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. []

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.