Guest post: The Myriad Curse by Dan Rabarts

I remember a time, he said, trying to make himself sound older and wiser than he really was, when I’d sit down to write and have no idea where to start or how this fragment of time I had scratched out of the universe solely for the purpose of putting words on paper might best be put to use. A lot of this precious time was spent staring at the white, trying to dredge up ideas or characters or even just sentences, in an effort to feel this was something I could do. Then I wrote a novel, and put it in a drawer.

Along came children. Those precious hours I had scratched from the belly fat of Grandfather Time suddenly seemed a long way off, all that effort wasted on a doorstop. So I wrote another novel, or rather three more novels, and put them all in the drawer. It’s quite a big drawer.

Then I found my stride with short stories, and the first story I ever wrote had legs and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to write more. In there somewhere, I wrote another novel, but it was the shorts that kept me moving. That novel’s not in the drawer. Not yet.

Short stories were a lifeline. After all the effort of writing enough dark epic fantasy to sink a pirate ship, and really having no idea what to do with it or how to turn it into an Elixir of Fame and Fortune, in short fiction I had now found a medium I could do something with. Something people wanted to read.

When you find a barrel rolling off the sinking pirate ship, you grab hold, right? Save yourself, you filthy buccaneer.

Morning after morning, night after night, I sank into the couch and lost myself in fragments of lives and worlds, the hopes and fears and mysteries of places and people unseen, just long enough to touch on their world, leave it a little more bruised, a little more broken, like the fingers of a cruel god grazing the hearts of the innocent. Such power I held.

While adrift upon this dark and tempestuous sea I joined forces with another reaper of words, and together we harvested not just our own stories but also those of others, and from this grave union were born two anthologies and a novel, nay a series of novels, brought to life by a pair of characters who refused to be left in a drawer collecting dust.

It goes without saying that I owe where I am right now to Lee Murray, my fellow pirate, to whom I remain eternally grateful, but also to the stories that led me there.

And so I sit here, and I still face a white page. And while that has not changed, everything has changed. Instead of the vast Sea of WhatthefuckshouldIwrite, I now stare into the black, many-faceted spider eyes of the Myriad Curse, and twitch against her ropy bonds. This is utterly more terrifying than the emptiness of Not Having Any Good Ideas. It is the hell of having so many things started, so many stories in the mix, long and short and yet to define themselves, some contracted for delivery, some just taking up room in critical parts of the workings that they need to be vented so other things can breathe, that knowing which to even tackle next is the soul-killer. It robs the will to work on anything, because there are so many things clamouring for attention.

So I do nothing, unless someone is screaming for it. What used to be a spontaneous, creative burning of energy, a determination to scale some indefinable pinnacle, becomes a pressure to meet a deadline. This is not a problem until the moment you realise it’s what you’re doing and that yes of course it’s a fucking problem. What comes next for our dear victim, so afflicted by the curse of scraping against the sharp edges of almost being able to pretend they’re a real writer, with a real shot at success if they just keep at it?

Writer therapy, of course.

Wind back the clock, before The Path of Ra, before The Crooked Mile, before Crucible, before the drawer novels. Before the short films and the attempts at writing screenplays. Before these things, there was poetry that grew out of free writing. Words that were written for no-one but me. Words that fell out of me like cold black stones, wet with what drowned inside me, written while I sat on chittering trains, dark Wellington nights rolling by the rainswept windows. Poems written on coffee breaks, or in bedrooms late at night to the bitter swill of heartache, which I totally understood before I even turned twenty, I swear. If my short stories were fragments of other people’s pain, then my poems were raw splinters of my own. They existed for no other reason than to slake my need to get out what was in.

Late last year Lee and I delivered Teeth of the Wolf, the sequel to Hounds of the Underworld, to our publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press. I’d had a hell of a year, and with wrapping up the novel I was at the end of my creative energies going into the summer break. I had stories I could be working on. I had another novel I needed to complete edits on. But the thought of taking work away with me on holiday was too much. The Myriad Curse grinned down at me, venom gleaming on its fangs. What to do?

My family gift me with writing notebooks every year. I made sure I had one with me all the time while we were away. I would beat the Myriad Curse, even if just for a few weeks. I would wind back the clock. I set myself a simple enough challenge: Write every day. Something new. Complete nothing. Write free, for myself alone. Start a new story, but run out of time in the day? Leave it. Tomorrow, write free. Whatever comes. Poems, maybe, for sure, but there are no rules. Some days, a couple of lines, some days, three or four pages. Some of it meant nothing, some of it hurt, some of it was the sun and the rain of being far from the day job and surrounded by people who love me. It wasn’t the subconsciously sculpted meanderings of twenty years ago, and it wasn’t without its precious, jagged scars, but it did what it needed to.

