Kendra

Last week I mentioned how much I loved Coe Booth‘s Kendra. I have much to say about this book but let me start with the notion of realism. I am on the record as saying that I am not a fan. Yet Kendra is indisputably realist. It is set in the real world. There are no zombies, vampires, space ships or magic. So how can I say I don’t like realism when I love Kendra?

Last night I was called on my anti-realism stance. It turns out that when I say I don’t like realism I’m talking about a very specific kind of book. I don’t like most John Updike or Philip Roth. I disliked Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland. When I say I don’t like realism what I mean is that I don’t like unplotted books with protags who are naval-gazing bores. I need plot! I need texture! I need to care one way or another about the main characters! Something other than complete indifference.

I had strong reactions to all the characters in Kendra. Very strong. I wanted to kill Kendra’s mother. And sometimes her grandmother and father. But never Kendra. I worried about Kendra. At the end of the book I had a big ole cry for Kendra. Several weeks after finishing the book I’m still hoping Kendra’s doing okay and that things work out better with her mother. Colour me, cautiously optimistic.

Kendra’s set in the Bronx and Harlem in New York City. It’s the story of a girl who was raised by her grandmother because her mother, Renee, had her at the age of 14. Rather than give her life over to looking after Kendra she concentrates on getting educated and out of the projects. At the beginning of the book Renee graduates from her PhD program at Princeton. Kendra thinks this means Renee’s coming home. It doesn’t. Kendra’s desparate need for her mother’s love and approval and Renee’s ignoring of her is almost painful to read about. She does everything she can to keep her daughter at arms length. Her priority is her career, not her daughter. Did I mention that I wanted to kill her? In the meantime Kendra’s left with her overprotective grandmother who does not trust her at all. (Thus making me want to strangle her.) And occasionally her hapless father.

I will not tell more of the plot and characters. I want you to discover them yourselves.

What’s remarkable about Kendra other than its effortlessly clean and elegant prose is that you wind up understanding everyone in it no matter how much you want to strangle them. It’s also an astonishingly honest novel, rendering Kendra’s actions understandable even when she’s making mistakes. There’s a lot most of us will do to be loved. And that’s what this novel is about.

Highly highly recommended.

A Fabulous Letter

In my research for my 1930s NYC novel, letters are far and away the most evocative and useful primary source. This letter, obviously, is not from my period but since reading it a couple of days ago I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

On the 7th of August, 1865 in Dayton, Ohio, former slave Jourdan Anderson declines his former master’s invitation to come and work for him again:

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

It gets better and better after that. Read the rest of the letter here. (Found via Twitter, though sadly I can no longer remember whose.)

Library Stories

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of libraries. Why, I am currently learning to lindyhop—two lessons a week—in order to raise money for the New York Public Library System which is facing $57 million in budget cuts.1

This story of an Uzbekistan immigrant to the US who is now in charge of the Queens Library at Broadway made me teary:

My daughter didn’t know English well; I didn’t know English. I was trying to teach her myself. The library was my life at the time. We took out childrens books to hear that language. We learned 30 words a day. We memorized them, put them on the wall. The next day, another 30 words. After half a year she didn’t need English as a second language anymore. I learned with her. She just graduated from Vassar, Phi Beta Kappa. The library was everything for us. We were in the library every day, me and my husband.

My own library stories are not nearly so dramatic. I remember as a kid the excitement of being taken to the library by my parents and getting to pick out lots of picture books to take home. Much later as a uni student, the library at the University of Sydney, ugly, haunted2 monster that it is, was where I practically lived, studying, finding endless reams of articles, chapters, books and other material for my countless assignments, essays, and, later on, PhD thesis. The excellence of the Sydney Uni Library’s Rare Books departments made my doctoral research possible. Without them my first book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, would not have happened. My gratitude to all of them, especially Pauline Dickinson, remains huge.

So, yes, librarians and libraries, I love them.

What about youse lot? Do any of you have some library stories to tell? I’d love to hear them.

  1. Lindyhop progress report to be posted soon. []
  2. Don’t go above the fifith floor! []

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!

Because it makes me happy

I was actually looking for “Brush Off Up Your Shakespeare” cause it’s brilliant plus it’s clearly inspired by Damon Runyon who published many of his best stories in the 1930s and is thus within the period of my next novel, which makes it vaguely research-ish. Not to mention Runyon’s stories are almost all set in NYC. A highly imaginary NYC, I grant you, but still.

(Er, for those who don’t know my next novel is set in NYC in the 1930s. I’m only reading and watching and listening to 1930s stuff until the novel is written. I’m being extremely strict about it except for sometimes my interpretation of “1930s” gets a teeny tiny bit elastic.)

Sadly, I could not find a version of that genius song that I liked well enough to share with you. I know for some of you this might have been the first time you’d heard “Brush Off Up Your Shakespeare” and that experience must be PERFECT! (Especially for the Corialanus line.) So instead I’ve opted for “Always True To You In My Fashion”.

It’s also from Kiss Me Kate and thus also written by the fabulous Cole Porter (who wrote many of his best songs in the 1930s) and I love it muchly. It’s relevant to my research on account of I do believe there might have been women who were occasionally unfaithful in the 1930s and, um, it was written in 1948, which is not that far off the early 1930s.

Oh, never mind just enjoy:

Aren’t Ann Miller and Tommy Rall darling?

And just to push this slightly closer to the 1930s: have some lindy hopping featuring Frankie Manning. Yes, this footage is from 1941 but the lindy hop was invented in the 1930s 1920s, okay?

I have a couple of dancing fool friends, Lauren and Margaret, who say that I really need to learn the lindy hop in order to write my book properly. But don’t you all think that’s a little bit extreme? I would have to have a mighty big incentive to go that far!

Magic’s Child in Brazil & Japan

Just arrived from the fabulous Whitney Lee: Brazilian (Editora Record) and Japanese (Hayakawa) editions of Magic’s Child. This means there are now complete sets of the trilogy in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan & the US of A. W00t!

Very happy making indeed. I really adore all the different covers the trilogy has gotten around the world. I still love the German ones best. Though the Japanese and Brazilian ones are a very close second. I like that the Japanese designs are so strongly influenced by events and characters in the book. While the stylised clean design of the Brazilian covers is just gorgeous. And also reflects the books quite accurately.

Here’s the two different Magic’s Child covers. The Japanese cover is on the right:

And here’s the Brazilian editions of the whole trilogy:

And the Japanese versions:

I love them all. What do you think?

The Australian cover of Liar

Because I don’t write graphic novels or cheat like Scott and get one of my regular novels illustrated1 the only art I get is the cover. I think that’s part of why we authors are so obsessive about the cover. And also why we get so very upset when it’s not what we were hoping for. Well, that and the fact that a cover can make or break a book.

Well, this year I’m lucky enough to have two different covers from the get go. Two pieces of art! Yay!

Why am I so lucky you ask?

Because 2009 marks the first year in which I have a book coming out at the same time in Australia and the US of A. Hence the two covers.

I never truly feel that a book is real until it has a cover. Since Liar has two it must be realer than most.

Without further ado here is the Allen & Unwin cover designed by the incredibly talented Bruno Herfst:

I love it more than I can say. It captures the book so perfectly. I asked for something spare, iconic, cool and dark. Possibly a typographical treatment. Bruno exceeded my expectations by miles. I keep staring at it cause it makes me so very happy.

