Freeplay 2010

Aw snap, before I get down to Melbourne Writers Festival blogging, I almost forgot I was gonna write about another recent date in Melbourne’s chock-a-block festival calendar: The Freeplay Independent Games Festival! Okay then. Quicksmart!

Righto, so the other weekend there was the 2010 Freeplay festival. This was my first time going along, and although I didn’t get a full ticket to the festival, there was still plenty of free stuff open to the public, within the State Library of Victoria’s Experimedia section. I WAS going to buy a ticket, but the main festival had already sold out (score for Freeplay!). In retrospect, it’s probably just as well I didn’t pay for a ticket, as pretty much everything I wanted to see was within the free public exhibition. A lot of the stuff in the paid festival was more for people deeply involved with all that tricky coding/programming/design/3D modelling stuff. You know, for people who actually make games.

Not me though. Well, there was Klik n Play. And I did make a Frogger-like game (called Froggo) for my Software Design and Development class in Year 12, and it was a goddamn marvel that took me weeks to get working. But I still haven’t worked out how to get the VisualBasic program working on my newer computer so I can show it off. BUT, while it was satisfying to make in the end, the arduous process of writing the code and fixing the bugs and remembering the jargon and getting the darn thing working assured me that building games from scratch was not my idea of an ideal career path. My talents lay elsewhere.

So yes, anyway, I figured a while ago that I’m not a Maker of Games, and although it would be awesome to write dialogue or the story for games, until I become a Renowned Writer, I will remain content with playing them. I don’t spend days upon days playing video games, like I did back in the day, though events like Freeplay always inspire a reminder of what I love about games, and thus inspire a brief return to the gaming frenzy. Still, my newest console is a Playstation 2, and I’m mostly still playing games of roughly that era or earlier, every now and then. I do keep up with what’s happening in gaming, but with a few exceptions, I’m pretty much a decade behind in games, which is okay by me. Maybe I only pay attention to those that have truly stood the test of time. That’s what I like to think.

In any case, games are awesome. Computer games. Video games. Board games. Card games. Or just good old fashioned, unmediated, unstructured play, like a kid with nothing but the world around them and their imagination.  And thus, the theme of the festival: Play is Everywhere.

And there was definitely a lot of play to be had within Experimedia.

Among the games on display, the first to catch my eye was Jolly Rover. If you’ve ever played any of the classic Monkey Island adventures, then think that, but with pirate dogs instead of pirate people. This one is now on my buy + play list. Check it out:

Two others of note: Mine Quest, which will soon be on Facebook to challenge Farmville’s time-sucking powers, and Hazard, which is just downright trippy.

Later I found out that some of these, and plenty of others, were featured in the Freeplay Awards Winners list and the shortlist. Yarr, thar be some super fun and super interesting games in them thar lists.

Beyond the games, I also caught a few panels.  The first: Everything Old is New Again. Being one of the first panels of the fest, there were a few teething problems with sound and presentation, but they soon started enthusiastically chowing down on things like retro revival, abandonware, the role of memory and nostalgia in a generation that has grown up with video games, and how things come in different cycles, refreshed for each new generation that doesn’t share the direct experiences of the last. They also touched on how games can (and should?) be deep, difficult, complex and original, but this kind of game often doesn’t find as much of an immediate market because it’s not easily compressed into a tweet, a marketing slogan, a recognisable genre or an existing franchise.

The next panel I saw was Getting Started. This was about all sorts of 3D modelling programs and industry tips for those just starting. Judging by my notes, I spent the whole talk contemplating the differences between games and other mediums, like movies, songs and novels. I pondered interactivity, narrative, the imagination, and the roles they play in different mediums in different ways. And I just mulled over the originality and experimentation in independent creative works.  I’m sure the talk was great for others, but I guess my mind wandered because I wasn’t too interested in learning all that technical jibbajabba. See? Writer, thinkerer, not a Game Maker.

Then there was the Play is Everywhere panel, taking its title from the theme of the festival. Appropriately, the panellists explored the topography of the topic far and wide. They questioned the value of play, intrinsically and otherwise. What can play offer us, besides pleasure and relaxation? What can play teach us? Can play be political? Can it make us more virtuous? It’s been shown that surgeons who play games can be better at doing their job. And games bring diverse people together, both online and off, to play. Children are teaching adults. Kids aren’t babysat by games, unlike with TV. It’s a less passive medium, in a sense. People are learning complex systems through interaction and experimentation. Play = risk = experimentation = learning = reward = life. One speaker made the note that play has always been everywhere, that’s nothing new. It’s games that are now widespread, often literally via mobile devices. Games are a unique fusion of art, science and technology.

I particularly liked what one panellist, Morgan Jaffit, said: that games should be more dangerous. Truly rebellious. Exploring scary stuff and controversial ideas (Escape from Woomera was given as one of the few examples out there). Not just mindless shoot-em-up violence and gore, which has actually become fairly safe. Games need to step beyond their association with kids, and get into complex, adult territory, like some of the best films and novels have. And this is partly why video games need to be able to have 18+ classification, rather than being refused classification. So yes, like play, this panel went everywhere and it was super interesting.

