Girls Who Hates Girls

In yesterday’s post Roxanna mentioned her dislike of YA protags who don’t like other girls. Oh, yes. What she said, indeed.

The women I have met who proclaim their dislike of women are, well, um, not my kind of people. So every time a protag proclaims that? I’m done with that book.1

Here’s why. I have no time for anyone, who on the basis of a poor experience with a very small sample size, declares that all women are dreadful. Ditto if they say it about all men, all black people, all Japanese people. All any kind of people.

Could be the correct conclusion is that this group of people are awful. Or it could be it’s the protag who’s the awful one. I know what I’d put my money on.

These women who hate women always have a long list of how women are: they all wear make up, they all gossip too much, all they care about are boys, they all chew gum. Etc. etc.

No matter what is on that list, I’m sitting there thinking of all the women I know who don’t wear make up, who don’t gossip, are lesbians and/or asexual and/or otherwise not much interested in boys, and don’t chew gum.

Your so-called statements of fact, Stupid Protag? They are not facts!

There are very few statements that are true of all women. Yes, including biological ones. There are women without breasts, wombs, ovaries. There are women without two X chromosomes.

The last time a woman said that to me I called her on it:

Me: “Last time I checked I was a woman. Are you saying you don’t like me?”

Woman-hater: “Oh, I didn’t mean you. You’re not like that at all. I meant all those other women.”

Me: “So I’m one of the blessed, few, not-horrible women? Gosh, thanks.”

Woman-hater: *silence*

As a teenager I didn’t know that many girls who were into all those so-called feminine things. Admittedly I went to an alternative school. But the girls I did know who were closest to the boy-obsessed, clothes-obsessed, make-up-wearing, girlie-music-listening stereotype? They were absolutely lovely. So were the boys who were like that. In fact, I knew more boys who fit that stereotype than girls. C’mon anyone who doesn’t like ABBA is dead on the inside.2

Besides which gossip and make up can be fun. They are neither a marker of shallowness nor of depth. No more than liking opera, skate boarding, or drinking tea are.

I am very uninterested in reading books with such stereotyped, boring representations of the much more interesting world we all live in. Any book that draws characters so crudely is unlikely to be any good.

The girl who says she hates girls is telling us a lot more about herself than she is about other girls. So a book that begins with the protag declaring that, which then supports her contention: uggh.

But a book that then proceeds to undercut her absurd claim? Where she turns out to be a very unreliable narrator with a limited view of the world that the book skewers?3

Or where the girl who hates girls does so as part of her rejection of the rigidly enforced femininity at her school and community and learns not to blame the other girls for that but the larger culture. And learns, too, ways to subvert or, at least, escape her community?

Now those are the kind of books I can get behind.

I was going to end this post there but then I realised I hadn’t explicitly said the most important thing in all of this: women who hate women do not emerge out of nowhere. They are no accident.

Girls are taught that they are inferior to boys from day one. Once people know whether the baby in the pram is a girl the majority speak to her totally differently than they do to a little boy. They say how gorgeous she is. How sweet. How delicate. The tiny baby boy who is every bit as gorgeous, sweet and delicate as the baby girl is complimented on the strength of his grip and how active he is. Even when sound asleep.

I heard a midwife say, when told the expected baby was a girl, that the baby would be born wearing a skirt. It is to vomit.

Being “girly” is not good. “Throwing like a girl” means you’re crap at throwing. “You’re such a girl” is a widespread insult. “Be a man” on the other hand is an admonition to be strong and assertive. Boys are taught to eschew anything with even the faintest hint of girliness. They soon learn to hate pink, books by women, wearing dresses, dressing up, dancing, netball, sparkles and Taylor Swift.

Most of the boys who stubbornly stick to pink and other girlish things—gay and straight—have the crap beaten out of them. Some don’t survive adolescent. Many of my favourite men are girly. Most of them are tough as nails. You have to be to survive. Being a man and walking down the street in Australia and the USA wearing a skirt—particularly away from the major cities? Now that’s courage.

This relentless gender stereotyping hurts us all, men, women, and anyone who is uncomfortable in either of those categories.

The girls who eschew pink and Taylor Swift have a more mixed reception. Some are accused of being dykes—whether they are or not—and are likewise beaten down. Others get approval. They sometimes become “one of the boys.” They are told over and over again: “you’re not like those other girls.” They sometimes become women who hate women.

But most girls, girly or not, learn that boys are where the action is. Boys are the ones who get to be assertive, not bitchy. They’re the ones who can be strong and play sport4 without having their sexuality questioned. They’re the ones who are mostly listened to and encouraged—if they’re being proper boys that is—way more than most girls.

Is it any wonder that some women are down on their gender? Why wouldn’t they be? Everyone else is.

They’re still completely wrong, but. Let’s fill the world with a million books and movies and television shows that proves it to them.

  1. Unless people I really really really trust tell me it’s worth persevering. Maybe the book turns out to be a critique of that stance. []
  2. I’m not against judging. I’m just against inaccurate judgeiness. []
  3. Gone With The Wind is appallingly racist but one thing it does well is skewer its woman-hating protag. Scarlett is so awful she doesn’t even notice until Melanie is dying that Melanie is the one who loves Scarlett best and never does her a single wrong. Why Melanie is so loyal to such a narcissistic psychopath is a whole other question. My theory is that owning slaves breaks everyone’s brains, not just their ethics and morality. []
  4. Other than gymnastics, dressage, netball and other girly sports. []

Racism in the Books We Write

It is almost impossible to avoid writing work that can be read as racist. If you’re writing about people, you’re writing about identity, and a huge part of identity is race.

We are all seen through the lens of race. We all see through the lens of race.1 Whether we’re conscious of it or not. If you’re a writer you really need to be conscious of it. Because if you don’t think you are writing about race, you can wind up writing things visible to your readers that are not visible to you.

Often that is a not good thing.

When our work is accused of racism we writers tend to curl up into foetal position and get defensive: I AM NOT RACIST. I AM A GOOD PERSON. HOW CAN THEY SAY THAT?

First of all—no matter what the actual wording—it’s our work that’s being called racist, not us. The reviewer does not know us—only what we have written.

Secondly, we live in a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist etc. world. The odds of none of that leaking in to our work is zero. No matter how good our intentions. Besides intentions don’t count for much. If it’s not there on the page how is any reader supposed to guess what was in your head? On the other hand, there is no way you can completely bulletproof your work against criticism. Nor should you want to. Criticism will make you a better writer.

Thirdly, it’s not about us. It’s about the reader/reviewer’s life and experiences, about what they bring to the text in order to make meaning. This is how we all read and this is why we all have such different views of the same texts. It’s why I think Moby Dick is the worst, most boring piece of crap I’ve ever endured and why many people, even some whose views I respect,2 think it is a work of genius.

We writers have to accept that despite due diligence, despite how careful we are, readers’ responses to our work are exactly that: their responses. They will not always read our carefully crafted, thoughtful words the way we want them to. Sometimes they will find meanings in our work we did not intend them to find.

What follows is a discussion of how I have dealt with having my last solo novel, Liar, criticised for racism and transphobia. If you have not read Liar there are spoilers, though I have kept them to a minimum. But here’s a cut anyway: Continue reading

  1. Yes, even if you think you don’t see a person’s race. []
  2. Hello, Megan! []

Why I Cannot Write a Novel With Voice Recognition Software (Updated x 3)

Every time I mention my RSI people suggest that I use voice recognition software. I do use it. And though I hate it I know that it has transformed gazillions of people’s lives. There are people who literally could not write without it. For them VRS is a wonderful transformative thing. Bless, voice recognition software!

I am well aware that what VRS is trying to do is unbelievably complicated. Recognising spoken language and reproducing it as written language is crazy hard.1 The way we make sense of what someone says is not just about recognising sounds. We humans (and other sentient beings) are also recognising context and bringing together our extensive knowledge of our own culture every time we have a conversation. And even then there are mishearings and misunderstandings. Also remember one of the hardest things for VRS is for it to distinguish between the speaker’s sounds and other noises. Humans have no problem with that.

I know my posts here about VRS have been cranky so I’ll admit now that there are moments when I almost don’t hate it: VRS is a much better speller than I am. That’s awesome. And sometimes its mistakes are so funny I fall over laughing. Who doesn’t appreciate a good laugh?

I use VRS only for e-mails and blog posts. And sometimes when I chat. But I usually end up switching to typing because it simply cannot keep up with the pace of those conversations and I can’t stand all the delays as I try to get it to type the word I want or some proximity thereof. But mostly I don’t chat much anymore.

But I gave up almost straight away on using it to write novels. Here’s why:


1. The almost right word is the wrong word for fiction.

Near enough SIMPLY WILL NOT DO. I cannot keep banging my head against the stupid software getting it to understand that the word that I want is “wittering” NOT “withering.” THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING.

Recently it refused to recognise the word “ashy.” Now, I could have said “grey.” But guess what? I did not mean “grey” I meant “ashy.”

The almost right word is fine for an e-mail. Won’t recognise how I say “fat”? Fine, I’ll say “rotund” or “corpulent” or whatever synonym I can come up with that VRS does recognise. “I’m going to eat a big, corpulent mango” works fine for an e-mail. However, it will not do for fiction.2

2. Flow is incredibly important.

Most of my first drafts are written in a gush of words as the characters and story come flowing out of me. Having to start and stop as I correct the VRS errors, and try to get it to write what I want it to write, interrupts my flow, throw me out of the story I’m trying to write, and makes me forget the gorgeously crafted sentence that was in my head ten seconds ago.

