Moments that transform us: AS Patrić on Las Vegas for Vegans

I first met AS (Alec) Patrić when we were both participants in the Overland Masterclass for Progressive Writers, back in 2009. Alec is an incredibly hard-working, dedicated and talented writer. Since we met he has been published in almost every Australian literary magazine, has won prizes and has released two collections of stories. His latest is Las Vegas for Vegans (Transit Lounge). He is also working on a novel. I got in touch with Alec to ask him a few questions about his latest collection.

So I want to ask first about your process of discovery. Las Vegas for Vegans reaches far and wide in terms of subject, setting and style. Before we get to the philosophical and psychological elements, can I ask about the process of selecting and engaging with the material aspects of the stories? Why hotel rooms? Why insects and gods?

Until now I didn’t realise how many of my stories are set in hotel and motel rooms. Then there are stories set in a post office and a book shop, rooms in hospitals and shelters, a boarding school and an acting academy, an airplane toilet cubicle and even a spaceship. Those settings open doors to insects and gods, and vitally, the stories themselves. ‘The Eternal City’ takes place in a hotel room in Rome but that material aspect is fundamental to the story. It’s not just a location. I don’t think it could be set in a Melbourne flat. ‘Las Vegas for Vegans’ takes place in a hotel that looks out at the Mojave desert and that’s just as crucial to the characters and ideas in that piece. ‘The Mirage Inn’ revolves around a motel on the edge of the Simpson desert, but the difference between the two deserts is significant. In one, a character has more of a chance to find himself, and in the other, he’s likely to lose himself—one man wants to find his way home and the other wants the opposite. If a story is set in the family home, as with ‘Beckett & Son’ or ‘Daughters of Vesuvius’, it’s because family is the chief feature of those stories. Whenever I write a short story or novel, the first thing I look for is a vehicle for the characters and ideas I want to explore. If you’re asking me specifically, why a hotel room, my answer is because it strips a person down to a fundamental state of transition, and the ways we change, moments that transform us for better or worse, is what interests me most about the characters I’m creating or discovering in books when I’m reading.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘in-between’ space of hotels and motels, too, so I really enjoyed those stories. Out of the settings and characters in Las Vegas for Vegans comes a range of intellectual, philosophical and moral enquiries. At least as a reader I was faced with questions about love, family, society, history (and personal history), death and what may or may not come after; space, existence… Do you see the stories like this? Or do you think there is more of a single overarching concern?

I don’t write stories with a theme in mind or to explore a philosophical idea or examine a moral, though I do feel gratified that you found yourself responding to those things in my book. I don’t want to educate my reader, but if there are those features you mention in Las Vegas for Vegans, they arise because what I’m doing is testing my own existence in each one of the stories. (I think that’s why writing can be so hard, even though it seems the simplest of activities—to sit comfortably at a desk and tap away at a keyboard). Despite the highfaluting rationale, the primary concern for me is always the dramatic potential of narrative and vitality of character. Hopefully, this translates to nothing more complicated than a great story and my motivation is as basic as wanting to be a compelling storyteller. Anything else is a bonus.

I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about your interest in flash fiction, or very short stories (of which there are a few in the collection).

A flash fiction might seem an exotic bird but they’re as common as canaries. Any three-minute song you’ve ever enjoyed is a flash fiction. Lyrics have word counts of 500 words or less and they open up the world through a window we call ‘story’. That’d be my technical definition of a flash fiction. Interesting articles in the newspaper might qualify as well, perhaps even a blog post or a weekend anecdote told at work Monday morning. And yet when we’re offered the same creature on a literary page it’s a dodo. A song has a singer and musical instruments (often an accompanying video) to help the story out the window, so it’s not easy getting the same story to fly off the page with so few words and none of those accoutrements. Creating a character, an involving narrative, satisfying beginning/middle/end—with tens of thousands of words—is a lot easier. That’s why many readers think the novel is the only place to find what they’re looking for. I don’t think we’re really interested in birds though; how big or small, how high they fly or how pretty the feathers. It’s still all about the song and what it does to our heart/mind/soul. The only question for me is whether that song gives us another way to fly.

