Writing Goals: Reduxing the Redux of the Redux

This post is a thing that I do every so often. It started in 2006 when I posted my writing goals. I updated it in 2008 with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy and then again in 2009 after Liar came out. And then in 2012 in anticipation of the publication of Team Human.

These goals of mine are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize.1 Winning prizes, making bestseller lists, having your books turned into genius TV shows are not things anyone can control,2 but I can control what I write. Not only can I control that, I do control that. So that’s what my goals are. Simple, eh?3

The following are categories I plan to publish a book in. When I publish a book in a given category I cross the category out. I also randomly add categories when they occur to me. Mostly, to give me the pleasure of crossing them out.4

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Mainstream or litfic5
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA
  • Gothic
  • Dystopia
  • Adult romance

The reason I am reduxing my writing goals post is because I just struck off another category: Historical. Woo hoo! Yes, with the publication of Razorhurst, set in Sydney in 1932, I have finally published an historical novel.6 And there was much rejoicing. I adore historicals. In fact, the very first novel I ever wrote was an historical set in thirteenth century Cambodia and never published. So this is a big crossing off day for me.

I have also added two new categories: adult romance and dystopia. Before any of you groan about how you’re totally over YA dystopia already I have a really awesome idea for one. In fact, I’ve already written a short story set in that world and it will be out late this year or early next. Very excited about turning it into a novel. But even if I don’t write that novel I’m still going to cross off dystopia when that short story is available.

As for adult romance. Read this post here and you will see me realising that adult romances are completely different to YA romances and that I really want to write one.

All I have left is adult romance, dystopia, western, horror and gothic. Some have said that Liar is horror. I do not agree. I wasn’t scared once writing it. The few times I have tried to write horror I have scared myself so badly I have had to stop writing. When I publish one of those I’ll cross it off the list.

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

The observant amongst you will notice that every item on this list is now crossed off. Yes, indeed, Razorhurst does make use of the omniscient point of view. I have conquered an entire list! Let there be rejoicing!

Penultimately:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series
  • Collaboration

A series is a sequence of more than three books that: 1) have the same character or set of characters but each book tells a separate story. You could argue that Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books are a series of that kind. 2) are a large story that is told across more than three books.

Some people classify trilogies as a series but I think they’re their own thing. I also admit that that’s very hair splitting and may be heavily influenced by my desire to have one extra thing on this list. Hey, it’s my list. I get to do that.

I suspect the 1930s NYC novel is a series. I’ve been working on it since forever and it shows no signs of being finished. So one day, maybe, I’ll be able to cross series off the list.

And lastly a whole new list:

  • Witch
  • Fairy
  • Vampire
  • Zombie
  • Ghost
  • Siren
  • Psychopath
  • Werewolf
  • Demon
  • Fallen angel
  • Goblin
  • Troll
  • Evil piano7

For those unfamiliar with my oeuvre the Magic or Madness trilogy was about witches. There were, obviously, fairies in How To Ditch Your Fairy and if you don’t think those fairies count then I wrote about more traditional fairies in the short story, “Thinner than Water.” I knocked over both vampires and zombies in Team Human. I don’t count the zombies in Zombies v Unicorns because I did not write those stories. I merely edited them.

I get to cross off ghosts because there are bazillions of them in my newest novel, Razorhurst. I am also, more controversially, crossing off siren because I believe the femme fatale is a kind of siren and Dymphna Campbell, one of the main characters in Razorhurst is most definitely a femme fatale. I’ll be very curious to hear your opinions on that those of you who have read Razorhurst.

I am aware that some of you are going to say that there are two more on that list that I could cross off. However, I have decided I can’t do that because in that particular book it is up to the reader to decide if the main character is an x or a y or possibly a z or possibly none of those. There is no definitive answer thus they all remain on the list. I will brook no argument on that topic.

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. Have any of youse crossed anything off your writing goals list of late?

TL:DR My new book Razorhurst means I get to cross historical, omniscient, ghost and siren off my lists. Let the dancing commence!

  1. Though I would make no objections should such a thing happen. None at all. []
  2. Well, not unless they’re hugely wealthy or know hugely wealthy people who are willing to buy gazillions of copies of their books from New York Times reporting stores. But then you wind up with the * meaning this book QUITE POSSIBLY CHEATED. []
  3. Well, except that I’m only counting them once they get published, which is not actually something I can control. It’s something I hope (fervently) will continue to happen. []
  4. No, it’s not cheating. I made up this system. I set the rules. []
  5. You know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis. Though I have never written such a book nor will I. But enough of my readers declared Liar to be literature that I decided to cross it off the list. []
  6. Razorhurst will be out in the US next March. []
  7. This one is for Courtney Summers. []

Getting Started

I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.

I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.

Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.

The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.

The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.

By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.

It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.

I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.

Procrastination is good

The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.

Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.

Research

Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.

Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.

Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.

Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.1

Many books at once

I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.

The first words I wrote of Liar are:

I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.

That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar four years later.

At the time I was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.

Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.2

Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.

If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.

If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.3

In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you.4 Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.

  1. It’s a sekrit project for no particular reason. I just really enjoy having sekrit projects. Makes me feel like a spy. What? I get to have fun! []
  2. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like writing books under contract. A contract for one book just makes all the uncontracted novel ideas seem that much more shiny. []
  3. Co-incidentally, or not really, me and Sarah Rees Brennan started writing Team Human at another point when I was overwhelmed by the NYC novel. I suspect there will be one or two more other novels before I finish the damn thing. []
  4. Unless it involves hurting anyone. []

Writing Goals Reduxing the Redux

Back in 2006 I posted my writing goals. Then I updated it in 2008 with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy and then again in 2009 after Liar came out.

My goals are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize.1 Winning prizes and making bestseller lists is not something anyone can control,2 but I can control what I write. So that’s what my goals are. Simple, really.3

So the following are categories that I plan to publish a book in. When I publish a book in a given category I cross that category out. I also randomly add categories when they occur to me. Mostly, to give me the pleasure of crossing them out.

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Gothic
  • Mainstream or litfic4
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA

I have added a new genre: Gothic. This is Sarah Rees Brennan‘s fault. She has written a Gothic, Unspoken, the first of a trilogy, which comes out in September. I love this book SO MUCH. It reminded me of all those Victoria Holt5 books I read by the truckload when I was wee. Of how much I have always adored the Brontes.6 And Shirley Jackson.7 And how I have always thought Georgette Heyer’s one Gothic novel, Cousin Kate, is much overlooked. Me, I am dead fond of it. I even read some Barbara Michaels on SRB’s recommendation and enjoyed them mightily. Though as a genre reader they are a bit frustrating. I kind of hate it when the Creepy Stuff Happening in the House has a really boring logical explanation. It’s too much like a Scooby Doo episode. Anyways, SRB has given me a powerful urge to write my own crazy, scary house novel, which is a metaphor for female imprisonment and yearning. Only in mine she’ll get to blow said house up, which even though it has been done before, will make me very happy.

All I have left is western, historical, horror and Gothic. Though a friend says I can cross horror off because Liar scared the crap out of her. But she is the biggest wuss on the planet so I declare that cheating. Liar isn’t scary at all. Wait till I write my slugs book. Now that’s scary. Though if some more of you think Liar counts as horror I may use that as an excuse to cheat and cross it off.

I am hard at work on a novel set in the 1930s so I suspect historical will be the next one to get the old strike through. But it may take some time . . .

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

The 1930s novel makes much use of omni. When it’s finally done I will conquer the entire list!

Lastly:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series
  • Collaboration

A series is a sequence of more than three books that: 1) have the same character or set of characters but each book tells a separate story. You could argue that Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books are a series of that kind. 2) are a large story that is told across more than three books.

Some people classify trilogies as a series but I think they’re their own thing. I also admit that that’s very hair splitting and may be heavily influenced by my desire to have one extra thing on this list. Hey, it’s my list. I get to do that.

I suspect the 1930s novel is a series. Though it might just be another trilogy, which would be really annoying. Or a duology. At which point I would add duology to the list.

The collaboration is a new addition to the list. I admit that it doesn’t really fit this list but I couldn’t think what other list to put it on. So, you know, whatever. I added it, obviously, because I get to cross it off. Thanks to having written Team Human with Sarah Rees Brennan which will be published in July. So soon, people!

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. What have youse lot been crossing off your writing goal lists?

Disclaimer: This post brought to you by demonic voice misrecognition annoyingware. Apologies for brevity, wrong word choices, weird syntax and occasional incomprehensible swearing.

  1. Though I am not against those happening to me. I mean, wouldn’t that be grouse? I would not say no. Hmm . . . can you say no to being a best seller? Also is bestseller one word or two? []
  2. Well, not unless they’re hugely wealthy or know hugely wealthy people who are willing to buy gazillions of copies of their books from New York Times reporting stores. And then you wind up with the * meaning this book QUITE POSSIBLY CHEATED. []
  3. Well, except that I’m only counting them once they get published, which is not actually something I can control. It’s something I hope (fervently) will keep happening. []
  4. You know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis. Though I have never written such a book nor will I. But enough of my readers declared Liar to be literature that I decided to cross it off the list. []
  5. Yes, I am aware that “Victoria Holt” is one of the many nom de plumes of Eleanor Hibbert and that her most popular books were written under the names Jean Plaidy and Phillippa Carr. I loved all those books as well. []
  6. Yes, all of them. Even the much neglected Anne. Well, okay, not Branwell. AT ALL. But then he didn’t write any books, did he? I love all the books by Brontes. []
  7. I worship Shirley Jackson, actually. []

My Books of Electrons! (Updated)

One of the most frequent queries I get is: “Are your books e-books yet?”

For a long time, they were not and I could only respond in the negative. This was never a very satisfactory reply. Not for me, because I dreamed of having books of electrons, and piteously begged my publishers to make it so.1 And certainly not for the would-be purchaser of said electrificated tomes.

“No, sorry they’re not,” I would say mournfully.

They would demand to know, “Why? What is wrong with you that your books are only available as piles of extruded wood pulp? Electrify your novels at once!”

This led to me having to explain how it’s beyond my control. They never believed me just as no one believes John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasions. No amount of talk of contracts and publishers reserving the right and blah blah blah ever convinced them that I was not being willful and obstreperous. Their eyes would glaze and they’d walk away.

They weren’t happy. I wasn’t happy. There was SO MUCH UNHAPPINESS!

But now, at long last,2 I do not have to have that upsetting conversation anymore because:

All of my novels are now available as e-books in North America and some of them are on sale right now.

Let there be rejoicing!

Yes, even the first book of the Magic or Madness trilogy, which is called, wait for it, Magic or Madness. Their wise publisher deemed it absurd to have the first book in the trilogy available when readers could just skip to the second and third book. But no longer! You can download all three in any format for any device you wish to purchase them on. Halelujah!

The anthology I edited with Holly Black, Zombies versus Unicorns, is also available on all devices. And is currently available for the bargain price of $3.99 which is ludicrously cheap. Love is Hell which includes my short story “Thinner than Water”3 is also available on every device known to humanity.

Meanwhile Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy are available for Kindle and the Nook and I think other devices but only HTDYF is available via ibooks. They are, however, currently available for the low, low price of $4.79, which, BARGAIN.4

Team Human by me and Sarah Rees Brennan will be available in all formats going, which is how I like it.5 I don’t know when or how much it will cost. Though 3 July 2012 is the current publication date for the paper version in North America.

Some of you Australians and New Zealanders may be wondering, “What about us? Can we access these e-books?”

I am investigating and it looks like only Zombies versus Unicorns is definitely available in e-book form. You can get it from Readings and Read Without Paper. I hope that in the not too distant future all my books will be yours for the push of a button. We are living in the future!

So, how many of you actually consume e-books? I do. In vast numbers. Usually books that in the past I would have bought in paperback. When I truly love an e-book I tend to buy a hard copy. It has made a huge difference to travelling. I never run out of books now.

On the other hand, as a bunch of us were discussing on Twitter, formats becoming obsolete scares me. I have floppy discs from the olden days . . . So useful! So glad I backed all my early writing on those little babies.