Now, yes, when I’m typing that gorgeously crafted sentence in my head it frequently turns out to not be so gorgeously crafted but, hey, that’s what rewriting is for. And when I’m typing the sentence it always has a resemblance to its platonic ideal. With VRS if I don’t check after every clause appears I wind up with sentences like this:

    Warm artichoke had an is at orange night light raining when come lit.

Rather than

    When Angel was able to emerge into the orange night Liam’s reign was complete.

Which is a terrible sentence but I can see what I was going for and I’ll be able to fix it. But that first sentence? Leave it for a few minutes and I’ll have no clue what I was trying to say.

However, checking what the VRS has produced after Every Single Clause slows me down and ruins the flow.

3. It’s too slow.

I am medium fast typist. I’ve been typing since I was fourteen. I can get words down way faster and more accurately than VRS.3 Its slowness is very, very frustrating and is yet another factor that messes with my flow when writing.

Obviously, none of this is a huge problem for e-mail. I do persevere with it for blogging too despite the fact that means I am at most blogging once a month. Using VRS for those kinds of writings does save my arms. I’m grateful.

But for my novel writing? It’s a deal breaker. I can’t do it.

VRS is going to have to take giant strides to get to a point where it allows me to write fiction without grief and frustration and the hurling of head sets across the room.

Again, I’m really glad that it has helped so many of you. I have been hearing lots of wonderful stories about the ways VRS has changed lives since I started writing cranky posts about it. That’s all fabulous.

But for me? No, not yet.

Update: I should have also noted that every time I write one of these posts I get lots of people trying to help. That is very sweet of you and I totally get why. I have the same impulse. We all want to make things better.4

But, yes, it is also kind of annoying and overly helpy. This has been going on for years now. You can safely assume that unless you are suggesting a very recent breakthrough or a very left-field obscure idea—WEAR A ROTTEN WOMBAT ON YOUR HEAD—I have heard it all before and tried it all.5

So if you were wondering—everything suggested in the comments?—been there, done that.

Update the Second

Am getting many folks telling me that the error rate in the orange night example above is crazy high. You got me. I deliberately chose a super bad example because it’s funnier. My bad. Next time I rant about this I promise to choose a less crazy and amusing one, okay?

Funny thing, though, even the best VRS error rate I’ve ever managed is incredibly annoying and slows me down.

Update the Third

Thanks so much for all the lovely letters & comments of sympathy, support, me toos, and commiseration. Means the world to me.

  1. Very few humans are one hundred per cent accurate at the task. Even court reporters make occasional mistakes. []
  2. Actually I’m now thinking of all sorts of ways in which it would work for fiction but you get my point, people. []
  3. And, wow, am I not the world’s most accurate typist. []
  4. Unless we have an evil streak a mile wide. Ha! VRS rendered “a mile wide” as “a mild way.” Bless. []
  5. Well, not the wombat thing. But only because I can’t get past the smell of roadkill. And the fear of putrescence dripping down my face. []

Writing Liar with Scrivener

I’ve been promising a post about writing Liar using Scrivener for two years now. It wasn’t a fake promise. I’ve been working on the post. But given my hassles with RSI and othe injuries it’s been slow going.

A friend asked about it recently and I realised that I haven’t touched the post in a year. The odds of my finishing it are low. When I spend my scant few hours at the keyboard I focus on my novels, not blog posts. So here is my unfinished and pretty rough account of writing Liar using Scrivener:

In the acknowledgements of Liar I wrote the following: “Without Scrivener this book would most likely not exist.” Ever since people have been asking me to please explain. Here, at long last, is my explanation.

For those who don’t know Scrivener is novel-writing software. A while back I wrote an overview. If you’re unfamiliar with Scrivener I suggest reading that first.

Scrivener Streamlines

The first words I wrote of the novel were “I’m a liar.” What came after the words “I’m a liar” in my first draft of the opening bears no resemblance to the final novel:

    I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all. Well, okay, there’s also writing, isn’t there? I do that with my mouth closed and there’s just as much bullshit on my blog as there is coming out of my mouth. Like I’m not 30, I’m not blonde and I don’t live in New York City. I am a girl though, and Australian.

That was written in October 2006. By the time the novel was published in 2009 the opening looked like this:

    Promise

    I was born with a light covering of fur.

    After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies.

    My father is a liar and so am I.

    But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.

    I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.

    That’s my promise.

    This time I truly mean it.

I began writing Liar in Word way back in 2006. I spewed out a bit over 500 words which were mostly notes like this:

    After preamble. First chapter starts with her at a new school in NYC. Preamble can mention that she’s determined not to lie anymore that the new school’s going to give her a new start. And as it’s in a foreign country she’ll be the cool one. So she tells all these outrageous stories such as dropbears and they all buy it and she’s the cool one and there’s this really cute guy.

    Beginning of second chapter she’s all like okay so the last chapter was the total truth except that there was another oz student in the class. So then she tells the story going back a little ways and having the other oz blow her first outrageous story about Australia. And also the other oz likes the boy too (who is now different in this chapter).

As you can see, originally I thought it would be more of a comedy than Liar turned out to be.

I didn’t work on Liar again until 2008. This time I was using Scrivener, not Word. I’d already used Scrivener to write “Thinner than Water” so I was comfortable with the program and very excited about writing my first novel on it.

I plugged in the existing words, quoted above. They looked wrong in Scrivener. It may just be me, but there’s something about Scrivener that makes me want to streamline my words.1 It’s a very clean, uncluttered program. So my extremely cluttered, messy first words of Liar had to go. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have wound up chucking them anyway. See this extremely crappy first draft of the first chapter of Magic or Madness to see that I have never been averse to throwing everything out, even pre-Scrivener.

However, when I resumed writing Liar with Scrivener what came out was more pared down than anything I had ever written before. There are parts of the published version of Liar that are pretty much unmodified from the first version I wrote. That’s untrue of any of my other novels.

Though the majority of Liar was rewritten more times than anything else I’ve written.2

Many Little Pieces

Liar is a novel made up of 138 short pieces. Part I has 60, Part II has 29, and Part III has 59. Some of those pieces are as short as the opening piece, “Promise,” quoted above, which is only 90 words. Some are even shorter. The shortest piece in the book is 41 words. The longest is 1,897. The average length is probably in the 300-500 word range. None of the chapters are longer than 2,000 words which is usually considered to be a shortish chapter.3 That’s part of why I call them “pieces” rather than “chapters.”

As I wrote, those pieces kept having to be moved. I did not begin with a clear three-part structure. That didn’t emerge until I’d written about a third of the novel. But once it did emerge I realised that many of the pieces I’d already written belonged in the third part of the book. So I moved them there, which left gaps in the first part where they’d been. New pieces had to be written.

That kept happening a lot. A piece that I’d written early on turned out to belong much later in the book, which meant that it had to be rewritten to fit into its new location. The pieces around it also had to be rewritten. Every time I moved a piece the same rewriting process would happen, which is why so much of the novel has been rewritten more times than I’ve rewritten anything else.

To be clear: rewriting is not a novelty for me. I’m very big on rewriting in all my books. As someone once said, “There is no writing, only rewriting.”

The Glory of the Corkboard

Scrivener made working with 138 different little pieces of text a cinch because it has a wonderful corkboard function. The corkboard allows you to see your novel as if it were a series of cards pinned to a corkboard. Like so:

Pretty, huh?

At a glance those cards tell me three kinds of info.

First, there’s a brief description of each piece on every card. This saves having to scroll endlessly through the larger document trying to find a particular scene.4

Second, there’s the different coloured pins holding the cards to their virtual corkboard. You can also see the different colours in the left sidebar (the binder). Liar is made up of three different kinds of pieces. There’s Before (purple), After (green) and then what I thought of as Backstory (white). The After pieces go forward in straight chronological order. I determined early on that they would be the most common pieces. Part I has 31 After sections out of 60. Part III has 31 out of 59.

I also determined that I would never have more than one in a row of the Before or Backstory pieces. The colour coding means that I could see at a glance whether I’d violated that.

Um, I did.

Part II turned out to run on its own rules. It’s mostly Backstory with a sprinkling of Before pieces. There are also two places in Part III where there are two Backstory pieces in a row.

What? Rules were made to be broken. Even your own rules that you make up for your own novel. But, trust me, I only broke the rules when it was essential. Like grammar, really.

Third, there’s the diagonal stamp across each index card. Every time I started a new piece I would label it according to what state I thought the writing was in: Incomplete, Rough, Semi-Polished and Polished. (I was going to call them Sketchy, Crappy, Less Crappy and As-Uncrappy-as-I-can-Manage-Right-Now but while accurate that seemed unduly negative.)

Most of the cards in the picture above say Polished. That’s because it’s the final draft. A snapshot of the novel I’m working on now would show a predominance of Incomplete and Rough.5

This is a huge departure from my previous system of writing novels. I used to write the first draft in a mad hurry and then go back and rewrite the whole thing. Thus the whole first (or zero) draft would be labelled as Rough and it would stay pretty rough through several drafts. Usually the first few drafts were all about making the plot and overall structure work. Only once that was working could I do any serious polishing.

With Liar I rewrote as I went along. As a result many of the pieces were what I considered to be polished long before I had a complete draft. It was a very strange way of writing but it was the only thing that worked for Liar.

This labelling system was also really helpful whenever I was stuck on writing new pieces. I’d go into corkboard view and find a piece labelled Incomplete and work on it until I could upgrade it to Rough. If there were no Incompletes, I’d work on a Rough and so on.

