On Writing Short Stories

I find writing short stories much, much harder than writing novels.

Every time I say so someone looks at me as if I have lost my mind and says something along the lines of:

But novels are so much longer than short stories!

That is true.

The shortest length people give for a novel is usually around 50,000 words. Though pretty much only YA and Children’s goes that short and still calls it a novel.

The longest length I’ve seen given for a short story is 30,000 words.

So, yes, novels absolutely are longer than short stories.

However, I do not find the number of words I’m dealing with the most challenging thing about writing fiction.1 In fact, the more words you have, the more space you have.

Look it at this way, when you tell a story to a friend, if it’s about people they don’t know, the first thing you have to do is explain who the people are, then you have to explain where the story takes place, and then, and only then, can you tell the story.

The less the person you’re telling the story to knows about the who, where, or when of the story the more you have to tell them in order to tell the story.

Say I’m telling my sister a story about mutual friends. It could go something like this:

Magpie did that thing again. Yeah, in front of everyone, and you know what her dad’s like.2

Seventeen words and my sister is laughing her arse off. But if I was telling that story for an audience that doesn’t know Magpie, or what “that thing” is, or who “everyone” are, or what her dad’s like, then it’s going to take considerably longer.

When you’re writing a short story, mostly your audience isn’t going to know anything. They won’t know who your characters are, where they are, or what’s going on. You have to convey all of that to them in not many words. The fewer words you have the harder it can be. You start having to make decisions about what the audience really needs to know. If you’re telling your story set in a world that’s not like ours then it’s even harder.

Obviously, I’m speaking of how I write and tell stories. There are writers who are naturally spare with words, who have never struggled to say everything they wanted to say in a mere three thousand words. I’m not one of them.

What mostly happens to me when I start a short story is that it turns out to be too big for that small frame. My fourth novel, How To Ditch Your Fairy began life as a short story. I was writing it for a series Penguin Australia does called Chomps, which are around, I think, 20,000 words. It swiftly became apparent that it was not a short story. Too many characters, too much world building, too much going on. The final novel was 65,000 words. Which is not a particularly long novel but it is not a short story by anybody’s measure. 20,000 words did not allow me the space to tell the story I wanted to tell.

I find that all that extra space makes the novel a much more forgiving form than the short story. A novel doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful; a story needs to be pretty close to perfect.

Think of it this way: a few mistakes on a huge, detailed quilt are not nearly as glaring as mistakes on one square of that quilt that you hold in your hands. Your eyes can only take in so much with a large scale detailed work like a quilt, or a novel. But with a small square, or a short story, the flaws are glaring.

When I write a short story I want every single sentence to be perfect. Obviously, I’d like that for my novels as well but I know it to be impossible. (A novel is, after all, a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.) Because a short story is smaller, I wind up spending way more time going over and over and over and over and over every clause, every sentence, every paragraph, trying to make them perfect. Even though I know perfection is impossible.

Short stories do my head in.

I have yet to write a single short story I am happy with. Obviously, if I could go back in time there are things I’d change about my novels, but I’m basically happy with them. They don’t itch at me with their many imperfections the way my short stories do. And they don’t take me nearly as long to write either. I have many short stories I’ve been working on for more than thirty years.

I’ve been given loads of great advice over the years from wonderful short story writers such as Karen Joy Fowler and Margo Lanagan.3 Margo keeps telling me to stop trying to tell the whole story and hone in on the most important part.

Makes perfect sense, right? But it turns out I can’t do that because I don’t know what the story is until I’ve written it by which time it’s a novel not a short story. I’m one of those writers who works out what they’re writing on the page. I don’t outline, I just type.

I have learned to accept that I’m not a short story writer, I’m a novelist. Many writers are good at one and not the other. Many are good at both such as the aforementioned Karen Joy Fowler and Margo Lanagan. There’s no shame in not being able to write short stories, or not being able to write novels. It is what it is.

So there you have it. That is why I find writing short stories much harder than writing novels.

Tl;dr: Short stories are too damned short not enough space! Also: perfection evades me. I have novel brain.

  1. Though, yes, that does have it’s challenges. []
  2. Names and genders and relationships may have been changed. []
  3. And, yes, they’re not bad at novels either. A bit rude really to be good at everything. []

Dismissing Whole Genres

A few days ago I tweeted this:

I am sick of people who’ve never read a romance or a YA novel casually dismissing the entire genres. Do some research, you tedious people.

It was in response to yet another casual dismissal of YA in the middle of a discussion about something else entirely. So often does this happen, particularly in regard to romance, that I scarcely even register it anymore.

I’m happy for people to hate whatever they want to hate. Go, for it. I mean, yes, I think it’s kind of silly to dismiss an entire genre. All genres have good and bad and mediocre examples. Yes, including, Ye Mighty Literachure. I could give you a long list of literary writers I think are awful and/or overrated. Living and dead.

I can give you the same list for every genre with which I am familiar. Yes, including YA and romance.

What bugs me is when the people doing the dismissing have no idea what they’re talking about. Such as this ancient op ed by Maureen Down where she dismisses chicklit on the basis of a handful of books and the only one she actually quotes from, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, isn’t even chicklit.

What Dowd and her ilk are really saying is:

I only read good books. Because I am endowed (pun absolutely intended) with a superior mind, which those poor pea-brained readers and writers of chicklit/romance/YA/fantasy etc will never understand. I pity them. And must do so as publicly and often as I can. Or how will everyone know of my vast superiority?

And, yes, the go-to genres for dismissal to prove superiority are almost always ones tainted by girl germs.

Though science fiction also has a long history of being in this category. I would argue, however, it has started the journey towards respectability. That path upon which crime fiction is much further along. Yes, there are still people ignorantly dismissing both these genres but not as much as they used to.

Lots of people don’t read particular genres because they don’t like them. Well and good. I don’t like cosy mysteries at all. I’ve bounced off several highly recommended, gorgeously written ones. They just don’t do it for me. I don’t like their neatly wrapped endings. I don’t like, well, their coziness. I like my crime fiction gritty and disturbing.

I know people who don’t like romance because of the happy endings. I’ve heard them complain that it’s like the whole genre is a spoiler. If it’s published as a romance the two protags will get together by the end of the book. Whereas if they read a book that has a romance in it but within the context of another genre there’s the possibility that it will end miserably. Narrative tension!1

I know heaps of people who really only like realism and non-fiction. They don’t have the reading protocols for fantasy or science fiction. They can’t get past the whole zombies, dragons etc are real thing. I feel sad for them, but I get it. They don’t judge me for loving fantasy. They’re just kind of bewildered.

I have said more than once that I hate science fiction. Most recently on Twitter:

See, I get to hate science fiction because I spent a billion years of my life reading it: the good, the bad & the mediocre. #stupidPhd

Yes, writing my PhD on science fiction and particularly focussing on excruciatingly bad examples of the genre turned me off the whole genre. Even though when I started Ursula LeGuin was one of my favourite writers. She still is. But the book of hers I wrote about for my PhD, Left Hand of Darkness, I haven’t read it since and it is one of the best books the genre has ever produced. One I used to reread regularly. I still highly recommend it. She’s a genius.

So even though Scott writes science fiction, as do many of my closest friends, and even though I myself have written a science fiction-ish novel. Yes, even though I love many sf books and films and tv shows, I react with dread and trembling to those two words together: Science + Fiction. GET IT AWAY FROM ME. The flashbacks! They burn!

No, it’s not rational at all. But at least I know what I’m talking about. Science fiction, oh I has read it. More to the point I do not think less of those who love sf best of all.

I wish people like Maureen Dowd would look at their motivations for dismissing a whole genre. That they would actually think before they open their mouths, ask themselves some pertinent questions:

Am I dismissing this genre of which I have read few examples, and those culled randomly from a bookshelf, without getting recommendations from people who know and love that genre, because I want to feel superior?

If the answer is yes then perhaps that says more about me than it does about the genre in question. Perhaps I am cooking the results before beginning the research? Perhaps I should shut my mouth on this subject in future?

I don’t care if they cling to their ignorance and prejudice. All I ask is that they stop blathering their nonsense in places where I can hear them or read them.

Bored now.

  1. I would argue that good romance has loads of narrative tension but it’s generated by the “how” not by the “if”. []

Arse-kicking Protags Who No Longer Study

This comment from Rachel on my post of the other day:

This is a big issue in the Urban Fantasy genre too. I’ve started more than one series where the MC, despite being thirty-something with a job and developed asskicking abilities, has zero friends and no previous relationships. (Teacher of asskicking? No, conveniently dead just like other parental figures? What about cowor- no there too? Not even other independent psychic investigators? Okay, then. Friends? Okay, okay. Just asking.)

Rachel put her finger on something that drives me nuts in many movies/tv shows/books etc. The mighty arse-kicking protag who is the master of many martial arts but no longer studies any of them. They’ve had their training montage and now their skills are perfected and they never need to study again.

Seriously? How does anyone buy that? I mean even a slight sports fan knows that all the top athletes have armies of coaches and trainers and work really hard to improve even when they’re ranked number one in the entire universe.

I have studied two different martial arts: fencing and boxing. My fencing instructors, while instructing beginner me, were themselves still studying both with top fencing instructors in Australia but they would also go to master classes in Italy and France.

My boxing trainer makes a special trip out to the USA once a year to work with her trainer. She’s won titles and has many students of her own and yet she’s still training and working with her guru. And he, in turn, who is a master of several martial arts, continues to learn other martial arts and to train with other masters, swapping techniques. Which he then incorporates into his own teaching.

Funny how often that doesn’t happen in fiction.

I do sometimes wonder if the way learning is represented in popular culture—you study hard for about ten minutes and then magically you are perfected!—is part of why so many people give up when learning something new because they aren’t perfect at it within the space of a training montage. Could it be why so many people think they can just sit down and write a perfect New York Times-bestselling novel without having written so much as a haiku previously?

Probably not. We people are often pretty lazy. But those popular culture tropes sure aren’t helping.

In conclusion: learning to box is awesome.

Epiphanies, Other Opinions and Listening

Went for a long walk yesterday through Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Paddington, Rushcutters Bay. It’s spring here and almost everywhere smelt like jasmine.1 The sounds weren’t quite as lovely. Spring seems to be the season of renovations in Paddington so the hills were alive with the sound of jackhammers. That and really pissed off birds. One of which shat right in front of me: had I been a fraction faster . . . splat of eww on my head.2

Mostly I was thinking about Sekrit Project, which I’ve been rewriting since THE DAWN OF TIME and seems to be getting no closer to as GOOD AS IT IS IN MY HEAD.

Hence the walk. I figured change of environment, a bit of movement, colour, jasmine, jackhammers, and the way to fix this book would become clear. Not so much.

Got back home with no clear plan for the broken chapters, nibbled around the edges of them, tinkering at the sentence level, which helps pretty much not at all given most of those sentences will be nuked. After an hour of frustration and little forward momentum I stomped off for another long walk. This time with Scott.

And it was fun. Much talk was talked. Yummy food was eaten. Centennial Park was admired.

Plan to fix book was not hatched.

Not exactly.

My early readers—including Scott—were unanimous that the second point of view character does not have their first pov chapter until too late in the book. It’s taken weeks of ignoring that suggestion and several long walks for me to realise that, yes, they’re probably right and if I fix that then solutions to some of the other problems may be clearer.

Or might not. But the first third of the book will definitely be in better shape.

Yesterday I was annoyed I hadn’t just made the changes as soon as they were suggested. Today I figure it took as long as it took to realise they were necessary. I can’t make changes I don’t believe will fix the book.

Maybe changing the pov early on was not the solution I needed a few weeks ago. I’ve fixed many other problems in the book since my first readers got back to me. Could be I wasn’t able to see that the pov needed changing until the other fixes had been made.

This is why I find it so crucial to have other people read and comment on my first drafts. Even if I think their reading of my manuscript is loopy. Their responses let me gauge how close my book is to what I intended. As I rewrite I’m moving closer to my vision of the novel as bounced off the reactions of those early readers. Some of their comments that I dismissed as irrelevant wind up being very relavant the deeper into the rewrites I go.

This last week I wasted a lot of time banging my head and getting no where and waiting for an epiphany: a flash of genius that would magically show me how to fix that which is broken. Which did not happen. I’m sure they do happen for other writers but I seem to be more of a Slow Realiser than a Receiver of Epiphanies.

Yet despite having written multiple novels I still have it in my stupid head that when I’m stuck there’ll be an epiphany that will fix everything. I think I’ve seen too many cartoons where ideas manifest as electric bulbs over characters’ heads.

Sadly, my writing life seems to be electric-bulb-over-the-head-free. For me it’s always been this fix leads to this bit being changed which leads to this other fix being needed which leads to this other change which means the front bit has to be moved which means . . . cascades of changes.

It’s less easy than it looks. I keep wishing it were the other way around.

I am so grateful to Scrivener which allows me to keep track of everything. Seriously have no idea how I wrote a novel before Scrivener.

In conclusion: writing is hard.

