Brasil! Legal!

In just a few days me and the old man, Scott Westerfeld, will be in Brasil. First Sao Paolo and then Rio. And, yes, we will be doing events. Scott’s there to promote the first volume of his Leviatã trilogy being published in Brasil and I’m there for the newly published there, Zumbis x Unicornios. We are both published by Galera Record.

Neither of us has ever been to Brasil before. Our only previous visit to South America was to Buenos Aires, Argentina lo those many years ago. So, yes, we have excitement. Muito!

Here are the details for all you folks in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro:

Programação Scott Westerfeld – lançamento Leviatã

24 de novembro

16h – Apresentação de Scott Westerfeld sobre Leviatã e bate-papo. Distribuição de 100 senhas para a palestra, distribuídas pela Livraria Cultura, 1 hora antes do evento.

Cine Livraria Cultura, do Conjunto Nacional – Sala 2.

17h – Sessão de autógrafos de Scott Westerfeld. Autógrafos livres, sem distribuição de senhas, com fila. Só será permitido autografar 3 livros por pessoa.

Livraria Cultura, do Conjunto Nacional – Piso térreo.

Av. Paulista, 2073 – Bela Vista, São Paulo – SP

Observação: A foto com o autor será feita por um fotógrafo profissional e estará disponível em um Flickr cujo endereço será divulgado no site da Galera.

Programação Justine Larbalestier – lançamento Zumbis X Unicórnios

25 de novembro

14h30 – Bate-papo com Fabio Yabu, com mediação da editora da Galera, Ana Lima, na Livraria da Vila, em São Paulo.

15h30 – Sessão de autógrafos de Justine Larbalestier e Fabio Yabu

Livraria da Vila – Rua Fradique Coutinho, 915 – Pinheiros, São Paulo – SP

Scott e Justine

27 de novembro às 19h – lançamento de Leviatã e Zumbis X Unicórnios

Sessão de autógrafos na Livraria Cultura – São Conrado Fashion Mall Shopping Center.

Estrada da Gávea, 899 – Lojas 201, 202 e 204 – São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro – RJ

Clink on these thumbnails to see the beautiful banners for the events:

See you soon!

No, I’m Not Dying For My Books to Become Hollywood Movies

But I would sell my soul for any one of my books to be turned into a Hollywood TV show.

US TV is in a golden age. How many shows are there on right now that I enjoy? Let me see: Legend of Korra, Scandal, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Revenge, Louis, Bunheads, Justified, Nurse Jackie, Community and I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of. Do I think they are all perfect? As diverse as I would like them to be? Not hardly. But they are a million times better than any recent Hollywood movie. Frankly, even formulaic TV like Drop Dead Diva1 is way smarter and more thoughtful and just plain better than 99% of the movies that come out of Hollywood.

Here’s the thing. Many of my friends have had their books optioned and have had meetings with Hollywood movie types and their overwhelming reaction walking away from those meetings is hysterical laughter and/or despair. “So they love my book—you know, the one that reworks the little mermaid—but they’re wondering if it wouldn’t be better if they were secretly robots controlled by a master villian on a secret island hideout. They worried there wasn’t enough conflict.” Or, “So they say they love my book but they’d prefer my teen black female protagonist was white and male and thirty-five. But he could have a teen daughter who’s best friend was black.” Etc.

Hollywood has their rule book of how movies should be. They will take your book and cram it into those set of rules and spew out their sausage movie product. They will raise the stakes until the fate of the world is at the movie’s centre. You know just like every other summer blockbuster. They will make almost everyone white. They will reduce complexity and make the ending unambiguously happy: the boy and the girl will kiss! Even if in the original book it was a girl and a girl.

It’s no surprise that the YA adaptations that have been the most successful are the ones that are most faithful to the books they’re based on. The ones that have been turned into Ye Olde Hollywood Sausage Movie die on their arses. It amazes me that no one in Hollywood has noticed that. Yet they keep optioning hugely successful books, oops, I mean, “properties” and trying to turn them into Ye Olde Hollywood Sausage Movies. Gah!

Meanwhile every year there are several wonderful new TV shows. Most of which aren’t like anything else that is on TV.

So, yes, given a choice between the two you betcha I’d prefer to have a TV show. At this point I should reveal my dread shame: only one of my books has ever been optioned and that was for the huge amount of ZERO dollars. I know it can seem like all YA books ever are instantly optioned but sadly this is not true. Also of all those books that are optioned the vast majority never makes it to the screen. I have a friend, well, husband really, who has had all of his books optioned multiple times. Nope they have never made it on to the big or small screens. Might happen. One day.

Though should Hollywood people offer me buckets of money to adapt a book of mine for the big screen I would not say no. Fabulous ballgowns don’t buy themselves, you know! Besides, as mentioned, the vast majority of optioned books never get made into movies. Especially right now when the DVD stream of revenue has completely dried up. So I could safely say yes with little fear of seeing my book desecrated on the big screen.

  1. My secret vice or it would be if I kept it secret. What? I love Margaret Cho. Shut up. []

Covers

The most discussed aspect of a book, other than whether it’s any good, is its cover. But looking around online and off- at gazillions of different cover discussions the cover’s main function is sometimes forgotten. Thus I’ve decided to devote today’s post to talking about what a cover is and how they’re made.

When a publisher buys a book one of the first things they start thinking about is how to sell it. Who is its ideal audience? How can they position the book so those readers will find it? How can they position it so they expand beyond those readers? These discussions quickly wind up with ideas for the cover. That’s because the most important function of a book cover is

To sell the book.

That’s right, folks, a book cover is an advertisement. Typically, ads don’t go after the existing customers, they go after new ones. A cover that’s totally true to the book might make the author’s heart go pitter pat and please mad-keen fans, but if it works only for author and hard-core fans, it is not a successful cover.1 A successful cover calls out to people who’ve never heard of the book or the author and says, “Pick me up! Read me! Buy me!”

A successful cover expands your audience. Other than word of mouth, the cover is the most important factor in selling a book. Often it is the biggest and best, or even, only advertisement for the book.

Uglies is Scott’s most successful series. The first book in the series, Uglies, was an original paperback that went out into the world with little fanfare. But, wow, did that cover attract a lot of attention. Scott has had countless letters from fans telling him that they picked the book up because of the cover. That it called to them from across many aisles. That cover is a huge part of why Uglies did so well.2

How is a cover made at the big publishing houses?

Typically3 the first step is for editorial to put together a cover brief and send it to the art department. A cover brief is a description of what they’d like the cover to look like and/or the element of the book they’d like to see reflected in the cover.

The artists who design the covers tend not to read the books they’re working on because they don’t have time. They’re working on so many books in a year and their deadlines are so tight they barely have time to read the cover brief. On top of that sometimes the book they’re working on hasn’t been written yet. (Or, at least, not finished.)

Next a series of rough ideas are sent back to editorial. There is discussion and one or more direction is pursued. Then editorial okays one and the art department completes it. Sometimes editorial changes its mind and sends art in another direction. Once editorial likes the cover it’s sent to sales and marketing to be approved. Sometimes it isn’t and the process has to start over. The next important approval comes from the big accounts, the stores that order the books. Sometimes if they don’t like a cover it gets redesigned.

Something else to remember: all of this starts a long time before the book comes out because—have I mentioned this already?—the cover is the single most important part of advertising the book. Sometimes the book isn’t even finished and the cover is. The cover of Magic’s Child was completed before the first draft of the book was, which was weird, though it gave me time to add more butterflies to the text.

Another important consideration that you can’t actually do anything about is how the book will look when it’s in the bookstores. I.e. will the cover pop. You can design the most gorgeous eye-catching cover in the world in luscious golds and browns and rusts and then have it disappear on the new releases table because guess what? Every book that season is a a luscious blend of golds and browns and rust. But that book in the white and teal that everyone was worried about? Pops like you wouldn’t believe. You can see that book the minute you step foot in the store.

See how random that is? And because of such randomness no one really knows what makes a cover sell. Lots of books fail utterly despite everyone—from author to publishing house to the big booksellers to reviewers—believing the cover to be utterly gorgeous. There are last-minute, emergency covers that everyone’s nervous about that sell like gangbusters. Sometimes you’re sure a cover’s going to sell great and it does; sometimes it does not. The unpredictability leads to all sorts of superstitious nonsense in publishing houses. Green doesn’t sell! Illustrated covers on YA never works! Never put a chicken on the front of a middle grade! A skeleton on the front means the book is doomed! Etc. etc.

There are also house styles. Publishing companies that have had a lot of success with a certain kind of cover are keen to keep using that look and loathe to experiment. Especially if past experiments have failed. Now, with the recession, publishing companies and the big accounts are being more cautious and conservative than usual with the result that are an awful lot of same-same covers out there. But many of those covers are selling.