Finally, there was the Sleep is Death panel. If you want to know what Sleep Is Death is about, then just go watch the explanatory slideshow at their website. But basically, it’s a two-player collaborative storytelling game and it was something of a revelation to see it in action. It’s simple, yet it has essentially endless possibilities. It can be used to create interactive narratives of madcap surrealism, or elegant wonder, or who knows what else. It’s up to the two collaborative storytellers. In the demonstration we had, a member from the audience played as a judge who reluctantly slayed a wolf that was terrorising the community. But the game essentially has no limits, as far as the stories you can tell and play around with.

From the slideshow on sleepisdeath.net

Yup.

It’s utterly responsive and unpredictable, and I just found it hugely inspiring. Even better, you can watch back past games (yours or others) like a slideshow. I’m keen to buy this, but I’m holding off, just because when I do get it, I know I’m gonna be hooked. But you can bet you’ll hear more about it from me eventually.

So. Sleep Is Death. Storytelling meets play. This is another thing I’m super interested in. I’ve always been interested in games where the story is integral. And I guess in a sense storytelling is in itself a kind of play. But then hang on, I’ve realised that with Sleep Is Death, I kind of can make games, in the sense that I can create an interactive narrative. Now I really want to download it. Who knows where that will lead? Maybe I’ll even play around with VisualBasic and get Froggo working again. And where will my tinkering take me from there?

I guess one overall lesson I took from Freeplay 2010 is that play is important. Sometimes it gets a bad rap. Some call it childish. But I also learnt a new word — neoteny: the retention of juvenile characteristics in adult life. Sure, it’s a biological term, but it can be useful when you look at it more broadly. Really, whether you’re a child, an adult, or somewhere in-between, play is vital and enriching, and it’s good to have it as a balanced and integrated part of your daily life.

Finally, for some further, detailed, Freeplay-related reading, check out some great stuff I found, trawling via the #freeplay10 hashtag and various related links: Grassisleena’s report, an exhaustive wrap-up from Critical Damage, some deep thoughts from festival director Paul Callaghan’s blog and a great piece on Sleep is Death. There. That’ll do ya. Nearly as edifying as attending the festival yourself, no?

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What are the haps?

Hey! Hello! Hi there. Hi. How are you? That’s good. Me? Well, you know, just getting back into blogging, you know how it is. Yeah, I know I know, two-thirds of the way through the Emerging Writer’s Festival it seems my blogging fingers fell off. But I did go to many a thing and have a jolly ol’ time. Maybe some of what I attended and took notes on would still make for an interesting post (many weeks after the event, in contradiction of the internet’s immediacy)? We’ll see. Anyway, since then I have been busy. Moving house. Travelling up to Canberra and Sydney and back again. Oh, and I’ve been enlisted into the Voiceworks EdComm, which is great. We have a blog and we did a night of readings and Boggle and a radio play and a spelling bee, oh and we publish a cracking magazine that you should read and submit to, if yer able.

But anyway! Yes indeed, to everything there is a season. Gone is the long winter of discontented nonblogging. Now is the season for bloggingbloggingblogging, like a glorious summer.

And O! what a time to be a-blogging it is! So many things are the haps! A perpetual cornucopia approaching for me to partake in and report upon! Most importantly, perhaps: the Melbourne Writers Festival! The MWF program has been launched, and in anticipation of the festival’s arrival on August 27, I am spending many an idle moment flipping through the program, planning all the marvellous stuff I might see. Not only that, I plan to be a Genuine Unofficial MWF Blogger, blogging about it a whooooole bunch, much like others such such as him and her and several others. Oh, and don’t forget the Official MWF Blog.

Other than that, to further commence the buzzing warm-up to the fest, check out a nice big blog I did for MWF last year, back when this blog was part of my coursework at the Uni of Melbourne. Speaking of which, as of Thursday, this blog will have been around for a year. Can you believe that? I freakin’ can’t! I will definitely have to celebrate.

But yes, coming soon, I will have a massive post (or three) detailing the myriad things I plan to attend at MWF. All of that and many more meandering missives such as this one are surely on their way.

Ah yes indeed, it is a good time to be blogging. Festivals and blogging go together like custard and fish fingers, or, if you will, bowties and fezes.
(In case you are not cultured, what I am saying is that blogging and festivals go together exceedingly well and they are cool and also Doctor Who is cool and yeah okay so bye and um have a frabjous day!)

EWF update: Disco discourse, Quarter-hour launches, Bootcamps, Bon Scott and more!

The Emerging Writer’s Festival has been zooming along like a runaway locomotive, with plenty of events whooshing past and a weekend cornucopia rapidly approaching. Let’s see if I can make sense of the blur that has been my past five or six days.

Sunday’s Page Parlour was a jolly good time for all.  I browsed the tables thrice and then again, sat in on an interview with the wonderful Mandy Ord, got prodded with Ronnie’s attention-grabbing prodding stick and finally settled my spending at three rad-looking indie publications: Red Leaves, Caught in the Breeze and Flinch, which may all result in reviews one day. I was too tuckered out for the 48 Hour Play Generator that night, but if the reports are anything to go by, I really did miss out.

