On Not Writing Fiction During The Pandemic

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I’m not sure I can write fiction anymore. I don’t know how to write a psychological thriller set here and now in this pandemic, this lockdown.

I think of those movies made during World War II that completely ignored the war. Were they set during a slightly earlier or slightly later time? Or an alternative universe?

Should I do that? I don’t think I can do that.

It’s Saturday afternoon in NYC. It’s 20c (68f) and the sun is shining, the air is crystalline, conversations and laughter (!) drift up from the street below, cars drive by, music blares. NYC sounds like NYC.

We’re in the sixth week of the lockdown.1 NYC shouldn’t sound like NYC. NYC shouldn’t be jumping. There shouldn’t be so many people out on the streets. Hundreds of people are still dying here every day. We’re supposed to be quarantining.

I haven’t been outside since Tuesday. My autoimmune disease has been in full flare. I was hoping to go out for a walk today. But, no, it’s impossible. There are too many people on my street.

It’s nothing compared to how busy the streets would have been pre-shut down. It’s our first sunny day after several days of cold and rain. Before the streets would have been jammed. The numbers that are freaking me out are tiny.

There’s no where in the USA it’s harder to maintain distance. NYC is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Our footpaths are too narrow, so we spill out onto the roads. Many of which are also too narrow. Especially today when there’s more cars cruising around than I’ve seen since this started.

It’s not that people are ignoring the lockdown. We’re allowed to go out to exercise, to shop for essentials. I look out the window: most are wearing masks, they’re trying to distance. But it’s impossible.

I’m hearing a lot of sirens today.

I stay inside and work. But I don’t turn to rewriting the YA psychological thriller or the adult one I’ve written ten chapters of. I haven’t touched either since before I spent the summer in Sydney. The summer of a million fires. The summer of having to wear masks to go outside because the air was unbreathable.

Back then I didn’t work on them because I didn’t know if I should include the fires, by which I mean climate disasters. Neither book, though supposedly set in this world, even touched upon how much hotter, more dangerous and unlivable our world is becoming. Leaving those realities out felt wrong.

The adult thriller begins on a plane. As did my last novel, My Sister Rosa. I love writing scenes on planes. It’s so contained, so intense. The characters are jammed in with hundreds of others, yet also in a tiny bubble.

But the airline industry may not exist the way I wrote it, after this pandemic is over. It may change as dramatically as it did after 9/11, or more dramatically.

I don’t know how to write fiction set in this world.

I work instead on non-fiction book proposals. Books that don’t ignore this world of bushfires, floods, tsunamis and hurricanes and all the other disasters made worse and more frequent by industrialization, by the steady rise in carbon emissions.

But these non-fiction books don’t touch on the pandemic, on this lockdown, on my world right now. That book can’t be written until this over, not well. Besides I don’t want to write that book. There will be a million such books.

When we come out of this pandemic, will we really want to read books about it?

I can’t even read too much about it now. I follow the immediate news, I read a few articles, I listen to the ABC’s Coronacast, but too much of that and I start to freak out. Mostly I read books about the history and future of the fashion industry and talk about it with folks on Instagram.

My account there is a huge part of my mental health regime. It’s where I found a worldwide community of people, who care passionately about transforming the fashion industry from one of the world’s biggest polluters and exploiters of workers, into a sustainable, clean, and ethical one. A deeply important mission done while wearing gorgeous vintage and responsibly made clothes. That’s my kind of revolution.

Maybe when this pandemic is over I’ll write a novel set in that world.

  1. Or is it the seventh? I’m losing track of time. I know it’s Saturday because we do the weekend quiz with the family back in Sydney every Friday and Saturday night. We did the first weekend quiz last night. Thus Saturday. []

No Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club This Month

Due to a terrible combination of deadlines, travelling, illness and other assorted calamaties Kate Elliott and myself will not be doing the book club this month. We’re bummed about it too. But life she threw too much at us this month.

We will be back in September to discuss Han Suyin’s A Many-Splendored Thing (1952). This is the first out of print book that we’ll be reading. I haven’t been able to find an ebook edition either. It’s truly out of print. Start putting it on hold at your library now.

You can see the schedule for the rest of the year here.

That discussion will be held: 30 September Tues in Australia and 29 September Monday in the USA.

Bad Reviews & Being Nice

Recently on Twitter I mentioned having read the first chapter of A Very Bad Book. As usual people asked that I name it. As usual I did not.

I don’t name books I hate, or authors I think are talentless,1 for lots of reasons. The main one I give is that as an author it’s hard to do so without looking jealous if your target is more successful than you are, or like a bitch if you’re shredding a less successful book.2

Now loads of authors I know write critical reviews of other people’s books and I support their right to do so. More than that I think they’re doing the community a service. I don’t think they’re jealous or mean. Critically taking apart other people’s work is a fantastic way to improve our own writing.

Every time I read a book I hate I spend a vast amount of time trying to figure out why. What when wrong? How can I avoid that? When someone writes a thoughtful critique of a book they deem unsuccessful—even if we don’t agree with them—they’re helping all of us. Thinking critically about words and language, about art, and why we do or don’t like it, is wonderfully useful to the entire community of writers and readers.

Beyond that, we authors are allowed to not like things. Particularly books. Because if there’s one thing we know a truckload about, and care deeply about, it’s books. That’s why we’re writers. It’s absolutely fine for us to express those opinions.

Frankly, I LOVE a well-written critical review. I also love well-written vicious snark.3 I am absolutely not of the “be nice” school. I even enjoy vicious reviews of my own books.4 So why am I letting others’ perceptions keep me from sharing my views?

Because I can’t write a well-reasoned critique. When I don’t like a book I want to tear it to pieces and jump on it. I want it NEVER TO HAVE EXISTED. I find it nigh on impossible to be dispassionate. So when I’m figuring out where a book went wrong? I’m doing it in a nasty vicious way that would absolutely make the author and their fans weep and/or go after me with an axe. I feel this way because I’m offended that such a piece of crap was published in the first place. How did people not notice how COMPLETELY RUBBISH it is? Have they collectively lost all critical judgement? Aaarrrrgghhh!!!

Rational me knows that there is no one universally shared standard of excellence. And, yet, confronted with a book I deem truly awful I cannot keep that in mind. I just have to stab it.

If I was capable of calmly and dispassionately discussing the faults and shortcomings then I would write critical reviews. But I just can’t do it. It is a character flaw, I know. But there it is.

In conclusion: My not writing critical reviews or speaking ill of living writers in no way means that I think no one else should do that. Or that I think doing so is a terrible thing. We writers are grown ups, we can take it. To be honest I’m much more concerned by the “be nice” culture than I am by snarky reviews. Historically the women who have been told to “be nice” and keep their mouths shut are the ones saying the most interesting things.5

  1. Unless they’re dead. YOU SUCK HENRY MILLER! Every single thing you ever wrote was the crappiest, most self-indulgent, most misogynist filth ever written. Moby Dick is the most boring pile of poo ever published! Though I am fond of Melville’s short stories. If only he had stuck to that length. []
  2. And, yes, I use the word “bitch” advisedly. I do think the perceptions are very gendered. []
  3. And I should admit that sometimes I am incredibly amused by sub-literate snark as well. But in more of a point and laugh way. Yes, I’m a bad person. []
  4. Well, some of them. []
  5. Obviously, I am not at all cool with things like death threats. Just to be absolutely clear. []

You don’t have to read my books

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

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

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

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

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

I hated their books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end.

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

Writing Liar with Scrivener

I’ve been promising a post about writing Liar using Scrivener for two years now. It wasn’t a fake promise. I’ve been working on the post. But given my hassles with RSI and othe injuries it’s been slow going.

A friend asked about it recently and I realised that I haven’t touched the post in a year. The odds of my finishing it are low. When I spend my scant few hours at the keyboard I focus on my novels, not blog posts. So here is my unfinished and pretty rough account of writing Liar using Scrivener:

In the acknowledgements of Liar I wrote the following: “Without Scrivener this book would most likely not exist.” Ever since people have been asking me to please explain. Here, at long last, is my explanation.

For those who don’t know Scrivener is novel-writing software. A while back I wrote an overview. If you’re unfamiliar with Scrivener I suggest reading that first.

Scrivener Streamlines

The first words I wrote of the novel were “I’m a liar.” What came after the words “I’m a liar” in my first draft of the opening bears no resemblance to the final novel:

    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. Well, okay, there’s also writing, isn’t there? I do that with my mouth closed and there’s just as much bullshit on my blog as there is coming out of my mouth. Like I’m not 30, I’m not blonde and I don’t live in New York City. I am a girl though, and Australian.

That was written in October 2006. By the time the novel was published in 2009 the opening looked like this:


    I was born with a light covering of fur.

    After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies.

    My father is a liar and so am I.

    But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.

    I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.

    That’s my promise.

    This time I truly mean it.

I began writing Liar in Word way back in 2006. I spewed out a bit over 500 words which were mostly notes like this:

    After preamble. First chapter starts with her at a new school in NYC. Preamble can mention that she’s determined not to lie anymore that the new school’s going to give her a new start. And as it’s in a foreign country she’ll be the cool one. So she tells all these outrageous stories such as dropbears and they all buy it and she’s the cool one and there’s this really cute guy.

    Beginning of second chapter she’s all like okay so the last chapter was the total truth except that there was another oz student in the class. So then she tells the story going back a little ways and having the other oz blow her first outrageous story about Australia. And also the other oz likes the boy too (who is now different in this chapter).

As you can see, originally I thought it would be more of a comedy than Liar turned out to be.

I didn’t work on Liar again until 2008. This time I was using Scrivener, not Word. I’d already used Scrivener to write “Thinner than Water” so I was comfortable with the program and very excited about writing my first novel on it.

I plugged in the existing words, quoted above. They looked wrong in Scrivener. It may just be me, but there’s something about Scrivener that makes me want to streamline my words.1 It’s a very clean, uncluttered program. So my extremely cluttered, messy first words of Liar had to go. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have wound up chucking them anyway. See this extremely crappy first draft of the first chapter of Magic or Madness to see that I have never been averse to throwing everything out, even pre-Scrivener.

However, when I resumed writing Liar with Scrivener what came out was more pared down than anything I had ever written before. There are parts of the published version of Liar that are pretty much unmodified from the first version I wrote. That’s untrue of any of my other novels.