There will be embossing only on the title, Liar. Won’t that pop?! Awesome.

I also think it will cross over most excellently well into the adult market. I’ve been told by several grown ups that they were a little embarrassed to be reading How To Ditch Your Fairy in public. Not a problem with this cover.

I hope youse lot like it as much as I do.

I’ll reveal the USian cover on Friday.

  1. Yes, Scott’s next book, Leviathan—out in October—is fully illustrated. Best. Art. Ever. And the rest of the book’s not bad either. []

The Wonder of Cassandra Clare

The third and final book in Cassie‘s trilogy, City of Glass, came out recently and it’s been selling like you would not believe. She’s at no. 12 on the USA Today list, which means hers is the twelfth fastest sellling book in the entire country. Not just for YA, not just for fiction, but for ALL books. Isn’t that incredible?

Her trilogy, The Mortal Instruments, is no. 4 on the New York Times series list. Also a very hard nut to crack because they count the cumulative sales (in the previous week) of all titles in a series. There are only three books in Cassie’s series but some of the other series have four or seven or more books. So cheating!

Go, Cassie!!!!!!

City of Glass is my favourite in the trilogy but I cannot tell you why without spoiling it and, trust me, you doesn’t want that. Go forth and read. Though make sure you read the first two cause otherwise the third one won’t make sense.

If you want to congratulate Cassie on her phenomenal success and you live in New York City then today you can. She’ll be appearing at

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

with

Beth Fantaskey, Lisa McMann & Elizabeth Scott

In other news New York City remains cold and Houston continues warm. I am not sure why I came back here. Especially as the Mexican food is so much better in Houston. If I could I would move into Hugo’s and live there.

Yay Iowa

So now Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa1 have legalised same-sex marriage. Hurrah for all three states!

Which state will be next? I hear that Vermont’s governor is all set to veto the pro-love bill there. Which is weird, I honestly though Vermont would be one of the first states to give the green light to same sex marriage. Because I live there half the year, I’m hoping New York will be next, but the forces arrayed against love in my US home state are pretty strong.

Any of you got any bets on which state will be next?

I wonder too how long it will take before same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States. I’m starting to think that it will happen in my life time. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

  1. At least I can spell “Iowa” without having to look it up! []

Last night was . . . WOW

Our NYC Teen Author Festival event last night at the Mulberry Street Branch of the NYPL was unbelievable. Over a hundred people showed up. Standing room only. And many of them were actual teenagers—YAY!—who asked incredibly good questions including one we’d none of us ever heard before. But more on that that below.

The event was to celebrate everything that Joe Monti has done for YA literature in the US of A. Joe used to be the YA buyer for Barnes & Noble. In that role he went out of his way to champion a whole host of fabulous books that otherwise might otherwise have disappeared. He was a supporter of Scott and mine and played a huge part in any success we’ve had in the US. He also put me on to more great books than anyone else I can think of. We love Joe.

So last night we read from our not yet published work for the very first time. It was VERY nervous making. As I waited to read I wondered if my hands were ever going to stop shaking.

[Here followed a long description of each of the readings, which WordPress in a fit of evil decided to eat. All spit on WordPress. Grrrr. And, yes, I did have the revisions setting on. At least I thought it was on but some recent plugin update seems to have disable revisions. Today I am full of WordPress hate.]

In conclusion it was the best reading I’ve ever been part of and I can’t wait till Holly Black, Libba Bray, Rachel Cohn, Eireann Corrigan, Barry Lyga and Scott’s books are published. You will love them all.

The best question we were asked was whether things ever get blurry between ourselves and our characters. None of us had ever been asked that question before. Trust me, a new question is a rarity. The answers were dead revealing.

I stop now because of my WordPress fury.

See you tonight:

    Thursday, 19 March, 6 pm
    Rock out with TIGER BEAT
    Books of Wonder
    18 Wst 18th Street, NY NY

    Authors by day, rock stars at night. Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Barney Miller, and Natalie Standiford are TIGER BEAT, a YA author rock band. They’ll be legends! Opening act: The Infinite Playlists (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan)

Cricket weather & the Littlest MorM and Magic Lessons

I was just sent notification that Wunderground now has a cricket weather page. We can all check out what the weather is for any ICC game in the world. Ordinarily I ignore any such advertising but this one’s actually cool and useful.1 I’m also chuffed that my intermittent nattering about cricket is on anyone’s radar.

Sadly, it does not have the weather for any women’s international matches. Including the current world’s cup where shockingly the English women are ahead at the moment. NOES!!! Also it gives the weather in both sensible Celsius and the other weird temperature measurement scale. Why? No one who follows cricket knows or cares what that F nonsense is about. Honestly.2

In even more important news (and not a total segue for cricket gets a passing mention in the first book of the trilogy) I now has six copies of the Japanese edition of Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons. They are tiny! I adores them. They are the smallest books ever to have my name on them. It is ridiculous how excited I am by their teeny tininess and yet I am.

Here they are with the US hardcovers for scale:

So. Adorable.

  1. I have learned that the temperature in the world of cricket is much better than it is here. So. Not. Fair. Not that I didn’t already know that. []
  2. All comments from people claiming to follow cricket and the F nonsense will be deleted because you’re clearly lying. []

Things I love right now

The music of Francoiz Breut

Flying foxes zooming by mere metres from my head

The smell of rain

How Sydney looks after the rain: clear and sharp and gorgeous

Kate Grenville’s second submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry into Copyright Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books

The slow slide from summer to the cooler time of the year1

Pomegranates

Bodega

The Australian cover of my next novel

Rainbow lorikeets

Huge flocks of sulfur crested cockatoos

Sydney

  1. Sydney doesn’t really have autumn and its winters are very mild. []

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.

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!

Post for Maureen

Tonight I saw Alan Cumming sing an Abba song! Well, okay, he said he was going to sing an Abba song because it was Sydney and he knows that all Australians love Abba and that Abba had more number one hit records here than anywhere else in the world, including Sweden.1 But the song he said was an Abba song wasn’t an Abba song. Cause he’s Scottish and they’re tricky like that.

He did sing a song by Dolly Parton, Victoria Wood and songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Cabaret and a musical I never heard of. Also some Gershwin.

He was incredibly charming and name droppy and did the whole cabaret I’m-fabulous!-You’re-fabulous!-We’re-all-fabulous! thing excellently well. I am always amazed at how charmed I can be by a cabaret show when the performer doesn’t have that great a voice. But we walked out all happy and bouncy.

Also, Maureen, we saw Mr Cumming here:


Sydney Opera House as seen from the Manly ferry

It were fun.

Wish you were here, too Maureen!

  1. Little known fact: you can’t become an Australian citizen if you don’t like Abba. []

Flying things seen from our flat

crows
flying foxes
magpies
myna birds (alas)
white ibis
pigeons
rainbow lorikeets
sulphur crested cockatoos

Heard but not seen:

kookaburra

We’ve learned that the flying foxes fly past at the same height as our flat—so we can see and hear them clearly—mostly when it’s raining or there’s low cloud cover. They’re way up high when the skies are clear. So, um, there has been much praying for rain. There weren’t nearly as many flying foxes in Sydney when I was a kid so I never get tired of seeing them.