This post brought to you by demonic voice recognition software. Apologies for brevity, wrong word choices, weird syntax and occasional incomprehensible swearing.

Update: All my Allen & Unwin books are now available on multiple platforms in Australia and New Zealand. Those books are How To Ditch Your Fairy, Liar, Zombies Versus Unicorns and Team Human.

  1. Or, well, okay, I begged my lovely agent Jill who in turn. You know how it goes. []
  2. Well, actually I think they’ve all been available for almost a year now. But what with my RSI problems and voice [mis]recognition annoyingware it has taken a long time to write this post. []
  3. Nope, I will not explain the title. Figure it out yourself! []
  4. I had nothing to do with them being on sale. How much books cost is yet another thing we humble authors are not consulted on. []
  5. Down with exclusivity! []

Last Day of 2009

This is my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life in that year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2010. Basically I do this so I can have a handy record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” tag.) Do feel free to skip it.1

This year, though, was less happy than any of the previous years I’ve summed up here. Thus my summary is brief. I want to get past 2009 and on to the fun of 2010 as fast as I can.

Books out: Liar (hc in US & tpb in Oz), HTDYF (in Oz & pb in US)

MorM&MLDeustchEdLiar sold in nine different countries this year (in order of sale): Taiwan, Germany, France, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands & Spain. That last sale was to Ediciones Versatil. I only just found out about it. Since I’ve been wanting to sell Spanish-language rights since I even knew such a thing existed I’m dead happy. (Champagne tonight!) Spanish is the only language I can even vaguely speak. (Other than English, obviously.) I’m going to be very curious to read the translation. (Or try to anyways.) Liar has now sold in as many countries as the Magic or Madness trilogy. HTDYF remains my least popular book o.s. having only sold in Australia, the US, Germany & this year to Japan. Germany is the only country other than Australia and the USA to have bought all my novels. Apparently, the trilogy is doing well there—yay for German readers! I figure that’s because of the awesome covers. The cover above is of a new German edition of the first two books in the trilogy which will be out in October next year. Isn’t it gorgeous?

There were also audio editions of Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy released in Australia by Bolinda and the USA by Brilliance. I was able to sit in on a bit of the recording of Liar and was invited to help choose the narrator of HTDYF both wonderful, wonderful experiences. I think the end results are amazing.

Okay, that was my 2009. Now on to next year!

First up, I have two books coming out in the USA in fall:

The paperback edition of Liar

Zombies versus Unicorns anthology edited with Holly Black

I am so excited about the antho. You would not believe how fantastic the stories are. Not a dud one in the book. Well, except for the unicorn stories which are all dreadful (Holly edited those) but you are going to adore the zombie stories, which are, no lie, the best stories written in the history of the universe by some of the best writers ever. Um, yes, I edited those ones. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to announce who the writers are yet. I’ll just give you their initials: LB, CC, AJ, MJ, SW, & CR. Tell no one! I’m not giving you the unicorn story writer initials because 1) I know you don’t care, 2) they’re all hack writers you never heard of anyways.

It’s quite astonishing that someone as spectacularly talented as Holly could be such a unicorn fan. I don’t understand. I think the best plan is for everyone to skip the unicorn stories and instead read Holly’s new novel, The White Cat, which is out in May next year and is the best thing she’s ever written. I say that as someone who adores everything Holly writes. The White Cat, though, beats them, hands down. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. You are in for such a treat! In even better news: it’s the first of a trilogy.

The ZvU antho began life as a sekrit project in 2007. It is my first sekrit project to see the light of day. Very happy making. It’s also the first project of mine to be inspired by this blog. By this comment exchange between me and Holly and many others, to be exact.

So that’s what I’m publishing, what about what I’m working on? People have been asking me about that a lot lately. I suspect because I’ve not blogged about it much lately. Especially compared the flurry of 1930s book posts earlier in the year. Speaking of which there have been queries about how the 1930s novel is going, seeing as how I haven’t mentioned it in awhile. “Have you given up on it?” I’ve been asked anxiously. (Mostly by my friend and critique partner Diana Peterfreund, who’s read some chunks of it.) I have not! But I have kind of been cheating on it.

Right now I’m working on four novels at once:

  • One is the 1930s novel, which has turned out to be much bigger than I thought. More than one novel, in fact. When it became clear to me that there was no way I was finishing it any time soon my brain spat out another idea for a much shorter novel and I started working on that.
  • That novel is set in the here2 and now and is closer in tone to How To Ditch Your Fairy. When I started working on it I stopped reading only 1930s books. I now only restrict myself when I’m working on the 1930s novel.
  • The third book I started awhile ago, it’s the lodger book for those of you who’ve been with this blog for awhile, and then rediscovered it while procrastinating. It was the one I put aside to concentrate on Liar.
  • The fourth one is a sekrit. Though not the sekrit project I thought would come to fruition this year that I mentioned at the end of last year. I still have hopes for that sekrit project but I do not see it happening for at least two or three years. Thank Elvis for the new sekrit project, eh?

At the moment none of these novels is winning the fight for my attention. And, honestly, while touring I was unable to get any writing done at all. I truly admire those who can. School events all day and then a library or book store event at night means no writing on tour for this particular writer. And travelling and returning home ate my December. (In a good way!) My next clear, no travelling, stretch starts tomorrow. Bless you, January 2010. So tomorrow I start writing again in earnest and that’s when I expect one of the four novels to take over my brain completely. But maybe it won’t. Maybe my new style of writing is to flit back and forth between books. I guess I’ll find out in 2010.

My only goal for this year is to be happy writing. If I finish one or more of these novels then wonderful. If not, no big deal.

I hope 2010 shapes up beautifully for all of us.

Happy new year!

  1. Cause it will be boring. Don’t say you weren’t warned. []
  2. Well, not Sydney (or NYC), but this planet and not an alternative version of it. []

Ebooks of My Novels

This year I’ve been getting more and more people asking about ebook editions of my novels. This is my general response to that query.

First of all: you’re asking the wrong person. My publishers are in charge of the electronic rights to my novels. If you’re curious John Scalzi has more to say on this question. If you’re desperate for ebooks of my stuff bug my publishers, not me. That will be much more effective.

But here’s what I know: Penguin has made electronic editions of Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child available. But for some reason not the first book in that trilogy, Magic or Madness. Apparently they’re working on it. That’s all I know.

Bloomsbury, who publish How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar, are also working on making them available as ebooks. Possibly it will happen by the end of this year. Again that’s all I know.

I suspect one of the big reasons that my books are not available is that very few teens are reading ebooks and they are the biggest part of my audience. (Bless you all!)

There’s also the fact that those who have converted to ebooks are still a very small part of the market. Tiny even. So there’s no great urgency for my publishers to make my books available. It’s a very new thing for them. Many of the big publishers are still figuring out their approach to ebooks, especially YA and children’s publishers. I’m sure in the next few years, as the ebook market expands, all of my books, and everyone else’s, will be available as a matter of course. But we are just at the beginning of the ebook revolution.

And there you have it: bug them, not me.

Writing Goals Redux (updated)

A while ago I posted about my writing goals. I updated it a year ago with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy. But now I have published Liar which is in a whole new genre and allows me to cross even more off my lists.

My goals are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize. Winning prizes and making bestseller lists is not something I can control, but I can control what I write. So that’s what my goals are about. Simple, really.

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller)
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Mainstream or litfic (you know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis)
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA

The publication of Liar allows me to knock three genres off that list. Though cheatingly I only just added one of them—problem novel. What? It’s my list! I can add to it if I want whenever I want. I could have added unreliable narrator and pretended it was a genre, too, you know. But I didn’t.

All I have left is western, historical and litfic. I’m writing an historical right now. The western is still aways off but will definitely happen. I also have a couple of ghost stories in mind so horror will also get knocked off. I don’t think I’ll ever manage litfic. Unless you think I can claim Liar as litfic? If more than one of you says I can then I’m crossing it off.

Update:
More than one of you said I could cross of litfic. Thus it is now crossed off. I love collusion.

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

Why, yes, Liar does allow me to cross off another one: second person. Go, me! And the 1930s novel makes much use of omniscient. I will conquer the entire list! W00t!

And the last list:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series

Which sadly remains unaltered because Liar is a standalone. But I suspect the 1930s novel is a series. Though it might just be another trilogy, which would be really annoying.

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. What have youse lot been crossing off your writing goal lists?

On Hating Female Characters

For a while now I’ve been thinking about how many readers seem to hate female characters more than they hate male. Or rather that the same behaviour from a male character is okay but someone inexcusable in a female. Sarah Rees Brennan has written about this phenomenon most eloquently:

Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.

But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she’d had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she’d found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school’s only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she’d had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn’t have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.

Well, then she’d be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don’t think people would like her as much.

To which I say, indeed. I am noticing this somewhat acutely right now because quite a few people are hating on Micah Wilkins the protagonist of Liar. Now, I will admit as how Micah has rather more flaws than HP. Even aside from being, you know, a liar. But I happen to love Micah, as I do all the characters in my books.1 I’m well aware that I’m not an impartial observer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that were Micah a boy even with all the same flaws s/he would not be attracting such hate. I suspect that there would be a fair few crushes on Micah-the-boy. That he would be considered hot.

As evidence I offer the fact that I’ve already been told by a few people that they have a crush on Zach, who a) is dead and b) is, um, perhaps not the most reliable boyfriend in literary history given that he had an official girlfriend and an unofficial girlfriend. I.e. there’s a strong argument that’s he’s a cheating dog. Yet there are crushes.

Now, what I want to know is how to go about being part of the process of changing this kind of thinking. I was talking about this with a friend and she said I should write books that unpack it. To which I umed and ahhed before realising hours later that I already do. I have worked very hard in all my novels to unpack assumptions about what girls and boys can and can’t do. I have written female jocks, boy fashion obsessives, laconic girls, garrulous boys. I have tried to work against stereotypes at all times.

So does pretty much every working writer that I love. Yet still readers call Isabelle (of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy) a “slut” and have crushes on Jace who’s much more slutty than Isabelle. What can we do to shift such sexist assumptions when they’re so deeply ingrained in so many of us? Because even when we write books that challenge such stereotypes, readers put them back into the text by reading Isabelle as a slut and Jace as Hotty McHott Hero. I have done this myself both as a reader and a writer. Our prejudices are so unconscious that they leak out without our knowing it.

Hmmm, I find that I have no cheering conclusion. Feel free to provide one in the comments.

  1. Yes, even Jason Blake and Esmeralda Cansino in the trilogy and Dander Anders in How to Ditch Your Fairy. []

What I’m Doing This Friday

I’ll be here:

Friday, 16 October, 7:00 pm:
Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave

Larchmont, NY

It’s a very short train ride from Grand Central so if you’re in NYC and wish to hear me be witty and wise you can do so! It’s even closer if you’re in Westchester County and thereabouts, (which you would probably know if you were in Westchester County or thereabouts).

I’ll be talking about Liar, writing and life, and answering all your questions. In fact, I have decided that this will be the event where I tell the true ending of Liar. So if you don’t attend you will never know! Though I did say I would reveal all in Memphis and Nashville yet I didn’t. But I’m quite sure this time will be different.

In other news if you are anywhere near Memphis I left behind giant piles of signed books here:

Davis-Kidd Booksellers
387 Perkins Ext

Memphis, TN

So if you want my name scribbled on your copy of Liar. This is the place to go. I swear I signed about a million of them. I also signed several How To Ditch Your Fairy and Magic or Madness trilogy paperbacks.

In other news, I’ll be in Seattle and Porland next week. Details are here.

I cannot wait to meet you all!

Liar and Paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy Release Day!

Yup, it’s finally here. Liar is now officially out in the world in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA! Is it just me or did that take FOREVER?

Also available for the first time today (officially) the audio books of Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy. As well as the gorgeous US paperback of How To Ditch Your Fairy which as I may have mentioned multiple times is my favourite cover of all time. (Look to your left at the squashed fairy.)

If you can’t afford to buy new books right now, but are desperate to read Liar, I recommend getting your local library to buy a copy (if they haven’t already) or having a friend who owns a copy. That always worked for me.

Happy reading!