I’m sure I’ve missed some important aspects. Remember that I’m an author, while we’re part of the publishing industry, we’re also at a remove from it. There are authors who’ve published multiple books, who still don’t understand how their royalty statements work,4 or what co-op, or a P&L is. Yes, I am also a publishing geek and have spent the last decade asking questions, but I’ve never worked in a publishing house. Actual people who work at publishing houses no way more than I do about this.

If you have any questions or information to add fire away!

  1. Ideally you want a cover that works for those who know and love the book as well as for those who’ve never heard of it. But such covers are rare and wonderful beasties. []
  2. Initially, that it keeps on selling is due to its own goodness. []
  3. It varies from house to house and book to book. []
  4. I’ll admit I’m one of them. []

The Audience of Leviathan

I recently tweeted a really interesting review of Leviathan by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s my favourite review so far partly because she puts into words something Scott and I have been noticing:

I find it interesting that so many people are talking about this as the latest Scott Westerfeld novel without really acknowledging that this is such a departure from his more recent work. I would not be surprised if some of the audience for the Uglies and Midnighters and Peeps books (at least the teenagers) were less interested in this new series, even as Leviathan draws in an entirely new generation of readers. It’s always interesting to see an author whose work you admire move on to pastures new.

Note: she’s NOT saying that teens aren’t reading Leviathan, she’s just saying that some of the teen fans of Scott’s other YA books will be less interested in the new series. But that a whole new audience will be.

This is exactly what we’ve been finding. Especially amongst the hardcore Uglies fans. Many of whom won’t read any of Scott’s books other than the Uglies books. Here’s a conversation Scott had at almost every stop on his recent tour:

Fan: OMG! I love the Uglies books SO MUCH. You are my favourite writer in the entire world! *hands Scott multiple editions of every Uglies book to be signed plus extra copies to be signed for friends*
Scott: Thank you! So many Uglies books. Amazing!
Fan: When will you be writing a new book? I can’t wait for the next one!
Scott: Well, I’m on tour for a new book. *points to giant stack of Leviathan*
Fan: *looks at Scott blankly*
Scott: Leviathan is my new book.
Fan: Um, when will there be a new Uglies book?

Now, Scott has plenty of fans who read every single book he writes. There are even a few who’ve tracked down his very first publications: kids books about Watergate and the Berlin Airlift. And a few more who are proud owners of Scott’s choose-your-own-adventure Powerpuff Girl books. However, there are a substantial group who are not Westerfans per se, but fans of only one of his series.1 Especially when it comes to the Uglies books.

Now, this is not at all uncommon. There are plenty of Dorothy Dunnett fanatics who only read her Lymond books and have zero interest in the others, Scalzi fans who only like the Old Mans War books, McCaffrey fans who ditto the Pern books and so on. I myself am a Georgette Heyer fan who only likes her regency romances. I won’t touch her straight historicals or detective fiction with a barge pole. So I totally get it.

It is, in fact, a small percentage of readers who will follow a prolific and diverse writer throughout their career and read all their books. This is true even for writers like Stephen King. Plenty of his readers read only the novels and ignore the short stories and non-fiction.

I frequently describe myself as a huge Margeret Mahy and Diana Wynne Jones fan. Yet I have not read all their books. Most, but not all. There are fans and then there are fans.

What’s been so interesting about Leviathan is that it seems like the same percentage of Uglies fans that didn’t pick up Midnighters or the three New York books2 are also not picking up Leviathan. The difference is that a whole bunch of folks who never really heard of Scott before are picking it up in their place. Leviathan really does seem to have brought Scott a whole new audience.

Broadly, we’re noticing way more boy readers than before and a much wider age spread: from eight year olds up through eighty year olds. Scott toured with Sarah Rees Brennnan, Robin Wasserman, Holly Black and Cassie Clare. At pretty much every event, boyfriends of these other authors’ fans, who had come along in a suffering kind of way, saw Scott’s presentation and wound up buying Leviathan, stunned that something could possibly interest them at such an event. Leviathan has also drawn in two specific groups who’ve had little interest in Scott’s books previously:

  • Steampunk fans
  • History buffs

Obviously there’s a big overlap between those two groups. But it’s been fascinating to watch the audience of his tour events change. Scott’s always had people coming along dressed up like Tally or Shay or other characters from his books, but this tour he had people showing up in full on steampunk garb. Fabulous. So far pretty much all the steampunkers are dressing in a generic steampunk way. I’m hoping that will change for his 2010 tour. I can’t wait to see the first person showing up dressed like Derryn or Alek.

Now before any of you jump into the comments and say “I’m a bloke! I love military history and steampunk and I’ve ALWAYS read Scott’s books!” I’m not saying you don’t exist, I’m just saying that before Leviathan you were only a teeny tiny slice of Scott’s audience. Now, you’ve got lots more company. Enjoy! We sure are.

  1. There are adult readers who’ve only read The Risen Empire and have no intention of ever touching that smelly YA stuff. []
  2. So Yesterday, Peeps & The Last Days. All three books are set in the same world, by the way. It’s just that Hunter (of So Yesterday) is totally unaware of all the vampires running around. See how the world of products and advertising distracts you from what’s really important? Let that be a lesson for you. []

Scott Westerfeld Talking About, Um, Me

This is a little bit weird. I had no idea it existed and stumbled upon it while, yes, I confess, googling myself.1 So here is my husband talking with the Romantic Times about my latest book and what it’s like writing in the same room:

Here’s my response:

Firstly, those who’ve heard me talk about writing may remember that I, too, use that high diving metaphor. Yup, stole that one from Scott. Hey, he steals heaps of my stories and metaphors too. We’re an equal opportunity story-stealing household.

It’s also true that we are each other’s first readers, or in this case, listeners, and that we make many suggestions for changes to each other’s work. Many of which wind up happening. I’ve been asked if that means we collaborate on everything we write. No, only in a really broad sense could you say that. And it would be so broad it would make the word “collaborate” meaningless.

One thing I find really interesting is that despite how closely we work together, and how involved we are in each other’s work, our writing voices are very different. I could not write like Scott no matter how hard I tried. And he could not write like me. I don’t have the simile bug for one.2 But I do think we understand each other’s work better than anyone else and thus are really good at suggesting ways to make it better. Admittedly my jobs a little easier than Scott’s. All I have to do to improve his current series is point out that it’s time to blow something else up.

All right, that’s enough self-indulgence from me this morning, let’s take this outwards: How many of you work very closely with another writer? Do you read you work aloud to someone else? Is there anyone who reads and critiques every word you write from the very first draft?

Do anyone of you never show your work to anyone?

Tell me about your critiquing process!

  1. What? I wanted to check out some more Liar reviews. That’s not a crime, is it? []
  2. I defy you to find a page of Scott’s work without a simile on it. I have whole novels with nary a simile. []

Leviathan

Today, as I’m sure you know, is the official release day of Scott Westerfeld‘s latest novel, Leviathan. I am completely biased about this book. As I am about Scott. He’s my husband, my best friend, my first reader, my ally, my So Many Things. We read and critique every word each other writes. His books are my books and vice versa. So, um, you can totally grain-of-salt what I’m about to say.

I think this trilogy is the best YA Scott has written.1 I’ve loved it ever since he first started talking about it five or more years ago. An alternative universe of Darwinists and Clankers. Message lizards! Whale airships! An aristocrat passing as a commoner, a girl passing as a boy. These are so many of my favourite things.

But best of all is Derryn Sharp the aforementioned girl passing as a boy so she can serve on an air ship. She’s smart, funny, warm, brave, wonderful and curses marvellously and inventively! Barking spiders, I adore her. Here is a speech she imagines while floating high above London having her air sense tested:

“Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!”

I love her. I guarantee you will too.

And if a new book from Scott, which is way better than Uglies,2 isn’t enough for you. This one is illustrated with the most jaw dropingly fabulous art ever. Mr Keith Thompson is a genius.

There you have it: Leviathan is not only a wonderful story but a gorgeous object d’art. Just wait till you see the endpapers!

  1. I may be slightly jumping the gun because I’ve only read the first two books, Leviathan and Behemoth (which will be out this time next year). []
  2. Actually I think all Scott’s YA is better than the Uglies series. It’s my leave favourite of his. I still love it though. Just not as much. []

Stalker Song Contest Ends Today

The stalker song contest ends at midnight today East Coast USA time. I’ll be turning comments off on the thread then. Since there has been so many fabulous entries I’ll be giving away more than one signed copy of Love is Hell and am thinking of throwing in some Liar samplers if people seem interested.

You have until midnight tonight. Make sure you enter over there not here.

I may be announcing another contest this Saturday. Our house is overflowing with authors’ copies. It’s ridiculous.

Now back to my finish-the-novel death march.

Much Yay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JWAM reader request no. 3: How to get unstuck

There are a number of requests that touch on the same theme of getting stuck:

Jonathan says:

I’d be very interested in the pushing a dead plot post, since that’s where my novel is at.

