Edgar Award Nomination and My Sister Rosa Extras

My Sister Rosa has been nominated for an Edgar Award. The Edgars are the Mystery Writers of America awards. They are named for Edgar Allen Poe. I am ecstatic.

Let me explain, when I was little Edgar Allen Poe was one of my absolute favourite writers. I read his short stories over and over. They terrified me. I suspect my claustrophobia was at the very least exacerbated by his buried alive stories. Yeah, that’s right I blame Edgar Allen Poe for being claustrophobic. I bet I’m not alone.

I have always been a reader of crime fiction. I was obsessed with Patricia Highsmith, Walter Mosley, and Raymond Chandler as a teen and they have been a huge influence on my three crime novels: Liar, Razorhurst and My Sister Rosa.

To celebrate my Edgar award nomination joy I have put up some extras from My Sister Rosa: a couple of chapters that were cut. Enjoy! Or not. They were cut for a reason.

Religion in My Sister Rosa

One of the characters in My Sister Rosa, Sojourner Ida Davis, is a deeply religious progressive Christian. This has elicited a range of responses from readers: from horror from the non-religious: Ewwww! Why is there religion in this book? To horror from conservative Christians, some of whom have expressed grave doubts that Christians like Sojourner exist. To thanks from progressive Christians who tell me they rarely see themselves represented in YA.

Why did I write Sojourner?

I’m an Australian atheist. In the US context it’s probably more accurate to call myself non-religious since my atheism has never been a big part of my identity. I grew up in secular communities where religion was rarely discussed. It just wasn’t a thing. Pretty much everyone I knew was also an atheist. I was curious about religion but knew little about it. My father’s an atheist Jew. So I learned a bit about Judaism from his family. Particularly my grandmother. I picked up bits and pieces about Christianity. But not much. For the first year of my BA I did Religious Studies because I felt so ignorant.

When I moved to NYC one of the biggest differences was how much more religious my NYC friends are compared to my Sydney friends. I hadn’t really met progressive Christians and religious Jews before. (My Jewish family are very conservative. I knew progressive secular Jews.) I thought being religious meant being conservative. I was wrong.

I wrote Sojourner because I have met many New Yorkers like her and because I don’t think it’s accurate to write books set in the US with no religion. Not only are there few religious people in YA, there are even fewer progressive religious characters. They’re mostly extremely conservative. But the political and social beliefs of religious people in the real world are as varied as those of non-religious people. I wanted to reflect that.

The church in the novel is based on a real church in my neighbourhood of NYC. The only thing that’s changed since I wrote Rosa is there’s now security checking everyone before they’re allowed in. Yes, because of Charleston.

Several of my religious US friends do not swear. I come from a very sweary people and I find the few non-swearers I’ve met fascinating. It became clear to me early in writing Sojourner that she too would not swear and she most definitely would not blaspheme. It was one of the hardest linguistic decisions I’ve made in a book. Swear words kept slipping into her dialogue. Apparently, swears words are invisible to me. Eeek! I did searches on every new draft to weed out my slips. I thought, with the help of my editors, copyeditors and proofreaders, that I had succeeded!

Nope.

Recently a reviewer on GoodReads pointed out that Sojourner does blaspheme.1 On one page she uses both hell and damn.2 I missed it; my editors in Australia and the US missed it; copyeditors missed it; proofreaders missed it. My response was to, of course, swear. LOUDLY. That little slip of mine undermines Sojourner’s character.

This really bad error is now being changed in all editions for the next reprint. That includes the audio book—they’re bringing the actor back in to re-record those two lines–thank you, Blackstone audio!—as well as the foreign editions.

  1. I’d link to the review but I can’t find it. Thank you, Katy Jane! []
  2. If you’re curious it’s page 114 in the Australian edition and page 88 in the US edition. []

Last Day of 2016

I almost didn’t write this post. It’s been such an awful year in so many ways. As a US citizen the election was particularly foul. People I care about had awful things happen to them. Some favourite celebrities died.1

But I am a creature of superstition and I’m convinced if I don’t write this post, which I have been doing annually since 2005, something even worse will happen.

So here it is my my annual recap of how the year was for my career and a look ahead at what’s gunna happen in 2017. (And my annual reminder that, yes, in Australia and many other parts of the world it is already New Year’s Eve. We’re not all in the same timezone or the same season. Shocking, I know. Come join me, it’s summer here!)

How My Books Did in 2016

My eleventh book and eighth novel, My Sister Rosa, about a seventeen-year-old boy who realises that his ten-year-old sister is a psychopath, came out in Australia at the end of January and in the USA in November. Thus neatly bookending the year.

I was lucky enough to do multiple events in both countries to promote it. Wow, are people fascinated by psychopaths. I mean, I knew that, but now I really know that. Every time I’d describe the book, there’d be an Oooooooh response and so many questions. Then there were all the stories of the psychopaths in people’s lives. Siblings, parents, partners, spouses, but most commonly, bosses and coaches.

Rosa is my first book to earn five starred reviews in the USA. Meanwhile in Australia, it made the long list for the Australian Indie Book Awards, a first for me.

Rosa is my bestselling novel since Liar. Good reviews and award nominations are lovely, but sales are best of all. It looks like Rosa‘s strong sales have also helped Razorhurst‘s sales pick up in the US. Though that could be the rejacketing Soho did in the US, which everyone seems to love. The covers for Rosa in both Australia and the USA are also getting a lot of love. I’m very lucky. Thank you, Allen and Unwin and Soho Teen.

Thank you to everyone who bought My Sister Rosa, or ordered it for their library, or borrowed it, and talked it up to your friends. Thanks also to everyone who reviewed it. Even the bad reviews help.

Books Out in 2017

The US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy will be published by Simon and Schuster in the USA in March.

This anthology is truly amazing. It’s a collaboration between Indian and Australian writers and artists and includes graphic stories as well as regular ones. There’s not a dud in the book. I’m honoured to be part of it. Eat the Sky has been published in India and Australia. Here’s hoping it gets the same fabulous reception in the USA it received in those two countries.

And that’s it. Sorry. No new novels from me in 2017. I’ve gone from attempting to be a two-novels-a-year kind of writer to being a one-novel-every-two-years kind of writer. No one is more bummed about that than I am.

What I Wrote in 2016

This year I struggled to write. Worse even than last year, when I at least had illness to blame. This year the increasing swing of most of the world to the right did my head in. India, the Phillipines, Hungary, Russia, the UK—SO MANY COUNTRIES. And, of course, my two homelands, Australian and the USA. I despaired. When I despair I find it very hard to write.

It wasn’t just despair that made writing tough—it was my compulsive need to understand what was happening. On top of reading as much immediate journalism as I could, I found myself reading a vast amount of non-fiction to try and make sense of what was happening to my two countries and the rest of the world. While that reading helped me enormously, and will feed into my writing, for a long stretch there I was reading instead of writing.

What little writing I did (about forty thousand words) was on my novel from the point of view of a psychopath, which I’m now calling Psychopath in Love. It’s a contemporary and I had, without realising it, been setting it in a world where Clinton won the election. One of the many things that slowed my writing was realising I had to rewrite with the new realpolitik in mind.

To be clear: who the president is isn’t a plot point. It’s about the mood and feel of the novel. For example My Sister Rosa is set in 2015 under an Obama presidency. There’s nothing directly about that in the novel. The year is not named nor is Obama. But it does indirectly affect the novel. People have conversations they wouldn’t if there were a different president and a different national mood.

That wasn’t the first time I realised I had to rewrite the unfinished first draft of Psychopath in Love. Sigh. I may have only written forty thousand words this year but I deleted at least that many . . .

Hmmm, I’ve made it sound like writing this novel has been nothing but struggle. Not really. The ease with which I found the voice was reassuring after the massive struggles I had to find Che’s voice in My Sister Rosa. My psychopath is so direct, so uncluttered. She has no doubts. Imagine how much easier a doubt-free life must be! I’m almost jealous. She is SO easy to write.

That ease is one of the problems with the novel at the moment. Basically I have seventy thousand words of a psychopath’s view of the world and pithy observations about how pathetic we normals are and not so much with a plot. Don’t be alarmed. First drafts are always the hardest part for me as is, unsurprisingly, plotting. I guess it comes of not outlining. Maybe I’ll outline my next novel. Hahahahahahah.

No, this novel has not been sold yet, and thus has no publication date. I’ll sell it when it has a plot and I’m happy with it.

Writing Plans for 2017

I hope to finish Psychopath in Love. The aim is to have a solid draft by the beginning of March. I believe I can do it. I will do it!

Then I plan to get started on this super cool idea for a psychological thriller I got while having lunch with my agent. She asked what I was going to work on next. I told her two separate ideas. As I told her I realised they’d work really well together. And, of course, it instantly became the only thing in the world that I want to write.