Same for rainbow lorikeets. They’ve been everywhere over the last week. Yesterday they decided to distract me by landing on our deck directly in front of where I sat writing on our couch. I mean seriously how am I supposed to keep working with them frolicking about in front of me? Here’s a photo Scott took after I called for him to come down from the study and check ‘em out:

And here’s a close up:

They hung around for about half an hour. Chirping to each other and to the other lorikeets perched on nearby buildings. Um, no, I got no work done during that time.

Why, yes, I am loving our new digs. It’s amazing how having a view changes everything.

And, I kid you not, another flock of ‘em flew past just as I was about to publish this. Their brilliant greens, reds, blues and yellows even more intense against the grey sky. Leaving this place is going to be such a wrench. I want to stay forever.

Are the West Indies back?

The West Indies just destroyed England in the first test at Sabina Park in Jamaica.1 Is this the beginning of a new era of outstanding West Indian cricket? Oh, please let it be true! Please, please, please, please please!

The West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s made me fall in love with cricket. They were the best team in the world and even when they didn’t win every match, were clearly the most talented. They made playing cricket look joyful and fierce and like the most important thing in the world. I could not get enough of them. I watched every match I could. Pretty easy to do living as I was in a cricket lovely household. I miss the West Indies not being the best team in the world.

Clive Lloyd was the world’s best cricket captain. He’s yet to be surpassed. I have never seen a more elegant bowler than Michael Holding, or a better batsman than Viv Richards. Obviously, we’re not going to see their like again. But I will totally take Jerome Taylor’s 5/11 (!), Sulieman Benn’s 4/31, and Chris Gayle’s sensible century. Not to mention his steady captaincy. Could he be shaping up to be the West Indies’ next great captain? Hop so.

So far the twelve months or so have been awesome for cricket: rejuvenation in India and South Africa. Signs of strong improvement from Bangladesh, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka (Yes, they’re getting wiped in India right now. But I think India are the number one team in the world.) No, I don’t have a read on Pakistan at the moment. Inconsistency from Australia (not business as usual, thus interesting) and England (business as usual, therefore fun to laugh at).2 The IPL and the ICL have added bizarre, but kind of cool dashes of, um, I’m not quite sure what yet.3

Adding a resurgent West Indies to the mix fills my heart with joy. So much great cricket ahead. YAY!!!

  1. England all out for 51 in their second innings. Hahahahahah! []
  2. Bear in mind that except for cricket played in Australia this summer I’m going off what I’ve read not what I’ve seen. No, we does not have cable here in Sydney. []
  3. Am I the only one who’s fascinated by the IPL auctions? Lord, I’m glad the pro writing world doesn’t work like that. []

Tiny change + Japanese covers

Inspired by how much fun I’ve had with the month of writing requests I’ve decided to make a few changes around here. Basically I’m no longer blogging about stuff I think I should blog about. From now on I only talk about what I want to talk about.

I always figured that I had to let you know when my books get good reviews etc. even though I find writing those posts the most boring thing in the world. Not to mention embarrassing. I always feel like I’m saying, “Hey look at me! I’m fabulous!” My heart was never in it. Thus there will be no posting about reviews of any of my books unless the reviewers raises an interesting point I want to riff on. If you’re interested in that kind of thing you can find pull quotes for each of my books in their review section. I will continue to add them as they come in.

Note: My not blogging about reviews does not mean that I’m against other writers doing so. I’m not criticising any of you. I find some writers’ discussions of their reviews fascinating, some a train wreck1, and some unreadably dull. Just like blogging about any subject really. I would never blog about cakes and yet Cake Wrecks is one of my favourite blogs.

More and more readers of this blog are here, not because they like my books, but because they like this blog. So overall I will be blogging less about the publicity aspects of my career. Though I will continue to bitch and moan and be rapturous over my struggles and joys in writing those books.

I’ll also continue to let you know about upcoming events because otherwise how will I get to meet you? But you can always check here for details.

And nothing can stop me posting about other editions of my books. Because that’s my favourite thing about being a published writer: I has books in different languages and different covers! Bliss! Joy! Happiness! For example, my foreign rights agent, Whitney Lee, just sent me links with the Japanese covers of Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons and they’re fabulous!

I love that Reason is wearing the outfit I describe her wearing and that Tom is surrounded by fabric. It’s as if the cover designer had actually read the books! Made my day! Whatcha reckon about these covers? I still love the German ones best, but these are up there.

Speaking of great covers. Just wait till you see the cover for the paperback edition of How To Ditch Your Fairy. It’s the best cover I’ve ever had. Bless you, Bloomsbury!

  1. Though that’s still fascinating. []

JWAM reader request no. 21: Learning from the writing of others

Monica says:

I have a hard time reading other novels without getting drawn in and forgetting to analyze and learn from them. Any tips?

Mary Elizabeth S. says:

A while back, you mentioned something about writing out scenes from books you liked in order to try and figure out how they worked and why. It was only mentioned in passing, and you were going to expound on it but never got the chance. (Of course, now I can’t find that post to save me life, and am wondering if I haven’t gone a bit crazy…) I’d like to know more about that exercise.

Funny you should ask, Monica, because your question overlaps with Mary Elizabeth’s. One of the best ways to avoid getting sucked into the narrative so that you can closely analyse the novel is to retype a chapter or two. This may sound time consuming and laborious but it really works. You’re forced to look at each word, each clause, each sentence and think about why they’re ordered the way they are, and why the author made the choices they did.

I typed out the second chapter of Denise Mina’s Exile because I wanted to figure out why it was so effective. Here’s a snippet:

    Chapter 2: Daniel

    London is a savage city and she didn’t belong there. She might never have been found but for Daniel. She would have disappeared completely, a missing splinter from a shattered family, a half-remembered feature in a pub landscape.

    Daniel was having a good morning. It was a sunny January day and he was on his way to his first shift as barman in a private Chelsea club favoured by footballers and professional celebrities. The traffic was sparse, the lights were going his way and he couldn’t wait to get to work. He slowed at the junction, signalling right to the broad road bordering the river. He took the corner comfortably, using his weight to sway the bike, sliding across the path of traffic held static at the lights. He was about to straighten up when he saw the silver Mini careering towards him on his side of the road, the wheel-trim spitting red sparks as it scraped along the high lip of the pavement. He held his breath, yanked the handlebars left and shot straight across the road, up over the curb, slamming his front wheel into the low river wall at thirty miles and hour. The back wheel flew off the ground, catapulting Daniel into the air just as the Mini passed behind him. He back-flipped the long twenty-foot drop to the river, landing on a small muddy island of riverbank. The tide was out, and of all the urban rubble in the Thames he might have landed on, Daniel found himself on a sludge-soaked mattress.

    He did a quick stock-take of his limbs and faculties and found everything in order. He thanked God, remembered that he didn’t believe in God and took the credit back for himself. Staggered at his skill and reflexive dexterity, he pushed himself upright on the mattress, his left hand sliding a viscous layer off the filthy surface. Gathering the mulch into this cupped hand, he squeezed hard with adrenal vigour. A crowd of concerned passersby were leaning over the sheer wall, shouting frantically down to him. Daniel waved. “Okay,” he shouted. “Don’t worry. Other bloke all right?”

