set in Australia. With Ian I felt on more familiar ground as we discussed the various merits of Smashwords, Lulu and Createspace and the grave limitations of Spellcheck. Being a third-generation author, Ian has an impressive pedigree, but by this point I’d run out of emotional energy to be intimidated and had settled into enjoying the company of fellow wordsmiths. My usual writers’ social network consists primarily of independent genre fiction writers, so it was refreshing to learn of the experiences and journeys of other local writers.
And how did the afternoon rate as a promotional activity? The vast majority of library patrons avoided us in droves, being too engrossed in their free internet access (the librarian wryly commented that they could probably get rid of all the books and just run an internet café, and the numbers coming through the door would not change). But about halfway through the afternoon a visibly nervous young woman (even more nervous than me!) approached our table and introduced herself. She ran a programme at a local high school for creative writers, and would any of us like to come along and talk to the kids and maybe run a couple of workshops?
“Sure!” I said. “I have kids. I write stuff. I can do that. I’d be happy to do that!”
“By the way,” she said, “I have a budget, so I can pay you.”
“Money?” I said. “You’ll give me money to do it? Oh, I never even thought of that…”
Arthur Yong invited us all to be interviewed on his local – very local – radio show that broadcast at 10.30pm on a Friday night.
“Sure!” I said. “I can talk. I write stuff…”
Expect in a couple of weeks’ time as I make good on all these promises to hear lots of “Waaah! I can’t do this!” swiftly followed by mutterings of, “I said I would, so now I have to.”
And the fourth and final reaction – “I’m really glad I did that. Imagine what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t.”
Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 80 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Vols 4 and 5, Dead Red Heart, Phobophobia and Horror for Good. Her debut collection Ghosts Can Bleed contains much of the work that earned her a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2008. She helps to wrangle slush for Dark Moon Digest and is the vice president of Dark Continents Publishing. She welcomes visitors to her blog at http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/