Usually in the course of working on one of the rougher pieces I’d realise some other pieces that needed to be written before or after it. I’d write those next. And so it went.

I know it sounds really painstaking but it was a lot of fun. I was never stuck writing Liar, there was always something for me to work on.

The most important glory of the corkboard for Liar was the ease with which it allowed me to move the pieces around. That’s right, every single one of those index cards can be dragged to a new location. Brilliant! I don’t even want to think about what a major pain in the arse it would have been to write it with any other writing software. Like the dreaded Word. I may have had to print it out. Multiple times. *shudder*

Some of my days writing Liar consisted of me doing nothing but shifting index cards around until I was satisfied with the order. Then rewriting to make sure it all flowed right.

Often I’d start the next day’s work by doing the same thing. Fun!6

Notes on Each Piece/Overall Notes

One of the other glories of Scrivener is the Inspector. That’s the thing taking up the right sidebar. It’s where you write your index card description, colour code it and label the state of the draft. It’s also where you can write notes on each piece. Notes such as “This makes no sense at all. Where did the rabbit come from?” Or “Too many knives. Cut them down!”

I got into the habit of striking through each note after I addressed it:

Dunno about you but there’s nothing I find more satisfying than crossing things out. It’s almost as satisfying as deleting whole scenes.

Document notes can toggle over to Project notes. This allows you to write notes on a particular piece/scene/chapter as well as notes on the overall book. Being able to see my micro and macro notes that easily made a huge difference. Simple! Clean!

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked about Liar is how on Earth did I manage to outline it. I think everything above makes my answer clear.

I didn’t.

But Scrivener made outlining unnecessary.7 It allowed me to see the structure as it emerged from the various pieces I was writing. I have no idea how I would have kept track of everything without software that’s designed to allow you to manage such a big and complicated text as a novel.

It has both changed how I write as well as what I’m able to write. Scrivener has been a revelation.

  1. You can tell that I didn’t write this post in Scrivener, can’t you? []
  2. I swear there are some sections that were rewritten more than a kajillion times. Honestly. []
  3. To give you a sense of length, this post is more than 2,000 words and is thus longer than any piece of Liar. []
  4. Something that always drove me nuts with Word. []
  5. Also Adequate. While working on novels after Liar I decided the leap from Rough to Semi-Polished was too daunting. Adequate is my intermediate phase. []
  6. I’m not being sarcastic. It really was fun. []
  7. Though there is an outlining function for those who crave such a thing. I’ve never used it. []

I Love Bad Reviews

Okay, I totally shouldn’t be writing this. But Janni Lee Simner issued a call for authors to say that it’s okay to give us bad reviews. I want to add my voice to those saying, “Go forth and shred our books into tiny pieces.”1

You do not have to be nice about a book you hate.

However, I also want to say that it’s not our place to say so. Reviews are not for authors. They’re not even about authors. You do not need our permission to write about our books. Because once they’re published they cease to be ours.

Reviews are for other readers. A review is about a particular reader’s relationship with a particular book. And if you happen to trust that particular reviewer’s taste they’re a great way to find books you want to read or books you should avoid.

It’s ridiculously pleasing to come across a review shredding a book you loathed. It’s an OMG someone else hated it too moment. Yay! And they’re mocking it in the most hilarious way. Double yay!

I even enjoy bad reviews of books I like. Shaking my fist in outrage at them and rebutting every point is fun. It’s also fascinating to see how differently people read. Dia Reeves’ marvellous Bleeding Violet is a call to arms to take down the state? How did I miss that?

More seriously the effort to critique misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia and so forth in YA—in all art—is essential. We live in a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic world. We can and do unwittingly replicate racist tropes, sexist cliches and homophobic stereotypes in our work. It is a very good thing to be called on it. Our intentions count for nothing if they aren’t visible on the page to people who aren’t us.

Thinking about these issues can be painful and confronting, especiallly for those of us who have had the privilege to not have to think about them, but, trust me, doing so makes us better writers and readers.2

Will we always agree with such critiques? I think the recent Bitch media stoush answers that question. Feminism can, indeed, be in the eye of the beholder. Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels has been critiqued for “validating (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance”. I think that’s—at best—a sloppy reading of TM and that the book is profoundly feminist, but I also think that such a debate is extremely important.

When your work is published and out there people get to critique it however they want. The only way to avoid such critiques is not to publish your work.

It’s very hard for authors to believe that reviews are not about them. To not take them personally. It’s hard for anyone to read or hear people hating on something they worked very hard to produce. But you get over it.3 Or you learn to stop reading your reviews.

I was not so cavalier about all of this when my first book came out. Back then every bad review, hell, every non-ecstatic review, broke my little writer heart. How could people be so mean to me!? But then I’d read a book and hate it and pray that the writer never publish again4 and think well, okay, that’s how.

Sometimes you discover that your bad reviews can be hilarious. Here’s my favourite:

Magic or Madness is like a bad Australian episode of Charmed.

It was one of my very first punter reviews—on Barnes & Noble, I think—is it not a gem of its kind? I treasure it.

So, yeah, as I’ve written here many times, I think it’s inappropriate for an author to go to someone’s blog and argue over a review, especially when the author brings hordes of their friends and fans with them. The best response to bad reviews is to ignore them, not to attack or threaten the reviewer. Get over yourself already. Your book is not your child. You are not the boss of the internets.5

I am not, however, calling for author silence. I mean, seriously, have you read any other posts on this blog? I am so not a silent author.6 I don’t see any problem with an author rebutting claims about their politics or world view on their own blog. It can lead to very interesting conversations. Because of her brilliant and wonderful novel, Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan has been accused of not only sanctioning rape as revenge but also of purveying filth to children, and she has ably combatted those claims on her blog and in interviews and elsewhere. Good on you, Margo.

Mostly though I think authors should be thankful that their books are being discussed at all. Passionate opinions and debates about your work are a truly excellent thing. Plenty of books disappear without a ripple.

The biggest enemy of our careers is not bad reviews, but obscurity.

Let me repeat that: the biggest enemy of an author’s career is not bad reviews—it’s obscurity.

And on that chilling note I’m back to saving my typing hands7 for writing more of them books in the faint hopes of postponing total obscurity just a little bit longer.

  1. If you hate them that is. Feel free to praise should you want to. Feel free to meh them also. Whatever you want! []
  2. Not to mention better people. []
  3. Though not getting cranky about bad reviews of Scott’s books is still a work in progress for me. []
  4. Yes, I mean you, Henry Miller. Yes, I know you’re dead. This is a warning to any possible reincarnations of you. I will kill you with my mind. []
  5. That would be me! Or it used to be me—I retired hurt. []
  6. Except when injured. But seriously offline I’m ranting away same as ever. If you see me ask me about Wikileaks or the minnows being expelled from the World Cup or Australia’s immigration policy or pretty much anything else and prepare to have your ears bleed. I gots opinions, yes, I do. []
  7. Thanks so much everyone for letting me know you miss the blog. I miss it too and youse lot as well. Heaps! []

In Which Kingsley Amis & I Disagree

First a confession: I love Sir Kingsley Amis. That’s why the heading of this post says “Kingsley & I” rather than “Kingsley & me” (which is my preference cause I reckon it sounds better) but not old Kingsley, he was a sucker for good grammar.1 I does not wish to offend him.2

I love Kingsley Amis for so many reasons. Because he’s dead funny, because he wrote in pretty much every genre, and because his main writing concerns were story and characterisation. Thus one of my favourite anecdotes about him goes like this:

Kingsley Amis is listening to a radio interview with his son Martin Amis, in which Amis Junior says of his latest novel that it really must be read twice in order to be fully appreciated. At which point Amis Senior says, “Well, then he’s buggered it up, hasn’t he?”

Too right. In case you’re worried about animosity between father and son, by all accounts they got on well, and there was much affection between them. They just had very different outlooks on writing. It happens.

I first came across Sir Kingsley when I was researching my PhD thesis on science fiction. His New Maps of Hell from 1960 was by far the wittiest, smartest, and most enjoyable book on science fiction I came across.3 That it was written by an established non-genre writer was astounding. It’s hard in these oh-so-much-more-tolerant days to convey just how much contempt was felt by the literati for us lowly genre writers. Why, back then even crime fiction (which Amis also loved) carried a stigma. But Kingsley Amis cared not a jot and wrote whatever he pleased: mysteries, science fiction, books about James Bond. I would love him for this alone.

Like me, he had an opinion on pretty much everything.4 (Though, um, his would only rarely, if ever, line up with mine.) In fact, I think he would have made a fabulous blogger. His non-fiction writing, espcially in newspapers, is chatty, unpretentious and instantly disarming:

Only one reader by her own account a hotelier and Tory [conservative] activist who’s also been a probation officer, took serious issue with me. “Your writing,” she stated, “is getting more and more biased and entrenched in reactionary fuddy-duddyism.” An excellent summing-up, I thought, of my contribution to the eighties’ cultural scene.

The quote comes from his writing on booze. Sir Kingsley was a boozer. He wrote three books on the subject, which are now handily collected in the one volume, Everyday Drinking, The Distilled Kingsley Amis. It’s wonderful and I say this as someone who pretty much disagrees with every word.

Sir Kingsley Amis’ drinks of choice were spirits and beer. He also had an inordinate fondness for cocktails and the book includes many recipes, including one for a Lucky Jim.5 I am a wine drinker,6 with little taste for cocktails, spirits or beer. Kingsley loved gin. I loathe it. Kingsley considered the Piña Colada a “disgusting concoction” and an “atrocity.” I love a properly made piña with fresh pineapple juice, fresh coconut milk and cream, and a dash of dark rum. Though really I just love coconut and pineapple—I’d happily skip the rum. He also considered combining beer and limes to be an “exit application from the human race” whereas I consider lime to be the only thing that makes most beer even vaguely palatable.