  1. Sorry, Margo, but it truly did. []
  2. No, I don’t care that it’s meant to be good luck. []

State of the RSI

Since so many of you have kindly inquired about how I’m doing1 I figured best to answer you all in a post. Also Sarah Zarr recently posted about her own trials and tribulations, which reminded me yet again of how common these injuries are.

Yes, I am still dealing with pain. My RSI2 has not improved, but it has not gotten worse, and I have learned to manage it by getting strong and fitter, with physical therapy, and by limiting keyboard time and making my work space totally ergonomic. All of that has had all sorts of other health benefits. I am in amazing shape,3 which really does make everything else easier and less stressful. Though the time & money involved in all of that is scary. I recognise that I am very lucky to be able to afford to deal with this. There are plenty who can’t.

However, probably the most important thing for me over the last year or so has been realising that this is forever. That if I don’t maintain my fitness and core strength and manage the pain it will get worse. But even if I do all that it’s not necessarily going away. Accepting that management was the best I could do was really hard and incredibly depressing. But once I did accept that it made everything a lot easier. I stopped waiting for the magic cure, stopping putting stuff on hold, and got on with the rest of my life.

Some days it gets me down. But mostly it doesn’t. I am especially feeling good right now because I am nearing the end of the first draft of my first solo novel4 since Liar which I finished writing in 2008. Long time between drinks, eh?

So that’s where I am at. For those of you who are starting to have the first little twinges of pain from writing—I beg of you—do something about it right now! Actually, for anyone writing long hours every day take frequent breaks,5 make sure you are set up ergonomically, take at least a day off writing a week, though two is better, get fit! Seriously, it will see you through to a long and pain-free writing life.

Which is what we all want, right?

  1. I appreciate it. Thank you. It really makes a difference to know that I’m not alone with this. []
  2. Repetitive strain injury. Basically RSI describes a whole host of different conditions that are caused by a repetitive action such as typing. But many others get RSI too: house painters, factory workers etc. etc. []
  3. If I don’t say so myself. *cough* []
  4. That’s right the real work is about to begin! Can’t wait. []
  5. Drink loads of water so you need to pee a lot. It’s an excellent way of ensuring many breaks. []

Australian Slang

This post was requested by @WanderinDreamr. My apologies for its crapness.

So, it turns out I really don’t have a lot to say about Australian slang. Or rather I don’t have anything to say that wouldn’t bore you. I did start writing this post and it rapidly turned into an old person cranky rant about how US slang is overtaking Australian slang. For example:

Why do Oz teenagers not know that “rooting for your team” is not something Aussies do because typically it’s not an activity that helps other people. I mean not unless they’re taking part, which, well, let’s not go there. Aussies “barrack” for their team. Except that I keep hearing Aussies under twenty-five using “root” in the US meaning of the word. AND IT FILLS MY HEART WITH DESPAIR. Why take on the language of the Yankee infidels? Why abandon your own rich and glorious venacular?! What is wrong with you?!

Which was only going to end with me waving my cane around and screaming at kids to get off my non-existent lawn. Not to mention fill me with shame because tedious adults were ranting about the exact same thing when I was a kid. And according to older friends of mine, not to mention my parents, they where hearing rants about insidious US English taking over the Australian vernacular from the 1940s onwards.

I so do not want to be that person. *shudder* I rejoice in the vibrant living, changing thing that is language.

Not to mention that some of our words are spreading out beyond our shores. “Bogan” for instance is now in the OED:

An unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, esp. regarded as being of low social status

And apparently not only has “bogan” spread from Victoria to the rest of the country but it’s made the leap over the Tasman to New Zealand. Hey, Kiwis, are there old cranky people waving their canes and yelling at you lot not to start using Aussie slang? Or do they just rant against US slang too?

Though I would argue with that definition of “bogan.” While there’s definitely a class component to it. I don’t think it neatly fits with whether the person labelled thus is poor or not. I.e. of “low social status”. There are many people who would get called “bogan” who are very well off indeed. Though I guess the modification of “cashed up” takes care of that.

What are your favourite examples of Australian slang? Living or dead examples. I admit to loving “smoodge,” “drongo,” “as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike,” “zambuck,” “daggy,” “date,” and “bosker”. Some of which are so obsolete you probably won’t be able to google them and others of which I say on a daily basis. And, no, not giving you definitions. Research! It’s good for you.

In conclusion: GET OFF MY LAWN!!!

July: Blogging A Lot Month (Updated)

I have decided to put this here voice recognition software to the test in the month of July by blogging every day.1 Yes, I will blog every single day of July 2012.

Tell Me What To Blog

If there’s anything you would like me to blog about please let me know! The comments are below in the manner of most blogs.2

I’ve had a few suggestions on Twitter:

@SirTessa wants me to write a complete post without correcting any of the voice recognition software mistakes. I WILL DEFINITELY DO THAT.

@WanderinDreamr wants me to write about Australian slang “the rest of the world is confused by”. My problem with that is, well, how am I supposed to know? Australian slang does not confuse me. Though I do love many of the words that are unique to these fine shores so I may just write about my favourite ones.

@ben_rosenbaum suggested I blog tongue twisters on account of the voice recognition software. I am ignoring him.

@nalohopkinson wanted me to “opine on bubble skirts”. How could I resist writing a horrors & joys of fashion post? Oh, bubble skirt, I shall SO opine about you.

I also recently got into a discussion on twitter—inspired by this Jennifer Crusie post—about the extent to which an editor can rewrite their authors. I think NOT AT ALL. Turns out that people mean different things by “rewriting”. I spluttered about on twitter in a way that I think was mostly confusing. A post is in order to clarify my thoughts. @pmattessi requested that I “mention things like whether eds should be credited? And also your thoughts on Carver’s editor.” He comes from the tv side of the writing world, which operates very differently from novel writing. I suspect my post will be about the writer/editor relationship with a little touch of the thankless work of the copyeditor.

Another interesting discussion concerned the way English-speaking cultures are so full of hatred for children & teenagers and how that is not the case in places like Spain, Italy, and Thailand.3

Many years ago I promised a post about writing dialogue. If any of you still want such a post I may attempt to finish it. It’s just that it’s hard because I’m not really sure how I write dialogue. You know, other than I type it and make sure there are quote marks around it. (And sometimes I use italics if it’s dialogue that’s not being directly said.)

Is challenging voice recognition software the only reason for blogging every day of July?

Nope. I really miss blogging. Not blogging hardly at all for such a long time has left me with many pent up THOUGHTS and FEELINGS that do not fit on twitter. I miss sharing them with you. But mostly I miss the wonderful crew of commenters who once hung out here. I miss your wit and your wisdom and your snark and your sincerity and your sarcasm and your silliness. I am hoping some of you will return. Even though blogs are so beginning-of-this-century and everyone’s on twitter and tumblr these days. I don’t care. I’m an old-fashioned girl. I still love them.

Also my newest book, Team Human, written with Sarah Rees Brennan, will be published on 2 July in Australia and New Zealand and 3 July in Canada and the USA. This means I will be doing a fair number of interviews and the like about said book all over the internets. But while I love TH dearly and am very proud of it and over the moon with joy that the early responses to the book have been so positive the idea of talking about it non-stop for a month makes me feel a bit tired. This will be my online respite.

A Digression

It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it, that by the time a book is published and it’s time to publicise it we authors have spent so much time with the book that it’s the last thing in the world we want to talk about. When I’m really itching to talk about my books is during the drive towards the finish of the first draft—when I know I’m going to finish it and talking about it won’t jinx it and the book becomes the only thing in the world I want to talk about. And—most of all—during the first few rewrites when it has become the only thing in the world I can talk about.

Unfortunately that is when very few people have read it and they’re all bored with me asking them questions about what they thought of the world building or the main characters and whether they think I should get rid of the gilded-wings subplot or expand the diabolic-exploding-hairclip subplot. They are so over my book and, by extension me, in fact, that if I ring them they no longer pick up. And my emails to them start to bounce. Waaaaaahhhh!!!!!!!

Fortunately there’s Scott and my lovely agent Jill and my editor who are always happy to talk endlessly about my book during these times. Bless them!

In Conclusion

In July I will blog a lot.

Update: @Marrije has also requested via Twitter that I “do a post on How To Find The Good Food In Any City? Isn’t this your superpower? Can you teach us?”

@MalindaLo has requested: “I blog about twitter etiquette: the good, the bad, the ugly.”

  1. Except weekends. Cause, come on, no one is on the intramanets on the weekend. Scientific fact. []
  2. I thought about having them above but my web designer said no. []
  3. And I’m sure in many other places I’ve not been to. []

You don’t have to read my books

To my friends, acquaintances & family: you do not have to read my books! Truly. My being a writer is not meant to oppress you in any way! Read what you want or don’t want. Forget I write books at all! Be free!

Okay, scratch that, family, you do have to! But everyone else is in the clear.

Reading an entire book is a big time commitment. And the older you get the more painfully aware you become that you are not going to be able to read all the books you want to before you die. It’s a very long time since I finished a book I wasn’t enjoying. If it’s not grabbing me within a page or two then we are done.1

It’s also a long time since I’ve picked up a book in a genre that doesn’t interest me. I have loads of friends with zero interest in YA. That’s cool. I’ve known people who write genres I have zero interest in—cosy mysteries—and I don’t read them. I would never in a million years expect any of you2 to read one of my books because you felt you had to on account out of our friendship/acquaintanceship3. Trust me, I wouldn’t read a book of yours unless I thought I’d like it. Feel free to treat mine likewise.

When I first started meeting writers I would always make an effort to read their books. If I liked them, I mean. But, well, here’s the awkward thing. A few of those writers,4 who I adored?

I hated their books.

And then there’s this whole awkwardness as you try to reconcile their awesomeness with the dreadfulness of their book and you can’t and you think about them differently than you did and it would never have happened if you hadn’t been so stupid as to read their book in the first place.

On the other hand, if you read them and they’re a total genius you find yourself staring at said writer as they tell a deeply stupid fart joke5 and wondering if they really did write those books. Reconciling the genius with the regular everyday person is also odd. Why do they not have a genius radiance to them?

Just because I am a writer does not mean you have to read my writing. I have friends who are lawyers who I do not hire, editors and agents who neither edit nor agent for me. I have friends in all sorts of different sectors with whom I rarely have conversations about their working lives and vice versa.

Yes, writing’s a big part of my life. But it’s not the only part and it’s not all I am. You don’t need to read my books to hold a conversation with me. I can talk about cooking, gardening, a multitude of sports, I’m well-versed in politics in at least two countries and have a decent grasp of many other topics—especially fashion and what you should and should not be wearing. Honestly, there are very few things I don’t have an opinion on. I even enjoy talking about the weather.6

And, honestly, talking about my books is just about the last thing in the world I want to do. I mean, I’m thrilled that there are people who have stuff to say about books I wrote. That’s incredible.7 But by the time my books are published I’ve already talked about them a billion times with Scott and Jill (my agent) and with their editor and I’ve done interviews about them and told school kids and book store owners and librarians about them. Even though all of that can be incredibly enjoyable I do wind up being completely over my own books. I’d much rather talk about someone else’s books. Like Courtney Milan’s say. I love talking about the subversive things she does with romance.

Many of my non-writer friends feel the same way. When they’re socialising they don’t want to relive their work day. They don’t want to talk about accounting or waiting tables or banking or gardening or whatever else it is they do to make money. They want to forget about it, speak of other things, gossip, and relax.

On top of that there’s the whole homework thing. “I bought your book!” Someone will tell me and then every time I see them after that they’ll say, “Still haven’t read it yet. But I’ll get to it. Sorry! I really hoped to get to it before now.” I keep expecting them to say: “I’m so sorry but my dog ate your book. Otherwise I would have totally read it by now!”

Gah! You don’t have to read it. No one’s going to test you on it. Certainly not me. If you really feel you must read something of mine: there’s this here blog. Some of the entries are way short. Or how about my twitter feed? Even shorter.

In conclusion: don’t even think about wearing this outfit.

The end.

  1. Okay, often I don’t get past the first paragraph. I know. I’m terrible. Oh, I should be totally honest many times I can’t get past the cover. []
  2. Except my immediate family. []
  3. Is that a word? []
  4. Very few. I seem to have the mostly-meet-good-writers fairy. []
  5. As opposed to deeply genius fart jokes. There are many! []
  6. I’m not kidding. My favourite phone app has a state of the art radar so I can watch the rain coming in. What? Weather is interesting, people. []
  7. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how amazing it is that anyone reads my books who isn’t related to me. It is a joy. []

Team Human Fanart

Team Human has its first piece of fan art and it hasn’t even been published yet! I am beside myself with excitement. Seriously, I screamed when Sarah Rees Brennan tweeted it.

Unlike many of my YA author friends, my books do not attract a lot of fan art. It would be more accurate to say that they attract almost no fan art at all. Seriously click on the fan art category for this blog and see how little there is. Now go over to Scott’s blog and check out his Fan Art Fridays. Or check out the paucity on deviantART.1

I’ve put it below the cut because it’s spoilery and if you’re anything like me you don’t want to read anything that might even possibly lead to the vague chance of spoilification. So really don’t look at it! Continue reading

  1. Not that I do that and not that I weep salty tears when I don’t do that. []

Why I Cannot Write a Novel With Voice Recognition Software (Updated x 3)

Every time I mention my RSI people suggest that I use voice recognition software. I do use it. And though I hate it I know that it has transformed gazillions of people’s lives. There are people who literally could not write without it. For them VRS is a wonderful transformative thing. Bless, voice recognition software!

