Pulped Fiction – 2021 NWF joanne burns Microlit Award

The call out

The call out was for submissions which play with genre. A mash-up, a reshape, a blend, a hybrid of form, genre and style. The award was co-hosted by Spineless Wonders and the Newcastle Writers Festival; selected pieces offered publication in the annual Spineless Wonders’ microlit anthology.

It’s been so exciting to be a finalist. My microlit is called ‘The Sisterhood Opens a Window of Opportunity‘ – an email to Snow White, heavy on the corporate jargon. Thank you Cassandra Atherton – editor of the anthology, Bronwyn Mehan – publisher at Spineless Wonders and Rosemarie Milsom – Festival director, for including my piece in this incredibly clever collection of microlit.

The anthology

The launch of Pulped Fiction took place last week. True to the spirit of the times, it was online. But it certainly wasn’t just another Zoom call. We had a pop culture quiz, a cocktail making lesson, readings from the anthology, fancy dress, and presentation of the awards to the two winners of the National and Hunter categories (congratulations, Jane O’Sullivan and Deborah Van Heekeren!)

The launch

I loved watching the incredibly creative readings of these microlit pieces. We had been asked to send in a pre-recorded video, so there was plenty of room for imagination. To fit the theme of my story, my reading was a recorded PowerPoint slideshow (including SmartArt and Transitions because…process flow!) I also can’t resist a fancy dress party, so here is another spin on Pulped Fiction: Snow White & The Seven Deadly Sins.

Eyeliner, not Sharpie.
Hopefully Snow’s on board with the paradigm shift.

Thanks for reading!

♥, Seetha

Writing to reach you

In 2019 I signed up for an online course offered by the Australian Writers’ Centre to learn about freelance writing for newspapers and magazines. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I was keen to discover the secret ingredient to getting an article published in Australian media. How to turn this hobby into something other people (apart from all you lovely, supportive family and friends) would read.

I loved the course so much. My inner geek surfaced and I found myself diligently completing the assignments each week and eagerly awaiting feedback from my tutor.

When the course ended, I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and pitched my story ideas to editors of magazines and online news publications.

It wasn’t exactly crickets, but my pitches didn’t quite hit the mark.

Rejection isn’t fun. I questioned my ability and started telling myself that I wasn’t cut out for freelance writing. I put the dream aside and focused on my comfort zone – sending my fiction, non-fiction and poetry to various competitions. But there was a voice in my head that wouldn’t go away, reminding me that I had a goal I still wanted to reach, elusive as it may seem.

Then 2020 gave me another chance. I had time to read and analyse the publications I loved, and identify the ones that suited my writing style. I had time to really think about the stories I wanted to tell, and time to craft pitches that showed those stories in the best light. I also had time to review the AWC course material and reignite the freelance flame it had sparked back in 2019.

The result? Not an avalanche of commissions that meant I could give up my day job, but enough to keep the dream alive, and the fire burning.

Here are the articles that made it this year:

Eureka Street – On Techno Gran and the virtual Show & Tell: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/national–virtual–grandparent-s-day#

SBS Food – On Batik Cake memories: https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2020/10/02/batik-cake-transports-me-my-malaysian-childhood

SBS Voices – On a different kind of village: https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/voices/culture/article/2020/10/15/it-took-village-raise-me-i-dont-have-one-my-kids

Eureka Street – On fairness and ‘skin-coloured’ crayons: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/fair-enough

So the journey continues. I’ll keep trying, knowing now that the disappointment of rejection is small fry compared to the thrill of a single yes. I also realise there was no secret ingredient. All I needed to do was take the time, and take a chance.

Thank you for reading. ♥

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Ditty.

First published here: https://corellavirusstories.com/2020/07/14/ditty/

Tweet

(to the tune of Rockin’ Robin)

He stomps in his Tree House all day long
Praising all the birds who sing along to his song
But many other birds can’t stand his beat
They’re sick of Cockatoo going tweet tweet tweet

Stop your tweeting (tweet, tweet, tweet)
It’s irritating! (TWEET, TWEEDLE-LEE-DEE)
Hey, Cockatoo, are you ever gonna get it right?

