At the Brisbane Writers Festival I was on a panel about sport and writing alongside Hugh Lunn and Don Watson moderated by Lee McGowan. All three are sports obsessives and so it was great fun and excellently moderated and much territory was covered and if anyone wants me to talk about sport in front of any kind of audience at all I AM SO THERE.
By which I mean: PLEASE INVITE ME TO TALK ABOUT SPORT MORE.
There were a few themes that emerged during the discussion. Both Hugh and Don1 were mournful for how sport in this country used to be, for past athletes who were humbler and more dedicated than the athletes of today. They seemed to also have a fair amount of sadness that Australia is no longer the great sporting nation it once was.
I do not share their concerns so that made for some fun exchanges.
I pointed out that during the decades of Hugh’s and Don’s coming of age as sport enthusiasts, the 1950s and 1960s, the athletes in this country were largely still amateurs. Most had day jobs and were paid a pittance—if they were lucky—to represent their club or their country. We were still in the midst of a shift from amateurism to professionalism.
Even now for many sports that shift has barely begun, particularly for women’s sports. That’s why Ellyse Perry is one of the few dual internationals left—representing Australia in both cricket and soccer. Back in the day it was de rigeur for the best Aussie athletes to play cricket in summer and their preferred code of football in the winter. These days the men cannot play both even if they want to: being an elite cricketer or a footballer is a full-time gig. That’s why Ellyse Perry is helping stack the chairs after one of her club games and fully professional blokes like Shane Watson are, well, not.
Everything that follows is stuff I wanted to say but didn’t get a chance to.
Probably the main reason Australia doesn’t seem to be as successful a sporting nation as it once was is that back then we didn’t actually have that much competition. If you look at the lists of say, tennis, champions in the 50s and 60s there are very few that aren’t Australian or from the UK or or the USA.
Let’s think about why, shall we?
Firstly, tennis used to be predominately a British game. Every single tennis champion until 1915 were British or from the USA or Australia. And they remain the vast majority until the 1980s. My evidence: these lists of grand slam champions. Tennis is now an international game, played all over the world. China now has a grand slam champion. I predict that there will many more.
Then there was this little thing called World War II, which set back most of Europe’s sporting programmes for many years. Australia was relatively unaffected. (As was the USA.) Australians could keep on training and playing and winning with far less competition than they would have had if there hadn’t been a world war.
Basically, while there is still nowhere near a level playing field,2 there are many more nations competing against us at all levels and in more sports than there once were. And as more countries around the world spend more money on their athletes our sporting achievements will continue to seem not nearly as good as they did up until the 1960s when it must have felt like we won almost everything.3
It’s also important to remember that until relatively recently most people were unable to train and compete, even in those wealthy countries like Australia and the USA, because of reasons of ethnic, racial and sexual discrimination. There’s a reason there have been so few African-American tennis champions. It was a sport for the wealthy. Now it’s a middle class sport played all over the world, which means the pool of talent has deepened and widened. The odds of a relatively small country like Australia regaining it’s former tennis glory are small indeed.
I would argue that the athletes who are at the top of their sport today are truly amazing. Samantha Stosur may have only won a single grand slam but the competition she is up against is much, much tougher than it was for, say, Margaret Court. And Stosur has managed to stay at a very elite level for quite a few years now, which is remarkable. This makes players like Serena Williams and Roger Federer some word which is like a hundred times stronger than “remarkable”.
Further to Samantha Stosur. I am so sick of her being bagged by the Australian press.4 She was the no. 1 in doubles for more than a year. She’s been as high as no. 4 in singles. She won the US Open against Serena Williams. SERENA WILLIAMS. She has 5 grand slam titles. And 28 career titles. But you’d never know it listening to the Australian press who can only talk about what a choker she is. Because apparently only singles grand slam titles count. Or something.
So here’s what I hate about contemporary sporting culture: that it’s all about winning. Sadly though I think that’s what sport’s pretty much always been focussed on. Fans turning on their idols because they lose a match is not a recent development.
I love watching Stosur play because you can see her fighting herself. Frankly, she reminds me of myself while writing. Some days it all goes so well; other days OMG stupid words! Why do you defy me?! Some days I fall to pieces. And I’m a writer. There is no opponent, there is no global audience watching my every move. If I were a tennis player I would be a much, much bigger head case than Stosur. Honestly I have no idea how they do their job day in day out with so many people watching and commentating on every move.
One of the reasons I love tennis is that it’s such a psychological sport. The more unemotional players who hold it together have never interested me nearly so much as the ones for whom the battle against themselves is almost as mighty as the battle against their opponent. It’s one of the reason I love Serena Williams’s play so much. She’s such a confidence player. I mean on top of just being amazing. Watching herself dig herself out of a hole—like she did at this year’s US Open—it is a thing of beauty and also of agony.
For another example of this insanity check out this tweet about the fact that Roger Federer one of the greatest players the game has ever seen is no longer winning every little thing:
“Do you think the great Swiss player is finished?”
I know what my response would be were I Federer. It would not be polite.
That’s another thing that drives me nuts. Why shouldn’t athletes keep playing their sport as long as they’re good enough to do so? It’s not like Federer needs a wild card to get into events. He’s still a highly ranked player. He’s just not number one any more. It’s total bullshit that he’s tarnishing his legacy. No, he’s not. No matter what he does now he will have still won a gazillion grand slams and been world number one for basically forever.
Athletes already have a shorter career that almost any other profession without us spectators and commentators howling from the stands that they’re finished because they’ve got from world’s best ever to still pretty bloody good.
Well, felt good getting that sporting rant off my chest. As you all were.
I feel that we are on first name basis now that we have been in the panel trenches together. [↩]
Australia remains one of the world’s wealthiest countries. [↩]
Wednesday, 28 Aug 2013, 11.15 am
Me and Kelly Gardiner Details here. Price: $7.
Melbourne Writers Festival
We have had excellent email exchanges with our moderator Jordi Kerr, which makes me believe it is going to be a most splendid panel. We will certainly argue with the very idea of a strong woman. Because that’s what strong women do.
Then the following week I will be at the Brisbane Writers Festival where there are still available tickets and a few of my events are free. I’m really excited about BWF. They have a brand new director, Kate Eltham, who comes out of science fiction and thus knows how to do panels right. This is the most diverse and interesting set of panels I’ve ever had at a writers festival. I cannot wait.
A SPORTING NATION
VENUE: The Edge, State Library of Queensland
DATE: Friday 6th
TIME: Fri 3:30–4:30PM TICKETS $12-$16
From the long slow burn of a test match to the glories of a ‘specky’, Watson, Larbalestier and Lunn discuss their sporting passions and why sport inspires the best, and sometimes the worst, writing and language.
I’m so excited about this panel. The only other time I’ve been on a panel about sport was because I suggested it myself. This time it was their idea and they put me on the panel with two of the most famous sports obsessives in Australia and our email exchanges with moderator Lee McGowan have been most excellent. It is going to be fabulous.
THE GENRE GHETTO
VENUE: The Edge, State Library of Queensland
DATE Friday 6th
TIME Fri 6:30–8PM
Stuart MacBride Tickets $20-$25
Funny, personal and heartfelt stories about being genre nerds and being proud. Live storytelling from Fraction, Wendell, Larbalestier, McKenzie and MacBride.
I’m very curious about this one. I certainly have more than my fair share of stories about being dissed in often very amusing ways for being a writer of young adult literature. I was never much of a nerd as a kid, however. Indeed back then we would have said “dag” and it didn’t mean the same thing and I wasn’t one.1
VENUE: Maiwar Green, State Library of Queensland
DATE Friday 6th
TIME Fri 8–11PM
No ticket required. That’s right THIS ONE IS FREE
‘Juvenilia’ (stories we wrote as teenagers) set featuring Kevin Kwan, Clementine Ford, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Kimberley Freeman (Kim Wilkins), Stuart MacBride and Benjamin Law reading work they scribbled in their youth. A special ‘Juvenilia’ mixed tape set by Simon Reynolds will wrap up the night.
Okay, so I have no idea how this one is going to work. But I’m imagining a cool jazz band from the 1960s in skinny pants and black turtle necks clicking their fingers cooly in the background as we read you the excruciatingly bad shit we wrote as teens. The audience will be torn in two between their intense desire to laugh and their equally intense desire to be all cool in the face of the awesome jazz. May the laughter win.
THE RISE AND RISE OF YA
VENUE: Queensland Terrace, State Library of Queensland
DATE Saturday 7th
TIME Sat 10–11AM
Carley Commens TICKETS $12-$16
Young Adult (YA) fiction is the fastest growing category of publishing and 55% of YA is purchased by adult readers. YA stars Justine Larbalestier, Steph Bowe and Melissa Keil explain why we love it, read it and write it.
There’s so much to say about this. I have so many opinions! Can’t wait to hear what the others have to say too. Despite living here I am still much less clear on YA in Australia than I am on the genre in the USA.
See you in Melbourne and/or Brisbane!
I will delete any comments offering evidence to the contrary. [↩]
Next Thursday the City of Bones movie opens here in Sydney. Scott and me will be hosting a first-night screening here in Sydney, courtesy of the wonderful Kinokuniya Bookshop.1Cassie herself will introduce the film via a special, exclusive to Kino, recording of joyousness. Because that’s how special this night will be.
If you live in Sydney, and how lucky are you to live in the best city in the world,2 and you enjoy watching movies on the first night with people who are very very excited to be seeing this movie on account of having read the books several million times, then JOIN US.
Also, there’s a costume contest. I plan to dress as I imagine Isabelle Lightwood would if she had my taste in clothing. Sadly I will not be eligible to win the prize. I shall coax Scott into dressing as Magnus Bane. I predict, however, that Scott will be there dressed as Scott Westerfeld.
As part of teaching at the Alpha Teen Workshop, I’ll be appearing in Greensburg, PA. Scott will also be there on account of we’re teaching the workshop together. Along with the fabulous Theodora Goss and Tamora Pierce. Stellar company, eh?
Hope to see some of you there. It’s ages since either one of us did an event in the USA. We are very excited.
I have never been to Pittsburgh before. Is there anything in particular I should make sure to see? Tell me of Pittsburgh, oh Pittsburghians.
Given the date I imagine the entire event will be in French. I’m pretty sure I can still count to ten in French and ask where the window is. Which is all you need, right? Oh, apparently it is not. My French-speaking sister has just informed me that I am forbidden to mangle that fine language. English, it is then. [↩]
I imagine this will involve juggling and poker. Even though I always lose to Libba. She’s a total card shark. I bet me and Barry can get Libba to pop out her fake eye. I love it when she does that. We’ll also tell the very weird story of mine and Libba’s second meeting. And talk about that wild, wild weekend in Austin.
