Getting Started

I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.

I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.

Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.

The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.

The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.

By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.

It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.

I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.

Procrastination is good

The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.

Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.

Research

Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.

Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.

Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.

Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.1

Many books at once

I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.

The first words I wrote of Liar are:

I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.

That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar four years later.

At the time I was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.

Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.2

Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.

If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.

If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.3

In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you.4 Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.

  1. It’s a sekrit project for no particular reason. I just really enjoy having sekrit projects. Makes me feel like a spy. What? I get to have fun! []
  2. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like writing books under contract. A contract for one book just makes all the uncontracted novel ideas seem that much more shiny. []
  3. Co-incidentally, or not really, me and Sarah Rees Brennan started writing Team Human at another point when I was overwhelmed by the NYC novel. I suspect there will be one or two more other novels before I finish the damn thing. []
  4. Unless it involves hurting anyone. []

Guest Post: Sarah Cross Tells Lies

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.

*********

Sarah Cross is the author of Dull Boy, a YA superhero novel. She blogs intermittently, posts random videos on tumblr, and is hiding in a unicorn-and-zombie-proof bunker until this whole mess is over.

Sarah says:

You may be wondering where Justine is.

And I am sorry to tell you that something horrible has befallen her.

She’s been kidnapped by unicorns.

Mo' unicorns, mo' problems
Yes: these vile creatures.

You may be familiar with the zombies vs. unicorns debate, and the forthcoming anthology that was inspired by that eternal struggle. If you take a look at the anthology’s cover, you’ll see that the zombies and unicorns are engaged in an epic battle for dominance. It’s a gorgeous panorama of rainbow-colored destruction: severed unicorn heads, zombies impaled on pearlescent-yet-deadly horns, and corpses floating in a sky blue stream.

But one element has been left out of this struggle–and that, my friends, is the human element.

Typical Team Unicorn supporters
Members of Team Unicorn pose with their deadly mascot.

Humans will not emerge from this battle unscathed. They have been forced to take sides. (Vote here … if you dare.) Either you’re Team Zombie, or you’re Team Unicorn; and Justine, unfortunately, as the founding member of Team Zombie, has been targeted by her enemies: those sparkly, bone-crushing, rainbow-mane-shaking, marshmallow-defecating, zombie-impaling unicorns. From what I understand (I’ve been sent several encoded messages, written with a crayon that was rubberbanded to their leader’s hoof), the unicorns intend to hold Justine prisoner until she betrays the zombies and swears allegiance to her sparkly captors. Since we KNOW that will never happen … I was hoping to drum up some support for her release here.

Please, if you believe in fairies … er, believe the unicorns should release Justine, leave a comment here pleading her case. Personally, I believe that zombies, humans, and unicorns can get along. But some people are so frightened for their lives (or so passionate about unicorn domination), that they’re doing their best to disguise themselves as unicorns.

Team Unicorn 4EVA
I think this is Diana Peterfreund’s new author photo …

It’s a sad state of affairs. And yet, given the ‘corns’ legendary cruelty, totally understandable.

Unicorns are more ruthless than the Spanish Inquisition. Their rainbow vomit can induce madness in even the most stable mind.

Rainbow vomit spells your doom
Unicorn torture tactic #1.

And you do NOT want to be subjected to their special blend of “Lucky Charms.” Seriously–you’re better off starving. If they bring you any colorful marshmallow cereal, beg for some gruel.

These marshmallows are not magically delicious
That’s so unsanitary, Mr. Unicorn …

I am posting these lovely unicorn pictures as a peace offering. Please, infernal unicorns, release Justine. Before Sarah Rees Brennan comes back and blogs about another Matthew McConaughey movie.

Last Day of 2009

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 2010. Basically 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.) Do feel free to skip it.1

This year, though, was less happy than any of the previous years I’ve summed up here. Thus my summary is brief. I want to get past 2009 and on to the fun of 2010 as fast as I can.

Books out: Liar (hc in US & tpb in Oz), HTDYF (in Oz & pb in US)

MorM&MLDeustchEdLiar sold in nine different countries this year (in order of sale): Taiwan, Germany, France, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands & Spain. That last sale was to Ediciones Versatil. I only just found out about it. Since I’ve been wanting to sell Spanish-language rights since I even knew such a thing existed I’m dead happy. (Champagne tonight!) Spanish is the only language I can even vaguely speak. (Other than English, obviously.) I’m going to be very curious to read the translation. (Or try to anyways.) Liar has now sold in as many countries as the Magic or Madness trilogy. HTDYF remains my least popular book o.s. having only sold in Australia, the US, Germany & this year to Japan. Germany is the only country other than Australia and the USA to have bought all my novels. Apparently, the trilogy is doing well there—yay for German readers! I figure that’s because of the awesome covers. The cover above is of a new German edition of the first two books in the trilogy which will be out in October next year. Isn’t it gorgeous?

There were also audio editions of Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy released in Australia by Bolinda and the USA by Brilliance. I was able to sit in on a bit of the recording of Liar and was invited to help choose the narrator of HTDYF both wonderful, wonderful experiences. I think the end results are amazing.

Okay, that was my 2009. Now on to next year!

First up, I have two books coming out in the USA in fall:

The paperback edition of Liar

Zombies versus Unicorns anthology edited with Holly Black

I am so excited about the antho. You would not believe how fantastic the stories are. Not a dud one in the book. Well, except for the unicorn stories which are all dreadful (Holly edited those) but you are going to adore the zombie stories, which are, no lie, the best stories written in the history of the universe by some of the best writers ever. Um, yes, I edited those ones. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to announce who the writers are yet. I’ll just give you their initials: LB, CC, AJ, MJ, SW, & CR. Tell no one! I’m not giving you the unicorn story writer initials because 1) I know you don’t care, 2) they’re all hack writers you never heard of anyways.

It’s quite astonishing that someone as spectacularly talented as Holly could be such a unicorn fan. I don’t understand. I think the best plan is for everyone to skip the unicorn stories and instead read Holly’s new novel, The White Cat, which is out in May next year and is the best thing she’s ever written. I say that as someone who adores everything Holly writes. The White Cat, though, beats them, hands down. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. You are in for such a treat! In even better news: it’s the first of a trilogy.

The ZvU antho began life as a sekrit project in 2007. It is my first sekrit project to see the light of day. Very happy making. It’s also the first project of mine to be inspired by this blog. By this comment exchange between me and Holly and many others, to be exact.

So that’s what I’m publishing, what about what I’m working on? People have been asking me about that a lot lately. I suspect because I’ve not blogged about it much lately. Especially compared the flurry of 1930s book posts earlier in the year. Speaking of which there have been queries about how the 1930s novel is going, seeing as how I haven’t mentioned it in awhile. “Have you given up on it?” I’ve been asked anxiously. (Mostly by my friend and critique partner Diana Peterfreund, who’s read some chunks of it.) I have not! But I have kind of been cheating on it.

Right now I’m working on four novels at once:

  • One is the 1930s novel, which has turned out to be much bigger than I thought. More than one novel, in fact. When it became clear to me that there was no way I was finishing it any time soon my brain spat out another idea for a much shorter novel and I started working on that.
  • That novel is set in the here2 and now and is closer in tone to How To Ditch Your Fairy. When I started working on it I stopped reading only 1930s books. I now only restrict myself when I’m working on the 1930s novel.
  • The third book I started awhile ago, it’s the lodger book for those of you who’ve been with this blog for awhile, and then rediscovered it while procrastinating. It was the one I put aside to concentrate on Liar.
  • The fourth one is a sekrit. Though not the sekrit project I thought would come to fruition this year that I mentioned at the end of last year. I still have hopes for that sekrit project but I do not see it happening for at least two or three years. Thank Elvis for the new sekrit project, eh?

At the moment none of these novels is winning the fight for my attention. And, honestly, while touring I was unable to get any writing done at all. I truly admire those who can. School events all day and then a library or book store event at night means no writing on tour for this particular writer. And travelling and returning home ate my December. (In a good way!) My next clear, no travelling, stretch starts tomorrow. Bless you, January 2010. So tomorrow I start writing again in earnest and that’s when I expect one of the four novels to take over my brain completely. But maybe it won’t. Maybe my new style of writing is to flit back and forth between books. I guess I’ll find out in 2010.