It broke the Myriad Curse.

Reminded me, in the end, that they’re all just words, sentences, and that not everything we write needs to be finished. Literature is, well, littered with the ruins of our abandoned children, built on their bones. They are the wreckage driven before the storm, which some bastard pirate ship is surfing.

Free writing is the antivirus. Plagued by so many projects you can’t focus? Write more. Write nothing in as many words as you need to say it. Write up a storm. Because at the centre of every storm there’s an eye. That calm is where we find our peace, even when it’s screaming at us from all sides, staring us down with its glassy dead eyes and glittery fangs. The curse is the storm is the sea, and we can beat it by playing its own game against it. All order came out of chaos, so maybe sometimes we just need a little more chaos in our lives. Write free, write for you and you alone.

I remember a time, he said, when the white page was the enemy, the tyrant, the curse. That will never change. What defines us is how we face it down.

——

Dan Rabarts is an award-winning short fiction author and editor, recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2014. His science fiction, dark fantasy and horror short stories have been published in numerous venues around the world, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, StarShipSofa and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-edited the anthologies Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror, winner of the 2014 SJV for Best Collected Work and the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Work, and At The Edge, a collection of Antipodean dark fiction, which won the SJV for Best Edited Work in 2017. His novella Tipuna Tapu won the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction as part of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. Hounds of the Underworld, Book 1 of the crime/horror series The Path of Ra, co-written with Lee Murray and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2017), is his first novel. Find out more at dan.rabarts.com.

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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Crimes and Misdemeanors
Written and directed by Woody Allen
(number 275)

Okay so I’ve only watched Woody Allen movies because of this list, and I’m already seeing a lot of repeated themes. It’s kind of funny watching this movie after seeing a discussion online where someone wrote that people shouldn’t bother with forced diversity in their fiction. I wonder what Woody Allen would say that that – if you assume that showing Jewish people and customs is diverse and not the norm.

Anyway, it’s actually a pretty compelling movie. I dreaded it being like Love and Death but it’s not actually a parody which was a relief. Instead it’s an overly intellectual sort of romantic comedy. If people in rom coms talked like existential philosophers and cheated on their partners with no remorse. That makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy it – I did. The characters are all interesting and have a little depth to them, the story is twisty and unexpected and I enjoyed all the references to old movies.

Does it make me love the people? Woody Allen’s character is pretty off putting, Clifford, much like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, makes everything that happens around him about him. His sister has a horrifying hookup through a personal ad and he makes it about his failing marriage. The girl he’s into (outside his marriage) gets a great career opportunity and he goes sad sack because he won’t get to see her for four months. This character’s only redeeming quality is that he’s lovely to his niece.

I liked Angelica Houston, not that her character is groundbreaking but she is played by Angelica Houston so there’s a gravitas and a charisma there. Mia Farrow’s Halley is pretty adorable even if she exists in a world where men just lust after and adore her and try and ignore that she has stuff she wants to get done. Alan Alda is the jerky jerk but he’s so charismatic as well.

Bechdel test: Yes, there’s a tiny interchange between Jenny and Wendy where Wendy says ‘don’t you have homework to do?’ and Jenny says ‘yes’.

Best line:

Lester: Comedy is tragedy plus time!

Professor Levy: You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox consists of the fact that, when we fall in love, we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand, we ask our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted upon us. So that love contains in it the contradiction: The attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.

State of Mind: Its not the joyful nostalgia of Radio Days, and it’s not the cringe-fest of Love and Death. This is a good middle ground kind of Allen film. I’m not sure it’s one I’d seek out to watch again, but I didn’t hate it the way I feared I might. It’s got some interesting things to say about the human experience and decisions and how we define ourselves, but I kind of wish Allen would get out of his own way and let the script breathe a little rather than being SO intellectual ALL the time. Good soundtrack.

Watched movie count

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon
Directed by John Huston
Written by John Huston based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
(number 281)

A good classic, fast talking Noir starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. I know I’ve seen a couple of Bogarts but I hadn’t already seen this one. It was unfamiliar to me.