SO MANY THINGS FOR US TO TALK ABOUT.
I hope you can join us. Be sure to ask Libba embarrassing questions. She loves that.
10 am? Excuse me? How can I be expected to be witty at TEN ON A SUNDAY MORNING? I should still be asleep! Or possibly contemplating a decadent brunch. It’s inhuman having a panel this early. [↩]
After Scott put up this post about his appearances for the rest of this year, I realised I should do likewise because most of those places he is, I will be also. An eerie coincidence, I know.
Most of the events are in Australia. Sorry, rest of the world, who may have some interest in saying hello. We’ll always have Twitter.
I’ll be interviewing the brilliant and wonderful Nalo Hopkinson on Saturday, 27 April (i.e. two days away) at 2:30PM, Forrest Room 1 & 2 at the Rydges Capital Hill. (Do come say hi. Unless I’m, like, on stage or in the ladies room or something.) Conference site.
INTERNET DEAD ZONE
I am turning off the internet for this whole week. No twitter, no nothing. It’s going to be AWESOME. The mental hygiene, I needs it. Oh, okay, I’m just turning it off for me, yours will still chug along. (Probably.)
The readership for YA fiction continues to grow and grow. Yet for young women today questions of identity, sexuality and friendship remain as problematic as ever. This session asks – how do women write for girls? Join Isobelle Carmody, author of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, Justine Larbalestier, author of Liar, and Vikki Wakefield, author of Friday Brown for a spirited conversation about women and words.
Isobelle is one of Australia’s most popular YA fantasy writers. Her fans span generations and all clutch her books to their chests like they are precious babies. She’s wonderful and funny and genuinely does not think like anyone else I have ever met. I did a panel with her at last year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival and it truly was awesome. Mostly because of Isobelle. So if you’re in Adelaide you want to see this.
I’m looking forward to meeting Vikki Wakefield. I’ve heard good things about her debut novel All I Ever Wanted. Yes, it’s true, not all Australian YA authors know each other. But we’ll fix that after a few more festival appearances.
As the debate about what it means to be a feminist is ongoing, this session brings together three writers, all of whom identify as feminists. Justine Larbalestier is a YA and fantasy writer, playwright Bryony Lavery is the author of iconic works including Thursday, and Chika Unigwe is the author of the novel On Black Sister’s Street, about a group of African women in the sex trade.
This panel marks the first time I’ve ever been on a panel with writers for grown ups (i.e. whose audience is presumed to be primarily adults, as opposed to mine which is presumed to be mostly teens) at a literary festival. I think it’s wonderful that there’s a festival in the world that is actively breaking down boundaries between genres and writers and readers. Honestly, I was so surprised when I saw this I thought they’d made a mistake. Then I looked at the whole programme. And, lo, it’s full of such inter-genre cross over panels. Way to go, AWW, way to go!
I like that they list all the panellists’ nationalities. I was excited when I saw there was a USian on both my panels. But a little bewildered when I looked the other panellists up and discovered none of them were from the USA. I’d been looking forward to asking where they were from, and if they knew NYC or any of the other cities I know, we could compare notes. Which is when I realised that I am the USian on those panels.
In my defense I’ve only been a US citizen for a year. It’s easy to forget.
TL;DR:3 I will be in Adelaide in early March. Come to my panels!
Which, no, I don’t. It was a lot of fun, but. I love weddings! So much love! So many wonderful speeches about love! So many opportunities for it to all go horribly wrong! Especially at doomed weddings between those Who Should Not Marry. Someday I’m going to write a Doomed Wedding book. Though to be clear: the Adelaide wedding was not doomed. Um, I think I’m digressing. [↩]
For the old people that stands for: Too long, Didn’t Read. You’re welcome. [↩]
The conversation about how to deal with harassment in the science fiction world continues apace.1 What’s fascinating is the complete inability of certain participants in the convo to take in a basic fact:
We cannot control how others perceive us.
The I’m-not-a-creeper crowd keeps going on about good intentions and how social awkwardness can be misunderstood and how people with Asperger’s struggle to learn social cues etc. etc. All of which is true but irrelevant.
Because, as Scalzi argued in detail, people are not always going to respond to you the way you want them to. No matter who you are. Even if you are Brad Pitt.2 Not everyone will like you. This has always been true and will always be true.3
If we keep talking to someone when they don’t want us to, if we keep touching them when they don’t want us to, I guarantee you they don’t care what our intentions are: they just want us to stop.
You know what the argument reminds me of?
We authors who struggle to get it through our thick, thick skulls that our books will be read in ways we did not intend.
That our books will be hated by some readers, will be considered total crap, offensive, racist, sexist, or some other kind of evil, that readers do not owe us anything. They do not have to know our books exist, or read them, or finish them if they start them. They do not have to be polite when reviewing them.
We authors have zero control over how people respond to the words we have written.
Just as we people cannot control how others respond to us, to what we say, and what we wear.
What we do have control over is ourselves.
If we’re struggling to make friends, are constantly rebuffed in our attempts to make conversation with strangers, then it’s time to change ourselves, to do what we can to stop that happening.
Because, as I may have mentioned, we can’t change other people, but we can change ourselves.
Maybe it’s as basic as hygiene.
I have a friend, who has a terrible sense of smell, and grew up in the kind of household where they were not taught the basic hygiene most people are taught: to wash our underarms, between toes, belly button etc etc. To wash the not-obvious places as well as the obvious ones, to wash every single day. This friend did not know that clothes also need to be clean. So they went to school stinking. Until a teacher sat them down and gave them the instructions they weren’t getting at home. Plus soap.
Some people are unaware they smell really bad and never received any kind teacherly intervention.
Then there’s the harder stuff to fix. Many of us are socially awkward to varying degrees. How to interact with other people without freaking them out is something we’ve all had to learn. For some of us it is a lot more difficult than for others.
Fortunately, we now have the internet, which has lots of advice on how to learn those social skills. I am especially fond of Captain Awkward in this regard.
As for us authors:
If many readers are criticising our books for something that we didn’t intend—such as being sexist or racist—perhaps it’s time to listen. Maybe there’s something to what they’re saying?
Time to take a good look at the criticism. What exactly are they seeing in our books that we didn’t mean to be there? Read those bits again. Painful, I know. Is there anything to what they’re saying?
I know it’s hard to find yourself in the middle of a long-running conversation that you’d never heard of before. We’ve all been there. The only thing you can do is play catch up. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s book Writing the Other and the Feminism 101 blog are great places to start.
It’s key that we start internalising that none of us can control what other people think of us. We can’t make them like our books, nor can we make them like us.
All we can control is our words and ourselves.
Honestly? That’s more than enough to be going on with.
It’s also going on in other communities. But that’s where I’ve been following it. [↩]
The you-wouldn’t-mind-if-it-was-Brad-Pitt-harassing-you argument drives me nuts. Not everyone thinks Brad Pitt is hot. I don’t. Besides which if it’s harassment it is definitionally something you don’t want. And, yes, good looking people can harass. Because a) as noted not everyone agrees on what constitutes “good looking” b) being good-looking does not automatically mean the whole world finds you attractive c) being good-looking can also mean that you are not used to hearing the word “no” and kind of lose it when your advances are unwanted. [↩]
Yes, that’s a split infinitive. No, there’s no such thing in English. It’s a stupid grammar rule foisted on us by people who do not understand how English functions. [↩]
Yesterday I did my first school visits in Sydney.1 I went to Willoughby Girls High and Ravenswood Girls School on the North Shore.2 I was dreading it as I always am when I have to speak in front of people I don’t know. Why can’t I stay home and write?! Waaah! I hate public speaking! I hate school visits! Etc.
But then, as always, I got to Willoughby Girls High and everyone was lovely, especially the school librarian, and my talk on how Team Human went from idea to finished book didn’t seem to put anyone to sleep. Not even the teachers.3 I didn’t faint or vomit or drop my water or show the wrong images and best of all the question and answer portion of proceedings went exceedingly well.
I love Q & A.4 That’s the part where I get to hear what other people are thinking. I know what I think. I spend all day listening to my thoughts. I rarely get to hear what schools girls on the North Shore are thinking and interested in. Willoughby Girls High Years 8 and 9 did not disappoint asking many smart questions.5 I think we were all disappointed when the bell went that we couldn’t keep on asking and answering questions for a few more hours. Though that might be because their next class was maths.6
In fact, yesterday’s talk was inspired by questions I’d been asked at previous such talks. People outside publishing are always bewildered by how long it takes for a book to go from sold to a publisher to being in the bookshops. I’m frequently asked how long it takes me to write a book, and how I made my books’ covers. So I took them through the whole process. And I even brought some cover elves along to demonstrate how a cover is made. They went over a treat.
Afterwards me and the librarians and some of the teachers were talking about how we’d never had author visits back when we were in school and how lucky these kids were. Back in the day we hadn’t even been aware that people who wrote books were alive. Much less someone you could meet and ask question of.
Then on the way home I remembered that I had in fact had an author come to my school. I was stunned I’d forgotten about it because it was totally scarifying. In a good way. When I was in Year 10 at the Australian International Independent School7 there were two boys in our class who were on the verge of getting into serious trouble. They were at the minor breaking of the law stage. But they had started to steal cars and go for joy rides. Our teacher decided to scare them straight by getting the author of the book that the movie Hoodwink was based on to come in and talk about life as a prisoner.8
This guy was the leanest, hardest looking bloke I’d ever seen. He walked into that room and we all went quiet and we were a noisy lot. He told his story. That he’d been a bank robber, that he’d gotten caught and been sent to prison. Loads of time. He said being sent inside was not an occupational hazard but an occupational certainty. He didn’t know any bank robbers who weren’t done eventually. He’d gotten early release by pretending to go blind and fooling everyone including eye specialists. He had a bit of a grin on his face describing it. It’s an amazing story and we were amazed.
He talked in great detail about how awful it is in gaol. How it breaks you and hardens you. He spared us no details. He talked about how the young blokes were always raped. You could feel the air go out of the room when he said that. When we got to the Q and A part he went out of his way to deglamorise every aspect of his outlaw life. What living in hiding is like. How you make almost no money from being a bank robber. And even when you do get a big haul and get away with it you get busted as soon as you spend it. Etc.
I raised my hand to ask what it was like in women’s prisons. Surely that wasn’t as bad as the men’s? No, he said, it’s much, much worse and went into detail about just how awful it was.
I don’t know about the two boys at risk but that author visit certainly scared me into total law abidingness.