My only goal for this year is to be happy writing. If I finish one or more of these novels then wonderful. If not, no big deal.

I hope 2010 shapes up beautifully for all of us.

Happy new year!

  1. Cause it will be boring. Don’t say you weren’t warned. []
  2. Well, not Sydney (or NYC), but this planet and not an alternative version of it. []

Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan

I have no zombie apocalypse survival plan.

There are many reasons for this. Largely it’s because I am one of those least likely to survive. I am not exceptionally strong or fit. I don’t run very fast. My knowledge of firearms is limited to what I’ve seen on tellie. I don’t know how to drive. And though I assume I could figure it out in an emergency on account of having watched other people drive, I’d be a crap driver, wouldn’t I?

Basically, without civilization I’m a goner. My idea of roughing it includes not having a Vivienne Westwood ballgown.1 I have no idea how to fix anything except broken first drafts.

But I’ve also decided not to bother with a plan because I have learned from my copious consumption of zombie books and movies that there is no surviving the zombie apocalypse. All you can do is stave off the inevitable. Eventually the shopping centre is invaded by a biker gang, the fences fall, or the experimental zombie subjects in your underground bunker get loose.

So my crap plan is to keep the fridge stocked with really good champers, have lots of water and other essentials as well as emergency tins of foie gras2 in the cupboard, ice cream in the freezer, and hope that all my fave people are with me so we can watch the world go down together.

  1. That’s correct, I’m roughing it right now! []
  2. Sorry, Scott, my darling vegetarian husband. []

Not that fussed

Initial disclaimer: I realise that just by announcing that I’m not that fussed I’ll be seen as protesting too much. To which I respond: Whatever.

In the course of reading Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan’s lovely posts about all the ways in which YA is dismissed by people who know nothing about it and have read at most two YA novels, and the New Yorker blog post that set Carrie off, I realised that I, in fact, wasn’t particularly annoyed or outraged by it. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. The post in question, while declaring that it is the exception that proves that YA is not worth reading, raves about a novel by a truly wonderful writer: Kathe Koja’s Headlong. I’ve not yet read it. (Tragically, it is not set in the 1930s.) But I have heard great things and I’ve read several of Koja’s other novels. She’s a genius. Pure and simple. Anyone spending time praising her work in a public forum is okay by me. Continue!
  2. I’ve seen that kind of dismissal of the genre many times before—not just YA, but also sf and fantasy. It’s boring and I’m bored by it. Yawn. Been there done that. The more you hear an erroneous set of assumptions, the less they bother you. I’ve also mounted the counterarguments and had them largely fall on deaf ears so I can’t be bothered saying it all again. I’l leave it to those more able and willing. Like Diana and Carrie and Maureen Johnson and John Green and Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
  3. We’re doing better than they are. I don’t want to skite about my genre, but . . . Oh, who am I kidding. I totally want to skite! I don’t care that there are adults who will never read YA because there are heaps of adults who are reading it. Not to mention the gazillions of teenagers. YA totally outsells adult litfic. Our audience is bigger than theirs. Our books earn out; theirs mostly don’t. Many of the YA writers I know can make a living writing; most of the litfic writers I know can’t. Many YA writers sell in multiple territories. We have books in Korean and Russian and Indonesian and Turkish and Estonian as well as English. We get fan letters from our readers all the time. We’re doing just fine; it’s adult litfic that’s in trouble.

Now that last skiteful point may turn out to be an historical aberration. Horror as a genre was riding very very high in the eighties and look at it now! Exactly. There are very few “horror” sections left in book shops and Stephen King’s pretty much the only one still doing fabulously well. Best to take that point with a grain of salt. I imagine that when the genre dries ups and my books stop selling1 I’ll be annoyed all over again at those mean litfic types peeing on YA. But I hope not. On both counts. But, yes, especially in the US, this has been a very scary year in publishing.

In the meantime, yay for Koja praise. Yawn to ignorant dismissals of any genre. And yay for all us YA writers doing just fine, thank you very much, while the rest of the publishing world collapses. Some of you astute followers of publishing in the US may have noticed that there were way more job losses and other slash-and-burns in the adult publishing world than there were in children’s/YA. Maybe the current spate of litfic sniping at YA is sour grapes?2

Oops, seems that I’m still skiting3 Look away, pretend you saw nothing! And read whatever damn books you want to read: litfic, YA, romance, fantasy, manga, airplane manuals, cricket books. It’s all good.

I’ll get out of your way now . . .

  1. Those two events may or may not be concurrent. []
  2. Well, except that as I pointed out t’other day many of them haven’t even heard of us. []
  3. Which is dangerous given how precarious publishing feels right now, even though book sales are actually up in the USA on what they were the year before. []

YA and other animals

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

I’ve come across this example all too often:

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

Succinctly put, Diana!

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

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

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

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

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

Debut YA to look for next year

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that these three titles will be the big debuts of 2009:

Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant
Killer uni***ns and the tough gals what fight them. It’s funny and exciting and romantic and has amazing action scenes. What more do you need to know?

Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth
Zombie apocalypse, scary nuns, and a girl who’s never seen the ocean. You know you want this.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon
I have not yet read this one but Scott has and he keeps bugging me to read it. He loved it. I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s extremely witty and wonderful blog so I have high hopes.

They’ll all be out next (northern hemisphere) spring. I guarantee that you will love them.

What books are you all looking forward to next year?

Answering your zombie v un***rn questions

Yes, there will be a zombie-un***rn story. I hope you’re happy. Because personally I think that’s a bit gross.

No, I can’t tell you the names of any of the contributors. But trust me, they are all fabulously excellent writers.

Yes, it is a YA anthology. It will be edited by the marvellous Karen Wojtyla. That’s right, me and Holly, who are editing the Zombie versus Uni***ns anthology, will in turn be edited. It’s, like, a whole editing chain.

Sorry, the anthology is closed.

Yes, there will be lots of different kinds of zombies. Not just your regular Romero types.

I have no idea about the uni***n side of things. I doubt there’s more than one kind. And if there is, who cares? Hmmm, maybe you should direct your uni***n questions to Holly Black or to Diana Peterfreund both of whom know ridiculous amounts about that very lame topic.

Send your zombie questions my way. If I don’t know the answer I will turn to Robert Hood, who is Professor Zombie, and knows everything there is to know about zombies.

Thanks for all the excited emails and comments about the anthology. Us two editors are both thrilled that you’re thrilled.

GO TEAM ZOMBIE!!!!!

Sekrit news no longer sekrit! Involves zombies!

I am very very very excited that I finally, finally FINALLY get to share this fantabulous news. Seriously, I have had to keep this secret for MONTHS AND MONTHS. It’s been driving me crazy.

What is my spectacular news?

Holly Black
and me are editing an anthology: Zombies Versus Unicorns, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2010.

We have quite the line up. There are more best-sellers and award-winners and all-round geniuses than you can poke a stick at. Sadly though I cannot name names. That part has to stay secret until the official press release. Trust me, though, you are going to be stunned when you see who is on Team Zombie and who is on Team Lame Uni***n.

Once you’ve read the anthology you’ll be able to vote on which team made a more convincing case. Who will win? Team Zombie or Team Uni***n? I trust you will all make the right decision!

Or face my wrath!

GO TEAM ZOMBIE!!!!!

Zombies + Books of Wonder

I was reading today that the whole zombie v un***rn debate was started by John Green. I’m not going to link to the person who claims that because, you know, I’m not into shaming people. But, EXCUSE ME?!

The mighty zombie versus un****n debate began right here on this blog back in February 2007 with me on the side of zombies and Holly Black on the side of uni***ns. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or ignorant. Sheesh!

Let’s just say I am not happy that such a slanderous lie is circulating. John Green will be the first to tell you that it began over here.

In less cranky-making news I will be doing an appearance right here in New York City this coming Saturday with a cast of hundreds, including New York Times bestseller Suzanne Collins of Gregor and Hunger Games fame. But as far as I’m concerned the highlight is being on the same bill as Robin Wasserman of Skinned fame. Have you read it yet? If not why not?