I am well aware that what VRS is trying to do is unbelievably complicated. Recognising spoken language and reproducing it as written language is crazy hard.1 The way we make sense of what someone says is not just about recognising sounds. We humans (and other sentient beings) are also recognising context and bringing together our extensive knowledge of our own culture every time we have a conversation. And even then there are mishearings and misunderstandings. Also remember one of the hardest things for VRS is for it to distinguish between the speaker’s sounds and other noises. Humans have no problem with that.

I know my posts here about VRS have been cranky so I’ll admit now that there are moments when I almost don’t hate it: VRS is a much better speller than I am. That’s awesome. And sometimes its mistakes are so funny I fall over laughing. Who doesn’t appreciate a good laugh?

I use VRS only for e-mails and blog posts. And sometimes when I chat. But I usually end up switching to typing because it simply cannot keep up with the pace of those conversations and I can’t stand all the delays as I try to get it to type the word I want or some proximity thereof. But mostly I don’t chat much anymore.

But I gave up almost straight away on using it to write novels. Here’s why:


1. The almost right word is the wrong word for fiction.

Near enough SIMPLY WILL NOT DO. I cannot keep banging my head against the stupid software getting it to understand that the word that I want is “wittering” NOT “withering.” THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING.

Recently it refused to recognise the word “ashy.” Now, I could have said “grey.” But guess what? I did not mean “grey” I meant “ashy.”

The almost right word is fine for an e-mail. Won’t recognise how I say “fat”? Fine, I’ll say “rotund” or “corpulent” or whatever synonym I can come up with that VRS does recognise. “I’m going to eat a big, corpulent mango” works fine for an e-mail. However, it will not do for fiction.2

2. Flow is incredibly important.

Most of my first drafts are written in a gush of words as the characters and story come flowing out of me. Having to start and stop as I correct the VRS errors, and try to get it to write what I want it to write, interrupts my flow, throw me out of the story I’m trying to write, and makes me forget the gorgeously crafted sentence that was in my head ten seconds ago.

Now, yes, when I’m typing that gorgeously crafted sentence in my head it frequently turns out to not be so gorgeously crafted but, hey, that’s what rewriting is for. And when I’m typing the sentence it always has a resemblance to its platonic ideal. With VRS if I don’t check after every clause appears I wind up with sentences like this:

    Warm artichoke had an is at orange night light raining when come lit.

Rather than

    When Angel was able to emerge into the orange night Liam’s reign was complete.

Which is a terrible sentence but I can see what I was going for and I’ll be able to fix it. But that first sentence? Leave it for a few minutes and I’ll have no clue what I was trying to say.

However, checking what the VRS has produced after Every Single Clause slows me down and ruins the flow.

3. It’s too slow.

I am medium fast typist. I’ve been typing since I was fourteen. I can get words down way faster and more accurately than VRS.3 Its slowness is very, very frustrating and is yet another factor that messes with my flow when writing.

Obviously, none of this is a huge problem for e-mail. I do persevere with it for blogging too despite the fact that means I am at most blogging once a month. Using VRS for those kinds of writings does save my arms. I’m grateful.

But for my novel writing? It’s a deal breaker. I can’t do it.

VRS is going to have to take giant strides to get to a point where it allows me to write fiction without grief and frustration and the hurling of head sets across the room.

Again, I’m really glad that it has helped so many of you. I have been hearing lots of wonderful stories about the ways VRS has changed lives since I started writing cranky posts about it. That’s all fabulous.

But for me? No, not yet.

Update: I should have also noted that every time I write one of these posts I get lots of people trying to help. That is very sweet of you and I totally get why. I have the same impulse. We all want to make things better.4

But, yes, it is also kind of annoying and overly helpy. This has been going on for years now. You can safely assume that unless you are suggesting a very recent breakthrough or a very left-field obscure idea—WEAR A ROTTEN WOMBAT ON YOUR HEAD—I have heard it all before and tried it all.5

So if you were wondering—everything suggested in the comments?—been there, done that.

Update the Second

Am getting many folks telling me that the error rate in the orange night example above is crazy high. You got me. I deliberately chose a super bad example because it’s funnier. My bad. Next time I rant about this I promise to choose a less crazy and amusing one, okay?

Funny thing, though, even the best VRS error rate I’ve ever managed is incredibly annoying and slows me down.

Update the Third

Thanks so much for all the lovely letters & comments of sympathy, support, me toos, and commiseration. Means the world to me.

  1. Very few humans are one hundred per cent accurate at the task. Even court reporters make occasional mistakes. []
  2. Actually I’m now thinking of all sorts of ways in which it would work for fiction but you get my point, people. []
  3. And, wow, am I not the world’s most accurate typist. []
  4. Unless we have an evil streak a mile wide. Ha! VRS rendered “a mile wide” as “a mild way.” Bless. []
  5. Well, not the wombat thing. But only because I can’t get past the smell of roadkill. And the fear of putrescence dripping down my face. []

Last Day of 2011 (Updated)

This is my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life in that year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2012. I do this so I can have a handy record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” tag.)

This was not a fabulous year for me but it was a whole lot worse for so many other people around the world that whingeing would be tacky. I’ll focus on the good:

Finally, finally, finally we were able to announce, Sarah Rees Brennan and I, that we wrote a book together, Team Human, which is all about how having your best friend fall in love with a vampire SUCKS.1 We had to keep that secret for well over a year and it nearly killed us. It comes out in July in Australia (with Allen & Unwin) and in the United States of America (with Harper Collins). Oh, and it’s totally a real book and not a hoax despite what that lying minx Maureen Johnson says. See, actual real people have read it!

Sarah Rees Brennan has been crazy busy. Not only did she write a book with me but she also sold a whole new trilogy. The first book, Unspoken, will be out in September 2012. (Yes, she has two books out within three months of each other. Yes, she has superpowers.)

It’s SRB’s best book so far. I loved her Demon trilogy2 but Unspoken is even better. I cannot wait for more people to read it so we can all talk about the fantastic things she does with all those delicious Gothic tropes. Seriously, it’s wonderful and I’m convinced that SRB is going to start a Gothic revival.3 In fact, SRB’s made me want to write my own Gothic, which obviously I will have to dedicate to her. It will have an insane house that . . . oh, actually, I think Shirley Jackson wrote that book. Hmmm. I guess I should update that list of writing goals to include Gothic.

Books out this year

There were no new books by me in 2011. It was the first time since 2005 that I went book-less. Turns out I am no longer capable of a book a year. And to think I once attempted two books a year. It is to laugh! From now on it’s more likely to be a book every five years. Maybe.

Books out in 2012 and 2013

Well, except that I will have a book a year for the next two years: Team Human and Team Human: The Sequel of Awesomeness.

Thank you, SRB, for being the best and hardest working and paitentest collaborator a writer could hope for. Without you it would have been an eighteen year gap between my last book, Zombies versus Unicorns in 2010—another collaborative book—you do all see how my lovely writer friends are saving my career, right? Thank you, Holly Black—and my next solo book in 2028.4

RSI

Often after a new post from me I get a few people saying, “OMG! You’re writing again! You’re all cured! That’s awesome!”

To which, thanks! It’s really lovely to know that my online jibberings have been missed. But, sadly, no, I am not cured. Still with the RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Alas and alack. I’m pretty much where I was when I wrote about it a year ago.

What I’m doing is managing the RSI. Figuring out how to get the maximum amount of writing done with the minimum amount of pain, which involves a lot of time and money. I swear I practically have my own staff: physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, masseur, trainer, pilates instructor.5

I am extremely grateful to all of them while also resentful of the time it takes to buy me a few hours of writing. It does get me down. On the days when I don’t type I have virtually no pain at all. On the days I do type, even if only for a short while, there’s pain. For some strange reason feedback like that is more conducive to lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself than it is to writing.6

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely fortunate. There are plenty of people who have neither the time nor the money to be able to deal with the ailments that are making their life hellish. Whose ailments are far worse than mine, whose symptoms cannot be managed. I know writers who write with multiple sclerosis, while recovering from strokes, with serious heart conditions, with cancer and so forth.

There are people out there getting all sorts of amazing things done despite the most horrendous obstacles in their way. I admire each and every one of them.

Other Things I am Asked About

Q: How’s your 1930s book going?

A: I am still at work on my 1930s novel. Slowly but surely. I even read a small section of it at the lovely Sirens conference I attended this year. The reception was most pleasing. If you ever have an opportunity to go to Sirens—Do. A smarter, more interesting crowd of readers and writers does not exist.

But, no, the 1930s novel is not any closer to being finished. Best, really to forget I ever mentioned it. Instead watch the wonderful new US tv show SRB said I had to see: Revenge. The heroine is a wicked Nancy Drew, who’s in the Hamptons to revenge her unjustly imprisioned father and she has ninja super powers and the people she gets revenge on are, like, hedge fund managers. I love her so much!

Q: How’s your garden?

A: My garden is doing great. Thanks!

Well, there was the small matter of the accidental drought when the battery went on the irrigation system. But most of the plants survived. It was kind of amazing. All the native violets laid down and died and then the second they felt sweet, sweet water they sprang up and were green and flowering again. Life, I tell you, it’s a miracle.

Those few plants that died I replaced with passionfruit. Because, well, yum. Also it turns out that passionfruit are like triffids. They move when you’re not looking and grow REALLY fast. Though, so far they have not attempted to eat me.

And the drought made my poor freaked out where-has-all-the-water-gone Tahitian lime tree fruit for the first time. Fruit! On a tree! In my garden! Um, yes, I am excited.

And I am starting to win my battle against the slugs. Apparently, they love corn meal. EVEN THOUGH IT KILLS THEM. Mwahahahahah!:

What? They totally deserve it. They were killing my basil and my poor benighted flowering eucalyptus! I have to KILL THEM ALL. NO OTHER PUNISHMENT IS ENOUGH. And, no, I’m not channelling Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke from Revenge because she would think that merely ruining the slugs was sufficient. SHE WOULD BE WRONG. THEY MUST ALL DIE.7

Slugs and accidental droughts aside, my garden is one of the great pleasures in my life. We use the herbs daily. Currently, thyme, rosemary, mint, bay leaves, majoram, oregano, kaffir lime leaves, sage, basil and parsley. There are native bees and rainbow lorikeets sipping from our grevillea flowers. It looks and smells amazing. Every time I get stuck I walk out there breathe deep, kill a few caterpillars, smell a few flowers, chew on some mint and everything is just fine.

Happy new year, everyone! Here’s hoping 2012 will be what you want it to be.

Update: I forgot to put my usual disclaimer at the bottom of this post, which led a few folks to write and suggest I use voice recognition software. So here it is:

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

  1. Pardon the truly terrible pun. []
  2. Because, well, Sin and Mae and Jamie and Nick. And SRB even got me to start liking Allan by the end of the final book. []
  3. Yes, that was another bad pun. []
  4. Which is when the next total eclipse that can be viewed from Australia takes place. Clearly, it will be the best year ever. []
  5. I will say this: Damn, am I fit! []
  6. Crap. I said I wasn’t going to whinge. Sorry! []
  7. Also, Emily/Amanda is way too classy TO SHOUT IN ALL CAPS. []

Feeling Good

Yesterday’s post on my lack of love for voice recognition software seems to have left some with the impression that I’m doing badly. Not so!

There are many people with RSI or other injuries like carpal tunnel much worse affected then I am. There are some who can no longer hold anything, let alone a pen. My RSI doesn’t impinge on many activities other than writing. Also I have the resources to get the help I need (physiotherapy etc) to manage my condition. I’m extremely lucky.

I am, in fact, in the best shape of my life. Strengthening my core muscles and shoulder girdle (boxing is excellent for that as one of the commenters yesterday noted) has helped a great deal with the RSI. I have abs and arms of steel,1 I tell you!

More importantly, I am writing fiction with my hands the way I like it.2 I love what I have been writing since Liar. I probably shouldn’t say it but I think I’m doing some of the best writing of my life.

I know there’s nothing new from me this year, but I did have a pretty good anthology last year! Also, and this is currently a secret because the deal has not been announced yet, there will be a new novel next year and then another one in 2013. You all promise to tell no one, right? Oh, and before you ask, no, it is not the New York book. I continue to write that book but I will not sell it until I have finished.

I might have been pretty silent here but that is because I have been saving my arms for writing novels.

I might hate voice recognition software but it did allow me to write yesterday’s post—and now this one—without any pain. I could never use it to write a novel but I can use it here. I do not know how often but I hope it will be more than it has been.

Thank you so much for all your kind words and suggestions yesterday. They were very helpful. I sure do miss this blog and all of you.

  1. Well, maybe gold . . . []
  2. I reserve demonic VRS for e-mail and writing posts like this and other non-fiction stuff. []

The Misery of Voice Recognition Software

I hates it.