On the other hand, I sort of know the answer already—stop reading blogs, sit down, and write.

Sylvia_rachel says:

I second the request for a pushing-through-a-dead-plot post (or perhaps a figuring-out-who-the-villain-is post). My writing projects tend to start with a strongly felt character/voice or scene, and then I have to go looking for a plot — sometimes easily found, sometimes … not.

Quiz question: Lois McMaster Bujold has said that the way she finds plots for character-driven novels is (I’m paraphrasing) to figure out what’s the worst thing she can have happen to that character, and then make it happen. Discuss ;-)

Gillian A says:

I third the request for a post on pushing through with a dead plot. I’d also be interested in any comments on dealing with the ‘middle’ of a novel (although there may be elements of overlap with the dead plot advice – at least in my experience).

Dorothy says:

How can I make my plot more exciting? Like put in those kinds of turns to make you want to read the whole novel at once! So far my stories are too calculable.

Lianne says:

Sometimes when I’m writting I really like the story idea but, then I loose intrest in what I’m writng. I know that if I ever want to complete a novel, I have to stick with my idea and like what I am writing about. Do you have any advice on how to stick with my ideas?

These all amount to more or less the same thing. How do I stick with my novel? Despite the plot being dead, me being bored, me having crap ideas, my novel being totally uninteresting—how do I perservere?

My first response is, Oh, good. Another not easy question. Though I think I have at least partly answered Sylvia_rachel’s question in JWAM reader request no. 2 when I talk about nicking plots from elsewhere.

I’ll answer Sylvia’s quiz question first. Lois McMaster Bujold is the mistress of good plotting (and one of my favourite writers) so what ever she does is bound to work. Though personally, I have never consciously done that. How do you figure out what the worst thing is? Surely there are multiple answers to that question? (Which is probably Bujold’s point.)

How to deal with a dead plot

I don’t believe that any plot is dead. Only abandoned and/or recalcitrant. With the second (recalcitrance) often leading to the first (abandonment). This definitely seems to be the case for Jonathan, given the second half of his question: “On the other hand, I sort of know the answer already—stop reading blogs, sit down, and write.”

When your plot tangles, or grind to a halt, or becomes in some other way recalcitrant, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. You need to not be in the same physical space with the problems. Go for a walk1 around the block, around the flat, whatever’s possible. Stretch our your back and arms and hands and fingers. Jump up and down on the spot. Do something physical away from your computer for at least fifteen minutes.

When you feel like the blood is actually circulating, sit down somewhere—not near your computer—and with pen and paper, or your iphone, or blackberry, or whatever—the key is that it be something that is not the thing you mainly write your novel on—write a quick schematic of where you are in the novel. You can draw little stick figures if you like representing the characters. Squares to represents the various places your novel takes place. Squiggles to represent action. Straight lines for when nothing’s happening. Etc etc. Personally I am not a visual person, I just write stuff down, you know, with words, but I have seen diagrams and sketches work for other people.

The point is to recreate your novel in a much shorter form to give yourself a different angle on it and a path forward. You may discover that not all your characters are interacting—bring two unlikely ones together. That they’re stuck in the same place—move them. And so on and so forth. Sometimes just the act of writing (or drawing or dancing) stuff about your novel away from it will trigger a solution to your plot problems.

It’s really important to take a break from your computer when you’re stuck. Don’t stay there futzing about on teh evil interwebs. That’s usually not the path to clearing brain and getting more focussed. Though if you’re writing your novel with pen and paper or on a typewriter (you lunatic!) or some other weirdness, then sitting in front of a computer could be just the break you need.

The other tried and true method—and this is the one I use most frequently—is to just push through. Sometimes that means putting in square brackets [no idea what happens here] and jumping ahead to write a scene where I do know what happens. Other times it means stubbornly writing even though you’re not sure what happens next. I did this when I got stuck with Magic Lessons and wound up writing about twenty thousand words (or whatever it was) where Tom was stuck on his own in Sydney while Reason and Jay-Tee had a fine old time in NYC. I didn’t realise I’d made a wrong turn until I had Tom sitting on his own in the cemetery saying to himself, “What am I doing here?”

Very good question.

I deleted the twenty thousand words and started from the point where Tom had been left on his own with nothing to do. This time Jay-Tee stayed in Sydney. The book began to write itself. Love it when that happens!

Scott had the same thing happen to him with Extras. He started the book in Hiro’s point of view before realising 16,000 words in that was the wrong point of view. He had to start over. Not much of what he’d written was salvageable.

Many beginning writers are appalled by these stories. “But you wasted so much time!”

Not really.

The time spent going in the wrong direction is how we figured out the right direction. Making mistakes and fixing them is how you learn to write a novel. Very few (if any) people get it right the first time.

Pretty much every novel Scott and I’ve written (and I suspect this is true of most novelists) has far more words on the cutting room floor (so to speak) then make it into the actual novel. I don’t mean that in the dramatic ditching-twenty-thousand-words-cause-of-wrong-turn way. Just that as you write, you make edits:

    First version: Her hand had gotten cold so that when she reached out to touch him he startled from the coldness of her touch. (22 words)

    Second version: Her hand was cold. When she touched him he startled. (10 words)

    Third version in which you realise the sentence not only sucks, but is unnecessary and cut it: (0 words)

So 22 words witten, but none of them remain in the complete first draft of the book. That’s just one (very bad) sentence. There are gazillions more where that came from.

Dealing with the middle, making things more exciting, finishing

I think the advice above can definitely help when you’re bogged down in the middle and will also help make things more interesting. You should also look at JWAM reader request no. 2 about generating ideas.

But I suspect that the real problem is often psychological. Who says your book isn’t interesting? You, right? Are you sure that’s not just an excuse to give up?

The most important way to deal with all these problems is to finish your book. It’s very hard to diagnose what’s wrong with an unfinished manuscript. Trying to fix things before the book is finished can complicate and slow things because once you truly finish you may discover that your diagnosis was wrong. Making your book good is easier to do when you have a complete manuscript to work with.

Your main job is to complete the first draft. This is especially true if you’ve never finished a novel before. You will never trust yourself as a writer until you have a completed ms. with a beginning, middle, and an end.

Hope this advice helps. Just remember there are lots of different solutions to these problems. Some will work for you, some won’t.

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.

  1. I know that’s tricky for some of you Northern hemisphere types given that it is literally below freezing right now and I’ve heard tales of people in Canada dying of exposure when they went out to get the paper and the door slammed behind them []

A very good question

The most poignant question me and Scott were asked at BookPeople was the following:

What advice do you have for middle school “uglies”?

We rambled on about how middle school/high school (if you’re Australian) doesn’t last forever etc etc. How we too were unhappy in 6th, 7th, 8th grade.1 But I’m not sure our answers were satisfying. And we didn’t really suggest any survival techniques.

I have been thinking about this question ever since. Do any of you have any ideas for how to survive the dark days of primary and secondary education? If so, do please share.

  1. Actually I hated all of school from kindergarten all the way to year 12. []

Question for those who like to get their books signed

Scott and me are having a wee bit of an argument. He thinks I sign too slow on account of I like to chat to everyone and make my dedication as personal as possible. He thinks that’s fine with a very short queue but when the line is long you owe it to the people standing in line waiting to go as fast as possible.

The argument arose because I had a big line at NCTE1 on account of the lovely Professor Nana talked very enthusiastically about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Bless you!

In my defense

  1. Where I was sitting I couldn’t see the queue so I didn’t know how long it was.
  2. English teachers are interesting and I wanted to know what grades they taught and where they were from.
  3. Just signing a book is boring. I like to talk to people and figure out why they want their book signed.
  4. Scott is a hardened pro; I’m still a (relative) newbie.

What do youse lot think? Would you prefer an author who rushes to make the line go quicker? Or would you prefer an author who takes the time to chat with everyone?

  1. National Council of Teachers of English []

BookPeople questions we ran out of time to answer

Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.

Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.

Questions for Justine:

Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?

A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.

Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?

There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”

A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?

I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.

Questions for Scott:

Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?

A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.

Q: Why did you k*** Z***?

A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.

So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?

A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )

Questions for both Justine and Scott:

Q: Are you friends with any other authors?

Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.

Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.

Q: Is there any news on a movie?

Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.

Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.

Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).

But no auditions yet!

Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?

Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.

I guess I let people bully me!

Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.

Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?

Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:

  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
  • Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
  • Write a lot.
  • Learn how to critique other people’s work.
  • Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!

Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.

Q: Which is your favourite cover?

Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.

Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.

The full story can be found here.

Q: Why are most of your protagonists girls?

Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.

I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!

Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.

Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.

Fun was had at BookPeople

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

And then there was this:

<br />

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

Texas is always so good to me.

And now we are in Paris

Which I can report is wonderful though cold. Great food, great gorgeousness, great people. Thank you, Luis and Maude, for showing us such a great time!

