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?

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. []

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.

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?
    []