YA & Girls Playing Sport

Back in early August, Doret Canon of the wonderful blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, wrote to thank me for linking to her and ”put in a request for a YA novel featuring girls playing sports. Any sport will do.” I misread her as asking for recommendations for such YA novels when she was in fact asking me to write ‘em. (What can I say August was kind of mental for me.) I was ashamed to discover that all I could think of was Catherine Murdock’s Dairy Queen series and my own How To Ditch Your Fairy. It transpired that Doret knows more about YA sports books than anyone else on the planet. We soon got to talking about books, sport, and YA about girls playing sport.

Justine: What came first for you a love of sport or a love of books?

Doret: Oh, man, that question is hard. I’ve loved sports and books for so long. Though I have to say books.

Justine: Me too. Do you remember the first book you read that was about sport?

Doret: Growing up I didn’t read sports books. It wasn’t until I started to work at a bookstore that I started to combine my love of both. In the mid 90’s a children’s biography of Satchel Paige by Lesa Cline Ransome and James Ransome—that book stopped me cold and said come here. And, I was like Shut Up, a bio on a Negro League Player, here I come. I had to read it right there.

Another biography—Wilma Unlimited (Wilma Rudolph) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz. Again I had to read the book on sight. I loved both biographies and I quickly learned sports and books go so well together.

Justine: How did you come to love sports?

Doret: I get it from my dad who is a big sports watcher himself. Baseball is my first and favorite. Growing up I used to love watching baseball games and giving my dad the scores. Any sports fan knows there is an art to giving the score.

Justine: Absolutely. That’s very similar to how I got into it. Watching cricket in the summer with my family.

Which are you most obsessed with? Or are you an equal opportunity sports lover?

Doret: Yeah, I pretty much enjoy watching any sport. In high school I would set my alarm so I could wake up to watch the Wimbledon finals. At the time I was also really into the NBA and would stay up late to watch West Coast playoff games.

I wasn’t born with the coordination to play but I have the mind for them. The announcer could be speaking Portuguese but I’ll still watch and understand. I’ve just always gotten sports.

Justine: Ah. So you have what I call “sports brain.” You can sit down and pick up any sport lickety split and then you have to be careful not to get addicted. (During the last Olympics I kind of got addicted to handball.)

Are there any sports you don’t like? (I can’t come at golf or American football.)

Doret: What? No American Football? I love the strength of that game. With the Olympics it’s usually volleyball that gets me in. Car Racing. I get the excitement in the last 5 laps but 500? That’s too much.

Justine: American Football seems designed to fit ad breaks on TV. Also I don’t hold with a sport that has entirely different teams to play offense and defense (and where most of the key decisions are made on the sidelines). One of the things I love about cricket is that you get to see players struggling to do something they’re not that good at: i.e. the fast bowler struggling to bat. It’s why I don’t approve of the designated hitter rule in baseball. It’s fun to watch the pitcher struggle with a bat.

I don’t like car racing either. But then I hate cars. Volleyball is awesome. I even like beach volleyball.

Doret: Have you heard of Beach Tennis? Just learned about it last week. Still not sure what I think of it.

American Football designed to fit ad breaks on TV? Man, that’s harsh. Think of football players as position specialists with something to prove. Football players don’t want to let the other side down. That’s especially evident on a 4 and goal play. Both sides are so determined for that one yard, it’s beautiful to watch. We may never agree about Amercan Football but we will always agree about Baseball. Pitchers should hit. I hate the DH rule as well. Some pitchers are actually starting to look halfway decent with a bat. Evolution at work. Did you know, this year in Japan for the first time a female pitcher was called up to the majors? Eri Yoshida, she is 17. I don’t know how she is with a bat but she’s supposed to have a wicked knuckball.

Justine: Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on Gridiron. Glad you hate the DH rule though.

Beach tennis? Ha! I’ll have to check it out. I love regular tennis. Especially doubles.

Did you have to go searching for YA and middle grade books about girls playing sport?

Doret: A few months back I went on a serious reading kick with book featuring girls who play sports. It started because a sports blog I visit mentioned the 37th anniversary of title IX. The book and sport loving female that I am I didn’t think the anniversary should be ignored. I did have to make an effort to find a lot of the books but it was worth it. I discovered some wonderful new books. Though it’s frustrating that there aren’t more books about girls playing sports. The ones that are out don’t get much exposure. Girls playing and loving sports is not a new concept it goes well beyond 37 years. YA is geared towards girls and maybe even Middle Grade fiction to some extent, yet there’s such a limited amount of books featuring female athletes. I am so over the let’s put a girl on the boys’ team. It’s nice that male authors are recognizing female athletes but it’s not enough. Publishers need to realize girls play and love sports too.

And on a side note—Last year I read a book called Out of His League by Pat Flynn, an Australian author. The main character is a great Rugby player in Australia he moves to Texas to finish high school. He joins the football team and even introduces a few rubgy plays. It was a very fun read. Is it easier to find sports books with girls in Australia?

Justine: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know whether there are many girl sports books at home. Hopefully people reading the interview will be able to tell us.

Justine: Could you explain a little bit what Title IX is? (Quite a few of my readers aren’t from the US.)

Doret: Explain a little bit about title IX? You didn’t say anything about homework!

Justine: I’m sneaky that way.

Doret: I will happily do it and go for a little extra credit while I am at it. Title IX was passed in the United States in June of 1972. It requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Title IX extends past the field into the class room. As far as sports goes money must be fairly distributed for boys’ and girls’ teams. Before its passing girls’ schools teams were under funded or completely ignored. Even with the passing of Title IX, many people still dismissed female athletes including tennis champion Bobby Riggs. In Sept 1973 Billie King defeated Bobby Riggs in three sets. 40 million people watched that match know as Battle of the Sexes.

“I just had to play . . . Title IX [the ban on gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs] had just passed, and I . . . wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation.”

You gotta love what Billie Jean King said and did. There are some moments in sports that transcend beyond the game. In the U.S. King defeating Riggs is definitely one of those moments.

Justine: You get the extra credit! Thank you.

What do you think of the theory that girls who like sports don’t read? (I’ve had several girls write and tell me that they loved How To Ditch Your Fairy despite all the sport in it. On the other hand, I had another girl write and tell me she loved it because she’s a point guard. She comes from a family of basketball playing twins.) There does seem to be a conviction that girls have zero interest in sports books.

Doret: I haven’t heard that theory. Though I have heard that sports books featuring girls don’t sell. How can girls buy books they don’t know about. I always feel bad when a girl comes into the bookstore still in uniform mind you, searching for sports book and I have nothing to show them. It totally sucks. Also it sends an awful message to girls who play sports, that they must hunt down stories that reflect a big part of who they are. Let’s just hope that sports self esteem is working because under representation is bad for anyone’s psyche.

Justine: You said it. I can’t think of any girl sports books that have sold really well. I’m hoping that’s just ignorance on my part. Can you think of any really popular girl sports books?

Doret: No, you’re right there aren’t any sports books featuring girls that have sold really well. But, they haven’t been given a chance. It seems like such an obvious market and I don’t know why it’s being ignored. There are readers waiting and wanting and I am not just talking about the athletes. There are others like myself who simply enjoy and appreciate the games.

I would like to think the idea that girls don’t like sports is changing. A few years ago I was in a store and saw pink baseball gloves. Last Saturday while waiting for the train I saw a dad tossing a football back and forth with his little girl. They were on their way to a college football game. The other night on ESPN highlights, they showed a dad giving a foul ball to his daughter, she threw the baseball back onto the field. These girls may never play but there is no denying that they being raised to enjoy and appreciate sports. If girls don’t like sports then who are the pink gloves for? If girls don’t like sports, why is the WNBA still around? Hmm I wonder what would happen if a basketball book was marketed to female fans at a WNBA game or a softball book at the Softball World Series.

“For the past several years ESPN has televised the Big League Softball World Series, yet the competition has garnered so much attention that the network has decided to move this year’s final game into prime time television.”

People must be watching (and playing) softball for ESPN to move it to prime time, and it can’t be all men. Woman are all over ESPN as players, fans announcers and analysts. My television is constanly turned to that channel, so the idea that girls don’t like sports sounds ridiculously outdated to me.

Justine: I so agree! The idea that no girls like sports is nuts. Sadly, it persists in publishing. I wonder if it’s part of the whole boys don’t like to read thing. The idea being that boys would rather be outside playing sports (or their X-box). So that even if girls do like sports then they won’t like reading because sports-obsessed kids don’t read. I am unconvinced. Reading and sports are not opposites.

Do you get a lot of girls looking for sports books?

Doret: We get a few girls looking for sport books. Probably more girls aren’t seeking out sports books because they are conditioned not to, a reader can take “no we don’t have anything for you” until they just stop looking. That whole boys don’t read thing is ridiculous as well. Anyone who thinks a sports-obsessed kid wouldn’t like books about sports, has never read a sports book. If they did they’d know sports books are written by fans, athletes and players. They would realize that the best sports books describe the indescrible plays, making fans and players feeling lucky for getting it, and feel sorry for those who don’t.

Justine: So true! Publishers have to be more proactive. If the books aren’t there then people can’t find them, and you’re right, they stop looking. The publishers have to stop using the “there’s no audience” excuse when they have no evidence that that’s true. Drives me nuts.

Doret: Yes, it’s an awful cycle, I always get mad thinking about it.

Justine: I have been very interested to see that many of the reviews of HTDYF did not mention that the book is set at a sports high school and almost all the characters are athletes. The focus is on the fairies.

Doret: I loved the idea of an all sports school in HTDYF. I was very happy at the mention of cricket, don’t get much of that State side. Though I must say I felt teased. There was wonderful talk of cricket in HTDYF but no match. My sports brain was all ready to enjoy a game. I could see reviewers talking over that part of the HTDYF if they only cared more about the fairy aspect. I know sports fans would love the idea of a sports school though they would want more games. Writing that I realize, it must be hard for authors to satisfy all readers, sports related or not.

Justine: It is, indeed, tricky. Though I did fail with HTDYF. There was a lot more sport in the earlier versions but descriptions of games really bogged the book down and I wound up having to cut them. (Much to my sadness.) I found it really interesting that I couldn’t find a way to have it be a true spots novel and also be the novel that it is. I truly did try. I do have plans for a basketball novel—WNBA to be exact—at some point in the future. It’s on the list. (It’s a very long list though.)

Doret: A WNBA novel? Sweet. As much as you love basketball I know it will be great. I used to love basketball until the Knicks wouldn’t stop drafting guards. Bastards, took my joy. Now I just do playoffs and March madness.

Justine: But you could follow the Atlanta Dream! Their transformation this year has been totally amazing. From worst in the league last year to making the playoffs this. And I love their shoot and run style of play. They have Angel McCoutrey (not sure I’m spelling that right. Spelling’s not my strong suit.) who’s been on of the best rookies this year and has a hell of a career ahead of her. Frankly I enjoy the WNBA way more than the NBA. (Though I just watched the worst game ever on ESPN 2. Damn those refs.)

And, yes, the Knicks are a disaster. Have been a disaster ever since they traded Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy left. They have truly horrendous management.

Doret: Maybe I will watch a few of the playoff games. When the WNBA started the Liberty drafted Rebecca Lobo, (I am from NY) I always thought she was just okay player, and not someone to start a team around sure enough the LA Sparks seemed to win all the time. At the time Atlanta didn’t have a team so I couldn’t watch or go to any games. I do enjoy women’s college ball. Refs can be awful sometimes, all I can do is scream at the TV, and it makes me feel slightly better.

Justine: Ugh. Refs. I mean, yes, it’s a tough job. They don’t get paid enough. And the fans hate them. But I have seen too many games ruined by over officiating. I quite like Lobo as a commentator but, yeah, her pro basketball career was underwhelming. You do not want to get me started on the management of the New York Liberty!

Let’s end on a positive note: What are your five favourite girls playing sports books?