Though the majority of Liar was rewritten more times than anything else I’ve written.2

Many Little Pieces

Liar is a novel made up of 138 short pieces. Part I has 60, Part II has 29, and Part III has 59. Some of those pieces are as short as the opening piece, “Promise,” quoted above, which is only 90 words. Some are even shorter. The shortest piece in the book is 41 words. The longest is 1,897. The average length is probably in the 300-500 word range. None of the chapters are longer than 2,000 words which is usually considered to be a shortish chapter.3 That’s part of why I call them “pieces” rather than “chapters.”

As I wrote, those pieces kept having to be moved. I did not begin with a clear three-part structure. That didn’t emerge until I’d written about a third of the novel. But once it did emerge I realised that many of the pieces I’d already written belonged in the third part of the book. So I moved them there, which left gaps in the first part where they’d been. New pieces had to be written.

That kept happening a lot. A piece that I’d written early on turned out to belong much later in the book, which meant that it had to be rewritten to fit into its new location. The pieces around it also had to be rewritten. Every time I moved a piece the same rewriting process would happen, which is why so much of the novel has been rewritten more times than I’ve rewritten anything else.

To be clear: rewriting is not a novelty for me. I’m very big on rewriting in all my books. As someone once said, “There is no writing, only rewriting.”

The Glory of the Corkboard

Scrivener made working with 138 different little pieces of text a cinch because it has a wonderful corkboard function. The corkboard allows you to see your novel as if it were a series of cards pinned to a corkboard. Like so:

Pretty, huh?

At a glance those cards tell me three kinds of info.

First, there’s a brief description of each piece on every card. This saves having to scroll endlessly through the larger document trying to find a particular scene.4

Second, there’s the different coloured pins holding the cards to their virtual corkboard. You can also see the different colours in the left sidebar (the binder). Liar is made up of three different kinds of pieces. There’s Before (purple), After (green) and then what I thought of as Backstory (white). The After pieces go forward in straight chronological order. I determined early on that they would be the most common pieces. Part I has 31 After sections out of 60. Part III has 31 out of 59.

I also determined that I would never have more than one in a row of the Before or Backstory pieces. The colour coding means that I could see at a glance whether I’d violated that.

Um, I did.

Part II turned out to run on its own rules. It’s mostly Backstory with a sprinkling of Before pieces. There are also two places in Part III where there are two Backstory pieces in a row.

What? Rules were made to be broken. Even your own rules that you make up for your own novel. But, trust me, I only broke the rules when it was essential. Like grammar, really.

Third, there’s the diagonal stamp across each index card. Every time I started a new piece I would label it according to what state I thought the writing was in: Incomplete, Rough, Semi-Polished and Polished. (I was going to call them Sketchy, Crappy, Less Crappy and As-Uncrappy-as-I-can-Manage-Right-Now but while accurate that seemed unduly negative.)

Most of the cards in the picture above say Polished. That’s because it’s the final draft. A snapshot of the novel I’m working on now would show a predominance of Incomplete and Rough.5

This is a huge departure from my previous system of writing novels. I used to write the first draft in a mad hurry and then go back and rewrite the whole thing. Thus the whole first (or zero) draft would be labelled as Rough and it would stay pretty rough through several drafts. Usually the first few drafts were all about making the plot and overall structure work. Only once that was working could I do any serious polishing.

With Liar I rewrote as I went along. As a result many of the pieces were what I considered to be polished long before I had a complete draft. It was a very strange way of writing but it was the only thing that worked for Liar.

This labelling system was also really helpful whenever I was stuck on writing new pieces. I’d go into corkboard view and find a piece labelled Incomplete and work on it until I could upgrade it to Rough. If there were no Incompletes, I’d work on a Rough and so on.

Usually in the course of working on one of the rougher pieces I’d realise some other pieces that needed to be written before or after it. I’d write those next. And so it went.

I know it sounds really painstaking but it was a lot of fun. I was never stuck writing Liar, there was always something for me to work on.

The most important glory of the corkboard for Liar was the ease with which it allowed me to move the pieces around. That’s right, every single one of those index cards can be dragged to a new location. Brilliant! I don’t even want to think about what a major pain in the arse it would have been to write it with any other writing software. Like the dreaded Word. I may have had to print it out. Multiple times. *shudder*

Some of my days writing Liar consisted of me doing nothing but shifting index cards around until I was satisfied with the order. Then rewriting to make sure it all flowed right.

Often I’d start the next day’s work by doing the same thing. Fun!6

Notes on Each Piece/Overall Notes

One of the other glories of Scrivener is the Inspector. That’s the thing taking up the right sidebar. It’s where you write your index card description, colour code it and label the state of the draft. It’s also where you can write notes on each piece. Notes such as “This makes no sense at all. Where did the rabbit come from?” Or “Too many knives. Cut them down!”

I got into the habit of striking through each note after I addressed it:

Dunno about you but there’s nothing I find more satisfying than crossing things out. It’s almost as satisfying as deleting whole scenes.

Document notes can toggle over to Project notes. This allows you to write notes on a particular piece/scene/chapter as well as notes on the overall book. Being able to see my micro and macro notes that easily made a huge difference. Simple! Clean!

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked about Liar is how on Earth did I manage to outline it. I think everything above makes my answer clear.

I didn’t.

But Scrivener made outlining unnecessary.7 It allowed me to see the structure as it emerged from the various pieces I was writing. I have no idea how I would have kept track of everything without software that’s designed to allow you to manage such a big and complicated text as a novel.

It has both changed how I write as well as what I’m able to write. Scrivener has been a revelation.

  1. You can tell that I didn’t write this post in Scrivener, can’t you? []
  2. I swear there are some sections that were rewritten more than a kajillion times. Honestly. []
  3. To give you a sense of length, this post is more than 2,000 words and is thus longer than any piece of Liar. []
  4. Something that always drove me nuts with Word. []
  5. Also Adequate. While working on novels after Liar I decided the leap from Rough to Semi-Polished was too daunting. Adequate is my intermediate phase. []
  6. I’m not being sarcastic. It really was fun. []
  7. Though there is an outlining function for those who crave such a thing. I’ve never used it. []

Last Day of 2010

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 2011. 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.)

For reasons I’ll explain in more detail below (but are mostly I was not online much) 2010 was ridiculously productive for me. I now have more than 100,000 words of my 1930s novel. Most of it written this year. And I declare those words to be good.1 I have not enjoyed writing a book this much in I do not know how long. I never want to finish. Which is fortunate because I suspect that I’m not even half way finished. Likely not even a quarter. Possibly not even a tenth. Ooops. I may well not EVER finish. But, hey, at least I’m having fun.

For those of you who actually like to read words I write do not fear! I also wrote (with someone sekrit) a whole other sekrit (but hopefully not for much longer) project about which you will hear much next year when we’re allowed to tell you. Writing it was just about the best fun ever. I adore collaborating it turns out. Or maybe I just got lucky with the smartest, wittiest, fastest-writingiest collaborator of all time. Whatever the reason the two of us finished that project and sold it in two different countries.2 And now we get to do it all over again. Colour me, excited.

Such a productive year was particularly wonderful because in 2009 I stopped writing for many months. In that year all I did was rewrite Liar, a few thousand words of the 30s book, and about the same on two other unfinished projects. It was my least productive year since I became a professional writer and it scared me. For a while there I was worried I wouldn’t write again. So, phew! Despite annoying injuries 2010 has been my most happy and productive writing year ever. Here’s hoping 2011 will bring more of the same.

But this is my what-happened-in 2010 report, I shall continue:

Books out in 2010

This year I had only one new book: Zombies Versus Unicorns which I put together with Holly Black. It was published in the US (Simon & Schuster) and Australia (Allen & Unwin) with one of the most perfect and gorgeous covers any book of mine has ever had. I cried tears of joy when I first saw it. Josh Cochran is a genius and so are the design team at Simon & Schuster. The book has had wonderful reviews and even won an award for the audio edition and sold way better than anyone expected.

It’s a publishing truism that anthologies don’t sell.3 Well, this one sure does. Yay! Thank you so much for reading ZvU, buying it, and telling your friends and librarians about it. Much appreciated.

There’s also an audio edition by Brilliance, which features me and Holly reading the introductions. Well, sort of reading, we got more and more ad-libb-y as the day went on. Let’s just say we had a great time. I would happily record audio books with Holly and the Brilliance team whenever they want.

ZvU also sold into France (Pocket Jeunesse), Germany (Bertelsmann Jugendbuch Verlag) & Brazil (Editora Record).

Liar came out in paperback in North America. It was also published for the first time in Denmark (Hoest), France (Gallimard), Italy (Salani) & the Netherlands (Mynx). I had the great pleasure of meeting the Gallimard Jeunesse team in Paris and they were all wonderful and work in the most gorgeous building complex I’ve ever seen. They even have a sekrit garden!

There will also be editions of Liar in Brazil (Editora Record), Germany (Bertelsmann Jugendbuch Verlag), Taiwan (Sharp Point Press), Turkey (Artemis, an imprint of Alfa Yayin Grubu) and Spain (Ediciones Versatil).

Reception of Liar

It’s been brought to my attention that some people don’t feel Liar has gotten the recognition it deserves. While it’s lovely that people feel passionately about the book I want to point out that Liar‘s gotten a tonne of recognition. Liar was more widely reviewed than any of my other books and almost all of those reviews were extremely positive. It also made a gazillion different best book of the year lists. Liar was shortlisted for eleven different awards and won four of them:

  • the Davitt Award for best Young Adult Crime Novel 2010, which particularly thrilled me because I deliberately wrote Liar as a crime novel and the Davitt Award people were the first to notice,
  • the WA Premier’s Literary Award, Young Adult Prize 2009. In Australia the Premier’s awards are a huge, huge deal and even come with a big old fat cheque,
  • the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Christina Stead Award 2009, which is an award for best novel of the year regardless of genre—Liar was the first YA novel to win. I could not be prouder,
  • and the fourth award has not yet been officially announced but the 2009 Carl Brandon Kindred Award. When I found out I screamed. I think the wording of the award will explain why this means so much to me: “The Carl Brandon Kindred Award is given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group.”

So there you have it Liar is by a country mile my most successful book by whatever metric of success you want to use. It’s the best reviewed, won the most awards, generated the most fanmail and discussion,4 and has sold better than any of my other novels in Australia and the USA. On top of that it’s a book I’m proud I wrote.5 I’m stoked.

Read These Books!