Meanwhile, there’s been a storm of TwitterFESTing, #ewfchat hashtagging, digital launches, online conversations and more, all as part of the online side of the festival. Check out all the EWFonline happenings here, or plough through the ever-growing hashtag archive on Twitter.

Back in the land of face-to-face, for four nights, four publications got their 15 Minutes of Fame.  Thuy Lin wrote a great summation of the first round on Monday. Jodie at Voiceworks/Virgule did too, but remember: it’s not a competition.

That being said, let me claim a FIRST on Tuesday night. But in an effort to rein in my logorrhoea, I’ve restricted myself to 15 words for each 15 minutes of fame-r.

1. My Pilgrim’s Heart by Stephanie Dale: ‘Journey through marriage and other foreign lands’.  Mullumbimby.  All humanity vibrating in Istanbul. Unlearning expectations.

2.  The Nine Flaws of Affection by Peter Farrar: Laconic. Carveresque. Drought. ANZAC. Comas. Wounds. Violence. Aftermath. First-person. Affection’s flipside. Kill those darlings.

3. Ondine by Ebony McKenna: Fantasy. Girl meets scruffy, black, Scottish ferret/boy at Psychic Summer Camp. Magic and love.

4. Offset journal: an unfamiliar journal, with DVD! Victoria University’s poems, songs, artworks, stories. Multimedia first publishings wonders.

Good stuff! Unfortunately, I didn’t get along to Wednesday or Thursday’s series of quarter-hour launches. Lose. Who else went along? Still, the two I did attend exceeded expectations. Even the publications I suspected might be a bit naff ended up surprising me and they all became books I’d happily snaffle.

Ooh, also on Tuesday night, I got along to You Can’t Stop the Musing, Craig Schuftan’s Disco Lecture. Working as a funny critique and defense of disco, his basic argument (full of wit and disco backing tunes) was, sure, disco is repetitive, stupid and artificial. But we like to dance to repetitive music and disco has mass popular appeal, so people can sneak into it what they want to say to a large group of people. Disco connects us to our bodies and our internal rhythms. Its stupidity challenges the mind/body dualism that forms the core of Western thought. And it may be artificial, but this can be a positive for oppressed sectors of society, such as gay people, who’ve been told their whole lives that their desires are ‘unnatural’; it’s basically challenging biologicial determinism. His lecture really did give me a greater appreciation of Saturday Night Fever, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and disco in general, old and new. Craig says his goal is to increase happiness in the world in this way, so that when we hear these songs on the radio, we derive greater enjoyment from them. Works for me!

On Wednesday night, I went along to the city library to try my hand at the Creative Writing Bootcamp in person, rather than the digital edition/s. Voicework’s Maddie Crofts ably guided a huge crowd of people in a variety of great exercises that I reckon I’ll re-use in the future.

After that, I went off to the Willow Bar for The Last Hurrah, which is somewhat-EWF-related, in that it was night of readings culminating in the launch of A.S Patric’s Music for Broken Instruments, which also received a digital launch at EWFonline. I was delighted to be kidnapped by the poems and stories of the Black Riders.

Thursday saw me attending my first Lunchbox/Soapbox at the Wheeler Centre, where Torpedo‘s Chris Flynn argued that, while past decades have had Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Inspector Rex, K9 and the like, this decade needs its own heroic hound if we’re to have any hope . Pretty much one the most unique speeches I’ve seen. Great stuff.

Then that night, another Creative Writing Bootcamp, this time with Komninos. This one took a while to get started, but it too built up to some great approaches to generating stories and ideas.

Then it was time for Wordstock. This year’s theme was AC/DC. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan, but I’d be lying if I said that night didn’t make them a little more respect-worthy. Clem Bastow dressing up as Bon Scott, visible package and all; Emilie Zoey Baker’s nostalgic bogan tribute; two ukelele tunes (one about circumcision, the other about reality TV);  Sean M. Whelan poetically applying the Schrödinger’s cat concept to Bon Scott’s life/death; Vachel Spirason again wowing us, with a construction worker’s flamenco/breakdance/aerobic  routine ; neo-feminist responses to Acca-Dacca traditions; awkward karaoke renditions; and Ben Pobje’s concluding ode to riding free and punching babies in the face.

After all of that, Friday’s lack of EWF programming was a chance to get my bearings, gather my resources, take a few breaths, make a few plans and ready myself for the weekend rush.

And now the Town Hall weekend approaches. How hectic is this program? I’m going to have a hard time choosing which panel I want to go to almost every hour. And I’ll have to pop out at some point to check out the zine bus and all the DIY wonders it holds.

Finally, before I forget, Bookseller and Publisher’s blog Fancy Goods has a wrap-up of the festival thus far. Meanwhile, their past editor, Miss LiteraryMinded/Angela Meyer has also done a wrap-up of her own.

Righo then, see you at the festival, or maybe on the other side!

First Words on EWF

I arrived about 10 minutes before The First Word was scheduled to begin. Before entering, I helped two women who looked a bit lost to find their way, assuring them that the event to the left, with its hordes of loud men drinking booze from kegs and eating sausages, was a festival of beer, not writing. The First Word was to our right at the ever-shiny BMW Edge Theatre.