Before I typed a lot faster. This thing slows me down and drives me crazy.

This software does not learn. Instead it tries to school me. I have had to change the way I speak so it can understand me. Slower, with more precise diction, like I am impersonating a robot. I do not feel like myself when I use it.

I never intended to use it for novel writing only for e-mail and blogging and twitter and the like. But even there this software destroys my natural voice. Who spells e-mail with a hyphen! It does not recognise any of the slang, abbreviations, or made up words that I use and, of course, homonyms are a mighty pain. When I use it I am forced to avoid my habitual language. I don’t sound like me.

It claims that you can teach it. I have spent many hours training it to recognise words I use all the time that are not in its dictionary. I complete the annoying and overly long task and begin dictating. Only for it not to recognise a single word I just taught it.

Here is a list of them. See if you can figure out what I was actually saying:

Swayze
Fattening
X
Oslo
look glorious
one
just team/just Dean

It does not recognise the names of any of the characters in the books I am working on. Thus when I attempt to discuss said books with anyone else via IM or e-mail I spend most of my time having to spell those names out or just going with whatever word this software has decided I’m saying or turning it off and typing, which means unnecessary keystrokes and shortening the amount of time I can spend doing novel writing.

You also have to forget about editing, getting the cursor to go where I want it to go with voice commands has proved impossible. I am able to use it only for 1st drafts of non-fiction writing, for e-mails and chats and only with a great deal of frustration.

Even if there were none of these problems, I am a writer. I have been writing since I was little, typing since I was fourteen. My sentences do not come as fluently when I speak. I have never been as good at telling a story as I am at writing it.

On top of that I suspect that the software I’m using is somewhat buggy. Their are often long delays.1 I cannot get the command mode to work except to inadvertently delete great swaths of text. So using it for anything other than dictation is a waste of time. Forget doing research online with this thing. Given that my reason for using this software is to reduce keystrokes it’s more than a little maddening.

I know many people for whom voice recognition software is a revelation. I’m thrilled that it’s helping so many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to write at all. I also understand that creating software that can deal with different accents and idiolects is really really hard. It really is incredible that it recognises anything I say. But at the same time I can’t help feeling that I have been sold a bill of goods. So many of the people I know who use it rave about it, say it is the best software they’ve ever used. Which meant I was expecting it to be like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner: ‘Enhance. Enhance.’ I expected it to be nigh on perfect. No such magic.

To be fair I have noticed that the latest upgrade is already performing far better than the version I loaded on my computer lo those many months ago. So those who have been using it for a long time really have seen remarkable improvements.

And yet I still hate it. In fact, I get angrier with it then with any other software I have ever used before. And I speak as a card-carrying Microsoft Word hater. Word has never caused me to throw headphones across the room. Word has never set me off on multiple 20 min uninterrupted2 vitriolic raging rants.

I have thought of myself as a writer for a very long time. Writing has been central to my sense of myself since I was a small child. Being forced to spend much less time writing has been extremely difficult. I suspect that part of my fury with this voice recognition software is not merely that it is so much slower and less accurate and less me then when I type but that it has come to symbolise the injuries that prevent me from writing with my hands on keyboards as much as I need to.

So, no, I cannot add my voice to the others praising this software. I suspect that would be true even if the software lived up to my expectations. My stories are written with my hands, not my voice.

I am very curious to hear if anyone else feels this way. I have only been using the software for 6 months. Does it get better? Does it ever come to feel like your voice?

  1. This is much better after latest upgrade. []
  2. I think Scott ran and hid. []

Farewell For Now

As some of you may have noticed I’ve not been around much online. Sorry! Thank you so much for all the concerned supportive emails. They are much appreciated. (You made me all teary.)

Here’s where things stand with me:

The good news: The original injury that caused me to cut back on blogging is completely healed. Yay!

The bad news: The RSI in my hands and forearms got worse.

I took four weeks off from the computer entirely. I have reorganised my computer setup. I’ve been doing a vast amount of physical therapy. I’m improving. Slowly and frustratingly but surely.

However, my time at keyboard remains limited and my top priority is my novel. All else—blogging, tweeting, emailing—is on hiatus until I can get through a day’s1 work without pain.

I see that all sounds depressing. But honestly I’m doing great. While I miss being in close contact with all my fabby online friends.2 I’ve been spending more time with friends in the real world. I’ve been reading more than I have in years. Watching lots of crazy good anime. Who recommended Moribito? I LOVE YOU.3 I’ve been cooking up a storm. And immersing myself in the WNBA, NBA, French Open, various cricket series and am ecstatic about the coming World Cup and Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Life is very good.

So this is farewell for now. Thanks for all the support. It means heaps.4

I’ll be back.5

  1. I.e. four hours. []
  2. A LOT. []
  3. Feel free to make more recs in the comments. []
  4. Thanks to the lovely folks who inquired after my health at BEA. Even if most of you were Team Unicorn. What’s up with that? []
  5. But not in a scary way. I swear that I’m not a cyborg from the future hellbent on wiping out humanity. Me, I like humanity. []

What Four Hours Means + Answering Some Quessies

As some of you know I’ve been dealing with an injury that means I spend way less time at my computer. I thought I’d say a little bit more about what that means as I’ve had a few people frustrated at my not responding to them.

When I’m at my computer for my scant four hours my top priority is my novel. After that I deal with the most important email (from agent, publishers etc) after that I tackle this blog. So far that’s pretty much all I get to. Which means I am not reading anything on Twitter and I have not read any blogs in a donkey’s age.

Thus I do not know what you’ve been saying about me. I’m not ignoring you, honest. I just haven’t read it. I do not know the latest kidlit gossip (unless Scott remembers to tell me). I have not answered your lovely email to me. But I have read it and been thrilled by it. Thank you.

To summarise: if you wish me to know something email me. But know that it will take me a long time to answer. My apologies in advance.

Which leads me to answering the questions I’ve been emailed lately:

Q: How is your injury going?

A: I’m doing much better. Thank you.

Q: Does that mean you’ll be online more?

A: For the time being no. Until I’m completely healed I’m going to continue the current no-more-than-four-hours daily-on-computer-five-days-a-week regime. Aside from anything else I’m getting a lot more writing done this way.

And when I’m not at the computer I’m getting a tonne of reading done. Most of it is research for my novel but I also recently read and loved Melina Marchetta’s Piper’s Son and Jaclyn Moriarty’s Dreaming of Amelia. I have also read two awesomely great novels by Sarah Cross. (Neither published yet. Sorry. But, trust me, you’re gunna love them.) I’ve been reading the serialised version of the third book in Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, which I am also adoring. (Though I am very impatient for the next installment. Aren’t I lucky to know so many great writers who let me read their books early?) I’m also buried deep in Pluto by Naoki Urasawa. (I also love his Monster and am about to get started on 20th Century Boys.)

Q: What is this novel that’s eating all your computer time?

A: It is the 1930s novel that I have been mentioning for some time. That’s right I finally settled down and picked just one novel to work on. It’s big and sprawling and set in NYC in the early 1930s and is written in a mixture of omniscient point of view and letters.1 I haven’t had this much fun writing in ages.

Q: When will your new book be published?

A: I have no idea. I am writing the 1930s book without a contract. I’ll sell it—or, rather, my agent Jill Grinberg will—when I’ve finished the book. So your guess is as good as mine as to when that will be.

Well, okay, my guess is a lot better than yours. The book just passed the 40k mark and I haven’t even gotten up to the events in the proposal (which I wrote when we were going to sell it before I finished it). I think I’ve written about a quarter or less of the novel. I also think it may be more than one novel. But I have decided to write the entire story in one go no matter how long it is. Then and only then will it be sold. The soonest I can imagine this book being finished would be the end of this year. But that’s probably way too optimistic. Then Jill would have to sell it, then the publisher would have to find a place for it in their publishing schedule, which would be 2012 at the earliest. Again that’s a very optimistic guestimate. In short: do not hold your breath for my next novel to appear in bookshops any time soon.

Q: How has Liar been selling?

A: My Australian and USian publishers tell me Liar is selling better than any of my other books. But that’s all I know. (It hasn’t been published anywhere but Australia/NZ and USA/Canada yet. Though it has sold in a number of other countries.)

Q: How is your garden coming along?

A: Wonderfully well. Thank you for asking. All the plants are in! We’ve even used some of them in cooking. (Mint, bay leaves, dill, chillis.) Being surrounded by gorgeous plants has made us both happier and we spend much time doting on them (and then eating some of them). Here is a photo for your delectation:

This is what it used to look like (Well, actually, this is what it looked like after we got the deck sanded prior to garden going in. Click here for the pre-sanded version.):

Thanks again for the lovely letters. The ones in praise of Liar are becoming more and more frequent and never fail to make my day. I’m so pleased that book has meant so much to so many readers.

  1. That’s right, Justine goes for the most commercial angles yet again. []

Why I’ve Not Been Blogging (updated)

(Or answering email or responding to IM requests or to comments or been on Twitter or read many blogs.)

Like almost every writer I know, I have a number of chronic—though not particularly bad1—injuries, that were caused by (or flare up when) I spend a lot of time at my computer. Sitting at a computer for long hours is not good for your body. Which is why so many writers, receptionists, data processors, computer programmers etc etc2 have repetitive strain injuries, headaches, chronic back and neck problems, shooting pains in the arms and hands and so on and so forth.3

Like many of you, I frequently spend more than fourteen hours a day at my computer.4 A recent injury (not sitting-at-computer related) has made that impossible. In order for my injury to heal I have had to drastically reduce my time at the computer, which forced me to prioritise what I do there:

  1. Write novel.
  2. Answer urgent business related email.
  3. Blog.
  4. Answer other emails.
  5. IM with friends.
  6. Read blogs, twitter etc.

Here’s what most days since the injury have looked like:

  1. Write novel.

I no longer spend more than four hours on the computer. If the pain flares before four hours I stop. Four hours is not long so my novel gets my top priority. Many days writing my novel is the only thing I do at the computer. Ironically, I’ve written more in the last month than in the previous six. The book’s going well and I’m loving it. Bless, this injury!5 I have not once gotten past no. 4 on my list. So that is why you have not heard from me.

The acute injury is improving, slowly but surely.6 However, I have decided to stick to the current regime at least until the injury is completely healed and maybe longer because I have experienced less pain with my other chronic injuries as well.

In fact, February has seen me increase the amount of walking I do every day, I’ve taken up Pilates7, and I’ve upped the amount of time I spend at the gym.8 Injury aside, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve been reading way more books and manga as well.9

Because of this injury I’m fitter than I was, more flexible and, best of all, getting more writing and reading done. All good, right?

Not exactly. The reduced computer time has meant that I have not been communicating regularly with many of my close friends. I’m massively behind on email. I no longer IM.10 I feel like I’m losing touch with my online communities, which may sound trivial, but as Varian pointed out last week that sense of community is very important. It’s a large part of why I blog in the first place. Not blogging and responding to your comments has been difficult.

In fact, that is why this post. I don’t much like whingeing about my health here.11 Boring! But I couldn’t really think of any other way to let people know that even when I’m not responding I’m thinking about them. I feel especially bad about all the lovely fan mail I’m not answering.12 Several of the letters people have written me about Liar and have reduced me to tears.13 Thank you.

Thank you also to all my guest bloggers. You’ve kept this blog alive with entertaining, moving, informative, funny, wonderful posts. Bless you all. And thank you readers for supporting the blog in my absence. I’ve been so delighted to see the continued volume of traffic and comments. Yay!

One last thing: I know a fair number of you are in your teens and twenties and spending a vast amount of time at computers.14 If you’re not already taking care of your body now’s the time to get into good habits. Take frequent breaks, have an ergonomic set up,15 mouse with both hands16, take up yoga/pilates/tai chi/some kind of something that’s all about putting you in touch with the muscles in your body,17 drink gallons of water,18 stay as fit as you can, go outdoors etc etc.

You only get one body. Trust me, it will turn on you if you don’t treat it right.19

Update: You all need to read this beautiful, moving post by Tessa Kum about her struggles with RSI.

  1. I know people who have been crippled by RSIs and now can only write with voice recognition software. []
  2. There are bazillions of jobs that involve long hours sitting in front of a computer. []
  3. Any kind of repetitive movement done day after day can lead to injuries. I know a house painter with carpal tunnel. In fact, almost every profession has occupational hazards. I wish that careers days at school would include a list of the health risks & how to avoid getting them alongside all the other information they give about jobs. []
  4. I have, on occasion, spent fourteen hours straight just IMing. Yeah, I know. []
  5. No, not really. []
  6. To repeat, it’s not a drastic injury. []
  7. On doctor’s rec. I was dubious, but it’s been great. []
  8. While injured I can’t do upper body strength stuff but I can do lots of cardio. []
  9. Pluto is awesome! []
  10. Which I miss so much. It’s such a great way to stay in touch and shoot the fat. It’s also a great way to stay online for hours and hours and destroy all that great rehab work. []
  11. Especially as I know many people who are dealing with much, much worse than I am. []
  12. Once I’m properly healed I’ll be devoting time to answering it. []
  13. In a good way. I am a big sook but that doesn’t mean the letters aren’t beautiful and moving. []
  14. I know several people in their twenties who are already dealing with RSIs. []
  15. Yes, writing hunched over your laptop on a couch is really bad for you. []
  16. I have two mouses attached to my keyboard and alternate between them when I work []
  17. Just to state the obvious: different things work for different people. []
  18. Drink much water = pee much. Which means getting up a lot. Which is a very good thing. []
  19. Not that you aren’t your body. Mind/body split, you are imaginary! []

Guest Post: Karen Healey is Waiting for the Miracle

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today’s guest blogger is debut author, Karen Healey, whose first book is coming out quite soon, I believe. She may mention it in her post below. Possibly. She’s a busy woman. She’s prolly not paying much attention to things like that. I can tell you that her debut novel, Guardian of the Dead is a corker. I read it all in one big gobble. Grab a copy soon as you can. Be kind to her in the comments—debut authors are a bit nuts, er, I mean sensitive.