My favourite YA book of 20106 was Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves. Dark, weird, quirky, full of unexpected turns, fabulous world-building, and gorgeous writing. It’s not like anything else I’ve read. Well, other than her second book, A Slice of Cherry, which comes out in 2011. I highly recommend both.

Onto next year:

Books out in 2011

    The paperback edition of Zombies versus Unicorns


and, um, nothing else . . .

That’s right for the first time since 2005 I have no new book out. But I promise you there will be something new (see above about my sekrit project) in 2012 and in 2013. Truly.

My Silence this Year

You might have noticed that this is my first post in six months. For someone who used to blog every day that’s a huge change. A weird one. Yes, I do miss blogging. No, this is not the beginning of me blogging frequently again.8 I won’t be blogging much for the foreseeable future. Sorry. But thank you so much all of those who wrote to let me know how much you miss this blog. You made me all teary, you did. As did you lovely people I met at ZvU events this year who told me ditto. Bless!

I spent the year dealing first with an acute injury that kept me from writing but that healed relatively quickly. Then I discovered that I had RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) i.e. shooting pains in my arms and neck because of having typed a vast deal for about thirty years.9 I still have RSI. I cannot type for more than twenty minutes at a time or more than four hours a day without pain. I spent 2010 learning how to deal with it.

I tried many, many, many different things but here’s what worked for me:

RSI management:

  • My computer is for writing novels. I only tweet or blog or IM or email or any other non novel-writing keyboard activity on days when I don’t write. I also make sure I have at least one or two days a week completely away from the computer.
  • Most days the internet is switched off on my computer. Ah. The calm and ease of concentration with it gone. I honestly don’t miss it.
  • I am very strict about writing only in twenty minute bursts with stretching in between and not for more than four hours a day.
  • I use an ergonomic split key board, two trackballs with writst rests—one for my left hand and one for my right, my screen is at eye level, and I sit on an exercise ball forcing me to use my core muscles at all times.
  • Weekly massage and physical therapy. Accupuncture has also helped. I have tried other therapies but those are the ones that have given me the best results.
  • I work out five times a week with a trainer.10
  • I do pilates once or twice a week.

So, yes, I am doing much better than I was—most importantly I’m able to write—but it’s a continuing thing for which there is no magic cure. I hope those of you at the beginning of your writing life pay attention and start developing good habits now before permanent damage is done. I wish I had! /lecture

Being offline a great deal of the time does mean I’m harder to contact than I was. My apologies. If you wish to contact me the best way to do so is still via email. If I don’t get back to you and you deem it urgent contact my agent, Jill Grinberg. (Her details are in the automatic reply.)

In conclusion

This time last year my writing was not going well. I was in a dither about what to write next and was working on four books at once. Obviously, see above, I concentrated on the 30s novel, which is not finished, and the sekrit project, which is.

I said my goal was to be happy writing and I was. That’s my goal for this year too. And for the rest of my life. I declare it to be a most excellent goal. I commend it to you!

Thanks everyone who wrote me letters of support and letters about my writing this year. Those letters were wonderful. I treasure them and I’m very sorry I haven’t been able to respond. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being moved by the different responses people have to my work.11

I hope 2011 shapes up beautifully for all of us.12

Happy new year!

  1. I’m sure when I re-read them I’ll be less thrilled but right now I think they’re fabulous. I’ll stick with that feeling, thanks. []
  2. Well, our agents did. Thank you, Jill! []
  3. Take that, smelly publishing truisms. I bet green covers aren’t the kiss of death either. []
  4. And, no, I’m not counting discussion generated by the cover controversy. []
  5. I don’t care what anyone says I think that’s the most important thing of all. []
  6. Not written by a friend or husband of mine. []
  7. And this was not, in fact, published in 2011. Current rumours are that it will be out April 2012. []
  8. You do not want to know how many days it took me to write this. []
  9. This is a very common condition. I know gazillions of writers in the same boat. []
  10. Yeah, I’m one of those people. Sorry! []
  11. Yes, many of your letters made me all teary. What can I say? I’m a sook. []
  12. Even the Australian cricket team. Not that I’m holding my breath on that one . . . []

Farewell For Now

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

Here’s where things stand with me:

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

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

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

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

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

Life is very good.

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

I’ll be back.5

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

More Questions + Event

You’re unlikely to get anything sensible out of me for awhile. This will be brief. First, thanks for all the responses yesterday. That was truly fascinating.

Second, we recently finished watching Fullmetal Alchemist and Read or Die and LOVED them both with a fiery burning passion. Thanks everyone who recommended them. What should we watch next? And why do you recommend it?

Third, without googling how many have you heard of Joel Chandler Harris? And what do you know about him? And where are you from? (I suspect how old you are is pertinent also.)

Thank you!

If you’re in NYC you can see me and Scott reading this Saturday:

Justine Larbalestier, Bennett Madison,
Scott Westerfeld, & Cecily von Ziegesar
Reading and Q&A
12:30PM-1:15PM, Saturday, 10 April
Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street, Second floor
(between Madison & Fifth Ave.)

The price of admission? Your donation of two or more new or gently used board books through grade 12.

I’ll be reading from my 1930s book.


Why I’ve Not Been Blogging (updated)

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Write novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: 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.

In Istanbul

I have fallen in love with yet another city. Istanbul is glorious. We have met with our lovely agent here, Asli Ermiş, who took us to meet our publishers, Omer Yenici at Epsilon (who will be publishing Leviathan) and Ilgin Toydemir at Artemis (who will be publishing Liar and already publish Midnighters). They in turn took us out for fabulous lunches.

In Istanbul we have eaten.

A lot.

First course at Borsa restaurant.

A baklava shop, which sells many sweet and wondrous things. Yes, we bought and we ate.

The Egyptian spice market.

I am of the school that finds Turkish Delight delightful. In fact, even Scott liked the Turkish Delight here and he claims to hate it on account of its grandma soap taste. The Turkish Delight in Istanbul is the best I’ve ever had.

Ciya, my favourite restaurant so far. So many things I’d never tasted before in my life. All of it really good. If I could live at Ciya, I would. A multi-course meal for the two of us cost under forty USD (that’s together, not each). And we ate an INSANE amount of food, and drank mulberry and other fruit juices of wonder.

Brunch at the Four Seasons. This is the dessert station.

Once again my apologies for not posting or responding to mail and comments. We are too busy eating and seeing the glorious sights. This is the first real holiday I’ve had in a long time and I’m enjoying it muchly.

Hmm . . . is it lunch time yet?

My Silence

Enough of youse lot are wondering what’s up with me not blogging every day that I am driven to offer an explanation for my blog silence of late. A brief explanation: travel, busy, knackered, bad sport karma.

I have many posts brewing or brewed. More on race, writing and publishing (here’s a few links to others. I’m especially loving the Writers Against Racism series on Amy Bowllan’s SLJ blog like this one with Ari of Reading in Color.); a complaint about Being Human (Why does the woman have to be a timid ghost? Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if she was the werewolf or the vampire? Um, okay no need to write that post.); on re-reading Han Suyin’s A Mountain is Young; the long awaited stalker song post; a response to Sarah Rees Brennan’s wonderful essay on the way female characters get dumped on (hmmm, I think those last two posts may be connected); the art of writing dialogue, and many others.

Feel free to make requests for anything else you’d like me to blog about in the comments.

And for those who keep asking: both Liar and the paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy publish on 29 September. I.e. this very month! I happen to have two copies of HTDYF in its glorious paperback edition. So beautiful. Liar is also already a complete book with brand new dustjacket. I bet they will both start showing up in book shops around or even before the 29th.

Yes, this is research too

Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich rocking out (starts at about 1:25 via Emma Bull):

Okay, I admit that this comes from 1942. However, part of my 1930s novel takes place on a cruise ship just like Ship Ahoy. Well, except for not being a sound stage. And, um, one of my characters adores the Tommy Dorsey band. So even though this is a future Tommy Dorsey band appearance that she will never see it totally counts as research. And also another of my characters can see into the future and uses that ability to follow Eleanor Powell’s career.1 Thus watching this clip is TOTALLY research.

Lord, how I adore Eleanor Powell. Broadway Melody of 1940 is one of my favourite movies of all time. I know everyone squees over her “Begin the Beguine” routine with Fred Astaire, which to be sure is deeply squee-worthy, but I also love this one (gets going around 2:15):

Eleanor Powell + boats = joy!

And Broadway Melody of 1940 totally counts as research because it was shot in 1939 and last time I looked that was in the 1930s.2

Just in case some of you have never seen “Begin the Beguine” here you go:

You’re welcome!

  1. Some of these things may not be true. []
  2. Even though my book is more set in the early 1930s. But never mind that! []

In which I am naughty

I have a mountain of work, admin, packing, and correspondence to catch up on, but instead I am reading through my new favourite blog, Cake Wrecks, which I discovered via an old favourite blog, Jenny Davidson’s Light Reading. I’m sure all of you have been enjoying it for years. What can I say? I am slow.

So far it has led me to many pleasures but few top the delight of the world’s worst Dalek cakes. I confess that I laughed so hard I cried.

Then it led me to this. The making of the most incredible cake I have ever seen:

Apparently it took twelve days to make. Wow. Just wow.

Deadline: Next Friday

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

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

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

Right then, back to the grindstone goes me.

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

Who am I kidding?

I was going to finish up one of my long-promised posts on writing, which I’d planned to encourage all those NaNoWriMo types. Something on how to get going, or characterisation, or how to push forward even though your plot died.1

But who am I kidding?

Like everyone I know my concentration has been totally shot by the US election. I’ve been writing and rewriting the same sentence of the Liar novel for the last three weeks. This afternoon when all our attempts to work failed, me and Scott went and phone banked. The Bowery Hotel was overrun with volunteers, using their own phones to make calls to people all over the country,2 telling them where their local polling station is, giving them a phone number to call if they need a ride.

Last election I knew maybe two people who volunteered and I thought that was amazing. This year I have friends working for the Obama campaign in California, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. There’s a whole YA for Obama site. Here in NYC it’s all anyone is talking about. At my hairdressers, at the gym, in the laundromat, at our favourite cafes, at the cheese shop, everywhere!

I cannot wait for tomorrow. I cannot wait till there’s a result—a good result. Because then I’ll get my brain back. Fivethirtyeight doesn’t need my constantly refreshing it anymore and I suspect the Liar novel would like me to work on more than one of its sentences.3

Let it end now, please.

