Whisky Literature: I’m playing with video again

This is the first in a series called Whisky Literature (combining two loves), where I will muse on literature, discuss recent reads, or read aloud over a dram of whisky.

This episode features Ardbeg Uigeadail and the books Deeper Water by Jessie Cole, The Empress Lover by Linda Jaivin, and Tampa by Alissa Nutting, with mention of The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss and Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Expect a mix of passion, enthusiasm, absurdity, and tipsiness.

Reading for pleasure

The last week of my overseas trip and the week to come (in Fremantle for my best friend’s wedding) were and are my final weeks of leave from Uni, so I was keen to sneak in some ‘pleasure reading’, which basically means that I don’t take notes. Nonetheless I wanted to share with you some of the books I’ve enjoyed and am enjoying.

On the flight over to the US, on Halloween, I devoured the second novel in Tara Moss’ Pandora English series, The Spider Goddess, which I’d been saving up for just that purpose. I’m going to grab a copy of the third book, The Skeleton Key, very soon (the first is The Blood Countess). The series is about Pandora English, an aspiring writer who moves in with her great aunt (who looks unnaturally young) in the hidden New York suburb of Spektor. Pandora is discovering not only that there is a secret (and often sinister) world behind things, but that she has some special talents of her own. The series is ridiculously fun, especially if you, like me, are a fan of that dark aesthetic (think Hammer Horror films, or Tim Burton). The books are also partly satirical of the fashion world, while maintaining a genuine interest in style, or glamour. If you’ve read interviews with Moss, or her blog and tweets, you’ll know that for a long time she’s loved the macabre, and that she has a crush on Bela Lugosi. These books are born of genuine interests. I’m a fan.

On the flight over I also began Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, because, as mentioned, I was giving a paper on her previous novel Eat the Document, and because I’d been meaning to read it since it came out. I finished it in New York, and am still thinking about it. It’s crazy that she’s not more lauded, more well known. Even in the US I did not meet one person who had heard of her, and I talked to a lot of bookish people. Her books so keenly reflect aspects of Western contemporary life (though that is too broad a description) that perhaps they’ll only be properly appreciated once the present is past. In Stone Arabia, there is a brother and sister; he’s a musician and an obsessive chronicler, she cries over the news and spends hours googling symptoms. Again, I’m going to point to James Bradley’s review, as he’s done a great job of summing up the novel.

I began Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World on the flight home and already it is getting inside of me, as his other books have. I don’t know how he imbues his sentences with such weight. It’s difficult to describe what this book is about. It’s about people. At the beginning, there are two families shaped by loss. The two boys, Jonathan and Bobby, come together, and grow, and the reader also follows the point of view of Alice, Jonathan’s mother, and Clare (but I’m not up to her yet). Last year I wrote quite a long post about Michael Cunningham, after he’d been in Australia. You can read that here.

Finally, in Brooklyn at PowerHouse Books I picked up a copy of New York Stories (Everyman’s Pocket Classics), and I’ve read about half. Highlights have been Truman Capote’s ‘Master Misery’, John Cheever’s ‘O City of Broken Dreams’ and Shirley Jackson’s ‘A Pillar of Salt’ (a great story about how a big city can overwhelm and ultimately disable you). Most of the stories so far have been along the lines of broken dreams, and a city that draws you in with bright lights but then gets you down or takes advantage of you. The stories are set in the New York of Mad Men and back much further. There are some contemporary ones to come. I’m hooked on them. Though I had such a great experience of the city I’m sure for many it still is a place of broken dreams. Aren’t all big cities? So much promise, but so many people. So expensive.

I learnt a new word while reading this collection. Many of the characters, the down-and-out ones, ate at Automats. I said to Gerard, ‘what is that? Do they still exist?’ We looked it up and it seems that an Automat was a fast-food restaurant which basically consisted of vending machines. Patrons put in a coin and pulled out their wax-wrapped food. The kitchen was on the premises. Here’s a great description (and image) of the Automat. I’m not sure why but the Automat has captured my imagination. Perhaps it could be the setting for a story of my own…

Interview with Paul Murphy, book trailer specialist

In the past few months Paul Murphy has been kindly forwarding me his book trailers. I visited his website, www.booktease.com.au, and was impressed by the range and quality of his work in this emerging field. In our visually aligned and keyboard-bound culture, book trailers will increasingly play an important role in drawing readers to the written word. I asked Murphy a few questions about his work…

Book trailers are exploding on the web, but you’ve been dong them since before the days of YouTube! Can you walk us through your journey in becoming a bit of a book trailer specialist?

Actually, they weren’t even called book trailers when I started producing them. It was about eight years ago, I was working in the marketing department of a large Australian publisher, and one of my responsibilities was designing ‘book videos’.

It was a pretty doomed project. Like you said, no YouTube or Facebook back then – in fact viewing video on the web was still very unreliable – so we had to convince bookstores to play them on these large, old-style TVs (of course now every bookstore has a flatscreen TV in their front window). Even so, I thought it was a very quick and effective way to market a book, and saw real potential in the form.

Eventually, I left the publishing industry to work as a video editor and motion graphics designer. A few years on, I received a call from an old publishing colleague. Apparently ‘book trailers’ were an online phenomenon now. She asked me if I would consider designing a few, and I jumped at the opportunity.