I also adore the French white wines he hates the most:

But the dry ones are mostly too dry to suit me, whether with food or solo. That’s if dry is the right word. I mean more than the absence of sweetness—I mean the quality that makes the saliva spurt into my mouth as soon as the wine arrives there. Perhaps I mean what wine experts call crispness or fintiness or even acidity, which for some mysterious reason they think is a good thing in wine. But whatever you call it, I don’t want it. Chablis, the average white Mâcon, Muscadet, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé—not today, thank you.

That’s fine, Kingsley. I’ll drink them!7 Well, not the average ones. Only the best, please!

He has scathing things to say about the Irish. Doesn’t think they could possibly have invented the process of making whiskey.8 Boo, Kingsley! Some of my best friends are Irish. Snobby, pommy bastard, you!9

So what was I doing reading a book I kept yelling “boo” at? Have I mentioned how funny Kingsley is? Here he is discussing the essentials for a good home bar kit:

1. A refrigerator. All to yourself, I mean. There is really no way around this. Wives and such are constantly filling any refigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubblish like food.
8. A really very sharp knife. (If you want to finish the evening with your usual number of fingers, do any cutting-up, peel-slicing and the like before you have more than a couple of drinks, perferably before your first.)

Oh, Kingsley! How did you cope with those pesky wives and such?10 And food, irrelevant? My heart is so sad for you. I will go eat a nectarine. *gobbles* Ah, better.

Then once he’s given you his list of ten essentials he tells you what he ommitted:

Half the point of the above list is what it leaves out. The most important and controversial of your non-needs is a cocktail shaker. With all respect to James Bond, a martini should be stirred, not shaken. The case is a little different with drinks that include the heavier fruit-juices and liqueurs, but I have always found that an extra minute’s stirring does the trick well enough. The only mixture that does genuinely need shaking is one containing eggs, and if that is your sort of thing, then clear off and buy youself a shaker any time you fancy. The trouble with the things is that they are messy pourers and, much more important, they are far too small, holding half a dozen drinks at the outside. A shaker about the size of a hatbox might be worth pondering, but I have never seen or heard of such.

I am now trying to imagine operating a hatbox-sized cocktail shaker. Maybe if Yao Ming was the bartender? Which, oddly enough, is something I would like to see.

I also greatly enjoyed his instructions for making sugar syrup (simple syrup):

A bottle of sugar syrup, a preperation continually called for in mixed-drink books. To have a supply of it will save you a lot of time. . . Concoct it yourself by the following simple method:

Down a stiff drink and keep another by you to see you through the ordeal. . . [instructions] Your bottleful will last for months, and you will have been constantly patting yourself on the back for your wisdom and far-sightedness.

Reading Kingsley on booze is like reading novels from the 1930s-1950s. The adults are drinking all the time. With breakfast, lunch, before dinner, during dinner, after dinner, before bed (night cap!). Was anyone ever sober? It is a miracle that anything at all was achieved in those decades in the US, UK or Australia.11

Sir Kingsley sadly discusses the growing ubiquitousness of wine. But I can’t help thinking that the largely lower alcoholic content of wine (lower than spirits and cocktails anyways) combined with the prevelance of it being drunk with food, is a good thing. Wine cultures tend not to have as much alcoholism as, say, vodka cultures. Compare and contrast France with Russia.

Kingsley explains his own lack of wine appreciation12 thus:

Now we reach the point at which my credentials become slightly less than impeccable. With all those drinks I have got through, what I have not done is drink first-rate table wines at their place of origin, work my way through classic vintages and develop an educated palate. To do that, what you really need, shorn of the talk, is a rich father, and I missed it.

I missed that one, too, Sir Kingsley. But I’ve muddled along okay without. I may not know much about the very best Bourdeaux but I does know which wines I like, you know, like a good Pouilly-Fume. Or “pooey fumes” as me and my classy friends call it.

Anyways, bless you, Sir Kingsley Amis, for poking fun at yourself, at wine and booze, and almost everything else. For your classy deployment of sarcasm, irony, and out-and-out wit. Tonight I will raise a glass of the wine you hated most in your honour.13

  1. He would be appalled by my grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills. Or lack thereof. Sorry, Kingsley. []
  2. Though I do feel free to use his first name. I guess I’ve been reading him for so long I feel that we are now mates. A very safe feeling what with him being dead and all. []
  3. I disagreed with much of it, but that’s neither here nor there. []
  4. Toilet paper goes over the roll, people, not under! []
  5. Many people believe that Amis’ Lucky Jim was one of the funniest British novels of the 20th century. I’d definitely put it up there with Cold Comfort Farm. []
  6. I mean if I were a drinker that’s what I would drink. Though obviously as as writer of YA I don’t drink. So clearly everything in this post is on the hypothetical side. []
  7. Er, in my mind, I will. Not in real life. YA writer. []
  8. With or without an “e.” []
  9. Though we do agree on the subject of cola drinks and Woody Allen. We doesn’t like them. []
  10. According to his bios, he did so by having lots and lots of affairs. Oh, is that who the “and such” were? Bad, Sir Kingsley! []
  11. I know not of the drinking habits of other nations, but I fear the worst. []
  12. Though judging from what he writes about wine he was a phony and knew vastly more than, say, I do on the subject. []
  13. I won’t actually drink it, mind. YA writer, me. Pure as driven snow. []

Liar Spoiler Thread (updated)

If you’re busting to talk about Liar with other people who’ve read it this is the place for you. Here you can say whatever you want about the book without fear. Go forth, speak, theorise, argue, enjoy!

For those of you haven’t read it you really really really do not want to look at the comments below. Go here to see my arguments as to why you do not want to be spoiled. You should also avoid reviews.1

Liar is a book that even people who normally ADORE spoilers have said they were very glad they weren’t spoiled before they read it. Like Tim Pratt for instance who said:

I’m one of those people who isn’t bothered by spoilers and sometimes seeks them out . . . but, yeah, Liar is much better unspoiled, I must admit. A real whiplash-inducing reading experience.

Listen to him and me. Read the book first and then come back here.

Are we clear?

Okay then: let the spoiler thread commence!

Update: I won’t be taking part in the discussion. You gets to play amongst yourselves without the bossy author intervening. If you have any questions for me take them across to the Liar FAQ.

  1. You should especially avoid the Horn Book review of Liar because it’s so outrageously spoilery I cried when I read it. Though if you’ve read Liar you should definitely check it out because it’s a very interesting take on the novel. []

The Advantages of Being a White Writer

Disclaimer: I am writing about YA publishing in the USA. Although I’m Australian I know much more about the publishing industry in the US than I do about Australia. Or anywhere else for that matter.

I know that the title of this post is going to lead to some comments insisting that it’s not true that white writers have any advantages and that many white people are just as oppressed as people of colour. I don’t want to have that conversation. So I’m going to oppress the white people who make those comments by deleting them. I don’t do it with any malice. I do it because I want to have a conversation about white privilege in publishing. We can have the discussion about class privilege and regional privilege and other kinds of privilege some other time. Those other privileges are very real. But I don’t want this discussion to turn into some kind of oppression Olympics.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t, Redux

There were some wonderful responses to my post attempting to debunk the “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” canard. But I got the impression that some people understood me as saying that it’s fine for white people to write about non-white people and that any criticism for doing so is no big deal. Writers get criticised for all sorts of different things. Whatcha gunna do?

I did not mean that at all. I’m very sorry that my sloppy writing led to such a misunderstanding. I think the criticism a white writer receives for writing characters who are a different race or ethnicity, especially by people of that race or ethnicity, is a very big deal. We white writers have to listen extremely carefully. Neesha Meminger wrote a whole post about why in which she talks about how hard it is for many non-white writers to get published:

I know how tiring it is to hear over and over from editors or agents (who are, in almost all cases, white) that they “just didn’t connect with,” or “just didn’t fall in love with” the characters of a mostly-multicultural book. And, while I know these can be standard industry responses to manuscripts, the fact of the matter is that white authors are getting published. White authors writing about PoC are getting published—sometimes to great acclaim—while authors of colour are still not (in any significant numbers).

Mayra Lazara Dole makes a similar point:

Many POC feel you are stealing their souls. We’ve never, ever had your same opportunities. As an africanam friend would say, “the times of white people painting their faces black in hollywood are over.” Why don’t you sit back and allow us to get our work published while you keep writing what you know until we catch up? Shouldn’t it be about equal opportunity? If so, please consider giving us a chance to make our mark (about 90 percent of all books are written by white authors).

Now before you get your back up and start spouting about how you have a right to write whatever you want. Neesha agrees:

So, to my white brothers and sisters: certainly, write your story. Populate it with a true reflection of the world you live in. Bring to life strong and powerful characters of all colours. Do so with the ferocity of an ally and the tenderness of family. But please don’t be so cavalier as to shrug and say, “I did my best, and frock you if you don’t like it—plenty of your people thought I did a great job.” Take the criticism in as well. After the urge to defend yourself has passed, pick through the feedback and see if there’s some learning there. Because the reality is that masses upon masses of “our people” have absorbed toxic levels of self-hatred from the images and messages (and *inaccurate representations*) that surround us. Many of us have learned to believe that we are less than, not worthy, undeserving—and are simply grateful to be allowed to exist among you without fear.