Several people have written to ask what on Earth we are doing galivanting about Europe. I could have sworn that I mentioned why at some point. But here it is again for those what missed it:

We are here to do research for Scott’s next book part of which is set in the European alps. As it involves air ships we went for a ride on a Zeppelin. We also came to attend the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, to launch Extras in the UK, to get some writing done, to catch up with some of our European-based friends such as Coe Booth, David Moles and Ben Rosenbaum who are all in Basel at the moment, and to eat lots of wondrous food (see poll to your right).

Things learned on the trip so far:

  • Dutch publishers hate fantasy, but they love Maureen Johnson.
  • Germans ones love fantasy.
  • Stephenie Meyer is a Scott Westerfeld fan and has been going out of her way to tell her foreign publishers how much she loves his books. Thank you, Stephenie Meyer!
  • Switzerland is INSANELY expensive for tourists. Every menu I looked at I thought there had been a series of bizarre numerical typos. Surely the soup couldn’t be twenty dollars in an ordinary cafe?
  • Ben Rosenbaum’s kids are fabulous.
  • You can get great vegetarian food that isn’t cheese and noodles anywhere in Europe that isn’t German speaking.1
  • Zeppelins are quiet and smooth and the best form of transport other than a bicycle or shank’s pony. You would not believe the views.
  • Free wifi is the best thing in the universe. Why are posh hotels so allergic to it?
  • Paris remains the most beautiful city I have ever seen.2 Though Bolzano’s pretty gorgeous too. As is Rome and Bologna. And Buenos Aires. And, um, oh nevermind.

And now I must return to having fun in Paris. As you were!

  1. Oh, okay, I can’t speak for the whole German-speaking world, but Austria was pretty dire. And what’s with all the smoking everywhere? []
  2. Other than Sydney. []

How to rewrite

I get a lot of beginning writers asking me how to rewrite. This post is aimed squarely at them: the ones who are unsure how to fix a story they have written from beginning to end. Which is my way of saying that any experienced writer is going to find what I am about to say obvious, boring, and un-useful. You folks should go read Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing or, you know, get back to work.

(It’s also a really LONG post. Hence the cut.)

“How can I learn to rewrite?” is an incredibly hard question to answer. It’s sort of like asking a pro tennis player (or coach): “How do I improve my tennis?” Continue reading

Web stuff

So I finally got Scott’s new look blog up and running. What a hassle that was! I always think it will be just an hour or two. Hah! Try several days of hassles. Especially as there was a migration of his site to a new server. Why is it always so hard?

Anyways . . . It’s up and I think it looks great. Go take a squiz and tell me what you think. Though if you have any complaints tell Scott, not me!

All praise to Sadish Balasubramanian who designed the very nifty and flexible SeaShore template.

I was planning a redesign here to go with the new book but the very thought of going through that again makes my head explode. Plus deadline is not yet met.

Right then, back to work.

Oh and have a new poll.

Podcast Seriousness

Not!

While we were in Chicago for the Great Lakes Booksellers Association conference in October, me, John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld recorded a

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in which he purportedly interviews us about our books. Zombies do come up—cause really when writers get together what else are they gonna talk about?

Apparently this is part 1 of the convo. Will keep you posted when the rest of it goes up.

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!

P.S. Scalzi’s pronunciation of my surname is prefectly accurate. I was just teasing him.

Cecelia Goodnow is going down!

She says my man ain’t pretty:

At 44, Westerfeld isn’t just another pretty face. With his cropped, sandy hair, furrowed brow and somewhat lumpy nose, he’s not “pretty” at all, but he understands the calculus of beauty and fame that wields increasing power in young-adult lives.

His nose is not lumpy! I love that nose! He is too pretty!1

That Ms. Goodnow better not cross my path any time soon. Grrr!

If you skip that one evil and wrong paragraph it’s actually not a bad article. I spose.

  1. Okay, not “pretty” as in the pretties of his Uglies series because, you know, ewww! []

Fans rule

Day 11 of the tour:

Tonight’s appearance at Books Inc (Opera Plaza) was fabulous. Lots of rabid, smart, enthusiastic Scott fans and passionate arguments about David/Zane. For the record I like Zane better than David but prefer Shay to either one of them.

The most wonderful part of the evening for me was meeting London, who’s a guy from Sacramento, who drove all the way to San Francisco (which is at least two hours!) to tell me how much he loves my books. Isn’t that awesome? Also turns out he’s a Sacramento Monarchs fan and has even met their big star Yolanda Griffiths. I was deeply impressed and we got to talk women’s hoops which always makes me happy.

Equally happy making was the lovely Liset who gave me a beautiful piece of fan art:

Liset’s fan art

What a wonderful day. Thanks to Jennifer and Shannon for all your hard work. You guys are deeply splendiferous!

There’s lots more to say. And a tonne of your comments I want to respond to, but I’m completely knackered.

Tomorrow there are more events. Also we fly to Seattle.

Sleep now!

Toes, passports, and other misadventures

If this is Sunday it must be Oakland. What do you mean it isn’t Sunday?! But this is Oakland, right?

Scott is silly

Today has not been one of my better efforts. Let’s see:

    I almost broke one of Scott’s toes,

    Put the “signed by” sticker on several of his books upside down (worst jacket monkey ever),

    Left my bag with our passports in it behind at a restaurant and then managed not to hear the poor waiter sprinting after me and shouting with said bag in hands (but we got the bag back! yay most excellent waiter!),

    Fell asleep in the middle of Scott reading me this thingie he’s working on. (He is a most excellent reader. I have never fallen asleep while he was reading before. I plead exhaustion.)

Where is the rewind button? I would like to start over please.

Here’s hoping the actual Sunday goes much better especially as there’s a chance I might get to meet Alice Walker. I loved The Color Purple so much when I first read it that I immediately read it a second time. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read it since then. She is a genius. I love her essays every bit as much as her fiction.

Oh, and if you’re in the San Francisco area Scott is doing a whole bunch of appearances. I’ll be at all of them, most especially the one we’re doing together:

Tuesday, Oct 9
7:00pm
Books Inc.
Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94102
In-store reading & signing with Scott.
A Not Your Mother’s Book Club event

I’m very happy to sign my books for you even at one of Scott’s events. I promise that I will try my best not to break any of your toes.

The first book shop event

Last night we went to Anderson’s books in Naperville, Illinois. Much fun was had. Scott explained the origins of the Uglies series and of Extras. The first is all about our society’s beauty obsession; the second deals with the fame thing. There was lots of Q & A. The questions were ridiculously smart and interesting and there didn’t seem to be a single person who hadn’t read at least three or four of Scott’s books so he didn’t have to worry too much about spoilers.

Scott raises his hand. Dunno why.

During the hours and hours that he was signing for the smart and very appreciative crowd I got to hang out with some fabulous folk who were readers of my books and/or blog. At least three librarians came up to tell me how much they and their patrons enjoy my books. Yes!

I had a blast gossiping about favourite books, which is, naturally, my favourite topic of conversation ever. I was totally stoked to discover that my raving about the genius of Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia trilogy had influenced some people to pick the books up and read them. Yay!1 Also I found someone who loved Meredith Anne Pierce as much as I do!2 Double yay!

Jez and friends

The photo is of Jez and her friends (whose names I’ve forgotten—sorry!) Thanks so much for all the manga recommendations. You guys are fabulous.

I wish I could remember everyone’s name. The folks I talked to were all so wonderful, but the only people I got a chance to say goodbye to were Jez and her friends. Sorry about that! Was wonderful meeting you all.

  1. If you haven’t read them yet what are you waiting for? Go get them! []
  2. And if you haven’t read the Darkangel trilogy and you love vampires then I don’t know what you’ve been doing all your life! []

Off on tour (updated)

Not my tour but Scott’s tour for his latest book Extras. It pubs on the 2nd of October and is deeply awesome. In fact, it’s my favouritest of the Uglies series. Aya is my new hero.

I’ll be along at most of the public events. If you’re around come and say hello.

I plan to keep blogging everyday. You know, on account of I’m addicted. I managed it every day we were away at Dragoncon so I don’t see how a little tour will stop me.

Hey, does anyone who’s been on a book tour before have any survival tips? (Other than bring lots of shoes?)

Update: I’d be delighted to sign books. I may have to skip a few of the events to get some work done but I plan to be at most of them.

YA sf

So I was asked to suggest good YA sf and I lamely suggested Scott’s Uglies series, which I do indeed love, but everyone’s already heard of them—especially folks who read this blog. (I’d also recommend his Fine Prey which I think totally works as YA, but it is pretty dirty—not to mention being out of print.)

Thing is though I’ve read a fair amount of YA sf in the last few years I haven’t liked hardly any of it. A lot of it is bog standard: plots I’ve seen before, characters I’ve seen before, worlds I’ve seen before, and nothing new done with any of it. Vastly yawn-worthy.