Amongst a few familiar faces and plenty of new ones, I found a good seat and waited for the show to begin. A gentleman named Phillip sat down next to me and introduced himself. I later realised he was Philip Thiel, a man of impressive blogging determination who’s speaking at the Town Hall next weekend. The current subject of his blog, soliciting kisses, was not raised. In fact, before we had much of a chance to chat, it began.

The echoing and amplified voice of Lisa Dempster welcomed us, and soon we were treated to a scene from a play by, I believe, Alison Mann.

A young stripper brings an older woman back to her place. They converse, look at photographs and eventually kiss. But the older woman wants to share all the doubts and uncertainties plaguing her mind.  Neither seems to be looking for the same thing. I felt that, in keeping with night’s theme of Love and Angst, one woman represented love (or lust?), while the other was filled with uncertainty and angst. A good snippet to begin with.

Then there were the speeches by the Co-Director and the Arts Minister (am I the only one who thinks Minister’s speeches could usually stand to be cut in half?), then the 48 Hour Play Generator was launched and the playwrights were introduced and given their theme. No envelopes, just a setting of a scene. Something along the lines of: two people: one standing, one kneeling, looking into an open grave. Nice. Whatever results from that will be seen at the Malthouse.

Toni Jordan then gave a great keynote speech about the love of writing, the love that infuses and inspires her writing, and the role of writers: to record and to bear witness. To be ready so that when someone says ‘can you describe this?’ you will reply with ‘yes’. I wish I could remember the name of the Russian poet she mentioned, who sold millions of books in her home country, pre-Sovietism.

Next was the wonderful Vachel Spirason with a physical performance that had very little to do with writing but everything to do with being hilarious. He put on boots that possessed him to tap dance. He put on a Collingwood Magpies beanie and was transformed into a footy hooligan. And he danced like Michael Jackson right off the stage after putting on one white glove.

After that was a reading by Amy Espeseth from Sufficient Grace.  It featured blood, snow, ticks, dead coyotes and the ‘mangy beard of Jesus’. Great stuff.

Then Craig Schuftan took to the lectern with his laptop and proceeded to give a speech that was genuinely both funny and intelligent, tying together a dizzying blend of pop culture and high art. He talked about the future as imagined in the Bill and Ted movies and Yeasayer’s latest music video. He related the Romantics of the 1800s to both 1980’s rock power ballads and emo. He managed to tie it all together to say, I think, that what we like determines who we are, and it matters. And our feelings matter too, but they’re not the only thing, even though the Glory of Love is pretty important. I’d always been a fan of his similar Culture Club segments on Triple J, but it was great to hear a longer talk from him, even though there was so much to take in. Like many others, I expect, I’ll be very keen to see his even longer Disco Lecture on Tuesday.

Then: Interval. Toilet. Beer. Tweet. Return. Sit.

And we were back with another reading. This time, a time-twisting story about art, read by Mike Bartlett. I believe it was Out of the Picture from his  Salmon and Dusk podcasts.  Another great, well-read piece, that reminded me somehow of the Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams.

And finally there was the Two Sides of the Coin Debate: Love vs Angst. With Michael Williams as chairman, Josh Earl, Michaela McGuire and Kate McLennen debated themselves on the topic. Each speaker stood up twice, once for Love, and then again to argue against themselves for Angst. The laughs came fast, whether it was after lines from Michaela’s teenage asthma-inspired angst poetry, Kate’s jaunty rendition of ‘All You Need is Love’  or Josh’s comparison of an infinite numbers of monkeys writing about love or angst.

All three were hilarious, no matter their argument, but in the end, though it sounded like Angst won, Michael Williams declared a ‘draw’ on the clap-o-meter. Love and Angst remained the partners they always were.

And then with final pronouncement from the booming Voice of Lisa, it was over. I felt that, with only two acts after the interval, it needed a finale or a coda to tie it all together. Maybe a short poem or a musical piece? Still, a minor gripe in a great night.

As I left, more drunk men and Collingwood Magpies footy fans were swarming Fed Square and the rest of the city. It all seemed fairly appropriate, both as a counterpoint to all the wonderful talk of angst, love and writing, and an apt reminder of a certain dancing man in a Magpies beanie earlier in the night.

*

With the First Word finished, there’s plenty more EWF stuff I intend to get involved with:

  • Today saw the first event in the online program: a Blogger’s Brunch wrapped up just as I posted this. It’s still open to be commented on, and there’s plenty to read. But then from 12-5PM today is the Page Parlour. I’ll be seeing what’s on offer, feebly attempting to not spend all my money, and lending a hand at The Lifted Brow‘s table. I may or may not go along to the 48 Hour Play Generator tonight too.
  • From Monday to Thursday, 7PM, is 15 Minutes of Fame. I’ll be getting along to as many of these as I can to find out about some new publishings.
  • Tuesday night is ‘You Can’t Stop the Musing‘ a disco lecture with Craig Schuftan. I’d better buy my tickets to this, because after his piece at the First Word, I think it’s gonna be pretty popular and awesome.
  • (8PM Wednesday Night means ‘Black Rider presents The Last Hurrah‘. Not an EWF event, but near-bursting with literary talents!)
  • Thursday day sees a Lunchbox/Soapbox at the Wheeler Centre with Chris Flynn talkin’ ’bout heroic hounds.
  • Then on Thursday night: Wordstock. I’m not a fan of AC/DC, but I’m still hoping to go to this.
  • Then there’s the Stuck in a Lifts, Creative Writing Bootcamps, TwitterFEST and all the other parts of the online program throughtout the week. Hoping to get into as many of these as possible.
  • And finally, the gargantuan cherry on top, the Town Hall Weekend Program, which is far too massive to even think about now. I just hope I find time amongst it all on Saturday to get on the Zine Bus.