If you’re USian go forth tomorrow4 and exercise your democratic right: vote!

  1. Write like the wind! []
  2. Particularly battleground states like Indiana and Ohio. Wow, they must be sick of all those phone calls. Though I gotta tell you all the people I spoke to were lovely. Chock full of enthusiasm and rearing to vote if they hadn’t already. []
  3. You’ll be shocked to learn the Liar novel has more than one sentence. There’s at least a few dozen. Possibly more. []
  4. If you haven’t already. []

My husband = teh crazy

Scott did it!

He bravely responded to Lauren Myracle’s dare and faced his worst fear.1 And, um, well, go see for yourself. Yes, that is me you hear laughing. C’mon, wouldn’t you have laughed?

I can’t believe he did that . . .

I seriously can’t believe it.

  1. As, um, I did not. Not because I’m more cowardly than Scott but because I’m busier! My books don’t write themselves, you know! Okay, neither do Scott’s, but my book’s trickier than his! Honest. []

Quick note

Things are busier than busy here. If you took busy and sent it down a coal mine where it was forced to put its nose to the grindstone while flat-outing like a lizard, well that’s me. Right now. Seriously. I am the headlless chook. Or the chookless head. I can’t be sure. I have major deadlines, minor deadlines, pestilent deadlines, zombie deadlines. I have every kind of deadline. This means everything else is being ignored or given a big fat no.

I recently said NO to several antho invites. To Lauren Myracle’s fabulous Halloween dare. Not to mention doing an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show.1

Remember, how I got my mail down below 100? *Sigh*. Already they head back to scary out-of-control territory. I doubt I’ll be able to catch up until December at the earliest. Sorry!

I will attempt to keep blogging. You know, in order to stay sane, and delude myself that I’m actually communicating with real live breathing people, and not just communing with Scrivener and all the people I’ve populated it with. Plus, well, I’m kind of a blogging addict . . .

Thank you all for continuing to read and comment here. In the midst of this insanity it’s lovely to hear your voices. Bless!

  1. Okay, not really. But a girl can dream, can’t she? []

I wish I had studied maths

I stopped studying maths in Year 7. Before that I’d made a bit of an effort but in my first year of high school (in New South Wales high school starts in Year 7) I downed tools. I was bored, annoyed, and couldn’t see the point so I quit. Technically I kept going to maths class—it was compulsory until the end of Year 10—but I failed each year and was never made to repeat. I didn’t learn anything new after Year 6.

At the time I thought it was excellent that I could get away with it. In class I read novels under the desk. I never studied and finished my maths exams quicker than anyone else cause I guessed all the answers. Thus giving me more time to read novels.

Now I regret it. My regret is very very very big. Because now I don’t have the underpinnings to understand even the most basic mathematics and science. (I also stopped studying science very early.) Writing the Magic or Madness trilogy was a nightmare. It’s very difficult to write a character who is a mathematical prodigy when you yourself are a mathematical moron.

My current regret, however, is fuelled by the Rethinking Basketball blog. Quentin who writes it is a numbers boy. He has all sorts of fancy formulas and statistics to map the performances of different WNBA players and teams. Like how to take defence into account when figuring out who the Most Valuable Player should be.

I understand almost none of it and that fact fills me with despair. If I could go back in time I would tell the bored and cranky twelve-year-old me that maths would come in handy later on and I should really pay attention to the nice man. (My Year 7 maths teacher was a sweetie, who did not deserve me as a student.)

But plenty of people—including my parents—were telling me that at the time and I ignored them. I probably would have ignored the adult me as well. Sigh.

So it’s now more than a little bit ironic that I am in the position of telling twelve year olds that they should pay attention in maths class. But you really really should. Who knows when or where it will come in handy. But trust me, it will. Don’t be as stupid as I was.

This has been a public service announcement. You are most welcome.

Thank you and sorry

Lately, I’ve been receiving a slew of lovely fan letters mostly about HTDYF but also about the trilogy. More than I’ve ever received before. Thank you so much.

I’m really sorry I haven’t replied yet. Right now there are more than three thousand emails in my inbox. And lots and lots and lots of other more pressing matters—you know, the kind that pay bills—have to be dealt with before I can get to the non-urgent email. Please forgive me.

Obviously I’m not very good at managing my time, but I’m working on it. I will get to your letters I just don’t know when. Please bear with me.

In the meantime, I remain committed to blogging every day. So if all else fails you’ll always hear from me here.

I just wanted you to know that your letters and comments make my day. Thank you.

And if anyone can loan me a time-enlarging device, I’ll be your best friend.

Brief note to the lurkers and newbies as well as general excuses

In the last few weeks there’s been quite a bit of delurkification as well as some new commenters. Ordinarily I would respond in the comments and welcome you personally but, well, I has deadline. And book for deadline is scary and complicated and not genre and I may be out of my depth and um,


But I hate to be rude and I love to see new folks here. So,


To everyone else: sorry for not responding as much even though I read all your comments,1 also for being months and months behind with email, for not having done that thing I promised I’d do for you, and for generally being as slack as, um, a very slack person.

Book comes first! Before hygiene, friends, nutrition, changing polls, health, admin and pleasure. Is just how it is.

  1. Except for the ones about USian gridiron. Boring. []

I has no ARCs so please stop asking

In the last few week I’ve had several people asking that I send them a How To Ditch Your Fairy ARC so they can blog about it.1

While that’s a lovely offer, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that so many of you are keen to read the book, it so happens that I do not have any ARCs of HTDYF. Truly. The tiny number I was given were handed out to local Big Mouths.2 I also swapped with a few writer friends for their ARCs. I have none left. Not even my parents and sister got a copy.

The person to ask for an ARC (of any book) is the publicist of the company that publishes it. But in order to get one you’ll have to show that giving you the book will help spread the word about. That is how it works.

The reason that a number of reviews have appeared of HTDYF recently is because 500 ARCs were handed out at BEA. A decent number were also sent by my publicist to key Big Mouths all over the USA. I have sent no one an ARC. It is not my job to do so. That’s why the author is given so few in the first place. We’re usually not the best placed person to get them into the hands of the most important Big Mouths.

So the person you should be bugging for ARCs is not me, but my publicist. And, no, I will not give you her email address. With a wee bit of googling you will find it on your own.

Besides, do you really want an ARC? They’re full of typoes, they fall apart easily, and they don’t even smell as good as a real book. And guess what? HTDYF will be a real book very very soon. While the official pub date’s in September I’m pretty sure it’ll start showing up in shops in August. August! That’s mere minutes away.

  1. I also remain many months behind with email. If you wrote to ask me for an ARC this is my reply. Sorry not to respond more personally. []
  2. Isn’t that a quaint term? It refers to the booksellers and bloggers and librarians and journalists who are well known in the YA world and are very good at getting the word of mouth flowing. []

And now London

Rome was unbelievably wonderful especially the food. A friend of mine spent four months in Italy and gained around three kilos—I think I managed that in one week. Excellent!

I am at work on a post about the fabulous food we ate and a number of others—including another writing one1—but work on my next novel has got in the way of finishing them. Stupid novel! Not to mention the erraticness of our internet access. But, soon, my pretties, soon!

In the meantime I’m exhausted but happy: there’s cricket on the tellie. All’s right with the world. And even though England’s doing kind of okay I still think the Kiwis are a possibility. Those are only flesh wounds!

London, 24 March 2008, 11:12PM.

  1. See? I do listen to you. You ask that I blog it and blog it I will. []

The blog thing

What Michelle Sagara and Scalzi said.

Lately I’ve been getting a bunch of people writing me wanting advice on how to blog. They’ve been told that it’s a great way to promote their books but they don’t know how or they want some magic recipe for attracting lots of traffic.

I haven’t answered any of those letters yet. (Hey, I owe my mother emails! No one’s ahead of Jan in the email queue.) But mostly I haven’t answered because I really don’t know what to say. For starters, I don’t get lots of traffic. I average around a thousand hits a day,1 which ain’t bad, but it’s no where near the numbers of the truly popular blogs. Also blogging just to promote yourself? Meh.

For me the least interesting part of having a blog is talking about myself and my books. The most fun is ranting and opinionating about stuff I care about like writing, fashion, politics, cricket, Elvis and quokkas. I have a lot of opinions and I likes to share them. More than that I likes to hear other peoples respsonses to my rants. When I first started pontificating online back in 2003, I didn’t allow comments. Mostly I didn’t like the idea of flame wars or dealing with spam. When I switched to proper blogging in 2005 I quickly realised that the comments were the best part.

Blogging’s a dialogue, that’s one of the many reasons I love it. Part of what’s so awesome about Scalzi’s Whatever and the Nielsen Hayden’s Making Light is that they’re communities. They’re smart, argumentative, witty communities and they’re that way because of the high quality posts and comments they’re responding to. You’re never going to wind up with a community like that if all you can talk about are your books. BORING!!

I always have several posts I’m working on at once. Right now I have one about my friend Lisa Herb’s incredibly inspiring non-profit organisation, Alliance for International Women’s Rights, another about torture inspired by this incredible book, which I read because of Scalzi. Then there’s the long-overdue insomnia post, more stuff on fashion, DNA and race, and answers to reader questions about agents, how to give public readings, and world-building.

But most of my posts are an immediate response to something I saw or read or tripped over that day. It’s occasional writing—as in, inspired by a particular occasion. I see a stupid list of rules for writing so I write my own and so on and so forth.

Keeping a blog has changed how I view the world. Mostly for the good, but sometimes for the bad (ish). You know you might have a problem when your friends ask you, “Are you going to blog this argument?” “Er, no,” you tell them as you mentally erase the post you have just composed in your head. “How could you think such a thing?” Or worse when they ask if you’re going to blog the fabulous evening you’ve just had when that was the last thing on your mind because you was just having fun. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t blog about my life directly.

My advice to would-be bloggers is the same as Michelle Sagara’s and Scalzi’s if it’s not fun, don’t do it.

There are many extremely successful writers who don’t blog. There are some wonderful bloggers whose books don’t sell that well. A successful blog is neither here nor there when it come to a successful writing career.

  1. When I first started pontificating online in 2003 I had barely a hundred hits a day []

New Poll (updated)

Because Eric Luper had the temerity to suggest that quokkas are not the cutest animals on the planet I have devised a new poll. It goes up exactly a day after the last one which I successfully managed not to break—so you were all wrong. Yay, me!