In conclusion: Don’t rob banks! Read books! Author/school visits are educational and fun and sometimes scary! Ask questions!
Did any of you have an author visit that has had a big impact on you?
Actually, they were my first visits as an author to any school in Australia. That’s because for the duration of my writing career I have mostly been in Australia during the summer when schools are not in session. [↩]
Or as we inner city types think of it Here Be Dragons. [↩]
True fact. I have seen teachers nod off during these things. Yes, while I was talking. [↩]
So much that every Monday I find myself watching the ABC’s Q and A and yelling at the television set and swearing that I will never watch that damn show again. And yet there I am the following Monday yelling at the tellie. [↩]
Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong at Ravenswood and there was no time for Q and A. My bad. [↩]
Seriously, high school students everywhere, maths will be really useful later on and if you’re like me and paid no attention whatsoever and are a maths moron you will be lost at tax time and understanding stuff like royalties and other number related things that are important to you and oh, how you will regret your decision that maths was stupid lo those many years ago. /lecture [↩]
A hippy school at North Ryde that was all about internationalism and peace studies. It was excellent. But full of kids who’d been chucked out of other schools or were gently asked to leave. *cough* [↩]
I have done some limited googling and failed to find the name of the book or the author that the film was based on. If you know please to tell me! [↩]
Since a few of you expressed mild interest in the speech I gave at Sirens in October last year I thought I would share it with you. The theme was monsters and my speech involved me showing many monstrous images. Yes, that’s my disclaimer, I wrote this to be spoken to a real life audience with funny pictures and the funny may not work so well without the kind and appreciative live audience. Or something. *cough*
Here it is:
Monsters I Have Loved
Ideas = Brain Monkeys According to Maureen Johnson
Like every other writer ever I get asked “where do you get your ideas” a lot. Today I thought instead of answering that question in the Q & A at the end, I’d show you.
Here’s how I got the idea for the speech I’m about to give, which is very similar to how I get ideas for the novels I write.
Excellently recursive, yes?
I knew I had to write a speech for Sirens more than a year ago. For many, many many months I didn’t think about it at all because, you know, other deadlines, basketball games to watch, old movies to pillage for info about the early 1930s, issues of Vampires & Rosario to read. But in the deepest darkest recesses of my brain those monkeys were juggling the nouns associated with this year’s Sirens: feminism, YA, monsters.
Then one day in July, or possibly August, I was walking around New York City with my headphones on listening to music. That’s unusual for me. Usually I walk around listening to podcasts from Australia when I wander about the city. But on this particular day I’d run out. So I was listening to one of my favourite playlists. And for some reason I started writing this speech in my head. When I got to my office I immediately wrote everything down. It flowed out of me like magic.
Nah, not really.
When I got to the office I gossiped with the doorman on the way in, and answered a phone call from my agent on the stairs on the way up (how fancy am I?), and then gossiped with the receptionist. By the time I took off my walking-around-the-city-listening-to-podcasts-and-sometimes-music headphones and donned my-talking-to-the-voice-recognition-software headset I’d forgotten everything I’d thought of on the walk over except this:
Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis
Am I right?
I can tell long-term readers of my blog—both of you—knew where I was going with that.
Hmmm, looks like I may have to explain myself a bit more.
Me and Elvis
My parents are anthropologists/sociologists. (I always understood the difference to be that anthropologists studied people with a different skin colour to them and sociologists study those with the same skin colour. That may perhaps be a tad unfair.) When I was little my family lived for a time on two different Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory: Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and Djemberra (now called Jilkminggan) not far from the predominately white town of Mataranka. It is the part of my childhood I remember most vividly. For many reasons.
The red dot up top is Jilkminggan. The purple dot is Sydney. For scale: Australia is roughly the same size as mainland USA.
I remember the hard red earth, the heat making everything in the distance shimmer, towering termite nests, brolgas, eating food that had been hunted or found that day: kangaroo, emu, goanna, crayfish, turtle eggs, wild honey, fruits and tubers I don’t remember the names of and have never seen or (more sadly) eaten since.
I remember being allowed to run wild with a pack of kids (and dogs) of assorted ages and skin colours (though none so pale as me), swimming in the Roper River, playing games like red rover for hours. I remember learning that I was white and what that could mean, and that the Aboriginal kinship system my family had been adopted into meant that I could have many more mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousines and grandparents than the bare handful I’d been born with. I became fluent in a whole other language, of which only two words remain: “baba” meaning brother or sister, and “gammon” meaning bullshit (sort of).
Yes, um, that is a smaller me. I am being extremely helpful getting the fire hot enough for them to brand cattle. EXTREMELY helpful! Thanks for the photo, Dad.
(I’m making it sound more romantic than it was. I’m forgetting the flies—more flies than I’ve ever seen before in my life. So many you soon stop waving them away because there’s no point. Many of those kids had cataracts. And, yeah, we kids ran together and the dogs were always underfoot, but they were so underfoot that when the numbers got too big—authorities—mostly white—would come in and shoot them.)
I was a city child. I knew nothing about the outback. I was alien to those kids and those kids were alien to me. Until, after a few weeks, we weren’t.
That year changed me completely. Especially my thinking about race. I want to be clear, however, that I’m not saying those experiences made me magically understand what it is to be “The Other.” (And, ugh, to that term, by the way.) To my horror, when I’ve told these stories of my childhood in the Territory too many people have understood me to be saying “I lived with people who weren’t white so I know what it is to be oppressed.”
What I learned was that I was white. I had not thought about the colour of my skin or what it signified. I had not been aware of whiteness or what it meant.
What I learned was that race and racism exist. Which was something I’d had the privilege of not learning earlier because I was white growing up in a predominantly white country in predominantly white bits of that country. Spending time in a predominately black part of Australia made me aware of my whiteness before the majority of my white peers back in urban southern Australia did.3
It was also the year I discovered Elvis Presley.
My first Elvis memory is of the juke box in one of the pubs in the white town of Mataranka. There were only two pubs which in Australia means that it was a very, very small town. The jukebox had records by Slim Dusty and Elvis Presley and no-one else. When Slim Dusty played it caused the child-me physical pain. As far as I was concerned it was noise, not music. But when Elvis played, well, that was heaven. The best music, the best voice I’d ever heard. For years I couldn’t stand Slim Dusty, but I’ve always loved Elvis.
I was not alone in this judgement, by the way, cause almost all the kids—and a fair number of the adults—of Jilkmingan liked Elvis too. Added bonus: my dad couldn’t stand him.
My second memory is of watching a 1968 Elvis movie, Stay Away Joe, on the outdoor basketball court at Ngukurr. The screen was hung over the hoop. We all crowded onto the court, restless (the last few movies had been total busts) and excited (there was always the hope this one wouldn’t suck), sitting in each others’ laps or on our haunches on the gravel. We’d pull each others’ hair, poke each other with fingers, elbows, feet and knees, throw handfuls of gravel at each other. The adults would laugh at us, or tell us to shut up or both.
This time the rowdiness only lasted through the opening credits. We settled down quick because we loved it. Stay Away Joe is set on a Native American reservation. Elvis plays an Indian. Everyone on the basketball court recognised what they were seeing up on screen.
Like the movie reservation, Ngukurr was full of crap cars, there were dogs everywhere, houses fell apart, and there was high unemployment. There was also a tonne of singing and dancing.4
Some of us kids really thought Elvis was Native American.5 I’m sure my parents disabused me of that notion pretty quickly, but for a long time I wasn’t quite sure who or what Elvis was. When I returned to southern Australia none of my school friends liked Elvis (if they’d heard of him). They thought I was weird. I associated Elvis with indigenous Australia, with the Territory, with stockmen & rodeos & outdoor crappy movie projectors.
The way I discovered Elvis made him seem racially fluid.
I have always thought that one day I would write a novel about that Elvis.
I also thought Elvis wrote all his songs and that he was the first person to sing them. Frankly, until I was ten or so I’m pretty sure I thought Elvis invented rock’n’roll, if not all music.
Then someone played the original recording of Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton for me.
Turned out the song had been written for her by Leiber & Stoller and she recorded it in 1952. Her original version was number one on the billboard R&B charts for six weeks in 1953. There followed multiple cover versions, mostly by white bands. Elvis discovered the song, not through Thornton’s version, but through a white band, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys’s live version that he heard in Vegas. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys? (I for one cannot think of a sexier or more dangerous name for a group, can you? Don’t answer that.)
They changed the lyrics because they were considered too dirty for a white audience. “Snoopin’ round my door” was replaced with “cryin’ all the time,” and “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more” was replaced by “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
Elvis’s recorded the Bellboy’s lyrics. The original lyricist, Jerry Leiber, was appalled, pointing out that the new lyrics made “no sense.” Which they really don’t. In Elvis’ version I had no idea what the hound dog wanted or why it was a problem. Was the hound dog crying cause it couldn’t catch rabbits? Then why was Elvis so unsympathetic?
Here’s Elvis’ version for comparison:
I’ve never liked Elvis’ version as much since.
Listening to Big Mama Thornton’s version exploded the song for me. It didn’t mean what I thought it meant. It was bigger and sexier and BETTER.
Elvis was not an orginator. He was a borrower. He was a remaker of existing things. He didn’t write songs. Those lyric changes to “Hound Dog” weren’t even his changes—that was Freddie Bell & the Bellboys. At the time I decided that meant he was no good. He could wag his tail but I was done.6
Then not too much later I read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. Their retellings of the fairy tales I grew up with changed those stories utterly: made them bigger, sexier, better. Elvis had made “Hound Dog” worse. Was that the difference?
Had Elvis appropriated Big Mama Thornton’s Houng Dog?
Was it appropriation because Elvis was white and Mama Thornton black? Because his version went to no. 1 on all three Billboard charts of the time: pop, c&w, and r&b. Whereas her version was limited to the R&B chart only? Because to this day his version is more famous than hers as he is more famous than she is?
Elvis’s success was monstrous. Both in scale—it’s more than thirty years since he died—and he’s still one of the most famous people in the world. I have bonded with people over Elvis in Indonesia, Argentina, Turkey & Hawaii. He’s everywhere.
But there’s also an argument that his career is a testament to the monstrous power of racism. He was the first white kid to do what dozens—if not more—black performers had done before him. (Especially Little Richard.) His success was dependent on an appropriation of black music, black style, black dancing, black attitude. He become famous for bringing black music to a white audience. But if Elvis had actually been black then I would not be talking about him right now.
I have often thought of writing a novel about that black Elvis. The black female Elvis. It would probably turn out that she was Big Mama Thornton.