So does Mayra Lazara Dole:

On the other hand, having been born in a communist country with censorship, please, write what you want, but just know that even though you have every right to write whatever you wish, you’ll hurt some of us. Many POC’s won’t be as forgiving, but some will. To some POC’s it will feel as if you are stealing from them . . . Don’t you want POC to write our own books?

So do I. Hey, all my books so far have had non-white protags (follow the link for my reasons why). Neither Neesha nor Mayra want to censor white writers, they want us to be very careful of what we do, and they want us to own it.

That’s what I’ve tried to do, but I haven’t always succeeded. Writing, thinking beyond my privilege, these are things I struggle with every single day of my life. I was not standing here from on high saying, “Here’s how to do it.”1 I was saying, “Here’s what I’m wrestling with.”

What are the advantages that white writers writing about people of colour have that PoC writers don’t have?

First of all (assuming that you can actually write) your odds of getting published are better than theirs.2 No, I don’t have statistics to back me up, but I have a lot of anecdotal evidence. Of friends and acquaintances who were rejected by editors and agents who already had their one African or Asian author. If you’re the only brown writer on a list than you have to be a lot better than all the other brown writers competing for that one slot. The hurdles that many non-white writers have to jump to get published in the USA are higher than they are for white writers.3

Here’s another big advantage: If you, as a white writer, produce an excellent book about people who aren’t like you odds are high that your ability to do so will be seen as a sign of your virtuosity and writerly chops, which it is. However, non-white writers rarely get the same response, even though it’s just as hard for them. I say that not just because I think all good writing is hard to achieve, but because every time you write a nuanced character who isn’t white you’re writing against a long, long tradition of stereotyped characters in Western literature. That’s hard to do no matter what your skin colour. And if you’re a writer working within in a different writing tradition and trying to make it succeed within the English-language novel tradition you’re doing something even harder.

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that we white writers should feel guilty about any of this. Guilt is a pointless emotion. White writers who’ve written about people of colour and won acclaim and awards don’t have to hand their prizes back. That would change nothing.

What I am saying is that we need to be aware of our privilege and listen to criticism and act upon it. We need to do what we can to change things. The more novels with a diversity of characters that are published and succeed in the marketplace the more space there will be. The more people who can find themselves in books, the more readers we’ll all have, and the more opportunities there’ll be for writers from every background. Of course, it’s not just the writers who need to be more diverse, but everyone in publishing, from the interns to agents to the folks in sales, marketing, publicity, and editorial, to the distributors and booksellers.

There are many wonderful books by writers of colour. Read them, talk about them, buy them for your friends. Point them out to your editors and agents. Be part of changing the culture and making space for lots of different voices. The problem is not so much what white people write; it’s that so few other voices are heard. If the publishing industry were representative of the population at large we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

  1. And I’m very sorry if it came across that way. []
  2. Yes, it’s hard for all people to get published. I know. It took me twenty years to do so. But add to that the prevailing notion in the publishing industry that books about people of colour don’t sell and it becomes even harder. []
  3. The hurdles they have to jump to have the time and resources to write in the first place are typically also higher, but that’s a whole other story. Don’t get me started on the differences I’ve seen on tour in the USA between predominately black schools versus predominately white ones. []

How I finished my first novel

Often when people find out what I do it turns out that they harbour ambitions of writing a novel too. Mostly they just daydream about it. But sometimes they confess that they’ve had a whack at it but not very successfully. “How do you actually finish a novel?” they’ll ask. “Starting’s easy but how do you finish?”

I cannot tell you how many novels I started but did not finish before I finally managed to complete one. Not because I don’t want to tell you, but because I honestly don’t know. On the hard drive of my current computer there are fourteen unfinished novels. But there are others that didn’t make it to this computer. Not to mention many notebooks that are lost or in storage. I started my first novel before I was twelve, started many more in my teenage years, not to mention my twenties, but I kept stalling.

Every. Single. Time.

I could write beginnings. Some of them are corkers. I could even get some of the middle stuff happening. But I could not get to the third act. Hell, I couldn’t even finish the second act.1 None of my unfinished novels get anywhere near the climax, let alone the actual ending.

There were lots of reasons why. My short attention span was definitely part of it. I’d think of some other shiny shiny idea and start on that instead. Or I’d get bored with the work in progress and go read a book instead. Or I’d get stuck and have no idea what happens next. Or I’d decide the whole thing sucked and realise I could never show it to anyone else because of its hopelessness and give up. It could also have been the absence of a deadline—I find they concentrate the mind quite fabulously well.

I also suspect part of my problem was that I never had a clear idea of the whole book. I’d just start writing a conversation, or describing a scene, and figure out who the people were and what was going on as I went. I had never heard of outlining so it never occurred to me to do so. Maybe it would have made a difference and I’d have finished a novel much earlier. I’ve always imagined that writers who figure out the plot ahead of time, who know who their characters are and what they’re going to do before they start typing have a much easier time finishing their first novel.

Left to my own devices I suspect I would never have finished. I’d still be an academic. Or possibly a rabbit farmer. Or a stringer for National Enquirer.

But one fateful day I got talking with an acquaintance, who happened to work at a book shop in Sydney where I fed my book habit frequently bought books. I’d been going there for years. We’d chatted many times but didn’t really know each other. On this occasion we both confessed that we were wannabe writers. I remember how embarrassed I was by the confession. How stupid it sounded. But she was embarrassed too, which encouraged me to admit that for all my ambitions I’d never managed to finish a single thing. Turned out she hadn’t either. Somehow we ended up agreeing to read each other’s stuff.

Once every one or two weeks we’d meet, swap pages, have lunch, talk about what we’d written, offer (very gentle) criticism, and cheer each other on. Within six months I’d finished my first novel. Or the first draft of it anyways. A novel I’d started in 1988 was finished in 1999. Greased lightning!

I could not have done it without her. Writing can be a lonely, frustrating business. Having someone who’s in it with me made a huge difference. Because back then I had no idea whether I could finish a novel. And not knowing if that was possible made finishing really really difficult.

Now when I start a novel the fact that I’ve already finished six makes me pretty (not wholly) confident that I’ll finish this one too. Even if it is turning out to be longer than expected.

  1. Possibly because I have never thought of my books in terms of acts. But whatever. []

Types of crazy writers

Because I am myself barking mad I feel moved to share my four varieties of insane writers with youse lot. This is different from the run of the mill craziness of every writer who writes differently to me. This is the down-to-the-bone craziness.

I just shared my list with a bookseller friend and we agreed as to the unadvisability of ever blogging them.

So here they are:

    1. The unpublished writer who can barely string a sentence together yet is convinced that the reason they are not published is because of a conspiracy. “Those evil New York publishing houses only publish crap, deliberately keeping me from being published! They are fools and cannot recognise my genius!”1

    2. The newly published writer who believes they have the keys to the kingdom and know everything there is to know. “I am published! I am real! I have met my editor and thus acquired all publishing knowledge ever! All bow down to me!”2

    3. The midlist writer whose career is not where they wish it was and blames it on everything and everyone in the entire world. Especially all those foreignors who are gobbling up all their publisher’s attention and winning all the prizes that are rightfully theirs.3 When in fact success or failure in publishing is almost always a matter of luck. This is the most common form of madness simply because success in this game is such a crapshoot. If by success you mean “can make a living at it” then not that many published writers are a success. Maybe five per cent of them. Tops. If you mean “has written a book that they’re proud of” then many writers are a success. Guess which definition I prefer.

    4. The super successful writer who believes that they are so important and such geniuses that they should never be edited again. Or questioned. And that their fans should lay down at their feet as if before a god. In fact, so should everyone.4

Of course, there are all sorts of temporary insanities that hit every writer. Not just crazy outlining and writing books backwards and burning the first version of the book, there’s also:

  • Amazonomancy5 the obsessive consulting of the Amazon tea leaves to see if your book is selling despite knowing that Amazon tells you nothing. Absolutely NOTHING.
  • Furtive facing out of your books in bookshops when the clerks aren’t looking in the largely mistaken belief that they won’t notice and that in the fifteen minutes it stays like that your book will sell.
  • Conviction that your book is tanking even though it’s only been out for a week and the only evidence you have is Amazon numbers and a note from someone in Delaware/Dubbo saying they couldn’t find a copy in their local bookshop.

There are many many more. Seriously, I could go on forever listing them.6

In fact, I would argue that attempting to make a living writing is a sign of total insanity, which may be why the part-timers tend to be much more stable.

  1. I definitely suffered from this one during my twenty years of not being published. How could they publish HIM and not me?! []
  2. I confess that I went through this stage. I’m so sorry! []
  3. This is where I’m headed. Best to buy LOTS of copies of my next book to prevent me from winding up there. I’m just saying . . . []
  4. Let’s all hope this never happens to me for I would be a MONSTER. []
  5. The term comes from the briliant Hal Duncan []
  6. You may have noticed that I am a big fan of lists. []

How to rewrite

I get a lot of beginning writers asking me how to rewrite. This post is aimed squarely at them: the ones who are unsure how to fix a story they have written from beginning to end. Which is my way of saying that any experienced writer is going to find what I am about to say obvious, boring, and un-useful. You folks should go read Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing or, you know, get back to work.

(It’s also a really LONG post. Hence the cut.)

“How can I learn to rewrite?” is an incredibly hard question to answer. It’s sort of like asking a pro tennis player (or coach): “How do I improve my tennis?” Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons Banning Books is a Bad Idea

10. It upsets the writers what wrote the books.

9. It upsets the readers what want to read the books.

8. It makes the books cry and books are very sensitive.

7. If you really want people not to read a book, banning it will have the opposite effect.

6. If the content of a book offends you there are more effective ways to deal with your offendedness. Like, you know, engaging with it. Maureen Dowd’s columns frequently drive me spare, but I don’t try to get them banned, I argue against them.