Doret: Boost by Kathy Mackel—Basketball, fans of Murdork’s Diary Queen series will enjoy this.
Soccer Chicks Rule by Dawn FitzGerald—A must for girls who enjoy Meg Cabot and playing on their field of choice.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park—Baseball, like me this protagonist isn’t a player, simply a lover of the game.
Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr—Basketball, a very beautiful multi-layered story. It’s one of the few featuring people of color.
A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Green—A biography of Mamie “Peaunt” Johnson. One of three women to play in the Negro Leagues and the only pitcher.

I am going to try and be smooth here and slip in two more, making 7 the new 5:
The Ring by Bobbie Pyron—Boxing and Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley Hockey.
I really enjoyed both books. I love that both have female protagonist playing sports that some wouldn’t consider lady like. No one should be limited by gender or race.

Justine: That’s exactly the note to end on. What Doret said, No one should be limited by gender or race.

First Chapter of HTDYF, Read Aloud!

I have been remiss in mentioning that the US paperback of How To Ditch Your Fairy also makes its appearance on 29 September.1 That’s right, finally FINALLY, the fabulous new US paperback cover will be out there in the wild, available for all who want it.2 I have waxed lyrical about Danielle Delaney’s design before. It truly is the best cover any book of mine has ever received. It captures the spirit of the book, it’s funny, and I adore the colour scheme. Happiness in my eyes!

To celebrate the new cheaper edition of How To Ditch Your Fairy I’m giving you a preview of yet another edition, the audiobook. Twas produced by Bolinda Audio Australia who even gave me a hand in choosing the narrator, Kate Atkinson, who does a splendid job.

Here is the first chapter:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Credits:

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I hope you like it as much as I do.

The good news is that the Australian edition is available right now. You can buy the Australian edition here. And the US edition here.

Audiobooks are a whole new thing for me. I’ve never really listened to any before. How many of you listen to them? And when?

  1. It’s already available in paperback in Australia. []
  2. I do know some of you prefer the US hardcover and Oz paperback version. Madness! []

My Silence

Enough of youse lot are wondering what’s up with me not blogging every day that I am driven to offer an explanation for my blog silence of late. A brief explanation: travel, busy, knackered, bad sport karma.

I have many posts brewing or brewed. More on race, writing and publishing (here’s a few links to others. I’m especially loving the Writers Against Racism series on Amy Bowllan’s SLJ blog like this one with Ari of Reading in Color.); a complaint about Being Human (Why does the woman have to be a timid ghost? Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if she was the werewolf or the vampire? Um, okay no need to write that post.); on re-reading Han Suyin’s A Mountain is Young; the long awaited stalker song post; a response to Sarah Rees Brennan’s wonderful essay on the way female characters get dumped on (hmmm, I think those last two posts may be connected); the art of writing dialogue, and many others.

Feel free to make requests for anything else you’d like me to blog about in the comments.

And for those who keep asking: both Liar and the paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy publish on 29 September. I.e. this very month! I happen to have two copies of HTDYF in its glorious paperback edition. So beautiful. Liar is also already a complete book with brand new dustjacket. I bet they will both start showing up in book shops around or even before the 29th.

Events, I does them

In addition to my Melbourne Writers Festival events—first one is tomorrow with Scott and Isobelle Carmody *squee*—soon I’ll be off on my second US tour. Pretty, exciting, eh?

I just added a few events to the appearances page. So far I have events confirmed (or close to) for Phoenix, Nashville, Memphis, Austin, Seattle, Portland and New York City. I’m especially excited about those first three cities as I’ve never been to any of them before.

Also: Memphis = Gracelands = Justine hyperventilating. For those of who don’t know, yes, I am a daggy Elvis fan. Goes back to when I was very little.

There will be at least one or two more cities on my tour. I’ll let you know which ones as soon as I know. Here’s hoping it’s your city.

Just so you know, I don’t pick where I go. The wonderful publicists at Bloomsbury make those decisions and it largely depends on which book shops, libraries and schools want me to come to talk to them. It could be that I’m not going to your town because no one there asked my publisher to send me. So get mad at your local book shops, schools and libraries, not at me!1

What will I be doing on tour? Talking about Liar, how I came to write it, my thoughts on lying, and the many other things that shaped the book. I’m also happy to talk about my earlier books, especially How To Ditch Your Fairy which comes out in its brand new shiny paperback edition at the same time as Liar debuts in hardcover. In fact, I’ll talk about whatever you want me to talk about. Last year, at one school event all they did was ask me about food. Oh, and to tell them vomit stories. I live to answer your questions.

Here’s hoping I’ll get to meet some more of you over the next few days and months. It’s my favourite part of touring.

  1. Kidding! Book shops, schools and libraries never do anything wrong. []

My Melbourne Writers Festival Events

Next week I’ll be doing four events at the Melbourne Writers Festival. None of my events are free, alas. Sorry about that! I will work extra hard on these panels to make up for it.1

My Sunday event is part of the adults programming and thus is a bit pricey. You can book your ticket here. However, my other events are part of the under 18 programming and thus are only $6. You can book the U-18 events here.

Event 1
Day: Sunday
Date: 23/08/2009
Time: 4:00 PM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Taking Over the Grown-Ups Table
Panelists: Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Agnes Nieuwenhuizen
Official Description: Join Justine Larbalestier, Isobelle Carmody and Scott Westerfeld, three authors who have successfully marketed their books to crossover audiences. Join these hugely successful YA authors as they discuss just who they think are reading their books. During this session Text Publishing will also be awarding the 2nd Text Prize.
My Description: This one will be lovely. Agnes Nieuwenhuizen was one of the first people to champion mine and Scott’s books in Australia. She’s the doyenne of YA literature and has made it her business to champion so many wonderful writers. It is impossible not to love her. Isobelle is not only one of Australia’s most talented writers but she lives in two countries just like us. Hers being the Czech Republic and Australia. This will be the first time we’ve ever hung out in Australia. We seem to only see Isobelle at the Bologna Children’s Lit Fair. *Heh hem* I think I have revealed that this will be the wankers’ panel. Ooops.

Event 2
Day: Monday
Date: 24/08/2009
Time: 12:30 PM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Magical characters.
Panelists: Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Pam Macintyre
Official Description: Justine Larbalestier talks about how she populates her novels with magical characters. In her latest novel: How to Ditch Your Fairy, every character has its own personal fairy. How does Justine come up with her magical ideas? And what does her own personal fairy look like?
My Description: Given that there are no magical characters in any of my books I imagine that we’ll have a lot of fun talking about many other things. (Well, I guess there’s one in the trilogy. I’d tell you who but it would be a spoiler. And no, having magic, does not make you magical. I guess I may have to explain why on the panel.) I can answer the two questions right now: My ideas—magical or not—come from my brain monkeys. My personal fairy looks a lot like the young Genghis Khan.

Event 3
Day: Tuesday
Date: 25/08/2009
Time: 10:00 AM
Venue: BMW Edge, Federation Square
Event Name: Rules of Invention
Panelists: Isobelle Carmody, Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Erin Ritchie
Official Description: What are the rules of invention? How do you make imaginary worlds real? Isobelle Carmody and Justine Labalestier will discuss how they paint new worlds without the brushstrokes. These two wonderful and well-respected fantasy writers will take you elsewhere, effortlessly.
Supported by the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria
My Description: Another session with Isabelle! The MWF is totally spoiling me. Yay!

Event 4
Day: Wednesday
Date: 26/08/2009
Time: 10:00 AM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Magical characters
Panelists: Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Cordelia Rice
Official Description: See Event 2
My Description: See Event 2

  1. Not that I don’t give my all for free events! []

Literary Influences

One of the questions writers get asked fairly often is who their literary influences are. I rarely know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s usually asked about a specific book. I have no idea what writers and books influenced How To Ditch Your Fairy. And the Magic or Madness trilogy was more influence by fantasy books that drove me spare than the ones I loved. The people asking the question tend not to want to hear about negative influences.

I suspect the people best positioned to answer the question are not the writers but the readers. I’m dreadful at spotting my influences.

SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this post is going behind a cut because I discuss literary influences on Liar and I happen to know that some of you are as nutty about spoilers as I am and don’t want to know even the tiniest bit about the book before you read it. Though I think identifying specific literary influences is way more that just a tiny bit spoilery. And one of the ones I’m going to talk about below this cut is MASSIVELY spoilery. (Well, in JustineLand. I have a much broader definition of spoiler than most people, which makes conversations with Sarah Rees Brennan and Diana Peterfreund difficult sometimes as neither seems to understand the concept of the spoiler at all. Bless them!)

You has been warned.

Continue reading

Boys Reading (updated)

Update with warning: Do not post spam here about your boy-friendly book. I am deleting all such comments.

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.

  1. Sorry I has very poor memory. []

Much Yay

Last week was a very big week for me. I found out that How to Ditch Your Fairy sold in Japan and Liar in France and Germany. (I also had my first lindy hop lesson. Next one is on Tuesday.)

How to Ditch Your Fairy sold to Tokyo Sogensha in Japan, who also publish Diana Wynne Jones. I know it’s tenuous proximity but it makes me happy, okay?

I can’t give more details on the French sale but I can say that my German publisher continues to be Bertelsmann Jugendbuch Verlag, who published the Magic or Madness trilogy in quick succession last year. It’s doing amazingly well over there, which I put down to the glory that is the covers:

Bertelsmann will also be publishing How to Ditch Your Fairy later this year. I met some of the crew over in Bologna last year and they were wonderful. Feels fabulous to have a solid home in Germany, which is one of the biggest book publishing markets in the world. Germans love to read. Bless them.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is real. It took twenty years to find anyone who wanted to publish for my fiction. I never dreamed it would appear in any language other than English. Yet here I am with a whole shelf full of various different editions of my books. Please let this last another twenty years.1 Fingers crossed!

In other yay news, Scott has previewed the final cover of Leviathan. It’s spectacular. And I say that as someone who loved the first version.

  1. Yeah, I’m aware of how great the odds are against that. []

Fact-checking, Spelling and Blogs

My blog has no copy editor, no proof reader, and no fact checker. It’s just me. Occasionally I’ll get Scott or one of my friends to proof a post, but not often. They’re busy. Even more rarely my readers will point out errors. Yesterday someone wrote and told me I’d misspelt Count Basie’s name on my bio page. *Blushes*. I was extremely grateful. That mistake had already been there close to a year! Who knows how many more such errors there are all over this blog?

I’m not a great speller and I find proper nouns especially difficult. The copy editors on my last two books, How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar, found I’d spelled various of the characters names in two or more different ways. I hadn’t noticed. Apparently that’s because spelling is linked to visual memory and mine is crap.1

There are very few blogs out there that are copy edited or proofed or fact checked. Something I frequently forget even though I have a blog myself.

This is just to remind myself to try and be a little bit less credulous.

That is all. Resume your Friday night festivities or Saturday morning frolicks.2

  1. Note that I have no idea where I got that factoid from and no idea if it’s true. Told you I had no fact checker. []
  2. Half my audience is back home in Oz and the rest here in the US of A or Europe. []

HTDYF Contest adorableness

The winners of Allen & Unwin’s How To Ditch Your Fairy contest have been announced. And they’re all very fabulous:

Competition Winner

Eden, QLD

“A cupcake fairy who works in the cafeteria, sprinkling naughty dust over the icing of miss populars.”

Eden sent in a photo of herself in her fairy costume. Readers, I confess, I awwwwwed. It was SO gorgeous. I wish you could have seen it. She’s wearing a teeny tiara and fuzzy wings. Even Scott awwwwed.

Competition Shortlist

Krystal, NSW

“I’d love a ‘you-can-eat-anything fairy’! To shield me from after garlic breath, big-backside affect and especially for me, dreaded hive outbreak.”

Steph, VIC

“A never-feeling-blue fairy.”

Kim, New Zealand

“The ‘I look like I’ve just stepped out of the salon’ fairy. No bad hair, face or body days.”

Kylie, VIC

“Bad fairy – I’m very innocent at times so sometimes I need a push from my bad fairy to do something a bit exciting and risky.”

I could use most of those fairies myself. Well, except for the bad fairy. I’m all over that once. Have been for years. Alas.

One of the unexpected and very happy making results of writing HTDYF is all the lovely folks who’ve written to tell me what their fairy is. Those are my favourite fan letters. Thank you!