    The pedestrians looked to their left and shouted in the affirmative. Daniel grinned and looked down at his feet. He was sitting on a corpse, the heel of his foot sinking into her thigh.

The opening sentence intrigues me: “London is a savage city and she didn’t belong there.” On my first read I had no idea who this “she” is. It’s only after reading the fourth par that you realise it could be the dead woman. But is it in her pov? Or is it omni? It feels omni to me. A broad look, from above the scene that is about to unfold: “London is a savage city”. And now you, the reader, are going to see some of that savagery.

Yet in the next par we’re in limited third. It’s Daniel’s pov. He’s the one who thinks it’s a good morning, he’s the one who sees the mini careering towards him and makes evasive moves, which land him in the muck of the Thames on top of a dead woman.

Do you notice that Mina doesn’t once write “suddenly” or “at once” or any equivalents? Yet the reader is aware of how rapidly Daniel’s good morning goes to hell. Part of that is achieved with her verb choices. You’ve got your typical descriptive “to be” for most of the first par and the beginning of the second, setting the scene, establishing the goodness of his morning. The first more active verb is “slowed”, but then they ramp up: “signalled”, “took”, “to sway”, “sliding”.

Stuff is happening. Soon they’re happening even more rapidly: the silver Mini and parts are “careering” “spitting” and “scraped”, Daniel reacts: “held”, “yanked”, “shot”, “slamming”. Then there’s “flew”, “catapulting”, “passed”, “back-flipped”, “landed”. “Catapult” and “back-flip” especially are action verbs. Hard to do those slowly.

I find it useful to look closely at who is doing what to whom. In the first par she’s the subject who “didn’t belong” but exists. She’s a “missing splinter from a shattered family, a half-remembered feature in a pub landscape”. (And how vivid are those images? Very.) In the fourth par when she reappears she’s the object: the corpse he’s landed on, the thigh his heel sinks into. She is in bits, not a whole subject.

Let’s look at that first par again. It’s really different from the other two, not just because of the pov switch, but because of the evocative language. The first par sings. It’s poetic and melancholy: London’s “savagery”, “the missing splinter from a shattered family”, a “half-remembered feature from a pub landscape”. Notice how “the missing splinter” lifts “shattered family”, which we’ve seen before, and on its own would verge on cliche. But the “missing splinter” transforms it entirely. I find “a half-remembered feature” and “pub landscape” pretty much perfect. I know exactly what’s meant. I’ve walked through many a pub landscape. Seen the sodden regulars keep themselves upright by leaning against the bar, flopping back into a corner booth, struggling to stay upright on a slippery stool.

Notice how my attempt at unpacking Mina is much longer than what I’m examining? I cannot describe how she’s written this scene without running longer than her scene. She’s compact, efficient, evocative. My discussion of her four paragraphs is not.

I’ll stop now even though there’s lots more to say. Like, notice the shift from Daniel’s relief he’s okay, from the normality of him shouting up to the concerned passers by, to the realisation that he’s sitting on a corpse. (And, trust me, the rest of the chapter only gets worse. It’s a jewel of a chapter.) But I hope that gives you an idea of what I get out of typing out someone else’s writing. When I first read Exile I didn’t notice any of this.

A more shorthand way to do it is to read a book backwards. (The novel in question needs to be one you’re familiar with.) Read the last chapter first, then the penultimate, and so on. It should keep you from getting sucked in (though not always) and force you to pay attention to word choices, pov, shifts in tense and so on. But typing out a chapter is much better.

Hope that helps. Good luck with it. Delving into other people’s writing is a fabulous way to learn.

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.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

The Printz awards have been announced. They are the most prestigious awards in the US of A for young adult literature. And the winner is an Australian: Melina Marchetta for Jellicoe Road. One of the honour books is Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.

CONGRATULATIONS, Melina and Margo!!!! Genius recognised!!!

I’m also thrilled that non-Australian E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks was also an honour book. How fabulous is that?

Tender Morsels and Frankie Landau are two of my fave books ever. I LOVE them!1

I also note that at least three of the books are fantasy! How bout that?

I haven’t read any of the other books on the list but I’m sure they’re just as fabulous. Unfortunately for me, none of them are set in the 1930s. So I won’t get to read them for awhile. Woe.

  1. Though I’m still not convinced Tender Morsels is YA. []

So sleepy, so happy

Got up to watch the inauguration—3:30AM here in Sydney—glad I did. I already knew Reverend Joseph E. Lowery was fabulous but his benediction was AWESOME:

    And while we have sown the seeds of greed—the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

    And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

    . . .

    With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

    Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around . . . when yellow will be mellow . . . when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Barack Obama is now president of the USA. At last. I am full of hope.

Write what you know, NOT!

“Write what you know” is one of the most frequent pieces of writing advice. Problem is, it’s rubbish. As Cat Sparks discusses at length in this excellent post:

We’ve all heard that old adage ‘write what you know’. Well, that’s a damn fine idea if you happen to be an articulate astronaut, outback adventurer, brain surgeon, fashionista, rock star, molecular biologist or trapeze artist. But if, like me, you’re just another white middle class wage slave, maybe you want to rethink that hoary old chestnut. Because maybe we just aren’t that interesting and maybe what we know about is duller than a public service tea break. I have developed a better idea. Find something you don’t know much about, learn it up and run with the baton from there.

Almost every book I’ve written has involved me doing research. Obviously, I did that for my two non-fic books. But also for my novels. The Magic or madness trilogy has a protag, Reason Cansino, who’s a mathematical genius. I am not. I can barely add up. I had to learn about Fibonaccis, prime numbers, and many other mathematical concepts that I barely grasped and have now completely forgotten, but hopefully make sense and worked in those three books. I’ve had some maths fiends write and tell me how much they appreciated Reason’s mathsiness. Those are the compliments that mean the most to me because that was by far the hardest part of writing the trilogy. I was writing stuff I didn’t understand. Or only barely. And only for long enough to write those bits of the book.

None of my novels are about people who are like me. Charlie in How To Ditch Your Fairy is a jock. I love sport, but I’ve never played that much and have never excelled. I would never have made it into a sports high school, even if I’d had the talent, cause I don’t have the discipline, and I really hate being told what to do. Charlie loves it. Rules make her happy, being at the strictest, most irrational high school in the world makes her happy. It would have driven me nuts. I would have been expelled within a week. Sometimes I think Charlie is the character I’ve written who is least like me. She has little intellectual curiosity, she’s happy with how things are, she loves rules, and she’s very very disciplined. Writing her was a revelation—I wound up liking and even understanding her. Whereas if we’d been at school together, I doubt we’d have had anything to talk about. Charlie doesn’t read or watch tellie and she doesn’t have much of an imagination.

If I’d’ve stuck to writing what I know, I wouldn’t have written any of those novels.

That’s not to say that I use nothing I know. Sometimes I give characters aspects of myself. Reason has spent time on indigenous settlements, so did I. Tom (also from the trilogy) has a father who’s a sociologist, so are both my parents. Tom in the trilogy loves fashion; so do I. But we’re still different. I’m challenged to get a button onto a shirt; Tom can make any item of clothing from scratch. So it required research to make his fashion prowess believable.

