Guest Post: Courtney Milan on Lying

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

I first came across Courtney Milan when she very intelligently defended my honour on her blog. Turned out everything on her blog is witty and/or smart. Then Sarah Rees Brennan, my guide to romance, started raving about her writing. I commend both to you.1 You can also follow her on twitter.

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Courtney Milan writes historical romances for adults. She has been lucky enough to hold two jobs she did not need to tell lies to get, and one job that she lied to get and then loved. Her website is at

In Defense of Lying

The heroine of my debut novel, Proof by Seduction, is a liar. Not a compulsive liar like Justine’s Micah. No; Jenny Keeble (that’s her real name, although she never admits it) is a liar who pretends that she can tell the future, so that people will give her filthy lucre. And while this may seem a little dishonest, believe it or not, we all do it.

I happen to be thinking about lying because a friend of mine has an important job interview next week, and today I was helping her practice. Here’s the problem: She wants to get the job. She wants to get the job very badly, because as you may have noticed, the economy sucks, and at six months of unemployment, one starts to become antsy about things such as paychecks and the like. She does not, however, feel very excited about the prospect of actually doing the job. You understand how these things go. And so she has two options. She can go to the interview and tell the truth—and inevitably not get the job. Or she can lie.

This is actually a really common problem, whether the economy is good or bad. At some point in any job interview, someone will ask you this question: “Why do you want to work for us?” It doesn’t matter whether the job is flipping hamburgers at McDonalds or if you’re auditioning to be the next CEO of Proctor and Gamble. They’re going to ask the question. And they never want to hear the truth. The truth is something closer to this: “Because Burger King isn’t hiring, and my parents told me I had to get a job.” Or, the high-end version: “Your parachute is so golden that when you fire me in thirteen months, I won’t have to work for another two years.” No; nobody ever wants to hear the truth.

But, fickle and undependable as people are, they also don’t want to hear obvious lies. And so what you have to do, as an interviewee, is learn how to lie effectively. Why do you want to work for McDonalds? They don’t really want to know why you want to work for them, because the truth is too crass. The question they are really asking is this: “Why am I great? Please pay me several compliments, because I am feeling surprisingly needy and insecure.” So you think of all the reasons why McDonalds will think they are a good employer. And you then lie. “My friend Jill works for you, and I’ve heard you’re a really fair manager in dividing up shifts.” There you are. True. Believable. And also, a complete fabrication.

Good liars recognize that most people will only ask you three or four real questions. One of them, I’ve already told you—“please pay me several compliments.” But there are also questions that are like this: “I don’t have anything to say, and I’m afraid if I sit here in silence you will think I am an idiot, so can you please fill the time?” And: “Hey, does this question make me look smart?” And finally: “Do you think everything’s going to be okay?”

Good liars ignore the question that people actually ask, and answer the deep down question instead. “Hey, you’re pretty cool. No, you’re not an idiot. Dang, that question makes you look pretty smart.” And the best liars . . . they figure out how to answer that deep-down question, while still telling the truth. And that makes them very, very scary people.

  1. Courtney’s writing and her blog, I mean. Not SRB. Not that I’m not commending SRB to you—she is wonderful—just on this occasion I am saving my commendations for Courtney Milan. []


  1. Dave S. on #

    Thanks for this. Lies do many different things. It’s too easy to say that lying is always wrong. But people keep saying that. You can’t be a politician if you don’t lie but people are always saying they wouldn’t vote for someone who lied.

  2. Courtney Milan on #

    Hi Dave, and thanks for dropping by. I just have to wonder, though… who would you vote for if you wouldn’t vote for someone who never lied?

  3. Dave S. on #

    All politicians lie. They have to. If they were honest they’d never be elected.

    I vote for the politician whose past actions and speeches most closely line up with what I want done. Ted Kennedy was a wonderful politician and did lots of good. But he was a liar. I voted for him many times.

  4. Kazza on #

    I loved this blog. Are your books available in Australia, Courtney? I want to read more of your lying heroine!

  5. Courtney Milan on #

    Dave, I also think there’s a difference between a promise predicated on unspoken conditions and a lie. For instance, a politician might say “I will do X,” but if they take office and something massive happens that precludes X, I don’t really see that as a lie. I suppose I see politics as theater of a sort. You don’t think actors are lying in their roles; likewise, politicians are of two stripes: people who actively lie to get people to vote for them, who have no intention of doing certain things, and people who espouse general principles, with the unspoken caveat that this is more like a list of unmeetable best practices.

    You can tell how much of a Slytherin I am from this discussion.

    And Kazza, you can get my book two ways in Australia. First, I’ve heard that you can get the North American version from the Book Depository (with free shipping!) or from booktopia at

    But second, Mira Australia just put out a really beautiful trade paperback of my book on March 1st, and so it should be readily available in any bookstores that carry Mira or romance lines generally.

  6. Doret on #

    I work retail. Everyday I work I lie. When you work with customers telling the truth all day is not an option. Nor is saying hello to every customer. Some people are crazy or pricks or an ugly combination of the two

    I’ve been work lying so long, I could probably pass a work related lie detector test. And I am proud of that, this skill has kept me sane.

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