You’ll find us here:

Saturday, 15 November, 12:00PM-2:00PM
with William Boniface, P.W. Catanese,
Suzanne Collins, Joanne Dahme,
Daniel Kirk, Dean Lorey, Amanda Marrone,
Ketaki Shriram and Robin Wasserman
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY

Who knows? If you join us you might spot some zombies. Or uni***ns. Though I hope not. I hear those single-horned creatures are definitely not toilet trained. I’m just sayin’.

Why zombies rule (updated x 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one escapes death.

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

Zombies for the win. Yet again.

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

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

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!

Voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixed terms.

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

Zombies! + book divas + banned books week

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

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

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

Take that, Holly Black!

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

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

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

Go forth and read a banned book!

For those asking

For those asking why I haven’t been blogging the US election:

It’s because I cannot believe what I’m seeing and hearing. Seriously if I had made up a tenth of what’s been going on and put it in a novel no one would credit it. They’d be all, “The characters keep changing! They don’t make any sense. And one of them seems to be a malfunctioning robot! Also there’s a zombie! I thought this was meant to be realism. What the hell?”

Not to mention that I cannot talk about wolf killers dispassionately. I love wolves. Almost as much as I love quokkas.

Plus I’ve been in a really great mood lately. I don’t want to bugger that up.

So that’s why I’m not blogging the election.

But if you want to know what some other YA authors think check out Maureen Johnson’s YA for Obama social site.

And just so you don’t think I’m being partisan, which I’m not on account of I’m not USian and have no vote in the US of A, here is the YA for McCain site.

Enjoy!

Me, I’m retreating back to the simpler and happier times of the 1930s—researching my next book—when there were no earth-shattering world-wide financial crises, no wars, and no environmental disasters. Oh, wait . . .

Never mind.

Next novel poll

What 27% of my readers want is for me to write a novel about unicorns versus zombies. And right now I gotta tell you I’m dead tempted cause it wouldn’t require nearly as much research as the current novel.1 So colour me slightly nudged on the zombie v unicorn front. I may have news to report upon said subject at some point in the future. Or not. You never know where my ten-second attention span will take me.

The next most popular options were a ghost story where the ghosts are perfectly aware that they’re ghosts. Which would be just a regular ghost story, right? One day I will write one of those. And then the snowboarding werewolves. Gotta tell you, I don’t see it happening. I’m not oudoorsy and I am particularly against being outdoors in snow. I have no desire to try snowboarding. None at all. And you can’t write about a sport you haven’t tried yourself. Also I’d have to learn all about wolves. Too much research! I am currently against research.

However, what most astonished me about the latest poll was that several of my readers—3% of the total—voted for mainstream realism. Clearly, they were messing with me. There can be no other explanation. Me write non-genre? Are you insane? I have noted all your names and will go after you in my own time. Watch your backs.

Enjoy the new poll. I was feeling random. It happens.

  1. Don’t hit me, Diana. I know you’ve done tonnes of research for your unicorn novel. But my unicorn v zombies novel would be a lazy one, okay? []

Zombie Idol has been decided!

Congratulations to Adrienne and Danielle for making the finals and to Adrienne for winning. I’m relieved I wasn’t allowed to vote cause I have no idea who I’d’ve voted for. I thought both pieces were fabulous.

I shall miss Zombie Idol. Literature without zombies popping here, there, and everywhere, well, it’s hardly worth reading, is it?

The Finals of Zombie Idol

I have been remiss and forgotten to point out that voting is now open for the finals of ZOMBIE IDOL!!!

Go vote!

Voting is open for another (almost) six hours.

That is you must vote before 7PM Eastern US of A time.

Go!

Zombie Idol voting begins

The final five of Zombie Idol have been selected. Now all you have to do is go and vote for your favourite.

And not to worry if you had a yen to enter Zombie Idol. This is just round one. The deadline for round two entries is midnight of 21 February (East Coast USA time). To whet your appetite here is Libba Bray’s take on Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown:

In the great scary mall
There were survivors
And some dark halls
And a picture of
The zombie cow jumping over George Romero
And there were three little zombies sitting on chairs
And two dead kittens
And a pair of severed mittens
And a little toy house
And a flesh-eating mouse
And a lost sombrero and pain and a bowl of bloody rains
And an old zombie lady whispering “braaaaiins!”
Goodnight mall
Goodnight sombrero
Goodnight zombie cow jumping over George Romero
Goodnight light
And goodnight shotgun
Goodnight zombie bears
Goodnight chairs
Goodnight dead kittens
And goodnight severed mittens
Goodnight useless locks
And goodnight head-gouging rocks
Goodnight screams
And goodnight bloody rains
And goodnight to the old lady
Whispering, “braaaaiiins!”
Goodnight flesh-eaters
Goodnight hope
Goodnight to the survivors trying to cope

I’m a bit shocked that no one has inserted a zombie into Snugglepot and Cuddlepie or Little House on the Prairie. It’s not too late: send your entry to maureen AT maureenjohnsonbooks.com with the subject header ZOMBIE INSIDE! by 21 Feb. Go forth and zombify!

More market research

Vampires are so far ahead of the competition in my latest poll that it’s ridiculous. Fifty-four per cent of my readers believe there are vastly more bad books about them than anything else on the list. Lagging way behind are faerie and witches at 9%. Daikaiju and ghouls got no votes at all.

On the other hand, my last piece of intensive market research found that faery and vampires were the most popular creatures of the night. What to conclude?

  1. People love vampires when done well, but hate them done badly.
  2. There’s a massive opening for novels about giant monsters and/or ghouls.

Therefore, my next novel clearly has to be about a (reimagined) vampire who battles giant monsters with the assistance of an army of ghouls. Practically writes itself, dunnit? Though it does cry out for zombies . . .

Which leads to my next poll, which you will find to your right.

Zombie idol!

So, the whole Maureen Johnson stick a zombie into a novel thing has just gotten heaps bigger. Like heaps. You need to go over there to check out the extent of the bigness. I heard a rumour that there are more than a gazillion entries already! A bazillion gazillion trabillion! So many that’s she’s extended the competition.

And gotten some judges in. Stellar judges such as Meg Cabot, John Green, E. Lockhart, and, um, me.

I’m excited and delighted and slightly nervous. How long does it take to read a bazillion gazillion trabillion entries? Also—Oh. My. God.—I’m a judge with Meg Cabot. I think I’m going to faint.

To forestall the fainting fit here is my little take on the whole thing:

I got him to propose to me yes even though I am a zombie he said yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of zombieness and yes so we are zombies all a zombie’s body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for zombies today yes that was why I ate his brains because I saw he understood or felt what a zombie is and I knew all of his grey matter and pain and I said yes I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes take my brains take my bones take my marrow take my everything and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many zombie things he didnt know of Mulvey’s brains and Mr Stanhope’s brains and also Hester’s and father’s and old captain Groves’s and the grey matter of sailors playing all birds fly and I say yes your brains are the best and the pink and blue and yellow zombie houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar awash with blood and bones where I was a zombie of the mountain yes when I put the blood in my hair like the Andalusian zombies used and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall with his brains calling to me and I thought well as well him as another his brains are bigger and greyer and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower zombie and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my teeth all perfume on his skull and yes and his heart was going like mad and yes brains I said braiiins yes I will Yes.

Please don’t sue me, Joyce estate . . . is parody. Also it just sang out for zombies. Don’t you reckon?

Maureen Johson’s zombie contest

Over at insideadog Maureen Johnson is staging the best contest in the history of contests with the most excellent prize of an advance copy of Maureen’s wonderful new book, Suite Scarlett. All you have to do is rewrite a paragraph or two of your favourite book by adding a zombie. Maureen demonstrates how it is done by adding one to a scene from Pride and Prejudice. To wit:

“What think you of books?” said he, smiling.

“Books? Oh! No, I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings.”

“I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions.”

“No. I cannot talk of books in a ballroom; my head is always full of something else.”

Hearing this, a nearby zombie turned, lured by the prospect of whatever was contained within Elizabeth’s head. He was within striking distance of her when the other dancers caught him up and swept him away by accident.