The story is a pretty good twisty mystery and generally, yeah I think this is a great example of the genre. It did get a little boring halfway through, but that might just be because I was watching it in the weekend while it was sunny and I sort of wanted to be getting chores and things done. Bogart is great in this, I feel silly even typing that. Of course he was! Mary Astor is the classic femme fatale, sort of into him and sort of not, but ultimately more trouble that she’s worth.

My favourite sequence is probably Cairo vs Spade in Spade’s office, with the gun and Spade disarming Cairo and being generally a cool guy in the manner of Spike from Cowboy Bebop.

It’s a pity about all the casual queer insults Sam’s happy to use. At least Cairo is allowed to still be shown as a homosexual character through obvious coding, although he is pretty much a villain so that’s not exactly great news.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, I love Sam and Effie, I’m not as sure about Brigid because yeah, was never sure when she was lying or what. The cops were great, and I totally got where they were coming from.

This is the kind of classic which sets a lot of tropes. Watching it I was reminded of so many other, later media. Notably Brick, which follows a similar sort of macguffin based plot, but also shows like Veronica Mars, or event the Beyond Belief episodes of Thrilling Adventure Hour which mention Pterodactyl Jones.

Bechdel test: Effie and Brigid talk off screen several times, but that obviously doesn’t count. There was also Miles’ widow but she only talked to Sam. I’m sure there were even scenes with Effie and Brigid together but only talking through the males present, so no. If they’d just brought one of the scenes with Effie and Brigid onto the screen instead of having Effie relate it to Sam… sigh. Effie’s an outstanding ‘Girl Friday’ type, loved her to bits.

Best line:

Sam: when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it!

State of Mind: A good mystery and plenty entertaining. I’m not sure if I’m energised to watch it again, particularly. I can see why it’s a classic, and I recommend people watching it, but I guess it wasn’t a huge amount of surprise.

Watched movie count

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Robert E. Sherwood based on the novel by MacKinlay Kantor
(number 311)

This movie comes straight off the bat with the feels, showing the pain of coming home after seeing terrible things through Homer and his two lost hands and his fears about how his girl will handle seeing his hooks. The other two men accompanying Homer don’t have the same disfigurement but plenty of worries and reservations all the same.

I blubbered my way through all the reuniting scenes with the servicemen and their families and wives. Anna pointed out it’s like the end of a movie, not the start. And I guess that’s the point. The reunions quickly turn hard though, with Homer’s family uncertain how to deal with his hooks. Fred afraid to even find his wife, Al trying to fit back into a family that’s well adjusted to being without him.

It’s a slow burn of a movie, which is nicely framed because it’s about people being very polite to the returned vets and eventually saying no, or no you can’t or we can’t help. And because those conversations are slow and convoluted the pace of the movie makes a lot of sense. It’s carefully crafted to punch you in the gut, hurt your heart and make you cry.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, absolutely. I think I loved Fred first, and then Homer a lot. Al was a little tougher to feel sympathy for but I was there too once he woke up and went around the room checking it was real and not just a dream *sob*. I also felt for all the women in their lives and the various reactions that they had. I’m not so sure about the May to December romance Fred had with Al’s daughter Peggy, but hey… better than his existing wife who just wanted to drink and socialise, am I right?

Bechdel test: Alice and Milly talk on the phone near the start but we only see Milly’s side of things. Milly and Peggy talk, lots of mother daughter stuff but I think it’s always framed around the men in their lives? I could be wrong, I could be forgetting them talking about clothes or housework though. No stand out passes, anyway.

Peggy: I’ve made up my mind.
Al: Good girl.
Milly: To do what?
Peggy: I’m going to break that marriage up! I can’t stand it seeing Fred tied to a woman he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him. Oh, it’s horrible for him. It’s humiliating and it’s killing his spirit. Somebody’s got to help him.

Best line:

Al: You know, I had a dream. I dreamt I was home. I’ve had that same dream hundreds of times before. This time, I wanted to find out if it’s really true. Am I really home?

Milly: You’ll probably have to make a speech.
Al: It’s my plan to meet that situation by getting plastered.

State of Mind: I’m pleased that this movie didn’t end as bleakly as I feared it would. Anna felt like she could see where it was going and didn’t want to endure it, so I watched the last bit alone but actually it’s pretty positive. There’s a lot of social commentary, and a lot of it is damning, but there’s also generally satisfying and happy conclusions for our main characters. I was relieved. Knowing this, I may watch it again because a happy ending makes the earlier pain easier to endure I feel. All in all, a great technical movie, characters with depth who are portrayed well.