Remember though I spent more than eight years doing nothing but read science fiction. My standards are very very high and my tolerance for less than stellar very very low.

I will recommend Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It. It breaks no new ground as science fiction—in fact, some of it doesn’t make any sense—but it’s gorgeously written, the protag has a wonderfully vivid voice and I could not put it down. Literally, I read it in one sitting. I highly recommend it.

But that’s all I’ve got. Can any of you help? Preferably recent books. But if you recommend older titles say when you last read it. Books you thought were wonderful when you were twelve—lo, those many years ago—may not stand up now. I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I tried to re-read some of my childhood favourites and discovered that they made Flowers in the Attic look like literary genius.

Dry T-shirt contest

Over at insideadog Scott has had an attack of the lolcats and defaced several fine Australian young adult book covers. I am deeply horrified. Has he no sense of the sacred?

If you feel the urge to vandalise some other book covers (they don’t have to be Australian or young adult) post the links to your efforts in the comments thread over there. The best ones will receive a lovely Extras T-shirt. The contest is open until the end of the month and we’ll announce the winners in early August.

Wow

I appear to have won an Andre Norton Award for the first book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. Someone pinch me!

This is super amazing because:

  • The books on the shortlist with Magic or Madness are absolutely fantastic.
  • It means I’m in the very tiny club of Norton Award winners with the brilliant Holly Black who won the inaugural award last year for Valiant.
  • I’ve won an award named in honour of one of the most important writers of young adult fantasy books. How cool is that?
  • Now when I’m described as an award-winning author it’s true!

Here’s the speech that Eloise Flood who published and edited the trilogy (as well as Scott’s Peeps and Maureen’s Devilish, which were also up for the award) delivered on my behalf at the ceremony:

Wow. Really. Wow.

This is such an honour. I’m a huge fan of genre YA and in particular of every book on this year and last year’s Norton shortlist. I’m not kidding. These are some of the best books out there: genre or not, YA or not. I can’t believe I’m on this list. And I REALLY can’t believe I won. You guys did read the other books on the list, didn’t you?

I’m bummed that I can’t be here but thrilled that Eloise Flood, who discovered me, nurtured me, and made me as a YA author is accepting on my behalf. Thank you for everything, Eloise! And thank you Liesa Abrams, Andy Ball, Margaret Wright, Kristen Pettit and the whole Razorbill team. You’re all awesome.

Thanks to everyone who nominated and voted for this award. Genre YA1 is in the midst of a Golden Age. The books are better than ever before. More kids and teens are reading than ever before. And these readers are the future of our genre and the future of literature.

This is a truly amazing time. I’m so proud to be part of it. I bet Andre Norton would be thrilled as well to see what she has wrought.

  1. Actually I think all of YA is in the midst of a Golden Age, not just genre. This has been an amazing week. I’m bouncing! []

Back in NYC (briefly)

The last ten days were bloody AWESOME. I don’t have words. I met so many wonderful librarians, writers, students, teachers, booksellers, readers, and other peoples. All the appearances went splendidly. Texas rocks! I loves it! More details soon.

I plan to blog ever day for the next ten because after that we bugger off to Paris, Singapore and then three weeks back home in Australia and blogging opportunities are probably going to be thin on the ground. I read some wonderful books that I want to tell you about. I also have some writing theories I want to share. Not to mention all the appearances I’m doing this week.

There’s been a micro kerfuffle while I was away because some commenters have strayed far off topic in some of the comment threads. While this doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it led to some folks being deluged with comment notifications. I’ve now put up an open post for those who want to chat about whatever. Enjoy! If folks enjoy it, I’ll put up more open posts in the future.

While I was in Texas, my good friend Cassandra Clare hit The New York Times bestseller list with her wonderful and completely unputdownable novel, City of Bones—it’s right next to Scott’s Specials! She’s now been on the list for two weeks! Woo hoo!!!! Go Cassie! Go Cassie! Go Cassie!

Me, I’m going to sleep in my very own bed. Joy!

Yay! Aargh! Woohoo! Eep!

I have like a gazillion billion trakazillion emails in my inbox. This is the first chance I’ve had to go online in almost three days. It’s been crazy busy and exhilarating and fabulous and every big positive happy adjective you can think of.

San Antonio is wondrous. The Texas Library Association conference has been so extraordinarily wonderful I’m left without words. I’ve met so many amazing, fun, smart cool people I think my brain has exploded. Thank you everyone! Yay! Joy! Mangosteens! This trip has also been very educational: I know now how boots are made and have a much better idea of what distributors do.

Scott and mine’s presentation in front of what seemed like thousands of librarians, including Scott’s high school librarian, Darlene, was exhilarating. I’ve never had so much fun doing an appearance. Basically we just gasbagged about how we met, our books, writing, travelling, living in two countries, and answered lots of cool questions from the wonderful audience.

Then we signed what felt like a million books. I think I’m still floating.

To quickly answer two of your questions:

The beasts that shall not be named are evil. That is all you need to know. What do they need that horn for anyway?

Maureen is also evil and you should not do what she tells you to do.

Friday the thirteenth is excellent. Zombies love it. But yesterday’s was the best ever!

Happy, happy

Australia just thrashed England in their Super Eight match. They barely broke a sweat doing it. Ha ha!

I discovered this lovely review of the Magic or Madness trilogy by a future librarian. It’s pretty spoiler free if you want a squizz. I really liked this bit:

The magical abilities are also not what one expects—Reason has an amazing aptitude for math and patterns. Her friend Tom can create magical clothing, and Jay-Tee’s magic is in movement—like running and dancing. (None of this, ooh-look-at-me-I can-fly-or-read-minds . . . etc.)

I did that on purpose! And someone noticed! Woo hoo!

Also Scott just read me the almost last bit of Extras and it is good! So. Very. Good.

And on Tuesday we fly to San Antonio where it is much much warmer than NYC and there are many cool librarians and young adult writers for us to hang with. Happiness!

Vicious koalas, leeches and deadlines

Things are tense around here. Scott has not very long to finish Extras, the extra book that sort of has something to do with the Uglies trilogy. The ninth of April is his final cannot-be-moved-no-matter-what deadline. Other deadlines have come and gone, but this one is for real.

My job at the moment is to keep other stuff from getting in the way of his writing. You know like evil laundry, vile dishes and wicked wicked postage. Not to mention the scourge of phone calls, email, deliveries and visitors.

Leeches!I have created a moat of acid, and anyone who mangages to get past it to press the buzzer now gets a nasty little electric shock. Leeches await those hardy souls who make it all the way to our doorstep. I had them specially imported from The African Queen and they are very large indeed.

It’s also very bloody cold outside with occasional snow which should further cull the numbers of potential deadline interferers. But if all else fails and they manage to get in, I have my rabid pet koala to sic on them. She is not only diseased, but has a naturally mean disposition.1

I also supply him with the appropriate beverages, writing companions, massage his weary typing fingers and try not to time my coughs ill.

It’s not pretty but someone has to do it. Besides he did the same during my gruelling many-deadlines-missed finishing of Magic’s Child.

So wish us both luck surviving this deadline and if neither of us blog much in the next few days you’ll know why.

Ooops, must dash. The author requires a hot towel.

NOTE: did you notice that I cunningly wrote this post without caps even though it’s longish? That way the old man can’t read it. Mwahahahahah!!!!

  1. Like most koalas, actually. Even the non-diseased ones smell bad and scratch. That’s the only reason we occasionally let tourists hold them. []

Norton nominee interviews

John Joseph Adams doesn’t quite have the full set (that would be Scott who’s not done his bit—he’s too busy writing Extras) but here are his interviews with the other Norton nominees:

I finally took a break from inhaling manga to inhale Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as we knew it. Wow. I’ll admit I’m fond of post-apocalypse books to start with, but this is a decidely superior example. I read it in one sitting. Could not put it down. Go forth and read! My only complaint: It’d be nice to read one post-apocylpse where New York City and Sydney were not wiped off the face of the earth. Is that too much to ask?

If I were a SFWA member my head would be exploding trying to figure out which book to vote for. They’re all so good (take it as read that I’m not talking about Magic or Madness). Devilish and Peeps are so funny, Touching Darkness so scary and Life as we knew it made me cry.

But I’m still leaning towards Megan Whalen Turner’s King of Attolia. That trilogy is breath-takingly fabulous. I’ve read the first two books, The Thief and Queen of Attolia, many times and King twice. They get better with every read. I hug them to my chest. I honestly can’t think of a better fantasy trilogy. I really hope it wins.

Magic’s Child & Other stuff

The first offline review of Magic’s Child has appeared in Kirkus Reviews. They seem to like it. The entire review is riddled with spoilers so here are the highlights:

In this sizzling conclusion to a mordant fantasy trilogy, magic is more curse than blessing for 15-year-old Reason. . . . Alternating chapters by Reason, Jay-Tee and their friend Tom recount this crackling blend of fantastic adventure and soap-opera angst with vivid splashes of Aussie and American slang. . . . [A]dolescent readers will be left pondering their own hard choices. Not a stand-alone story, but the entire trilogy is a worthwhile purchase.