“The present always occupies you in such scenes, does it?” said Darcy, throwing a look of doubt at the still-flailing zombie as he was pulled down the line.

“Yes, always,” she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject. Elizabeth’s distraction was not related to the zombie. She had not seen it, and was only vaguely aware of the fact that the time of the dance had been thrown off by the newcomer’s awkward shuffling and the panic that ensued.

“I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”

The zombie once again made his shambling way toward Elizabeth and the delicious promises of her coconut-like head.

“I am,” said he, with a firm voice designed to scare away the interloper.

“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”

“I hope not,” Darcy replied, noting with satisfaction that the zombie had once again been dragged into the action by the remaining dancers who had not yet observed his presence in their midst.

The zombie, confounded by recent events, tired of the chase for Elizabeth. He instead ripped off the head of the nearby Sir Watkin Smiley-Franklin and commenced in the eating of his brain, which pleased Mr. Darcy even more. Sir Watkin was a terrible bore on the subject of farm taxes, and Mr. Darcy was much relieved to see all of his thoughts on the subject being consumed by the zombie’s loose, grinding jaw.

If you didn’t already think Maureen was a genius surely that proves it.

Go enter the best contest ever. If one of you were to rewrite a snippet one of my books it would make me very happy!

Genre schmenre

I had a conversation with Holly Black recently where we both admitted that every time we’re told that we can’t do some particular writing thing we are compelled to do it.

“Vampires are played out. There is no new take on vampires left!” someone will tells us.

“Right then,” we’ll think to ourselves. “Challenge! We’ll be writing a vampire story.”

“Avoid adverbs and adjectives,” someone will say.

We will immediately have an attack of the Angela Carters.

David Moles admitted to a similar reaction to definitions of genres. They make him want to write something entirely outside the limits of the genre being defined.1 Holly and me are the same,2 whenever we see a YA definition we find ourselves thinking of the exceptions and thinking of ways we can stretch those boundaries. How can we get away with writing books where the protags aren’t teens? Or have the kind of content everyone is so sure you can’t have in a YA? Or where the story does not have the immediacy everyone associates with the genre?

It’s probably very childish but there’s a level at which all writing rules (never head hop! avoid passive voice!)3 and genre definitions make my back straighten, my nostrils inflate, and leave me with an overwhelming urge to shout, “You are not the boss of me! I’ll write what I bloody well want to write!”

When I was chatting about it with Holly we decided it was a good thing. Definitions be damned!

  1. Well, okay, he said something kind of sort of like that but it’s my paraphrase and I’m sticking to it. []
  2. I also like to defy certain grammar rules: “Holly and me” sounds way better than “Holly and I” which always sounds to me like the British queen saying “My husband and I”. []
  3. Except for always add zombies. That writing rule you should all obey. []

The Non-infringability of Plot and/or Ideas

People’s confusion over what plagiarism is sometimes drives me to loud and angry screamage. Thus I was thrilled to read Candy’s recent post, On Ideas, Repetitiveness and Copyright Infringement over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books:

There seems to be some confusion regarding the status of ideas in copyright law. You can’t copyright a plot or an idea. You can only copyright the specific expression of that plot or idea as recorded in some sort of tangible form. Think about the nightmare of attempting to nail down and legislate a plot or idea for a story. How specific would you have to be before you could declare something unique enough to copyright?

“An angst-ridden story about a vampire falling in love with a human.”
Dude, if you can copyright that and collect a small fee every time somebody published that story, you could have your own giant pool of gold coins to swim in, Scrooge McDuck-stylee. (Side note: doesn’t that sound like a painful idea to you? Because it always has to me.)

“An angst-ridden story in a contemporary setting about a vampire warrior falling in love with a human woman.”
OK, that’s a little bit more specific, but c’mon. (Also: goddamn, think of all those germs on all those coins. There is a reason why we call it “filthy rich.”)

What. She. Said.

Read it! Memorise it! Tattoo it all over your body!

I am so sick of people thinking that retelling a story is plagiarism. If that were so then we would have, at most, ten novels. All books about vampires, zombies, middle-aged English professors are not the same (well, okay, some of them are). It’s not about the story you tell so much as HOW YOU TELL IT. Why is that so difficult to understand?

Georgette Heyer did not plagiarise Jane Austen. David Eddings didn’t plagiarise J. R. R. Tolkien. Walter Mosley didn’t plagiarise Raymond Chandler. I did not plagiarise C. S. Lewis.

The next person who says to me, “Oh my God! Did you see that Certain Writer’s next book is set in a future world where you have to have your skin removed and replaced with carbon when you turn sixteen? That is just like Scott’s Uglies books! He should sue!” That person will get smacked. HARD.

There are bazillions of science fiction stories where something happens to you at a certain age. Logan’s Run anyone? And many more stories set after the apocalypse. There are even a fair few that deal with physical beauty and its enforcement. Like those two Twilight Zone episodes, “Number 12 Looks Just Like Me” and “Eye of the Beholder” (both based on short stories).

Watch them and read Scott’s books. The only thing they have in common is an idea. The characters, the mood, the texture of the writing, the way they makes you feel is very different. Scott paints an entire world with three-dimensional characters and relationships; those eps can only lightly sketch in world and characters. Given that they’re short and Scott’s books in the Uglies world add up to almost 400,000 words, that’s not surprising.

Same goes for the ridiculous claim that Melissa Marr is ripping of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry books. As if.

Holly Black refutes the claim succinctly:

I can only assume that Ms. Henderson didn’t realize there’s an entire genre of urban fantasy faery books published in the 80s like Terri Windling’s Bordertown anthologies and the the novels of Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner, Midori Snyder and many others.

It is really bizarre to me that she would point to the Merry Gentry series as though it was the first to use faerie folklore in a contemporary setting.

Plagiarism happens when you steal someone else’s words. If that future world book with the carbon skin had the following opening: “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” And featured characters called Telly, Shiy, and Daniel who ride hoverboards and wind up starting a revolution and are described with language that is very close to how Scott described Tally, Shay, and David and have very similar dialogue, well, then I might start to be a little more concerned.

But remember Scott’s opening sentence is already a riff on the opening of William Gibson’s Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” It’s a little science fiction joke/homage. Homage is not plagiarism either.

Lots of books echo the words of other books. On purpose. To bring them to mind so that the reader (if they recognise the reference) can remember the earlier book and enjoy the light it casts on the one they have in their hands. Literary echoes done well are cool.

Writers are influenced by the writers who went before them. Every single book they’ve read, movie they’ve seen, place they’ve been, conversation they’ve had creeps into their work. I know that if I hadn’t read Enid Blyton, Angela Carter, Charles Dickens, Isak Dinesen, Raymond Chandler, and Tanith Lee obsessively as a kid my writing would be very different. Without Flowers in the Attic and Alice in Wonderland I might not even be a writer.

Pretty much all writers borrow plots. Even when they’re not aware that that’s what they’re doing. I was not thinking of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I wrote Magic or Madness. Borrowing a plot is NOT a bad thing. It’s what writers do. Shakespeare did it. Afterall, there aren’t that many plots: Stranger comes to town and changes everything! Person goes on a journey and changes themself! Two people fall in love but their family is against it! Two people meet, hate each other, then gradually realise they were meant to be together!

Think about telling a joke. Some people do it well. Some people are total shite at it. It’s not the joke—it’s the way it’s told.

Here’s a game for you. How many novels, movies or whatever can you think of that fit the following descriptions. The first two are lifted from the Smart Bitches:

  • A woman dares to make the mistake of evincing sexual desire and unconventionality, the punishment for which is death
  • Scrawny, gormless boy enjoys a series of wacky adventures and eventually triumphs over adversity
  • Teen girl discovers she is faery, not human, and becomes entangled with a handsome faery
  • Teen copes with drunk/drug-addicted/loser father/mother and learns own strength

Thus endeth the rant. I must now go back to my idea and plot stealing. Novels don’t write themselves you know.

I am not an expert

I occasionally get letters from beginning writers and newly published authors who are confused by some of my writing advice and observations about the publishing industry. Confused, because they have read exactly the opposite information elsewhere.

This is my disclaimer for everything I say about writing and publishing1: I am not an expert.