I think after all this I’ll be bloated with words, ideas, inspiration, bloggery and good festival vibes for quite a while.

Willy Lit Fest Part 2: eBooks

Well, okay. I had said this post was coming a day or two after my previous one. But I guess I hadn’t factored in driving to Canberra and back again, preparing to move house,  getting sick,  and a confounded devil named procrastination. But! This post’s subject matter remains relevant, I already had a draft written, and I just had to get it finished before getting down to my Emerging Writer’s Festival blogging. Anyway, excuses are lame, so enough of all that and on to eBooks!

The third and final panel I attended at Willy Lit Fest was named From the Quill to the Kindle, and up on stage was Torpedo editor Chris Flynn, Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham, and Penguin Books senior editor Dmitri Kakmi. Again, before I begin, Ms Thuy Lin has a great roundup of this panel already, so I won’t go repeating everything. But I guess, along with some stuff from the panel, I had a few other things to discuss regarding eBooks.

One of the main questions the panel raised was whether books as we know them now will eventually ‘die’. I don’t see it happening any time soon and I think the two will coexist quite peacefully for a while yet. But will it, inevitably, eventually, happen? I know the comparison isn’t perfect, but if you look at the similar situation faced by the music industry, there remains a decent amount of people who still buy CDs and even vinyl, in addition to, or rather than, downloading. Maybe books will become something of a similarly fetishised or desirable physical object, kept alive by true believers. The arguments for physical books share similarities with those for CDs and vinyl: the ability to have an actual artefact that you can hold in your hands, show off to others, touch and smell. For many, these physical objects are more tactile and aesthetically pleasing, the cover/packaging/design looks better, or the experience may just be more ‘authentic’, more than ‘just data’ or, simply, it might be all about embracing a different but equally worthy medium. Like comparing a vinyl record to a folder of mp3s, a book is a different experience to an eBook, and both have their pros and cons. A page I bookmarked a while back, Books in the Age of the iPad by Craig Mod, explores something along these lines: the difference between Formless Content and Definite Content.

Another barrier I perceive to eBook adoption is the devices. If your paperback is lost, stolen, damaged, dropped in the bath or what have you, it’s not nearly as big a deal as the same thing happening to your new Kindle or iPad, along with any associated data you can’t retrieve. And if you’re not particularly well-off, mightn’t you just go to the library for all the free books you want, rather than purchasing a device worth hundreds of dollars?

For sure, when Sophie held up what must have been an imported iPad (a first for an Australian literary festival, she wondered?), I was a bit excited. I’ve only tinkered briefly with friend’s iPhones and I’m keen to play around some more with these new devices. However, none of them look like something I’d buy. There is definitely an appeal to their many features, but I feel like the eReader medium is still in its early transitional stages, and I won’t be as interested until there’s something like colour e-ink and a move away from both DRM restrictions and monopolisation, where only Apple and Amazon seem to call the shots.  Still, the fact of the matter is that in Australia we’re still lagging behind the USA and other countries when it comes to this sort of technology, so we do get an element of foresight to the developments.

One argument that Chris Flynn made for the transition to eReaders is an environmental one. To me, this is where the eBook option starts to look way more appealing. The proportion of books made with non-recycled paper really is disturbing (again, Thuy Lin’s got the stats). Indie publishers do better in this regard, I’ve noticed, but there are so many mass-market paperbacks, disposable magazines and bulky textbooks that would be much more environmental and sensible on an eReader platform.

I do wonder, however, what the environmental and social costs are if millions of people are always purchasing the latest eReaders, iPhones, iPods, iPads, smartphones, laptops, etc. Here are just two articles that at least begin to interrogate some of the other factors behind eReaders and the like: the costs, conditions and materials involved in manufacturing; whether ‘conflict minerals’ are used; and the huge amount of greenhouse gases involved in maintaining ever-expanding computer/server networks. I think, especially if these things are noted and start to be addressed, and we get eBooks and eReaders right, then they will be indeed be a far greener and greater option.

Someone on the panel made another interesting assertion: that publishing is always behind the eight-ball, and that tech companies are taking publishing from the publishers. This, so far, has not just meant a bypassing of the usual production and distribution channels, but lots of secrecy and Digital Rights Management.