HTDYF & Liar Audio rights sold (Updated)

I am extremely happy to let youse all know that I just said yes to a joint offer from Bolinda in Australia and Brilliance Audio in the USA to produce audio versions of How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar.

This makes me especially happy as it guarantees an Australian actor will read How To Ditch Your Fairy. Yay! It will sound the way it’s supposed to and not like Dick Van Dyke doing a cockney accent in Mary Poppins.1

Will let you know as soon as I hear when the release dates will be.

Update: It will be simultaneous with US publication on 29 September 2009.

  1. Yes, I might possibly be referring to the audio version of the Magic or Madness trilogy. I might even be implying that it’s unspeakably bad. Maybe. []

Hardcover versus Paperback Redux

Recently I observed that back home in Australia, the vast majority of books are published in paperback. Hardcovers are exceedingly rare. But here in the US of A there’s a huge emphasis on hardcovers.

When I first asked about it I was told that paperback originals don’t get reviewed. Thus the hardcover is more prestigious because it generates more attention. Many good reviews can lead to awards, and best book of the year listings, and lots of sales. A paperback original goes into the world unheralded and unreviewed and thus disappears into oblivion.

I’m not convinced this is as true as it once was or that prestige is as important as people think it is. I believe that fewer and fewer buyers of books are paying attention to what old media reviewers say. Partly this is because the book review section has been disappearing from newspapers all over the USA, just as newspapers have been disappearing.1 And partly because there is such a long lag time for reviews of YA in old media. Whereas there are blogs, whose reviews I respect and trust, reviewing YA before the books are even out.

How To Ditch Your Fairy is my best selling book. It had very few reviews in old media venues. It’s won no awards, nor been shortlisted for any, and has made precious few best book of the year lists. Magic or Madness won awards, was shortlisted for others, had starred reviews, and was very widely reviewed in old media places and made lots of best book of the year lists. HTDYF has already outsold MorM in hardcover even though it’s been out for five months and MorM‘s been out for four years.2 I suspect (hope!) that HTDYF will do better in paperback.3

What HTDYF has had more than any of my other books is a smart publicity and marketing campaign4 that has generated plenty of word of mouth. I’m convinced that the word of mouth has especially been pushed along by all the blog coverage5 While HTDYF didn’t get much old media coverage, it was extremely widely reviewed in new media places. There are so many online reviews I’ve lost track of them all.6

The majority of bloggers don’t care whether a book debuts in hardcover or paperback. They are not going to refuse to review a paperback original because it’s not prestigious enough. They don’t think they’ll be sullied by its mere presence. They just care whether they like it or not. I suspect this partly because that’s how I feel— after all I’m a blogger who sometimes reviews YA—but mostly because I’ve seen it in action.

Debuting in paperback can be an enormous start to a series or a career. Off the top of my head I can think of two series that got a massive kick in the pants because they were paperback debuts: Scott’s Uglies series and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books.7 At US$10 or less the first books in these highly addictive series were cheap, attractively packaged, and there was a less-than-a-year wait for the next book in the series, which was also a cheap paperback. Readers got hooked—at which point the evil publisher switched to hardcover.

Which leads me to the second reason publishers like hardcovers: the profit margin is higher. In order for a paperback to be profitable it has to sell vastly more copies than a hardcover book. How much more? An average royalty for hardcover is 10%, and for paperback 6%. So pbs are a smaller percentage of a smaller amount of money, which means on average you have to sell three times as many to earn out. Let me show you the maths: Say you have a $10 pb, that’s 60c per copy. If the advance was $20,000 you’d have sell more than 33,333 copies to earn out. If your hc retails for $17, you’d only have to sell 11,764 hardcovers.

That’s a huge difference and a big incentive for both publisher and author to want hardcover. In fact, I think this is the only solid argument for going with a hardcover.

However, you’ll only earn out faster if the hardcover sells. When a hc costs close to twice what a pb costs people are less likely to buy them—especially in the middle of a recession.8 Book sales are down across the board in the USA. I predict that if sales keep going the way they are9—hardcovers down; paperbacks down a bit, steady or, in some cases, climbing—we’re going to see a lot more paperback originals.

Overall, that’s probably a good thing, especially for debut authors. And also for series where the books are already written—that way the books can come out cheaply and in quick succession. This has long been a successful formula for romance and mysteries. I won’t be surprised if the USA winds up like Australia and the UK with very few hardcovers at all.10

Here’s one reason it can be a good thing: Guess what frequently happens to books that don’t sell in hardcover? They aren’t published in paperback. They don’t get their second shot. This has happened to many wonderful books, which despite awards and glowing reviews didn’t sell, and thus the publisher decides that a paperback version is not viable. Holly Black’s first book Tithe didn’t sell well in hardcover, but sold spectacularly in paperback. What if her publisher hadn’t taken the risk?

On the other hand, if a book is a paperback original that’s typically the only chance it gets. If it doesn’t do well then that’s it. At least with hardcover a book has a pretty good shot at a second life as a paperback. And often it will go from hc to trade pb to mass market pb. Three chances to go out there and sell.11

As you can see it’s a complicated set of decisions a publisher has to make when they’re figuring out whether to go hardcover or paperback. You have to sell way more copies for pbs to make a profit. But expensive hcs can kill a book. Keep in mind that the majority of books do not earn out.

I’d love to hear what youse lot think. I’m especially interested to hear from those making this decision and from those of you who’ve had different experiences in one format over the other.

  1. And, no, I don’t think that’s a good thing. []
  2. Remember though surpassing Magic or Madness‘s sales is a very low bar. []
  3. Especially with it’s fabulous new cover. Hint: look at the top of the left-hand side bar. Or go here for a bigger view. []
  4. Thank you, Bloomsbury! []
  5. Bloomsbury was excellent at spreading the ARCs of HTDYF far and wide. []
  6. Which, let me tell you, is a marvellous feeling. []
  7. Being a paperback series had a lot to do with the success of Gossip Girls, A List, etc. []
  8. Or depression or whatever you want to call what the world is experiencing right now. []
  9. I know this link leads to an article on sf book sales but all its links go to reports of sales across the board. It was the most recent round up I could find. []
  10. Judging from the foreign language editions of mine and Scott’s books I’d say most countries in the world are predominantly paperback. []
  11. Though usually the third life in mass market pb is because it sold well in trade. []

Make it the best book you can

There’s a certain misery in the air right now. I’m reading it on other writer’s blogs. I’m feeling it myself. Seeing it in tweets. Hearing it in late night conversations in bars. It’s kind of everywhere. So many writers I know, or who I follow on line, or in interviews, are grappling with their own self worth as writers. If I’m not selling am I still a writer? If I can’t get published am I still a writer? If my contract got cancelled am I still a writer? If my next book doesn’t do as well as my last book am I still a writer? If I don’t win awards am I still a writer? If reviewers hate my books am I still a writer?

I myself have thwacked a few writer friends with pep talks in the last few weeks.

Actually, it’s just the one pep talk and it goes like this:

You can only control the book you write.

You can’t control whether you sell it. You can’t control how big the advance is if you sell it. You can’t control how much is spent promoting it. You can’t control how many copies Barnes & Noble takes or whether they take it at all. You can’t control whether punters buy it when it finally appears on the shelves. You can’t control the reviews. You can’t control the award committees.

Spending time and energy angsting about any of that stuff will only do your head in.

All you can do is write the very best book you can.

It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

Books with huge advances and the biggest marketing and publicity budget in the world sink like a stone. Books with nary a sheckle spent on them take off out of nowhere. Books you think are terrible do great; books you worship sell fewer than a thousand copies. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Do not let it do your head in.

Because if you believe that your worth as a writer is tied up in how well your books do even success won’t help. Do not be gloating that your book is doing better than so and so’s. That you can write full-time while they need a day job. Tables turns. So what if your current book is the hugest hit ever? What happens if the book after that isn’t? What happens if your biggest success is already behind you? Does that mean you’re not a real writer? That you’re a failure?

Elizabeth Gilbert touches on all these issues in her recent wonderful talk on genius and creativity. If you haven’t already, you really must check it out for she argues that you cannot let your sense of self get tied up in how your books do and also that it’s a pernicious myth that a creative person must be insane or damaged or both and that ultimately your art will destroy you.

It dovetails neatly with my thinking of late. Because I’ve been wondering if all the angsting that I and so many other writers do is fueled by a belief in those myths. Do we angst because we think we should? Because that’s what we’ve learned writers do? Deep in our subconscious do we believe that we’re not a real writer if we’re not suffering?

I believed it growing up. When I was young I obsessively read and re-read Katinka Matson’s Short lives: Portraits in Creativity and Self-destruction and the work of all the writers included in that book. I honestly thought that in order to be creative I would have to suffer and be self-destructive.

It bewildered me that any time actual bad things happened I found myself unable to write. I was not inspired by them, I was devastated. I have always written more prolifically and better when I’m happy. Later, much later, I could make sense of the bad things, but never at the time. Conversely I am always much happier when I’m writing a lot. When the writing is going well I’m way happier than any award or review or book sales have ever made me.

I have also discovered no correlation between how emotionally fraught it is for me to write a book and the book’s success. How To Ditch Your Fairy was the easiest and most fun book to write, thus far it’s been my most successful. Despite my struggles on the rewrite of the liar book it’s still been a much easier and more fun book to write than Magic’s Child, which was (other than my PhD thesis) my most unhappy writing experience. Rewriting the liar book’s been hard, but it’s also mostly been pretty enjoyable. Sometimes I’d really like not to be in the narrator’s head, cause, well, she’s a compulsive liar, but the tricky structure has been an excellently brain stretching experience. I’ve learned so much writing the book; I think I’m a better writer because of it. That’s very happy making.

If the liar book does well in the real world that’s great, but even if it doesn’t, I still know it’s the best book I could possibly make it.

I will admit that I have talked about writing the liar book as though I were suffering. Because I kind of thought I should be. Which is nuts.

The myth of the suffering artist is very pervasive.

But Liz Gilbert is right: it’s a stupid myth. We should forget about it. Write because you love it. Write because it’s your job. Write to produce the best books you can and to be happy with them. No matter what happens after they’re out of your control you will know that you made them as good as you knew how.

That’s the part of being a writer that is in our own hands; that’s the part that truly matters.

Margo Lanagan and me

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

Here are details:

5 March 2009, 6:00PM
Me and Margo Lanagan in conversation
Books Kinokuniya
Level 2, The Galeries Victoria
500 George St
Sydney NSW

I will have MANY How To Ditch Your Fairy bookmarks. How can you resist such excellent enticements?

See you all tomorrow!

  1. Sort of. []

Perth Writers Festival Thus Far

I shall be brief for the internets is expensive and wobbly.

Organisation: superlative. The PWF crew know that authors are a hapless lot and they have kept us on course and on time. Why, I have not gotten lost or been late for a single event. Bless them all!

I have met too many wonderful writers to name them all but I particularly enjoyed meeting Barry Jonsberg and his wife Nita who love the cricket as much as I do. There was much discussion of the South Africa v Australia and West Indies v England tests that are currently unfolding.

For the first time in my career I wound up talking to under twelve year olds as opposed to over twelve year olds, which was dead interesting. I was asked many questions that I’ve never been asked before. Also my jokes that knock ‘em dead when they’re a bit older did not always fly with the younger set. Fortunately, they laughed at many jokes that hitherto only I have found funny. It made me really want to write a book that skews even younger than How To Ditch Your Fairy. It will involve quokka.

Thanks to everyone who came out to see me. Thanks for the great questions and comments and stories of your fairies and curses. I especially loved the girl who has a sunshine fairy.

And now (for me) it is over and I wend my way back home. Later!

In a dancing kind of mood

Everything today was wonderful. Just everything. Especially my book launch. Thank you, all! Especially Lili and Jodie for your blush-making speeches, and Readings in Carlton for hosting, and all my wonderful friends for coming along to cheer HTDYF‘s official appearance in Australia. And all the people I don’t even know. Bless!