– – –

Karen Healey is a New Zealander living in Australia and writing a dissertation on American superhero comics. Her diet comprises apples, chocolate brownies, Diet Coke, and novels about teenagers doing awesome things. Her first novel, Guardian of the Dead, is a YA urban fantasy set in New Zealand and deeply influenced by Māori mythology. It will be out on April 1st in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and is available for pre-order now. She has heard all the jokes about that date.

Waiting for the Miracle

I have never possessed anything remotely resembling patience, and at the time of writing, my first novel will debut in 48 days.

This is not a good combination.

I’ve never been good at waiting. I was that kid who went to bed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, in the hope that the time between now and Santa would disappear in sleep. I was then the kid who got up at five and proudly showed my parents the results of Santa’s generosity.

Now I am a supposedly adult woman, and sometimes it feels like I have spent all the time in between those Christmases and this day waiting, for things both good and bad. Waiting in airports for delayed planes that will take me to dear friends. Waiting in dentist’s offices for the pleasure of getting holes drilled into my teeth.

Waiting is far from the worst thing in the world, but I cannot stand it. I am prone to jumping off trams in heavy traffic, though even a momentarily stalled tram will get me to my destination faster, because I long for the illusion of moving, going somewhere, getting closer.

My Year Thirteen1 English teacher carefully explained that the final words of The Great Gatsby are supposed to be a poignant underscore of the tragic impossibility of the American dream.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further . . . And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Sad! Tragic! Pointless!

WHATEVER, seventeen-year-old me thought. Sure, futile effort, impossible dream, but at least they’re taking action. They’re not just sitting in the stupid boat!

Now I’m sitting in the boat. And the boat is actually going forward, carrying me on to publication and beyond, but I can’t affect its pace. Nope, the current is going at its own sweet speed, and not even diving in and swimming is going to get me any closer, any faster.

Not that I don’t try to find the illusion of action.

SCENE: A motel living room, in a small New Zealand town. All is dark and silent. OUR HEROINE, whose brother is to be wed in a few days, creeps in and furtively opens a black laptop. She stares into the blue-white glow of the screen, tapping a few practiced phrases, switching between tabs.

OUR HEROINE’S FATHER wanders in with an empty glass in his hand, and recoils at the ghostly sight.

FATHER: What are you doing?
HEROINE: I’m checking icerocket.
FATHER: What?
HEROINE: Someone might be saying something about my book! Hm. No. Well, maybe technorati . . .
FATHER: Do you do this often?
HEROINE: Oh, ha ha ha, goodness no! That would be the act of a dangerously obsessed and insanely impatient person!
FATHER: Well, yeah.
HEROINE: YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. DO YOU SEE MY PULSE FLUTTER IN MY THROAT? SIR, I MAY SWOON AT YOUR SHOCKING LACK OF SENSIBILITY. OH, WOE, WOE, ROSEMARY AND RUE.
FATHER: I’m going to put the cricket on. Can you keep the impassioned writhing to a minimum?

But even my most impassioned writhing doesn’t bring the publication date a minute sooner! In this strained time, I like to think about the words of the poet John Burroughs:

Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.

Specifically, I like to speculate on what he might have been on, and to wonder I could get my hands on any. Serene waiting? Uncaring waiting? Waiting without raving? Impossible! I think the poem’s narrator is dead, which might be a clue—I imagine that if I ever find waiting easy, it’ll be then—but that doesn’t help me now.

How about you, Justine’s readers? How do you handle waiting for things? Do you also rave against time and fate, and specifically time for moving so damn slow, or are you calm, serene hand-folders? And if you’re the latter, can you teach me how?

In the meantime, I might have to go with the classics. I’m going to go home, change my sheets, fluff up my pillows, and curl up with my teddy bear for 48 days, until I get something better than Santa could ever bring me.

It’ll be worth it.

I just wish I didn’t have to wait.

  1. The final year of high school in New Zealand. []

New Year’s Resolution: Finding Balance

I know many people are all bah humbug about new year’s resolutions but I love them. This year I resolve to find a balance with my time online.

Let me explain: when I first became a published author of an actual novel I kind of went a little bit insane. I tracked down every teeny tiny reference to my book or me. I used every tool then available (and remember this was the long distant past of 2005) to stalk mentions online. At first there were few, very few, and I was convinced no one was ever going to read or review my baby Magic or Madness. Wah! Then there was what seemed a lot, which provided momentary flickers of joy—yay! good review!—and longer bouts of misery—boo! bad review.1 But then the mentions slowed down and lo there was despair again. No one is reading my book!

All of that slowed down my writing. Considerably. I was spending more time thinking about what people were saying about my book then, you know, actually writing the next one. Fortunately, for me I’d already finished my second book, Magic Lessons before my first appeared. But all the they-hate-me-they-love-me-they-think-I’m-meh-they’re-ignoring-me significantly affected the writing of the third book in the trilogy, Magic’s Child. I ran late, very late, because I was wasting so much time online googling myself and angsting about the results of those searches.

It got so bad I considered pulling the plug and not going online ever again, which, as you can imagine, is not possible. A large part of what I do online is directly related to my work: communicating with my agent and publisher, all the online promotery stuff my publisher likes me to do, research, keeping up with my field, blogging (my favourite thing ever!) etc. I can’t really let any of that slide for more than a week or so.

So instead I vowed to go cold turkey on self-stalking. I turned off my google alerts, unlearned the existence of technorati, icerocket, blogpulse etc etc and concentrated on finishing How to Ditch Your Fairy. It went well. I could go online without doing my head in. I was productive again! I learned that people would forward me any interesting reviews or commentary on my work.2 I did not need to seek out.

I also found that after several published books, bad reviews worry me far less than they used to. What I used to know only intellectually—that most reviews say far more about the reviewer than the reviewee—I now know all the way through me. Bad reviews rarely rile me now.

Thus I happily remained until 2009. Yes, I was still given to procrastinating. I would discover new blogs and be compelled to read through the entire archive. What? You can’t understand a blog until you’ve read the whole thing! And certain people still seem to think I spend an inordinate amount of time IMing with friends and family. What can I say? I don’t like phones. Plus some of those chats have led to Very Important Things. I’m just sayin’.

This year, however, for the first time in my online life, I was at the centre of a storm. People started saying things about me that were not true and were sometimes downright nasty. I’d become inured to people hating my books, but I’d never had strangers hating on me before. I’d seen many of my friends go through it. I’d even counselled these friends not to let it get to them, to make sure they took time away, that it’s not really as big a deal as it seems, and that those nasty, small-minded people don’t know them and what they say doesn’t matter. All of which is true.

But then it happened to me and I let it get to me. I fell off the wagon. I reinstated my google alerts. I used every search engine known to humanity to search out every single mention. I lost sleep. I lost days and weeks and months of work time.

I found some wonderful friends and allies during this time. However, I’m pretty certain I would have come across them regardless. Throughout this time, people were writing me wonderful supportive letters and sending me all sorts of wonderful links to amazing discussions. All I got from my self-stalking was misery and woe. My hard-fought-for balance shattered.

But here’s what I learned: it doesn’t matter what random strangers think of me. As long as I’m doing what I know is right and the people I trust and respect think so too, then I’m good. Sure, nasty shit said about you hurts. But some of the stuff that was said about me last year was so absurd that no one was taking it seriously. Literally no one. Except me. Spot the problem? So I stopped.

The even more important lesson I learned was that none of what happened was about me. It was about much bigger and much more important issues. I always knew that intellectually, but the lizard brain is very slow to learn. The lizard brain wanted to track down every slur, every insult. The lizard brain is an idiot.

I resolve this year to ignore the lizard brain and go back to the lovely balance I once had.

Here’s what gives me balance:

  • Writing
  • Making sure I get out of the house at least once a day and preferably go for a long walk, or to the gym, or for a bike ride—something physical daily that keeps me away from computer and phone.
  • Turning off google alerts
  • Not getting involved in flamewars. If someone is saying something offensive or appalling or wrong I no longer engage them. If the issue is important I blog about it here. I cut off flamewars in the comment threads here also.
  • Hanging out with my family and friends
  • Blogging
  • Cooking

And like that.

How do youse lot achieve balance?

  1. For some reason the bad ones lingered longer in the memory than the good. Funny that. []
  2. In my turn I started forwarding cool stuff I found about other people’s work to them. []

Paranormal/Fantasy YA Review Bingo (updated)

I have a rule that I never respond to bad reviews. I have blogged on several occasions about why I think doing so is pointless. However, I can’t help noticing a certain tenor in many Paranormal/Fantasy YA reviews lately. Everything seems to be talked about in terms of Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight books.

On the one hand it’s inevitable given that they are the most popular books, not just in YA, but in the entire world. Meyer’s had a huge influence and, yes, there are many Twilight knockoffs out there. But on the other hand, people seem to forget that Meyer’s books are very new. Twlight was first published in October 2005. YA fantasy had already existed for decades before Meyer. There were even YA vampire books before Twilight. Thus the constant accusations of ripping off Stephenie Meyer and jumping on the “paranormal bandwagon”1 are a bit rich, particularly when aimed at say, L. J. Smith, whose vampires novels were first published in the 1980s 1991. Pretty hard to rip off a book pub’d almost 20 years before yours.

The constant accusations have led me to develop a bingo card so all us writers of YA Fantasy/Paranormal can tick each item off as we are accused. I admit I got the idea because I was recently accused of jumping on the paranormal bandwagon and ripping Stephenie Meyer off with my debut novel, Magic or Madness. As you’ll see below I get bonus points because MorM was first published before Twlight.2

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the urge to educate people about the timescales of publishing. Not to mention how influences, trends and fashions work. But not today. Today I am in a mocking mood.

So here is my (Sarah Rees Brennan, Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan contributed) list of squares on the Paranormal/Fantasy YA Review Bingo Card.3 See if you’ve gotten a review that allows you to cross off each one. I suspect pretty much all of us who write YA fantasy will be winners.

  • Twilight ripoff (Extra points if the book that is accused of this predates Twilight)
  • Jumping on the paranormal bandwagon (Extra points if the term “paranormal” did not exist outside the Romance genre when your first books were published)
  • Being accused of rippping off a book published after or around the same time as your book
  • Being accused of jumping on a bandwagon that’s hardly a bandwagon such as the steampunk or killer unicorn bandwagon. Shouldn’t there be at least a dozen books before it becomes a bandwagon?
  • The line “haven’t we seen this before” appears in the review
  • Says vampires/werewolves/zombies/fairies/[supernatural being of your choice] is old hat
  • Claims your protag is a ripoff of Bella and/or Edward and/or Jacob
  • Criticises your character for not being as wonderful as Bella
  • Criticises your character for being as drippy as Bella
  • Complains your hero is not dreamy like Edward
  • Complains your character is drippy like Edward
  • Complains your vampires are inauthentic because they do not sparkle
  • Is unaware vampires existed before Twilight came out in 2005
  • Says your book is great because is exactly like Twilight
  • Says your book is great because is nothing like Twilight

I’m sure I’m missing some. Do please suggest more in the comments.

NOTE: Please don’t bash the Twilight books in the comment thread. Stephenie Meyer and her books have been an enormous boon to the field of YA. She’s created more readers than anyone since J. K. Rowling. The fact that the criticisms above keep happening is testament to that.

Update: Aja went and made the bingo card! Bless!

BingoAja

You can see it bigger here. Thank you, Aja!

  1. “Paranormal” is also a pretty recent literary term and was not used at all outside the romance genre until pretty recently. []
  2. Not twenty years before like L. J. Smith but seven months prior is still before. []
  3. Someone with photoshop skills can turn it into an actual bingo card. []

The Advantages of Being a White Writer

Disclaimer: I am writing about YA publishing in the USA. Although I’m Australian I know much more about the publishing industry in the US than I do about Australia. Or anywhere else for that matter.

I know that the title of this post is going to lead to some comments insisting that it’s not true that white writers have any advantages and that many white people are just as oppressed as people of colour. I don’t want to have that conversation. So I’m going to oppress the white people who make those comments by deleting them. I don’t do it with any malice. I do it because I want to have a conversation about white privilege in publishing. We can have the discussion about class privilege and regional privilege and other kinds of privilege some other time. Those other privileges are very real. But I don’t want this discussion to turn into some kind of oppression Olympics.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t, Redux

There were some wonderful responses to my post attempting to debunk the “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” canard. But I got the impression that some people understood me as saying that it’s fine for white people to write about non-white people and that any criticism for doing so is no big deal. Writers get criticised for all sorts of different things. Whatcha gunna do?