Other than this other really cool idea. Why can’t I just have one idea at a time? Waaaah! This one came out of a conversation with Scott, who is always the best person to talk writing with. It is so unbelievably cool, that for the first time ever, I understand the writers who won’t say what they’re working on for fear someone’ll steal their super cool idea. So this is me zipping my lips. I haven’t even told my agent about this one.

Travel in 2016

This year instead of just boringly travelling in Australia and the USA, as I have been doing pretty much every year since 1999, we went to Buenos Aires! The entire family. We rented a house and my niece was in heaven having all her favourite people together: her grandparents, mother, uncle and aunt. We were all there to celebrate her fourth birthday. It was my highlight of the year.2

What I Read in 2016

So much. I’ll do a separate post on my favourite novels of the year. But here I’ll suggest one title that helped me a lot this year: Carol Anderson’s White Rage.

It began as an article in The Washington Post trying to make sense of Ferguson, which will give you a feel for the book. I recommend reading it first if you think you don’t have time to read a whole book.

That said, the book is short and you don’t need a university degree to understand it.3 I read it in a day. In it Anderson cogently argues that white rage against black emancipation and rights of any kind has fuelled legal and extra-legal actions for centuries. The evidence is overwhelming.

If you want to understand the USA right now White Rage is a great place to start.

Next year is not going be a better year for the world. 2017’s going to be worse. I hope as many of us as possible survive and fight back loud and long and strong. I hope we remember those who love and sustain us. I am very lucky to have an amazing family and many wonderful friends all over the world. Thanks to all of you.

And to everyone who reads my books, blogs and words on social media. You sustain us. Without readers we writers have nothing.

Happy new year!

  1. I still can’t listen to Prince without crying. []
  2. Other than seeing Hamilton twice. YES, I SAW HAMILTON TWICE. OMG. []
  3. I’ve been trying to read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and regretting my lack of a degree in philosophy with every page. []

My Sister Rosa USA Tour (updated)

my-sister-rosa-covMy eighth novel (and eleventh book), My Sister Rosa, publishes on Tuesday 15 November. These are my tour dates. I’ll be in Charleston, New York City, Chicago (area), Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.

If you’re in New York City we’re having a launch party on Sunday the 13th at Book Court. Details below. Would be lovely to see you there!

If you’re going to YallFest in Charleston come say hi! Come to my signing on Saturday at Blue Bicycle books!

If you’re in NYC, Chicago or Columbus, Ohio come see me talk about psychopaths and evil women with Scott Westerfeld, Mikki Kendall and John Scalzi.

While you wait the few days till the tour starts you can do a quiz to see if you’re a psychopath. Spoiler alert you aren’t. People who love novels never are.

Chicago Area

Tuesday, 15 November 2016, 7PM
Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange
26 S La Grange Rd, La Grange, IL 60525
Yes, Chicago, you get to cheer My Sister Rosa on the day it officially publishes!

Thursday, 17 November 2016, 7PM
Meeting Room at Cook Park Library
413 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, IL
Talking psychopaths and My Sister Rosa
with Mikki Kendall
Free event RSVP here

Columbus, Ohio

Friday, 18 November 2016, 6:30PM
Book Loft
631 S 3rd St,
Columbus, Ohio
Where I am interviewed by John Scalzi
about psychopaths and My Sister Rosa
Event is free but limited space so RSVP here

Atlanta

19-22 November 2016
I’ll be at ALAN
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

New York City

Friday, 16 December, 6PM
Books of Wonder,
18 W 18th St, New York, NY
Me with Kass Morgan and Neal Shusterman

Finished Events

Was so lovely seeing everyone at Yallfest. What an amazing community!

And thanks SO MUCH to everyone who came out for the NYC book launch!

Charleston

11-12 November, 2016
I’ll be appearing at YallFest
Charleston, South Carolina, USA

FRIDAY, 11 NOVEMBER, 3:00 PM
Fierce Friday Preview
Charleston Museum

SATURDAY, 12 NOVEMBER, 11:00 AM
I’ll be signing with Scott Westerfeld
BLUE BICYCLE BOOKS — COURTYARD
420 King Street

12:00 PM
Panel: UNLIKABLE FEMALE PROTAGONISTS
Charleston Museum

1:00 PM KEEP YA WEIRD
American Theater — Ballroom

New York City

Sunday, 13 November 2016, 6PM
Book Court
163 Court St,
Brooklyn, NY
Official My Sister Rosa Book launch!
with Scott Westerfeld
There will be cheese and wine! Yes, it’s a launch party!

On Putting Your Work Out There

The authors copies of my eighth novel, My Sister Rosa, arrived today. It publishes in the US and Canada in less than a month. I’ve been through this eight times, eleven times if I count my non-fiction book and anthologies, yet it never stops being exciting and it never stops being scary.
img_9991
All I ever wanted to be was a novelist. Every time a new book of mine is published I have a moment where I hold my breath and ask myself if this is real. Did I dream every book I ever published? Then I hold the real, solid book in my hands and let the breath out.

It never gets old.1 I doubt I’ll ever stop being delighted that something I wrote became a real, honest-to-goodness book!

It never stops being scary either. What if everyone hates it?!

It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve already published, that moment of showing what you’ve written to someone else for the first time is nervous-making. My Sister Rosa has already had multiple positive reviews in Australia and New Zealand, and now in the USA and Canada, but I’m still nervous about what’s going to happen when it publishes here on the 15th of November.

One of my superstitions is that there’s a correlation between how much I enjoyed writing a book and its reception. This despite the fact that my best-selling novel, Liar, was tough to write and the one I had the most fun writing, Team Human with Sarah Rees Brennan, sold horribly.

I struggled to write My Sister Rosa. It took me more drafts than I care to think about to nail the voice of the main character. I also got sick with pneumonia and missed several deadlines. All of which makes me nervous. So far, it’s done well in Australia and New Zealand. Fingers crossed for North America.2

I’m aware it’s an absurd superstition. People who read our books don’t know what we were going through when we wrote them, and even if they do, they soon forget as they get engrossed in the book or put it down cause they hated it. Mostly readers don’t think about the author; they think about the book.

I used to wish that one day I’d stop being nervous about what other people think of my books. That one day I’d stop caring. I no longer wish that. Partly because I’ve toughened up: I now enjoy many of the bad reviews in a way I certainly didn’t for my first four or five or six books. But mostly because I enjoy having an audience.

It’s true that I’d keep writing even if I never sold another book but it would be tougher without an audience. I not only care what the people who read my books say about them; they help shape the next books I write. I pay attention to what people liked, what they hated, what bored them, what made them laugh, what drove them up the wall, what made them cry. All those responses add to my next book. Even the ones I completely disagree with.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without the people who read my books, who edit and critique and review them, who write me or tell me about them. My books would not be as good as I can make them without all of you.

Thank you. I’m very grateful.

  1. Though I have long since learned not to open the book up because without fail I find a typo. Blergh. []
  2. I’m having much more fun writing my current psychopath book, which is from the point of view of a psychopath and not of a good person like Che. Yes, that reflects poorly on me. []

Accompanying Scott Westerfeld on His US Tour

For the next two weeks I’ll be accompanying Scott on his US tour. We’ll be hitting the San Francisco/Bay Area (Menlo Park, Santa Rosa, and SF), LA, the Phoenix/Tempe area, Chicago, Princeton NJ, and New York City. Do say hello and if you’ve got anything you’d like me to sign I’m more than happy to do so. Details here.

I’ll be having a mini-tour of my own in November when My Sister Rosa publishes in North America. Full details as soon as I have them. In the meantime I’ll definitely be at YallFest and at the ALAN workshop. Hope to see you!

my-sister-rosa-cov

Brisbane Writers Festival! This Weekend! I am in you!

Hello, Brisbanites, I will be in your fine city this weekend doing the following things at the Brisbane Writers Festival. All my events are on site.

SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER
11.30am – 12.30pm
Panel: Psycho
Auditorium 2, SLQ
Justine Larbalestier, Caroline Overington, Caroline Kepnes moderated by Meg Vann
Nothing I love more than talking about psychopaths. This will be the best. I have so many theories about the fascination with psychopaths.

SUNDAY 11 SEPTEMBER
11.30am – 12.30pm
In Conversation: My Sister Rosa
GOMACinemaB
Justine Larbalestier
Belinda Jeffrey
Even if you haven’t read the book you should attend cause I’ll be talking about psychopaths some more, which is really a conversation about what makes us human and what counts as human. Who doesn’t want to talk about that?

THE RE[a]D BOX
1:30pm – 2:00pm
In which I crash Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s reading of ILLUMINAE

3:00pm – 3:30pm
In which I am supposed to do my own reading but will probably just talk about psychopaths. Cause, seriously, there’s SO MUCH TO SAY!

Looking forward to talking about psychopaths with youse all! See you very soon, Brisbane!

Paperback US edition of Razorhurst in and My Sister Rosa News

9781616956257Razorhurst is now available in the USA as a paperback, with a whole new look. The new cover is getting a very strong response.

As a bonus, this brand-new paperback includes the first two chapters of My Sister Rosa. Cool, huh? You folks of the USA and Canada will get a teaser to get you even more excited for My Sister Rosa publishing in your countries in November.