I do not know everything there is to know about writing and publishing. What I post here may or may not apply to you. That’s especially true if you’re looking for publishing wisdom. I’ve only been in this game a bit shy of five years.2 There’s still a TONNE I don’t know or understand. I’m constantly bewildered by publishing. Fortunately, I know lots of more experienced publishing folk whom I can turn to for explanations, like my agent. Though sometimes it’s hard to ask because I don’t entirely understand what it is that I don’t understand. The publishing industry is arcane and weird.

As for writing. Well! There are zillions of different ways to write a novel. Me, I’ve only written six. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to folks like George Sand or Joyce Carol Oates. I’m still learning.

The novel I’m writing right now is unlike anything I’ve written. Previously, I’ve started at the beginning and written my way through to the end. Makes sense, right? This new novel I’m writing scene by scene but so far not one of these scenes follows directly from a previous scene. This novel refuses to be written chronologically. It’s making me relearn how to write a novel. It hurts my head!

All writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe not. There are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines. Do what works, chuck what doesn’t, but stay open to it maybe working for you at a different time or for a different novel.

Well, there is one rule: All novels are improved by the addition of zombies. VASTLY IMPROVED.

  1. or anything else for that matter []
  2. And only if you count from the offer. The actual contract wasn’t signed until late 2003. []

The Scalzi, Westerfeld and Me podcast continues

Here’s the

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in which Scott threatens to push Scalzi out a window. Stoush!

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.

Podcast Seriousness

Not!

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

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

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

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!

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

Matter of taste

Someone just told me I’m wrong about Bring It On being the best movie of all time. Excuse me? If I say it is then it is! This is my personal list of the best movies of all time. I cannot be wrong about it.

I’m not saying there aren’t other best movies of all time. There are! The Princess Bride is one. Rififi is another. Not to mention Out of the Past and Lagaan.

I am also not wrong about mangosteens being the best fruit.

Or The Wire being the best television.

Or Emma and Hellsing and anything by Osamu Tezuka being the best manga.

Or zombies being the best monsters.

And cricket absolutely is the best sport.

So nyer!

Though, of course, I reserve the right to tell you that your choices of best movie etc of all time is completely wrong. Because I am blog overlord.

Zombies, of course (updated)

For research purposes, I am going to drastically increase my zombie culture consumption.

Thus far I’ve been reading and loving The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. (I read the trades not the skinnies—so no spoilers for the latest issues!)

I also plan to read World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks. So no spoilers, people!

Update: Forgot to mention I have read the entire and very excellent Kelly Link zombie oeuvre.

What other zombie books and graphic novels should I be reading?

And there’s the movies—because really the whole zombie thing is very movie driven.

Obviously I’ve seen and loved all the George Romero zombie films. Yum. My faves. Yes, even the recent Land of the Dead that I’ve heard quite a few people bagging. The only one of his I think is a bit sub-par is Day of the Dead and even it is totally worth watching.

I’ve seen The Dawn of the Dead remake. Very disappointing.

And obv. there’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks.

Not to mention Shaun of the Dead. Very droll.

There’s also Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. Yes, that’s right I’m open to non-Romero voudun-style zombies.

Update: Also forgot to mention that, yes, I have seen the Resident Evil films. I love ‘em.

So what are the best zombie movies that I haven’t seen? And if you could sell ‘em to me and not just list titles. I’m trusting youse lot to be my zombie entertainment quality control.

Vampire elves

Holly Black is making me giggle (via Gwenda). Now all I can think about is vampire elves and zombie unicorns and werewolf-griffins and pirate-orcs and . . . and which of all of those would win in battle and what they’d look like and what they’d eat. Would vampire elves still not like steel and not tell lies? And what would a novel with all these creatures in it be like?

Oh, hush, Justine. You have stories to write! Novels to unbuggerize! Admin to adminerate! Stop procrastinating.

I am not a zombie

Unlike Mr Scalzi and a scary number of others, I am not a zombie. The flesh is still pink and I’m craving miso soup, not brains. (At least not unless they’re lamb’s brains lightly sauteed with lots of garlic.)

I suspect that the apocalypse has not hit New York City yet. Figures that it would ravage the midwest first.

We have a reinforced steel door and enough food to last . . . Hang on a second.

Oh. Okay, enough food to last a few hours. But there’s lots of booze. So I’m good.

And, frankly, I can think of no better way to spend the apocalypse than holed up with me old man and two cases of really good wine.

Here comes Scott to open the first bottle.

Scott? Scott! Oh my Go—

Yay! Aargh! Woohoo! Eep!

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

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

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

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

To quickly answer two of your questions:

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

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

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

The Tall One

John Hinde was one of my favourite film critics of all time. He was a wonderfully warm and funny man. He could give charmingly negative reviews to sucky films without a hint of rancour, reviews that made you want to see the crappy film just to see what he was talking about. I always wanted to meet him. When he died I cried.

Now he’s made me cry again by setting up an extraordinary literary prize in his wife’s memory. It’s the “Barbara Jefferis Award for the best Australian novel that empowers the status of females or depicts them in a positive light.” The award goes to an Australian writer, but isn’t restricted by setting or genre, only by the requirement that they postively depict women. (Were Patrick White still alive NO WAY would he win one of these babies.1) So if you’re an Aussie and you write a book set in Uzbekistan about a zombie unicorn apocalypse you’re still in with a shot. That’s in keeping with both the wide variety of films John Hinde loved and with the tremendous range of Barbara Jefferis’ novels.

Barbara Jefferis was brilliant. I read and adored her novel The Tall One when I was eleven or twelve. The book had a huge impact on me.

See, when I was young I was very tall. Much taller than anyone else my age. When I stopped growing at twelve I was 172.5cm (5ft8in). I got teased about it a lot. My aged Old World relatives offered to pay for operations to stop me growing so I’d still have a chance of getting a husband. No, I’m not making that up. My parents were laughing too hard to be horrified. “What are they going to do cut off your knees?”

Despite everything my parents said about the fabulousness of being tall and of being a girl, I was taking in the messages from my insane relatives and the kids at school. I slumped my shoulders and desperately wished to be a boy. Reading The Tall One helped clean that crap out of my mind. It’s about this 182cm (6ft) girl in medieval times in, I think, England (it’s a while since I read it so I’m hazy on the exact setting). Here was someone like me, or, at least, how I’d like to be: Tall and strong, standing up to people putting her down, owning her power, standing straight. And wry and funny too.

I was smitten and started being proud of my height. (After which I promptly stopped growing and ceased to be tall. Whatcha going to do?)

This award is a wonderful legacy from two exceptional and fascinating Australians, John Hinde and Barbara Jefferis. I hope it honours a series of wonderful novels and, even more, I hope it will do something towards bringing Jefferis’ work back into print. I’d love to see The Tall One readily available again.

  1. I am suppressing the urge to list all the prominent living Australian novelists who are even less chance than Mr White. I sit on my fingers. I hold my breath. Must. Not. Be. Bad. []

Quit it already

What is it with you people?

I tell you what an abomination in the sight of the Lord unicorns are and how much I love love love zombies and what do you do? You send me an endless stream of unicorn-related stuff. Gah!

Quit it already! No more!

Now zombie related links I’m all for. Fire away. Share your zombie love with me.

But the next person to so much as type or say the u-word anywhere near me? Well, that’s a paddlin’.

I hope I have made myself clear.

Stop asking already

So apparently knowing my position on zombies and unicorns is not enough for you people. You need to know my stance on all the other important issues. Here you go then:

Werewolves versus vampires

Gotta be werewolves. There’s the whole monthly cycle thing. What could be worse1 than menstruating? Turning into a wolf! The whole metaphor for adolescence: “Ew! My body is changing in hairy and grotesque ways!” Plus wolves! What is not unbelievably awesome and fascinating and wondrous about wolves? Nothing!

Best examples: “Boobs” by Suzy McKee Charnas which is possibly the best short story ever written2 and Ginger Snaps, a most excellent Canadian movie.3

Vampires do not do it for me. The thought of getting intimate with someone who’s not only walking dead, but has (usually) been dead for centuries. Ewww! Call me old fashioned but that does not spell romance to me; it spells necrophilia. (I know that seems to contradict my stance on zombies, but no one’s talking zombie boyfriends.)