Thanks to everyone who’s written after my Melbourne events. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to reply. Hopefully on my return to Sydney but more likely when I’m in NYC. But I just wanted to let you all know that I SO appreciate your wonderful letters. And, no, being a good speller is not necessary if you want to be a writer. Though it’s not a bad thing either!

For those who were asking, HTDYF should now be available in book shops far and wide across this fair land. And if they don’t have it—demand to know why not! Or alternatively buy Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful which rocks.

I leave you with this Alien Onion post on parallel importation, which links to many profound, beautiful, and smart submissions on publishing in Australia. You should especially read Tim Winton’s piece.

And now I will dance towards bed.

Tomorrow = Perth.

First event of Aussie tour completed!

W00t! Just back from chatting with Simmone Howell at the State Library of Victoria in front of a fabulous audience of students, teachers and librarians. It were good. I met two of my blog readers: Joey & Tez! Thank you for the note, Tez! Lovely to meet you both!

A whole bunch of genius writers also showed up to support us: Kate Constable, Karen Healy, Melina Marchetta,1 Kirsty Murray, and Penni Russon. Not to mention Sarah Tran and the Centre for Youth Literature who organised the event, also Lili Wilkinson who introduced us most eloquently.

I think the event went well. It was a little bit tricky because I am a blabbermouth and the fabulous Simmone Howell is not. Thus I had to work very hard not to eat up all her talking time. But I think I managed. I hope I managed. Mental note: MUST LET OTHER PEOPLE SPEAK.

I especially enjoyed hearing Simmone talking about going to a private school after she was asked to leave her public school. I wish she’d talked a bit more about that. I find other people’s miserable school days fascinating especially if they have a secret bogan past.

The audience was attentive and laughed at all the right places as well asking most excellent questions. If this is what typical Aussies audiences are like I think I’m going to have a blast on this tour.

In other news there’s some very very good advice from Cory Doctorow about how to be productive writing despite the dread distractions of teh interwebs. Particularly this bit:

Realtime communications tools are deadly. The biggest impediment to concentration is your computer’s ecosystem of interruption technologies: IM, email alerts, RSS alerts, Skype rings, etc. Anything that requires you to wait for a response, even subconsciously, occupies your attention. Anything that leaps up on your screen to announce something new, occupies your attention. The more you can train your friends and family to use email, message boards, and similar technologies that allow you to save up your conversation for planned sessions instead of demanding your attention right now helps you carve out your 20 minutes. By all means, schedule a chat—voice, text, or video—when it’s needed, but leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant “DISTRACT ME” sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world.

Must disable IM. Must do it immediately.

How about that? One blog post but two resolutions. Wish me luck!

  1. We got to applaud her Prinz win. Yay! []

The best cover of all time

Did I mention that I have a new How To Ditch Your Fairy cover for the US paperback?

Behold:

Is it wicked of me that part of the huge pleasure I get from this cover is that mutilating barbie dolls was one of my favourite games when I was little?

I doubt that I will ever again have such a genius cover. Bless you cover gods!

JWAM reader request no. 25: Pacing

Rachael Says:

I was hoping you might talk a little bit about pacing. What are your thoughts on it? What kind of methods do you have for making sure things move at a proper pace; how do you tell if it’s too slow or too fast at certain points? Whatever you can tell me about this subject would help. Also, if you feel like passing this around to any of your other writer friends who blog (or if you know of anyone who has already blogged about this), I’d be curious to hear their answers, too.

I don’t think much about pacing until I have a finished draft. Then it becomes all I think about. No doubt about it pacing is hard. And you will never satisfy everyone. I’ve had quite a few people tell me—especially teenagers—that they found the beginning of Magic or Madness and How To Ditch Your Fairy boring, but that once they got into they were fine. I’ve also had some folks complain—all adults—that both those books move too fast and they do so at the expense of depth and literary worth. Whatcha gonna do?

As instructed I asked around my writer buddies and here’s what they came up with. Listed in the order that I received them:

    Cory Doctorow: Things get worse on every page = reason to turn the page.

    E. Lockhart: I am always trying to fix the pacing issues created by my philosophy of “just write it stupidly the first time and fix it later.”

    Robin Wasserman: I’m horrible at pacing—my editor used to tease me that my first drafts always have about thirty chapters of nothing, then two really ACTION PACKED chapters of CHAOS, then boom, THE END. It’s vaguely embarrassing. For me, I’ve found the best ways around this are outlining (I outline before I start writing, but I think it would be equally, maybe even more helpful to outline your first draft once it’s finished, so you can see very clearly the dead zones where nothing happens). I also outline other books that I feel are structurally similar to my own, and try to figure out how the authors move around their characters, where and when the action scenes fall, etc. I still suck at this, but I’m working on it.

    Sherwood Smith: The old structure of action-reaction is a good rubric. If reaction starts stretching out too long, especially when reaction turns into the character(s) planning the next action—which requires some new information, may as well insert it here–I sense the pacing slowing, slowing, slowing. Reaction and planning scenes need to have the motivation (with its attendant emotion) right up front. When the emotional logic is as convincing as the physical logic then the pacing ramps up correspondingly. I think.

    Ellen Kushner: Pacing is entirely subjective. Just the way an hour spent talking with an old friend can feel like a minute, while ten minutes in the dentist’s chair can feel like ten lifetimes, so good pacing is about whether the reader is having a nice time or not. How that time is spent almost doesn’t count as long as there’s a question in the reader’s mind that needs to be answered. It can be immensely trivial-seeming (“Will she accept the party invitation?”) or huge (“Will they get the serum to the town in time to save her life?”) or personal (“Why on earth did the hero insult her when she seems so nice?”) . . . as long as there’s something I want to know, I’ll keep going. You, the writer, get to decide what it will be.

    Ursula Dubosarsky: I remember an eleven year old boy in a workshop, when I asked what sort of problems they had writing stories, saying: “How do I make my story last longer? Like, I wrote this story about a boy climbing up to the top of the volcano and then he fell in and that was the end.”

    Makes you feel like an agony aunt, that sort of question. How to delay the obvious gratification of having your hero fall headlong into a volcano…perhaps he stops on the way and has a sandwich? looks at a flower? remembers his last meeting with his aging grandmother? Only after all that your readers may well toss it aside . . .

    Pace is very fascinating. I think it’s all about experimenting. When I write there’s a lot of coming and going, trying this and that and seeing how it reads—like balancing hundreds of different sized bricks on a scale—until you feel it’s just about right and then you tiptoe away very quietly…(Crash!)

    Margo Lanagan: I think this one’s really a practice thing—reading a lot of differently paced stories, particularly ones that change pace internally, so that you get a feel for the kinds of details that get left out/included in order to speed up/slow down the telling. Where do authors make the cuts (e.g. how is a hot-pursuit scene put together)? Where do they start letting their characters pause and look around and register the smell of the roses/drains (e.g. when the character is home free/dying/waiting for the next burst of activity)?

    How do you know when a scene is moving too slow or too fast? You just know, from experience. Too fast, and you get confused (sometimes you have to ask someone else to tell you whereabouts they get confused); too slow and you find yourself thinking about shopping lists, or yawning, or not caring what happens to this dreary character in his overdescribed cave that has nothing to do with the plot. There is no quick recipe; you just develop a feeling for pacing by experiencing lots of examples of good and bad pacing.

    Diana Peterfreund: 1. “Get in late, get out early.” That means start the scene at the latest possible moment you can and end before it gets boring. Try to end on a “hook” too—keeps things moving.

    2. Elmore Leonard said “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Good advice. That means no scenes of hair brushing, unless it’s important to the plot (the only time I can think of is in The Snow Queen.) You can also skip the scenes of people going from one place to another, most times. Just put in a scene break and then put ‘em there.

    3. If things are getting slow, throw in an explosion. That’ll hold ‘em.

    Melina Marchetta: Pacing’s hard. If I’m writing an action packed scene, like one of the fight or chase scenes in Finnikin, I use continous verbs (-ing words—flying, thumping, connecting, roaring etc) and I tend not to use punctuation, soo it seems as if the chase or fight is neverending.

    Scott Westerfeld: Pacing is like a monkey on fire: you either have one or you don’t.

Wow. How cool is it seeing those different takes side by side? I wish I’d written all these writing posts like this. So much less work!

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

HTDYF in Australia

How To Ditch Your Fairy will be published in its shiny new paperback Australian edition next month.

So. Very. Soon.

If you go over to the Allen & Unwin Alien Onion blog you’ll see what it looks like.

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,
    Carlton, Victoria

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:

There may also be a Sydney event in March, but nothing definite yet. Fingers crossed. I would hate to slight my home town.

Can’t wait to see some of you out and about in the real world.

Last day of 2008 (updated)

Yup, it’s my annual what-I-did-this-year skiting post. I write these mostly for myself so I can easily keep track. Hence the last day of the year category. Thus you are absolutely free to skip it.1

This year was exceptional. I’m still pinching myself. My first Bloomsbury USA book, How To Ditch Your Fairy, was published and seems to be doing well. I was sent on my first book tour, which was fabulous. It’s insane how much fun I had and how many fabulous schools, book shops and libraries I visited in California, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Thank you to everyone who came to see me while I was on the road. It was a blast getting to meet you all! I loved hearing what fairies you all have!

Now this is going to sound like the acknowledgments page but bear with me cause I thanked my fabulous editor, Melanie Cecka in print, but not the wonderful publicity and sales and marketing folks because, well, I didn’t know them back then. Deb Shapiro is the best and funniest publicist I’ve ever worked with, Beth Eller is a genius of marketing, and all the sales reps who’ve been flogging the fairy book mercilessly across the USA are too fabulous for words. Extra special thanks to Anne Hellman, Kevin Peters, and Melissa Weisberg.

HTDYF also sold (along with the liar book) to Allen & Unwin in Australia. This is a huge deal because it’s the first time I’ve had a multi-book deal in Australia and A&U publishes many of the best writers in Australia, including Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Penni Russon and Lili Wilkinson. My editor and publisher, Jodie Webster, is a joy to work with. So’s Sarah Tran and Erica Wagner and Hilary Reynolds and everyone else on the Alien Onion team. Bless!

Both Bloomsbury and A&U seem even more excited about the liar book than they were about HTDYF. Which is a huge relief to me because, um, it is not the most obvious follow-up to the fairy book. Older, darker, scarier, completely different. Stuff like that. Here’s hoping that not too long into the new year I’ll be sharing the title, the cover, a sneak preview, and other such fabulous things.

The fairy book also sold in Germany to Bertelsmann, who published the Magic or Madness trilogy there and gave it the best covers ever. It was awesome getting to meet the two Suzannes: Krebs and Stark in Bologna. Thank you for believing in my book so strongly that you bought it when it was still in manuscript. I still can’t quite believe it.

Speaking of the trilogy it sold in Indonesia to PT Gramedia and in Korea to Chungeorahm Publishing, which means it’s now published in ten different countries and eight different languages. All of it Whitney Lee’s doing. It’s astonishing to me how well the trilogy is doing more than three years after first publication. Fingers crossed that will continue.

I also had two short stories published. A rarity for me. My last short story was published back in 2004. These two were the first I’d written since then. Short stories are not my thing. They’re so much harder to write than a novel. ““Pashin’ or The Worst Kiss Ever” appeared in First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby and was universally declared to be the grossest story ever. “Thinner Than Water” is in Love is Hell edited by Farrin Jacobs. I’m proud of them both for very different reasons. But don’t expect any more. Writing short stories hurt my brain.

Last year I was wise and only aimed to write one novel in 2008. Just as well because that’s all I did this year no stories, no articles, nothing else. I wrote the liar book and began the 1930s book. It’s very clear that I’m a one-book-a-year girl.

I also mentioned in that one-year-ago post that I had three sekrit projects. The first is no longer a secret: the Zombie Versus Unicorn anthology that I’m editing with Holly Black, which marks the first time I’ve edited original fiction. Am I excited? Why, yes, I am. It will be out from Simon & Schuster in 2010 and we’ll be announcing our insanely excellent line up of authors in the new year. Truly, you will die at how great our writers are.