Given my track record as a white writer who has written multiple novels with non-white protags, appropriation is, naturally, something I think about a lot.
My initial reaction to discovering that Elvis, not only didn’t write his own songs, but that sometimes the original versions were better than his, was horror. I had, like, many of you, I’m sure, grown up with the notion that originality is the thing.
Before the 1960s a popular singer was not looked at askance if they did not write their own songs. They were singers! Why would they write their own songs? Then came the sixties and the singer-song writer revolution and suddenly if all you could do was sing then you better join a band with someone who could write songs for you or you were screwed. And song writers WHO COULD NOT SING AT ALL started singing. Yes, Bob Dylan, you are one of the worst. True fact: Dylan songs are way better when sung by Elvis.7
In English classes through high school & university the highest praise given to a writer was originality. I remember asking a lecturer why there were no women writers on his post-modernism course.
He gave me a disdainful look and asked, “Who would you suggest?”
“Angela Carter?” he sneered. “Light weight! Completely unoriginal!”
He then spent the rest of the course carefully delineating the antecedents of all the boy writers we’d been assigned. Astonishingly none of them had stepped fully formed from a clam shell either. No originality anywhere! But somehow magically their penises protected them from lightweightness. Maybe penises are really heavy or something?
It’s a moment that’s stayed with me. Not just because of his why-are-you-wasting-my-time dismissal but because of the way everyone else in the room looked at me. There was much rolling of eyes. But two of the women in the room smiled. We became friends.
At the time I thought about writing a novel in which a white middle-aged male lecturer writes a novel about seducing all his female students to ease his mid-life crisis, which every publishing house in the entire universe passes on, so that he ends his days in a padded cell with only Angela Carter to read. But the thought of staying in his point of view long enough to write a whole novel was too depressing so I wrote a 13th century Cambodian epic instead.8
And my point? Right, as you all know: all art comes from somewhere. Nothing is truly original. If it was we’d have no way of making sense of it.
Octavia Butler and Angela Carter and Tanith Lee are three of the biggest influences on my writing. I see traces of them in every novel I have written.
But so is Elvis and my childhood experience on Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory and a million and one other things. People who know me, and sometimes strangers, point to other influences I hadn’t even thought about. I find that scarily often they’re correct. My writing is the sum total of everything that has ever happened to me, everything I have ever seen, or read, or tasted, or heard, or felt, or smelled.9 That’s how writing works.
I am no more original than Elvis.
Can Feminists Love Elvis?
But how can a feminist love Elvis? How can someone who believes in social justice and racial equality love Elvis?
He starred in a movie sympathetic to the confederate lets-keep-slaves cause, Love Me Tender, there’s a tonne of Elvis memoribilia out there which juxtaposes his name and/or face and the confederate flag. Good ole boy Southerners often adore Elvis. Every single one of his movies is jaw droppingly sexist. In Elvis movies all a woman wants is a man. All a man want is a good woman, lots of bad women, and to be a racing car driver. Correction: a singing, dancing racing car driver.
How can we love any number of cultural figures and artefacts that are sexist, racist, homophobic etc? Can I remain untainted by my Elvis love? (Or by my love of Georgette Heyer’s anti-semitic, classist, sexist regency romances?)
In loving something that’s monstruous do we become monstrous? Which gives me another idea for a novel. What if a girl falls in love with someone who she’s always been taught to believe was a monster? And vice versa. Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling that’s been done.
No! Yes! Um, maybe.
Yes, your typical, sparkly jumpsuit wearing, monstruous-sideburned US male.
Here’s one of Elvis’s more egregiously sexist recordings, US Male, and not coincidentally one of his sillier songs. Written and first recorded by Jerry Reed, who plays guitar on the track. It is a dreadful and very wrong song. And pretty much impossible to take seriously. I do not for a second believe that it was written with a straight face.
I adore it.
US Male owns woman if she’s wearing his ring. If another man is interested in said woman US Male will do him in. Woman has no agency in any of this, the song isn’t addressed to her, it’s for the perceived rival. So far so cave man-esque10.
Yet it’s so over the top. So absurd. The terrible puns! “Male” as in a bloke plus “mail” as in letters. “Don’t tamper with the property of the U.S. Male” and “I catch you ’round my woman, champ, I’m gonna leave your head ’bout the shape of a stamp,” “Through the rain and the heat and the sleet and the snow the U.S. Male is on his toes.” And the half-spoken, half-sung tough guy-ese delivery! It makes me laugh. It’s so freaking camp.
I start to imagine the U.S. Male’s woman sitting there chewing gum and rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. You done? No, the waiter was not looking at my rack. Gonna give the poor guy a tip already? A big one. Bigger. Okay. Now, sing me a song.” I suspect eventually she would set him on fire though that would probably qualify as tampering with the US male.
You all make up stories that go with songs, right?
That’s how I feel about a lot of Georgette Heyer’s work not uncoincidentally. Makes me laugh it’s so freaking camp. And also witty and well written. (Pity about the anti-semitism.)
Heyer’s regencies have had a ridiculously big influence on YA today. You would not believe how many YA writers are also huge Georgette Heyer fans. It’s scary. Come to think of it most of her heroines are teenage girls . . . So they’re practically YA in the first place.
I have been meaning to write my own Heyereseque YA for ages. One in which the rake-ish hero is actually the villian and has syphillis from all that raking around.
But, Heyer kind of already did that with Cotillion in which the hero is a barely-in-the-closet gentleman, who is not in the petticoat line, but adores picking out excellent gowns for the heroine. (The villain is the bloke who in many of Heyer’s other books was the hero. His syphllis is clearly implied.) They get married. I imagine them having an awesome future of many shopping trips to Paris and fabulous dinner parties with assorted lovers and friends.
So now my Heyeresque YA is going to take place below stairs because I’m sick to death of the equivalence between the aristocracy and worthiness. I want a democratic regency romance! Where people earn what they get from hard work and not because of who their family is! Workers’ revolution! Solidarity forever!11
As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this speech the germ of it came to me while I listened to music while walking to my office. That day it was my 1960s Elvis playlist with super campy songs like US Male and the scary stalker song Slowly But Surely, those songs set this whole chain of thoughts—and this speech—in motion.
And led me to wondering how I have come to adore such monstruously misogynist songs. I mean apart from them being AWESOME. I guess I manage to set aside the monstruous parts and revel in the campy deliciousness. But it’s not just that: I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can critique the bad, take the good, and add whatever I want. That is a pretty accurate description of my novel writing process. And of my reading (in the broadest sense) process.
My fond hope is that every time I do that—every time we do that—the power of those monsters is eroded.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the worst monsters: the monsters of misogyny, of bigotry . . .
Most especially the monsters in my brain and under my bed because they are where I get my ideas.
At the Sirens conference everyone in the audience looked at me like I was a crazy person and insisted that no one on the planet thinks that Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis. I remain unconvinced. Plus I am on this planet, am I not? Don’t answer that. [↩]
I was going to have NO appear a thousand times but I think I can trust you all to imagine it. [↩]
Tuesday, 6 April, Doors open 6:30 PM, event begins at 7:00 PM
SoHo Gallery for Digital Art 138 Sullivan Street (between Houston & Prince St.)
Admission is by a $5 donation. (If circumstances make this a hardship, let them know and they will accommodate you.)
Me and Scott will be taking part in the Read This Books for NYC Schools Day on the 10th of April. Read This collects books for people who need them, especially schools without libraries, hospitals, homeless shelters, troops overseas, etc.
The price of admission? Your donation of two or more new or gently used board books through grade 12.
The readings will be short. Just five minutes each.1 I’ll be reading a letter from the 1930s novel (the novel I’m mostly working on right now) by my favourite character, Lizzy.2 Scott may or may not be reading a sneak preview from Goliath. He says it will depend on the crowd and his jetlag.
Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Today’s guest blogger, Doselle Young, is not only one of my favourite people on the planet, he’s also every bit as opinionated as me. (Though frequently wrong, like his love of Madmen and Henry Miller. Ewww.) I enjoy Do holding forth on any subject at all. He’s also a talented writer of comic books, stories, movies—anything he turns his hand to. Enjoy! And do argue with him. Do loves that. Maybe it will convince him to blog more often? I’d love to hear about the strange connection between Elvis and the superhero Captain Marvel Jr. Fingers crossed.
- – -
Doselle Young is a writer who hates the whole cliché about how writers ‘lie for a living.’ He thinks it’s boring, pretentious, and only meant to promote the author’s self-image as some kind of beast stalking the edges of the literary establishment. Whatever. Get over yourselves, people! Please! We’ve all gotten exceptionally lucky and you know it! When the meds are working, Doselle writes film treatments for Hollywood directors, comics like THE MONARCHY: BULLETS OVER BABYLON, the upcoming PERILOUS, and short crime stories like ‘Housework’ in the anthology The Darker Mask available from Tor Books. Read it. It’s not bad. And, after all, how often do you get to see a black woman with a ray gun? If, on the other hand, the meds aren’t working he’s probably outside your house right now planting Easter Eggs in your garden. Bad rabbit. You can follow him on twitter. He’d rather be following you, though. It’s lots more fun that way.
Before we begin, I feel there’s something I must make clear: while I write a lot, one thing I am not is a blogger.
Not that I have no respect for bloggers. Hell, some of my best friends are bloggers (and I mean that with a sincerity that borders on relentless). It’s for that reason I’ve lurked here on Justine blog pretty much since the day I met her.
This is a good place, this here blog o’ hers. A smart place and a place with personality, wit, snark, truth, and, when appropriate, outrage.
Kind of like a good local pub without the hooligans, the gut expanding calories and that obnoxious bloke at the end of the bar who smells just like the sticky stuff on the floor just outside the men’s toilet; although, there may be analogues to all those things here. It’s not my place to judge.
What I’ve noticed when trolling though the blogs of authors I know is that, as far as I can, what people fall in love with aren’t so much the personality of the authors but the personality of the blogs, themselves; the gestalt created in that grey space between the author and the audience. An extension of what happens when you read an author’s book, maybe.
And so, as I’m currently sitting here beside a roaring fire in lodge somewhere in South Lake Tahoe and bumpin’ De La Soul though a pair of oversized headphones I paid waaay too much money for, I feel a responsibility to engage with the personality that is Justine Larbalestier’s blog; which is not Justine, but of Justine, if that makes any sense.
I don’t know a lick about the sport of Cricket. Justine loves it (almost as much as she loves Scott, I suspect) so there must be something of high value in the poetry of the bat and the ball, the test match, the teams and the history; some inspiration and beauty to be found there.
The sport that makes my blood race, however, is boxing.