5. Besides banning books does not make them go away. Just ask Chris Crutcher.

4. Banning books might make you feel like you’re in control, but it actually screams of lack of control. You think you can control input but you can’t. Banned books have a way of being passed around mightily and promoted during banned book week and gaining a whole other life they might not otherwise have had.

3. Banning books, you know, it kind of doesn’t encourage literacy. Last time I looked literacy was a good thing that goes hand in hand with increased life expectancy, education, living standards. Little stuff like that.

2. It’s a short step from banning books to wanting to burn ‘em. People who burn books, well that is not company you want to keep.

1. Book banning clashes with everything in your wardrobe. Every. Single. Thing.

Why do you like sport?

This is not a question I get asked very much. Not directly, anyway, but every single time I post about sport someone writes and asks me when I’m going to post about interesting topics again. That’s right, the biggest complaint I get from you, dear readers, is that I talk about sport too much.1

Now I ain’t never gonna stop writing about sport, no matter how many of you are bored into a coma by it. I writes about what I wants to write about. You can suggest topics if you want but if I can’t be arsed to write on that topic then it ain’t gonna happen.

I digress. The complaints do get me thinking about why it is that I like sport so much. Seriously, for me to learn the rules of a sport is for me to become addicted. I’ve had to start studiously avoiding contact with new (to me) sport just to have enough hours in the day to, you know, get books written. I try very hard to only pay attention to cricket, the Tour, and women’s basketball. And the Olympics. I cannot get any work done when the Lymps are on.

I’m not that fussed about playing it. Tennis is great fun, I love swimming and riding my bike but I have zero interest in doing any of them competitively. (Gah!) But I can watch pretty much any competitive sport and I can do it for days and days and days. For me it brings together the aesthetic pleasures of watching athletes at the top of their form, with the soap-opera like joys of a long-running story (what can I say I’m a narrative junky in all its forms), together with the gossip and politics. A good sporting scandal is prolly my most favourite thing in the world.

Clyde Walcott, one of the West Indies' greats.I love how knowing about the history and politics of cricket (West Indies not getting a black captain until the 1950s and then only after a long-running campaign orchestrated by C. L. R. James; the long campaign to get an Untouchable to play for India), and about women’s basketball (Title IX, and when it was allowed into the Olympics, and how little coverage it gets in the mainstream press) adds so much to watching any individual game.Picture purloined from abc.net.au

I love the majesty and pomp. I love supporting (and hating) individual players and countries.

Why do you love the particular sports you love? Sing it, please!

No offence intended but I’m uninterested in why any of you don’t like sport. I’ve been hearing it long and loud from my fellow arty-farty types my entire life. I get that you’re an oppressed minority. I feel for you. But enough already! Let us sport obsessives bond for a bit. And, yes, I will delete anti-sport diatribes.

So fellow sport lovers—time to share that love!

NB The first image is of Sir Clyde Walcott who died earlier this year. He was one of the greats of West Indian cricket. Bless him.

The second is of the Australian women’s basketball team winning the world cup. Bless ‘em.

  1. It’s particularly weird as I’ve hardly blogged sport at all this year. Very little mention of cricket, the World Cup, or the Tour de France; pretty much nothing about the Liberty’s unhappy WNBA season, and hardly any mention of all the various Australian triumphs this year. I’ve been busy, okay? []

How to write a novel*

Ever wanted to write a novel but had no clue how? Having just finished my fifth novel, I am now ready to pass on my accummulated novel-writing wisdom to those what have never writ one but wants to.

Here is the complete, full and unexpurgated guide:

First of all you need a computer. (Yeah, yeah, I know in the olden days they made do with quill, ink and paper, and typewriters—aargh! don’t get me started on how creepy and scary typewriters are—plus, whatever, this is not the olden days.) Continue reading

Too Young to Publish

Recently I’ve had a number of letters from teenagers wanting advice on how to get their novel published and wondering whether their age will make it harder for them to get it into print. Specifically, would they be discriminated against because they were only thirteen/fourteen/fifteen/sixteen or whatever?

The simple answer is no. When you submit a query letter to a publisher or agent you don’t have to tell them how old you are. You’ll be rejected or accepted on the quality of your submission.

Being young can be an advantage in getting published. I was first published when I was nine. A short poem in The Newcastle Morning Herald (now The Herald). My mother sent it in and it was published with my age listed. While the poem was clearly a work of genius, odds are that if I hadn’t been nine, it wouldn’t have been published. As it happens I was more embarassed by the publication than I was proud. The kids at school teased me to buggery for the rest of the year. Happy days.

Up until I was 15, I had a number of other poems and stories published. Without motherly intervention even. Every one of them with my age beside my name. After that, nothing of mine was published until I was in my thirties.

What happened?

Another simple answer: I started competing with adults. I stopped listing my age and started sending to more grown up venues. My work was not as good as that of the grown ups. I didn’t find my way into print again until I was way past my child prodigy days.

The teenage me was cast into deep, dark despair by this. On my seventeenth birthday I had a midlife crisis. There I was seventeen years old and still no novel published! I was a complete and utter failure! What was wrong with me?

Another easy answer: I wasn’t good enough yet and I wouldn’t be good enough until I’d learned to write and rewrite and rewrite again. Until I got past thinking my first drafts were perfect and that rewriting involves a wee bit of chipping at the surface of a story. It’s much, much harder than that. And, I’m belatedly learning, more fun too.

If you’d have told me back then I wasn’t good enough and had a lot more to learn about writing I would not have believed you. Actually come to think of it, people did tell me back then. But they were polite about it saying that I had a "great deal of promise" and a "bright future ahead". Blah, blah, blahdy blah. I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to be published immediately! Before I hit twenty-one or, worse, thirty and was too decrepitly old to enjoy it.

Now, of course, I’m incredibly grateful that no one did me the disservice of publishing me back then. I’ve kept a lot of my juvenilia and, well . . . it shows promise.

I have a couple of friends who were not so fortunate. They were first published in adult venues when they were still teenagers. Both of them are horrified that their learning and growing as a writer has been done so publicly and that there’s nothing they can do to make all that evidence of early missteps go away. They both wish they’d spent more time honing their craft and less time desperately trying to get into print.

But how do you hone your craft?

Read a lot. Write a lot. In that order. There are very very few good writers who aren’t also good readers.

Never send off a first draft for publication. Even though the temptation to do so is enormous. I mean you wrote a complete draft! A whole poem/story/novel! It has a beginning, a middle and end! The sense of accomplishment is enormous you can’t wait to show your work of genius to the rest of the world.

Resist that feeling.

Wait a few weeks after writing something, then reread it, rewrite it (and I don’t mean just fixing typoes), then give it to some people you trust for comments. (Not your parents. Most’ll just tell you it’s wonderful no matter what.) If you have friends who read a lot give it to them. Or to a teacher you trust. Give it to as many people as you can think of. Trust me, most of them will not get back to you with comments.

Ask the ones who read it to tell you when they got bored. Ask them to tell you the plot. This is a great way to figure out if your readers are reading what you think you wrote. It’s amazing how often they aren’t.

When they get back to you with all their comments, rewrite it again. Many of the comments will be intensely annoying and boneheaded and will make you want to end the friendship with the idiot who said them. Resist your urge to do so. Resist the urge to tell them how moronic they are. Also resist the urge to cry (I still haven’t quite mastered this one). Instead look for parts of your story/poem/novel that all readers had problems with. Figure out how to fix it. Most likely the solution you find won’t be the one they suggested. (Later on when you’re published you’ll find this also applies to your editors.)

Learning to take criticism is one of the major prerequisites of being a professional writer. Once your work is accepted for publication, your editor will criticise what you have written and ask you to rewrite it. Usually many, many times. And after it’s gone through all those rewrites she will often forget to tell you good it is. There will be few gold koala bear stamps. Your editor’s primary concern is to get rid of that which sucks. It should be yours too.

Just as important: don’t get too caught up in the praise your readers offer you. If your readers only have good things to say about your manuscript, enjoy it, but then be suspicious. Very few pieces of writing are perfect first go. (I rewrote this essay several times and then gave it to Scott to read and it could still stand a bit more rewriting.)

Once you’ve made your manuscript as good as you can possibly make it—if it’s a novel that should take months, maybe even years—then and only then do you send it out for publication.

But how do you get a novel published?

With great difficulty. Getting published is very, very hard no matter how old you are. Most novels never find their way into print. Even really good ones.

Ian Irvine outlines the whole process in his essay, The Truth About Publishing (the link’s in the menu on the left). I strongly advise reading the whole document through to the end. It’s depressing, but it’s also very very useful. I wish I’d read it back when I was fifteen.

Good luck. Do not despair when you are rejected. Welcome to the club. There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t been rejected. Many, many times.

New York City, 13 August 2005

The Hebrew translation is here.

For those young writers who are angered by this please read my clarification.

A Beginner’s Guide to Cricket

People from non-cricketing countries (poor, sad souls) often ask me to explain cricket to them. Here in San Miguel I have lost count of how many times I’ve sat at a bar using glasses for batsmen and coasters for the fielders. It seems to me more than past time to set my simple principles of cricket down for the greater world to enjoy. It disturbs me that so many of those sad souls labour under the misapprehension that the blessed game is an arcane and difficult one into whose mysteries you must be initiated from birth, otherwise understanding is impossible.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cricket is dead easy to understand. Like the world’s greatest board game, Go, the principles are simple, but the variations endless. Anyone can learn to understand, enjoy, and ultimately, love, cricket. Quite simply it is the world’s greatest spectator sport.