Ev’ry little sparrow’s got a song to share
The forest can’t be GREAT if you don’t truly care
Disease is among us, nothing’s under control
Your lyrics are poisonous, they’re taking a toll

Stop your tweeting (tweet, tweet, tweet)
It’s irritating!! (TWEET, TWEEDLE-LEE-DEE)
Hey, Cockatoo, are you ever gonna get it right?

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Race/Humanity — Corella

Quote

FreeVector-Black-And-White-Bird-Wings

“I can’t breathe,” said the mockingbird
but the bluejay didn’t care.
And the other birds wept bloody tears
for yet another cross to bear.
There are two deadly viruses
floating in our air –
One doesn’t discriminate,
the other’s always been there.

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

via Race/Humanity — Corella

Thanks to Richard Holt for inviting ‘flights of fancy’ to his Corella Virus Stories, and the opportunity to reflect on what was, what is, and what should be.

Microflix Festival!

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A couple of months ago, a little story I wrote on the theme of ‘Image’ was selected to be part of the Microflix Writers Award.

Filmakers are invited to choose a story from the selected texts for adaptation into a microfilm (maximum 3 minutes in length) to be entered into the 2020 Microflix Awards.

“The Microflix Awards offered each year aim to reward and value the roles of both the author and the filmmaker in the adaptation process.”

If you would like to read my microlit, Hope is an inanimate object, it is here.

Thanks to Australian short story publisher, Spineless Wonders, for including my story in this very exciting project.

Fingers firmly crossed that someone turns it into a film. Watch this space!

Furious Fiction: The Funhouse Illusion

I’ve been entering this competition by the Australian Writers’ Centre faithfully every month, and even got to be part of the Fan Club of writers who are regular participants. It’s a fun challenge. 55 hours, 500 words, and the criteria for March 2020:

  • Each story had to include a PERSON IN DISGUISE.
  • Each story had to take place in a PARK.
  • Each story had to include a MIRROR.

In a month of madness, where reality sometimes feels like fantasy, I’m happy that this story made it to the shortlist:

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The Funhouse Illusion

Step right up!
The Clown is on stilts. He wears colourful polka dots and a bright, green wig. The painted smile and lone, fake tear are incongruous, and oddly, make him appear devoid of emotion. He looks both silly and grotesque at once. Maya is hesitant. She has seen the darkness behind these disguises. There are no polka dots on the other side. Everything in her body tells her to turn and run. Yet, she knows that if she doesn’t face her fear, she will never truly be free. So, Maya walks through the arches of the amusement park and braces herself for the assault on her senses. The vibrant colours are laser beams to her eyeballs, the loud music roars through her eardrums into her skull, and the scent of danger makes her stomach lurch.

Take a look at this!
The Clown ushers Maya to the funhouse mirrors and takes his payment. She can see herself reflected in many ways, and not all are pleasant. Despite knowing the mirrors are rigged to distort, Maya does not like what she sees. The clown nods encouragingly. “This is how the world sees you,” he declares, towering over her. “This is who you are.” His oversized smile spreads to reveal gleaming teeth. Maya closes her eyes. This is not how she sees herself, but she does not know how to argue her reality here in the world of Clowns.

Candy floss, only three dollars!
Clowns present tricks disguised as treats. Maya pays to taste the fleeting sweetness on her tongue. It is familiar. She recognises this transient pleasure. A moment of bliss, just a moment, and then disintegration into nothingness, and she is left wanting. A recurring pattern. There are many Clowns, all with different tricks. All eager to show her who she is. All taking pieces of her as payment for the privilege.

Last call for the Ferris Wheel!
The Clown grabs Maya’s hand and leads her to the wheel. Maya knows the ride is exhilarating but she is not prepared to keep giving up pieces of herself. “No,” she says, and tries to pull her hand away. The Clown is still smiling, but his grip tightens. “How will you know who you are if I don’t show you?” he sneers. Maya shakes her head. It is time to leave the park for good. The Clowns will just have to amuse themselves from now on.

“I’ll take my chances,” she tells him, turning on her heel and running out of the park with the lightness of freedom in her step. The Clown gazes at her. He tries to force a tear out, but it doesn’t come.