Watched movie count

Baby quilt for old friends

Flashback craft… Sadly the only photo I seem to have of this one is it incomplete… but you get the idea 🙂

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I’ve known the mama of this baby since third form, so… 1993. I met the papa in university (around the 1999 – 2000 area) and I introduced them. When I heard they were expecting a baby I thought back to the sorts of colours I remember her liking and went from there.

The pattern is made up of pinwheel, double square and double pinwheel blocks, because apparently I was feeling the doubles. Particularly fond of the Where the Wild Things Are and expressive cat fabrics I used in the border. The back is made up of Very Hungry Caterpillar fabrics.

Gallipoli (1981)

Gallipoli
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Peter Weir and David Williamson
(number 317)

Familiar director’s name… Peter Weir. Oh right. Dead Poet’s Society, Truman Show, Witness. One of these directors who I like without realising that I like them. It’s with trepidation I started this movie up, because dear god, I learned about Gallipoli as a child. I know how badly this goes for the ANZACS. I had a great-grandfather at El Alamein. There’s just no way this is going to be an uplifting movie.

Damn this film. Having a half hour opening sequence with the boys just being so damn cute and Australian and full of hope, etc etc. Being excited about running races. Perfect for making me love them as people before the inevitable putting through Hell that will happen at the war. Then they’re in the army and just being cute, excited lads in Egypt and I can feel the doom getting closer and closer.

The format of the film reminds me of Full Metal Jacket, actually. The start with the innocence and the training, etc and then the travel to the place at war with a little fun, a little frivolity and then the harsh, stark reality of war and death.

Once they were at Gallipoli it still held off on the horror. In fact there were baby Mel Gibson butt shots and jokes and the contrast between the men who’d been there too long and the new arrivals. But once the fighting began in earnest you feel the dispair. The film doesn’t shy away from showing glimpses of what it means to know you’re about to die – men taking off their medals, wedding rings, writing letters to loved ones to leave behind. Hoping that somehow it’ll be transported back home.

Does it make me love the people? Hell yes. Archy first, so young and fresh faced and pretty. Then baby Mel Gibson, Frank. He’s brilliant in this movie, just brilliant. Playing a line between genuine and smarmy and rocking it. You do feel for the men as things get worse.

Bill Hunter (mandatory role in any Australian film) is likewise amazing as Major Barton, stuck in between a stupid decision from higher up and whether the young men in his care live or die.

Bechdel test: No, there’s a couple of women here and there but this is a movie about Australian lads and the trials they face.

Best line:

Jack: What are your legs?
Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.
Jack: What are they going to do?
Archy Hamilton: Hurl me down the track.
Jack: How fast can you run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard.
Jack: How fast are you going to run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard!
Jack: Then let’s see you do it!

Major Barton: I won’t ask my men to do what I won’t do myself.

State of Mind: Fuck war. Much as expected, from what I knew going in for Gallipoli, this wasn’t ever going to go well. I didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did though, it’s total genius. Beautifully made character stuff with no punches pulled about the idiocy of the maneuvers. Damn, though the early part of the film, the sequence of the race Archy does barefoot against a man on horseback. It’s really a lovely film. I may even watch it again, I’ll just maybe… stop it at a certain point.

Watched movie count

Happy, geeky quilts for two boys

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I had a lot of fun making these quilts. Two lovely friends of mine adopted two little boys this year. I thought it was such a gracious, loving thing to do for the community at large that I wanted to help somehow. I chose to help by making the two boys their own patchwork quilts. I was advised of their likes: superheroes, minions, fruit.. and made two almost matching but not quite quilts. It was a lot of fun using so many of my geeky fabrics.

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Star Wars (Rey and BB-8 highlighted because of personal preference), Iron Man, Thor, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman (fave of their new mama) and a fantastic Justice League group fabric with lots of characters. Then Minions, kawaii fruit and vege, owls, school supplies, sky sharks… this quilt has a lot going on. I kept the colours bright and cheerful and used some Island fabric from Rarotonga for nice wide borders. Both came out about single bed sized and by all accounts were well received.

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Also I didn’t shy away from pinks, purples or ‘girly’ prints, because to be frank, gendered colours shouldn’t be a thing. And I’m really happy with the colour combinations in these. The binding is coloured calico I bought off Trade Me, which I love having to hand and is lovely and soft to work with.

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I’ve been using this same Ikea children’s fabric for years, sourcing it where-ever I could – through friends in Australia, off Trade Me. Sadly This is the last big chunk used for these two quilts, but I don’t mind too much. It’s just such fantastically weird animal designs.