I like having polls but I definitely need less buggy WordPress compatible software.

The “How To Rewrite” post will go up as soon as I, um, finish, the book what I have to rewrite . . . And the manga/manhwa/graphic novels one not long after that. Promise!

Update: Eric Luper jinxed me into breaking the poll! Oh noes. Oh well, at least the quokkas were ahead. But I had planned to leave it up for a few days. And I am too deadline addled to come up with a new one. Stupid crappy poll software! Stupid deadlines!

And now it turns out the poll is not broken. That’s it! I’m backing away from the intramanets, leaving the polls alone, and becoming a rabbit farmer.

email annoyance

I appear to have forgotten some vital password and so cannot access my email. I can read but I cannot send. Do not ask how this is so it just is. There’ll be no email out of me till next week. Not that I’ve been that great at responding anyways . . .

The Former Me

In my previous life I was an academic. Not a very successful or prolific one. I spent four and a half years researching and writing my PhD thesis, while on a scholarship and doing paid-by-the-hour teaching (what’s known in the US as being a TA) as well as IT support. After that I was awarded a three-year post-doctoral fellowship that my university extended for nine months. In that time I wrote and published one book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, and edited a collection of stories and essays, Daughters of Earth as well as writing a bunch of essays and papers (and on the sly I wrote short stories and a novel.)

Twas an eight-year-and-three-month career that ended more than four years ago. Yet, people write to me disturbingly often asking me my opinion of the field I studied, about what books I think are at the cutting edge, and curly questions about my two scholarly books which I wrote ages ago and can’t remember a thing about.

I haven’t read any scholarly work since it stopped being my job. I have no idea what the latest work on science fiction is. I don’t even read science fiction novels anymore. It was never my favourite genre and having to read it for more than eight years put me off for life. Though I don’t mind YA science fiction. I pretty much enjoy YA everything.

Not having to read scholarly work any more is one of my greatest joys. Too much of it is turgid and boring, which is why I’m so relieved I don’t have to write it any more. I hated having to second guess every possible objection to every sentence I wrote. It’s a joy not having to write as if I have constipation or to footnote every single argument.

The only things I loved about being an academic—research and hanging out with like-minded people—I still get to do. For the Magic or Madness trilogy I read a scary amount of books on mathematics and number theory (I’m not saying I understood ’em). For the book I’ll be writing after The UFB I’ve been going back and reading gazillions of ballads. I even plan to crack open some ballad scholarship. For the book after that I’ll be doing lots of research on [redacted for reasons of spoileration] and [also redacted for the same reason].

The glorious thing about research for fiction is that if the research doesn’t fit I can ignore it. I’m writing fiction—most often fantasy—so I twist the facts to fit my books not the other way round. Such bliss!

I’ve written five novels since I quit being an academic. I can’t remember my research for the Magic or Madness trilogy so I really can’t remember any of my scholarly projects. I’m not alone in this. I remember hearing Jonathan Lethem say that when Motherless Brooklyn came out he was taken up by the Tourette’s Syndrome community. But by that time he was onto the next book and had forgotten all his Tourette’s research. We writers are a fickle short-term memoried lot.

To sum up: please don’t ask me about my scholarly books. I know nothing.

Email bankruptcy, or, attempting to cope

I am in crunch time. I am in crunchy crunch time. The busyness I have been complaining about has rebounded on itself and leapt to a whole new level of busy. In a word: Aaaarggghh!!!!

I’m going to keep blogging. I made a little bet with myself to see if I could blog every day of July and so far so good. I hate to lose bets with myself. Especially fun ones. Also blogging kind of clears my head. Dunno why but when I’m deep in writing, blogging really helps me to unwind—that and a glass of wine.

However, I’ll no longer be replying to comments as much as I have been (which I know has been down on what it used to be)—Sorry! The UFB has to be rewritten and that’s my top priority.

Then there’s the email problem. A while back John Green declared email bankruptcy. I think I may have to do the same. I have more than five hundred unanswered emails, which I know is nothing compared to Cory Doctorow who gets, like, two thousand a day, but, well, I ain’t coping. Important emails are getting lost in the shuffle. So I’m going to put them all in a folder to be dealt with after crunch time. I hope that if it was important folks will resend.

I’m very sorry for not replying. I suck.

So from now until I’ve finished the rewrites and made solid inroads into the new novel, I’ll be very bad about answering email and your comments here. And if I am responding to comments here in the next few months—that means I’m being an evil procrastinator and you have my full permission to hassle me about it.

Now I return to the UFB.


I have a terrible memory. Especially for people. My memory for names is non-existent unless I’ve met that person many times. My face memory is a little better, but I struggle to place faces. If I see someone I’ve met several times at Young Adult Lit events in a totally different context I often cannot figure out who they are. But usuallly I don’t even recognise the face of the person beaming at me and saying, “Hi, Justine.”

Once the person I’m not remembering starts to recount how we met and describes the conversation I start to figure out who they are. But sometimes even that doesn’t help.

I know I am not alone in this. Almost every writer I know complains about it because we’re often in situations where we’re meeting someone who remembers us because we met at an event, which is a rarity for them, but common for us.

It’s not just a writer problem. Any profession where you’re likely to meet lots of people: retail, teaching, performing etc etc is going to run up against this problem.

I was horrible at remembering my students when I was an academic. To be honest I’ve always been bad at remembering stuff. I sucked at Memory games as a child. Still do.

How do politicians cope? I know Bill Clinton is famous for remembering every single person he’s ever met. But not all politicians are like that. How do they deal with so many different faces?

It could be worse. I know someone who has a condition which means they cannot remember faces. All faces look the same to them. Without name tags or someone prompting them they are lost. They are constantly giving offence.

So, I’m not that bad. And I’m better at faces than Scott is. Though sadly he’s about the same as me on names.

I have gotten better at simply asking the person to tell me how I know them. But often I’m too embarrassed. It feels rude.

Having a bad memory feels rude.

I really hate not remembering people. I know that I’m a wee bit miffed when people don’t remember me (which happens often) and yet here I am constantly doing it to everyone else. So much of the time I act like I know the person and keep the conversation going in the hopes that I can figure it out. Fortunately I usually can. Though there are the horrible moments when I decide they’re someone they’re not. Erk.

Seems to me that there’s only so much space in most (non-Bill Clinton) people’s heads for remembering. So the average person can at most remember, say, a thousand people. Once you meet more than that your brain starts deleting, or pushing them to a less easily accessed part of the hard drive. And creating trouble for you. Stupid brain.

I’m sure there are all these tricks for getting around the limited hard drive space. Hell, I know there are. Friends have taught them to me. But I keep forgetting to try them out.

How do you lot cope?

isp woes

Yes, my site has been down on and off since Friday. Ditto my email. Yes, it has driven me insane.

My apologies to anyone who’s been sending me urgent emails. I now have close to a thousand unread emails waiting for me.

Brave new world of faster and better technology, eh?

Bah, humbug.


I hate that word. Multitasking. So very blerky. I prolly feel that way because I’m really crap at it. Really crap.

Like this weekend I’m trying to work on two different essays, the lodger novel, and also on a short story. Not to mention all the admin (correspondence, shopping, cooking, cleaning, organising, blah blah blah).

I’m trying to get as much stuff out of the way before I get The Ultimate Fairy ed letter, which will come in the next week or so. That way I’ll have oodles of time (due date’s the middle of September) for the rewrite. I want to make it shiny shiny shiny!

Most especially I want to have a solid chunk of the new novel so that coming back to it won’t break my brain. I don’t know about other writers but I much prefer to write one complete draft of a novel before beginning the next. I hate leaving things unfinished. Not to mention that it’s really hard to keep two big novel worlds in your head at the same time. It is for me anyways.

Right now I’m nowhere near a complete draft of the Lodger (hmmm, the working title needs work, doesn’t it?) so that when I return it’ll only to take a few days (if I’m lucky) to figure out what I was thinking way back then and who the hell all the characters are. If I’ve barely got a few thousand words then there’s not a lot for me to get back into.

I cannot write more than one novel at the same time.

I’m discovering that I can’t write a short story and a novel at the same time. I can barely work on a short story and figure out what to make for dinner. The best writing multi-tasking I can manage is one essay and one novel. On account of essays are not much like stories or novels thus they require different parts of the brain. (It’s like your dessert stomach being different from the rest of your stomach.) But two essays at once? Too hard.

My other multi-tasking impairments are laziness and being very easily distractable.

Thus this weekend I’ve managed to partly re-write a (very short) essay, write half of a new (and equally short) one, make dinner, re-organise my sock drawer (truly—it was a mess!), blog three times (this will be the third), take a stab at catching up on email (then stopped after a while depressed at the impossibility of ever doing so) and update my website (a tiny bit). I also opened the short story and Lodger documents and perused them. No new words were added to either.

But I’ve read many books, much manga, watched several episodes of The Wire and a fair few articles on and off line. (None of them related to either of the essays I’m writing.)

I feel discombobulated and disjointed and feel that I’ve lost my way.

I am now closing all documents other than the essay due Monday. I am even turning the intramanets off. When I have finished and sent off the essay—and only then—I will turn to the next pressing document. I will then work on nothing but it for a bit before turning to the next one. Otherwise nothing will get done.

So successful multitaskers do you have any tips for me? I have no children, no day job, no excuses for being this crap. I know people with children and day jobs and many other responsibilities who are vastly more productive (to the tune of two or more books a year) than I am. How do they do it? Help!

Seven billion dollar post

Because that’s how much it’s costing me to be online.

I may need to do hotel-hatred management classes fairly soon.

In short:

Adelaide still gorgeous, still full of churches.

The wedding was awesome. I’m a sucker for weddings at the best of times. But this was more excellent than most. The bride’s speech rocked.

Despite the insane hotel gouging not allowing me to function in the 21st century, I’m more relaxed and happy than I’ve been in ages. Amazing how wonderful not working (and possibly not going online) and getting to hang out with my friends without feeling guilty is. More please!

Melbourne next. Where there will be much work and fun at Reading Matters. I’d link but that would lose me my second and third born children.

I leave you with a few questions:

Why is it not socially acceptable to say no to having your photo taken?

Have you ever bought books on account of reading blogs by their authors? Do you do it a lot?

Purple dress or red shoes? Can they be worn together?

PS Sorry for not responding to emails or comments. Blame the gouging hotels. Normal service will resume at the beginning of June.

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!