My Sister Rosa will be published by Record in Brasil. I’m super thrilled with this as they have published many of my other books and I got to hang out with them a few years back and they are the best. Especially Ana Lima.

Rosa will also have a North American audio book produced by Blackstone Audio. They’re the ones who did the fantastic all-Australian audio book ofRazorhurst. So far all of my novels have had audio books. These means a lot to me because I know how important they are for my blind fans.

Which of My Books to Read First (Updated)

This post is so I have somewhere to send people when they ask me which book of mine they should read first. Click on the links to learn more about each book.

Authors who sensibly only write the one kind of book don’t have to write guides like this. I’m not envious. Honest.

Update:
There’s a bonus section at the end for those who’ve read one of my books and are wondering which one to read next, assuming that you want to read the book most like it.

WARNING: If you consider knowing whether a book has a happy or a sad ending to be a spoiler do not read this!

Novels with unambiguously happy endings:
How To Ditch Your Fairy
Team Human
“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (though I consider this novella to have a happy ending many readers disagree with me)

Novels with endings that might make you tear your hair out:
Liar
Razorhurst
My Sister Rosa
“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (though I consider this novella to have a happy ending many readers disagree with me)

Novels with endings that might make you cry in a sad way:
Razorhurst
My Sister Rosa
“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (Beats me why, but many readers have reported crying.)

Novels that just end, with no resolution, and WHY DID YOU DO THAT, JUSTINE?!
Liar (Though, come on, people, it’s called Liar! Novels that are built on lies about a liar cannot be resolved. This is a scientific fact.)

Fantasies:
Magic or Madness trilogy (contemporary with magic)1
How to Ditch Your Fairy (contemporary, different world, very mild superpowers)2
Liar (contemporary [redacted] because it might be a lie)
“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (contemporary with faerie)
Zombies v Unicorns (self-explanatory)
Team Human (contemporary, vampires and zombies)
Razorhurst (historical, ghosts)

Science Fiction:
How to Ditch Your Fairy (Very few readers have realised this one is science fiction possibly because I left out the part about the fairies being micropscopic alien invaders.)
“Little Red Suit” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean (post-apocalyptic Sydney)

Realism:
Liar (Though some don’t think so. See fantasy section.)
My Sister Rosa (Though I could mount a strong argument that the figure of the psychopath is frequently deployed in fiction as a monster.)

Historicals:
Razorhurst (1932 Sydney)

Thrillers/Crime:
Liar (psychological)
Razorhurst (gangsters and cops trying to kill protags)
My Sister Rosa (psychological)

Humorous books:
How To Ditch Your Fairy
Team Human
Zombies v Unicorns (Mine and Holly Black’s bantering in between the short stories is funny and so are some of the stories.)

Novels with sex:
Magic or Madness trilogy
Liar
Razorhurst (very little)
My Sister Rosa

Novels without sex:
How To Ditch Your Fairy
Team Human

Novels without Swearing
How To Ditch Your Fairy (There’s no swearing from our world. They have their own deeply adorable swear words.)
Team Human

Anthologies/Short stories:
Daughters of Earth (I edited this collection of 20th century feminist science fiction with accompanying essays by feminist scholars)
Zombies v Unicorns (I edited this one with Holly Black)
“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell
“Little Red Suit” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean
You can find other short stories by me here. They’re all fantasy except for Pashin’ which is realism and gross.

Non-fiction:
Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction
Daughters of Earth

What to Read Next:
If you loved Liar then read My Sister Rosa next. And vice versa. Though the protag of My Sister Rosa is not unreliable like Micah from Liar, My Sister Rosa is as twisty and dark as Liar. After you’ve read those two if you still want dark and twisty try Razorhurst, remembering that it’s set in 1932 and there are ghosts. So if historicals or supernatural elements are not your thing you might want to skip it.

If you loved How To Ditch Your Fairy because it’s light and funny then read Team Human. And vice versa.

If you loved the star-crossed lovers of “Thinner than Water” then try My Sister Rosa. Remembering that it has no faerie or magic and the emphasis is not on the romance. You could also wait for the novel I’m working on now, Psychopath In Love, with the star-crossed lovers more at the centre. If it was the world of “Thinner than Water” that grabbed you then see if you can find copies of the Magic or Madness trilogy or wait till I finally finish my epic 1930s NYC book(s) cause it’s basically all star-crossed lovers with magic.

If you loved Razorhurst and want to read another historical from me you could read “Thinner than Water” which has a kind of historical-y feel to it. Or wait for my 1930s NYC historical with magic that I’ve been working on forever and may never finish. Lucky heaps of other authors write historicals, eh? If you were more taken with the thriller aspect then read My Sister Rosa or
Liar.

  1. Out of print. I include the trilogy to be complete and who knows one day it might be back in print. []
  2. I can also make an argument that this one is science fiction. Most readers disagree []

Getting Started is Hard

My biggest writing struggle is getting started. The novel I’m writing right now which I think of as the Psychopath Book because, unlike My Sister Rosa, it’s from the point of view of a psychoath, rather than just being about a psychopath. It was going pretty well until Rosa was published in Australia and New Zealand. Suddenly there was promotion to be done, interviews, book launches, travelling.

I’ve been for home more than a week and this is how it’s gone:

Day One: I catch up on admin, which includes interview questions, paying bills, laundry etc as well as tweeting. Because Twitter is a vital part of my process. *cough*

Day Two: More admin. How does admin build up so quickly? Why can’t bills pay themselves? Why can’t Twitter pay my bills?

Day Three: More admin. More tweeting. I open Psychopath Book file. I have no idea who any of these characters are or what this book is about. Not entirely convinced I wrote these words. Who has been messing with my computer while I was away? I ask Twitter. Answers are unsatisfactory.

Day Four: More admin. Way more tweeting. I stare at Pyschopath Book file and read some of it and recoil in horror. Why is this so hard? There are plenty of writers with full time jobs, who are carers for children and elderly parents, who write ten books a year. I am the worst. I ask Twitter. Twitter overwhelmingly confirms my worst-ness.

Day Five: I ignore admin. Time to get back to actually writing this damn book. After I’ve delivered a very important rant on Twitter and commiserated with friends over the dread ways in which Twitter algorithms are trying to destroy Twitter. I read my notes on Psychopath Book. They don’t make any sense. Staring at this stalled novel fills me with despair. I watch Attack the Block for the millionth time. Surely it will inspire me? It does. To write an entirely different book.

Day Six: I continue to ignore admin but not Twitter. I make myself read more Psychopath Book. I edit some sentences. Some of them are okay. Most are not. I start to have vague memories about these characters. I marvel at the many ways I have misspelled pyschopath. It’s impressive.

Day Seven: I continue to ignore admin and am on Twitter slightly less than usual. I blog. What? It’s important for an author with a new book out to stay abreast of social media and blog the rants that are too long for Twitter. It’s also important to watch the cricket in case I one day get around to writing that highly commercial cricket novel I’ve been thinking about writing for years.

Day Eight: I finally write some actual new sentence of the Psychopath Book. They’re total shite.

Day Nine: I write more shitey sentences of the Psychopath Book. I know who these characters are! I can write this book! Shitely! I just have to make sure I never take more than a day or two off ever again.

And repeat. A lot.

TL;DR:
Getting started is really hard.

My Sister Rosa in Shops Today in Australia and New Zealand!

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.inddToday’s the day you can buy My Sister Rosa in Australia and New Zealand! Woo hoo! A new book by me! Out today! *dances*

I hope you enjoy this charming tale of seventeen-year-old Australian Che Taylor’s adventures in New York City looking after his precocious psychopathic sister, Rosa Klein.1 Already critics are calling it, “Heartwarming and touching.” Would you believe they called it “Adorable”? Okay, fine, no one is calling it heartwarming, touching or adorable. More like “Creepy” and “soul-destroying.” But, remember, it’s a fine line between heartwarming and soul-destroying.2

You can read the first chapter here and about what inspired the book here.

This is also release day for Kirsty Eagar’s fabulous Summer Skin, which is a sexy contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet set amongst Queensland university students. It’s funny and hot and wonderful. You are in for such a treat with this book.

We will be celebrating their release next week:

Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 6:00pm for a 6:30pm
Kirsty Eagar and me will discuss our books
and talk of Sex and Psychopaths
And answer all your questions for we love Q&A!
Kinokuniya
Level 2, The Galleries,
500 George St,
Sydney, NSW

Hope to see you there, Sydney!

Fear not, lovely Melbourne peeps, we will be there doing our double launch with extra bonus Ellie Marney introducing us a week later on the tenth. And while we’re having our Sydney launch, if you’re in Melbourne, you can go to Leanne Hall’s launch for Iris and the Tiger. I’ve heard nothing but good things. Can’t wait to read it!