That’s great. And can you run us through some of the trailers you’ve now done and the people you’ve worked with?

The first trailer that received a lot of attention was the one for Gone by Mo Hayder. The publisher had simply said, ‘Make it scary’. I had a think about what I had seen online that had really terrified me, and decided to film the opening of the novel through grainy security camera footage.

Another trailer that’s been popular is The Very Bad Book by Andy Griffiths. I remember trying to come up with the idea for that one, thinking, ‘How do I make it funny?’ That’s when I realised – don’t – it’s much funnier if you make it serious. So I made it like a trailer for an action blockbuster.

I try to work with the author wherever possible. Tara Moss was a pleasure on the trailer for The Blood Countess. We share a love of classic gothic movies, and discussed the look and fashions in our trailer at length.

Van Badham was very particular about the models we cast for the Burnt Snow trailer, especially the character of Brody (one of her comments was: ‘If the model looks like he would ACTUALLY WEAR a beige leather jacket with a cream turtleneck he is THE WRONG GUY’). She really pushed me to create something that I think is genuinely anti-Twilight.

One day a courier dropped off some footage for the trailer to Lost On Earth by Steve Crombie [see below]. At least, I thought he was the courier – he was dressed in bike gear, but very chatty. We were talking for about 10 minutes, and I was thinking, ‘Don’t you have other packages to deliver?’ Then he started asking me about how I was going to edit the trailer. I was just about to tell him it was none of his business when I realised I was actually talking to the author Steve. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and the footage from his trip is amazing.

Is it the publisher who hires you? Or do authors seek you out on their own, too, now that you’re freelancing?

Authors have hired me in the past, but more often the work comes from publishers, since they have marketing budgets. Sometimes after I have produced a trailer for a publisher, the author will come back and hire me to develop it further, particularly for overseas releases where the cover art or the title has changed.

Is there a dream author or book you’d love to do a trailer for?

One of my favourite writers is Jon Ronson, who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats, and I would jump at the chance to produce something for him. I think it would be a lot of fun to come up with visuals for his quirky style of writing.

Jon, if you’re reading this, please please please contact me – there’s a free trailer in it for you!

Besides book trailers, you do other freelance gigs – what’s an average day like for you?

I’m yet to experience an average day as a freelancer – every day is something different. I’ve heard other freelancers say the same thing, but it’s particular in my case, because I work across almost every aspect of production – producing, writing, directing, motion graphics, sound design, etc.

Today I am in my edit suite working on a World War II documentary. Tomorrow, I’ll be preparing a pitch for an upcoming campaign. By the end of the week, I’ll be on location filming a live event. I really thrive on being able to change roles throughout the week – it makes work much more exciting and dynamic for me.

Can I ask what you’re working on now?

With Christmas less than a month away, I’ve finished all the book trailers for the year. Even so, I just started working on a new one that’s coming out early next year. I can’t say too much at this stage, but it’s for a post-apocalyptic teen novel. I just finished reading the manuscript and it’s amazing.

Other than that, I have a few other projects on the boil. There’s the documentary I mentioned, which should be finished by mid-next year. I’m also in pre-production on a music video. I haven’t taken any holidays for a while though – maybe that should be my next project.

Thanks Paul!

Brows will be lifted…

* New short story of mine in The Lifted Brow 6: Atlas, being launched this Friday! My story ‘Obsolescence’ is a bit of a dark, modern fable set in Bergen, Norway, where my relatives are from. The issue is going to be awesome, with a piece of writing about every country in the world (not to mention, fiction by David Foster Wallace, and a CD). More info about the issue can be found here. And, Melburnians, the launch info is here. I’ll be there, dressed as a Norwegian fisherperson, scribbling in your copy of the book – if you’ll let me.

* Tara Moss has been doing a very cool series on writers’ desks: ‘I’ve shown you mine now you show me yours’. And I showed her mine. She calls me Lit-Hunter (*blush*). Check it out on her blog, The Book Post, here.

* I have a piece in A Cafe in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal. Contents and ordering details, here.

* The lovely Rachel Hills has some good news for emerging writers: Jean Hannah Edelstein – who’s signed to Random House in the UK and used to work at a literary agency – has offered to assess and offer feedback on a reader’s submission packet for free (something she’d normally charge some decent pounds for). This is a really awesome opportunity for an aspiring author, and Rachel thought it might be something LiteraryMinded readers would be interested in. I agree! Here’s the link.

* I also have this coming up…

The Future of Reading

Is reading headed in the direction of iPhone applications and kindles, or will books and newspapers outlast new technologies? With Karen Andrews, Angela Meyer and Louise Swinn.

Wednesday 10 February 2010 from 7.30-8.30pm.

Write, think, speak … get published

Express Media @ Signal for 13-20 year olds, but older people welcome (parents, teachers, friends)!

More here.

* I just found out one of my blog posts will be published in Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing No.1. It’s not out until April, so I’ll tell you more about it closer to the date.

* Other things… can’t wait for you to see the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher (out mid-Feb), we’ve been working very hard on it (you can check out the emag of the summer issue on the B+P website). And soon I’ll post more details about Perth Writers Festival, Adelaide’s Format Festival, and a few other things I’ve been working on…