Important matters

1. I have been accused in certain circles (okay, in certain emails) of deliberately not mentioning the English win in the recent ODIs against Australia in New Zealand. So here you go, you whingeing poms:

    Yay, England for finally stringing together three wins in a row! Way to peak at the right time. Yes, you are now contenders for the World Cup next month. Go forth and be happy!

    It’s still only One-day cricket, but.

2. I’ve also been meaning to remonstrate with one Maureen Johnson who has let down her fellow pro writers by revealing one of the most closely guarded secrets of our trade. First it was Matthew Cheney, and now Maureen. When is this going to stop, people? Are you going to start selling your secret decoder rings to the punters? I hope you remember the sacred oathes you swore. Don’t forget that there will be repercussions!

3. I’ve also been asked why I think it’s okay to hurt Maureen Dowd’s feelings when I’m so precious about novelists’ feelings. To which I can only respond: Well, der. I am a novelist. Of course I’m more worried about our feelings. Besides it’s well known that columnists are made of much sterner stuff than thin-skinned novelists. They are mocked all the time and are well used to it. But every time a novelist is mocked a little piece of the world’s communal imagination disappears in a tiny puff of smoke. It’s on your own heads if you mock us.

The one exception is John Scalzi who has managed to maintain the thick hide of a columnist despite becoming a novelist. You can mock him as much as you want. He loves it!

4. Over in the magical land of livejournal, there’s some really fascinating discussions going on about urban fantasy and the demonisation of “normal”. I have much to say on this subject and am struggling to get them together in a way that makes sense to anyone but me. But they involve lots of thoughts about Pan’s Labyrinth and fairy tales.

5. I have discovered a good thing about the cold. When you fall over in the street, you’re so padded with gloves and coats and scarves and etc etc, that it doesn’t hurt!

6. Feel free to share some matters you consider important.

RW3: the quick ones

Little Willow asks:

Have you heard the song Reasons Why by Nickel Creek?

No. Please to point me to a link where I may listen.

Roger asks:

Your favourite cricketers, m’dear, and why. Whence the Keith Miller obsession?

Still living: Shoab Akhtar, Makhaya Ntini, Daniel Vettori, Shane Warne and Andrew Symonds.

Because they entertain me.

I have explained my Keith Miller infatuation here. Basically, I think he was a dropdead spunk plus he generated ace anecdotes. And there was the whole cricket thing too.

Jenny D asks that I say something about

the fiction of Ellen Kushner

It is completely wonderful in every way and you should all read her!

Jenny D also ask that I detail

some of your more unfortunate past fashion choices—with pictures!

And I refuse and threaten dire consequences to anyone who posts such photos of me ever.

Chris McLaren asks for

Convention horror stories and other juicy gossip.

This too I refuse. What happens at a convention stays at the convention.

Simon Sherlock would

like to see you write about why the England cricket team is far, far better than the Australian one (even though they choose not to show it) 🙂

I did say I would lie for you all, but it turns out that this I just can’t do it. Especially after yesterday’s performance against New Zealand.

All I can say is that I’m sure they’re much better at enduring cold wet weather than the Australian cricket team and that is not a skill to be sniffed at.

A lurker wants to know

Your thoughts on harry potter. and jkrowling. just curious.

I really enjoy the books though have found the last few a tad too long. I wish they’d been a bit tighter edited. Am really looking forward to the next one.

I worship J. K. Rowling. Without her my career wouldn’t be possible. All children’s and YA writers owe her hugely. Thank you for everything, J. K.!

Robyn Hook would

like to hear about your jeans shopping expedition with Ron!

Twas fabulous. All things done with Ron are a million times more fabulous than they otherwise would be. Ron is a goddess. I can no longer go shopping with anyone else. This is a bit of a problem given that I only see him once or twice a year . . . I’m reduced to wearing rags!

I’m still taking requests. Just add yours here. I cross ’em off as I complete ’em.

Thanks everyone for all the requests. This is fun! I may never come up with an idea of my own for the blog ever again.

And she goes

I’ve been just a few days away from finishing the first draft of the great Australian Elvis mangosteen monkey knife-fighting cricket fairy novel for weeks and weeks. What is it with that? I feel like there’s someone up ahead with my ending, who—every time I get close enough to touch it—madly sprints away.

Bloody bastard!1 Stop it!

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to finishing this draft. I have such plans for the rewrites! Rewriting is so much funner. You can’t really get the monkey-knife-fighting scenes right until you’ve gone over them many times adding zeppelins and fireworks.

I’m also a bit cranky cause this was going to be my shortest novel ever, but it keeps growing. Grrr.

Do any of youse ever have the receding-into-the-distance ending problem? What do you do about it?

  1. Just rewatched Bodyline. My favourite bit is when Douglas Jardine (evil captain of the English team) goes to the Australian dressing room to demand an apology for being called a bastard. The captain turns to his men and asks, “Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?” Jardine stalks off in high Pommy dudgeon. Tee hee! []


There’s a bunch of kids playing loudly next door and one of them just yelled out, “I am the ruler of the universe!” I’m thinking that’s not a bad resolution, but a tricky one to follow through on. The kid next door did not succeed, because now all the kids are yelling that they are the ruler of the universe. Scott included.

I like the idea of resolutions. I like the idea of trying to better or test yourself in some small concrete way. And I especially like the idea of lots of folks all over the place all resolving to do stuff at the same time. But like most everyone else I’m usually crap at sticking to them.

I was going to resolve not to eat all the fruit in the house within a day of purchase, but who am I kidding? I’ll never stick to that. Especially not now when the mangoes are so ridiculously good. Also the figs and the nectarines and cherries and apples and bananas and passionfruit and . . .

I was also going to have another shot at the not-biting-the-nails thing. But that’s really about stress. I bite ’em when I’m stressed and don’t when I’m not. I can be non-stressy and have finger nails in Sydney, but it’s impossible not to be stressed while on the road or in New York City. Must spend more time at home!

So instead I’m going to try and waste less water and electricity. More turning off lights and other leccie powered stuff around the home and less long baths and showers.

How about you guys? Are you with the cool crowd what eschews resolutions as foolishness? Or have you got some you’re prepared to share?

Boxing Day

It’s a good day to be hungover a bit under the weather. The Boxing Day test starts in less than an hour. Will it be too cold and wet to start? I hear it was freezing in Melbourne yesterday. Will Shane Warne take his 700th wicket today?1 Will England get its shit together for more than one or two sessions? All excellent questions to contemplate while languishing on the couch.

I was going to post about how 2006 was for me and how 2007 is shaping up, but the idea makes my head hurt. How bout youse guys? Tell me about the good things that happened to you this year and the good you’re looking forward to in 2007? I’ll post mine when the ghost of wines drunk yesterday aren’t haunting me.

Happy Boxing Day!

  1. Unlikely, I hear the MCG is favouring pace. I reckon it’ll be day 3 before Warnie gets his 700th scalp. []

Email Hassles

It’s just come to my attention that something screwy has been happening with my mail for the last six weeks or so. If any of you have written to me in that time and I have not responded odds are I never got it or you never received my reply. If it’s important or interesting or cool please resend.

At our new abode we do not have wireless intramanet access. This is a very good thing as I’m already getting more writing done than I do when I have the inertnetsy at my beck and call. (Or am I at its beck and call? Hmmm.)

However, it also means that I’m not getting through my mail (that which I’ve actually received) as fast as I usually do (which is to say I’m even slower) so if you’ve written to me about something urgent and I haven’t responded keep bugging me. Let me know that it’s urgent.

That is all.

The Year of Little Reading

Due to lots of very boring reasons, this year I read fewer books than I ever have before. Horrifying but true. I was even worse than I usually am at critiquing friends’ manuscripts, for which I am truly and abjectly sorry. I regret, too, all the books people sent me that I didn’t read. I suck. And, yes, I was also a horrible, horrible, horrible correspondent this year. I really hope next year will be better.

So here are some of the books I did read this year and highly recommend (you’ll notice I don’t give away much in the way of plot—that’s because I hate knowing too much about books before I read them. I like surprises, me, and I’m assuming you do, too!):

M. T. Anderson‘s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party. I’m not sure I can add anything to what everyone else has said. This book is unbelievably good. Astonishingly so.

March by Geraldine Brooks is another book that’s been hyped so much I became deathly afraid of actually reading it. Not to worry. Believe the hype!

Ursula Dubosarsky‘s The Red Shoe and Theodora’s Gift have been winning every award going in Australia this year. Deservedly. Dubosarsky is the author of more than twenty books for children and young adults. She is a flawless writer whose mastery of storytelling leaves me breathless. I wish I could write like that! She’s not nearly as well-known outside Australia as she deserves to be. You must track down her books. I also particularly recommend The First Book of Samuel to which Theodora’s Gift is a completely standalone sequel.

Xavier Herbert Capricornia. Kind of embarrassing that I’d never read this Australian classic before. Maybe because the words “Australian classic” fill my heart with fear—despite having loved so many of them (My Brilliant Career, anyone? Or The Getting of Wisdom? Or Ride on Stranger? Not to mention Come in Spinner). Capricornia is a wild and unruly mess. It’s bleak and depressing and funny and searing and one of the most compelling examinations of race relations in Australia (or anywhere else for that matter) that I’ve ever read. I may even be brave enough to tackle the 40 million page Poor Fellow My Country now. Or maybe not. Four bazillion million pages is an awful lot!

It’s hard to believe that Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell is a debut novel. The voice is so assured, the plotting flawless. It has none of the usual first novel lumps and bumps. I felt like I was reading an account of my school days even though the book is set in Melbourne, not Sydney. I’ve since talked to other readers and they said the same thing even though they went to school in Montreal and Los Angeles. Me thinks Howell has hit some universals in a very readable local way.

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. Moriarty is a genius. Pure and simple. She writes fast-paced, hilarious, heart-breaking and shudder-inducing books that are entirely made up of letters, dairy entries, legal depositions, shopping lists. You name it—she throws it into the mix. I don’t know how she does it. Bindy Mackenzie is her most recent and best book to date. Awesome.

The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species by Scott Weidensaul is one of the most beautifully written and compellingly readable natural history books I’ve ever read. Every single page gave me a new idea for a novel, but I couldn’t pause to jot my ideas down because I was too desperate to see what would happen, to follow his arguments, and get lost in the wilds of Tasmania trying to find evidence of the continuing existence of Thylacines.