A somewhat recent post on Mobylives outlines a few of the problems with DRM. At the other end of the argument, of course, are people worrying about piracy wrecking the book business. I’m still not sure where a balance lies so that artists and publishers see rewards for their efforts, without placing unnecessary burdens or restrictions on their audience. I like Cory Doctorow’s thoughts on the matter (here’s a good three-part interview with him), but I’m not sure his approach can apply to everyone. But still, any DRM that is applied can and will be broken: Kindle’s DRM was broken last year. In the end, I’d like to think that if you offer high quality, assured, open, flexible and beneficial content for a reasonable price, a good amount of people, especially your loyal fans, will be happy to pay for it. And at least those who don’t are still reading and sharing your stuff.

Interlude: relevant webcomic!

Another related interesting point that arose in the panel: I’d never considered the legal deposit issues that come with eBooks. When a work like a book is created in Australia, the publisher is required to send copies the State and National Library for archiving and such. But if you’re only giving away DRM-locked licenses to books (as with the Kindle) rather than actual copies, it makes legal deposit rather difficult. Libraries can’t actually store a lendable copy, because Kindle eBooks can’t be shared and loaned, thanks to their DRM. It’s very odd to think that when you buy a book, it still doesn’t belong to you, and that the provider can actually alter or remove it from your device remotely.

Beyond all of that DRM stuff, I was interested in what Sophie talked about concerning changing mediums, and how they change the reading and writing process. From speech to handwriting, to redrafting over and over on a typewriter, to the cut and paste of computers, and on to the podcast/audiobook/eBook/multimedia situation we find ourselves in now, with all the associated multitasking distractions and possibilities. (Meanland has been exploring this stuff in more detail). Compare all this to the more fixed text of a book. But we have to remember: the novel is only 200 years old. Novels may well become rarefied, kept alive only by true believers, and maintain an old-fashioned status, akin to opera today. But people will always want stories, and many will want long-form narratives. So really, there’s no need for concern.

Finally, I believe Dmitri Kakmi mentioned this video to illustrate the merging of reading with play; it’s a fusion between iPhone and Book: the PhoneBook!(?):

I guess after all this rumination (I really need to write some shorter posts), I’ll finish with a link to a recent post by Emmett Stinson, who hopes, as I do, that with the arrival of the iPad, the launch of Kobo and other imminent developments, we can stop talking about the future of digital publishing in Australia and start talking about what’s actually happening in the present.

And with that, I think I’ll end my rambling about eBooks and Willy Lit Fest. But as one festival passes, another emerges. Thus, the Emerging Writers Festival began on Friday night, with The First Word. I went along, and I’m planning to get as involved as I can in the rest of the festival. In the spirit of that, I plan to get my blog on harder than ever. Starting today!

Willy Lit Fest Part 1: Being Frankie and Talking Blogs

Last weekend I ventured along to the Williamstown Literary Festival and checked out a couple of panels:  Let’s Be frankie, Literary Blogging and From the Quill to the Kindle. All in all, it was good stuff, and it was nice to experience a different part of Melbourne, one that’s more like a coastal town, with the sea breeze, fish n chips and hordes of seagulls, along with some good literary company.

Thuy Linh Nguyen has already written about her experiences going to two of these panels, and Lisa Dempster has expanded on some of the stuff covered in her blogging panel, which I’ll get to later. But first, Let’s Be frankie.

I was drawn to this one because, while I don’t mind the odd look through a frankie mag if I see one,  I really wanted to see Marieke Hardy and Benjamin Law. The former, still jetlagged from an extended holiday in volcano-wracked Iceland, I’ve long been a fan of, thanks to First Tuesday Bookclub, JJJ Breakfast, her blog and her numerous other writings.  The latter I recently became a fan of, upon reading his hilarious story about murdering cockroaches en masse in the latest Brow. And I’m really looking forward to his first book, The Family Law. PLUS he just did an interview with Virgule, the newish Voiceworks blog. Check it.

So with Susan Bird as chair, and plenty of  audience interlocution, their casual discussion covered all kinds of things, from freelancing to Twitter to Ben’s mum’s vagina.

Ben, who often writes somewhat ‘personal’ stuff about his partner, parents and siblings, mentioned that family is such an interesting subject for writing because it’s one of the basic social units, like a microcosm of society. It’s true, your family shapes who you are and how you relate to people. Plus everyone’s got one, so it’s always at least somewhat relatable.

They discussed how important it is to run your material past the people you’re writing about if you think there’s the slightest chance they might have issues with it. Plus, it really helps to flesh out your work and get a new perspective on it.

They went on to discuss that, sure it can be good to be honest and lay everything on the table when you write, but have you really thought about the consequences of putting what you’re writing out into the world? Have you considered your audience and the context and how it could be received? Some boundaries are important. Sure, external censorship is something to take a stand against, but it’s interesting to think about how important self-censorship can be, for good or ill. And all of this applies not just to stories, articles and essays, but to blog posts, status updates and even microblogging/tweets (hello Catherine Deveny). They also touched on the idea of ‘the illusion of intimacy’, which I’ll get to later.

Ben discussed the life of a freelancer. He always strives to find something interesting in any dull freelance gig he takes on, and noted how easy it is to get overloaded, because you always think every assignment is going to be your last. He also recommended that, when you’re writing, you should keep a template of ‘good writing’ close by (or perhaps at the back of your mind), so that you’ve got something to aim for, no matter how high you’re aiming.