Not bad, eh? A number of pullquotes. Thank you, Kirkus!

In other news scifi.com’s Scifiwire is interviewing various award shorlistees, like, um, me for the Norton Award. I hear there’ll be interviews soon with Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld. I assume they’ll also talk to Susan Beth Pfeffer and Megan Whalen Turner. Hope so!

In other news Rebecca designed this T-shirt in honour of Scott and mine’s visit to Houston. Isn’t it awesome?

Is that not the coolest Magic or Madness/Midnighters combination you ever saw? There are even butterflies! I love it!

Norton shortlist

The Norton shortlist is now final:

    Devilish—Maureen Johnson (Penguin Razorbill)
    Magic or Madness—Justine Larbalestier (Penguin Razorbill)
    Life As We Knew It—Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt)
    Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness—Scott Westerfeld (Harper Eos)
    Peeps—Scott Westerfeld (Penguin Razorbill)
    The King of Attolia—Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow Books HarperCollins)

All the books on the list are wonderful1 (except mine obviously). I’m so honoured to be in such incredible company. Wow.

Yet despite the glories of Maureen’s catholic school girls demon fighters and Scott’s reimainged vampires and magic twenty-fifth hour, if I were to vote right now2 I would vote for King of Attolia.

I’ve mentioned before how much Megan Whalen Turner’s trilogy means to me. It’s stunning. Beautifully written and it pushes all my buttons (in a good way). It would be awesome if she won the Norton because it would be not just for this book, but for the whole trilogy. She’s one of my favourite living writers and deserves every honour going.

Hey, I just noticed there’s three Razorbill books on that list! How bout that? Eloise Flood created one hell of a list.

  1. The only one I haven’t yet read is the Pfeffer which I’ve heard from people I trust is amazing. I can’t wait to get my mitts on it. []
  2. And if I were a member of SFWA. []

Woo hoo!

Both Magic Lessons and Daughters of Earth have made the the Locus Recommended Reading list. Scott also makes an appearance with not one, not two, but three of his books making the cut: The Last Days, Specials and Blue Noon.

Then there’s my compatriots Margo Lanagan (making four appearances) and Gath Nix. Others on the list that I’ve read and loved are the two stories from Christopher Rowe, as well as Julie Phillips’ Tiptree biography, Ellen Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire. Woo hoo! If you haven’t read these you really need to.

I’m sure there are other wonderful books and stories on there, but I confess I haven’t read hardly any of them. I am bad.

In other news UK author Kevin Wignall of Contemporary Nomad likes Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons. Check it out! Though Oz English is not a dialect of Pom English. No way!

This has been a very head-swelling year thus far. May it keep on keeping on!

Sydney appearance

Next Saturday, the 20th of January at 2PM, me and Scott will be doing an appearance at the fabulous Kinokuniya bookshop. We’ll be appearing with Deb Abela and Michael Parker and talking about science fiction and whatever else grabs our fancy. If you’re around we’d love to see you.

To recap:

Where:
Kinokuniya Books
Galeries Victoria
500 George St, Sydney

When:
Saturday, 20 January 2PM

Who: Deb Abela, me, Michael Parker and Scott Westerfeld

What: talking ’bout science fiction

Norton awards

It has been brought to my attention through various means such as comments here, my email box, and this lovely loudmouth that me and Scott are on the preliminary ballot for a Norton Award.

What does that mean?

The award is given in memory of the late great Andre Norton to honour her considerable contribution to fantasy and sf young adult fiction. While it’s administered by SFWA and is announced along with the Nebula Awards, it is not actually a Nebula Award. This is the second year the Norton Award has been given. Last year it went to the fabulous Valiant by Holly Black. Woo hoo! (And much fun was had celebrating that win, wasn’t it, Holly?)

At the moment the preliminary ballot consists of Magic or Madness, Peeps, and Touching Darkness. Observant readers will note that those are books by me and Scott. Fear not! It will not be a solely Larbalestier/Westerfeld contest, the special dedicated panel for the Norton will add three extra titles from their own extensive reading, leaving a shorlist of six books for the award.

Correct me if I’m wrong on any of this, SFWAns.

Several people have written to ask, “How does it feel to be competing against each other for an Award?”

Firstly, I’d like to point out that this is the fourth time we’ve been on a shortlist together. Last year we were both up for an Aurealis and a Ditmar. This year we’re both up for an Aurealis and now a Norton.

Salient fact: so far someone else has won every time. That’s right, last year neither Scott nor I won the Aurealis and Ditmars we were up for. Will that trend continue?

But to answer the question: It feels very cool. I love that enough people are liking our books that we wind up on shortlists and best of the year lists. It’s beyond brilliant.

To be honest neither of us are particularly fussed about winning awards. This is not because we’re particularly zen or humble, but because we’ve both judged awards and voted on them and we know exactly how it works. Brilliant books win; brilliant books don’t even make it onto the short list. In judged awards it’s frequently the book everyone liked second or third best that wins, because the judges just can’t agree. Awards are a lottery. Always were, always will be.

What’s really cool as hell is to get on the ballot and be there together.

My chuffage is oceanic. (And, no, that doesn’t get in the way of walking.)

Woooooooo hooooooo!!!!!!!

Last Day of 2006

It’s been another good year for me professionally and I will now skite about it: My second and third books, Magic Lessons and Daughters of Earth, were both published to some very nice reviews and reader responses. The whole Magic or Madness trilogy sold to Editora Record in Brazil, Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons sold to Mondadori in Italy, while Magic Lessons and Magic’s Chld sold to Amarin in Thailand. And then there was the recent sale of the trilogy to the Science Fiction Book Club for a 3-in-1. Not to mention Magic Lessons being on the shortlist for the Aurealis.

It was a great year for Scott who hit the New York Times bestseller list not once, not twice, but three times! Woo hoo! Twice for Specials and once for Pretties. Also my friends Yvette Christianse’s (Unconfessed), Kate Crawford (Adult Themes), Ellen Kushner (Privilege of the Sword), Julie Phillips (James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon) and Delia Sherman (Changeling) all published wonderful books that were well-received. If you haven’t already read them—do so immediately!

Other dear friends also published fabby books, but these are the ones that I saw through gestation. In the same way I’m very excited to see how Holly Black’s Ironside and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones fare next year. Do yourself a favour and get hold of copies as soon as you can!

Next year I have three English-language publications on the horizon:

  • Magic Lessons will appear in paperback in February.
  • The final book of the trilogy, Magic’s Child, will be out in hardcover in March.
  • Also in March—the SFBC’s 3-in-1 edition of the trilogy.

As you can imagine I’m dead excited to find out what my readers think of the complete trilogy. Do not hold back! (Unless what you have to say might harm a writer’s delicate sensibilities. Always remember: praise is good!)

This year has also been a great one for me blog. Readers way more than doubled this year, which is just lovely. I’m particularly excited to have picked up so many more readers here in Australia. Especially the ones I don’t know and am not related to. (Not that there’s anything wrong with my friends and relatives, mind. Well, not that much wrong.) Thank you so much everyone for hanging out and commenting. Your comments are more than half the fun. Without you there wouldn’t be much point. Much appreciated.

Last year on this day I set out my goals for 2006:

I’m aiming to write two books (both of which I’ve already started) in 2006 and sell one (two would be nice, but I don’t want to jinx myself). I also plan to spend the majority of the year in Sydney, cause now that I’m home I just want to stay. And I really, really, really want to get tickets for the Sydney Ashes test. Ideally for every day of play.

How did that work out?

I finished one book: Magic’s Child, but it wasn’t one of the books I was talking about above. So I didn’t finish either of the books I aimed to. Though I got awfully close to finishing the first draft of the great Australian feminist monkey knife-fighting mangosteen cricket fairy young adult novel. (So close I can smell it! Oh the frustration!)

This year I have the same goal: to finish two novels. My odds are much better given that I’m mere days away from finishing the fairy book . . . And I’ve made good starts on six other novels. Dunno which one I’ll write next. What fun not to know!

I didn’t sell any books on account of not finishing any to give to my agent for said selling. I won’t be declaring my intent on sales again because it’s pointless. I have some control over how many books I write; but none over how many I sell.

The big change this year was my decision not to sell any books until I’ve finished them. (Another explanations for no sales this year.) It’s also why I’m finishing this year without any dread deadlines over me. Much less stressful!

I spent only five months in Sydney and even though that’s more time than I spent anywhere else I still did not see nearly as much of my family and friends here as I’d like. Sigh.