One of the other sekrit projects morphed into a solo project (the 1930s book) and I’m still hoping that the last of the sekrit projects will go ahead some time next year. Here’s looking at you co-conspirator of my last remaining sekrit project! You know who you are.

Next year will be taken up with writing the 1930s book and editing the Zombie v Unicorn antho. The 1930s book is the biggest most ambitious book I’ve tried to write since my very first novel set in ancient Cambodia. I’m loving the researching and writing. Immersing myself in another era is the most fun ever! I think my next ten books will all be set in the 1930s.

My 2009 publications. This is a WAY shorter list than last year:

    Update: Possibly September: paperback of How To Ditch Your Fairy

    September: the liar novel for Bloomsbury USA.

    October: the liar novel for Allen & Unwin.

Yup, just the one two novels from me and one a reprint. Sorry! You should also get hold of Cassandra Clare’s City of Glass when it comes out. It’s the final book of the City of Bones trilogy and the best of the three. I read it in one sitting on my computer.2 Then later in the year there’s Robin Wasserman’s sequel to Skinned. You know you want it! Yet another book I read in one go. Also on my computer. Think how much better it will be between actual covers.

Then there’s the three YA debuts I’ve been talking about by Peterfreund, Rees Brennan and Ryan. If you read no other books in 2009 make sure you read those three. I’m also dying to read the sequel to Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, which was my favourite book of 2007.

Last, but not least, the old man has his first novel in two years, Leviathan, coming out in September. Fully illustrated by the fabulous artist Keith Thompson and better than anything else Scott’s ever written. I’m so proud of him and of this book. You’ll all love it. Seriously, it’s worth the price just for the endpapers!

I travelled way too much this year. Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the UK, France, Canada, all over the USA, and home to Australia. Again. Looks like the same for next year. I have no idea what to do about that. I guess when you try to live in two different countries at the same time that’s the price. Oh, and lots and lots of offsets. We try to be good.

This is where I usually say that I think the coming year’s going to be fabulous. But this year I’m not sure. The economic news back in the United States has been dire. Friends have lost their jobs, their editor, their imprint. It’s scary in publishing right now and it’s even scarier in many other industries. I really hope good governance in the USA will make a difference world wide. But I just don’t know. I had great hopes for the Rudd government and here he is botching the fight against climate change and trying to put up a filter for the internet in Australia. Ridiculous. Surely Obama’s government will not be so stupid.

Here’s hoping 2009 will see a return to sanity all around the world, but especially here in Australia.

Happy new year!

  1. I would if I were you. []
  2. Actually I was lying in bed. Whatever. []

My favourite fairy so far

Someone just wrote and told me they have a hiccup fairy. Whenever they get the hiccups this fairy makes them go away within a minute. Fabulous!

D’you know it never occurred to me when I was writing How To Ditch Your Fairy that so many people have fairies. I have enough fairies now for about a million sequels. Tis a pity I’m unlikely to be writing them.

Anyone got a fairy they haven’t told me about yet?

Up to date correspondence & the joys of fanmail

I am now almost up to November answering my correspondence. There’s only a hundred more emails to answer! Yay!

If you’ve written to me this year and not heard back from me, that means I either didn’t get your email, or you did not get my response. Either way best thing to do is to write me again.

I received more fan mail this year than all previous years added together. (Which, admittedly, was not hard as I received very few until this year.) Of all the fabulous things that have happened to me in 20081 those letters are by far the best. The majority were about posts and essays on this website—especially requesting writing advice. The next biggest group of letters were about the trilogy, and lastly about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Though to put that in perspective HTDYF has already attracted more letters in the few months since it was published than Magic or Madness did in its first 18 months of publication. Yay, fairy book!

Thank you so much for the wonderful letters. Each one gave me a tremendous lift. Even if I was already in a good mood they made me happier still. While I’ve always wanted to be a writer, until my first book came out, it had never really occurred to me to think about what that would actually mean, about what it would be like to have readers. I know that sounds a bit bizarre, but I was so focussed on my writing, and on getting published, that I just hadn’t considered that part of the equation: that being published means being read by people I’ve never met. I’m glad that part didn’t occur to me ahead of time. I think it would have spooked me. But it turns out to be fabulous.

Thank you for all the letters pointing out the typos and errors in my books and my blog. I really appreciate them and do what I can to fix future editions. Keep ‘em coming!

Thanks to everyone who wrote and begged for more books in the Magic or Madness and HTDYF universes. I’m pretty sure that HTDYF is a standalone and the MorM series a trilogy, but I’m thrilled my books left you wanting more. The best way to get more is to write it yourself. There are gazillions of wonderful fanfic sites out there. You could add your own stories about the further adventures of Tom and Charlie. Go forth and create more fanfic! Mash up MorM with Buffy or Nana. Or HTDYF with Naruto! What would be cooler than that?

Thanks for all the tips on quokkas and mangosteens and cricket and 1930s fashions and photo sites. Much appreciated! Though I’m horrified that any of you are settling for dried mangosteen or mangosteen juice. Ewww. There are no substitutes for the actual fresh fruit!

Good luck with your writing. Yes, sometimes it can be hard and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That happens to the professionals too. The only thing you can do is keep pushing through. Don’t give up. But remember to have fun with it too. One of the best things about not being published yet is that you have heaps of time to experiment. Write the same story in all the different points of view. See which one works best. Try writing a story backwards. Starting at the end and working your way towards the beginning. Write in lots of different genres. Muck around! Have fun!

Thanks for your letters, your comments, and all your support. It means the world to me.

xo

Justine

  1. Of which more on the last day of the year. []

Outlining v winging it

One of the conversations that I have most frequently with my good friend, Diana Peterfreund, is about our different writing methods. She’s an outliner; I wing it.

Tis most excellent fun talking writing with her precisely because we could not be more different. So different that we frequently wind up talking at cross purposes. Last time we had this discussion we got hung up on the phrase “first draft”. Turns out that what she means by “first draft” is not what I mean.

Because Diana outlines she figures out much of the novel before she begins writing. I figure things out as I write the first draft. Thus my first drafts—zero drafts really—are frequently messy conversation spines. A large part of what I do when I rewrite my first draft is make it coherent. Describe where the conversations are taking place, illuminate thought processes—flesh the skeleton out.

Diana’s already figured out most of that stuff before she types a word. She has a clear vision of her book before she starts writing. I have only the haziest of notions, which changes as I write. I had no idea when I started writing How To Ditch Your Fairy that a large part of would take place at a sports high school in an alternative universe in the city of New Avalon. I found all of that out as I wrote.

Diana’s “first draft” is much closer to the final book because she wasn’t figuring stuff out as she went along; my “first draft” is a mess. So when she says she doesn’t like to change her first draft too much I think she’s insane. Because I keep forgetting that her first draft is not a broken mess like mine.

On occasion I am made to write an outline or a proposal by my agent or editor. I hate writing them more than anything in the whole world. I would much rather write the book than a description of it. The reason for this is that I don’t know what the book will be until I write it. Writing a description of the book before writing it is pretty much impossible for me.

Diana, on the other hand, loves proposals, outlines and the like. They make her excited about writing the book. Whereas I see them as something that gets in the way of writing a book. I sold the Magic or Madness trilogy before I wrote it on the basis of a proposal, which consisted of the first three chapters, an outline, and short descriptions of the world. It was some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done. Writing the first three chapters was easy. Writing the rest of the proposal was nightmarish. The only way I could do it was to tell myself that the outline was an advertisement for the book, not a description of the book.

I never looked at it again. It did its job of selling the book; I did mine of writing it. Never did the twain meet.

I’m not exactly sure what Diana’s planning and outlining looks like, though she has posted pictures of her plot board. It seems crazy detailed. I’m not even sure how I’d go about doing that. Though sometimes I make notes before I start writing.

My notes for the Liar book start on the 24th of February 2005. I wrote seven short notes—jotting down ideas and a few lines—before I started writing in earnest at the beginning of this year. Those notes amount to a few hundred words (to put that in perspective this post is more than 900). That was my planning. Except that the first time I read those notes again was for writing this post. The point for me is not the notes, but the act of writing them. I remember because I wrote them down, which means I don’t have to look at them again.

It’s not until I have a completed first draft that I get serious about planning. In my pre-Scrivener days that’s when I’d start using a spreadsheet to map out the structure of the book and see where and how it was broken. With Scrivener the structure is plain to see—on the cork board—-making the spreadsheet redundant.

So my outlining and planning stage comes after writing the book. Diana’s comes before. Which makes me wonder if our novel-writing methods are actually that different. What she works out in her head, or on paper, or plot board before beginning the actual writing; I do during the writing. I nail down the structure once I have a draft. Whereas Diana does it before she begins the draft.

All the same things are happening just in a different order.

Maybe winging it and outlining are identical methods put into practice in a different order? Maybe all novelists write in the exact same way but merely change the order? Maybe we are all the same?! Me and Diana and Jean Rhys and Vladimir Nabokov, all identical!

Or maybe not.

Heh hem.

Either way my method is the best method. I’ll get back to applying it to my latest novel now.

Later!

Signed books

I’ve had a few folks write to me to ask where they can buy signed copies of my books. The answer is there are many many places. I was just on tour, see, and wherever I went I signed books. Even if you have zero interest in whether a book is signed or not these are all very fine bookshops that you should check out if you haven’t already:

California:

Borderlands Books
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA 94110
Bonus: they have two gorgeous Sphynx cats.

Kepler’s
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA

The Storyteller
30 Lafayette Cir
Lafayette, CA

Copperfield’s Books
140 Kentucky St
Petaluma, CA

Books Inc.
601 Van Ness
San Francisco, CA

Michigan

Schuler Books & Music
3165 Alpine Ave
Walker, MI

Pooh’s Corner
Breton Village
1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI

Ohio & Kansas City, Missouri

Joseph-Beth Bookstore
2692 Madison Road
Cincinnati, OH

Fundamentals
25 W Winter Street
Delaware, OH

Cover to Cover
3560 North High Street
Columbus, OH

Books & Co
Books & Co at The Greene
4453 Walnut Street
Dayton, OH

Reading Reptile
328 W. 63rd Street
Kansas City, MO

Philadelphia & NYC area

Big Blue Marble Bookstore
551 Carpenter Lane
Philadelphia, PA

Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave
Larchmont, NY

Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY

Texas

BookPeople
603 N. Lamar
Austin, Texas

Barnes & Noble
Northwoods Shopping Center
18030 Highway 281 North
San Antonio, Texas

Canada

Bakka-Phoenix Books

697 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON

Indigo Bookstore
Yorkdale Mall
3401 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario

Enjoyable review

It’s dead boring to be hit with reviews on a writer’s blog. Yawn. But this one, in addition to saying lovely things about How To Ditch Your Fairy, made me giggle. Twas the last paragraph plus the photo that did it:

Caution: Despite the suggestions in the book, I was not able to get rid of my fairy, Pixie. And unlike Justine’s fairies, mine is very visible and very loud. Check out the photo below to see what a “makes you trip and wakes you up too early” fairy looks like.

Go over to Allison’s blog to see the accompanying photo. You will giggle. Oh yes, you will.

BookPeople questions we ran out of time to answer

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.

The full story can be found here.

Q: Why are most of your protagonists girls?

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.

Fun was had at BookPeople

Last night’s event in Austin went splendidly. The folks at BookPeople—Mandy, Topher and Emily were wonderful hosts. Emily mc’d brilliantly and we were asked lots of very smart questions. Many we’d never been asked before. I really like the Actor’s Studio format, which meant there was no awkward oh-noes-there-will-be-no-questions-tonight moments. It was a lot of fun to do an event with Scott again which we haven’t in ages.

And then there was this:

<br />

Rebecca’s superb anti-uni***n T-shirt. Doesn’t she look fabulous? She made me one too! Thank you, Rebecca, it fits perfectly. I’ll be wearing it here at NCTE.

Texas is always so good to me.

In Texas

So we made it in one piece to sunny, warm Texas. Wow. The weather is so much better here than it was in NYC. Yay that we’re here and not there.