Superman versus Batman

Batman. Please! Where is the interest in someone who can do everything and can only be defeated with a really lame plot coupon? Kryptonite can kiss my left eyeball. Plus Batman is campy goodness. I am less fond of his darker incarnations. Plus Eartha Kitt! Julie Newmar!

Best examples: the TV show! Kapow! Zap! Biff! Zonk!

Saiyuki versus Scott Pilgrim

No! Don’t make me choose! I can’t. My brain will explode. The world will break into tiny pieces. I loves them both. I do! A jeep that’s a dragon versus dance fights with evil ex-boyfriends? They’re both so wonderfully cracktastically heavenly. If you haven’t gotten into either you really really really should.

I can give you no more answers. I’m too busy clutching my copies of Saiyuki and Scott Pilgrim to my chest and sobbing over their perfection. (Plus gotta go pack for Houston.)

But feel free to ask more curly quessies and supply your own answers. Though not if they’re the wrong answers, obviously. That’s right, unicorn lovers, I mean you.

  1. Some would say better. There are times when I would rather be a wolf than menstruating . . . []
  2. Except for all the other great short stories. []
  3. I quite like the sequel, but on no account see the third one. In fact, let us just pretend there is no third movie. []

Zombies, unicorns, scrotum (updated)

What have I started? Arguments about the relative merits of zombies and unicorns rage across the intramanets. And on each thread someone suggests the zombie-unicorn hybrid. Great minds think alike? Or fools seldom differ?

I was greatly distressed that lovely friends of mine like Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Meg McCarron and Literaticat have fallen pray to the false glittery charms of unicorns despite the fact that being virgin fascists unicorns would have nothing to do with them. I guess it falls into the whole desiring-what-you-can’t-have camp. Perhaps to resolve our issues Holly and I should collaborate on a Zombies vesus Unicorns novel? I will write the zombies and she can have the unicorns. Though I’m not sure how well that will work given that she won’t read about zombies and I won’t read about unicorns.

Some school librarians are saying that they won’t have Susan Patron’s Newbery Award-winning novel, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, in their library because it contains the word “scrotum” (in reference to a dog). Apparently “scrotum” is an offensive word. I had no idea. I thought it was an anatomical term for a part of the male body. I’ve never heard anyone use it as a swear word and I come from a swearing people.

The New York Times also covers the story but seems to think that authors sneak words like “scrotum” into their novels solely to offend.1 Um, what now? Rosemary Graham responds eloquently to the extremely unbalanced Times coverage. The best reporting on the whole story can be found at Publishers Weekly which points out the role Jordan Sonnenblick and Asif! had in drawing attention to it.

I write novels to tell the best stories I can for teenagers. I try very hard to write characters who are believeable and I choose the language they use accordingly. I do not set out to offend anyone. I’m sorry when that happens, but I’m not going to write less believable stories in order not to offend people. That leads to the worst possible kind of censorship: When you start second-guessing yourself. Can I use the word “pom”? No, that will offend English people. Can I use the word “pink”? No, that will offend pink-haters (and possibly also pink-lovers). How about “jasmine”? No, Margo Lanagan will come gunning for me. When does it end?

Librarians and school librarians in particular have an incredibly hard job. I admire them tremendously. I just wish we were living in a world where people’s response to being offended was to talk about why, to explain the history and context of the word, and how that has made it offensive to them, rather than trying to wipe the books that contain the word off the face of the earth. I mean I am not advocating banning books about unicorns. I just won’t blurb them.

As soon as it is warm enough to go outside I’m off to buy a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky from my local children’s bookshop.

Update: Scott adds his two cents’ worth.

  1. For the record, if concerned adults can find the naughty words we wicked authors sneak into our books then we clearly haven’t been sneaky enough. []

More on blurbs, plus zombies

I am so proud that my serious, soul-baring post about the trials and tribulations of blurbs wound up turning into a debate about whether unicorns or zombies are better. Sometimes I just love my genre people.

This response to Scalzi and me on blurbing also made me smile. I am, indeed, very proud of this sentence:

“How do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?”

The writer of that post suggests that it would be amusing to just blurb everything and if you don’t like a book give it an ambiguous blurb of the “I cannot praise this book too highly” variety. Clearly they meant it in jest, but it reminded me that there are writers out there who do exactly that.

Writers of this ilk let you know that they don’t like your book via their blurb:

Justine Larbalestier’s Zombie Dancing is the worst kind of commericial romantic filth. My eyes they bleed! I would rather eat my own entrails than be in the same room with this “book”. Run away as fast as you can!
—Discerning Genius Writer, author of genius books that sell very well thank you very much

It’s only happened to me once (very early on in my career) but, wow, did it hurt. Basically in four sentences this famous (in Australia) writer said they thought my writing sucked and I had no future.

Ouch.

Frankly, I think writing ambiguous, indifferent, or bad blurbs in the real world is passive aggressive nastiness. If you don’t like a book, don’t blurb it. Writers are delicate fragile creatures. Don’t be pouring acid on them!

To sum up, zombies are a zillion, bazllion, katrillion times better than smelly old unicorns, and blurbs are a tricky business.

Blurbs

John Scalzi has a post up explaining his blurb policy. He even kindly explains what blurbs are.

I think his policy is so spot on that I’ve adopted it (slightly amended) as my own:

1. Yes, I am happy to look at books and if I love them I will blurb them.

I adore reading my peers’ work and getting to read them ahead of publication is particularly exciting. It makes me feel like I’m really part of the Young Adult publishing world with my little ole finger right on the pulse. Not to mention that being asked for a blurb is an honour.1 It says that someone somewhere thinks my say so might be good enough to sell a book. That’s flattering as hell. I mean, Wow.

So far I’ve been lucky: None of the books I’ve been asked to blurb have been bad. And yet I’ve blurbed only one novel. I’ve not blurbed books I thought were pretty darn good because I didn’t think they’d be a good fit with my audience. Or because they touch on certain taboos or bugbears of mine. (You know, like unicorns or negative portrayals of Australians.)

I have now read and not blurbed several books by people I know and like and who’ve written other books I would have blurbed in a heartbeat. It sucks, but not as much as having my name on the back of a book that I feel uncomfortable about. I can’t have my readership thinking I endorse unicorns.

I have to really love a book or think it’s doing something important or new to have my name on the back extolling its virtues. I don’t have the largest readership in the world, but I want my readers to know that if I’m talking up someone else’s book I’m really into it. That way if they read it, hate it, and call me on it, I can in good conscience say, “I blurbed it because I loved it. I’m sorry you don’t agree.”

2. Requests for blurbs should come from the book’s editor or publisher, not from the writer.

That’s the ideal, but sometimes your editor is too busy, or your press too small to do it, and it falls on your shoulders. I understand. I’ve been there.

Scalzi gives lots of excellent reasons why it’s better for the blurb request to come from the publishing house than from the writer. I’ll add another one: it’s really embarrassing for a writer to have to ask another writer to publically praise them.

I’ve had to ask writers to sing the glories of me. Even if I know they like my work, and are likely to be willing, it makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. I really really really hate having to ask. I’d much rather have someone else do that. I’d much rather not know if a writer chooses not to blurb me. I’d much rather not even know who was asked.

And I’d really much rather have writers not know I’ve been asked to blurb their books so it never comes up that I haven’t done so. Having to explain to a friend why you won’t blurb their book is one of the world’s least fun things to do. Me, I don’t even like hurting the feelings of authors I’ve never met! Scalzi’s right, it’s just like shooting their dog. And how do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?

I have several writer friends who have a no-blurb policy. I’m starting to think that’s a really good idea. The reason I can’t adopt it is that so many people have blurbed me. It would feel churlish not to blurb other people. I know from fan mail that people have picked up my books because of blurbs from Holly Black, Samuel R. Delany, Cory Doctorow and Karen Joy Fowler. While I don’t have anywhere near their audience, if a blurb from me will help someone new whose work I love, than of course I will blurb them.

