My guest in the attic today is Karenlee Thompson. Her post tells the story of how she garnered all the bravado she could find in order to approach someone she revered—the ‘God’ of the title to this piece—to not only read her collection of short stories, but to provide the foreword.
I’m sure her story will give you a giggle or two, as well as show you what can be gained if you dare to ask.
‘I confess, I may have fallen a little bit in love with him. Not in the way you might be thinking. Rather, in the way that a Christian nun is enraptured by her God.’
Karenlee Thompson is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her collection of fire-themed short fictions Flame Tip was published by Hybrid Publishers in March 2017 and her novel 8 States of Catastrophe was released in 2011. She has been shortlisted for a number of awards and her short stories, articles and reviews have appeared in a variety of publications. She is passionate about writing and reading the Australian voice and facilitates occasional workshops for new writers.
You can find out more bout Karenlee and her books at her website, read more of her writing on her blog, and also chat with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Conversations with God
(or Who Dares Wins)
I want to tell you about my conversations with God. Well, not actual conversations. And—truthfully—not really God.
When in difficulty about where to start, the old adage is: at the beginning. But the beginning, whilst kind of exciting, is not hair-raisingly stupendous. It’s the middle that’s amazing . . .
Exquisite. That’s the truly exciting bit. That is the word that skewered me beneath an imaginary spotlight for five breathless and silent minutes and kept me smiling through days of the mundane slog that is sometimes a writer’s life. That word. From His lips. Well, not actually from His lips. The conduit was an email. But it was good enough for me.
This God, the one who packaged that little word up—Exquisite—and sent it to me, is none other than David Walsh, that purveyor of art, courter of controversy, counter of cards. Yes, that God. The owner of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
You see, I wrote to God to see if I could interest him in my collection of short stories, interested enough to help me get it happening within a specific time frame. I’m one of those people who always comes to the important things late. Late to learn life’s lessons. Always late for the lightbulb moments, or maybe they are late for me. Either way, when researching for one of my short stories, I discovered that 2017 would mark the 50th anniversary of the Tasmanian Black Tuesday Bushfires (a day I remember well), and I decided on a whim to complete my fire-themed short stories and launch an anthology. Short stories that still had to be edited and polished. It was a slog, but I got the job done.
Having gone through the publishing process with my 2011 novel, I was fully aware that it usually takes between two and six months for a publisher to respond to a pitch letter or manuscript submission. If said publisher miraculously says, Yes, let’s do it, there’s usually another four to six months involved in editing, layout, cover design, etc. So it is not feasible to even think about a publication deadline of under twelve months. And here I was … too late again[i].
So why on earth would I write to the Divine One? Firstly, truthfully, I am a little bit mad, as is a prerequisite for a writer. Secondly …
‘So why on earth would I write to the Divine One? Firstly, truthfully, I am a little bit mad, as is a prerequisite for a writer.’
Well, here’s a bit more history. Born and raised in Tasmania and guilty of flying far away from the island at the first opportunity, I was thrilled, upon a return visit, to discover MONA. It was the opening week and I skipped along to check it out. Oh. My. God. (Pardon me for taking His name in vain). Here, finally, was something that would make me proud to say I was a Tasmanian. Here was something to keep me coming back. And I have been back many times.
I read about the great man and how he came to imagine, build and open this magnificent monument, this treasure trove of ideas and ingenuity, of art and integrity. So when I thought of an influential Tasmanian that I would love to get involved with my collection, there was only one man on my list. I decided to write to him and send some snippets of my manuscript. I started work on my letter before I had even finished the stories. On a recent visit to Tassie, I purchased his quirky memoir A Bone of Fact and, I confess, I may have fallen a little bit in love with him. Not in the way you might be thinking. Rather, in the way that a Christian nun is enraptured by her God.
I had drafted what I thought was a humorous letter but, with the extra fodder I mined from A Bone of Fact, I had myself in stitches. I wrote about things we had in common: we love Wikipedia; we are not fond of poker machines; we have both been to Mona (I still laugh at that but, then, I laugh at all my own jokes).
I told him he had encountered my mother. She accompanied me on my first visit, I believe it was opening week. David was sitting in the foyer being interviewed and, my mother, upon finding the lift non-operational, waved her walking stick in his direction, while I hid. Excuse me! Your lift isn’t working. He was most gracious.
One of my risqué lines (I want [the collection] to be deeply rooted in Tasmania, just as I was) paled a little in its humorous hue after I later read his own root/route pun in A Bone of Fact (I have, however, propagated via the normal route, p.164).
I should interrupt here and just say to my fellow writers – DO NOT bombard David Walsh with emails. Find your own heroes and bombard them.
I tried to get a private email address for him or his assistant but, having no luck, marked my missive private and confidential in the hope that it would reach him.
Reach him it did. His first words: Why is this fucking confidential?
I was stunned. You can pray to God until you are blue in the face but you never really expect an answer. Do you? I’m not sure: I don’t have a religious bone in my body.
Anyway, I wrote to God. And God answered. Going by my swooning, swearing, wiping at sweat, dancing, dropping to my knees, I guess I had not dared to hope for an answer. Yet, here he was. God on my computer, in my office. Well, not my office. I was actually homeless (I’d sold my place and hadn’t yet found another so I was in my son’s office)[ii]. In a borrowed room, with a borrowed puppy dog at my feet, drinking wine from a borrowed glass. And I found God.