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

The judges said….
What we liked:
Cleverly written and engrossing, this dreamlike sequence presents a metaphoric assault on the senses – a wonderland of colour and description. Maya has had enough of forced fun, empty promises and instant gratification in her life. Perhaps of social media and consumerism that looks bright and shiny but leaves her unfulfilled and misunderstood. Perhaps failed relationships or friendships? Like a funhouse mirror, the more you explore this story, the more angles and interpretations present themselves – not an easy thing to do in such a small word count. Dizzying, disturbing and deftly described – as stories go, it’s a step right up…

The Grieve Project 2019

Thank you, Hunter Writers Centre for the honour of being published in this year’s Grieve anthology.

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My Grandmother, searching for words

For Muthashi

She is searching for words set within a square grid in a book of puzzles. There is a list, next to the grid, of all the hidden words that need to be found. She circles each word as she finds it, ticks it off the list and smiles at me. ‘Never give up,’ she says. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is struggling to see the words as her eyesight worsens, so we get large-print puzzle books, and she continues searching. Despite this not being her first language, she does not give up until she finds the words. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is losing words. I know this is normal, because they warned me of her decline, but I am not prepared for the day I visit, and she has lost my name, and suddenly I am lost, floating in the confusion of her memory, drifting in the swirls of her mind. She is my base, my headquarters, my mothership. If she does not know who I am, who am I? Still, she doesn’t give up. I remind her, she nods, she forgets. The words are there, and we find them together.

She is no longer searching for words, but this is not because she has given up. She is fighting, and the fight consumes all her strength. The words are still there, but we know she can’t find them. Slowly, she slips away, and then the words are lost forever. Along with the words I wish I’d heard, and the words I wish I’d said.

Now it is up to us to search for the words. The soft, gentle words to inform family and friends of her passing. The correct, respectful words to write in her obituary. The weighty, healing words that fall from our hearts onto paper. The rich, evocative words to remember an entire life. We search for these words. There is no grid to contain the search. There is no list of all the hidden words that need to be found. There is no guide for grief. But we try. We don’t give up. We find the words.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Lessons from my Grandmother

This article was published in The Star Malaysia’s Heart and Soul column on 1 July.
My grandmother, the original Wonder Woman, who gave the best Dunlopillo hugs. 

mutch.jpg

*****
“My grandmother didn’t tell me how to live. She lived, and let me watch her do it.”

I am paraphrasing a quote by American writer Bud Kelland, but it is so apt that I had to borrow it.

My grandmother glided through life effortlessly – and always with a smile that radiated from her heart and twinkled out of her eyes. She faced every challenge with strength. She embraced every moment with love. And her chicken curry was legendary.

These are some of the lessons I learned through watching her:

Always maintain a sense of humour. Laugh often, and loudly. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. Your smile can spread through oceans of despair, over mountains of troubles, and soften even the hardest heart.

Get on with it. Complaining is a waste of precious time. If you have a job to do, do it with grace and courage. Be grateful for your responsibilities – not everyone is so lucky.

Chill out. Getting angry or upset is hazardous to your health. A calm approach based on compassion and common sense will do everyone good, especially yourself. As will a hot cup of chaaya tea.

Hugs are underrated. Never underestimate the power of a genuine, warm embrace. It can melt away fear, tension and sadness in the young, the old, and everyone in between. Hold close the people you love. Hold them until you feel their pain evaporating. Don’t be the first to break away. If a child tells you, mid-hug, that you are as soft as a pillow, take it as a compliment.

Stay curious. You’re never too old to learn something new, be it a language, a card game, a skill or an idea. In an ever-changing world, adapting your mindset without compromising your values shows self-awareness and self-preservation. Also, being interested makes you interesting.

Get stuck in! Your appetite for food mirrors your appetite for life. Savour every moment. Lick your fingers. When you cook for others, cook with love in your heart, for this is the secret ingredient, in food and in life.

Rest in Peace, Muthashi.

(Sarada Menon passed away peacefully on April 11, at the age of 95.)

*****

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Furious Fiction: Brilliant Disguise

This time last year, a short story I wrote was one of six shortlisted entries in the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly Furious Fiction competition. Each month you are given a different set of story prompts and just 55 hours to submit your 500-word story. Since then, I have entered the competition every single month. This sometimes meant hitting the submit button at 11.55 on a Sunday night, 5 minutes before the deadline. Most of my stories would have benefited from another day of editing, and some of them would have remained average even with another month of re-writing, but I submitted them anyway. The challenge makes me focus my writing, forces me to be creative, gives me a wonderful sense of accomplishment at the start of every month, and then nervous anticipation for the announcement about 3 weeks later. (Living on the edge stuff, right here.)