  1. She has their mum’s last name, Rosa has their father’s. Just like me and my sister. Except with no psychopathy. []
  2. Not really. []

My Sister Rosa USA Cover! (Updated)

My US publisher, Soho Teen, have come up with an amazing cover for My Sister Rosa. Feast your eyes:

Rosa_HC REV

What do you think? I love it. I love the echoes of the famous Silence of the Lambs poster. It also reminds me of the cover of my parents’ edition of John Fowles’ The Collector, which I read as a kid, which I can’t find online. Boo! Which also had a pinned butterfly. It’s a wonderful evocation of psychopathy. Well done!

I honestly can’t decide which cover I like best: the Australian one or the US one.

My Sister Rosa will be out in the US in November. You can read the first chapter here and more about where I got the idea here.

Meanwhile it will be out in Australia and New Zealand in two weeks. SO SOON!

Update: I forgot to say who the cover designer is. Vanessa Han. Doesn’t she do fab work?

Last Day of 2015

This is my annual recap of the year that was as well as a squiz at what’s gunna happen in 2016.1 By which I mean what’s going to happen in my publishing life. I am not Nostradamus. (Actually neither was Nostradamus. He was not an accurate prognosticator.) Nor would I want to be. I’m convinced being able to tell the future is the worst superpower. I’d rather be invisible and being invisible never ends well. Just read H. G. Wells!

Um, I digress:

Reading and Watching in 2015

One of the good things about being really sick is that I read a lot more than I usually do this year. I read so many wonderful books I don’t know where to start. I tweet about books and tv shows I love so if you’re looking for more recommendations you can check my Twitter feed.

As mentioned above I discovered the writing of Kirsty Eagar this year and was blown away. Everyone needs to read her NOW. I know many consider, Raw Blue, to be her best book, and don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent, but my favourite is Night Beach which is one of the best explorations of teenage female desire I’ve read.2 Night Beach takes on one of the dominant tropes in YA: teen girl lusting after a little bit older hot guy. The teen girl is not punished for this desire. She is not seen as freakish or slut-shamed. I could hug this book.

In Eagar’s version the guy turns out to not be perfect. He is not a wish fulfilment, but a real person with flaws, some of them misogynistic. I’ve been working on my own take on this trope and getting no where with it for years and years. Eagar has written the book I haven’t been able to and it’s amazing. She manages to write about the toxicity of masculinity, while portraying believable, not villainous, male characters. She shows how that toxic mix of masculinity and misogyny is harmful to men as well as women.

Another favourite huge favourite this year was Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda‘s Monstress. Wow. Words fail. The writing. The art. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read and we’re only two issues in. MORE PLEASE.

Then there was Nnedi Okorafor‘s Lagoon. I’ve never read a book like it before. Big and sprawling with a million points of view, including sea creatures. It’s about an alien invasion that starts in Lagos, Nigeria but, really, that’s just the starting point. It’s about much more than that. It’s one of those books you’ll get something different out of ever time you read it. Yes, I’ve already read it twice.

I also loved Ashley Hope Perez’s heartbreaking Out of Darkness set in late the 1930s in a small town Texas. It should win all the YA awards.

This year I decided to read something I normally hate: a cosy mystery. You know one of those mysteries where everything is tidily wrapped up at the end and everyone lives happily ever after? An Agatha Christie kind of mystery. They are so not my thing. But then someone was raving about Barbara Neely’s Blanche White books and they sounded interesting. I read the first one, Blanche on the Lam about a black domestic worker who escapes after a judge gives her a custodial sentence for being late paying a fine. She winds up being housekeeper to a deeply dysfunctional wealthy white family, and solving their assorted crimes, while delivering much pungent, and often funny, commentary on racism and misogyny while resisting her employers’ desires to turn her into a mammy. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

I also read much non-fiction this year. I re-read The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter. It’s a book every one should read, particularly Americans, as the USA is her primary focus. Her book demonstrates that white is not universal, that white is not neutral, that it has a history, which she eloquently delineates. It’s not often you finish a book understanding how the world operates better than before you read it.

I was wowed by Margo Jefferson’s memoir, Negroland, which is about growing up black and privileged in Chicago in the fifties and sixties. It was a window into an alien world. Obviously, I’m not black, but what was really alien to me was her family’s focus on respectability. I was never taught when to wear white gloves, what length skirt is appropriate. The only reason I’ve ever had to wear a hat is to avoid skin cancer. But I’ve known white Australian girls from wealthy families who were sent to posh private schools, who knew all of that stuff, and I think would recognise much in Jefferson’s book. What I related to most strongly was the sexism and misogyny she had to battle.

One of my fave new TV shows is Into the Badlands because martial arts staged well and magically and saturated colours and eye candy and coherent plot and world building. It has a strong diverse cast. Except, well, I’ve been noticing this a lot lately in US TV shows and movies, even when several of the big roles are given to PoC, the extras are still overwhelmingly white. And there’s never any world-building to explain why in the future the world is 90% white.

I also enjoyed Ready For This, which was created by the people behind Dance Academy and Redfern Now, and really it’s what you’d get if you crossed Redfern Now with Dance Academy. I.e. heaven.

How my books did in 2015

resized_9781743319789_224_297_FitSquareAt the beginning of the year my story, “Little Red Suit,” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy, was published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin.

The anthology is an Indian-Australian collaboration with half the contributors from each country. Some worked in collaboration with each other to produce comics as well as short stories. I was partnered with Anita Roy. We critiqued each other’s stories. Hers is a corker: future Masterchef. I chortled. There’s not a single dud in Eat the Sky.3

RazorhurstUSIn March Soho Teen published the North American edition of Razorhurst. It received four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus and em>The Bulletin of The Center for Children’s Books (BCCB). As well as making the Tayshas 2016 list.

Meanwhile in Australia Razorhurst was shortlisted for the following awards: Adelaide Festival Award 2016, Young Adult Fiction Award, New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards 2015, Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award 2015, Golden Inky Award, Queensland Literary Awards 2015, The Griffith University Young Adult Book Awardand the Norma K. Hemming Award 2015. Razorhurst won the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel.

The acclaim for Razorhurst means even more to me than usual because, let’s be honest, Razorhurst is weird. It sits uneasily in a bunch of different genres. Some said it wasn’t really YA. Thus making the shortlist for the Inkys—entirely voted on by teen readers—was particularly gratifying. We struggled figuring out how to market the book. I worried it was going to disappear without a trace. So as you can imagine the enthusiastic reception has been way beyond what I let myself hope for. For awhile there all I let myself hope for was that Razorhurst would get published.

Books Out in 2016

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.inddA year ago I thought my next novel would be out already. But then I had a nasty bout of pneumonia in January and it took forever to recover. Lungs, they do not like to be messed with. I give pneumonia one star and that’s for the silent p.

My Sister Rosa was bumped from the schedule. None of my books has ever been bumped before. It freaked me out. OMG! I’m never going to finish this book! It’s never going to be published! My career is over! But—spoiler—I finished the book. Turns out it’s better to take the time to write the best book possible than to rush into print something half-baked. In the end, I’m proud of Rosa but it was the most gruelling writing experience of my career.

My Sister Rosa is my eleventh book, my eighth novel, and seventh solo novel. It’s my sixth book with my Australian/New Zealand publisher, Allen and Unwin, which makes them the publisher I’ve been with the longest anywhere in the world. Thank you, Allen and Unwin, for sticking with me! Youse mob are a joy to work with.

For those of you who don’t know, My Sister Rosa is my take on the bad seed told from the point of view a seventeen year old boy whose ten year old sister is a psychopath. Spoiler: this does not lead to fun times. You can read the first chapter here and how I came to write it here. It’s my first novel that I can accurately describe in one short sentence. High concept! I finally managed it.

IMG_5796The Australian edition will hit shops at the end of January. So soon! The finished book is gorgeous. Look at that cover. It’s beautiful and creepy, which is perfect. Also it has the popping-est spine.

Okay, I admit it doesn’t look that popping in this photo, but trust me, in real life it totally pops. People are going to see it on shelves and be compelled to pick it up and take it home. It is the Pied Piper of book spines.

There will be not one, but two, My Sister Rosa launches. For the first time I’ll be launching with someone else. Kirsty Eagar’s brilliant new book Summer Skin publishes on the same day. I’m a huge Eagar fan so launching our books together is going to be amazing. The first launch is in Sydney, the second in Melbourne:

Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 6:00pm for a 6:30pm
Double book launch My Sister Rosa/Summer Skin book launch
with the fabulous Kirsty Eagar
We will discuss
Sex and Psychopaths
And answer all your questions for we love Q&A!
Kinokuniya
Level 2, The Galleries,
500 George St,
Sydney, NSW

Wednesday 10 February 2016 at 6:00pm for a 6:30pm
Double book launch of My Sister Rosa/Summer Skin
With the brilliant Kirsty Eagar
By the wonderful Ellie Marney
Readings
309 Lygon St,
Carlton, Victoria

Hope to see you some of you there!