I did not mean that at all. I’m very sorry that my sloppy writing led to such a misunderstanding. I think the criticism a white writer receives for writing characters who are a different race or ethnicity, especially by people of that race or ethnicity, is a very big deal. We white writers have to listen extremely carefully. Neesha Meminger wrote a whole post about why in which she talks about how hard it is for many non-white writers to get published:

I know how tiring it is to hear over and over from editors or agents (who are, in almost all cases, white) that they “just didn’t connect with,” or “just didn’t fall in love with” the characters of a mostly-multicultural book. And, while I know these can be standard industry responses to manuscripts, the fact of the matter is that white authors are getting published. White authors writing about PoC are getting published—sometimes to great acclaim—while authors of colour are still not (in any significant numbers).

Mayra Lazara Dole makes a similar point:

Many POC feel you are stealing their souls. We’ve never, ever had your same opportunities. As an africanam friend would say, “the times of white people painting their faces black in hollywood are over.” Why don’t you sit back and allow us to get our work published while you keep writing what you know until we catch up? Shouldn’t it be about equal opportunity? If so, please consider giving us a chance to make our mark (about 90 percent of all books are written by white authors).

Now before you get your back up and start spouting about how you have a right to write whatever you want. Neesha agrees:

So, to my white brothers and sisters: certainly, write your story. Populate it with a true reflection of the world you live in. Bring to life strong and powerful characters of all colours. Do so with the ferocity of an ally and the tenderness of family. But please don’t be so cavalier as to shrug and say, “I did my best, and frock you if you don’t like it—plenty of your people thought I did a great job.” Take the criticism in as well. After the urge to defend yourself has passed, pick through the feedback and see if there’s some learning there. Because the reality is that masses upon masses of “our people” have absorbed toxic levels of self-hatred from the images and messages (and *inaccurate representations*) that surround us. Many of us have learned to believe that we are less than, not worthy, undeserving—and are simply grateful to be allowed to exist among you without fear.

So does Mayra Lazara Dole:

On the other hand, having been born in a communist country with censorship, please, write what you want, but just know that even though you have every right to write whatever you wish, you’ll hurt some of us. Many POC’s won’t be as forgiving, but some will. To some POC’s it will feel as if you are stealing from them . . . Don’t you want POC to write our own books?

So do I. Hey, all my books so far have had non-white protags (follow the link for my reasons why). Neither Neesha nor Mayra want to censor white writers, they want us to be very careful of what we do, and they want us to own it.

That’s what I’ve tried to do, but I haven’t always succeeded. Writing, thinking beyond my privilege, these are things I struggle with every single day of my life. I was not standing here from on high saying, “Here’s how to do it.”1 I was saying, “Here’s what I’m wrestling with.”

What are the advantages that white writers writing about people of colour have that PoC writers don’t have?

First of all (assuming that you can actually write) your odds of getting published are better than theirs.2 No, I don’t have statistics to back me up, but I have a lot of anecdotal evidence. Of friends and acquaintances who were rejected by editors and agents who already had their one African or Asian author. If you’re the only brown writer on a list than you have to be a lot better than all the other brown writers competing for that one slot. The hurdles that many non-white writers have to jump to get published in the USA are higher than they are for white writers.3

Here’s another big advantage: If you, as a white writer, produce an excellent book about people who aren’t like you odds are high that your ability to do so will be seen as a sign of your virtuosity and writerly chops, which it is. However, non-white writers rarely get the same response, even though it’s just as hard for them. I say that not just because I think all good writing is hard to achieve, but because every time you write a nuanced character who isn’t white you’re writing against a long, long tradition of stereotyped characters in Western literature. That’s hard to do no matter what your skin colour. And if you’re a writer working within in a different writing tradition and trying to make it succeed within the English-language novel tradition you’re doing something even harder.

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that we white writers should feel guilty about any of this. Guilt is a pointless emotion. White writers who’ve written about people of colour and won acclaim and awards don’t have to hand their prizes back. That would change nothing.

What I am saying is that we need to be aware of our privilege and listen to criticism and act upon it. We need to do what we can to change things. The more novels with a diversity of characters that are published and succeed in the marketplace the more space there will be. The more people who can find themselves in books, the more readers we’ll all have, and the more opportunities there’ll be for writers from every background. Of course, it’s not just the writers who need to be more diverse, but everyone in publishing, from the interns to agents to the folks in sales, marketing, publicity, and editorial, to the distributors and booksellers.

There are many wonderful books by writers of colour. Read them, talk about them, buy them for your friends. Point them out to your editors and agents. Be part of changing the culture and making space for lots of different voices. The problem is not so much what white people write; it’s that so few other voices are heard. If the publishing industry were representative of the population at large we wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

  1. And I’m very sorry if it came across that way. []
  2. Yes, it’s hard for all people to get published. I know. It took me twenty years to do so. But add to that the prevailing notion in the publishing industry that books about people of colour don’t sell and it becomes even harder. []
  3. The hurdles they have to jump to have the time and resources to write in the first place are typically also higher, but that’s a whole other story. Don’t get me started on the differences I’ve seen on tour in the USA between predominately black schools versus predominately white ones. []

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t

Lately, I have heard several published white writers express their trepidation about the idea of writing non-white characters. Some of them have mentioned that they feel they’ll get in trouble if they continue to write only white characters, but that they also feel they’ll get into trouble if they write characters who aren’t white cause they’ll bugger it up.

Damned if you do, they say, damned if you don’t.

To which I can only say, and I mean this nicely, “Please!”

What exactly are you risking? Who exactly is damning you? Which of your previously published novels have attracted no criticisms and no damnation? Cause that’s amazing. You wrote a book no one critcised? Awesome. Please teach me that trick!

Every single book I’ve published has displeased someone. I’ve been accused of promoting teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, and underage drinking. Every single one of my books has caused at least a few people to tell me that I stuffed various things up: my descriptions of Sydney, of NYC, of mathematics (absolutely true), my Oz characters don’t speak like proper Aussies, and my USians don’t talk like proper Yanquis. My teenagers sound too young or too old and are too smart or too stupid. I did my best, but some think that was not good enough.

That’s the risk you take when you write a book.

If you do not have the knowledge, resources, research, or writing skills to write people who are different from you, then don’t. People may well criticise you for that. They’ll also criticise you for having some of your characters speak their notion of ungrammatical English1. And for not having enough vampires. Whatever.2 Write what you’re good at. Lots and lots of writers pretty much only write about themselves and their friends. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a famous example. There are many many others. That’s fine. Own it. And do it as well as you can.

If you, as a white writer, decide to write people of a different hue to yourself then you should do your damnedest to get it right. But know that no matter how well researched your book, no matter how well vetted by multiple knowledgeable readers it is, there will always be people who think you buggered it up and misrepresented them. All you can do is write the best, most thoroughly researched book you possibly can. After all, don’t you do that with every book you write? You don’t write your historicals with Wikipedia as your only source, do you? Right then.

What should you do when you are criticised?

Listen. Learn. Even if you think they’re insane and completely wrong.

Figure out how to avoid the same egregious mistakes in your next book. But remember that your next book will also be criticised. That’s how it goes.

Do not have a hissy fit and say you’ll never write about anyone who isn’t white again. Do not insult those criticising you.

Say you, as a white American, write a novel with many Thai-American characters and a Thai-American reader criticises you for getting something wrong yet another Thai-American reader praises you for getting the exact same thing right. Who do you believe?

What do you do when two white readers disagree about stuff in your books? Do you assume that all white people are the same? Perhaps it’s time to stop assuming that all Thai-Americans are the same and have the same opinions and experiences. Thailand’s a big country with a wide range of ethnicities, religions, cuisines and everything else. The experiences of the Thai diaspora in the USA is going to be just as varied. Some Thai Americans will think you got it right, some will think you got it wrong. That’s how it goes.

Keep in mind that Thai-Americans writing about Thai-Americans are also criticised and told they get it wrong. No one is immune from criticism. No one is immune from getting it wrong for at least some of their readers. We all do it.

Writing is hard. No matter what you write about. You will be damned no matter what you do. But that has nothing to do with you being white, that has to do with you having the arrogance to be a writer, and publish what you write for other people to read. Your readers get to judge you. That’s just how it goes. Your job is to be a grown up about what you do and how people respond to you. That’s really hard too. Trust me, I know.

Thus endeth the rant.

  1. Trust me, I get that one all the time []
  2. I am SO over vampires. Except for the good ones. []

In Which Me and Scalzi Lay Down the Law and then Realise that We’re Full of it

T’other day I was gasbagging with John Scalzi as I do when the writing isn’t going well and IM calls to me. We got to discussing as how we are frequently annoyed by reviews which dismiss a book because the reviewer did not like it but can give no reasons beyond saying that the book sucked. This is something that annoys many writers. We put in all that hard work agonising over every word and someone dismisses the book like this:

This book is bad. It sucked so much. Don’t read it.

Or even more frequently,

This book had golden retrievers in it. I really hate dogs. Also the mother washed her son’s mouth out with soap and the book was set in the 1980s. No parent has washed a child’s mouth out with soap since the 1950s. This book sucked. Don’t read it.

Not liking dogs does not make a book with dogs in it bad. And a belief that x didn’t happen in the 1980s does not make it so either. For the record: a boy I went to school with in the 1980s had his mouth washed out with soap by one of his parents. I hadn’t realised soap washing of mouths happened in real life until then. Why do so many people slide from their experience to “this is how the world is”?

Scalzi and me agreed that there’s a difference between personal opinion and whether a book is technically bad. Netherland is a well-writtten book that bored me into a coma.1 I happen to enjoy some of V. C. Andrews’ books—they’re train wrecks of bad writing and insane plotting. They’re practically a manual of how not to write. I love them.

Lots of what I like and don’t like is because of my personal tastes—I have a strong love of narrative:2 Netherland is almost entirely lacking narrative drive—and my political views often make it hard for me to like books that are egregiously racist or sexist no matter how superbly crafted.

So me and Scalzi decided that more reviewers need to separate their tastes from their personal judgements. So that they could upfront admit that the book was well-crafted and did everything it set out to achieve and then go to to talk about their personal reactions. Because personal reactions are fascinating. I’m constantly amazed by the variety of ways in which books can unintentionally turn readers off (or on). From the very common “I hate books where an animal is killed” through to the less common “I don’t like books set in spring”.

I’ve already been told by several people that they won’t be reading Liar because they hate unreliable narrators and/or they hate people who lie and don’t want to read about them. All of which is fair enough.3 I have zero interest in books about middle aged college professors having affairs with their students so I don’t read them. To be honest, I kind of hate all novels set on university campuses.4

So from now on, reviewers, can we have more separation of your little quirks and kinks from whether or not the book is good?

Thank you. I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up.

Of course, there’s a teeny tiny problem with this straight forward separation. Just a small one:

Very few people can agree on what good writing is.

I could give you a long list of all the writers I think are total rubbish and then give you a bunch of links to rave reviews and people saying what wonderful writers they are. Most of them are living though and their fans would kill me. So instead I’ll say that I think Patrick White is dreadful. He overwrites like you would not believe. A Fringe of Leaves is one of the most overwritten piles of dreck I’ve ever slogged my way through. It’s supposed to be written as if it were 19th century prose. It’s turgid and unreadable.5 Lots of people love A Fringe of Leaves and it’s considered a classic. I also have a major hate for the writing of Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway. Both considered 20th Century masters. I don’t think either of them could write their way out of paper bags.

I have friends who say the same thing about Angela Carter and Jean Rhys.6

Could it be that notions of “good writing” also fall into the category of personal taste? I mean, yes, obviously, we’re taught to recognise good writing in school, university, at writing workshops, from parents, friends, critique partners, from the books we read. But we don’t all learn the same things or have the same teachers. I have heard people say that they don’t like books with too much description and that they consider that to be a sign of bad writing. I have ranted here previously about all the USians who are convinced that omniscient point of view is bad writing. Ditto using adverbs or verbs of utterance other than said.7

So what me and Scalzi are really saying is that we want you reviewers to separate out our notion of good writing (not your wrong version of good writing) from your personal tastes and start your reviews by admitting that our books are brilliantly written and that the only reason you don’t like them is cause of your personal quirks.

Hmmm, turns out we are being unreasonable.8 Not to mention that writers have no business telling reviewers how to review. Reviews are not for writers, they’re for readers.9

Um, never mind then. As you were.

Do me a favour though, the next time me and Scalzi are in total agreement about something, could you remind me that it’s a very bad sign and tell me not to blog about it? Much obliged.