Yeah, that’s right, I said it: brutal and beautiful boxing. Corrupt, questionable, brain damaging, violent boxing.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing but growing up black and male in the 1970s here in the U.S. of A. meant that Muhummad Ali was practically a super hero. Hell, there was even a comic book where Ali fought freakin’ Superman and won (and, yes, I still got my copy, best believe.) Like most everyone, I loved Ali’s bravado, his braggadocio, and his genius with extemporaneous word play. All that, and Ali’s unmistakable style, in his prime it seemed that Ali’s neurons fired to the best of jazz rhythm and when he got older, jazz slowed down to the Louisiana blues tempo—a little sad and melancholy, sure, but nonetheless beautiful.
If you’re reading this, I prolly read it before you did, so, nah-nah nah-nah and half-a-bazillion raspberries to you and you and you over there in the corner with that absolutely awful Doctor Who t-shirt.
I loved Liar when I read it and loved it even more when I re-read it. I loved every question and every turn. I loved Micah and her nappy hair and would love to see her again and again. If LIAR were a woman in a bar, I would approach her slick and slow, and be proud be as hell when she took me out to the alley behind the bar and stabbed me through the heart.
In short, LIAR is a killer book and that’s all I have to say about that. Nuff said.
There is no monoculture among people of color or people, in general. Sure, there are tribes, cliques, groups, social organizations, concerns, movements, etc. and I can speak for absolutely none of them.
I can only speak personally. Will only speak personally. Could never speak anything but personally on something so emotionally charged as race and identity.
Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, “I was born a poor black child.”
For the first eleven years of my life, my favorite TV shows were super hero cartoons, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, My Favorite Martian, All in The Family, M.A.S.H. Sanford and Son, Good Times and The Jeffersons. Even if you’re not Usian (as Justine likes to say), the U.S. exports every piece of television we have so I’m sure most of you will be aware of some of those shows, if not all of them.
I listened to Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Louis Jordan’s Jump Blues, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.
Most of my friends growing up were Jewish and the most horrible acts of racism I personally experienced growing up were perpetrated by other people of color.1
All of which should be considered prologue to finding myself at last year’s World Con in Montreal sitting on yet another panel about race (as an African American author I somehow find myself on race panels even when I haven’t requested them on the programming).
I’m sitting there, halfway through a sentence, when I have an epiphany, of sorts: one of those moments where everything comes into a different kind of focus.
The truth is: I don’t have anything to say about race that I can put in a short blog post. I don’t have anything to say about my experience with race and the perception of race that I can tweet. I don’t have anything to say about race on a sixty-minute panel at a science-fiction convention.
My personal thoughts on race and identity (ethnic or otherwise) are just that: personal, and as complicated, convoluted and tweaked as the catalog of experiences that shaped them.
How about yours?
On a related note, when I requested to NOT be put on the race panel at World Fantasy 2009, I ended up on the queer panel and had a blast.
Life’s funny that way.
On the subject of Buffy The Vampire Slayer:
The show’s over, homey! You really need to move on!
On the subject of writing:
Have a life that feeds you. Lead a life that challenges you. Write what you know. Write what you don’t know. Research. Steal. Invent. Be brave. Be honest about what terrifies you. Be honest about your regrets. It also helps if you can spell.
On the subject of God:
Sorry. I still can’t get that jerk to answer the phone.
I’m reading Megan Abbot’s QUEENPIN. The back of the paperback dubs Abbot “The Queen of Noir” and, honestly, I couldn’t agree more. Her books are violent explorations into the ruthless worlds of film noir and crime fiction, delving into the cold hearts of the grifter gals and femme fatales who, until now, have only existed at the grey edges of the genre.
If you like books like LIAR, I think you’ll like Abbott’s stuff, as well. Pick up QUEENPIN or BURY ME DEEP. You won’t be disappointed.
Another book I’m reading now is a biography: THE STRANGEST MAN – THE HIDDEN LIFE OF PAUL DIRAC, MYSTIC OF THE ATOM.
If you don’t know, Dirac was a theoretical physicist, one of Einstein’s most admired colleagues and, at the time, the youngest theoretician to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Dirac made numerous contributions to early work in quantum mechanics and was the first to predict the existence of anti-matter (the same stuff that makes The Enterprise’s engines go ‘Vroom.’) Dirac was, as you might expect, also a bit of an eccentric and a very private man who shared his tears with very few if any of the people closest to him. Written by Graham Farmelo, ‘The Strangest Man’ a meticulously researched piece that, nevertheless, maintains its focus on the often-enigmatic heart of its subject, Dirac. If you’re a science fiction fan, take a peep. After all, if a couple of social misfits hadn’t put chalk to chalkboard, we never have split that atom. Boom.
The last book on my nightstand, for the moment, is John Scalzi’s THE GOD ENGINES, published by Subterranean Press. Before I go any further, I should disclose that this book is dedicated to me but I didn’t know that until after I got a copy of the book. So, with that in mind, attend.
THE GOD ENGINES is a dramatic departure from both his Heinlein-inspired military SF and his more tongue-in-cheek material. While using SFnal tropes, the story is, at heart, a dark fantasy; one set in a world where an oppressive theocracy uses enslaved gods as the power source to drive their massive starships. Brutal, fierce and tightly laced with threads of Lovecraftian horror, this is Scalzi’s best book by leaps and bounds. I hope to see more of this kind of work from him—even if I have to beat it out of him, myself. I’m calling you out, John Scalzi. Remember, I’ve still got the whip!
Well, I guess that’s more than enough for now. Nine subjects. One post.
Guess that means the caffeine’s working.
As I said: I’m not a blogger. I have no idea how this stuff is supposed to work. I’m sure this post is way too long. I mean, I didn’t even get to address why the show Madmen doesn’t suck just cause Justine says it does; why Henry Miller looks cool standing beside a bicycle on Santa Monica Beach; The Terrible Jay-Z Problem or the strange connection between Elvis and the superhero Captain Marvel Jr.
Oh, well, maybe next time.
In the interim, let’s be careful out there and remember: just because its offensive doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
One of my highlights of NCTE was doing a panel on blogging with Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Barbara O’Connor and Lisa Yee. The panel was put together and moderated by Denise Anderson, who was just splendid and had done a tonne of research. I was very impressed. They’ve all now blogged about the panel. (Links to their posts are on their names.) All except for me and Maureen. As I think it’s a sign of deep failure not to blog about a panel on blogging I am now fixing my omission. I doubt Maureen will, however, because hers is not that kind of a blog.
The panel was aimed at teachers and concerned with demonstrating how they can make use of authors’ blogs in the classroom. Denise observed that many of her colleagues were unaware of authors blogs and was on a mission to open their eyes. I suspect, though, that most of the educators in the audience were well aware of blogs and that was why they were there. Certainly the questions we were asked were very knowledegable.
We authors took the opportunity to ask the teachers not to set writing to authors as an assignment. Yes, that’s right, we whinged. We explained how much time it takes for us to answer questions especially when there are forty students writing us at once. Volume is not our only issue. The students tend to write asking us questions that are already answered on our sites, revealing they have the skills to find our email addresses, but not to find the answers to their questions, which are also in plain slight.
We also mentioned that some of the letters we get from students are flat out rude:
YOU MUST ANSWER THIS EMAIL STRAIGHT AWAY. MY HOMEWORK IS DUE TOMORROW. HERE ARE MY 456 QUESTIONS.
Laurie asked the following question: “Should we continue to spend classroom time on letter writing or has the time come to teach how to compose appropriate email communication?”
Our panel gave a very emphatic yes to the second half. Teach them how to write polite emails, please! I saw many heads nodding in the audience.
Another concern we had was students leaving comments on our blog making their phone numbers or email addresses public. We made it clear that we delete such information but thought that was another thing that could be addressed in the classroom.
We were all very clear that we love hearing from our readers and try very hard to answer them all. It’s just the students demanding we do their homework that we’re reluctant to respond to. We write for a living. Our novels are our top priorities, any additional writing comes after that. Which is why most of us started blogging in the first place—to have a method of communicating directly with our readers. We all agreed that the comments are the best part of blogging. Laurie said that she feels the readers of her blog have become family.
Laurie also mentioned that if they ever have parents wanting to remove a book from the school library or prevent it being taught they should get in contact with the writer because often the writer’s been through this before and can offer support. (Oh, look: it’s happened again, this time in Kentucky. And Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted is one of the books.)
Hmm, we seem to have agreed about many things. The only disagreement I can think of is when we were answering a question from the audience about the relationship of our blog writing to our novel writing. I said that I found blogging much more relaxing and easy than novel writing. While I craft it, the writing here doesn’t go through any where near as many drafts as my fiction does. Nor is it professionally edited, copyedited or proofed. It also has a different voice than my novel writing, but I do still think of it as writing and it has an influence on my novels.
Maureen said that she views all her writing the same whether it’s a novel or a blog post or a tweet and that it all has the same voice. Which I think is one of the main things that makes Maureen’s blog so different to most other blogs I read. Every entry reads like a story and the voice is indeed very like her novel writing voice (but quite distinct from the Maureen I know). And is why a post about a blogging panel wouldn’t work there.
Sadly I can no longer remember Lisa or Laurie’s response but Barbara was very clear that she did not see her blog writing as real writing at all. It’s completely distinct from her fiction.
I have to admit that before I was contacted to be part of this panel I had not given much thought to the use my blog might have for educators. For me this panel was an eye opener to look at blogs from a different point of view. Not just from the “this is fun” pov.
Though blogging is fun. I feel like that’s the one thing we didn’t talk about. Maybe next time.
Do any of you have any comments or ideas about blogging and teaching? Do any of you use blogs in the classroom? Encourage your students to read blogs? To blog?
If you’re here you can find me in the following places today:
Saturday, November 21st
Signing at Andersons (booth #544)
Signing at the Bloomsbury (booth #609-611)
“Authors’ Blogs: Connections, Collaboration, and Creativity”
with chair Denise Johnson, Laurie Halse Anderson,
Maureen Johnson, me, Barbara O’Connor, and Lisa Yee
Room 103A, Street Level
If you’re in Philly but not at NCTE I have one public event. Just me and some of the most famous writers of YA in the universe:
Sunday 22 November 2009, 1:00-3:00PM
A NOVEL IDEA:
A benefit for the
Philadelphia Free Library
summer reading program
Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher,
T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen,
Steven Kluger, Justine Larbalestier,
David Levithan, Lauren Myracle,
Scott Westerfeld, Jacqueline Woodson Children’s Book World
17 Haverford Station Road
One of the most gratifying aspects of meeting people who’ve read How To Ditch Your Fairy since it came out last September (in the USA) is the number of boys who’ve turned out to be fans of the book. I will admit that given the title and the cover I was expecting an almost non-existent boy readership. I’ve been told a million times that boys won’t touch a pink book and that HTDYF is irredeemably pink. So I’ve been dead chuffed by the boy fans.