For me, one of the great pleasures of writing novels is exploring worlds I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about New Avalon when I began HTDYF. It’s an amalgam of places I’ve been, but it became its own city. Not like anywhere else. I didn’t know it until I wrote it. But I especially love learning about the characters I populate my books with. None of them have ever turned out the way I thought they would. They’ve all forced me to stretch as a writer, to learn things I didn’t know—about mathematics, about being an athelete, about being someone other than myself. It’s a gift to get to live in someone else’s head for awhile. It’s why I kept writing for twenty years without being published. It’s why I will keep writing long after my career has dried up. And it’s why I’m so bewildered by those writers who keep writing the same book over and over again. Maybe I should write a novel about that kind of writer so I can figure it out?

Forget about “write what you know”. Or, rather, don’t be limited by that injunction. One of the scariest things I encountered on my tour was when I was being shown around a lovely school and I was introduced to all the different grades, even kindergarten, and in one class, second grade, I think, the teacher told her students that I was a writer:

“She writes stories for a living!”

The kids looked a bit bemused by this information but smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back.

“When you were their age,” the teacher asked me, “you wrote about your own experiences, didn’t you?”

“Oh, no,” I said immediately, “I wrote about dinosaurs and wizards and witches and monsters and—”

The teacher cut me off even as many of the kids were giggling. “Yes, but don’t you agree that it’s much better to learn to write from your own experiences?”

I don’t think that at all. I was horrified. So horrified that I just stared at her, not able to articulate my response. I don’t think anyone noticed because someone realised we were running late and I was led away. But later that day I made it a point to talk about how important and fun it is to write about stuff you don’t know, and that the way to do that is to make it into something you do know.

For example, maybe you have an excellent idea for a story about a kid whose mum is an elephant trainer? But you don’t know anything about elephants or what goes into training them. Start reading up on it and once you have go to the zoo nearest you. See if you can interview the zoo keeper about how they keep their elephants. Ask yourself lots of questions: How happy are elephants to be trained? How much longer do they live in the wild than in captivity? Would your character have an ambivalent attitude to their mum’s job?

That’s a lot to learn. Maybe you can ground your story by setting it somewhere you’re familiar with, or giving your protag some aspect of yourself. I doubt anyone writes a story that’s entirely made up of stuff they don’t know. In fact, once you’ve researched it, you do know it.

Hmmm, I think I’ve come full circle: write what you know.

But remember that what you know includes everything you’ve learned, all your research, everything you’ve read, or heard or seen. So the more you read, and hear and see, the more you have to write about.

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. []

Boxing Day

I love Boxing Day.1 It is the most excellently lazy day ever. Right now I have my feet up, watching the beginning of the Boxing Day test, while eating my brekkie of mango, banana, sheep’s milk yogurt and granola. (We ran out of passionfruit. Get some more tomorrow.) Is there anything better than this? I don’t think so.

I have high hopes for this series between Australia and South Africa. The first test was splendid. Every day (except the last) was full of reversals and much excitement. I didn’t see the series in India so this is the first time I’ve seen the Aussies up against a team that can beat them in ages. It’s most excellent. If only we had a better captain. Ponting’s a great cricketer but I’m deeply unimpressed by his captaincy skills.

Mmmm. Boxing Day, cricket, mangoes, laziness. I’m home, aren’t I? If it were up to me I’d never leave.

Hope you’re all having a marvellous day wherever you are and whatever day it is. Hope you are having as much relaxing fun as I am!

  1. I know the date stamp for this post says Xmas Day, but it’s not. I was too lazy to change to east coat aussie time from east coast usian time. []

Fred Astaire versus Gene Kelly

A frequently debated question is who was the best dancer? Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

The answer is: the Nicholas Brothers!

Feast your eyes:

Fayard and Harold Nicholas have never been surpassed. Just astonishing. Even Fred Astaire admitted the fabulousness you have just watched was the best dance sequence he’d ever seen. He was correct.

On the research front: Yes, that sequence is from Stormy Weather and yes it was released in 1943. But they were the top act at the Cotton Club from 1932. As you all know the Cotton Club was the top entertainment venue in New York City in the 1930s, which co-incidentally is when and where my next book is set. So rewatching the fabulous Stormy Weather totally counts as research cause it recreates many 1930s era Cotton Club numbers.

Next stop Emperor Jones from 1933, which I don’t even have to justify. Yay!

For those suggesting 1930s films: I much appreciate it. Just keep in mind I’ve been doing this research for well over a year and have been obsessed by Hollywood films of the 1930s since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Thus if it’s readily available on DVD odds are I’ve already seen it. But if it’s relatively obscure, or only just released on DVD, then suggest away!

Yes, this is research too

Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich rocking out (starts at about 1:25 via Emma Bull):

Okay, I admit that this comes from 1942. However, part of my 1930s novel takes place on a cruise ship just like Ship Ahoy. Well, except for not being a sound stage. And, um, one of my characters adores the Tommy Dorsey band. So even though this is a future Tommy Dorsey band appearance that she will never see it totally counts as research. And also another of my characters can see into the future and uses that ability to follow Eleanor Powell’s career.1 Thus watching this clip is TOTALLY research.

Lord, how I adore Eleanor Powell. Broadway Melody of 1940 is one of my favourite movies of all time. I know everyone squees over her “Begin the Beguine” routine with Fred Astaire, which to be sure is deeply squee-worthy, but I also love this one (gets going around 2:15):

Eleanor Powell + boats = joy!

And Broadway Melody of 1940 totally counts as research because it was shot in 1939 and last time I looked that was in the 1930s.2

Just in case some of you have never seen “Begin the Beguine” here you go:

You’re welcome!

  1. Some of these things may not be true. []
  2. Even though my book is more set in the early 1930s. But never mind that! []

YA and other animals

Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan saved me from writing a post I’d been sort of planning for awhile—on the various lame ways people dismiss YA—but which I kind of couldn’t be arsed actually writing. So bless them both!

I’ve come across this example all too often:

“XYZ is pretty good, for a book for children, but I doubt the author will be allowed to take it to the next level, because children’s books rarely do that.” (The “that” in question, by the way, is a rebellion against the powers-that-be by the teen main characters, which is so common in YA fantasy and SF books that it’s practically a cliche.)

Succinctly put, Diana!

Though mostly what I get from adult writers and readers in place of dissmissals, are blank expressions. “What’s YA?” they ask. This happened to me most recently here in Sydney. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since we were studying for our PhDs together. She’s a successful (and fabulous—I love her work) writer of adult fiction and memoir, winner of many awards and grants, very clued in to the Australian publishing scene, but when I told her what I write, she didn’t know what I was talking about, and hadn’t heard of any of the top YA writers or novels I named. It was very disorienting. She didn’t even know Twilight.

I’m trying to decide whether that’s better or worse than all the people who assume that all YA is exactly like Twilight. Yes, I have had people seriously say to me, “YA? Isn’t that the vampire romance genre?”

Sigh. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Twilight. In fact, I’m a hundred per cent for it. Stephenie Meyer’s success has created a whole generation of readers. Many of whom, I’m convinced, wouldn’t be reading without her. A few of her fans have gone on to read my books. Bless her and bless them! I feel the same way about Meyer that I feel about Rowling. Grateful bordering on worshipful.