  1. Mad Men is an excellently written and acted show that I hate with a fiery burning passion. []
  2. My love of narrative aligns me with genre fiction (YA, fantasy, sf, crime, romance, historicals) far more often than it does with capital L Literary fiction. Though obviously it’s not that clear cut: my shelves have many books that are classified as Literarchure, such as works by Angela Carter, Isak Dinesen, Shirley Jackson, Toni Morrison, and Dawn Powell. Capital L Literature also keeps rediscovering narrative. There’s been less rejection of genre (and thus narrative) in universities over the last forty years than there used to be. []
  3. Though I’ve already come across some reviews of Liar that begin “I hated this book because I hate unreliable narrators.” To which I can only say: Why did you read it then? The book is called LIAR. On the very first page she says she’s a liar! What did you expect? /rant []
  4. Except Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society books, of course. And Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim. And those Diana Wynne Jones magical university books. Update: And Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. Really it’s only realist university novels I hate. []
  5. Which I guess does make it like the worst of 19th century writing. []
  6. Obviously they’re totally insane. []
  7. I’ve had people accuse me of being a bad writer for writing things like “Scalzi and me” instead of “Scalzi and I” because they consider it bad grammar and do not recognise that I am going for an echo of how people actually talk and not how grammarians wish we did. It’s a battle I also have with copyeditors. []
  8. What a shock! []
  9. Yes, we’re both writers and readers but we’re attempting to tell reviewers what to do in our writerly capacity. []

Condescending Reviews are Us (update)

Maybe I’m being unfair, but Dwight Garner’s New York TImes review of LeBron James’ & Buzz Bissinger’s Shooting Stars gave off the distinct reek of Eau de Condescension (via Mitali Perkins):

“Shooting Stars,” a new collaboration between LeBron James, probably the greatest basketball player alive, and Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights,” is a different kind of book. It avoids speaking about James’s professional career with the Cleveland Cavaliers (he was the National Basketball Association’s most valuable player last season) almost entirely. And since James skipped college, well, ixnay on that too.

“Ixnay”? Seriously?

“Shooting Stars” reads like a better-than-average young-adult novel, “Stand by Me” with breakaway dunks and long, arching three-pointers. I suspect it will find its best and most eager audience among the teenagers and preteenagers for whom James is a deserving role model.

Let’s set aside the fact that Stand By Me is a movie not a YA novel1 and have a look at “better-than-average young-adult novel.” Given the lukewarmness of the whole review it’s pretty clear that Garner does not think much of YA. Though if he thinks Stand By Me is a YA novel then it’s more likely he hasn’t read much YA average or otherwise. The whole thing reminds me of Maureen Dowd dissing adult chicklit based on her reading of a satirical YA novel. The New York Times seems pretty hazy on what YA is.

Eric Luper suggests that we need to run a remedial seminar for them and make them read some better-than-average YA. What do youse lot think? And what should we put on the reading list? I suggest five or so books but they all have to be completely different from each other. Here’s my off the top of my head list. I made a point of not including any books by my friends:2

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (historical)
Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis (contemporary realism/comedy)
Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey (fantasy)
All American Girl by Meg Cabot (chicklit)
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (science fiction)
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (contemporary realism/romance)

What would your reading list to school The New York Times book people about YA look like? Remember each book has to be really different.

Update: Scott says I should point out that this review really made me want to read Shooting Stars. So, yes, it’s condescending but now I really want to read the book. But, come on, I’m a basketball fanatic I was going to read it anyway.

  1. Based on a short story by Stephen King which is also not a YA novel. []
  2. I’ve met Cabot and Duey and they are both delightful but I don’t know them well enough that I feel biased recommending their work. []

Writing too much

If my brain wasn’t broken I would do some basic research to find out what research has been done on overloaded brains.

I get to a point when I’m writing a lot when I just can’t. My brain mushes. Sentences turn murky. Gibberish dribbles out of my mouth. My typing slows and the level of typoes skyrockets. Always means I’ve written too much and I have to stop.

I wonder what’s going on. Almost all my writer friends get the same thing. Is it just fatigue? Or is there something specific to writing?

Anyone got any theories? Seen any research on it?

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.

Water without Ice

One of the hardest things for me in the US of A is getting a glass of water (or any other not hot beverage) without ice. The default, even in the very depths of winter, is a glass that’s at least half ice, half water.

They even put ice in orange juice! In bubbly water! It’s INSANE!

I do not get it. Why so much ice? Why do USians want to have their teeth painfully assaulted with sub-arctic temperature liquids?

Is that truly what they want?

I will never understand it.

Stop asking me for ARCs! (updated)

It says that I don’t have ARCs on the contact page. You know, the same contact page you have to go to in order to write and ask me for the ARCs I do not have. *head desk*

Let me put it another way:

I DON’T HAVE ANY ARCs

The contact page also tells you who does have ARCs. Yes, right at the top of the contact page.

But please remember: publishers don’t give ARCs out to everyone. There’s only a small number so they have to be selective. It’s one of those “while supplies last” things.

Bloomsbury will be giving more away at IRA, ALA, and BEA.

Sorry to sound snippy but I’m getting way too many of these requests and I don’t have time to respond. I’m busy! I’ve got copyedits to check, 1930s research to do, my next novel to write, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped!

I am thrilled that so many people want to read Liar. It’s truly wonderful. I can’t wait for you guys to read it either. I’m really enjoying hearing people start to talk about Liar and argue about what really happens. THOUGH DON’T SPOIL IT FOR OTHERS. If you really are bursting to talk about it but no one around you has read it: write to me. I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s hoping this enthusiasm to read the book is still going strong when the real proper book version of Liar publishes in October! Only six months away! How did that happen?

*Goes back to copyedits.*

As you were.

Update: Since there seems to be some confusion, I have attempted to clarify here.

No, I won’t read your story (updated)

One of the hardest things I have to do is say no to the folks who write and ask me to read and comment on their work. In the last two weeks I’ve had five such requests. All for novels.

In the last week I finished reading exactly 0 novels. Let me repeat that: in the last week I finished reading no novels. Not a single one. Actually, it’s worse than that I haven’t finished a novel since January and it was a book I was asked to blurb.1

I get asked to read quite a few books every year. There’s the blurb books. Given that my career has been helped by other writers blurbing me, I always say yes to these requests. Yes, that is to reading the book. I won’t blurb a book unless I love it.

Then there’s all the novels I critique for friends. Right now I have six early draft novels on my hard drive. One of which I’ve had for seven months now. They are all wonderful writers whose work I adore reading. Not to mention that I owe them as they’ve all critiqued my own work. Yet here I sit with six unread mss, one unread blurb book, and dozens of unread 1930s novels.

Critiquing a novel requires a brain firing on all cylinders and lots of time.2 In its own way I find it every bit as challenging as writing. Given that I earn my living from writing, my own stuff gets top priority. At the end of the day if I have anything left over I start critiquing one of the backlog of novels. Though when a friend’s having a real emergency I’ll drop everything to critique for them. They’ve done the same for me often enough.

But lately I haven’t had anything left over. Rewriting the Liar novel has been the most challenging writing of my career.3 The research and writing of the 1930s novel takes up the rest of my time. Who knew trying to understand the Great Depression would be so hard? I guess my extremely sketchy knowledge of Economics has been a wee bit of a handicap.

And I have a life outside writing and reading. I know it sounds strange but sometime I go outside and, you know, do things. Often I do them with my friends and family. Also I cook, I clean, I buy groceries and pay bills. Life stuff.

That is why I say no to all outside critique requests. I simply don’t have the time or the energy. It’s also why there are so many posts about the writing process on this blog. I may not be able to help you directly, but maybe I can help indirectly.

Good luck with your writing!

Update: For those of you who’ve been asking how to go about getting critiqued I’ve written a few suggestions. Hopefully, there’ll be more in the comments thread as well.

  1. That is not usual. I’m a three-novels a week kind of a girl. But lately the majority of my reading has been non-fiction. This is what happens when you take on an historical project. []
  2. Depending on the length, it takes me a solid ten or more hours to read and critique a novel. []
  3. I took on an unreliable narrator and the unreliable narrator is kicking my arse. Mental note: never write an unreliable narrator EVER AGAIN. []

Evil drivers

I know many of the readers of this blog also drive and I’m quite sure none of you are evil but perhaps you could help explain to me how some drivers develop a pathological hatred of law-abiding pedestrians once they are behind the wheel of their petrol-guzzlers?

Yesterday I was minding my own business crossing the road legally: I had the pedestrian green light about half way across it started to flash. A very angry taxi driver in an unoccupied cab started trying to push his way past me and the other pedestrians in a most threatening manner. Readers, I confess that I and another pedestrian made a USian hand gesture in his direction at which point he turned red and started pounding his horn like one possessed as we pedestrians calmly completed our legal crossing of the road.

It was an astonishing reaction given that he was breaking traffic laws in a most arseholic manner and we were merely pointing out his arseholery. If he weren’t behind his metal cocoon he would have leapt out and strangled us.

What gives?

I would love to say this is the first such incident, but I have had demonic drivers honk as I and my fellow pedestrians cross the street legally so many times I have lost count. Are they unaware that flashing red signals that pedestrians may complete their crossing? Are they unaware that it is illegal to pound their horn in that manner? It’s also illegal to attempt to run over pedestrians.

Why do so many people turn into monsters behind the wheel?

And some folks wonder why I hate cars.

I don’t want to skite

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

Have I mentioned that I love being home in Sydney?

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

Can’t have everything I spose.

Hope you’re all as happy as I am.

Whingeing about writing

Recently me and some of my pro writer colleagues have been asked why we are always complaining about writing, and, the follow-up question: if it’s such a horrible job why don’t we get a better one?

Good question! Here are some of the answers:

  1. Whingeing is fun. Writers in particular are totally addicted to it. We can’t not whinge.
  2. Writers are boring. We don’t get out much so we don’t have much to talk about other than writing, which is one of the least interesting things ever. “Hey, guess what, guys? Today I typed! A lot. Like, I typed maybe 2,000 groupings of letters.” If we whinge about it we figure it sounds a bit more interesting. We don’t get another job because we’re boring and writing is boring: we belong together.
  3. Boasting about how you have the best job in the whole world is rude and skiteful and makes rational people want to chunder1 or kill you. “Look at me! I am so blessed and lucky! Why today I typed. A lot! I think I typed maybe 2,000 groupings of letters. I think I arranged them really well! Go me! Also I did that wearing pjs. And no one at work was mean to me. Because I work at home! Where the ice cream is. My life is perfect!” Oh, shut up, already. It is better to whinge than to skite.
  4. Writing is really hard. It makes writers bleed from the eyeballs. Demons take up residence in our brains and sip on our cerebrospinal fluid. But if we told you how it really was—how there are tiny goblins—trained by our evil publishers—that hold open our eyelids and slap our fingers back on to the keyboards thus making sure we never miss a deadline and keep churning out publishable product—you would never believe it so we just whinge about the lesser aspects of writing hell. We don’t get another job because we can’t. The contract with our publishers mean we are indentured slaves until we die.
  5. Writing is dead easy. Seriously all we do is sit around and type, luxuriating in our pyjamas, and ordering our minions around, while we feast on champagne and caviar. But if we let everyone know that then too many people would want to be writers. Thus, der, we pretend it’s really hard. “Ow, my brain! It burns! Too many groupings of letters today! I suffer!”

I hope that makes it all crystal clear. I live to answer your questions. And, um, write books. Like the one that’s due next Friday fer instance. Should get back to that. Or sleep, possibly. If the clanking pipes allow.

Oh, and also, what Maureen said.

Later!

  1. Or as me and a bunch of my friends used to say “muntah material”. We were studying Indonesian. Don’t ask. []

I hate steam heating

Does it really need to come on at 4AM and not let up until 9AM?

Why does it have to sound like banshees being tortured by trolls? What’s with the even LOUDER clanging? That’s almost, but not quite, like the bell that tolls for thee? Or me in this case.

Am I ever going to get a good night’s sleep again?

Stupid NYC with it’s stupid steam heating. I don’t ever remember it being this loud before. Is it because I have a book due on Friday?!

I’m so TIRED! Waaaaaahhhhh!!

I wish I had a horrible-noise dampening fairy.

/whinge

Yes, I am aware that steam heating is super energy efficient and good for the planet. So, no, I don’t really hate it. But if NYC wasn’t so damn cold they wouldn’t need heating. Stupid coldness.

Oops. Looks like I lied about the whinge ending.

Hahah!

Deadline: Next Friday

I am currently not answering my phone or text messages, responding to emails or IM invites, or answering the door. All forms of communication are turned off. I am incommunicado until next Friday1 when the rewrites of the Liar book are due.

Rewriting the Liar book is all I am doing right now. It is the beginning and the middle and the end of each day. It doesn’t matter how much I want to play in my brand-new, shiny, shiny 1930s novel, or how much I want to gallivant about town, I’m not allowed.

I will probably still blog. If I don’t blog my head explodes. But I am unlikely to respond to your gorgeous comments. Though I will read and cherish them as I always do. Of course once I’m finished with the rewrites I head to Texas.

Right then, back to the grindstone goes me.

  1. Or, um, possibly next Monday. []

It’s just wrong

Even though I am much better at writing novels than I’ve ever been before it’s still insanely hard. Actually, it’s MUCH harder than it used to be when I didn’t realise how hard it was. Why? It makes NO sense!