It seems like you do want to play with different ‘effects’ though, in terms of what a story does to heart/mind/soul. Some of the stories in Las Vegas for Vegans are warm and tingly, like ‘Below Zero’; others have a kind of blank emotional tone. Numbness itself is a theme of the story ‘Measured Turbulence’. Are these tonal explorations deliberate? Or do you find it happens organically depending on what mood or state of mind you’re in when you sit down to begin a story?

It’s a lovely irony that the warmest piece in Las Vegas for Vegans is a story called ‘Below Zero’, but you’re right of course. It’s a flash fiction that is essentially a burst of love. It’s about falling for a person before they’re born. I wrote it when my eldest daughter was in the womb and I was delighted to be able to read it to her recently. Summer is almost three years old now. ‘One in a Million’ is at the other end of the spectrum, perhaps the coldest story in the collection. It’s about emotional isolation and so that blank tone was certainly intentional. That sense of ice-cold reality is what I wanted to capture. The emotional tone was primary. Tone is usually secondary to most other stories. ‘Measured Turbulence’ was inspired by Bunuel, Lynch and Fassbinder, and I have found in many of their films there’s a kind of placid tone that drifts along until very disruptive events storm through the narrative.

Tonal variation across a book (whether novel or collection) is vital to me. Many writers choose a narrative voice, rhythm, mode, and write in the same way in story after story, and often, novel after novel. That bores me as a reader. John Updike can be too persistently elegant in the same way that David Foster Wallace can be persistently pyrotechnic. As a writer, I want to do more than lull my reader into a narrative dream (or nightmare). I want to wake my reader up to an experience, jolt them with an idea, shock them with the warmth of an emotion, chill with a realization a few seconds later. And yet variation in tone is only valuable if it can open up the fissures of heart/mind/soul. A sentimental story like ‘Below Zero’ benefits from being very short—also from the brutal emotional tone of ‘The Mirage Inn’ which precedes it in Las Vegas for Vegans, and revivifies a reader ready to move on to the following story. ‘Boys’ is next, and I hope a reader at that point has no idea what might happen. Which is more true to life. And I suppose what I’m hoping is that I can offer a totality of experience with a book. One moment you have a careful hand to your wife’s womb waiting for a movement and the next moment the world breaks in with whatever comes next.

Alec also interviewed yours truly in 2011 for Verity La, an online magazine he founded. If you like our banter, you might want to check that out.

On writing, blogging and social media: an interview from Victorian Writer

After reading A.S. Patric’s thoughts on blogging, in an interview he did for Nigel Featherstone at the Canberra Times, I thought I’d reprint a recent interview I did for Victorian Writer, the Victorian Writers’ Centre magazine, to add to the conversation. Enjoy! And please share your thoughts in the comments, or via the Facebook fan page, Twitter, your own blogs, etc. Thanks to the VWC for permission to reprint.

You’ve written, it seems, in about every format. Which do you think audiences (and editors/publishers) are most receptive to, and is this changing?

I have had short stories, reviews, interviews, essays, articles and the odd poem published/performed. Traditional publishing channels haven’t changed much yet: book publishers still want novels and long-form nonfiction; journals want short stories, poems and essays; newspapers and magazines want quality articles, reviews and interviews. Audiences love book reviews, both in print and online, I’ve found––they’re very receptive to them. And, happily, the audience for short stories is really alive online––people read them (either in print or online) and talk about reading them.

Audiences are (obviously) very receptive to free content––the challenge over the coming years, as more things are read online, is how this mode might become more sustainable for the content creators––writers, journalists, reviewers etc. And for editors, as well, whose job might help to differentiate the good stuff on the internet from the oodles of crap. They need to have a role in that world somehow––perhaps we’ll see more edited group blogs, online magazines etc. that charge for some quality content and provide other stuff free.

How does writing for online publications call upon a change in your writing from hard copy?

It depends, still, on the publication, as it would in print. The style and audience are important––are you writing a news story or writing for a blog? Is the website/blog self-deprecating or serious? Are the reviews published there analytical or personalised? Cultural blogs do work better with a personalised slant, in my experience. A blog is a narrative––a public evolution of a writer (or series of writers) and their world and interests. This means they’re often selective and esoteric, sure, but a loyal and involved audience is better than a broad, casual one, in my opinion. The word on everyone’s lips is ‘niche’.