But as the readers of this blog know, there’s more to YA than vampire romance. Why, we have zombie romances, faerie romances, troll romances, robot romances—we have any kind of romance you can name. My next novel is a liar’s romance and the one after that is a 1930s romance.

See, stupid YA knockers or ignorers, we has much variety in YA! Why, I’ve even heard rumours that there are YA novels that aren’t romances at all. Though I’m yet to confirm it.

I don’t want to skite

But I’ll be eating here very very very soon.

Have I mentioned that I love being home in Sydney?

Now if only I didn’t have to work so hard and could take some days off to really enjoy it. Like, say, tomorrow, in front of the tellie what will be showing the first test against South Africa at the WACA.

Can’t have everything I spose.

Hope you’re all as happy as I am.

Writers blogging

From the comments on the last post I get the feeling some of you think that I’m saying writers shouldn’t blog.

Au contraire.

Many of my favourite blogs are by writers. I love writers’ blogs! I love reading about their struggles with their writing, about their thoughts on craft, their battles with their psychotic neighbours, the zeppelins they build. I love learning how different most writers approach to writing a novel is from mine. In fact, later this week I’ll be posting a bit more about outlining versus winging it. Cause who gets tired of that topic? Not me!

I frequently encourage writer friends to start blogging. In fact, I feel a little swell of pride about certain writers’ blogs because I’m convinced my nudging them is part of why they started blogging. Go me!

There are a gazillion positive effects of blogging: direct communication with other writers and readers you wouldn’t otherwise meet, becoming part of communities,1 having fun, talking craft, encouraging everyone to try fresh mangosteens2 etc etc.

And, yes, if your blog entertains people there’s a chance that some of them will wind up buying your books. All I’m saying is that if that’s your sole motivation for starting a blog then odds are you will be disappointed.

It’s rubbish that starting a blog is an excellent way to flog books. The majority of brand new blogs have teeny tiny audiences. It takes ages to build one. And if all you’re doing is flogging your books you will never build an audience. Because a blog full of exhortations to BUY MY BOOK is pretty much the most boring blog in the universe.

Which does not mean that I don’t want you to buy my books. I do! But only if you want to and if you can afford it. But I’m just as happy with you borrowing them from the library. Support your local library!

Or not reading them at all
. Life’s short and there are many wonderful books. I totally get reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles or King Hereafter or anything by Jean Rhys or Angela Carter or Jane Austen before you’d read my books. I’d certainly rather read them or Alice in Wonderland or way too many books to name than anything I’ve written.

Quite frankly I’m just as thrilled by the people who enjoy this blog as I am by the people who enjoy my books. The fact that there’s often no overlap between those two groups is awesome. It means I can amuse people who have zero interest in YA or fantasy but have a fascination for cricket or mangosteens or quokkas or any of the myriad other topics I crap on about.

Which is yet another reason I love blogs so much. They’re places where we can share and discuss our obsessions. There are few things more fun than that.

  1. Especially important if you live in a small town far from other writers. []
  2. Dried, juiced, tinned mangosteens are all abominations. The one true mangosteen is the fresh fruit. Which can now even be purchased (for a fortune) in the US of A. []

Borrowing books is good

Recently a fair few folks have apologised to me for reading my books, but not buying them. “I borrowed them from the library. Sorry!” “I borrowed them from a friend. Sorry!” “I just can’t afford to buy as many books as I want.”

Never apologise for borrowing a book. On the big scale, borrowing books is good because that’s what keeps libraries alive: the more people who borrow books from libraries the more likely they are to be funded. And the more libraries there are the more people who are reading. Most people can’t afford to buy every single book they want to read. I know I can’t. That’s why we have libraries. That is a very very good thing.

Borrowing books from your friends and talking about them is excellent because it helps strengthen friendships and build communities. Plus it’s one of the best ways of finding out about good books. I heartily approve of borrowing and lending books. Why, I even do it myself.

I also approve of books being loaned and borrowed because it helps my career. Every time someone borrows one of my books from a library that justifies that book’s existence there. And if it’s borrowed often enough and starts to fall apart, the library will order more copies. Or if it has an excessively long wait because too many people want it, the library will order more copies.1

Certain books I loan out to friends never return, so I buy another copy. There are books I’ve borrowed from friends, that I loved so much, I bought my own copy.

All of which helps the author of those books.

Word of mouth is the most powerful tool in helping a book sell. What better word of mouth could a book have than lots of people eagerly borrowing and lending it? If reading a book for free destroyed a book’s chances of success then why do publishing companies give away thousands upon thousands of copies of books in the form of Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) every single year?

It can’t just be because they’re crazy. Though maybe I should ask Maureen? She knows everything.

To recap: borrowing books is good.

  1. I’m assuming a well-funded library. Sadly, that’s not always the case. []

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.

Thanksgiving Day

This is my favourite USian holiday. A day set aside to give thanks for the good stuff in your life is a lovely idea. I’m extremely lucky because I have so much to be thankful for that if I listed them all this would be the longest post in the history of blogging.

Instead I will be brief:

I am thankful for the fabulous readers of this blog. Whether you comment or lurk I am grateful for your continued support.1 Without you there’d be no point. You all rule.

Happy Thanksgiving!

xo

Justine

  1. Even those of you who kvetch about my unorthodox grammar. []

On the back of your sound advice

I have decided that I will do all future signings my way and ignore Scott’s advice entirely. The only people who can tell me to hurry up when signing is whoever is running it. So there, Scott!

I hasten to add that crazy long signings are not a regular occurrence for me. They pretty much only happen at places like NCTE or TLA or on school visits. If I had lines like Scott gets routinely I would probably study how he gets through a line speedily while also managing to chat to those he’s signing for. He is a master. He does in fifteen seconds what takes me a minute.1

Thanks so much for your responses. They will keep me strong next time I have a long signing!

  1. This could be because he’s a USian and I’m an Aussie. On the whole USians move faster than Aussies. I have no idea why. []

Bagpipes on Second Avenue

There’s a guy marching down Second Avenue playing the bagpipes. About twenty-five people are following him, clapping and yelling in tune.1 If I did not have a book due I would grab a camera and take photos.

This is not the first time this has happened.

I wonder what it is about Second Avenue and impromptu live music? Whatever it is I heartily approve.

I miss the tuba though. That was truly excellent.

  1. Or, um, some approximation thereof. []

Wee bit more on Proposition 8 + thanks

It emerged in the comments thread on yesterday’s post and, obviously, in many other places that two of the main reasons people have given for voting for California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriages are not true. They are:

    1. That it would lead to same-sex couples being able to sue churches that refused to marry them

As Alexander and Tim pointed out this is a lie. To quote Tim:

    Churches could not have been sued for refusing to marry homosexual couples—first and foremost this is a violation of the right to freely practice religion which is protected by the US Constitution. Religious institutions (churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.) have the right to refuse marriage to people if they do not fulfill the criteria of the religion, as has been exemplified by the Catholic Church. While it is legal in the US for divorced people to be remarried, the Catholic Church still retains the right to refuse marriage to one who is divorced, because they do not fulfill the criteria for marriage as outlined by the Church. This has been the case for, like, ever.