The other scary thing about blurbs—and let’s face it they’re a whole lot of terror for a writer—is that they’re really really hard to write. Seriously it’s easier to write a whole new novel than it is to write a good blurb:

“You should read this book. It is really good. I liked it. Heaps.”
—Justine Larbalestier, author of books that must really suck if that’s her idea of a good blurb.

Gah!

  1. Though who gets asked is a mystery to me, seeing as how I get asked to do it so much more often than Scott “New York Times Bestselling Author” Westerfeld does. What’s up with that?
    []

What authors owe their readers

There’s been much debate about what authors owe their readers out there in bloggyland. I think the whole thing is really rather simple:

When I’ve got my writing hat on then it’s very clear that authors owe their readers absolutely nothing. Do you hear me readers? I owe you nothing!

I can write about what I want, when I want, and how I want. If I want to set fire to your favourite character’s hair, push them off a cliff, and then jump on them, I can and I will, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. So nyer!

When I’ve got my reading hat on, then it’s very very clear that authors owe me exactly the book I was expecting. And Mr Pullman in particular owes me big time for the rubbish third book in the Dark Materials trilogy.1 Do you hear me writers? You owe me everything!

You owe me more books in my favourite series even if you’re bored with them. You owe me unharmed favourite characters, or at least not in a fatal way. And if you do kill them then you have to bring them back as a zombie or a ghost and they have to be sexy zombie-ghosts. Also you have to make sure you visit wherever I happen to be, and sign my books, and read to me when I want you to. You are my slave. Get cracking! I want more books and I want them NOW!

There, I’m glad that one’s sorted.

  1. Mr Pullman, sir? I didn’t mean it. Honest. The first two books are so unbelievably good that I forgive you for the, um, less than brilliance of the third. Okay, not less than brilliant. It’s more like it’s differently brilliant. You are a genius and I am not worthy. I tug my forelock.

    Okay, shutting up now . . . []

Vetoes

Last night after a hard day’s work we thought we’d order up a movie. As you do. And we’re trying to pick one, but the movies we know anything about we’ve already seen or would rather die than see. So we’re reading descriptions of movies and we both start exercising the veto like you wouldn’t believe:

Scott: not watching any movie that has the word “cop” in the description.

Justine: or “battered” or “gruelling” or “genocide”.

Scott: not “lawyer” either or “detective”.

Justine: Isn’t that covered by “cop”?

Scott: No. Look “private detective”.

Justine: I rule out “bleak”, “heart-warming”, and “family-oriented”.

Scott: Also “doctor”.

Justine: Not to mention “life-threatening” and “disease”, especially if they’re the one phrase.

Scott: Aren’t those ruled out on account of my previous anti-“doctor” call?

Justine: Not necessarily. See this description of Love Story? Do you see the word “doctor”?

Scott: Point.

Justine: I nix “eternal” unless in relationship to the undead.

Scott: And “Zombie” is an automatic yes.

Justine: Der. So is “Robert Mitchum”.

Scott: Is there a Robert Mitchum zombie movie? Cause that would rock.

Justine: Funny you should say that cause look—here is Rachel and the Stranger (1948) with Robert Mitchum, Loretta Young and William “Tedious” Holden. Let me read you the description:

    A widowed pioneer needs someone to clean the house and help raise his child. So, he purchases a zombie to be his wife. But the forlorn frontiersman misses his first spouse so much that he’s barely aware of his new zombie bride. He changes his tune, however, when a buddy of his shows a romantic interest in her.
    (Synopsis swiped from Rotten Tomatoes.)

Scott: How could you marry a zombie? They would eat you.

Justine: These are pre-Romero zombies of the Caribbean voudoun kind. More soul-missing, sleepwalking, than “mmm, brains”. Plus it is based on a story by Howard Fast who is my personal god of popular fiction.

Scott: Okay, call it up.

Justine: [rubs hands together in the approved evil-genius manner] Mwahahaha!

No Control

A recent post on Miss Snark reveals the horrible truth that often writers have no control over what their books are called. That’s right, folks, your publisher can change the title to something they deem more commercial.

There was much debate over the title of the first book in my trilogy. I’d always imagined Magic or Madness as the series title with the actual books being called Reason and the Two Cities, Reason and Margarita, and Reason defeats the Evil Monster Marauding Zombies from Hell. Marketing intervened and the series title became the title of the first book, leaving me and my editors to come up with new titles for books two and three and thus the whole working title thing of Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!.

In addition to not having final say about the title. Writers also usually have no control over the following:

  • The cover
  • The jacket copy
  • What font it’s typeset in
  • Whether there’s an author photo or not
  • When the book is published
  • What format the book is published in (that’s right, Scott did not decide that the third book of his paperback trilogy, Uglies, should be printed in hardcover)
  • Whether there’s a signing in your town or not (when I do a signing it’s usually because a bookshop has requested that I do one or because my publicist at Penguin has arranged one or because I’ve set it up myself—though I’m getting too jaded to do that anymore)
  • The cost of the book
  • Whether it’s available in your country
  • Whether it’s available as an audio book

Am I missing any? Feel free to add more in the comments.

What writers (mostly) have control over is the words within the covers of the book. (You know, excepting the copyright page etc.) That’s pretty much it.

P.S. I was so cheered up by the good news comments that I’d like to invite you to all to keep sharing your good news. I’m contemplating renaming my blog the Pollyanna blog. Or the Gladblog. The glad game rocks!

P.P.S. Congratulations to all of you for your good days and publishing triumphs and award nominations and absence of cancer and every other thing. So wonderful!

P.P.P.S. And do keep us all posted on the outcomes of all that good news. Orangedragonfly, that means you have to let us know when your husband gets home. (If you’re allowed to, I mean.)

P.P.P.P.S. Sadly Ellen Kushner jumped the gun in the good news comments: Magic’s Child is not yet finished. But as soon as it is I’ll be announcing it right here. (That is when I recover from the over-the-top celebrations!). In the meantime, good luck with your books. May they all be reprinted often and wind up on bestseller lists! May your days be beautiful, your health excellent, and your loved ones close by! (That’s right, I am Pollyanna the Glad Girl. Just got my hair bleached blonde yesterday.)

P.P.P.P.P.S If none of this makes any sense it’s because I’m working too hard and as an Australian I find that I’m deeply allergic to it.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Don’t forget to add more stuff writers have no control over to the comments.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. I go sleep now . . .

Do you really have to write every single day?

Over on liveournal Deb Biancotti muses on whether it’s really necessary to write every single day in order to be a writer. Surely she asks, citing Jeff Vandermeer and Terri Windling, fallow times can be good for your writing too?

Now because I’m in admin hell and it’s eating my brain (zombie apocalypse admin hell) I am moved to point out the obvious: different methods work for different people. There are some writers who need extended time off; others who don’t.

If I don’t write for a month then I find it very very very difficult to get back into it. And the longer I’m not writing the harder it becomes. My writing muscles atrophy. I need to write—not every day, but at least three times a week—to stay limber.

Obviously, that’s not what works for Deb. Or Terri Windling. But I imagine I’m not the only one who needs to use it or lose it. (Tee hee. Those Americans have a handy motivational phrase ready whenever you need one. Bless!)

When reading advice on writing (or anything else for that matter) you’ve got to remember that the writer is sharing what works for them. Too often people think it’s a command from God on what thou shalt do in order to become a writer. And the thou-shalt-write-every-day command is one frequently handed down. So I can understand the annoyance if it don’t work for you.

It’s also important to make a distinction between writing as a vocation and writing as a profession which are two very different things. I imagine quite a few of the writers giving the write-every-day advice are people who make a living writing. In which case it’s good advice. For the vast majority of working writers a fallow season is a luxury they can’t afford. It would be more in the order of all the crops are lost! I must now go back to the day job.

All of which is spurring me to grab a few hours writing before the next wave of packing horror descends. Bloody zombie admin apocalypse.

Plot disturbances

I should so not be writing this post. Too much to get done before we leave Monday. No time! Aaarggh.

However, Gwenda’s writing a quest novel and thinking out loud about whether she can skip the whole boring refusing-to-take-up-the-call part. Also known as “but I don’t want to be a vampire Slayer!”

In a fantasy novel the odds of the protagonist not taking up the call to destroy the one true ring or whatever are pretty non-existent. If they say “no” then book is over, or it becomes something else which is most definitely not a quest novel. So why should the writer spend too much time on that part?