While on tour for the book last year many parents asked me if they thought my book would work for their son. I was able to confidently tell them about other boys who’ve liked it. But really I can’t speak for all boys. (Or for all girls.) It depends on what kind of stories your son likes.
During a panel I did recently (at either TLA this year or NCTE last year)1 we panellists were begged by a school librarian to write books for boys. Specifically funny ones with boy protags that have no sex in them. (How To Ditch Your Fairy manages two out of three.) Now I had several thoughts in response to this request:
1) I’ve never written a book to someone else’s specifications in my life and I’m not about to start now. I don’t even write them to my own specifications. My novels just go where they go.
2) There are heaps of books like that already in existence and I don’t just mean the Wimpy Kid books.
3) Why is there so much panic about boys reading? And such a strong conviction that boys will only read boy books?
I also get the feeling that we worry about “boy books” and “girl books” way too much. I talked with several twelve year old boys, who did not feel that their masculinity had been undermined in any way by reading How To Ditch Your Fairy. And, yes, I talked to several who wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole even after I assured them there were explosions in it.
I think there are way more boys reading then get counted as reading. On tour I met many boys who read and not just novels. I met boys who love manga and anime who told me they didn’t read because they thought only novels counted. Boys who read non-fiction by the truckload told me they didn’t read because they thought only novels counted. Boys who read manuals and catalogues ditto.
Why do so many boys have the idea that none of those count as reading?
Does anyone else wonder if the panic about boys reading novels may be one of the contributing factor to boys not reading novels?
I am a passionate reader of novels but I do not thing they are the be all and all of the reading experience. Why do we keep trying to insist that they are?
I have no answers to any of these questions. Do any of you?
Update: I have shut off comments because too many people were attempting to spam comments with advertisements for their books. Don’t do that.
For those what will be attending Book Expo America, where publishing in the US of A is showcased, and there are dancing ladybugs and bears, as well as many free Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) of upcoming books, here’s where I will be:
Me and Scott will be at the YA breakfast. (I’ll be the wide awake one.)
Me and Scott will be at the ABC Not-a-Dinner and Silent Auction. This time we better not be gazumped by some last minute annoying bidding person. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
I’ll be signing free ARCs of Liar in the Autograph Area Signing Table No. 9.
Various cocktail parties. I’ll be the one wearing feathers and gold lame and not drinking any alcohol because YA authors don’t drink. They don’t fuss or cuss or smoke or drink or lie or cheat or step on people’s feet or dance the hoochie-koo either. Just in case you were wondering.
What do you mean those are some of the lyrics from the song “Saved”? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Here’s Elvis singing “Saved”. It starts at around 5:30.
This version is from the 1968 comeback special1 which, everyone remembers on account of Elvis in sexy black leather,2 but my favourite bits are the campy big production numbers such as the gospel medley. (Apologies for the less than optimal quality. *shakes fist at youtube*)
Forgot to say that YA authors don’t dance the boogie all night long either. How could I forget that one? They’re heinous those all-night boogie dancers.
Yesterday and today at TLA (Texas Library Association) I signed 200 ARCs (advance readers copies) of Liar. That’s right, there are now copies of Liar out there in the wild.
This is a little unnerving. I’ve been thinking about Liar since I first got the idea in February 2005. Here it is just over four years later and Liar is almost a real book. Which other people will be reading soon.
I was not feeling at all nervous about Liar being read by people who aren’t my agent, publisher, or friends until I started signing the ARCs. Suddenly it dawned on me that my book—the actual solid paper thing—is now going to be read and thought about, or put down in disgust, or lost on a bus, or whatever.
This is a strange feeling. I’m deciding whether it is good or bad. I’ll let you know.
TLA has been wonderful. I particularly enjoyed today when a whole bunch of teenagers were let loose to create havoc and mayhem. They were all most excellent. I especially loved the session I did with the fabulous Neal Shusterman where we got to talk with around 40 teenagers and answer their most wondrous questions. I just hope that next time they do it there will be longer sessions.
Me and Scott are in Houston for TLA (Texas Library Association). Tis much warmer than NYC. W00t! Also we’ll get to hang out with many teen librarians.1 Always a good thing.
Another w00t worthy thing: I have just learned that the ARC (advances readers’ copies) of Liar have made it to TLA. Yee hah!2 I have not actually seen it myself. So I’m eager to get my hands on a copy. Well, not eager so much as afraid. I know I’ll just open it up and go, “Crap. Typo. Also that section really doesn’t belong there. I need to move it. Another typod. Also I’m not sure this minor character’s got the right name. Perhaps I should have called them Rexford? What was I thinking! Crap. Yet another typo. And another.” Etc.
But I’m excited that people who aren’t my agent, friends, or publishers will soon be having a squizz at it. Liar is unlike anything I’ve ever written before and especially not like How To Ditch Your Fairy. Thus I am dead curious to see how people respond. I hope no one throws things at me.
Admin note: Sorry for everyone whose comments were held up in moderation yesterday. Wifi access was sketchy. I believe I have set everyone’s comment free at this time. Let me know if you still can’t find yours.
To be clear, I mean librarians who specialise in books, manga, anime, etc for teenagers, rather than librarians who are teenagers. [↩]
I am in Texas, after all. Though maybe it’s not spelled “yee hah”. That looks wrong. [↩]
Our NYC Teen Author Festival event last night at the Mulberry Street Branch of the NYPL was unbelievable. Over a hundred people showed up. Standing room only. And many of them were actual teenagers—YAY!—who asked incredibly good questions including one we’d none of us ever heard before. But more on that that below.
The event was to celebrate everything that Joe Monti has done for YA literature in the US of A. Joe used to be the YA buyer for Barnes & Noble. In that role he went out of his way to champion a whole host of fabulous books that otherwise might otherwise have disappeared. He was a supporter of Scott and mine and played a huge part in any success we’ve had in the US. He also put me on to more great books than anyone else I can think of. We love Joe.
So last night we read from our not yet published work for the very first time. It was VERY nervous making. As I waited to read I wondered if my hands were ever going to stop shaking.
[Here followed a long description of each of the readings, which WordPress in a fit of evil decided to eat. All spit on WordPress. Grrrr. And, yes, I did have the revisions setting on. At least I thought it was on but some recent plugin update seems to have disable revisions. Today I am full of WordPress hate.]
In conclusion it was the best reading I’ve ever been part of and I can’t wait till Holly Black, Libba Bray, Rachel Cohn, Eireann Corrigan, Barry Lyga and Scott’s books are published. You will love them all.
The best question we were asked was whether things ever get blurry between ourselves and our characters. None of us had ever been asked that question before. Trust me, a new question is a rarity. The answers were dead revealing.
I stop now because of my WordPress fury.
See you tonight:
Thursday, 19 March, 6 pm
Rock out with TIGER BEAT
Books of Wonder
18 Wst 18th Street, NY NY
Authors by day, rock stars at night. Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Barney Miller, and Natalie Standiford are TIGER BEAT, a YA author rock band. They’ll be legends! Opening act: The Infinite Playlists (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)
To duck out of work and come see me and Alaya and Cassie and David and Diana and Holly and Scott make total fools of ourselves sharing our earliest attempts at writing, while Libba laughs her head off.
For extra incentive: in Sydney I unearthed a piece I wrote while in the thrall of Raymond Chandler at the age of 13 or 14. It involves a scary Erroll Flynn and has to be heard to be believed.
Details of this extraordinary event:
Juvenilia Smackdown Monday, 16 March—otherwise known as TODAY—4-6pm, Tompkins Square Park branch of the NYPL, 331 E. 10th Street
As many of you know the first-ever NYC Teen Author Festival (March 16-22, 2009) starts in two days. There are many fabulous, wonderful events. Make sure you check out the full schedule over here. But as far as I’m concerned there’s only one event that’s unmissable:
Juvenilia Smackdown Monday, 16 March, 4-6pm, Tompkins Square Park branch of the NYPL, 331 E. 10th Street
“I was hitting my head on the table to stop the pain.”
How could you miss such an event? Don’t you want to heckle the badness? Laugh until you cry? Vote on who is the worst writer of all?
It really is worth ducking out of work early, skipping basketball/band practice, or whatever other thing that’s currently getting in your way. You know you want to mock us. You know you want to see how very very bad writing can be.
See all you New Yorkers Monday at 4PM in Tompkins Square Park Library!
P.S. I’m especially looking forward to Alaya’s contribution which was even stored in a purple folder.
Will be chatting tomorrow night at Kinokuniya here in sunny Sydney. We will say many wise and excellent things. If you are within a 500k radius you cannot miss this! Margo is genius! I can do a passable imitation of a genius!1
Tonight me and Scott hung out with two fabulous writers, Tessa Kum and Rjurik Davidson, and the conversation turned to vomit, as it is so often does when writers gather. We told many awesomely disgusting stories. There was much laughter. I would share the stories with you except that I happen to know of two regular readers of this blog who would kill me if I did so. That is how strong their aversion is to vomit and stories about said substance.1
Which is something they don’t have in common with this one group of students I wound up talking to on tour last year in Ohio.2 But for some reason I was left alone to entertain about forty or fifty seventh or eighth graders. So, naturally, I told vomit stories. And they loved them, which only encouraged me to come up with more stories. In the end they were demanding that I pen a collection of said stories.
I should do it. Truly, market it to that demographic, and every writer I know, and it would be a license to print money. Maybe I should suggest it to my agent?
Maybe I shall ask Simmone Howell for her favourite vomit stories tomorrow at our event at Victoria’s State Library . . .
I don’t get it. Vomit is the funniest stuff in the world. There is nothing better than a good vomit story. [↩]
Sadly, my memory can no longer tell me what city it was, let alone what school. [↩]
My mini How To Ditch Your Fairy tour of Australia (well of Melbourne, Perth, Sydney) begins on Sunday. I can’t believe it’s so soon! How did that happen?
To prepare yourself here’s an article about Sunday’s gig which features an interview with the fabulous Simmone Howell. I just finished her latest, Everything Beautiful, last night. It’s astonishingly good. I don’t even like realism and I LOVED this book. Go read it immediately.
Also Allen & Unwin have created a How To Ditch Your Fairy site. This is a first for me. A publisher creating a whole site devoted to one of my books! I may faint. Have I mentioned that I love my Aussie publisher?