I strongly recommend every single one of these books. Have any of you read them? What did you think?

Also if you have any recommendations for excellent and idea-giving non-fiction books, please do share. No fiction recommendations, though. I got way too many novels and short story collections to catch up on. And frankly all I want to do is read Georgette Heyer.

John Green and The Art of Lying

“And now that she was doing something difficult
and familiar and never quite predictable,
namely lying, she felt a sort of mastery again,
the same sense of complexity and control
that the alethiometer gave her.”
—Phillip Pullman The Golden Compass

John Green, whose latest book, An Abundance of Katherines, is out this week is stopping by my blog today to be interrogated interviewed by me about lying, on account of how he is somewhat partial to spouting the tall ones.

John’s partialness is by no means unique amongst writers. (Truman Capote, anyone?) In the interview we ponder the connection between the telling of lies and the writing of stories. Do you have to be a good liar to be a good storyteller?

Justine: So, John, were you always a liar?

John: Presumably there was a time before I could talk when I was honest, but I’ve been a liar since at least the age of four, when I convinced my preschool teacher my home had been burglarized, and that the burglars had stolen our television. How about you?

Justine: My memories are hazy, but I do remember trying to convince my younger sister that she was adopted, but even though she was very little at the time she wasn’t buying it—we look a lot like each other.

Do you think that lying and being a writer go together?

John: One time I was on a panel with Markus Zusak, and I made some joke about how when I was a kid I figured that the only things I was good at were sitting and telling lies, so I decided to become a writer. And then someone was blogging about this event later and said something like, “Shame on John Green for claiming that fiction writing is lying.” Shame on me? Am I wrong? Is it NOT lying?

Justine: I think so. The kind of creativity you need to get away with an elaborate lie is very close to what you need for writing fiction. But at the same time if a book’s labelled as being fiction then it’s not actually lying. I can see the point, just not why people get so upset about it.

Why do you think people get hot under the collar about calling fiction writing lying?

John: I have no idea. People can be very persnickety about what writing is, and how to do it, and what writing ought to do.

I will acknowledge that the mere ability to lie well is not the same thing as being able to write good fiction, but they are surely related talents.

Justine: Indeed. I’ve heard people from certain religious backgrounds say they weren’t allowed to read novels on the grounds that they are nothing but a pack of lies. Jane Austen makes reference to the supposed moral laxity of novels in her books. Maybe people are still angry that used to happen?

Or perhaps it’s because some people agree that lying is a terrible sin and believe that liars can’t be trusted. If you lie, they believe, you’ll also cheat and steal and murder.

But I think there’s a big difference between kinds of lies. Lying for gain or to cheat are bad, bad, bad things. But lots of lies are completely necessary and good. If people are coming to kill your family and friends and you know where they are hidden, saying you don’t know is the only honourable, good thing you can do. Telling the truth in that situation would be reprehensible.

Also sometimes telling someone the truth can really, really hurt them. I once told a friend that her boyfriend was cheating on her. She hated me for it and we’re still not friends. I have never done that again. There are some things people don’t need to know or need to find out for themselves.

Is there anyone you would never lie to?

John: The true answer is no, although I’d like to say yes. I very rarely lie to my wife, and never about issues of substance. But I’m with you on the nobility of some lies. I am WILLING to lie to anyone, if the situation arises. I’ve always felt that lying can be perfectly noble: Say, for instance, that Sarah (my wife) got into a duel, and her opponent cut off her nose (as happened to the astronomer Tycho Brahe). Okay, so if a half-conscious and noseless Sarah said to me, “Am I losing a lot of blood?” And I would say, “No,” because I’d want her to stay calm and wait for help to arrive. That’s an ethical lie, I think.

Justine: I’m adding that to my list of folks it’s okay to lie to: semi-conscious, noseless people. I don’t lie to Scott or my parents or sister. Well, not unless I confess instantly in a ha-ha tricked-you way.

Is there anything you would never lie about?

John: Oddly, I don’t think I would ever lie about my lying. Does that make sense? Like, I am perfectly happy to answer these questions honestly. I don’t think we, as liars, should be ashamed. There are shameful lies, certainly, but I don’t think the enterprise is in and of itself bad. Lying is like the Force: It can be used for good or evil.

Justine: Absolutely! I don’t lie for gain. I could never be a confidence trickster because I find parting fools from their money deeply wrong. We’re all of us foolish about something, so we can all be tricked. The conman believes that they’re better than everyone else. They’re grifters; we exist only to be their marks. That’s psycho thinking.

Did you make a distinction between the different kinds of lies you tell? (I have many categories for different kinds of lies.)

John: Oh, yeah. What are your categories?

Justine: Reinventing-Yourself lies, Making-a-Better-Story lies, White lies, Getting-Out-of-Trouble lies, Exaggeration.

When I was young Reinventing-Myself lies were my favourites. I moved around a lot as a kid, so every time I was the new kid in school I had a new opportunity to reinvent myself and my family. A lot of the lies were wish-fulfillment lies. I would say that I was on the verge of selling a novel, that I’d been asked to become a model/actor/singer/trapeze artist/DJ but turned them down because it seemed like too much work. Stuff like that. My parents weren’t too worried about it cause the lies were mostly so outrageous no one believed them for long. (They were a bit miffed though when I said they’d met fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War on account of they’re not nearly old enough to have done it. Not really born enough, either.)

John: Reinventing-Myself lies were also very popular with me, and I still occasionally find myself telling a Reinventing-Myself lie when I feel nervous or uncomfortable. A few years ago, for instance, I was having dinner with a woman I’d just started dating, and before I could even stop myself, I started talking about the two weeks I’d spent in Uzbekistan just after graduating from college. In fact, I’ve never even been to England, let alone Uzbekistan. To me, the Reinventing Myself lie is the surest sign of adolescence and/or immaturity.

Justine: Also of boredom. Me and my sister being on the run from an evil cult of nuns who killed our family and ate our family cat and now being in witness protection with our fake parents was way more exciting than my actual life. But now I think my actual life does not need to be improved by adding evil nun cults.

I also used to tell a lot of Making-a-Better-Story lies. When retelling a story I smooth things, leave the boring bits out, add more interesting bits in order to make the story more story-like. Real life is irritatingly messy and usually does not translate well into a story unless you bend things.

John: I am also quite fond of the Making-Better-Story lie. I’m sure that all of my stories contain them, although I’ve been telling some of those stories so long I don’t even know what’s false memory and what isn’t. The narrator of The Great Gatsby notwithstanding, very honest people rarely tell good stories, in my experience.

Justine: My next category is White lies. Even though I don’t lie nearly as much now as I did as a kid, I still sometimes tell social lies to people I don’t know that well. “Your dress is beautiful.” “I loved your book.” “Sorry we couldn’t make it to your party—we were both a bit under the weather.” Etc. etc.

John: Yeah. With my closest friends, the white lie is unnecessary, because I can just say something like, “I want to go home now,” and that’s fine. But with acquaintances, the white lie is a great blessing.

Justine: Getting-Out-of-Trouble lies are the kind I always felt the guiltiest about. I usually wound up confessing to my misdeeds later.

John: I rarely tell these anymore, because I’ve become such a boring homebody that on those rare occasions when I get myself into trouble, I sort of enjoy it.

Justine: Me neither. When I was a kid, getting in trouble was the worst thing in the world. I’m completely inured to it now and will own my bad deeds. Mostly because I try hard not to commit any.

Exaggeration’s the last kind of lie on my list. Most of my lies are of the poetic kind, embellishing stuff to make it cooler variety. The ceilings were twenty metres high! The walls painted such an intense gold your eyes watered just looking at it! Though it prolly belongs in the Making-Better-Story category.

John: Yes, I’m also given over to these.

Justine: Do you have any categories of your own?

John: Well, I would add the Compassionate Lie (outlined above, in the example where Sarah gets her nose cut off during a duel). I’m a big fan of the Compassionate Lie, although it can be a bit of a slippery slope. It’s easy to convince yourself you’re telling a Compassionate Lie when you’re really just telling a regular old self-interested lie. Here’s an example: Say I killed your pet llama by accident. Now, I can tell you that your pet llama ran away, or that it went to go live on a farm. And that’s kind of a compassionate lie. But mostly, I just don’t want you to be mad at me about killing your llama.

Justine: Oh, yes. I used to tell people what I thought they wanted to hear when they asked me if they looked okay. But now if there’s something correctably wrong I will tell them: “Your tag’s sticking up.” ‘There’s schmutz on your face.” “Your pimple is glowing red.”

John: I’d also say that for me, Telling-Better-Stories lies and Reinventing-Myself lies are subcategories of Trying-to-Make-People-Like-Me lies. Basically, all of my lies were Trying-to-Make-People-Like-Me lies.

Justine: Once again we are in complete agreement.

Do you lie as much now as when you were kid?

John: Oh God, no. It would be impossible to lie as much now as when I was a kid. When I was younger, I was able to devote all of my resources to lying. Entire days could be spent on the construction and telling of lies. Now I have to, like, do the dishes and go to the grocery store. But also, as I get older, I feel less compelled to lie. Partly, this is because I’m happier. I have friends now who like me, which is most of what I wanted to get out of lying. The Trying-to-Make-People-Like-Me lie just doesn’t appeal to me like it used to. I’ve discovered, belatedly, that pretending to have spent two weeks in Uzbekistan does not actually make people like you.

Justine: Me neither. For much the same reasons. In fact I don’t tell anything other than white lies and exaggerations these days. Of course I’m stuck with the legacy of my lying past. No one in my family believes a word I say. I am the family’s unreliable witness and even though I’m almost entirely lie-free and have been for years—they will always doubt me. That’s my warning to the kids who read this: The tale of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is absolutely true.

Do you have that reputation within your family?

John: To an extent. None of my complaints are ever taken seriously, because they’re counted upon to be exaggerations. But they’ve learned to trust my stories. Or at least they pretend they do.

Justine: Do you think part of why you lie less now is because the lying part of you gets enough exercise from writing novels?

John: That’s a good observation, and I think writing has lessened my desire to lie. I can now get immersed in a fictional world without having to deceive my friends, and you never have to feel guilty about making things up in a novel. When I’m working on a book, during those periods where I’m just working day and night, I get to spin whatever lies I want about those characters. Reinventing-Yourself lies and Exaggerations and Making-a-Better-Story lies and lies that help me get the characters out of trouble. Not all the lies go into the book, of course, but it’s fun regardless.