You’re a prolific ‘tweeter’ (there had to be a Twitter question!) – do you feel this practice allows you, or your writing, to reach audiences you otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t?

Yes, particularly overseas audiences. Again, personalisation is key (and that doesn’t mean telling them what you had for breakfast). Let people in on the narrative, the slant, the interests of the blog and its ‘character’, then, if you think they’ll be interested––link to your blog posts and publications (or just your publications if you don’t blog). I know people have bought some of the publications I’ve been in because they are followers of my blog, or because I’ve mentioned something on Twitter. But if that’s the only thing you broadcast, people will run away in droves, spammer! It’s all about selectivity––follow the people whose tweets you enjoy, and the people whose broadcasts you’re going to get the most out of, whether that be personally, professionally or both––that’s up to you.

What are some rules about blogging or micro-blogging that you’d recommend others follow when sending their writing out through the internets?

There are no ‘rules’ per se, but there is etiquette. The no-spamming thing, as above, is something. Always acknowledge the source of your words (by saying you got this ‘via’ someone, or by ‘retweeting’ it) and try not to push too many things on people if they’re not interested (keep an eye on trends in your stats and what people retweet etc.)––be yourself but think about building an audience too. If you’re going to be promoting unedited writing (particularly fiction and poetry) and you haven’t yet established an audience, be very careful. It can seem amateurish and can put off potential readers and publishers if the writing is ordinary or not up to scratch. And never, ever presume you’re the only one who has something to say on a subject…

From short fiction to essay to review to 140-character micro-blogs, the options for getting your writing out there are numerous. What are some tips for those wishing to push their work to the world in any of these formats?

MiscellaneousVoicesCover_FINAL-209x300Read. I can’t stress that enough. READ. Don’t even try and write a novel, a short story, an article, a blog post or even a tweet without reading widely how others have done it (the good and the bad). Immerse yourself in the format. And if you choose to publish online, embrace it, love it – do it for the sake of it not simply for promotional purposes.

For those in Melbourne, tonight is the launch of Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing #1, featuring A.S. Patric and myself, alongside wonderful bloggers like James Bradley, Penni Russon and Lisa Dempster. See you at Readings Carlton, at 6:30pm!

Progressive writers

I’d like to introduce you to some of the writers who also participated in the Overland Masterclass for Progressive Writers, a week-and-a-half ago. Simonne and Maxine have written summaries of the workshop, if you want to know what it was all about. The dynamics were interesting – the  ‘progressive’ themes varied greatly, and were executed differently by each writer. We began to discuss – amongst ourselves, with Overland’s Rjurik Davidson, and with the guest writers Tony Birch, Cate Kennedy and Lucy Sussex – how one’s political interests might be resonant in fiction, without being didactic (unless that was the aim of a specific piece – i.e. propaganda).

Personally, my thematic concerns came about through writing fiction, and through reading. This is how I learnt about what is important to me, and what I would like to explore, engage with ideologically, and have other readers’ eyes opened to. I managed to sneak a bit of what I write ‘about’ in fiction, into my Melbourne Writers Festival biography.

But enough about me. Following are some writers you should definitely keep an eye on. All have talent, and different ones’ work may appeal to you, depending on the kind of genres and themes you engage with and enjoy…

koralysmiling

Koraly Dimitriadis

My name is Koraly Dimitriadis and I am a fiction writer. I was raised in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and originate from a Greek-Cypriot background. I have always been creative and have a deep passion for the arts. I have been a serious writer since 2007 and currently study professional writing and editing at RMIT. With the guidance of my mentor Christos Tsiolkas, I submitted my first novel Xenos to the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and currently await the results. I have also written numerous short stories and poetry. All my work is of a progressive/political nature as I am driven to provoking change within our troubled world. More information about Xenos, my short stories and also my blog can be found at my website.

simonneSimonne Michelle-Wells

I have a background in theatre and write theatre reviews for Australian Stage Online. Currently I’m squirreling myself away with another draft of my first novel, which landed me a residency at Varuna in 2008. I’m also the blog administrator, with Charlotte Wood, for the newly launched Varuna Alumni Writers’ blog. Recently I was the recipient of the 2009 Ada Cambridge Prize for biographical short story writing. This story, ‘Broken Light’ has just been picked up by the Director of the Immigration Bridge project in Canberra and will soon be featured in their campaign.