In the United States and in many other countries it is forbidden for the government to dictate to religions and vice versa. That’s what separation of church and state means.

    2. That legal same-sex marriages would make it legal to “teach” homosexuality in schools.

Proposition 8 has no effect on what is or isn’t taught in schools in California. No effect at all. Prop 8 is only concerned with the legal status of same-sex marriages. Those who told Californians that Prop 8 had anything to do with Californian school curriculum were flat-out lying.

If you believe that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman then voting yes to Prop 8 was the way to go. But I am afraid that many people voted for it because of the two lies above. They made their decision based on false information.

If the people pushing the Yes case had faith in their side why did they feel the need to lie to so many people about the effects of Proposition 8?

I’m convinced that if they had not lied the proposition would have been defeated.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post. I especially thank you for being so courteous to one another. Elsewhere on the intrawebanets discussions of Prop 8 have become heated and hateful. I’m so glad that this blog has not engaged in such nastiness. Bless!

I don’t hesitate to delete obnoxious comments but the joy of this blog is that it is extremely rare for me to have to. Thank you!

Why zombies rule (updated x 2)

Mr Simon Pegg of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead fame has explained perfectly why fast-moving zombies are so deeply lame:

    You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can’t fly; zombies do not run. It’s a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I’ll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It’s hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.

Exactly! But wait there’s more what is even better:

    More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.

    However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them—much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares—the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.

That is why zombies are so powerful and so chilling. You can fight them off. You can get away. But in the end? Not so much.

No one escapes death.

Un***rns as a metaphor? For what exactly? Tooth decay? Give me a break. They are a beastie entirely without resonance.

Zombies for the win. Yet again.

Update: Because I am nothing but fair I am pointing you to Diana Peterfreund’s response. In which she defends lame sparkly boring uni***ns. Feel free to go over and point out her wrongness.

Update the second: Now John Green, who is on the side of zombies, weighs in.

Why getting out the vote is so bloody important

Voter suppression has a long history in the United States. I am reading The Race Beat: the Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. The book is at once gripping, appalling, and casts a clear light over the current election. All indications are that on Tuesday African-Americans will vote in record numbers. It has been a long, long road.

In 1868 there were 86,973 registered African-American voters in Mississippi representing 56% of that state’s voting population.1 They were able to send two black senators to Washington: Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce. But by 1892, following legislation specifically aimed at preventing African-Americans voting, numbers dropped to 8,922 or 11% of the voting population and there were no more black Mississippi senators.2

By 1955, after decades of legislation, poll taxes, and voter intimidation that went all the way up to murder, the number of African-Americans registered to vote in Mississippi was less than 5%. In some counties, even ones with a minority white population, the number of African-Americans registered to vote was zero.

In that same year, 1955, Gus Courts and Rev. George W. Lee set out to register voters in Humphreys County. Of the 16,00 eligible African-Americans, they persuaded 400 to pay their poll tax. Ninety-four went on to register. A process involving repeated visits to the registrar’s office because over and over again the office claimed to be too busy to process their forms.

Then George Lee was murdered. The number of registered voters in Humphreys County dropped to 22:

    Gus Courts was warned that if any of the 22 walked onto the courthouse lawn to vote they would be killed. They gathered in his store that morning and made a decision: they had not resisted the pressure that long only to crumble on election day. They walked to the courthouse, where each was handed a sheet of paper containing ten questions. “Do you want your children to go to school with white children?” was one. “Are you a member of or do you support the NAACP?” was another. County officials would not permit them to vote.

That’s 1955: only fifty-three years ago. Well within living memory. But then efforts to stop African-Americans and other minorities from voting did not stop in 1955. They continued to battle to exercise their right to vote throughout the 1950s and 1960s. That battle continues in different forms today.

This year the number of registered voters in Mississippi increased by more than 130,000. A large percentage of the new registrations are African-American. Those statistics are being repeated all over the country. Even here in NYC I know people who will be voting for the very first time. That’s a large part of why this election is so historic and so riveting. Not just because of who is running, but because of who is voting.

  1. Remembering that women could not vote. []
  2. To date there have only been five African-American senators. []

Excellent article on accent

Over at Daily Kos, Meteor Blades (via Scott) has an article on accents in which he points out that, yes, everyone has one and quotes Geoffrey Nunberg being smart on the same topic:

    If authenticity is a matter of heeding your true inner voice, then it probably isn’t surprising that people listen for signs of it in the way you speak. And our idea of an authentic accent reflects our idea of the authentic self. It’s the natural speech you sucked up from the surroundings you grew up in, unfiltered and uncorrected. It’s how you’re supposed to sound when you’re talking to yourself.

    It’s also a delusion. Or at least if your speech is like yourself, it’s because both are a work in progress. My own speech covers a lot more territory than it did when I was growing up in a New York suburb. Sometimes it shifts toward what people would hear as East Coast nondescript. And sometimes it gets pretty sidewalks-of-New York, particularly when I’m talking to friends from college days. (“Hey — you never used to talk like that,” my sister once said to me after she overheard me talking on the phone with one old friend.) But it doesn’t make sense to ask what part of that is my “authentic” voice. You grow up, you meet new people, you change the way you talk. If you still sound the same way you did when you were fifteen, you haven’t been getting out enough.

That’s my emphasis on the last sentence. Because, well, EXACTLY. People who travel a lot, live in other places, and pick up some of the local accents, aren’t freaks, they’re just paying attention. Accents are never set in stone unless your ears are clogged and you’re living in a hole in the ground. (And even then wouldn’t you pick up a worm accent or something?)

We are all hybrids.

That is all.

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. []

Voting

One of the biggest culture shocks for me as an Australian living (some of the time) in the USA is voting. Every election year I’ve been here there have been voter intimidation and fraud scandals. Maybe I missed it, but that does not happen at home. Not every single election.

Seems to me that the aim in the US is to make voting as difficult as possible. Why? I don’t get it. I’ve had friends disallowed to vote because the official said they had the wrong ID. It didn’t exactly match the name on the voter rolls. As in, their driver’s license had their middle name spelled out in full, “Rachel”, but the voter roll had just a middle initial, “R”. I’ve heard of all sorts of arcane local voting rules that are aimed solely at keeping people from voting.

I find it incomprehensible because I come from a country where voting is made as easy as possible. In fact, you get fined if you don’t vote. Back home there are no books teaching you how to avoid having your vote suppressed.

Also what’s with the voting day being a Tuesday and then that day not being declared a holiday? I know people who have a really hard time getting off work in order to vote. Sadly they live in areas where early voting isn’t possible.

And what’s with all the different areas of the US having different methods of voting? Paper ballots here, mechanical machines there, electronic machines way over there, and goat’s entrails in the hinterlands. Wouldn’t uniform voting laws across the country so that everyone casts their vote in the same way make a lot more sense?

Again. I just don’t get it. At home we have an independent electoral authority in charge of the whole thing. And, like I said we don’t have voting scandals every election.

A country that makes voting hard is making democracy hard. Voting isn’t just a right, it’s a duty.

So you don’t think I’m entirely down on the USian version of democracy here’s what I like about the US system:

Fixed terms.

Brilliant idea. I wish Australia did that. One person in power for more than eight years is a really bad idea.