My Sister Rosa will be published in the USA and Canada by Soho Press in November 2016. That’s my second book with them. So far it’s been a very enjoyable experience working with the lovely folk at Soho. Wait till you see Rosa’s Soho cover! It’s every bit as good (and grey) as the Allen and Unwin cover but also very different. I’ve been blessed by the cover gods on this book.

What I wrote in 2015

I spent this year writing and rewriting and rewriting and going through copyedits and proofs of My Sister Rosa. This took longer than I thought it would and not just because of the pneumonia. Rosa was a tough book to write. For the first time in my writing life I struggled to find the voice of my protagonist. I didn’t get it right until I was well into the second or third draft. (Or was it the fourth? It’s all a blur now.) Since I’d already sold the book it was pretty terrifying. I had a finished draft and yet the narrative voice didn’t work. What even?!

Since this is my first book told entirely from the point of view of a boy some assumed it was his maleness that made finding his voice difficult. Not at all. It was how nice he is. Che Taylor is possibly the nicest point of view character I’ve ever written. He genuinely thinks the best of everyone. Even his psychopathic sister. Writing someone that nice is hard. Ridiculously hard.

I suspect this reflects poorly on me. I’m sure other writers have no difficulties writing nice. Oh, well. We all have our flaws. I got there in the end and the early responses to Che are very positive. So far no one finds him so nice they want to throw up. Phew.

I also wrote forty thousand words of a new novel this year. It’s told from the point of view of the least nice character I’ve ever written. She’s a psychopath. Yup, having written from Che’s point of view about living with a psychopath, and doing all the research to make that convincing, I started writing a novel from the monster’s point of view. It has its own difficulties but, I’m ashamed to say, it’s much easier writing from a psychopath’s point of view than from that of their empathetic opposite.

I continued blogging, but between illness and deadlines, did not manage to blog nearly as much as last year. I’m hoping to do better in 2016. I love blogging, even though apparently it’s still dying, and hate it when I have too much going on to do so regularly.

So, yeah, I plan to blog more next year, illness, weather, deadlines willing. Blogging, I love you no matter how out of fashion you are. *hugs blogging*

Writing Plans for 2016

I plan to finish the psychopath novel. It’s unsold so I can’t tell you when it will be published. My experience with My Sister Rosa showed me, once again, that I have a much easier time of it if I sell my novels after I finish them, not before. I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I’m able to do that. I think I’ve finally learned to stop worrying about how big the gaps are between my novels’ publication.

All of this writing is possible because I’m still managing my RSI as I described here. Being ill did make it worse. The fitter I am, the less trouble I have with it, and I lost a lot of fitness this year. But I’m almost back to being able to write as much as six hours a day now.

Travel in 2015

I was in the USA in April and May to promote Razorhurst and had a wonderful time. The Houston Teen Book Con was amazing. If you’re ever invited, fellow YA authors, go. It’s the first YA con I’ve been to that was overwhelming populated by teens. Wonderful!

For my travel plans in 2016 go here. I’ll be in the USA in May for the paperback publication of Razorhurst and to be guest of honour (!) at Wiscon. I’ll return in November for the North American publication of My Sister Rosa (and to complain about how cold it is).

2015 was awful but there’s always hope

I was sicker this year than I’ve been in years. It made everything else much harder. I spent the year behind on deadlines and everything else. It’s only now in December that I feel even slightly caught up. 2016 has to be better.

2015 was an awful year in both of my home countries, Australia and the USA, and in way too many other parts of the world. I would love to say that I’m full of hope for change in the future. I try to be. But then more awful shit happens and nothing is done to stop it from repeating. History, we are not learning from it.

In Australia we have a government actively undoing what little progress had been made on climate change and stripping money from all the important institutions such as the ABC, CSIRO and SBS. The new PM, Turnbull, while a vast improvement on his predecessor is not doing much, if anything, to slow that process done. Sure, he’s less anti-science and anti-culture than Abbott, but low bar, and there’s not a lot to show for it beyond rhetoric. We still have disgraceful policies on asylum seekers and Aboriginal Australians continue to die in custody.

Last year I wrote: May you have a wonderful 2016 full of whatever you love best and may the world become less unjust. Speaking out and creating art that truly reflects the world we live in goes part of the way towards doing that. At least that’s what I hope.

I feel the same way now. Happy new year! May 2016 not be vile.

  1. Yes, here in Sydney it is the 31st of December. Time zones. Who knew? []
  2. I’ve not yet read Saltwater Vampires I’m saving that as a reward for after I finish the books I have in my critique queue. []
  3. It’ll be published in North America but I don’t have more details on that yet. []

On Writing PoC When You Are White

My comments on white people writing People of Colour in these two posts has created a wee bit of consternation. This post is to clarify my position.

First of all: I am not the boss of who writes what.1 This is what I have decided for myself after much trial and error and listening and thinking and like that. Do what works for you.

I have decided to stick to white povs when I write a book from a single point of view.2 This does not mean will I no longer write PoC characters. There are people of different races and ethnicities in all my books. I have never written an all-white book. I doubt I ever will.

I didn’t make this decision because I was called out for writing PoC. Before Razorhurst all my main characters were PoC. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.3

The decision has more to do with the way the debate about diversity in Young Adult literature plays out. Almost every time the overwhelming whiteness of YA is discussed a well-meaning white author says, “I shall fix this. My next book will have a PoC protagonist!”

I cringe. All too often the white folks saying that don’t know many people who aren’t white. They rarely socialise with them. There’s a reason for that. As many as 75% of white people in the USA have entirely white social networks. I’m sure the numbers are similar in Australia.

That’s why I now largely recommend that white people with little experience of PoC don’t write from the point of view of PoC characters. Research will only take you so far.

Writing about PoC when none of your friends are PoC is not the same as writing about an historical period you weren’t alive for. If you perpetuate stereotypes you hurt living people. When you don’t know any PoC, even with the best research in the world, you’ll get things wrong. Stereotypes are harmful. Especially when you don’t realise you have written a stereotype.

Who are you going to get to read and critique your work if everyone in your social circle is white? Are you going to ask someone you don’t know very well? It’s a huge thing asking someone to critique your work. It takes a lot of work and if they don’t know you well how do they know that you’ll be receptive to them pointing out racism in your work?

We whites are notorious for freaking out when PoC so much as hint that something we did or said is racist. Many of us seem to think it’s worse to be called on our racism than it is for a PoC to experience racism. Even though being called racist can not kill us.

On top of all that I’m increasingly unconvinced that white people writing more people of colour solves anything. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center this year whites wrote most of the YA books with African-Americans, American Indian, Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans and Latino main characters.

Representation is improving but it’s mostly whites doing the representing, which is part of the problem. We need more writers and editors and publicists and publishers and booksellers of colour. We need publishing to be more representative of the countries we live in. Right now US publishing is 89% white. Australian publishing is at least that white.

We white writers could do more to increase diversity in our industry by drawing attention to the work of writers of colour. By mentoring, introducing them to our agents, by blurbing their books, by making space for them at conventions and conferences, by listening. Check out Diversity in YA. Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon and the others involved with that organisation have lots of concrete ideas of how we can make YA more diverse and inclusive.

The other reason I’ve shifted to predominately white points of view is in response to all the critics who’ve pointed out for many, many years that too many white writers think they can only tackle race through the pov of a person of colour. The implication is that race is something white people don’t have. We just are. We’re colourless neutrals.

No, we’re not.

Expectations about our race—our whiteness—shapes our lives as much as our gender or our sexuality or our class. Yet all too many whites are unaware of it.

I wanted to write about how whiteness obscures our understandings of how we are who we are and of how the world operates. For the next few books, including Razorhurst, I’ve been pushing myself to examine whiteness in my fiction.

A recent book that does this well is All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The character written by Kiely has to confront the ways in which his whiteness makes him complicit in the racist violence inflicted on Jason Reynolds’ character and what he can do about it.

Overt racist violence is not at the centre of Razorhurst or My Sister Rosa4 or of the book I’m currently writing. I’m looking at the less overt ways in which whiteness shapes lives.

I fully expect many of the people who read these books won’t notice. That’s okay. Many readers didn’t notice that everyone in How To Ditch Your Fairy is a person of colour. Books do many different things. No one reader is going to notice them all and many readers are going to see things the writer didn’t intend. It’s how it goes.

In all my books I try to tell a story that engrosses readers and lets them forget the real world for a few hours. That my books do that for even a handful of readers is glorious.

TL;DR: I’m writing predominately white pov characters because of reasons listed above. You do as works best for you.

  1. Not going to lie I kind of which I was. I’d also like to dictate Australia’s foreign policy, response to climate change, and treatment of refugees. Also fashion. []
  2. In books with more than one point of view, such as Razorhurst and the NYC historical I’ve been working on forever, there are PoC povs. Those books wouldn’t makes sense otherwise. []
  3. Including winning the Carl Brandon Society’s 2009 Kindred Award for Liar, which is one of the biggest honours of my career. []
  4. My next book. My Sister Rosa will be out in Australia/NZ in February and in the USA/Canada in November 2016. []

My Next Novel: My Sister Rosa

My next novel, My Sister Rosa, will be out from Allen & Unwin in February 2016 in Australia and New Zealand and from Soho Teen in North America in November 2016.