Right now, stuck in the middle of rewriting the Liar novel, I have the distinct sense that I’ve exceeded my skill set. I simply don’t have the writerly chops to get this book to where it needs to be. Yet tragically, the only way I can get to the level of skill I need to be at is to, well, rewrite this book.

Did your head just explode? I know mine did.

To make me feel better I think you should all go to Holly Black’s blog and vote for her to watch Shaun of the Dead. She is afraid of zombies and attempting to conquer her fears. Let’s make her do it! Her other options, quite frankly, are deeply lame.

You will watch Shaun of the Dead, Holly, oh yes, you will!

Dream Sequences

Riddle me this:

Why do I so often think that a dream sequence will solve my plot problems when as a reader I hate dream sequences?

Gah!

Yeah, I just deleted the dream sequence.

I wish

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

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

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

I do not like junk food

My imminent tour—I get on a plane to California in a matter of hours—has left me contemplating the one bad thing about book tours: junk food. Sometimes while going from school visit to book shop appearance there’s little time for eating and the options available are limited to substances I would rather not eat.1 I does not like the junk food.

I have nothing against anyone else consuming it, but me, I does not want to. My lack of junk food love never used to be a problem back home. But here in the US many people are personally insulted by my dislike of lollies (candy) and McDonalds and soft drinks and fake-cheese flavoured products. I do not like Crispy Creme or Dunkin’ Donuts. They taste like donuts. Donuts do not excite me.

Though I have pretended to like Crispy Creme so as not to offend hosts who were showing them off to me. How could I do otherwise when they were acting like I was about to experience the most delectable culinary sensation of all time? Only to find myself biting into a donut.

I have been made to try many of my friends’ junk food obsessions: Pop Tarts, Twinkies, Snowballs, Cheetos (turns out they’re the USian version of Cheezels and every bit as disgusting), and many others I forget the name of. They all have one thing in common: they’re really really bad. They taste of chemicals and have the texture of Styrofoam. I’m sure my friends enjoy them. And that’s nice for them. But I am no longer going to try another single thing from those particular “food” groups. I don’t care if it’s your favourite thing in the whole world—it ain’t going in my mouth.

I am not insulting you by refusing to eat these vile substances. Really. I am being nice. Cause if I don’t eat them then there’s all the more for you. Enjoy!

And here’s hoping I get to enjoy real food on my tour.

  1. How do I know this? From accompanying Scott on his tour and from hearing tales of other people’s tours. []

Sharpies

I was chatting with my trusted partener in time wasting friend, Mr Scalzi, in a fairly desultory manner when we made the startling discovery that both of us hates signing books with a Sharpie. And yet that is what we most often are given when we do signings.

What gives?

Sharpies bleed all over the page and their line is way too thick. They’re pretty much useless for signing books. Great for graffiting toilets and making posters but for book signing? Hopeless!

Why do we keep being given them to sign with? Anyone know? Care to venture a theory?

Are there writers who actually like signing with Sharpies?

For those wondering we both deal with the problem by bringing our own trusted signing pens. Scalzi swears by ballpoints with gel ink and I bring whatever pens I have that work. I don’t know the fancy-pants names for pens. I simply have a dual classification system:

  • pens that are crap,
  • pens that aren’t.

Sharpies are solidly in the second category when it comes to signing. As are any pen that tends to bleed or explode or write too thickly or thinly or invisibly or was made from the bones of a homicidal maniac.

Youse lot know what I mean. The pen that is crap is the very worst thing in the world.

I got nothing

Well, I got lots of things but a couple of them are embargoed. [[Kicks embargos]] And most of them are all about the book I am currently writing (more than 70 thou words now) which is deadly dull to anyone other than the person what’s writing the book, which would be me.

Ordinarily I would demand that you lot entertain me, but seeing as at the moment I only emerge from the bunker to have a brief squiz at the internets for a few minutes of every day . . . So how about you entertain yourselves?

Or something.

I returns to bunker. Is happy there. Warm. Filled with writing vitamins. Mmmm . . . bunker.

Another reason books are teh devil

Just when you’re approaching the end of one book and you really must give that book all your time and all your brain, another one comes along and starts insisting you write it instead.

This is WRONG and must stop. IMMEDIATELY.

Bugger off, stupid new book. GO AWAY!

Book = Teh Devil

Libba Bray likens writing a book to a love affair complete with the foul ending where everything goes pear shaped.1

Libba’s analogy does not work for me. It is too kind. It also implies that the author is some how at fault when the affair sours and ends. Au contraire.

The truth is that books are Satan. Or at least devils of some particularly nasty kind. Mine keep demanding bits of my body. And those demands escalate.

Initially they just want some hair, the odd fingernail, dead skin cells. That’s cool. I have a lot of hair. Fingernails grow back. I don’t even mind when it steps up to wanting all my fingernails down to the quick.

But right now it’s after my muscles. As in, it seems much happier when every muscle in my back and shoulders and neck is locked in place and I cannot move anything but my typing fingers and the muscles that make my eyes move. See? It has everything it needs to continue to be written but I’m incapable of doing anything else.

Cunning, eh?

This happens every single time with every single book. When my neck stopped moving on Monday, Scott sighed, looked at his watch and said, “It’s that week, isn’t it? I’ll be getting you a massage appointment then, won’t I?”

The devil books Maureen writes also freeze her muscles though the current one added a new variation when it threw in a dread skin disease. Sometimes the devil books we write visit even nastier afflictions upon us: like Scott‘s and Cassie‘s shingles. I have even heard of some writers being struck with leprosy and bubonic plague.

I am not complaining, and require no sympathy, think of this instead as a gentle warning to anyone foolish enough to want to make a career out of dealing with the devil writing books.

Gotta dash, book’s demanding blood.

  1. Yes, I’m doing it again, linking to someone what just linked to me. But, see, Libba and me are gunna get married and engaged people can do the mutual linky thing to their heart’s content. It’ll even be in our wedding vows. []

The next novel

A bunch of questions are being asked about the next novel both here and in emails. Here are some answers:

When is it due?

August

When will it be published?

September 2009

Who is publishing it?

Bloomsbury USA

What is it about?

Lies

What’s it called?

As mentioned the working (and I hope permanent) title is the same as a song from the 1990s by an all-girl band. Feel free to guess. No one has gotten close so far.

Is it a sequel to How To Ditch Your Fairy?

No

Why isn’t it a sequel to HTDYF?

Because

Will there be a sequel to HTDYF?

Maybe

How long do you think it will be?

75,00-85,000

How long is it now?

54,013

Wow, you have quite a few words to go and August isn’t very far away—are you panicking?

Aaargh!! Damn you!! Leave me alone!! STOP asking questions!!

You seem a bit tightly wound—have you thought of maybe getting a massage or something?

I kill you. I kill you with my bare hands.

I is sorry

That I haven’t answered emails in ages and ages or done many many other things I’m supposed to do. Like respond to comments here. But you may have noticed from some of my posts of late that I has book.

I has unfinished book.

Which must be finished before not too long.

Thus I am only capable of two things:

  1. Writing said book.
  2. Complaining about writing said book.

All else—communicating with other peoples, washing clothes and dishes and floors and self etc, paying bills, following the Tour de France, functioning like normal human being—all is on hiatus till book be done.

That is all.

The writing-not-easy thing, part the millionth

Yes, again! What of it? I promise this will be the last whingeing-about-writing post. Truly.1

I think I’m still in shock that my job is not always a doddle. You see, I fully expected that it would be.

Let me explain:

A full-time novelist is all I’ve ever wanted to be. Obviously the main reason I wanted to do it is because I’ve always loved telling and writing stories and I’ve done it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. But I also kind of figured that it would be easier than any other job. Writing stories was fun. Something I did when I wanted to take a break from the onerous crap that I had to do. Surely doing it most of the time would be even more fun?

I imagined my life as a full-time novelist would involve never having to get up before noon, writing only when I felt like it, never being stressed, six-figure advances for every book, mangosteens for every meal, and walking on rose petals while fairy dust fell from the sky.

None of this has happened! NONE of it.2

I’ll admit that my job is not as hard as some people’s. I’m not down a coal mine. I’m not in a war zone. I don’t run the risk of death or injury very often—though paper cuts can be nasty.3 Many people work way harder than I do. Like my sister, who does 3,000 hour a week in dark rooms, making everyone in Hollywood’s hair look real, and the monsters look super scary.4

What was I saying?

Oh, yes, I thought writing would be the easiest job on the planet and I’d never have to work hard. So every time I do have to work hard it’s a horrible shock. Thus my whingeing.

Though it probably is the easiest job on the planet, which leads me to the depressing thought that no job is without hard bits. How unfair is that?

  1. Though I am writing a novel about a compulsive liar so I could be practicing. Plus all I’m doing right now is writing. What the hell else do I have to blog about? []
  2. Though I do occasionally get to eat mangosteens. []
  3. Not to mention RSI and back pain. []
  4. Or something. I’m never entirely clear on what exactly Niki does. []

More on writing being not so easy

This is going to be a bit mutual linky-linky.1 Maureen Johnson linked to my quick little whinge about writing sometimes being hard before going into more detail about the sometime not fun-ness of it. And now I am linking to her. Quoting her even:

When writing goes well, it feels magical . . . but there is no magic to it. Writing goes well because you have done some work. You have spent MANY MANY MANY HOURS sitting at your desk, written pages and pages and pages of useless crap, read piles of books, done a lot more wrong than you have right, questioned your sanity and talent . . . and just kept going. No muse involved.

Maureen is against muses. In fact, I suspect that she would advocate killing them:2

I hate muses . . . I mean, with the obvious exception of Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. This idea that all you have to do is sit around and a muse lands on your head, dances around your desk, and whispers in your ear and BANG! BOOK!

Forget that. Get yourself a can of anti-muse spray. The things are credit-stealing parasites.

Personally, I think Maureen’s just jealous because—like me—she doesn’t have a muse. In fact, I’ll be honest and admit that the reason I think this is that I, too, am jealous. Frankly I would love to have a muse inspire me to work. Better still I’d like a muse to do the damn work for me.3

Imagine it: I’d be in my bedroom, lazing around, catching up on all the manga I haven’t had a chance to read in ages, because I’ve had to do so much research for this stupid book while my muse would be in the study working its arse off. Sounds good to me.

Sadly, that has never happened. Maybe if I’m more gooder?

I think part of the reason people refer to their muse is because they have no idea where their ideas come from.4 They should’ve asked Maureen. Trouble is all the muse talk makes it sound like ideas and inspiration are the most important part of writing, which, sadly, is rubbish.

I wish it wasn’t. I get dozens of ideas for novels every single day; I do not write dozens of novels a day. Nor do I write 4,380 novels a year.5 Even when you realise that it takes several ideas to make one novel the percentage of my ideas turned into novels is very very small. I’ve never managed to write more than one novel a year . . .

This does not mean that I think ideas are unimportant—I read a novel recently that was entirely void of ideas, let alone original ones, and I gave up after a few chapters—it just means that you can have the best idea in the world but if you don’t put in the hard yakka to transform them into a novel, or a play, or whatever, then they’re just ideas.

Also no muse—even Olivia Newton John—is going to help you do that.

  1. “You’re fabulous!” “No, you’re fabulous!” While those watching gag. []
  2. Possibly I was clued in to her sentiments by the title of her post: “Death to Muses” []
  3. And while they’re at it the flat needs vacuuming and dusting. []
  4. Or because they’re barking mad. []
  5. Which is how many ideas I have in a year assuming an average of 12 a day. []

The hard bits

The hardest part of writing a novel isn’t the beginning, or the middle, or the end. It’s not getting characters right, world building, keeping your sentences gorgeous, it’s none of those things. The hardest part is having to write when you don’t have the heart for it.

When you’re sad, or distracted, or in a bad mood, or bored. It’s writing when you can’t think straight, when the words are arranging themselves in dreadful “sentences” that hurt your brain. It’s writing when writing is the last thing you want to do, and every word, phrase, sentence is a struggle.

Writing through a crap day is the very hardest part of being a writer. Then getting up the next morning and doing it again. And the next. And repeat until the bloody book is finally finished.

(Blurbs are still harder, but.)

Stupid recalcitrant novel beasties

You know when you set out to write a novel and it’s supposed to be around 60-65 thousand words, like your last four novels, and knowing that you’ve calculated how much time you need, and how many words per day, and it’s all going along crackingly, and you’re meeting your targets, wrangling words—some of them are even pleasing words—when you realise that this novel is not, in fact, a 60k beastie, it’s more of a 75k beastie, possibly even a 80k or 90k MEGAbeastie? Well, um, that is somewhat sucktastic and hair-pullingly wrong.

Stupid recalcitrant novel beastie. I spit at you! Spit, I say.

Listen, mosquitoes!

I know that you mozzies have an ecological niche to fill. I’m sure that if you were wiped out some fabulous bird species would become extinct. I even get that my blood is your food. I’m not thrilled when you bite my hands and feet, my arms, legs, back and belly, none of that is exactly fun, but for the love of Elvis—could you stop biting my ears?

My EARS?!

Is that really too much to ask?