You can catch me and Scott at BookPeople tonight and then you can see me do my thing in San Antonio tomorrow night:

    Wednesday, 19 November 2008, 7:30PM
    With Scott Westerfeld
    BookPeople
    603 N. Lamar
    Austin, Texas

    Thursday, 20 November 2008, 7:00PM
    Barnes & Noble
    Northwoods Shopping Center
    18030 Highway 281 North
    San Antonio, Texas

Hope to see some of you there!

North American HTDYF tour winds up (Oz tour begins?)

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
    Austin, Texas

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!

Zombies + Books of Wonder

I was reading today that the whole zombie v un***rn debate was started by John Green. I’m not going to link to the person who claims that because, you know, I’m not into shaming people. But, EXCUSE ME?!

The mighty zombie versus un****n debate began right here on this blog back in February 2007 with me on the side of zombies and Holly Black on the side of uni***ns. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or ignorant. Sheesh!

Let’s just say I am not happy that such a slanderous lie is circulating. John Green will be the first to tell you that it began over here.

In less cranky-making news I will be doing an appearance right here in New York City this coming Saturday with a cast of hundreds, including New York Times bestseller Suzanne Collins of Gregor and Hunger Games fame. But as far as I’m concerned the highlight is being on the same bill as Robin Wasserman of Skinned fame. Have you read it yet? If not why not?

You’ll find us here:

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

Who knows? If you join us you might spot some zombies. Or uni***ns. Though I hope not. I hear those single-horned creatures are definitely not toilet trained. I’m just sayin’.

Signed books in Toronto

If you want a signed copy of HTDYF and you live in Toronto you should go to Bakka Phoenix Books, a lovely sf bookshop located at 697 Queen Street West. I believe you’ll also find books signed by John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld.

My history with Bakka Books (as it used to be known) goes back to the 1990s when I was in Toronto doing research for my Phd at the Judith Merril Collection. I spent many hours at Bakka, gossiping with the staff, and feeding my book habit. So it was quite the thrill to be back there and signing my own books. Who’da thunk it?

I was also reminded me of how much I like Toronto. It’s not the prettiest city in the world but who cares when there’s so much cool inventive stuff going on? It totally reminds me of Melbourne. Queen St and Brunswick street bare a very close resemblance. I stumbled into Magpie Designs1 and may have accidentally wound up with some clothes. Can’t be sure.

It was lovely to be reminded even briefly of another of my favourite cities. I could totally live in Toronto.2

  1. Sadly, none of the images on the site are as fabulous as the clothes they have in their shop right now. []
  2. Just not in winter. []

Lots and lots of fairies

Because the talk everywhere I go is of the US election1 or of the general economic collapse I thought that I would share the rest of the YA writers’ fairies.

    Holly Black: The coffee fairy—a fairy that would make sure I always find the most delicious cup of coffee (free-trade, with milk) wheresoever I am.

    Cecil Castellucci: I’d like a fairy of perfect timing.

    I mean that in every way, from timing everything perfectly, to everything being on time, to it being the right time for things, and to telling a good story/ joke with perfect timing.

    Cassandra Clare: I have an umbrella fairy. Umbrella fairy tells me to take my umbrella, then it doesn’t rain. But I wish I had a typing fairy. Typing fairy could teach me to type with all fingers.

    Jenny Davidson: My fairy is a sense of time fairy—I always know when it is, it is easy for me to be punctual and I have a good sense of how to pace a class (use of 75 mins) or a project (use of 3 months). But I wish I could trade it in for a sense of direction fairy! Because I can get lost at the drop of a hat, it is utterly absurd, I never know where I am or how to get anywhere, I am often finding myself (though less in age of Google Maps, where foresight can largely compensate for sense of direction) on the verge of tears and not at all sure which direction I’m pointing in!

    Cory Doctorow: I wish I had an email answering fairy who knew exactly what I wanted to say to every email and took care of them all!

Cory really needs that fairy. I have seen how much email he gets: nine hundred bajillion katrillion pieces in a single day. It’s insane.

    Maureen Johnson: Right now I wish I had a Book-Finishing Fairy. Or, at the very least, a That Section Clearly Adds Nothing to the Plot Fairy. Or a Make this Suck Less Fairy. Failing that, I would accept an Answer My E-Mail Fairy or a I Will Make You the Next Doctor on Doctor Who Fairy . . . because that last one sounds kind of fun.

    Ellen Kushner: My fairy seems to be the Find Your Friends Fairy. I run into people I know on the street in foreign countries, in airports, and in restaurants.

    David Levithan: I’ll go for a Wakefulness Fairy. You know, one who would whisper something really funny or (barring that) really loud in my ears whenever my eyelids started to flutter shut in the middle of the day.

    E. Lockhart: I have a “finding things that belong to other people” fairy. If someone I live with has lost something, I can put my hands on it in a minute or two.

    Sadly, my fairy won’t actually work for me. My postal scale went missing in my house 6 months ago and hasn’t turned up yet.

    I wish for an anti-clutter fairy. Clutter is cluttering up my cluttered life.

    Jaclyn Moriarty: I think I have the fairy of relentlessly excited expectations. Every time I hear an e-mail arrive, or the telephone ring, I think something amazing is about to happen. At the moment I have a letter by my front door, to remind myself to post it, but every time I walk by the door I notice it there and get a rush of excitement. I think: ‘Somebody has slipped a mystery letter under my door! How fantastic! Who could it be?!’

    If there was a fairy that could meet my excited expectations, such as a fairy of
    regular yet surprising news of good fortune, that would be my choice.

    If not, I’d like the fairy of decisiveness.

Ooooh! I want a fairy of met expectations, too. Frabjous!

    Sarah Mlynowski: I am a hypochondriac. So the fairy I wish I had is one who would point out germs. Such as: Sarah, do not eat that chicken! It is not well cooked and is riddled with salmonella. Or, Do not shake that guy’s hand, he just went to the bathroom and did not wash it. Or, Do not sit next to that girl on the subway because she will sneeze on you and give you Diphtheria.

    I have a perky fairy. I can usually cheer friends up when they are depressed.

    Garth Nix: I have a slightly warped Punctuality Fairy. He/She/It forces me to be on time, the twist being that if I am actually late, the Punctuality Fairy will make everyone else late too, or delay my plane, or cloud my mind so that I’ve thought the meeting is earlier than it should be, so that any meeting, engagement or booking that I would have been late for by the original schedule, suddenly becomes on time.

    I have been asked many times over the years by Sydney’s State Rail to sell them my punctuality fairy so that all their late trains will suddenly become on time, but the fairy just won’t leave me. I’m hoping that HOW TO DITCH YOUR FAIRY will give me some ideas.

    Diana Peterfreund: I think I have a hat wearing fairy. I tend to look good in hats, and I never lose, sit on, or have hats blow off my head. I also don’t get hat
    head.

    I don’t know if I feed her often enough, though.

    John Scalzi: I did have a “know who is calling on the phone as soon as it rings” fairy for a while, which used to freak people out when I would pick up the phone and call them by their name without saying hello first. However, in the age of call waiting, this fairy has become far less useful than it was back in the day. Stupid advances in technology.

    I wish I had a fairy that would make bacon double cheeseburgers a slimming health food. Because that would rock.

    Robin Wasserman: My fairy is a last minute fairy, that lets me start anything at the last minute and still get it done on time. That works out rather nicely, but I suppose if I had my pick, I’d take a say the right thing fairy — which, as you might guess from the name, means that in any and every situation I’d always know exactly the right thing to say. (Perhaps this fairy would first have to kill the say the wrong thing fairy who often stops by for a visit.)

    Scott Westerfeld: I have the simile fairy. Whenever I need a cool simile to nail a dramatic moment, my fairy comes and hits me on the head like a pillowcase full of naked mole rats. Or, if I come up with a lame one like that, I pick a book from the shelf and open it at random. And, lo and behold, there’s a great simile to steal right on that page. So it’s a simile-stealing fairy as well.

    But I want a good-night’s-sleep fairy.

You can find more fairies here. And, as usual, feel free to share your own fairies.

I would like to wish everyone in the US over 18 a good voting fairy.

  1. I’m in Canada! They have their own election! Why are we still talking about the US one? Um, because it’s really important? []

You does not have to read my books + interview + assorted other stuff

I am noticing an odd phenomenon: Readers of this blog apologising for not reading my books.

Please don’t!

I do not write this blog to get people to read my books.1

I write it cause it’s fun and because I’m shockingly opinionated—seriously there is NOTHING I don’t have an opinion about2—and I like to share. Blog writing is the most relaxing fun writing I do.3

It saddens me if any of you are feeling guilty about not reading my books. Put that guilt away. You are excused from ever reading them. So no more apologies, okay?4

In other news an interview with me can be found here. Thanks for the great quessies, Cynthia.

Brooke Taylor is giving a copy of How to Ditch Your Fairy away for Faery Week of her Monster Month of Giveaways.

Bloomsbury’s HTDYF contest also continues. There are several different prizes but I think this one’s best: $150 gift certificate to Forever 21.

Shortly, I am off to Toronto. If you’re there come see me and Scott Monday:

Monday, 27 October, 7:00PM-8:00PM
Indigo Bookstore
Yorkdale Mall
3401 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario

  1. Ewww! []
  2. Ask me about wolves some time. Or chewing gum. Or musicals. Or corks. []
  3. Way better than smelly novels. []
  4. But do read E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or Coe Booth’s Kendra or The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. []

Oh Canada!

I have neglected to let all you fabulous Canadians know that I will be in Canada next week. Toronto to be precise and, yes, there will be an appearance. Me and Scott will be here next Monday:

Monday, 27 October, 7:00PM-8:00PM
Indigo Bookstore
Yorkdale Mall
3401 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario

Here’s hoping some of my Torontonian readers will be there. I promise to tell really gross vomit stories. Or, you know, not, if that grosses you out.

They’re really great vomit stories, but.

Alien Onion

Allen & Unwin, my Australian publisher, has a blog: Alien Onion. (See if you can figure out why it is thus named.) And they has written a post welcoming me. I is dead chuffed. Thank ‘ee!

There’s also a preview of the Oz cover of How To Ditch Your Fairy. See if you can spot what’s different to the US cover.

Do check out the rest of their blog it’s the most lively fun publisher’s blog I’ve seen. With lots of excellent guests and pictures of cake. I think it will give you an inkling of why I am so ecstatic that Allen & Unwin is my new Australian home.

I was wrong

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.

HTDYF in Australia (Updated)

Many of you have been asking, “When is How To Ditch Your Fairy going to be published in Australia?” I apologise for not answering. For ages I did not know if it would be or not and then it sold and I was not allowed to tell you. But now I can!

How To Ditch Your Fairy will be published in Australia in late February by the fabulous Allen & Unwin. That’s right I am now published by the same house that publishes Ursula Dubosarsky, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Penni Russon and Lili Wilkinson amongst many other fabulously wonderful Oz YA writers.

What’s more A&U are not only publishing HTDYF, they’re publishing the liar book too!

Keeping this news to myself has been excruciating!

Not only will the book be coming out in Oz next Feb, which is mere months away, but I may even be doing a few appearances in support of it. Possibly in parts of Australia other than Sydney or Melbourne. More details as soon as I have them.

As you can tell I’m very excited. I feel like I’ve found a wonderful home in Australia just as I have with Bloomsbury in the USA. I hope to be with both houses for many years to come.

Update: Several people have written to ask me whether the Oz edition will have the same cover as the US one. Yes, it will. The fonts will be slightly different and “colour” and “realise” wil be spelled correctly. It will also be a paperback not a hardcover.

Justine’s Last Gig

Scott here again. We return to NYC tomorrow after another week of grueling gruelling travel and energizing energising visits with schools, librarians, and booksellers. And readers!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the events. It was great to meet you, see your faces, and hear your awesome questions. Justine had a fantastic time. (And I couldn’t be more proud of her.)

In less than an hour, we’ll be heading off to the last gig until mid-November, when the Texas tour begins. Until then, hope to see you at

Kansas City Library
Thursday, 9 October 2008, 7:00PM
4801 Main Street
Kansas City, MO

And that’s it from me! Justine will be returning soon to her regularly scheduled blogging.