My writing, despite (no doubt) efforts to be otherwise, usually comes back to themes of gender or immigration, often with an underlying element of spirituality that creeps through. I guess, if you want to get to bottom line stuff, I write about hope. This has countless traps and pitfalls, of course! The tendency towards sentimentality being the obvious one. I often find myself killing characters off – maybe it’s my subconscious effort to be as unsentimental as possible, who knows? I was one the writers for the 24 Hour Play Project in WA a few years back and ended up writing a 15 minute play loosely based on my father and grandmother and ended up killing the old man off. He was somewhat surprised at his gruesome demise. Toughen up, Dad, was my response, this is business.

I also write Numerology Charts for people and have recently started writing charts for my fictional characters, which is proving rather intriguing thus far. I’ve been writing a blog called into the quiet since 2007, which has links to all of my reviews for Australian Stage, and can be found here.

The Overland Master Class was a fantastic experience; one I would do again without hesitation, and one I’d recommend to any writer.

alec_patric1A.S. Patric

Talking about myself is a bit difficult. I feel like I’m creating a character called Alec Patric – He’s a writer of stories and poetry, dabbling in something called Literary Fragmentalism, and all kinds of word experiments. He can write ‘normal’ as well, he is quick to assure you. He’s got a wife and they both love Elwood, though occasionally concede that moving somewhere more affordable might be necessary with the advent of children. And when asked what his motivations or principles are, feels souls glazing over like so many 7-Eleven doughnuts, because this kind of stuff feels like making loving physical contact via sporadic internet connections. A.S. Patric is an emerging writer, publishing in Quadrant, Going Down Swinging, Etchings, Blue Dog, Etchings (again), and Wet Ink – that’s Alec Patric. I stand behind the ventriloquist doll and assure you I’m a lot less interesting than the characters I create, and a lot less beautiful than some of my best poetry. http://aspatricink.blogspot.com

warwick_sprawson_pic3Warwick Sprawson

Hi, (imagine something witty here). After incarnations as a cleaner, engineer, bushland regenerator and general dogsbody I completed RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course last year. Since then I’ve had short stories published in Southerly and Wet Ink. My non-fiction, mostly hiking articles, has been published in The Age, Wild and Great Walks. In January, Red Dog books will publish my book on Tasmania’s Overland Track – it’s going to have photos and maps and pictures and everything. As I can’t direct you anywhere on-line to read my stories, I virtually don’t exist.

daan_spijer_200_pxDaan Spijer

I have escaped from full-time paid work and insist that I am a full-time writer.  I am passionate about putting the world to rights, especially railing against injustices and bullying, as well as stupidity and dishonesty.  I express this through short stories, verse, plays and essays and am working on laying it all out in a ‘serious’ book and two YA fiction books.  In the past four years I have had almost twenty pieces shortlisted in competitions – which means anything from winning to being commended.  Apart from competition anthologies, I have a story (title ‘Dead’) in Award Winning Australian Writing 2008.  One of my plays won a prize and has been publicly read.  I edit a writers’ magazine for the FAW and used to edit a medical journal.  I post my weekly musings at www.thinking-allowed.com.au and have some of my writing and photos on www.seventh-house-communications.com .

rjurik1_thumbnailWorkshop leader and Overland associate editor Rjurik Davidson, who did this all in his own time, is a writer himself:

Rjurik Davidson is a writer, editor and teacher. He mainly writes speculative fiction, ranging widely across surrealism, magic realism, fantasy and science fiction. He has won a number of awards.  He is also Associate Editor of Overland magazine and writes a great deal of non-fiction, mainly on Australian film. He has traveled widely, speaks crippled french in a perfect accent and is particularly interested in political fiction. His collection The Library of Forgotten Books will be published by PS Publishing later in the year.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a bio from everyone. Do check out Maxine Clarke’s blog though – she’s amazing. I’ll have to try and feature her in a different way down the track…