Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Simple vs Continuous Tense

On the Simple vs Continuous Tense

A couple of years ago at a writing workshop I heard a book reviewer of a prominent Australian newspaper berate an emerging author over her use of the continuous tense. 'You never, ever should use it,' he said, slapping her work on to the table like some theatrical arsehole.

The reviewer was not alone, many writers demonise the continuous tense, often falsely labelling it passive.

But I use the continous tense now and then. Why? Because when used cleverly it works. It can:
  1. Place emphasis on time and place. It implies that the act istself  is important.
  2. Add richness to a literary piece in a poetic sense and it can slow the narrative pace 
  3. Highlight the character in action.
 The continous tense often destroys the flow of a piece and can enable a feeling of unintended 'telling'. But when used wisely it is an effective tool. Take for example Ruby J. Murray's short story 'Outback' in New Australian Stories 2:

'Mark knows she is looking at him, knows she is running her finger over her lip, which means: nervous, unsure, undecided.'

The  above achieves all the before mentioned points: time slows down to capture that moment and this further highlights Mark's observations, emphasising the sense of attraction. Of course, change it all into the present simple and it still functions well (albeit at a quicker pace) but I think that Murray chose the right tense for that particular moment of the story. And moments are a writer's chief focus - how long a writer lingers on them is debatable and dependent on style, pacing and taste.

No matter what you might have been told, the continuous tense is still a great tool to have in your writing arsenal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dotdotdash Subscriberthon

Dotdotdash Subscriberthon

I confess that I no longer subscribe to Dotdotdash but before you condemn me to the gallows (this is about a subscriberthon after all) let me explain why: they're based in Perth and I attend their funky, innovative and varied launches where I buy a journal as part of the entry package (or is it on top of it? - I can't quite recall).

But subscribe away if you're outside of Perth (or if you're a Perthite not interested in attending their launches). The journal chiefly specialises in fiction and has a spanky layout in coloured glossy pages. It's a celebration of art, photography, graphic design, short fiction, creative fiction and plenty of poetry


I think I'll always like Dotdotdash; they're local (with a national following) and they also published my first story in  Dotdotdash5, December 2010. Almost my entire writing group has published there too. Congrats to Mark Welker (now in Melbourne), Daniel Simpsom and Phil English!

The thing I really admire about the journal is that authors remain anonymous during the submission process. Your name and previous publications mean zilch so the playing field levels out. Of course that has meant that the editor, Steven Finch, has missed out on some 'name' authors but then again he's published some too and he, and the editing team, have the undeniable pleasure of unearthing new and exciting talent.

I wish Steve and his gang continued success in the difficult world of literary journals. With the way they promote and market themselves, they certainly deserve their rapid growth. Join them on Facebook to keep up with the fun.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More Great Short Stories

More Great Short Stories

The whole concept is a little daggy and all in good fun. I'll reitirate that the before mentioned stories consist of some of my current personal favourites and are certainly not indicative of what is ‘best'. For instance with some stories such as "The Bordello in Faerie", I was concentrating on what I loved about it rather than its flaws. In a year or two who knows, the list may be completely different. I think it's already changing - a state of permanent flux if you'd like

There are other notable stories, outside of the many gems written by Will Self, Angela Carter and Joyce Carol Oates, which I’d recommend to any reader:

A Few More Favourites 

'The Swimmer' by John Cheever

'A Bullet in the Brain' by Tobias Wolf

'Lollies' by David McLaren in Dotdotdash5 (an Australian story)

'The Use of Force' by William Carlos Williams

'D.P' by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

'The Killers' by Ernest Hemmingway

'A Habit of Waste' by Nalo Hopkinson

'The Way of the Cross and Dragon' by George R.R. Martin

'Jefty is Five' by Harlan Ellison

'Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play' by Michael Swanwick

As always, interested in your thoughts on the short story list and any of your own favourite works.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Short Story: 'Rachel in Love' by Pat Murphy

"Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy

"Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy is one of my all-time favourites. Once again, I first read the story in the Locus Awards anthology.

Rachel’s father is not a chimpanzee but she is and she also has memories of being a human daughter. When her ‘scientist-father’ passes, Rachel, the chimp-girl, discovers the big bad world. Pat Murphy has produced a wonderful story, deservedly winning both the Locus and Nebula awards. "Rachel in Love" deals with the in-between natures of both the human and the animal; as well exploring issues of identity and acceptance.

The hybrid nature of Rachel gelled with me as some of my writing touches on similar themes. Murphy has crafted a superb story with a seemless, but also touching, narrative