Here’s what the Allen & Unwin cover looks like:

MySisterRosaCover

Pretty creepy eh? What is she going to do to that poor wee little sparrow?

My Sister Rosa is not a cheerful tale of a happy family. Nope. It’s a novel of misery and woe told from the point of view of a seventeen-year-old boy whose ten-year-old sister, Rosa, is a psychopath.

It’s up to Che to protect Rosa from the world; and the world from Rosa.

[Cue ominous music.]

My Sister Rosa is my take on the bad seed narrative, which I’ve always been fascinated by. Creepy children? What’s not to love? Research for this book consisted of reading as many bad seed novels as I could. Including, of course, William March’sThe Bad Seed. I also read many books on psychopathy and, following a suggestion from Lili Wilkinson, books on empathy because you can’t understand psychopaths without understanding what they lack: empathy.

All that research has left me seeing psychopaths everywhere. The world is even scarier than I thought. Get my book when it comes out and you’ll be seeing psychopaths everywhere too. You’re welcome.

The First Sentence

A big deal is made of the first sentence of novels. There’s gazillions of pages listing good ones.1 Almost every obsessive reader can quote their favourite ones. Every Jane Austen fan can reel off:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I mean even I know that one off by heart and I have the world’s worst memory. Tragically it’s just about the only first sentence I do know. No, not even the first sentences of my own novels. I have to look them up.

Pretty much every agent or editor or writer when giving advice will tell you that the first sentence is crucial. That you have to get it right! When they talk about what a first sentence should do they tend to say it should make you want to read on, which, well, yes, yes it should. But that’s kind of vague, isn’t it? How do you write a sentence that will make readers want to read on?

I think a more useful way of thinking about the first sentence is to think about its relationship to the rest of the novel. Many first sentences operate as a kind of shorthand for the entire novel, giving the reader a sense of what’s to come, who’s telling the story, and what kind of story it is. Or, almost the opposite, messing with the reader, getting them to think it’s one kind of book when it’s not, which perversely also gives the reader a sense of what’s to come: a novel that will mess with the reader.

But you don’t have to be all show-offy to achieve that. Here are two simple first sentences. The first from one of my favourite novels, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (1948):

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

The narrator is a writer, possibly an eccentric who likes to sit in places not traditionally used for sitting, or perhaps a child who hasn’t quite figured out where it is or isn’t appropriate to sit or doesn’t care, or it could be someone with some kind of foot or ankle or lower leg disorder which means their feet need to be soaked, though why in the kitchen sink and not in a bucket? What is the “this” that she’s writing? Is is a journal? Does that mean “this” is a novel told in journal entries? Or is it a letter? Is this an epistolary novel? Or is it a novel that’s telling us it’s a novel? So many questions. Such an arresting image. And now I want to read the book all over again.

The second one is from another favourite, Courtney Milan’s marvellous The Suffragette Scandal (2014):

“Edward Clark was disgusted with himself.”

This is the opening sentence and, boy, does it sum up the whole book in which Edward Clark continues to be disgusted with himself throughout. I’d argue that a big part of the plot is him learning to do something about that disgust, to change himself into someone who doesn’t disgust himself. Though it becomes clear that the initial incident that he’s being disgusted about is not, in fact, a big deal. Nor is he that disgusted. It’s more a figure of speech.

So, how do you write a good first sentence?

Buggered if I know. But I will suggest that it helps to not think about that first sentence when writing your first, raw, zero draft. For me that’s a recipe for sitting there staring at the blank page, coming up with nothing, and developing an increasingly strong urge to tweet, or go kill zombies, or clean the kitchen, or go for a run, or anything else that isn’t writing.

If I think about writing a perfect pearl of a first sentence I cry. So instead I just type, banging out the story, characters, ideas that are pushing me into starting a new novel.

I started my next novel2 in September 2013. I didn’t write the first sentence—or indeed the first chapter—until January 2015. The previous first chapter I threw out because it wasn’t working. This has been true of most of my published novels.

That said, you might be one of those writers who has to have a perfectly formed first sentence in order to keep writing. There are such writers. Many of whom manage to write many novels. So do not despair if you turn out to be one of them. Every kind of writer has their own burdens and to keep us own our toes what those burdens are can change from story to story.

For me it’s impossible to write a good first sentence until I know what the novel is about and not being an outliner I can’t know what the book is about until I’ve written the first draft. Perhaps outliners bang out the perfect opening sentence straight away? Perhaps some of them have that perfect sentence in their outline? Sometimes I am very envious of how I imagine outliners write.

Of course not all opening sentences sum up the entire book in a neat way. Or at least that’s not all they do. Consider the opening of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987):

124 was spiteful.

So many questions it raises. How is 124 a who? How has a number become a name? Who is 124? Why are they spiteful? How can a number be spiteful? I must read and find out.

Then there’s massive generalisation openings, which Jane Austen brilliantly skewers with the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice. These kind of overblown aphoristic openings are a hallmark of nineteenth century literature, and though oft quoted, are way harder to get away with these days—unless you’re writing a novel set in the nineteenth century. Though that makes me want to try one of these openings with a contemporary novel. Take Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities from 1859:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

While Dickens’ opening here is overblown it’s hard to deny that period of French history was kind of intense.

Then there’s Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877):

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I call total bullshit on this opening. There are as many different kinds of happiness as there are of misery. So, boo to you, Tolstoy. Maybe it’s less stupid in the original Russian?

There is, however, no denying the poetry of both those openings. They trip off the tongue and are very easy to remember. Though, most people only ever quote the first two clauses of the
Tale of Two Cities opening because we are lazy creatures. Maybe that’s why long, elegiac opening sentences went out of fashion?

TL;DR First sentences. They are important. But don’t sweat them unless you have to. The beauty of writing as opposed to, say, live debating, is that you can rewrite until you get it right.

  1. Though you’ll notice those lists seem to be compiled by people who mostly read books by white men. I merely observe, I do not judge. []
  2. My Sister Rosa which publishes in February and November of 2016 in Australia and the US respectively. []

Why I’ve Been Quiet

Short answer: pneumonia. Longer answer: mycoplasma pneumoniae

Apparently there’s a fair amount of it going around in Sydney in summer right now. So unjust. My bout was nasty and not short and my recovery is slow and annoying. Thus my silence online. I am now behind with everything and I have a rewrite due so my focus is on recovering and finishing the book. That’s why I’m not responding to emails and tweets etc.1

Being so sick reminded me—once again—that we build our worlds as if everyone is able bodied all the time—yet nobody is. Even if you’ve never had a day of sickness in your life, even if you’ve never even sprained an ankle, once you were a child.

We are all born utterly helpless unable to even raise our heads. As we learn to walk uneven surfaces are a challenge, stairs are a challenge. The built world is a challenge. And very little of it is altered to make things easier for littlies.2

Your strength and fitness will decline as you age. Even the fittest, healthiest ninety year old walks at a fraction of the speed they managed in their youth. They’re also a good deal weaker.

Yet pedestrian lights are all too often designed with barely enough time for someone young and fit to get across the road, let alone someone on crutches, or someone in their nineties, or someone looking after small children. Fire doors are too heavy for many people to open.

There are a million such examples. I’m too tired to list them all. We need to stop thinking that disability issues have nothing to do with the able-bodied. Being able-bodied is transitory, not fixed. We are all of us at some point in our lives going to be deeply grateful for ramps, automatic doors, and pedestrian lights that allow us to cross the road without being honked at by angry drivers.

  1. I haven’t been on Twitter in weeks and probably won’t be back until this book is finished. []
  2. There are some good reasons for that. Challenges are how kids learn to be stronger and fitter. But stairs and ramps can co-exist. []

Last Day of 2014

The year is practically over so here I am again with my annual recap of the year that was as well as a squiz at what’s gunna happen in 2015.1

Books Out in 2014

This was my first year with a new solo novel since 2009. Five years in between solo novels!2 I was nervous but it seems to have gone quite well.

Razorhurst was published in July by Allen and Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. The reviews have been blush-making. Including being named a book of the week by the Sydney Morning Herald, of the month from Readings Books and making Readings’ top ten YA books of the year and top 50 books by Australian women in 2014 lists, as well being the Australian Independent Bookseller’s No. 1 Children’s Pick for July. Although Razorhurst isn’t out in the US until March it’s already received starred reviews from the School Library Journal as well as Kirkus.

Then, best of all, earlier this month I learned that Razorhurst has made the shortlist of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (Young Adult), which is one of the biggest YA prizes in Australia.3

So, yeah, I’m more than happy with how Razorhurst has been received. Pinching myself, in fact.