And wait till you see the new US cover of HTDYF. Best. Cover. Ever.
For those of you in Melbourne here’s where you’ll find me:
23 Feb, 2009, 6.00PM
Talk & signing
North Melbourne Library
66 Errol St
North Melbourne, VIC
24 Feb 2009, 6:30PM
Australian launch of How To Ditch Your Fairy Readings Carlton
309 Lygon St
The new one is the talk at North Melbourne Library.
Then I’ll be in Perth for the writer’s festival. My tentative schedule is:
28 Feb, 2:00PM
PWF Main Program
Fingers on the Pulse
University Club Theatre
Perth Writers’ Festival Precinct
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009
* 1 hour session. Young adult fiction authors Tristan Bancks, Barry Jonsberg, and Justine Larbalestier have their fingers on the pulse1 of teenage interest. They discuss how they stay relevant for their younger audiences. Chair: Sarah Knight.
Sun 1 Mar 10.20am PWF Family Day How to Ditch Your Fairy
Perth Writers’ Festival Precinct
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009
*30 minute session for kids aged 9 – 12
1.00pm PWF Family Day
Justine Larbalestier: Writing Workshop
Perth Writers’ Festival Precinct
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley WA 6009
*1 hour workshop for kids age 10 -12. How to Ditch Your Fairy author Justine Larbalestier shares the tips of the trade for writing fiction.
Then last, but absolutey not least, my one Sydney appearance open to the public:
And guess what? I’ll be doing a wee bit of a mini Oz book tour. I’m dead excited.
Two of my events are in Melbourne, including the actual book launch:
22 Feb 2009, 2:00PM – 3:30PM Me and Simmone Howell in conversation + cake
State Library of Victoria – Conference Centre
328 Swanston Street
(Entrance 3 on La Trobe Street)
Melbourne, Victoria Go here to book
24 Feb 2009, 6:30PM
Australian launch of How To Ditch Your Fairy
My book will be introduced by the lovely Lili Wilkinson! Readings Carlton
309 Lygon St,
Please to come out and see me, oh lovely Melbourne peoples. Bring your friends! Bring your friends’ friends!
Then I’ll be at the Perth Writer’s festival. Not sure of my exact schedule yet, but will post as soon as I know it. I haven’t been to Perth in an age so it will be fun to catch up with my sandgroper friends. Here’s the dates I’ll be there, if not my actual schedule:
What advice do you have for middle school “uglies”?
We rambled on about how middle school/high school (if you’re Australian) doesn’t last forever etc etc. How we too were unhappy in 6th, 7th, 8th grade.1 But I’m not sure our answers were satisfying. And we didn’t really suggest any survival techniques.
I have been thinking about this question ever since. Do any of you have any ideas for how to survive the dark days of primary and secondary education? If so, do please share.
Actually I hated all of school from kindergarten all the way to year 12. [↩]
I have decided that I will do all future signings my way and ignore Scott’s advice entirely. The only people who can tell me to hurry up when signing is whoever is running it. So there, Scott!
I hasten to add that crazy long signings are not a regular occurrence for me. They pretty much only happen at places like NCTE or TLA or on school visits. If I had lines like Scott gets routinely I would probably study how he gets through a line speedily while also managing to chat to those he’s signing for. He is a master. He does in fifteen seconds what takes me a minute.1
Thanks so much for your responses. They will keep me strong next time I have a long signing!
This could be because he’s a USian and I’m an Aussie. On the whole USians move faster than Aussies. I have no idea why. [↩]
Scott and me are having a wee bit of an argument. He thinks I sign too slow on account of I like to chat to everyone and make my dedication as personal as possible. He thinks that’s fine with a very short queue but when the line is long you owe it to the people standing in line waiting to go as fast as possible.
The argument arose because I had a big line at NCTE1 on account of the lovely Professor Nana talked very enthusiastically about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Bless you!
In my defense
Where I was sitting I couldn’t see the queue so I didn’t know how long it was.
English teachers are interesting and I wanted to know what grades they taught and where they were from.
Just signing a book is boring. I like to talk to people and figure out why they want their book signed.
Scott is a hardened pro; I’m still a (relative) newbie.
What do youse lot think? Would you prefer an author who rushes to make the line go quicker? Or would you prefer an author who takes the time to chat with everyone?
Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.
Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.
Questions for Justine:
Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?
A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.
Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?
There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”
A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?
I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.
Questions for Scott:
Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?
A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.
Q: Why did you k*** Z***?
A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.
So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?
A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )
Questions for both Justine and Scott:
Q: Are you friends with any other authors?
Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.
Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.
Q: Is there any news on a movie?
Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.
Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.
Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).
But no auditions yet!
Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?
Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.
I guess I let people bully me!
Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.
Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.
Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
Write a lot.
Learn how to critique other people’s work.
Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!
Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.
Q: Which is your favourite cover?
Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.
Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.
Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.
I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!
Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.
Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.
In just a few days I’ll be back on the road—to Texas—winding up the HTDYF tour. I’ll also be promoting Love is Hell, answering all your questions, finding out what everyone’s fairy is, and converting those who need converting to the glorious ways of zombies.
Tomorrow I’ll be doing an appearance right here in Manhattan with many fantabulous authors. I did my very first YA author appearance at Books of Wonder. Way back in the olden days with Eoin Colfer and Scott. It was incredible. Peter Glassman (Books of Wonder’s proprietor) has been very good to me and Scott in the ensuing years. It’s always a pleasure to do a Books of Wonder event:
Saturday, 15 November, 12:00PM-2:00PM
with William Boniface, P.W. Catanese,
Suzanne Collins, Joanne Dahme,
Daniel Kirk, Dean Lorey, Amanda Marrone,
Ketaki Shriram and Robin Wasserman Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY
Do please join us! Also if you attend would you do me the favour of asking every author there to declare their allegiance on the zombies versus uni***n front? We have a right to know!
Then next Wednesday I will be in Austin, Texas, city of amazing food and people and music. Yum! This is my only event of the How To Ditch Your Fairy tour that includes Scott. I think we shall have fun. Not least because BookPeople is one of my fave bookshops in the entire US of A:
Wednesday, 19 November 2008, 7:30PM
With Scott Westerfeld BookPeople
603 N. Lamar
And then my last event of the tour will be in gorgeous San Antonio. Land of great boots and wondrous food:
Thursday, 20 November 2008, 7:00PM
Barnes & Noble
San Antonio, Texas
And thus will end my HTDYF tour.
Or will it?
Stay tuned those of you who live in Sydney and Melbourne and possibly even Perth. There’s a very good chance that in February and March I will be doing a few events at home for my fabulous Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin. Actually the Melbourne event is not a possibility anymore—it’s an actuality! More info as I gets it.
Really looking forward to meeting some more of you in the next few days and weeks! Zombie power!
Until recently I had little respect for acting. My line was that all actors have to do is say words written for them by someone else and prance about making believe. Plus the few actors I’d met had been, um, how do I put this? Not the smartest people in the world. (Not all of them! Not, you!) But most of them.
However, going on tour has changed my opinion. TOTALLY.
Basically what I did for the last two weeks in Michigan, Ohio, and then Kansas City, Missouri was get up and perform in front of audiences ranging from 5 to 200. And I did it between two and six times a day.
It was shockingly hard. Astonishingly so. One of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done. Why did no one warn me?!
Yet I did was play myself. Talk about my books, answer questions. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? I can’t imagine what it’s like getting up night after night on stage pretending to be someone else. Or doing it take after take in front of cameras.
My tour gave me a glimpse of how hard acting must be.
Don’t get me wrong: touring was heaps of fun. I now also have a glimmer of understanding of why people want to be actors. The energy you get from an engaged audience is amazing. I can see how it could get addictive.
So there you have it. I was wrong. I take it all back. Acting is hard. I sure couldn’t do it.
I have a bunch of friends who have brand new books coming out next year. Friends who will be doing at least one or two appearances—or in one case (lucky duck!)—going on a book tour. This post is for them because they’re going to be asked certain questions over and over again and it’s best to have a bunch excellent and entertaining answers. Here they are:
Where did you get your ideas for this book?
This is a particularly hard one for most of us because often we have no idea where a book comes from. Best to start thinking about that questions and putting together some anecdotes. I have a bunch of different ones for HTDYF because, like most books, the ideas for it came from several different incidents. The first time I was asked it about Magic or Madness I ummed and ahhed and generally made myself sound like my IQ is lower than room temperature. Sigh.
Where do you get your ideas?
I tend to respond to this one by talking about how ideas are not the hard part, making yourself sit down and write is. Or I say I steal them from Maureen Johnson. Hey, it gets a laugh. Did I mention that going for the laughs is always the right move?
What were/are your inspirations?
I tend to interpret this one as being about what books/writers most inspired me when I was a beginning writer. So I talk a lot about Enid Blyton. I’ve also used it a couple of times to talk about the people who encouraged me to write when I was little. But I think you can interpret it as widely or broadly as you like.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
People love to hear the story of how and when you became a writer. Is it something you always wanted to do? Or did you just suddenly decide to give it a whirl one Sunday morning when you figured you could write better than the crappy bestseller you put down in disgust? Tales that involve dealing with rejection are always popular. Fortunately almost every writer I know has had to deal with it.
What’s your favourite book/author?
This is the question I still don’t have a handle on. Every time I’m asked I kind of freeze and can’t think of the title of a single book or author let alone the many, many ones I love. I always have a difficult time when I’m asked to pick just one thing. But, really, I’ve been asked the question often enough—pretty much every appearance I did on the tour it was asked—I need to prepare for it much better.
Bonus: Questions you’ll be asked if you’re an Australian author touring the USA:
Do you like vegemite?
Is the Pope Catholic?
Can you wrestle a crocodlie?
I’m sure I could if I tried.
Did you know Heath Ledger?
Sadly, no. But I think he was an amazingly talented actor.
Speaking of acting. Actually, I think that’s a whole other post, which I will now go write.
If I missed any general author questions you’re asked a lot please to share.
Good luck, everyone, with your first appearances. Break a leg! (In the good way.)
I’m stuck on the ground at Cincinnati in a not-so-big plane waiting to be cleared to fly to LGA, so I thought I’d take the time to thank everyone who came to see me on my very first book tour. I really appreciate it. Twas a blast meeting you all. I had no idea I have so many lukers here. Bless you all! And thanks to for the lovely emails and gifts. You all rule!
Here’s hoping I’ll have as much fun in Texas as I did in Northern California, Michigan, Ohio and Kansas City. (The ribs last night were AWESOME!)