Plus you have me, the mistress of easy (er, but not in that sense) to teach you how.

Cricket, of course, is not for everyone. Those readers who have zero interest in spectator sports should stop reading now. Run off to your yoga class, go walk your dog, turn back to that book you were reading. This musing is not for you.

For the rest of you here are the basics of cricket:

Cricket is a team sport. The team which scores the most amount of runs, and gets the other team out, wins. Nothing simpler.

There are two forms of the game:

1) Test cricket—which takes place over five days. Think of it as akin to the novel with all the running dramas, climaxes, anti-climaxes, intrigues and counter-intrigues of that artform. Test cricket is the original and only true form of cricket.

2) Pyjama or One-Day cricket—the shortened form. It is to test cricket as a bad TV advertisment (wheredyagedit?) is to a superb film. Loud, noisy, predictable, wholly lacking in subtlety and eye-jarringly colourful. To be watched only if there is no test cricket available.

For obvious reasons, I will largely be discussing test cricket.

Cricket is played on an oval. A large expanse of green grass usually surrounded by a white picket fence. The grass is kept at a specific height by the groundsman. In the centre of the oval is the cricket pitch (or wicket) which is a strip of paler grass. The wicket (or cricket pitch) is also carefully presided over by the groundsman, but once the game begins grass is left to grow and the wicket to deteriorate. Thus the conditions for playing change over the five days of a test. The condition of the oval and pitch has a large effect on whether the cricket played on it will be high or low-scoring. Some afficionados argue that the groundsman is the most important person in cricket. I think this is going a tad too far.

At either end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) are the stumps (or wicket). The stumps are a wooden constuction of three stakes (Buffy would have plenty of weapons available should she have to deal with a nest of vampires while attending a cricket match) impaled in the ground, with two smaller pieces of wood, known as the bails, balanced on top. In front of these stumps (or wicket) at either end is a white painted line which marks the crease.

Two teams of twelve people play (though the position of the twelfth man is that of gofer. They don’t actually play unless one of the fielders needs to leave the oval for a short amount of time). The two teams take turns fielding and batting. In test cricket each team has two innings. In pyjama (or one-day) cricket they have one innings each.

The team batting has the job of protecting the stumps (or wicket) and trying to score runs. Two batsmen at a time are on the field (unless one of the batsmen is injured in which case they have a runner and there are three batsmen on the field). One batsman is at either end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) defending the stumps (or wicket) and trying to score runs.

Runs are scored by hitting the ball (made of cork covered with red leather) with a cricket bat (traditionally made of willow—thus the expression "the glorious sound of leather on willow" which sound dirty if you’re thinking of a certain character from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and running up and down the cricket pitch (or wicket). Although only one batsmen can hit the ball at any one time, both must run and get safely behind their crease. If the ball is hit all the way to the boundary (typically a thick white rope, not the fence) it is deemed to be four runs. If it is hit over the boundary it is six runs. The batsmen need not run for these boundaries.

Once a batsmen has run safely from one end of the cricket pitch (or wicket) to the other they have scored one run for themselves and also for their team. The batsman who is facing the bowling is said to be on strike. You do not have to hit each ball. You do not have to run if you do hit the ball. Hitting the ball to the boundary is the most efficient way of making runs because you accumulate runs faster and you don’t have to exhaust yourself running.

Getting fifty runs is good for an individual batsman, getting one hundred (or a century) is better, and getting more still is even better. The most amount of individual runs ever was 380 scored by the Australian Matthew Hayden. (Update 13 April: it’s now Brian Lara with 400 not out. Woo hoo!) The highest ever career average for a batsman is that of Donald Bradman (also an Australian): 99.94. Of course cricket is a team sport and individual feats and statistics are rarely mentioned and of little importance.

The job of the fielding side is to get the batsmen out and prevent them from scoring runs. This is achieved by standing in positions where the team captain thinks they are most likely to get a catch or prevent runs. Only one of the fielders, the wicket keeper, wears gloves to help catch the ball (unlike, say, baseball). The wicket keeper stands behind the stumps (or wicket).

All fielding positions have specific names that indicate their relationship to the batsmen on strike. A deep position is one that is a long way from the batsman and closer to the boundary. A short or silly position is one that is closer to the batsman. Leg or on side positions are closer to the back of the batsman’s legs. Off side positions are closer to the front of the batsman.

When a batsmen gets out they leave the field and the next batsman in the batting order comes out to replace them. The batting order usually runs from best batsmen to worst (the exception being the nightwatchman). There are cricketers who are specialist bowlers, cricketers who are specialist batsmen, as well as that rare beast, the all-rounder, who is good at both. Regardless of batting ability every one on the team (save the twelfth man) must bat.

There must be two batsmen for play to continue so once the tenth batsman is out the innings is over.

The Play

The game begins when the captain of each side walks out on to the oval and a coin is tossed. The winner of the toss decides whether they want to bat or field first. Their decision is based on the weather, the conditions of the pitch, what they know of their opponents and of their own team.

Test cricket play typically commences at 11AM and continues until 6PM, with scheduled breaks for tea and lunch and unsceduled breaks for drinks. It continues for five days, or less, if there is a result sooner.

Results of a test match are win—your team scores more than theirs and gets theirs all out; lose—your team scores less than theirs and is all out; draw or no result—one team scores more than the other team but fails to get them all out; tie—both teams get the exact same score and are all out (exceptionally rare—this has happened only twice in test cricket history).

Once the matter of who bats first has been decided, the two umpires, the fielding team and the two opening batsmen (or openers) walk out onto the oval. The batsmen take up their positions in front of the two sets of stumps.

Opening batsman is a specialist batting position given to the two batsman on the team who are good at accumulating runs, not prone to throwing their wickets away, and work well together. It is essential that the openers have a mutual understanding of when to run and even more importantly when not to run.

At the same time, the fielders take up their positions: the wicket keeper behind the stumps (or wicket) of the batsman who bats first, the opening bowler at the other end of the cricket pitch, and the rest of the fielders in positions determined by the captain and the bowler which they deem to be best for getting this particular batsmen out and preventing them from scoring too many runs.

Some of the factors they take into account when determining these field placings are: whether the batsman is right or left handed, whether the batsman is known to be fond of particular strokes, how the batsman proceeds to bat in this particular innings, and how fast or slow the wicket (cricket pitch) is.

The opening bowler, usually a fast bowler (or quick), bowls an over from one end of the oval. Usually the two ends are named for their geographical locations. At the S. C. G. (Sydney Cricket Ground) there is the Paddington end and the Randwick (or University of New South Wales) end. One of the ends at the ‘Gabba (the major cricket ground in Brisbane) is known as the Vulture St end which has always seemed remarkably ominous to me.

An over consists of six legitmate bowls. If the bowler bowls a ball the umpires deem to be illegitimate (a wide or a no ball) the bowler must bowl another ball and the over ends up consisting of more than six balls (and thus more than six opportunities to score runs for the batsmen). Some overs wind up being 17 or 18 balls long, but this is uncommon. Each time there is an illegitmate delivery the batting team is given an extra run. These are called sundries.

If the batsman hits the ball and gets a run, the two batsmen change ends and the bowler finds themselves having to reset the field (change the positions of all the fielders) to accommodate the new batsman. If each ball results in a single run the batsmen will change end six times, resulting in frequent changeovers of the field.

After the first over is finished a second bowler bowls an over from the other end. At the completion of that over the ends change again and the first bowler bowls another over. The two bowlers thus rotate the bowling until they begin to tire, or bowl badly, or annoy the captain, who replaces them with a different bowler. A bowler can only be replaced once they have completed an over.

In order for a batsman to get out they must be dismissed in one of the following ways:

Bowled. The bowler bowls a ball which goes past the batsman and hits the stumps (or wicket), dislodging the bails. Common.

Caught. The batsmen hits the ball (or it comes off their gloves) into the air and a fielder catches it before it hits the ground. Common.

Handled Ball
. The batsmen picks up the ball. Uncommon.

Hit Ball Twice
. The batsmen hits the ball, it doesn’t go anywhere, so they take a second swipe at it. Uncommon.

Hit Wicket. The batsmen hits their own stumps (or wicket) dislodging the bails. Uncommon.

Leg Before Wicket
. The batsmen does not offer a stroke to a ball that would have hit their stumps were their pads not in the way. Common.

Obstructed Field
. The batsman deliberately tries to prevent a fielder either taking a catch or throwing down the stumps. Uncommon. I’ve never seen this happen.

Run Out. The batsman fails to make it back behind the crease before the opposing side has dislodged the bails with the cricket ball, either thrown or held in the hand. Common.

Stumped. The batsman steps out of their crease to strike the ball, misses, and before they can step back the wicket keeper dislodges the bails with cricket ball in hand. Common.

Timed Out. The batsman fails to come out to bat within three minutes of the fall of wicket. Uncommon. I’ve never seen this happen.

In addition to being caught, bowled or any of the other possibilities listed above there must also be an appeal. An appeal consists of the fielding team leaping in the air screaming "howzat?" and staring at the umpires with a fierce expression that generally means "you’d have to be barking mad not to give the bastard out". If the umpire agrees they will raise their index finger. If they disagree they will do nothing, or shake their head. Umpires are universally known not to be intimidated by the antics of the fielding team and their decisions are always just and fair. Particularly those of Steve Bucknor.