Marieke mentioned how handy she found News Ltd. lawyers, as dull as they might sound, and how they kept her out of trouble 99% of the time when she wrote for the Green Guide. Still, she was a little surprised that the people she’s writing about actually read her columns and sometimes take offense. It was similar back when she was writing her blog. She saw it as a place to vent, and didn’t really consider any potential offense, defamation or other trouble she could face. It’s funny, I guess when you’re a lone blogger, most people aren’t going to bother taking you to court, whereas a huge organisation like The Age with a reputation, stakeholders and circulation necessitates the team of lawyers.

She also discussed how it’s easier writing about crap TV, because writing about programmes you love just turns into celebratory, masturbatory drivel. Finally, she compared her scriptwriting to her blogging, and discussed how writing for TV doesn’t get much personal response when the finished product finally emerges, whereas writing online has the benefit of immediacy and instant feedback.

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Speaking of writing online, the next day, satisfied but eager for more, I went along to the Literary Blogging panel, with Lisa Dempster and Angela Meyer (aka Ms LiteraryMinded), both of whom have blogs I follow and enjoy reading, so I was interested to hear their thoughts. There were plenty of questions from the small but engaged crowd and it gave me a lot to think about.

They both agreed that blogging can help you find your voice, build your style and help you grow as a unique writer. Lisa reckoned writing her book Neon Pilgrim was easier because she’d been blogging for so long. She didn’t have to struggle to find a writing voice; she already had that part mostly sorted.

They said that blogging is a discipline to stick to, and that you have to want to stick to it, then it builds its own momentum, just like other forms of writing I guess. But it’s unique in that it’s a good way to test ideas and see what others are thinking. You can admit that your ideas aren’t fully formed and open them up for discussion.

Angela says she still questions her role when she’s blogging: is she a reviewer? A cultural commentator? ‘Just a blogger’? Or, simply, a writer? It’s part of the necessary constant process of self-reflexivity.

And again, they touched on this idea of self-censorship. They wondered about ‘stepping on toes’, especially in such a tight community like that of Australian literary bloggers. You want to be honest, but there is always a degree of self-censorship. The question is where to draw the line. Personally, I want to be able to critique art, literature, media and the world around me, but at the same time, it can be damn hard to really call out perceived major flaws in something, or someone’s work, especially if they’re just starting out or you know them personally. So do you tone down your critique, not put up a review, or be bold, harsh but fair, and give an open opportunity for anyone to reply, refute and defend?

They also discussed this ‘illusion of intimacy’ idea that Ben and Marieke touched on. Sometimes these writers have been accused of being not just honest, but ‘oversharers’. But the fact is, people often don’t know about all the stuff that they’re not sharing. It can seem like they’re telling readers everything about their life and readers might feel that they know everything about them. But like all art, blogging is a constructed representation, and while you may be getting an honest picture and feel you know all about the author, you only know about them from what they give you. Three quarters of their life, or more, might not even be hinted at.

Is this ‘illusion’ a bad thing? Not really. Unless you want to go, warts and all, publishing the minutiae of your life, while alienating everyone you know and possibly facing legal action, it’s hard to have it otherwise. The boundary has to lie somewhere. In the end, of course, it has to be a personal decision. As long as you strive to be honest and fair in what you do reveal, and seriously consider what to publish and what to hold back, then it’s all good.

When asked about whether one should try to blend a large variety of topics in one blog , Lisa replied that cross-over is fine. The blog is your blog, so its topic is always going to be you and your interests. Other people have cross-over interests too, and if your blog is good enough, people will keep coming back for the stuff that they’re interested in, and won’t mind the odd uninteresting post.

There were a couple of other tidbits to think about:

  • A blog evolves over time and has its own narrative. So in a sense, a blog is a story.
  • Before the rise of Facebook and Twitter, people used online ‘handles’ more often. But now with such sites we’re commonly going by our real names online, or our real names are not so hidden anymore. Interesting point.
  • How is blogging perceived? How do you perceive it? Is it for your ‘best’ work? Does it really distract you from other writing? Or is it just a part of the broader spectrum of writing?
  • Finally, they mentioned two interesting things I’d never really heard of: blog tours, where someone hops along onto various blogs from all over the place, providing guest posts on each. Then there’s blog carnivals, where various bloggers all riff on a chosen topic, and they can engage with each others ideas on that topic.

Essentially, this panel built on what I already knew about blogging, gave me a lot to consider and gave me a good kick in the rear to blog more. All in all, blogging is experimental: it’s an experiment for each individual and also because the internet is a medium in flux, all of this stuff is still changing and being negotiated.

Speaking of emergent mediums: eBooks!

But that final panel will have to wait for Part 2, in the next day or two. This time I’m not going to go away for a week or so; I’m going to get some of that momentum happening with this blogging thing.

My Melbourne Writers Festival Experience

After my last post I did get a chance to attend a couple of events at the Melbourne Writers Festival, so here (to make up for a bit of a blogging hiatus), are some recollections and thoughts. Better late than never!