Scalzi’s law that the cheaper the hotel the better the wifi is 100% correct. I write this on my iPhone in a four star that has no wifi in the rooms. Night before last in the crappy motel we had the best wifi of the trip and it was free. What gives?
Many tales of the tour to come. Tonight I am in Dayton. Hope to see a few of you there. Check appearances for details.
No rest for the wicked: Today I head to Ohio for the third leg of the How To Ditch Your Fairy tour. I’m dead excited and not least because I’ve already had several lovely letters from students I’ll be seeing over the next week. I can’t wait to meet you in person!
Other than lots of fabulous school visits, I’ll be doing the following public appearances in various parts of Ohio as well as Kansas City in Missouri:
Wednesday, 8 October 2008, 7:00PM Books & Co
Books & Co at The Greene
4453 Walnut Street
Thursday, 9 October 2008, 7:00PM
Kansas City Library
4801 Main Street
Kansas City, MO
I hope to see some of you gorgeous blog readers there. One of the nicest parts of this tour has been meeting some of the lurkers and commenters who hang out here. Bless you all! (Once the tour is over I hope to have some actual content again.)
Don’t forget about the HTDYF contest. You know you want that shopping fairy!
NOTE: I am now approximately five thousand years behind with email. I have no idea if I’m ever going to catch up so I may just delete it all. (Except for the fan mail—I will answer all fanmail. Could take a while, but.) If you’ve sent me anything urgent please send again in about a week’s time. Sorry!
It is with great sadness that I realise I haven’t posted about zombies in ages. That’s SO wrong. Fortunately, Cecil Castellucci sent me a link to this science article all about how we all have an inner zombie:
[S]tarting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.
Notice that it’s not an inner uni***n; it’s an inner zombie. I think that proves once and for all time that zombies are more powerful, interesting and make for way better metaphors than smelly old uni***ns.
I am now off to Michigan to talk about the glories of zombies fairies with the locals. Posting may be erratic for the next few days. Though I will, as usual, do my valiant best to post every day.
I will also be popping in to chat at Book Divas this week: 29 September through to 6 October. So if you’re a member or want to join do go check it out. I will answer any question you might have. Any question at all!
Today, or, oops, yesterday is also the first day of Banned Books Week. Maureen Johnson has a fabulous post about it over at YA for Obama, with which I agree entirely. On some topics she’s completely wrong but when it comes to banning books and zombies you can totally trust her.
Lili Wilkinson is an insanely talented Australian YA writer, who is yet to be published in the US. But just you wait, it will happen any minute now. I wish I had her fairy:
My fairy would be a Getting Things Done fairy, although it often likes to take a holiday when your Procrastination fairy comes visiting. I’m pretty happy with that fairy, although I wouldn’t say no to a Keeping Things Clean fairy . . .
Melina Marchetta, best-known at home for Looking for Alibrandi and here in the US for Saving Franchesca, which I adore, wanted a retroactive fairy:
The one I wish I had when I was teaching was a Marking Fairy who would mark exam papers.
Coe Booth wrote the fabulous Tyrell, which deservedly won gazillions of prizes. I cannot wait to read her new one, Kendra. I would definitely like the fairy she wants:
Unfortunately, I’ve been saddled with the Sweet Tooth Fairy. She renders me incapable of saying no to such goodies as candy, cupcakes and ice cream—ever! I wish I had the Speed Reading Fairy, one that would let me quickly read yet still savor all the books that are currently on my ever-growing to-read list. Of course speed reading while eating ice cream, now that would be the best of both worlds!!!
Lastly, Meg Cabot, who needs no introduction because she’s, like, totally famous, not to mention being awesomeness personified:1
Honestly I don’t think I have a fairy unless it’s a fairy that makes you bump into things and lose your money with no idea where it went, but I think your fairies are nice ones, not mean ones, so I guess I would like to pick a fairy I wish I had: I wish I had a fairy who would help me find the perfect outfit every time I went shopping like Ro’s stylist fairy! Because whenever I go shopping I can never find anything that goes together. I NEED a shopping fairy like Ro’s! She’s so lucky. I wish I lived in New Avalon. It sounds like the perfect place.
Everyone wants Ro’s clothes shopping fairy. I know I do and at yesterday’s event it was by far the most requested fairy.
A fairy that makes you bump into things and lose money is not a fairy, it is a curse. Best avoided. I was going to include curses in HTDYF but it was too complicated and would have made the book twice the size. I once knew this guy who had a restaurant curse. He was invisible to wait staff even when he had a red mohawk. When they finally saw him they always get his order wrong. It’s bizarre.
You can find other fairies here. Feel free to keep sharing yours over here or in the comments to this post, or on your own blog, or wherever you want.
Please to find my touring schedule for this week:
How To Ditch Your Fairy Tour 2008: Part the Second: Michigan
Tuesday, 30 September 2008, 7:00PM
Schuler Books & Music
3165 Alpine Ave
Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 4:00PM Pooh’s Corner
1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI
I’m especially looking forward to that last event. I much prefer doing events with other writers. Also I’m really excited about meeting Kathe Koja. I’ve been a Koja fan since her debut, The Cipher, back in 1991.
There will also be a tonne of school appearances. Some of them at the very crack of dawn. I would like to issue a disclaimer: I am not a morning person. Seriously, I’m really really really not a morning person. You have been warned.
The New York Liberty won the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was an ugly win. An ugly game. The only grace notes were Deanna Nolan’s gorgeous shooting—I swear she stays up in the air for seconds at a time, she looks great even when she misses—the great turnout, and the fact that we won.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to hate Bill Laimbeer more than I do. But his performance tonight pushed my hate a few notches upward. How he managed not to get a delay of game call or a technical I will never understand. Sit down, Bill!
Later today I will be in Larchmont, which is a mere twenty minutes from Grand Central:
Saturday, 27 September 2008, 1:00PM Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave
I am wondering if this is the Larchmont that the term Larchmont lockjaw comes from. I hope I get to meet some of you there.
The sun is shining, the sky is clear, you can see the entire length of the avenue, the Chrysler Building gleams and last night the New York Liberty made it into the conference finals. Let’s go, Liberty! (And San Antonio got through to their conference finals. Oh, how I long for those two to meet in the WNBA finals. That would make my year!)
My editor loves my new book, work is going great on the even newer book—how much fun is it researching NYC in the thirties? VERY FUN—and HTDYF keeps getting lovely reviews. In my world everything is fabulous.1
How about youse lot? I had to shut down the old Good News post on account of evil spam so why not tell me your good news and sources of happiness here instead?
Me, I’m turning the computer off and going out to enjoy the glorious, glorious day!
*Cough* It helps to not read newspapers or news blogs. [↩]
Because you deserve it, some more YA author fairies for your delectation:
Penni Russon, author of the wondrous Undine trilogy, has a most useful fairy:
I have a voice recognition fairy – with her help I can always pick out celebrity voices in animations. As you might imagine this is a very useful skill and has served me well on numerous occasions.
I wish I had a zen master fairy to help with the parenting of the children.
Lauren Myracle, author of the amazing and terrifying Bliss, had this to say when I asked her what her fairy is:
My Starbucks fairy simply loves Starbucks and steers me toward one EVERY DAY, regardless of any opinion *I* might have on the matter. And makes me order mochas, which aren’t really coffee at all, and which do not have the benefits of wheatgrass.
Personally I would rather die than have that fairy. Coffee? *Shudder*
Alaya Johnson, author of the wonderful, Racing the Dark,1 desires a much better fairy:
I’d like a cooking fairy. Specifically, I want one that specializes in making injera, because if there’s a way to cook that Ethiopian flatbread of unbelievable deliciousness without magical intervention, I’d like to know it. I have spent many hours in the kitchen, fermenting and stirring and scraping, and the best I’ve come up with resembles sour construction paste. Yuck!
I have also tried and failed to cook injera. Le sigh.
Saturday, 27 September 2008, 1:00PM Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave
For those NYCers who’ve been complaining that I’m not doing any events in the city, Larchmont is a mere twenty minutes away from Grand Central Station and the Voracious Reader is a mere five minutes from the station. Easy peasy.
Hope to meet some of you soon!
Hey, Alaya, when are we going to get the sequel? [↩]
I’m getting lots of questions about the HTDYF tour and how it’s going etc. I’ll be posting about the first leg of the tour—Northern California—in the next few days. In the meantime what I’ve loved most is meeting other lovers of YA books—students, readers, booksellers, sales reps, teachers, librarians—and talking about our favourite books. It’s been a blast. Especially this year when there have been so many amazing books.
I have never published a photo of a cat on my blog before. This is because I believe it is a cheap way to gain visitors to your blog. I have vowed never to stoop so low.
However, I recently stopped in at Borderlands Books to say hi to Jude and sign stock. A visit to Borderlands also means hanging out with Ripley the store cat. Ripley is the weirdest looking cat I have ever seen. She’s a Sphynx, who are hairless space aliens. Ripley was recovering from surgery and attired in an old t-shirt to protect her stitches. This made her somewhat grumpy. As it would.
Fortunately there is now a second Borderlands cat, Ash, who deigned to gift us with her presence:
She’s only pretending to not be interested in How To Ditch Your Fairy. She actually LOVED it. She has a people fairy. They will do whatever she wants them to.
She can also fly. This photo was taken just before take-off:
And here she is investigating the strange new person:
Fortunately she decided not to have me killed. Phew, eh?
Scott here, guest-blogging from the West Coast Tour Command Center (aka Room 401). Justine is out talking to kids at schools, so I’m holding down the fort (aka ordering room service). This is just a reminder that Justine has a gig at Not Your Mother’s Book Club tonight (aka Thursday, Sep 18).
The store is Books Inc.
The address is 601 Van Ness.
The city is San Francisco.
The time: 7PM.
We hope to see you there!
And just because I’m briefly in control of Justine’s blog: it’s ‘color,’ not ‘colour.’ That’s because we save our u’s for this:
Because they have signs like this at the entrance to their school libraries:
Isn’t that absolutely wonderful? Made me so happy!
Yesterday I got many texts telling me that How To Ditch Your Fairy had been boingled. Thank you, Cory! And Whatever’d. Thank you, Scalzi! And Slayground’d! Thank you, Little Willow! I also learned that HTDYF is on the Lone Star list. Since Texas is my favourite state in the union1 that pretty much made my day too.
To quickly answers some questions: The tour is going fabulously. I’m having the time of my life. I heart all the bookshops I’ve been to Kepler’s, The Storyteller and Copperfield’s. And the girls and a few boys I’ve gotten to talk to have all been smart, engaged, funny and fantabulous. I want to stay on tour forever.
Also the food in the Bay Area has been heavenly. Yay!