All those with a crush on Rachel Maddow raise your hand (Updated)

Yes, it counts if you want to be her BFF. I mean who doesn’t want to be Rachel Maddow’s best friend?

I am addicted to her MSNBC show. Is there a gentler, more wry, less angry pundit in the world? Who’s as smart as Rachel Maddow? I think not. She exudes zen calm. She’s goofy and a bit of a dag.

I love her.

This way too brief profile makes me love her more. She always has a bottle of champers in the fridge! Me too! She has self doubt! Me too! She has a Phd! Me too! She drives a pick up truck! Me too!

Oh, wait. I can’t drive. Never mind. But if I could drive and actually liked cars and trucks then maybe I would drive a pick up truck just like hers.

Um. Forget that bit. The champers is enough to go on, isn’t it?

To sum up: Rachel Maddow = teh awesome.

/fangirling

Update:
For those wondering who Rachel Maddow is—click on the links!

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.

Best News Ever!!!

E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has been shortlisted for a National Book Award.

Let there be w00ting and w88ting across the land!

If you haven’t read it yet what the hell have you been doing? Off you go! Get thee a copy.

Congratulations, Emily. You SO deserve this!

The full shortlist:

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE

    Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)
    Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum)
    Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic)
    E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion)
    Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)

(I have not read the other titles. And, sadly, I wont get a chance before the winner is announced. I’m in deep 1930s immersion and reading only books about or published then.)

Good luck and congrats to all the nominees.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

The movie version of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist turned a crappy day into a lovely one. While it’s not as good as the book, it left me grinning and happy. It managed to be faithful to the feel of the novel as well as a real crowd pleaser. All around me people were laughing, squealing, and sighing. Sighing a lot whenever Michael Cera so much as quirked an eyebrow. I don’t think I’m ever going to understand his charms, but this movie gave me a bit more of a clue. He’s kind of like a young James Stewart—awkward in his own skin, totally harmless, safe, gentle and quietly smart. Kind of like a sentient teddy bear or something.

I’m adding Nick and Norah to my list of fun teen films. Although most of the cast—as usual—looked to be a few years older than they were supposed to be it wasn’t as egregious as some teen films and TV series. Most importantly, the cast sounded like teenagers. Unlike Juno who’s eponymous character speaks and thinks like a cynical thirty-something. I didn’t buy anything in that movie.

I had the privilege of hanging out with Nick and Norah‘s authors, Rachel and David, afterwards.1 They’re both over the moon happy with the film and its reception. And not just because it’s propelled their book onto the New York Times bestseller list. (Woo hoo!) The odds of having your book made into a movie are very very small, but having your book made into a good movie? Smaller than small. David and Rachel lucked out big time and they know it. Couldn’t have happened to nicer people. Go Rachel! Go David!

If you haven’t already read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist go do so immediately!

  1. They went to three screenings on the opening day. Talk about dedication! []

I wish

There was a way to do a book tour that didn’t involve having to get into a car . . .

This is my day of rest in between Michigan and Ohio/Kansas City. I plan to sleep till Sunday. Well, I will do that right after I go and see what Hollywood has done to Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s fabulous Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. My fingers are crossed for fabulosity.

You (what live where it is showing) should all go see it too. Who knows? If Nick and Norah does well there might be even more adaptations of YA novels. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

Zombies! + book divas + banned books week

It is with great sadness that I realise I haven’t posted about zombies in ages. That’s SO wrong. Fortunately, Cecil Castellucci sent me a link to this science article all about how we all have an inner zombie:

[S]tarting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.

Notice that it’s not an inner uni***n; it’s an inner zombie. I think that proves once and for all time that zombies are more powerful, interesting and make for way better metaphors than smelly old uni***ns.

Take that, Holly Black!

I am now off to Michigan to talk about the glories of zombies fairies with the locals. Posting may be erratic for the next few days. Though I will, as usual, do my valiant best to post every day.

I will also be popping in to chat at Book Divas this week: 29 September through to 6 October. So if you’re a member or want to join do go check it out. I will answer any question you might have. Any question at all!

Today, or, oops, yesterday is also the first day of Banned Books Week. Maureen Johnson has a fabulous post about it over at YA for Obama, with which I agree entirely. On some topics she’s completely wrong but when it comes to banning books and zombies you can totally trust her.

Go forth and read a banned book!

A most excellent day

The sun is shining, the sky is clear, you can see the entire length of the avenue, the Chrysler Building gleams and last night the New York Liberty made it into the conference finals. Let’s go, Liberty! (And San Antonio got through to their conference finals. Oh, how I long for those two to meet in the WNBA finals. That would make my year!)

My editor loves my new book, work is going great on the even newer book—how much fun is it researching NYC in the thirties? VERY FUN—and HTDYF keeps getting lovely reviews. In my world everything is fabulous.1

How about youse lot? I had to shut down the old Good News post on account of evil spam so why not tell me your good news and sources of happiness here instead?

Me, I’m turning the computer off and going out to enjoy the glorious, glorious day!

xo

Justine

  1. *Cough* It helps to not read newspapers or news blogs. []

Two wondrous things

1) The fabulous Guarina Lopez, who is a genius with the camera and took my author photo as well as Diana Peterfreund’s, now has a truly gorgeous website showcasing her beautiful work. Check it out!

2) The Magic or Madness trilogy has sold in Korea! Woo hoo! Chungeorahm Publishing have made a very lovely offer for the trilogy and I have said yes! For those keeping count the trilogy is now published in eleven different countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. My happiness is huge. All hail Whitney Lee of The Fielding Agency who made the majority of those sales. She’s incredible.

I wish I had studied maths

I stopped studying maths in Year 7. Before that I’d made a bit of an effort but in my first year of high school (in New South Wales high school starts in Year 7) I downed tools. I was bored, annoyed, and couldn’t see the point so I quit. Technically I kept going to maths class—it was compulsory until the end of Year 10—but I failed each year and was never made to repeat. I didn’t learn anything new after Year 6.

At the time I thought it was excellent that I could get away with it. In class I read novels under the desk. I never studied and finished my maths exams quicker than anyone else cause I guessed all the answers. Thus giving me more time to read novels.

Now I regret it. My regret is very very very big. Because now I don’t have the underpinnings to understand even the most basic mathematics and science. (I also stopped studying science very early.) Writing the Magic or Madness trilogy was a nightmare. It’s very difficult to write a character who is a mathematical prodigy when you yourself are a mathematical moron.

My current regret, however, is fuelled by the Rethinking Basketball blog. Quentin who writes it is a numbers boy. He has all sorts of fancy formulas and statistics to map the performances of different WNBA players and teams. Like how to take defence into account when figuring out who the Most Valuable Player should be.

I understand almost none of it and that fact fills me with despair. If I could go back in time I would tell the bored and cranky twelve-year-old me that maths would come in handy later on and I should really pay attention to the nice man. (My Year 7 maths teacher was a sweetie, who did not deserve me as a student.)

But plenty of people—including my parents—were telling me that at the time and I ignored them. I probably would have ignored the adult me as well. Sigh.

So it’s now more than a little bit ironic that I am in the position of telling twelve year olds that they should pay attention in maths class. But you really really should. Who knows when or where it will come in handy. But trust me, it will. Don’t be as stupid as I was.

This has been a public service announcement. You are most welcome.