Once a batsman is given out by the umpire they slowly trudge off the field looking miserable (particulary if they have scored a duck [no runs]). Batsmen never look happy getting out even if they have scored a double century. Someone would say particularly if they have scored a double century, because they were deprived of the chance to knock over the world record for number of runs scored. Though of course cricket is all about the team and not about individual statistics.

The score is represented thus: number of wickets taken followed by a forward slash, followed by the number of runs scored. If one wicket has been taken and 23 runs scored the score looks like this: 1/23 which is read as "one for twenty three" (except in England where for some bizarre reason they do it like this: 23/1 or twenty-three for one). As more runs are scored and more wickets taken the score changes. However you will never see 10/ because once ten wickets are taken the innings is over.

The next batsman then comes out, jogging up and down on the spot and generally giving the impression of being raring to go and ready to knock every delivery far, far out of the ground. That is if the next batsman is still an actual batsman and not a bowler masquerading as a batsman. In that case they will walk out somewhat unsteadily holding the bat as if they aren’t quite sure what it’s for or how to hold it. They will stand at the crease and stare up the other end at the fast bowler who is hurtling towards them faster than Phar Lap and they will valiantly try not to panic and run.

Such a batsman is known as a tailender. My favourite spectacle in cricket is when there is only one genuine batsman left and they are in the position of having to stay on strike and thus protect the tailender from getting out and possibly injured (in that order).

Because the strike automatically changes at the end of every over (or every six balls). The real batsman tries to end the over by hitting a single thus ensuring that they keep the strike and the tailender doesn’t have to deal with that scary red thing hurtling towards their body and/or wicket (stumps). This leaves the good batsman in the awful position of sometimes having to resist hitting a boundary for fear of handing the strike over to the incompetent, afraid-of-the-ball, not-quite-sure-which-end-of-the-bat-is-up tailender. Meanwhile the fielding side is doing everything it can to give the tailender the strike so that they can then get them out. Mostly by terrifying the poor bastard into treading on their own wicket. It is most gratifying to watch.

Once the tenth bastman is out the innings ends. The innings total consists of the combined total of all the individual batsman plus all the sundries (illegitimate deliveries) conceded by the bowling side. Let’s say for example that the first side to bat, who we’ll call Australia, score 456 and still aren’t all out. The captain might decide that 456 is a very solid, good, defensible total and declare. A declaration means that the captain has decided to end their team’s innings before they are all out.

The new batting side, let’s call them England, will be aiming to get that much and hopefully two hundred or more besides. So that when Australia bat again in their second and final innings they will have a difficult target to achieve. (Second innings totals are almost always smaller than first innings totals.) If Australia are all out before they reach England’s first innings total then England has won (and pigs would start to fly).

A much more likely result is that England would go out for their first batting innings and tragically (though predictably) make only 123 runs and fall well short of Australia’s first innings total. This means that Australia has a choice: they can now go out to bat and make an even bigger total for England to get in their second innings or they can enforce the follow on. The follow on means that Australia postpones their second batting innings and forces England to bat twice in a row, gambling that they can get England all out before they reach, or get very much further than, the first innings total of 456.

Australia does this and gets England all out for 234. Sadly the two totals 123 + 234 is still less than Australia’s first innings total and England lose by an entire innings and 99 runs. Not an unusual result for either side.

And there you have it. Enough cricket knowledge to allow you to follow a test match without any difficulty. Before long though you’ll find yourself thirsting for more so you can follow the intricacies of the game and not just these bare basics. Don’t despair! Coming soon:

The Slightly More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket. To be followed shortly after by the Moderately More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket, and not long after that, by the Substantially More than Beginners’ Guide to Cricket.

San Miguel de Allende, 16 February 2004

Being Dumped is Much Much Worse

I have a friend who for a very long time contended that dumping someone was awful, truly awful, perhaps even worse than being dumped. She argued that she, having been forced to dump several lovers, had never gotten the amount of sympathy she deserved for the pain she had to endure putting her hapless exes out of their misery.

At the time I had never been dumped (neither had she) and was entirely persuaded by her reasoning. I, too, had never gotten sufficient sympathy. Ending a relationship hurts. True, it was a relationship you were tired of, that was driving you nuts, that you were relieved was over, but you still had fond memories. Worse still, you had to return all the cool stuff you’d borrowed (most of which was a present from you in the first place), mutual friends weren’t speaking to you, you’d had to find a new hairdresser, a new favourite café, and worst of all: not one person felt remotely sympathetic about your suffering just because you weren’t walking around swollen eyed, beating your chest and moaning. Dreadfully unfair.

Then I was dumped.

What a load of cobblers the above is. There is no comparison between being dumped and dumping someone. It’s the difference between stabbing someone and being stabbed. Even if your fingers were cramped from gripping the knife too tight, or worse case scenario, you were dumb enough to let your fingers slip on to the blade, you’re still not the one with the sucking chest wound, vital organs falling out willy-nilly. At worst you have a couple of sliced fingers. Boo-bloody-hoo.

Nothing makes it better. You were just about to dump them. Nope, you feel even worse. You never loved them anyway. Nope, not feeling less pain. You’re better off without them. Nope, bastard didn’t give you the chance to figure that out for yourself. They are now going out with the biggest whore/bastard in the known universe. Nope, cause what does that make you? Did they upgrade or downgrade?

I blame romance.

I lay the blame for the ridiculous amount of pain on the idea—reinforced by insane amounts of propaganda every single day of our lives—that without a life-partner (let’s all take turns to shudder at that neologism) you are nothing. If you’re not in a couple you’re nobody.

Life, we are taught, is about growing up. A grown up does not live with their parents, or flat with friends. A grown up has a means of support (most often a job) and a partner. But for some reason it’s the partner that’s the main bit: a person with a job who lives alone is somehow pathetic, not quite grown up—even if they’re getting laid when they want to, have thousands of friends, are world leaders in their field—they’re not complete and won’t be until they find The One.

Being a grown up is all about romantic love, but a very narrowly defined version. Romantic love is exclusive, sexual, between two (and only two) individuals. To be a true grown up you have to find your soul mate, move in together, and then reproduce. Find The One, have babies, die: that’s life.

So how come so few of the couples I know (married and unmarried) stay together longer than a year or two? How come so many of the ones that do are miserable? How come so many single people I know are happy, at least that is until they’re reminded that they’re single: "Oops, sorry, forgot, mate. Yup, you’re right. I’m miserable. Life alone is like a fish without a bicycle. A prison without walls. Sorry, miserable. Yep, that’s me, totally miserable."

How come the majority of the longest relationsionships in my circles are between good friends? That’s right "just" good friends. People who have known each other for years and years and years, have loaned each other money, helped rear each other’s children, read each other’s books, shared houses, shared jobs, but who aren’t in a sexual relationship with each other. How come the myths of our potential lives are centered around romantic love instead of friendship?

Who is this One that we’re all supposed to be waiting for? In the very few cases when The One comes along, doesn’t The One turn out to be your best friend who you just happen to find sexually attractive and enjoy living with? All the happy sexual relationships that I’ve seen last were built around close abiding friendships.

I see friends in relationships with people they don’t much like, because somehow that’s more grown up than being single. I see friendships destroyed when friends become lovers and it doesn’t work out and somehow the friendship dies in the process. I see single friends, otherwise perfectly happy, beating themselves up because they haven’t found the mythical One yet.

And "single"? What does that mean? How can someone with thousands of friends whose whole life is dominated by their relationships to their family, friends, colleagues. How can they be described as single?

I know people in couples for whom the term "single" is better suited. Totally focussed on each other, erradicating virtually every other connection they have in the world. They work together, eat together, finish each other sentences. Until finally one of them goes barking mad, the relationship ends, and then, suddenly, they each remember about friendships, communities, the existence of other people.

Why do we live in a world where one model of happiness is set up as the ideal for every one? What if one day it were decreed that we must all love chocolate? After all, the majority of people love chocolate, why shouldn’t everyone? And if you didn’t spend your whole life consuming vast amounts of the stuff your life would be viewed as a waste and a failure.

Absurd. But no more absurd than expecting everyone to want True Love with The One.

To return to my point of departure: Why is being dumped worse than dumping someone? Why do so many worlds crumble when the person you’ve talked yourself into believing is The One leaves?

Because so many of us have bought the romantic lie that all our happiness—that our very claim to a fulfilled adult life—is predicated on our success in romantic love. If it’s you ending it, you’re in control, you have hope of better things (or, if you’re crafty, you already have the next One lined up). You’re ready for what’s going to happen next.

The dumpee has made no contingency plans, is still wrapped in the warm glow of the delusions they’ve fed themselves about the relationship. Now they have to divest themselves of those delusions, find someone new who’ll be The One, not another Wrong One. A whole new bunch of delusions to weave. Or scariest of all—they must face the possibility that they may never find The One.

The truly delusional dumpee may not have any friends to turn to—not even a cat or dog—wrapped as they were in the ludicrous idea that you only need one person in your life.

That’s why being dumped is so much worse.

There is one compensation: the dumped always get sympathy. Another of the perks of a world dominated by the myth of romantic love is that people know you’re in mourning and will treat you nice.

Not so if a friendship ends. No matter how devastating, once you’re out of high school you’re supposed to be grown up enough to deal with that sort of thing on your own time. But as we all know the end of a friendship can be every bit as dreadful and destructive as the end of a romantic relationship.

Console yourself with the knowledge that it was only your lover of the last six months who dumped you, not your best friend of the last fifteen years.

Sydney, New York City & San Miguel de Allende, 10 Oct-31 Dec 2003