So, 11 submitted short stories later, we got to May 2019. This was the criteria:

  • The story had to include the words MAYBE, MAYHEM, DISMAY, MAYOR and MAYONNAISE.
  • The story’s first word had to be an 11-letter word.
  • The story, at some point, had to include someone or something RUNNING.

The force must have been with me, this May as well, because my Bruce Springsteen-inspired story made it to the shortlist! Here it is….

boss

“Springsteen? Yeah, I know his music.” He took a sip of water and glanced around the restaurant.

She was relieved. A good start. She raised her wine glass to her lips and tasted the Pinot Noir. It was smooth, like Springsteen’s voice in I’m on Fire.

“He is a bit miserable though, isn’t he?” He shot her a quick look. “All those songs about struggle and loss?”

The Pinot caught in her throat and she coughed. He looked up from his menu with raised eyebrows.

“You disagree?”

She did not like his tone. It was too nonchalant. This was a highly important topic. A non-negotiable.

“Well,” she began, carefully. “He sings about the hardships of everyday life. And about his dismay at the contrast between dreams and reality. But he…”

“Like I said. Miserable.”

She bit her lip. This was not going well. Still, she would persevere. After all, Bruce had been telling her for years to look for that human touch, that two hearts are better than one, and most importantly, that faith will be rewarded. She would have faith. This one even looked like him. In the dim lighting of the restaurant. If she squinted.

The waiter arrived. They ordered the seafood platter for two.

“Hold the garlic mayonnaise though,” he said, with a wink that she deliberately ignored.

“I don’t think you understand,” she frowned. “Springsteen…his music helps us escape the misery and the mayhem of this complex world we live in. He believes in a better future, in the real possibility of happiness!”

He looked at her, bemused. “You’re a proper fan then?”

“I am his biggest fan,” she emphasised, realising with every passing moment that, once again, her suitor was unsuitable.

This one was also oblivious. “I know they bestowed upon him a title of some sort. What was it? The King?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “That was Elvis.”

“Oh, right. Was he a Sir, then?” He seemed to be chuckling to himself and she wondered how someone so ignorant could also be so arrogant.

“You’re thinking of Elton John.” You idiot, she wanted to add.

“Mayor, perhaps?” He would not give up. She was running out of patience. Time to put herself out of this misery.

“Boss. He was The Boss.”

“Ah, right. Silly name.”

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, she thought. The rest of their dinner was peppered with small talk. She was already planning her escape. As they stepped outside into the cool autumn air, she held out her hand to avoid any human touch beyond a handshake.

“Thank you for tonight,” she said. “But I don’t think we’ll see each other again.”

“That’s cool,” he said, squeezing her palm. “If there’s no spark, there’s not much you can do.”

She was about to nod in agreement when she caught the glint in his eye as he continued.

“My dad always said you can’t start a fire without it.”

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

The judges said….
What we liked:

This was a fun first date scene that manages to do what many fail at – find a good balance between the external action and internal dialogue. Well-paced and sprinkled with humour, it saves a little in the tank for an ending that delivers a dose of intrigue. Simple storytelling, effective in bringing this tale of hungry hearts to life.

Your body is not a temple.

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A quote from Anthony Bourdain inspired me to write a poem. He said:

“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” 

The poem then expanded into a post on Elephant Journal with some ideas on how to enjoy the ride. My Amusement Park Goals.

You can read the full post here on Elephant JournalYour body is not a temple

And here is the poem:

Your body is not a temple.
Forget your pristine offerings,
the steps leading to enlightenment,
and the need for worship.

God doesn’t only live in holy buildings.
He also lives in Disneyland, Legoland,
and perhaps even in your local playground
if you look hard enough.

Your body is an Untemple
waiting for that Mad Tea Party
where spinning around can also bring
the discovery of divine pleasure.

Delight in the fairy floss of her hair,
lose yourself in magic kingdoms,
feel the adrenaline pumping from a wild ride,
and sometimes take the slow train to nowhere.

Before the sun sets
and you must hand in your wristband,
make adventure your Guru,
make fun a sacred ritual.
Your body is not a temple.

©2018 Seetha Nambiar Dodd