There was way too much travelling this year. And while I loved all the places I visited—Bologna and Kyoto especially—I haven’t stayed anywhere for more than three months since 2003. I’m sick of it. I’d love to travel less, but already 07 is shaping up to be very travelly. Come June though and I believe we’ll be applying the breaks. Aside from it being exhausting and conducive to the contracting of viruses, travelling that much in aeroplanes and staying in hotels is terrible for the environment and no amount of offsets makes up for that.

I did get tickets to the Sydney test. Fourth day. Can’t wait. And we Aussies reclaimed the ashes what should always be ours. Bliss. Now I have to figure out how to get coverage of the world cup while we’re in the US of A. We may even cough up for satellite coverage. Would be fabulous to get over to the West Indies, but see above on wanting to travel less.

To sum up: Life is good. I hope yours is too.

I have a very good feeling about 2007, not just for me, but for the wider world.

Happy new year!

For your edermahcayshun

An excellent piece from Daily Kos on the influence foreignors have always had on American politics. To which I can only say, “Well, der, people.” Show me one country in the world that isn’t influenced by other countries. For that matter show me one person who isn’t influenced by other people. Even hermits are influenced by others.

This is my favourite review of Scott‘s latest book, The Last Days. I think she misses Cal. What do you reckon? I gotta confess I prefer Last Days to Peeps, but I hear her pain. For the record, we wanted the book to be subtitled “Companion to Peeps” but we was overruled.

Simonne Howell, author of the fabulous Notes from the Teenage Underground (which Scott just finished and thoroughly enjoyed), is collecting haikus on her myspace account. I contributed a cricket one. Surely she needs more than just one cricket haiku . . .

I learned today that Harry Potter is hugely hugely hugely popular here in Thailand, which made me wonder: is there’s any country in the world where Harry Potter isn’t popular? While in England I learned that quite a few books and writers that are enormously popular in the US of A can barely sell more than a dozen copies in the UK. (No, I will not name them. On account of their lack of success reflects rather poorly on the United Kingdom.)

What exciting things have you lot learned today?

Bangkok

Since some of you have been asking here’s a wee bit about our current Bangkok adventure.

We’re staying at Siri Sathorn in downtown Bangkok. It’s a serviced residence which means it’s like a hotel, but instead of rooms there are proper flats with kitchen and everything. Not that we’re doing any cooking—the room service here is awesome. Though even if it wasn’t Bangkok is full of incredible restaurants and food stalls. There’s fab food literally everywhere you go.

Yes, I have eaten some mangosteens, though they were sadly not the best. To be expected given that the season ended last month and they’re best when really fresh. Don’t be too sad for me though cause I still get to gorge myself on very fresh and yummy longan, dragon fruit, pineapple and mangoes. Yup, I know, life is harsh.

We’re not near Khao Sahn Road. Back-packing districts are typically not conducive to getting writing done. Where we are is dead quiet and peaceful, though that’s mostly because we’re on the twelfth floor . . The views are extensive!

We’re not near the river either. All part of keeping distractions to the minimum. In fact, we’ve done very little sightseeing thus far. Just walked around a bit at night on our way to dinner. We’ll probably do more exploring once we’ve got our writing rhythm going.

Which is what we’re here to do: write.

I’m working on the Great Australian, Elvis, Mangosteen, Monkey Knife-fighting, Cricket, Fairy, YA Novel. Indeed, I plan to finish the first draft while here.

Scott is working on . . . actually, I think what he’s working on is a secret. I’d ask him but he has his intense don’t-even-ask-me for-a-synonym-for-”effulgent” writing face on.

Hmm, that face makes me feel guilty. I shall return to my monkey knife-fighting fairies!

Thanks for all the well wishes. Lovely to hear from so many of you that you enjoyed the first two chapters of Magic’s Child!

Hear me speak!

The good folks at Penguin recorded me and Scott talking to each other a few weeks back and now

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.

I’d like to thank Ganda Suthivarakom for the excellent editing job that leaves out all the truly embarassing bits. Phew!

Naming

Someone was telling me recently about a writer who gets astrological charts done for all their characters and picks their names on the basis of that. So they know what year and date their character is born but not what their name is? Huh. Whatever works, I guess.

Me, I just grab the first one that comes to mind. So far this method has worked fine. Reason got her name instantly. It just made sense. Jay-Tee I picked cause it sounded American. I mean who other than Americans call people by their initials? And Tom, well, c’mon, it’s not exactly the world’s most unusual name, is it?

Surnames are marginally trickier. If I can’t think of one I’ll look at my bookshelf and pick whichever surname fits. Sometimes I’ll look through newspapers online and grab ‘em that way. I’m dead against having to get out of my chair to find names. (Reason’s family name was stolen from Rita Hayworth.)

I reckon people spend way too much time angsting about names (check out Scott’s latest book for lots of bandname angst). Nine times out of ten whatever name you randomly pick will end up working. This applies to babies, boats and pets as well as characters.

How many times have you thought a band name sounded really stupid? But the more you hear it, the more you get used to it, and the more natural it sounds. Scott always gives the example of the Beatles, which is a pretty dumb name when you think about it. Beetles spelt Beat-les as in musical beat. That’s so cutesie it winds up being completely lame. Or it would except that we’ve all heard it so many times the lameness is now invisible.

So it is with characters’ names. The only important rule (which is frequently ignored) is that if you’re writing a book with lots of names that aren’t going to be familiar to your readers make sure they begin with different letters. Cause you just know that readers are going to think of them as J unpronouncable, K likewise, L even worse and X are-you-insane. If they all begin with J—Jaquanatsuaa, Jatarganta, Juypghert and Jioplikaz, for example—your readers are not only going to be confused, they’ll want to kill you.

How do youse lot pick names for your characters? Or are you lot all as lazy as I am?

Scott Write Fast

I get asked a lot about how Scott manages to write as fast as he does. I guess people are too frightened to ask him. Or something.

I wonder about how fast Scott writes, too. But then I look at how many books Meg Cabot has out every year (by my count around five) and I wonder how come he writes so slow.

Here’s the background on the nine books he’ll have published from March 2004 to September 2006:

He started the first Midnighters book in early 2002. He’s since written books 2 & 3 of the Midnighters trilogy, So Yesterday, the three Uglies books, Peeps, The Last Days (which is my fave) and is well on his way with the first Leviathan book. That’s nine plus books in four and a bit years. Not quite as fast as the publishing schedule makes it look, but still plenty fast.

For comparison: during that time I’ve written four books—Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child (and I’m still rewriting), plus another book that didn’t work out—I’m also halfway through another one, and I’ve edited Daughters of Earth. Many would say that’s a decent output, but in that time Scott’s written five more books than I have. Five! (And, no, I’m not going to figure out how many books Meg Cabot published during that time.)

But he’s also been sick more often than me. Lots more and lots worse (shingles, anyone?). Writing that fast and that diligently—Scott, like Meg Cabot, writes really good books—isn’t sustainable. It broke his brain and his body. He’s on the mend now, and has a much less gruelling schedule ahead: only one book a year.

The problem is that when you write three or more books a year you never have time for anything else. You turn in the draft of one book and immediately have to turn to rewrites on another, then to checking copyedits, or page proofs on yet another. There’s never ever a break and eventually your brain blows up. (I’d love to know how Meg Cabot does it. Maybe she has clones.)

On the other hand, he could be making a living doing—I don’t know—pretty much anything else. Writing, afterall, is (mostly, or at least, sometimes) fun. Not to mention that Scott’s previous gruelling schedule is how come he’s now able to afford to write just one book a year (and under his own name too). Lots of gruel first before you can live a life of non-gruel. (If you’re lucky, that is.)

Writing fast, it turns out, can be amazing for your career. Having all those books out so fast is what made Scott a name in Young Adult lit land so quickly. If you have a bunch of books out every year your name is less likely to disappear off the face of the earth.

It’s why I plan to up my own productivity to two novels a year. You know, if I can actually write that fast and still produce words that hang together okay, which, obviously, remains to be seen. Not many people can. Writing fast isn’t a necessary ingredient for being a good writer. But it can help if you want to make a living as a writer.

Wish me luck!

Ignore your critics

A friend has a new book coming out soon and is dealing with being reviewed for the first time. She’s swinging from high to low and back again and trying to make sense of the contradictory takes on her words. Been there! So here’s my advice (which I wish I’d taken myself): ignore it.

I’ve had people tell me (repeatedly) that the MorM books are way too short, way too long, overwritten, underwritten, pretentious, condescending, annoyingly confusing, deliciously ambigious, beautifully written, badly written. That the Australian slang is confusing and distracting, that the slang is the best thing about the books. That Magic Lessons is crap compared to Magic or Madness, that Magic Lessons is heaps better than MorM. That the Reason/Jay-Tee/Tom bits are boring/the best part of the books. That Reason Cansino is way too sophisticated/too young for a fifteen year old.

What’s a gal sposed to do in the face of all of that?