‘In a borrowed room, with a borrowed puppy dog at my feet, drinking wine from a borrowed glass. And I found God.’
A simple email can be extrapolated into some real connection – at least in my mind (writers will understand), perhaps ongoing work, some contributions to the MONA archives and such. Well, we all dream, don’t we?
A few emails in, after some prodding to prise open my mind and let shit fall out (at least that’s how I read his instructions), all sorts of stuff came tumbling out and I wrote something for a work that David and his wife Kirsha are planning. And he responded. And his response was Exquisite[iii]. And I might have blacked out for a while.
So … what of my short story collection? I am pleased to report that Flame Tip has been published and released—complete with a foreword by David Walsh—accompanied by some fanfare and lovely reviews. And what of my connection with David Walsh? Who knows … maybe nothing. We have still never met. But my mind plays a little mantra now. Like that old Casablanca line about Paris, my voice with a Bogart drawl: We’ll always have Exquisite. Thank God.
[i] Hybrid Publishers got back to me in a miraculously short time and, whilst there is no circumventing the necessary processes to publication, they did manage to get the collection out into the world in perfect time.
[ii] I have since moved into my own place that has a self-propelling fountain in the back yard when it rains and is overrun with palms which drop their fronds on the tin roof in the middle of the night.
[iii] David read the piece I wrote for him again and said it was masterful. So now I have Exquisite and Masterful.
Writers in the Attic
After my urgent call for submissions, I’ve had an influx of beautiful essays and I’m now fully booked until I go on holidays in mid-December. Thank you to everyone who’s submitted an essay, and if you’ve written a post but not sent it in, please hold onto it until next year. I’ll continue with the series but with my book’s release in January, I have no idea how busy I’ll be, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to start it up again. I promise I’ll get going as quickly as possible and let you know when I’m accepting submissions again.
Thank you again for all your support!
A reminder that you can win a copy of ‘The Sisters’ Song‘ over on Goodreads. This is the final week of the giveaway, so if you’d like to be in the running to win one of the 20 available copies, slip over and enter without delay!
I laughed out loud and sighed with delight when I read this post. Thanks for the exquisite entertainment, Karenlee. Your writing is masterful… 😉 And good on you for approaching your idol for feedback on your stories. I’ve only been to MONA once, and it was an unforgettable experience. My teenage daughters and I wandered through those hallowed halls to swoon over so many magnificent artworks and installations (with occasional pieces that left us bewildered or uncomfortable, or bewildered and uncomfortable). Our visiting Canadian friends and my husband were not quite so enamoured with your God’s place — their consensus was that the best part of the facility was the beer garden…
Thanks Louise for introducing us to Karenlee via your attic. Another inspirational guest.
I loved MONA, too, but my kids were a bit like your husband and your Canadian guests! I just love a rebel and someone who’s prepared to put their money where their mouth is! And good on Karenlee for daring to ask—it certainly paid off in this instance! 🙂
Another great essay. Love Mona and would like to go back sigh!.Now I just have to get hold of Karenlee’s Fire tip, short fiction. Thank you Louise.
I love MONA, too—so different, and I love what it’s done for Hobart by bringing so many tourists. David Walsh is a visionary!
I’m looking forward to buying a copy of Karenlee’s book, too. 🙂
Thanks for having me over to visit on your gorgeous blog Louise!
You’re very welcome! Thank you for writing for it!
I look forward to reading your book! 🙂
What a wonderful turn of phrase you have, Karenlee. This post was simply poetic. Well done on chasing down your hero and getting such fantastic feedback!
Yes, it just goes to prove that if you put yourself out there, you just might be rewarded! 🙂
Well, this is just lovely!
Karenlee, I had lunch with our mutual friend and fellow author Ros Collins today, and we were talking about books that were memorable and we both said, almost simultaneously, that one of Karenlee’s in Flame Tip about the lady who writes about her losses in the form of a Lost and Found notice in the newspaper. Such a powerful, poignant piece of – yes, exquisite – fiction… I think about her every time I see anything about bushfires in the media…
And I get home and read this and this time you make me laugh!
Thanks for sharing this essay on your blog, Louise!
Now you’ve really spurred me to buy Karenlee’s book! I can’t wait to read these ‘exquisite’ stories for myself! 🙂
Karenlee, having been present at your Brisbane book launch, and being the proud owner of a copy of Flame Tip, I can confirm that your writing is indeed exquisite! I loved reading your funny, warm, moving stories but I didn’t know the back story about how David Walsh came to write the foreword! Thank you for taking us behind the scenes – it was very amusing and also inspiring!
Wishing you further success and joy with your writing.
I’ve just ordered a copy and seeing your comment has made me even more impatient to read Karenlee’s book! Thanks, Fi! 🙂
As enjoyable as always to read words by Karenlee!
It’s a very entertaining post! Thanks, Theresa! 🙂
This was brilliant! I’ve never laughed so hard 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it, Milly. Thanks for reading! 🙂
Wonderful story here, enough to give us all heart. When in doubt write to God, your God, whoever he or she maybe.
I agree, Lis. As sacrilegious as it might sound, it’s good to have someone to worship! 🙂