Books Out in 2015 and 2016

I will have three books out in 2015. Two novels and a short story in a wonderful new anthology.

resized_9781743319789_224_297_FitSquareIn India this month my story, “Little Red Suit,” was published in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy, but I’m going to pretend that’s 2015, as it will be published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin in February. Isn’t that cover divine?

The anthology is an Indian-Australian collaboration with half the contributors from each country. Some of them worked in collaboration with each other to produce comics as well as short stories. I was partnered with Anita Roy and we critiqued each other’s stories. Hers is a corker. I can’t wait to see the finished book.

“Little Red Suit,” is a post-apocalyptic retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Fairy tales were the first stories I ever told so it was lovely to return to the form. As I’ve mentioned, once or twice, I am not a natural short story writer. They are much more of a challenge for me than writing novels. So much so that I kind of want to turn this story into a novel. (Almost all of my short stories are secretly novels.) I hope you enjoy it.

RazorhurstUSIn March Soho Teen will publish the US edition of Razorhurst. I am very excited and will be over there in the US doing events in California and New York and Texas and possibly some other states. I will keep you posted. Yes, the Soho Teen edition will be available in Canada too.

Then in November I’ll have a brand new novel out with Allen and Unwin.

Let’s pause for a moment to digest that: in November there will be a brand new Justine Larbalestier novel, only a year later than my last one.

I know, brand new novels two years in a row! I’ve become a writing machine!

The new novel hasn’t been formally announced yet so I can’t tell you much about it other than it’s realism set in New York City, told from the point of view of a seventeen-year old Australian boy named Che.

The new novel will be published in the USA by Soho Press in March 2016.

What I wrote in 2014

I spent this year writing and rewriting the new novel. As well as rewrites, copyedits and etc. of Razorhurst. My novels, they go through many drafts.

And, me being me, I started a brand new novel out of nowhere, inspired by . . . you know what, it’s still a tiny whisper of a novel. I’ll wait until there’s a bit more before I start talking about it in public.

Then just a week or so ago I got the idea for yet another novel. So who knows which of those I’ll wind up finishing this year.

I continued blogging and managed to blog roughly once a week for most of the year. The most fun I had blogging this year was doing the Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club with Kate Elliott. I was very bummed when deadlines and travel forced us to call it quits. Here’s hoping we can get it started again some time in 2015.

I plan to blog even more next year. Er, tomorrow. Blogging, I love you no matter out of fashion you are. *hugs blogging*

Writing Plans for 2015

Well, obviously, there’ll be more rewrites and copyedits and etc for the new novel.

Then I plan to finish one of the novels that came out of nowhere. After that, well, who knows? Will I finally get back to the New York Depression-era novel(s)? The snow-boarding werewolves? The fairy godmother middle grade? Or one of the many other novels I’ve been working on for ages? Or something else that comes out of nowhere? Given that my last three novels came out of nowhere that would be the safest bet.

All of this writing is possible because I’m still managing my RSI as I described here. I’m continuing to be able to write as much as six hours a day. The few times I’ve written longer than that I have paid for it. It’s good to know my limits.

Travel in 2014

I was in the US briefly in June and then again in Sept-Nov, accompanying Scott on his Afterworlds tour. It felt like we went everywhere. Both coasts! Or all three if you count Texas as the third coast. Also Canada. It went fabulously well. Scott’s fans turned out in great numbers and many book sold and I met heaps of wonderful librarians and booksellers and readers and writers and some of them had already read Razorhurst thanks to my wonderful publicist at Soho Press, Meredith Barnes. It will be fun to go out on the road again in March.

Reading and Watching in 2014

My favourite new writers are Brandy Colbert and Courtney Summers, who both write realist contemporary YA, which I’ve gotta be honest is not my thing. That’s why I read a tonne of it this year: to learn and to grow. Both Colbert and Summers are dark and uncompromising almost bleak writers. Their books made me weep buckets. But there’s heart and hope in their novels too. I’m really looking forward to more from both of them. Courtney’s next book, All the Rage, will be out in early 2015.

I also read heaps of non-fiction this year. A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs is a wonderful history of passing in the USA, which centres those who chose not to pass as much as those who did, and looks closely at the reason for deciding either way and how they changed over time. African-American family life is at the centre of this excellent history.

One of my fave new TV shows is Faking It because it’s silly and funny and kind of reminds me of my high school days at an alternative school though, you know, more scripted. I also love Cara Fi created and written by a dear friend, Sarah Dollard, who is a mighty talent. It’s set in Wales and is sweet and funny and feminist and touching and you should all watch it.

2014 was awful but there’s always hope

Although 2014 was a wonderful year for me professionally it was an awful year in both of my home countries, Australia and the USA, and in way too many other parts of the world. I would love to say that I’m full of hope for change in the future. I try to be. The movement that has grown out of the protests in Ferguson is inspiring and should fill us all with optimism. But then it happens all over again.

In Australia we have a government actively undoing what little progress had been made on climate change and stripping money from all the important institutions such as the ABC, CSIRO and SBS. This is the most anti-science, anti-culture and, well, anti-people government we’ve ever had. The already disgraceful policy on asylum seekers has gotten even worse and Aboriginal Australians continue to die in custody.

Argh. Make it stop!

May you have a wonderful 2015 full of whatever you love best and may the world become less unjust. Speaking out and creating art that truly reflects the world we live in goes part of the way to doing that. At least that’s what I hope.

  1. Yes, here in Sydney it is the 31st of December. I’m sorry that you live in the past. []
  2. Yes, I had a co-edited anthology and a co-written novel in those five years but you would be amazed by how many people do not count collaborations as being a real novel by an author. I don’t get it either. []
  3. If you’re from the US think Printz or National Book Award only plus money. That’s right in Australia if you win a literary award they give you money. Bizarre, I know. []

Last Day of 2013

And, lo, another year has passed and it is time for my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life this year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2014. I do this so I have a record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” category.)

For me, 2013 was wonderful personally and professionally. I wrote heaps and heaps and heaps and I liked what I wrote and the resulting pain was manageable. Yes, there will be a new novel from me this year. And a short story for an extremely cool anthology. More on those below.

I usually start this post with a section on what books I had out and how they did. But, um, I had no books out this year. None. Not only no book, I did not publish a single thing, not so much as a haiku, let alone an article, or a story. This blog and my tweets are the sum total of my public writings this year.

I’ve now had two book-less calendar years since my first novel was published in 2005: 2011 and 2013. It’s as if I think I’m a fancy writer of Literachure or something. Yes, when I freak out about the two year gap between my last book and the one that’ll be published in 2014, my romance writer friends look at me with pity and horror, my YA writer friends say that’s a bit of a worry, my crime writer friends ditto, but my literary friends congratulate me on my exceptional productivity. A book every two years! So fast! You’re amazing, Justine!

It’s all relative, eh?

So here’s a new section instead:

What I wrote in 2013

I rewrote my Sydney Depression-era novel in preparation for its imminent publication of which more below.

I also wrote 40,000 words of a brand new book that came out of nowhere. As my novels so often do.1

I continued to work on the never-ending New York Depression-era novel. *sigh* It will never be finished. I’ve accepted that now. As well as working (a little) on my fairy godmother middle grade, which would have been finished by now if I hadn’t gotten distracted by the brand new novel. What? Some of us don’t have long attention spans, okay?

I also wrote a short story. This is very very very unusual for me. The last time I had a short story published was 2008. I can’t tell you much about the anthology except that I was so intrigued by the concept I couldn’t refuse despite the fact that writing short stories is insanely hard.

Yes, they’re much harder than novels. In this case there was a 2,500-word limit. Many of my blog posts are longer than that. How do you build a world and tell a story in 2,500 words?! Madness. Yet many other writers have managed it. So . . . I have given it my best shot. Which at the moment involves a first draft that is more than twice the length it should be, doesn’t make much sense, and is begging me to turn it into a novel. All this despite much excellent advice from Margo Lanagan.

You may have noticed that I also resumed blogging. At the end of October I started blogging roughly once a week. Go, me! I plan to do that even more consistently next year. I.e. tomorrow. Hello, 2014, I will blog in you. Even though blogging is dead. What can I say? I like dead things. Mmmmm . . . zombies.

Books out Next Year

At last a new novel from me! It will be published by Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand in July 2014. That’s right, Australians and New Zealanders, only six months till you get to read my first solo novel since Liar! It’s been a while between drinks, eh? Um, five years. Gulp.2 It will be my seventh novel and tenth book.

The novel is called Razorhurst and takes place over a winter’s day in 1932. There are no zombies or vampires or unicorns or werewolves or witches, but there are ghosts. I’ll have heaps more to tell you about it in the coming months. This website’s going to get a spruce up as well courtesy of Stephanie Leary. That way it will be sparkly and new in time for the sparkly and new book. Exciting, eh?

Writing Plans for 2014

Well, obviously, there’ll be copyedits and etc for Razorhurst. I’ll be finishing the short story. It is due 1 Feb, after all. The anthology it’s in will be published by Allen & Unwin either later in 2014 or early 2015. Again, I’ll let you know more when I know more. It’s a stellar line up of authors and, as I said, a very cool concept.