Me, I’m slowly learning to only pay attention to the stuff that touches on what I was already concerned about. For example, the complaints from readers who bought Magic or Madness not knowing it was the first book of a trilogy and were then pissed when it didn’t resolve satisfactorily for them. Been there and experienced that.

Yup, the signal that MorM was first of a trilogy was very discretely hidden on the hardcover. It bugged the hell out of me. I wanted a big ole number one on the spine and “first book of the Magic or Madness Trilogy” emblazoned on the front cover. I was overruled by my publishers. Apparently when the first book of a trilogy by an unknown comes out with its triloginess prominently proclaimed it doesn’t sell as well as if you hide it. Selling stuff, apparently, is all about tricking people.

I’m determined that if I ever write another trilogy—which I’ve taken a vow not to do (hey, Libba, let’s keep the faith)—it will clearly be marked as such. But, who knows, I’ll probably get overruled by my publishers again. Sigh.

The writer can only control (most of the time) the words between the covers. We rarely control the way the book looks, how it’s marketed (or not), and we have absolutely no control over what people think of it.

Scott gets fan mail all the time saying how wonderful X book is, but that they hated the bit where their favourite character had something bad happen to them. Could he write another book where bad stuff doesn’t happen?

Um, yes, he could, but reading it would bore you into a coma.

Praise is nice, criticism can be helpful, but sometimes the best thing you can do is stop your ears and keep on writing.

Someone hand me the ear plugs!

Many people make book

Today Scott and me went into the Penguin offices to meet some of the people who sell, market and publicise our books. We ate yummy cheese, humus, tabouli, dolmades, grapes and strawberries, drank good (Aussie) wine and talked publishing.

We writers mostly work on our lonesome but we’re actually part of a team. A really big team. I have a lot of contact with my editors, Eloise Flood and Liesa Abrams, and some with the rest of the Razorbill team (especially Andy Ball and Margaret Wright), but much less with the other people who work on my books. Frankly, I’m not always sure what the folks in the other departments do. So it’s fabulous to meet the people from online marketing and discover that they’re starting to work on author podcasts. Would the two of us be interested in doing one? Would we be interested? Is the Australian men’s cricket team going to destroy England in the next Ashes? Yes, they are, and yes we’d love to do a podcast.

I was fascinated to hear just how much work goes into wrangling authors for big events like BEA (Book Expo America) and the big ALA (American Library Association) conferences. Wow, are we authors a pain! Collectively, I mean. Imagine trying to get many different authors to various different places in the space of eight or so hours. Not fun, eh? And even before we get to an event they’ve logged hours and hours making sure we’re available, organising us to get there, and setting up our schedules. A publicist’s (for BEA) and marketer’s (for ALA) work is never done.

We learned that at the last ALA meeeting they had put a two minute limit on kids giving testimonials about three particular authors cause they were so enthusiastic they’d have gone on for hours otherwise. One was Stephanie Meyer (author of Twilight and New Moon), the other one was someone really famous I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten, and the third one was—wait for it—Scott!! How cool is that?

It was also lovely to have people from non-editorial departments asking when they’ll get to see the third Magic or Madness book because they’d enjoyed the first two so much they were dying to read the final book in the trilogy. They work on many, many, many books every year, reading all them is impossible, so it’s a real compliment when they make an effort to read yours.

To recap: me author part of big team of editors, sellers, marketers, publicisers and others. (Though I’m still not entirely clear on the diff between selling and marketing. Anna explains how it works at Tor, but I get the feeling it works a bit differently at Penguin. One day I’ll understand, one day. . .)

My hero

Scott just hit his tenth anniversary as a freelance writer. Congratulations, Mr Hardest-Working-Writer-I-Know.

He shares some cool statistics. Here’s two:

  • in that time he’s published well over one million words (gulp!),
  • and it took him eight years—that’s right—eight years (!) before he was earning enough from writing under his own name to support himself.

Eight years is a loooong time and yet most writers don’t ever earn enough to (comfortably) quit their day job. Scott has done very good indeed. I’m so proud.

And now Italy!

Even while I’m away at a convention good news arrives: Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons just sold to Mondadori, the biggest publisher in Italy. Woo hoo!

I’m especially excited because I met the editor, Fiammetta Giorgi, in Bologna and she was not only elegant, cool and fun, but also had great taste. We talked for ages about our favourite young adult writers such as Holly Black and Diana Wynne Jones. And now I’m going to be part of her Dark Magic series. Yay!

Mondadori also publishes Scott, so we’re now published by the same company in the US of A (Razorbill/Penguin), Australia (Penguin), France (Editions du Panama), Brazil (Editora Record) and now Italy. How cool is that?

Magic or Madness has now sold in eight different countries and Magic Lessons in six.

Scott’s Listing

I am now the wife of a New York Times bestselling author! Oh my Elvis! Specials is number six and we here in the Larbalestier/Westerfeld household are over the moon. The congrats are flooding in from all over and champagne will be drunk in large quantities tonight. Woo hoo!

But what does this actually mean? Don’t worry you’re not alone asking. Several of my non-publishing friends—yes, I do have them—have also asked why it’s such a big deal.

The New York Times bestsellers list is one of the oldest lists going and definitely the most prestigious. It doesn’t matter that there’s a whiff of dodginess about how it’s compiled. As Scott points out, there ain’t a bestseller list in the world that reflects the true number of books sales out there in the real world. The real world is too messy, too big, and too unquantifiable. Bless the real world! In the meantime what we have is the New York Times list.

Whatever the reality of actual numbers, being on that list mean a book is selling more than somewhat and it is doing that in the shops that report to the New York Times.

Becoming a New York Times bestselling author means having those words appear on the front cover of all that writer’s books for the rest of their life. From now on it won’t be Scott Westerfeld making appearances—it’ll be New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld visiting your library or school.

In most publishing houses the amount of money spent promoting the New York Times bestselling author’s books will escalate. Some writers have contracts with a clause giving them a bonus should their book make the NYT list. Many are convinced it also increases the chances of actually being reviewed in the New York Times.

Rumours abound that Hollywood executives (or at least their scouts) automatically option every book that makes it on to the NYT list no matter how unfilmable. I know the Jane Austen Book Club was so optioned and while it’s one of my favourite books of all time I really can’t imagine it making a good film. But then I thought The Hours was unfilmable. (The Uglies trilogy on the other hand . . . )

It also means that the agent of the NYT bestselling author (NYTBA) gets to ask for more money for their next book and a better contract with less joint accounting and more rights retained. I believe they can also insist that gold petals descend from the ceiling whenever the NYTBA visits their publisher’s offices and that they only take the NYTBA (+ spouse!) to the very best restaurants and ply them with Krug champagne.

But way better than all of that is knowing that lots and lots of people are reading and loving Scott’s books. We’ve known that for awhile from the quantity of fanmail he gets and all the effusive comments on his blog. Listing in the Times is a big ole confirmation of that love.

I know exactly how all those Scott Westerfeld fans feel because I’m one, too. Go Specials!

What is it about romance?

For months now Scott’s been getting stacks and stacks of queries from fans all desperate for the final book in the Uglies trilogy so that they can find out which boy the protag, Tally, ends up with: David or Zane? (Check out the “reviews” here for an idea of what I’m talking about.) I’m starting to get my own trickle of mail asking about who Reason winds up with. (Satan! She winds up with Satan!—Just kidding.1)

How did we get so obsessed with relationships? With who’s zooming who? What gives?

Is it possible to write a popular novel series that’s romance free? I’m trying to think of one and I’m failing. It’s hard to even think of romance-free standalones.

Is romance the genre that arches over all others? I think it is. More than any other genre it’s the one that works its tendrils into everything. Way back when, I remember reading an article that argued that scientific papers about conception frequently get taken over by romance motifs with the damsel-in-distress egg being rescued by the valiant knight-in-shining-armour sperm, which you’ll all be shocked to hear is not actually how conception works.

Is the dominance of romance a bad thing? Should I worry that my trilogy is now being shipped? (Mostly Reason & Tom.) I certainly didn’t conceive of the trilogy that way. I thought the question of who would survive the magic-or-madness conundrum was the driving force, but judging from letters and convos with folks that ain’t foremost in their minds.

Yet as a reader I’m a total shipper. I’m still cranky Rhett told Scarlett to bugger off. (Hey, did you ever notice that they both have a double t? How surreal is that?) I kind of want Rebecca and Bois-Guilbert to wind up together (whenever I re-read Ivanhoe I skip all the bits without them.) I totally bought into all the Buffy shipping, despite my favourite relationship—Cordelia & Xander—not lasting long.

So why was I not thinking romance when I started writing my trilogy? What is this weird writer v reader split I seem to have going?

What do you lot reckon? Any response to any of these questions is most welcome.

PS Many thanks for all the thoughtful responses to my quessies about violence to animals in books.

  1. Or maybe I’m not kidding . . .

    No, really, I’m totally kidding.

    Maybe. []