I equate refusing the call with the passage of disbelief. And, indeed, the two often go together: the protag is told, “You were created to destroy this one true ring and in doing so you will save the world!” Protag’s response: “There’s a one-true ring? I’m the chosen one? What now?”

Passages of disbelief can also be really tedious. I pick up a book called, let’s say, Zombie Apocalypse from Hell and am faced with endless setup chapters where the character blithely go about their day squabbling with spouse/children/boss, engaging in other banal and boring activities just so the reader can get to know them. Meanwhile all signs point to the undead walking the streets and eating brains. But the stupid characters don’t recognise said signs, oh no, they keep coming up with lame so-called rational explanations. Yawn. Have they not seen the cover of the book? It’s called Zombie Apocalypse from Hell for Elvis’s sake! Wake up and smell the putrefying flesh! Can we get to the apocalypse already?

One of the things I loved about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was how quickly and wittily they got through the different characters’ disbelief, culminating with Oz discovering the true nature of Sunnydale and saying, “Actually it explains a lot.”

Do I think writers can skip the refusal of the quest/passage of disbelief? Absolutely! I love books that start media res. Whoosh—straight into the action. Good writers can build character and action at the same time. Funny that. They convey their protag’s ambivalence about the role they’ve been thrust into whilst the character is busying saving the world. Two birds, one stone.

On the other hand, sometimes the passage of disbelief/refusal of the quest is the best part. Shaun of the Dead becomes a lot less interesting after they realise that zombies are real. The opening where the two ambitionless, slacker Londoners get on with their stultifying everyday lives (drool in front of tellie, slouch off to work, buy crisps, fight with girlfriend and/or flatmate) in the midst of the spreading zombie apocalypse is the best pisstake of and homage to zombie movies I’ve ever seen. I laughed so hard I wept.

In Magic or Madness I set up the passage of disbelief scenario a little differently by giving the protag a mother who’s always specifically denied magic’s existence. Reason’s been brought up knowing about magic, but negatively. And although it’s almost a hundred pages before Reason is hit with solid evidence that magic is real, it’s only thirty pages later that she accepts the existence of magic.

I guess that adds up to 130 pages of disbelief, which should make any hardened fantasy reader completely ropeable (sorry!). Fortunately she’s the only deluded point-of-view character. I guess I’m saying it’s cool to take a long time with a disbelief pasage if there’s other stuff going on.

To tie this more closely to what Gwenda’s talking about: one of the main things the writer has to balance is the gap between the reader’s knowledge and that of the characters. Afterall, the protag can’t actually look up at the top of the page to the title of the book (Zombie Apocalypse from Hell ) or chapter (Eat more brains!). Unlike the reader they’re not privvy to the back-of-the-book blurb (“In this scintilating debut all hell breaks loose as Chandler Hammer does battle with hordes of zombies with only her pet dog, Misty, and son, Dopey, by her side”)—they have to figure stuff out for themselves, but in a way that doesn’t bore either writer or reader into a coma.

Nothing easier . . .

Stupid Smelly Brain

Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! must be rewritten and the send button pressed by midnight Friday week. The writing is going just fine and dandy. However, my brain will not stop coming up with other ideas for the bestest, most brilliantest, most amazingest novels eva!

It’s driving me mad. There I am finally nailing a scene that has been allluding me for months and brain starts whispering sweet nothings about snowboarding werewolves, zombie cowboys, Australian ex-ballerina underwater police. If you don’t write them now, brain tells me, they will run away, never to return. They will die of starvation! In a gutter! It will be all your fault!

Aaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!!

What do you lot do when this happens? How do you make the brain shut up and focus on the urgent urgent urgent task at hand? Do I have to threaten it with the withdrawal of gold koala bear stamps? Make it stand in the corner on the naughty mat?

Help!

Atlantic City? No, thanks. (updated)

I don’t want to rubbish a whole city, especially when I was only there for a few hours, but Atlantic City is an erky perky bleah of a place. Friends warned me it was a shithole—I had no idea they were being kind. It’s ugly, full of the most hideous buildings ever built and populated by zombie gamblers, who are served by an army of twelve-year-old incompetent staff. Once you’re inside one of the casinos it’s almost impossible to get out again. All signs lead to more gambling areas. I’m convinced that hell will be nothing but Atlantic City casinos.

This is heresy for an Australian, but, I hate gambling. I love cards and I’ll bet on them, but not with money. Never for money. Betting with money turns people into glassy-eyed zombies, and call me old-fasthioned, but I prefer my zombies in Romero films, thank you very much.

So why were we in Atlantic City? To attend the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers book fair, which other than its location in a hellspawn casino, was a lot of fun. We met the fabulous Penguin reps, Holly and Todd, who looked after us excellently well and told great publishing stories; we hung out with fellow YA writers, Maureen Johnson and Melissa Kantor; we both signed a bunch of our books, Peeps and Magic or Madness, and we snaffled up many free books. The gems of my pile—other than Maureen’s and Melissa’s books—were:

Small Steps by Louis Sachar, which is the sequel to Holes! Woo hoo! I have the sequel to Holes and you don’t! Ha! Ha! Ha!

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery. I adore Flannery. He’s frequently interviewed back home about science and enviromental issues and is the smartest, most interesting, and clearest explainers of such issues I’ve ever heard. He also writes really, really well. I can’t wait to read this one, not least because I know it’s going to help me understand what happened with hurricane Katrina.

Today, we go back to New Jersey:

7:00-8:30PM
Elizabeth Main Library
11 S. Broad St., Elizabeth
New Jersey

We’ll probably read and we’ll definitely chat and generally be our entertaining selves. We’ve only done one library event before but it was fabulous, so I’m really looking forward to this.

Oh, and if you’re from Atlantic City? My condolences.

Update: I am very stupid. I wrote a blog entry about casinos, but my spam filter is set to nuke any comments that contain the word “casino”. I apologise to anyone who had their comment nuked. You can post now. Though given the vast tide of casino spam I get your comment will go through to moderation, which I truly rooly honestly will check. Rooly soon.

Hollywood Drives Me Nuts, Again

I been seeing a bunch of filums lately. Well, okay, two: Batman Begins and Land of the Dead. The first was okay, definitely the best Batman movie thus far (but, frankly, that’s faint praise, and I will always prefer the campy tv show), the second was a most excellent zombie film and a perfect end to Romero’s zombie quartet (though, I admit it, I hope there’s more). I enjoyed it greatly.

However, no matter how far above Hollywood’s average these films are (and Land of the Dead really really is) they still had at least one thing that drove me crazy. In Batman Begins it was Batman’s whole I-will-not-kill thing, which seemed to only apply to direct killing. Indirect killing? No worries. He can blow up buildings, leaving only one survivor (not to mention all the innocent creatures housed therein) and drive his car like a maniac destroying many other vehicles, and people-populated structures with impunity. And back in the bat cave is there a tally on the wall listing all people killed in the course of his batman do-gooding versus those saved by his do-gooding? No, there is not. How does his head not explode from that contradiction?

In Land of the Dead it was money. So here we are in this future zombie-overrun world (it is, indeed, the end of the world as we know it) and the small pockets of survivors in electric-fenced enclosures still use paper money. What’s more they plot and scheme to take that money out of their small enclosure to other survivor populations that may or may not exist. What use would those people have for paper money? Or even for gold? Wouldn’t antibiotics, food, water, guns, alcohol (and other substances that take you away from the horrors of zombie world) be the real currency? It was particularly annoying because so many aspects of Romero’s zombie future made sense. And genre films that make sense are such a refreshing rarity.

Judging from Cherie Priest’s review, I will not be going to see Bewitched. This makes me sad (though Cherie’s review made me happy). I loved that show when I was a kid. I worshipped Elizabeth Montgomery. And, frankly, our Nicole? She is no Elizabeth Montgomery.

So how come characters always get a whole lot dumber when given the Hollywood treatment? Bridget Jones, Samantha and, um, I can’t think of any others, but I’m memory-challenged. I’m sure there are thousands of others. Anyone?

I go write now. About smart teenagers.