I ended up only attending free events, but I was not disappointed! Though the festival began on Friday the 21st of August, my first event was on the night of Thursday the 27th: The Festival Club. This event, which was on most nights, offered a mixed bag of what the festival had to offer. The main portion of this event when I was there was the SPUNC Reading and Writing Spectacular. SPUNC stands for Small Press Underground Networking Community, for those not in the know, so it was a good showcase of small indie publishers doing great things! Three things stood out that night:

  • Affirm Press’s Rebecca Stafford spoke about their upcoming Long Story Shorts: short story collections that they’re currently planning and accepting submissions for. If you’ve got a collection of short stories in your drawer, computer or mind, then you should send something their way. This is a publisher doing a great mix of things, and I’m interested to see what they come up with.
  • Sleepers Publishing was represented by author Kalinda Ashton, whose new book The Danger Game had previously failed to entice me, but after hearing her give a reading, I think I might have to check it out. Sleepers is becoming more awesome by the day: they put out a weekly video newsletter, the annual Sleepers Almanac and, recently, The Age Book of the Year, Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam, which I can’t wait to read.
  • Finally, I correctly answered a question (“What will Affirm Press’s short story collections be called?” See above!) and MC Angela Meyer rewarded my attentiveness with a copy of My Extraordinary Life and Death, a delightfully hilarious little picture book! Huzzah!

So my night was interesting, informative and I got a freebie!

On Saturday the 29th, I went along with friend and girlfriend to watch that day’s Artist in Residence: the author and illustrator Shaun Tan. If you haven’t seen or read his work, check out The Arrival. It’s a fantastic story about the immigrant experience told without words. And for no price beyond the tram ticket to get there, we could sit in our deckchairs and watch Shaun choose a little doodle from his sketchbook and then turn it into a finely crafted pen-inked drawing of a griffin mother and child, or wax crayon picture of a sinister penguin banker. We could either watch up-close or see his handiwork projected onto a huge video screen. He made it look so simple! He was a friendly guy; he would chat to people and answer questions as he was drawing. He even signed dozens of people’s books purchased from the nearby festival Readings store, including my friends copy of Tales From Outer Suburbia … I really must borrow it someday.

Shaun Tan giving a speech

Shaun Tan giving a speech

(Photo by anna_t, under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license)

In our brief chat, I was intrigued to hear that he also did some of the preliminary concept drawings for the animated films Wall-E and Horton Hears a Who and is working on an animated short at the moment. This whole experience just cemented that he’s one of my favourite artists. It was so cool to get a chance to watch and engage as a talented artist created his work. Inspiring stuff! I just wish I could have seen some of the other artists and authors in residence.

Later that evening, I got along to another Festival Club. The Age’s Literary Editor, Jason Steger, was there for a chat. Among the interesting tidbits was his revelation that he read War & Peace in just one day, spread across a couch at home. And he gives it two thumbs up!  Other than that, there was more from SPUNC:

  • A representative from Spinifex Press spoke about their new work Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. It sounds like a comprehensive and important work on a troubling topic. The brief interview gave me the impression that this is a bigger problem than I’d ever suspected.
  • Emmett Stinson, who some of you may have had classes with, spoke about Wet Ink, where he’s the Fiction Editor. They were giving away free copies and I managed to bag one. I’ve had a look over a few issues now and it’s a quality publication. I’d like to subscribe once I get a real job as , say, a Fiction Editor?
  • There were words with the editor of Extempore, a biannual jazz journal, which actually sounds really amazing, even though I know next to nothing about jazz.
  • And Griffith Review, yet another journal that looks intimidating in its greatness. I don’t think I’ll ever have time to read all the snazzy-looking publications out there, thanks to events like this!

All in all, another great day and night at the festival!

My final part in the festival experience was a little bit of The Morning Read on Sunday the 30th, the final day of the festival. This event, chaired by Torpedo’s Chris Flynn, ran almost every morning of the festival and presented three authors reading from their works and fielding questions from the audience. I’d never heard of any of the three, but I was pleasantly surprised:

  • Peter Bakowski was first, and he got past my misguided prejudice against the pretentious beret-wearing poet cliche with his gentle, wise and casually talented words and manner. His reading of Portrait of blood floored me. I want to get one of his books already.
  • Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean author, read some short excerpts. I’ll definitely keep her in mind, with her detailed and colourful tales of daily life in Africa.
  • I didn’t hear Nicholas Rothwell read any of his work, but he did field some questions. He was so softly-spoken, introspective and thoughtful and used such descriptive language, I assumed he was a poet too. But upon internet research: nope! Journalist for The Australian!

Goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover!

Aaaaaand with that, I think that’s enough literary-related blathering for several weeks, at least on this blog. I promise my next post will be short, pithy, well-chunked and related purely to the interwebs.

In summation: There were so many events I wish I could have made it to, but I’m glad I saw what I did. I feel much more familiar with the festival and know exactly what sort of things I want to get in on early, next year. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see everything I want in 2010!

Beyond that, for anyone else who’s interested, the MWF Website has a roundup of all the blogging that’s been done about this year’s festival, as well as a selection of audio/visual recordings from the programme.

So that should have you covered if you missed out! Anyone else manage to see anything? Don’t let me be a lonely litnerd!