First Novel Delirium

For the last few months there’s been just one topic of conversation on John Scalzi’s blog: the publication of his first novel, Old Man’s War. He’s asked his readers to send in photos of it in the wild, he’s posted and discussed every single review that’s appeared, made his blog over so it looks just like the book (how tacky is that?), theorised about every slight movement the book has made up and down’s rankings. It’s been all Old Man’s War, all the time.

And you know what? Good on him. Go, Scalzi! When your very first novel is finally, finally (!) available in real shops and libraries for actual people who don’t even know you to purchase, borrow and maybe even read (!) then damned if you aren’t compelled to shout it from the rooftops. It’s a very big deal.

My first novel, Magic or Madness will be officially released into the wild in the USA on the 17th of March (the Australia edition comes out in September). That’s 13 days away (well, okay, fourteen on account of the whole time-difference thing). Less than two weeks! So soon!

My novel is going to be real. Not just an electronic file, or a pile of papers, or an ARC, but an actual finished book with a dust jacket and that fresh paper, fresh glue smell, and it’s going to find its way into the hands of folks who don’t know me! How about that?

I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m happy. My stomach’s in knots. I keep giggling at inappropriate moments. Like while watching this TV show about parasites, Body Snatchers (best show ever), this man was lying on the grass beside the more than 2 metre long tapeworm that had been living in his bowels and I thought, eww!, and then I remembered that my novel was coming out and clapped my hands and laughed. Yay tapeworm! Yay Magic or Madness!

The only sad thing is that I’ll be here in Sydney not there in the US when vast quantities of my novel are unloaded from huge crates and arrayed on shelves (or, you know, the lone copy is slotted in between Madeleine L’Engle and Ursula Le Guin, either way). So I won’t be able to go to bookshops and gaze at MY novel for sale. This is where Scalzi’s genius idea comes in: if anyone out there happens to be in a real live bookshop that happens to stock my novel, and happen to have their camera with them, and just happens to take a photo of Magic or Madness in said bookshop, well, I’d just adore it if you sent it to me.

To further heighten my already fever-pitch excitement and make it impossible to think about anything other than Magic or Madness, reviews have started to appear. A friend of mine, an established novelist, who’s published many books and received many reviews, told me I should pay no attention to reviews. Good or bad, she says it’s unwise to let them affect how you feel about yourself or your work. This is especially true of good reviews. You must not let praise go to your head. I’m sure she’s very wise. Sadly I have not a skerrick of wisdom and I’m revelling in the good reviews, learning them off by heart. I just got a starred one (which even tops getting a gold koala bear stamp from your kindergarten teacher) in School Library Journal:

Australian author Larbalestier has wrought beautiful and fearsome magic in this novel, the first in a proposed trilogy. Reason Cansino has spent her life with her unusual mother in the bush, moving frequently, keeping to herself, and learning how to guard against her bizarre grandmother, Esmeralda. When her mother goes insane and 15-year-old Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda, she starts to question all the stories her mother has told her. Is Mere practicing magic, which Reason’s mother insisted was not real? Why have nearly all her ancestors died young? When Reason digs up a dead cat in the cellar and finds the key to a locked (magic) door, she escapes her increasingly frightening grandmother only to find herself halfway around the world in New York City, weak, in danger, and befriended by the mysterious Jay-Tee. Authentic teen voices from two continents reveal the fast-paced events and the conflicts faced by youth when powerful (and predatory) adults seek to take advantage of their ignorance. Readers will especially identify with Reason as she struggles to accept her identity and establish autonomy. Larbalestier’s sense of place and refreshing exploration of magic as a force for both good and evil make this novel unusual. By turns a fantasy adventure and a thoughtful examination of relationships, this radiant gem stands alone, but expect readers to be impatient for the rest of the trilogy.-Melissa Moore, Union University Library, Jackson, TN.

I plan to have a T-shirt made that says "radiant gem". Sigh. This review will sustain me through every bad one. Hell, I’ll be remembering this review when I’ve got one foot in the grave, my books are long forgotten, and I’m living on charity. "I was a radiant gem!" I’ll tell them. "A radiant gem!" I love School Library Journal. I love Melissa Moore. I love her library and the whole city of Jackson, Tennessee.

I don’t want you to think I’m naïve though. Well, okay, I can be naïve (when I watch Entourage I’m forever asking Scott if men really talk that way about women) but I’m not naïve about publishing in the USA. Having your first novel published does not guarantee anything very much. Having a sheaf of wonderful starred reviews doesn’t either. Many highly lauded novels have sunk without a trace. Many first novels sell poorly, rarely earning out their advance, and boy do I know just how small those unearned-out advances usually are. Though a recent survey by Tobias Buckell (who’s also soon to have his first novel published) did point to higher advances as your career continues. That is, if you’re career continues . . .

Many first novelists never sell a second novel. This is where I’m a teeny bit ahead of the game: I sold a trilogy. Whatever happens, I’ll have had three novels published. Cunning, eh? That is, if the first one doesn’t tank and the next two don’t wind up cancelled. But, I’m not worried, honest. My editors like the sequel and, hey, it already has a beautiful cover design! It’s got a scheduled publication date!

Besides, I’m a radiant gem. School Library Journal said so.

Sydney, 4 March 2005