Then I plan to finish the novel that came out of nowhere. After that, well, who knows what will take my fancy? Back to the New York Depression-era novel? The fairy godmother middle grade? Or one of the many other novels I’ve been working on for ages? Or something else that comes out of nowhere. Knowing me, the safest bet would be the last one.

I may finally have a good idea for an historical romance. So I might write that. I did talk about how much I’ve been wanting to write one of those and then got myself a master class on how to do so by some of the very best in the business. Isn’t twitter an amazing thing?

All of this writing is possible because the RSI management is continuing to go well as I described last year. I have been able to write as much as six hours a day, which I thought would never be possible again. Dance of joy! I continue not to push it and to always have a couple of rest days each week. As well as exercising. I am so very good. (Mostly.)

What else happened in 2013

I was in the US briefly. Most of which I spent sick with the flu. Fun! My favourite part, other than seeing all my wonderful friends, was teaching at the Alpha writing workshop for teens. The students and staff were fabulous. If you get asked to teach there, do it!

Other than that, all my travel was in Australia, including attending several Writers Festivals. My favourites were the Adelaide and Brisbane Writers Festivals. They had innovative topics for their panels and, stunningly, programmed YA writers with folks who write for grown ups, as well as mixing up writers from different genres. Shocking, I know, but it worked really well. The diversity of the panels was reflected in the diversity of the audiences. I would go back to both those festivals in a heart beat. If you’re invited say YES. They’re fabulous.

I hung with friends and family. I gardened. I cooked. I read a tonne and listened to loads of new music and watched vast amounts of TV.3

My fave new TV show is Sleepy Hollow because it’s insane and the dynamic between the two leads is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

My favourite new (to me) romance writer is Cecelia Grant, who, like Courtney Milan, seems to delight in writing historical romances that break the rules. No bad sex4 allowed? Right then says Cecelia Grant and writes some of the funniest terrible sex ever. The hero can’t be a virgin? Ha! say Courtney Milan and makes one of her heroes a professional virgin. Romance has some of the most rigid rules in fiction so finding authors who are brilliant at messing with those rules, while still writing a romance, is a great joy. Cecelia Grant is brilliant at it and every bit as good a writer as Courtney Milan. I cannot wait for her next novel.

Another new-to-me author was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read her latest novel, Americanah, after being blown away by her wonderfully witty Ted talk on why we should all be feminists which was recommended to me by just about everyone whose taste I trust on Twitter. Americanah has the same wit and wisdom and I loved it. Remember, I read very little realism—especially not for adults—it’s so not my thing. But this tale of the one who migrated to the USA (though she returns) and the one who stayed, and of their relationship to each other, was fascinating. I couldn’t put the book down.

I related to the novel strongly as I am someone who migrated to the USA, but then went home, and will go back again. Like her main character, I have dual citizenship, and continue to live my life in two countries. Yes, Nigeria is very different to Australia, and the specificity of the characters’ experiences in the USA, and back home, are different to mine. But there’s also a lot of similarity. What can I say, this novel really spoke to me. Adichie is a gorgeous, smart, insightful, funny writer, and I’ll be reading everything else she’s ever written.

My three favourite albums this year were Dessa’s Parts of Speech, Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady and Beyoncé’s Beyoncé.5 There’s not a bad song or dud note on any of them. These three were the soundtrack to my year.6

Make sure you read E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. It’s her best book yet and comes out early 2014.

And now it’s time to party! Oh, how I love New Year’s Eve.

May you have a wonderful 2014 full of whatever you love best.

  1. For those counting my published out-of-nowhere novels are How To Ditch Your Fairy, Team Human and now the Sydney novel. []
  2. In my defence there were other books. Such as an anthology with Holly Black and a novel with Sarah Rees Brennan. []
  3. But not movies I’ve basically given up on them. The last three I saw were unspeakably terrible. Except for Byzantium. That was quite good but would have been vastly better if it were a TV show. []
  4. To be very clear “bad sex” does not mean rape. Bad sex is consensual sex that’s ungood. []
  5. Yes, the Beyoncé album is what spurred me to read Americanah because of her sampling of the speech in “Flawless”. []
  6. Oh, okay, the second half of my year. Dessa’s album didn’t come out till June, Monáe’s till September, and Beyoncé’s hasn’t even been out a month yet. []

Overused Words (Updated)

This post is a reference post for my convenience. It’s taken from my large post on rewriting from a few years back. With some additions that I’ve noticed crop up in my writing more recently. (The horror.)

I will be editing it from time to time to add more evil words.

When I get my novel to the point where I think it’s finished I have a ritual of searching on the following words. These are all words I have a habit of overusing. I’m always sure that I will have learned my lesson, that with each finished novel I will find I’ve overused fewer words. But, um, I appear to be a very slow learner indeed. Spoiler: I always overuse the majority of them. *Sigh*

These are the offending words:

And
and then
all
at all
back
before
begin (to)
eyebrow (raise, lift)
eyes
(the) feel (of)
glance
good
got
gotten
had
head
just
laugh
look
mouth (open, close)
nod
really
seem
shiver
shrug
sigh
slowly
smile
so
start (to)
still
stood
suddenly
then
very
walk

None of these words is evil. In fact, all of them are extremely useful words—couldn’t write most novels without them. It’s just that I use them too much.

For example, my “eyes” problem is that I fall back on describing them (“narrowing”, “rolling”, “tightening”, “widening”) too often—especially when I’m giving characters something to do in between dialogue. Rather than searching on “narrowing”, “rolling”, “tightening”, “widening” I search on “eyes”. “Nod”, “eyebrows”, “shrug”, “smile”, and the dread “I opened my mouth to say something and then I closed it” also fall into that category.

“Just” is a hideous tick that I share with many other writers. When I search on it about 90% of the time it did not need to be in the sentence. Here’s an example from the novel I’m close to finishing:

Dymphna asked as if they had just been introduced on the street, as if there weren’t a dead man in the room.

I don’t think the “just” there is adding anything. The sentence is better without it:

Dymphna asked as if they’d been introduced on the street, as if there weren’t a dead man in the room.

Hmmm, now I see other things wrong with that sentence. Which is part of the point of this exercise. I don’t just delete and/or replace overused words I also fix broken sentences. It’s my final set of line edits before I hand over the book to my first readers/agent/editor—depending on where I am in the novel-writing process.

I’ve also recently noticed I have a tendency to start sentences with “And.” Sometimes this is needful for the rhythm of the sentence, for the way it sits in the paragraph, or on the page, though not that often. Mostly it’s me typing too fast.

My other hideous recent(ish) writing tic is in dialogue. I have lots of people cutting other people off mid-sentence. Again it can work really well. But when overused? Ugh. Hence the search on “—”

You’ll notice that none of these is the kind of words Margo Lanagan once railed against. These are words you barely notice. I find it relatively easy to not overuse Margo’s banned words, such as, “corruscating,” “crepuscular,” “effulgent,” because they leap off the page.

The problem with overused words like “got” and “just” and “eyes” is that they don’t leap off the page. You must be vigilant in your hunting. But hunt them down and stab them to death you must. But not all of them. Remember the object is never to kill off the entire species.

(This post is also to prove to a certain friend of mine that I can write an entire post without a footnote. Told ya!)

Update March 2014: Have noticed in my latest draft that I’m overusing “start to” or “begin to” as in “she started to open the door” when “she opened the door” is all that’s needed. Also “at all” as an intensifier. “She didn’t love them at all” when “she didn’t love them” does the job.

Update June 2015: In my latest draft some new overused words are: “all” as in “It was all Seimone’s idea” when usually “It was Seimone’s idea” works just fine. Yes, sometimes you need that extra emphasis. But I find that I use “all” an awful lot as an intensifier when it’s not adding much.

I also noticed that I use “and then” as a conjunction when just “and” or just “then” will do. “Back” as in “David turns back to me.” When the direction is clear or isn’t important the “back” can go. “With me” as in ” I could take Seimone with me.” The “with me” isn’t adding anything. “I could take Seimone” already tells the reader that you’re taking Seimone with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve deleted “with me” in this draft. It’s frequently redundant.

Another one is “(The) feel (of)” as in “The feel of Sojourner’s mouth almost touching my ear sends my thoughts far from Rosa,” which adds absolutely nothing as you can see when I delete it: “Sojourner’s mouth almost touching my ear sends my thoughts far from Rosa.”

Here’s a little edit I just did that shows you how redundancies creep in:

We stand facing each other, still holding hands, looking directly into each other’s eyes. I take a step closer.

We stand faceing each other, still holding hands, looking directly into each other’s eyes. I take a step closer.

We face each other, holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes. I step closer.

None of the deleted words added anything. That’s why they’re gone. I’m not saying I’ll keep it as edited but it’s better than it was. That’s the kind of editing I’m talking about and why I keep this list. Though as you can see “still” is the only word deleted in this particular edit that’s on my list. That’s how line editing goes.