Justine: Yup. I got a huge kick out of some of the more elaborate stories I used to tell, the friends I invented and their stories. I get to use all those skills when I write novels but this way I don’t get in trouble for it, I don’t lose friends, and I get paid!

What’s the worst trouble you’ve ever gotten into for lying?

John: Well, my fourth grade girlfriend Julie Baskin broke up with me because of my lying, which sucked. But I think the worst consequences for lying are emotional: If you tell the wrong kind of lies, it prevents intimacy; it makes it impossible for you to be a whole person in communion with others; it poisons your relationships. That hasn’t been an issue for me in adulthood, thank God, but it’s something I think liars must always stay mindful of.

Justine: Yes, indeed, the erosion of trust is a biggie. It’s why I don’t lie to the people I care about. Or not about anything important.

Who is your favourite fictional liar? Mine’s Lyra Silvertongue from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. She is brave and courageous and true and totally understands the difference between good and bad lies. I adore her.

John: I can see the case for Lyra Silvertongue, but of course I can’t pick her because fantasy isn’t really literature. Oh, God! I’m kidding! Stop hitting me! I have to go with Huck Finn. And then maybe Jay Gatsby, but Huck Finn stands out to me as the best liar, real or fake, in all of history.

Justine: Who is your favourite real person liar?

John: Well, I’m quite fond of you. And Sarah knows how to tell a tale, certainly. Sometimes, I’ll see a flicker in her eyes when one of her stories takes a turn, and I’ll know, but even when you know, it is a sweet pleasure to watch a master work.

Justine: Yes, indeed! Watching Scott telling stories is prolly one of my favourite things in the universe. Even though I’ve heard all his stories a gazillion times he changes them depending on who he’s telling them to and what the context is. I loves it. (And, natch, I too am fond of you.)

Disclaimer: This entire conversation is, itself, a pack of lies.

To belong or not to belong

I’m a big believer in community. I’m convinced that it’s very very very difficult to produce good art without some kind of a community behind you. I can date the turnaround in my own writing to my first showing it to other writers. Their critiques hurt like hell, but my writing got better in ways it never would have otherwise.

The communities of writers and other publishing folks I’m involved with share a wealth of information with each other. We tell each other about which editors we enjoy working with and why, which houses have the best publicity/sales/marketing departments. Who got paid what by which house. When third person is a better fit than first. What the differences are between writing middle grade and young adult books. What Amazon numbers mean (bugger all). How to survive writing the third book in a trilogy and so on and so forth.

I honestly don’t know how I’d cope in this industry if I didn’t have all my publishing friends to turn to. I’ve also been enjoying passing on what I’ve learned to others via my musings, this blog, at various appearances, and by other means, most enjoyably in person over a yummy meal. Helping other folks is even better than being helped. Who knew?

And yet I’m also extremely reluctant to join organisations.

I’m currently a member of SCBWI because I taught at one of the SCBWI workshops and was comped a year’s membership. I doubt I would have joined otherwise. I’m also a member of ASIF! because censorship makes my blood boil and also it’s not a formal organisation in the way that SCBWI is—it’s more of an activist mailing list based around one particular issue. Mailing lists I can do. I’m also not a member of SFWA which is the premier organisation of science fiction and fantasy professionals.

That’s weird because although I made my fiction debut as a young adult writer, I’ve been a part of the sf and fantasy community for more than fifteen years now, dating back to when I was researching my PhD (which became The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction).

I think it might be because I know too much about SFWA. As part of my doctoral and post-doctoral research I read a vast deal of correspondence about SFWA and a great many back issues of their SFWA Forum. The result is that I feel completely burned out by the organisation without ever having been part of it.

This is not to say that SFWA is any more dysfunctional than any other organisation. Show me an organisation whose members are all a hundred per cent gruntled and I’d want to know what drugs they’re on.

Professional organisations have a great deal going for them. The best of them provide vital services to their members like advocacy when professional disasters occur, cheap lawyers, cheap health insurance, and so forth. They’re also a good way to meet your peers, which (see above) is invaluable.

However, you can be part of a community but not of any its professional bodies. There are some who’d say you’re not being a good citizen in doing so, but, well, I seem to disagree. Thing is I’m not entirely sure why.

It may be a touch of the Groucho Marxes (“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”), or it could be that I worry about being associated with an organisation that is on the record as supporting causes I don’t support. Or not on the record for supporting causes I do. I guess I would much rather keep my solo voice as part of broader and more disparate communities.

Or maybe it’s because I didn’t enjoy playground politics in high school. Nor did I enjoy the university version—either as a student or as a staff member. It could be that I’m just not comfortable with the politics of any formal organisations. I guess there’s a reason that the happiest I’ve ever been is as a work-at-home freelancer.

Could also be that I’m just lazy.

Or something. Those of you who are members of these kind of organisations—what do you get out of it? How do you cope with the politics?


Wow, thanks so much for all the fascinating responses to my last post. The reason I haven’t commented (or responded to anyone’s email) for the last five days was because I was in Kyoto with my family celebrating my mother’s birthday (more on that anon). My mum didn’t know me and my sister would be there so I could hardly blog about it before hand . . .

No time for a proper post so in the meantime can any of you help out Rachel Manija Brown? She’s looking for good non-fiction books about particular cities. She explains what she’s after here. Clearly, she needs to be told about ace books on Sydney!

Tell me stuff (updated)

You are correct that I have not been blogging much or responding to comments like I usually do or even responding to email a whole lot.

The reason is that I’m on a deadline (yes, the same one, yes, it was moved again, yes I really have to meet this one) and am working my arse off. (Oh, how I miss my arse!)

In the meantime I think you lot should entertain me. Here are some questions:

  1. Does anyone have any recs for best brunch place in NYC?
  2. Who’s going to be the first Australian to win the Tour de France (no, it doesn’t have to be this year)?
  3. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
  4. I just read Out by Natuso Kirino. Loved it. Can anyone recommend a recent crime novel that’s sort of like? I don’t like mysteries—that is I prefer crime books where you know who done it and it’s the whys that are the thing. So I want something all psychologicy. (My fave crime writers are Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson.)
  5. Where do I go to buy buttons in NYC? (Yes, that’s right I still haven’t gotten them.) (Oh, and by “buttons” I mean those things that can fasten clothes.)
  6. Is anyone else following the New York Liberty this year? Testing times, eh?
  7. Apparently I need some kind of formal wear, you know, like a dress. Anyone got any recs for cool interesting designery shops in NYC?
  8. What’s your favourite Elvis song and why?
  9. Without googling explain the difference between the Australian and New Zealand flags. Which is lamer?
  10. What new-to-DVD movie should I get to reward myself when I finally meet the deadline?

Thanks! Hope you’re all having a fab weekend (what’s left of it), that all your deadlines are being met and you don’t look at Monday morning with too much dread. As soon as my deadline is finished I promise to be a good blogger again.

Update: bonus question:

Riemannia‘s question here reminds me that I’ve been wondering what you call those metal door thingies that you see all the time here in the footpaths of NYC. You know, that when you open them reveal stairs that lead down into the basement of shops and restaurants and bars. Do they have a name? They aren’t grates so what are they?

WisCon is over; now I namedrop

The combination of jetlag and a cold meant that I did not get as much out of this year’s WisCon as I normally do. But everybody else seemed to be having an amazing time. There were a great many people there that I didn’t even get a chance to say hello to like Suzy McKee Charnas, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Jay Lake, Kelly Link, Sharyn November, Nisi Shawl, Helen Pilinovsky and I hardly had a conversation of any length the whole weekend long.

But I did finally get to meet Cherie Priest and she was just as fabulous as expected. More, even. (Thank you Liz Gorinsky for arranging it—lovely to see you, too!). As well as the elegant and charming Geoff Ryman (apparently he has a blog but I can’t find it—feel free to hit me with the URL) and the amazing Deb Stone who fights the good fight against book censorship for the American Library Association and is my new hero.

I also had the pleasure of introducing my best friend in the whole world,1 Ron Serdiuk, to all my lovely WisCon friends. Naturally he is now many more people’s best friend in the entire world. Seriously, to know Ron is to love him. But I saw him first, okay?

I did manage to catch up properly with Krissy and John Scalzi, as well as Doselle and Janine Young, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Nalo Hopkinson, Charlotte Boynton, Lauren McLaughlin, Andrea Hairston, Pan Morrigan, Ama Patterson, Shana Cohen, Lawrence Schimel, Ellen Klages, Caroline Stevermer, Claire Light and Holly Black (who is such a darling that she visited me in my room while I was gathering strength to get past my dread lurgy and go out and face everyone). Not to mention Julie Phillips, whose superlatively brilliant biography of James Tiptree, Jr. will be out later this year. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read and I read a pretty early draft. Imagine how gobsmackingly awesome the final version is going to be.

It was also fabulous to see great big piles of my first (and only) anthology, Daughters of Earth, selling like hotcakes. A number of people had already read it and were very enthusiastic. Yay! Josh Lukin’s and Andrea Hairston’s essays were both mentioned in terms of gushing praise. Their essays are indeed very fine as are all the essays in the collection. There’s no way I’m picking favourites!

The wonderful folks of Dreamhaven donated a copy to be sold at next year’s Tiptree auction. (I recommend them as an online purveyor of all fine sf and fantasy books. And yes they still have more copies of Daughters.) I managed to get Samuel R. Delany, Ursula Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, and Pamela Sargent (!!!) to sign near mentions of them in the acknowledgments, as well as the signatures of contributors Brian Attebery, L. Timmel Duchamp, Karen Joy Fowler, Andrea Hairston, Joan Haran, Pat Murphy, Lisa Tuttle and Kate Wilhelm. Elvis wept, eh? It better go for a decent amount next year.

I only managed to hear Gwenda Bond, Karen Meisner, Lauren McLaughlin, Claire Light, Scott Westerfeld, Christopher Rowe, Richard Butner and Gavin Grant read, which is to say I attended two different reading sessions. They were all fantastic and funny and weird. What more can you ask for? Well . . . I would’ve loved to have heard Carol Emshwiller or Samuel R. Delany or Ursula Le Guin or Vonda McIntyre or Jane Yolen or Kate Wilhelm or Karen Joy Fowler or Ama Patterson or Geoff Ryman read as well. I hear they were all incredible.

And it would have been nice to go to some of the panels people were raving about like the shapeshifting one and the one on enjoyable trash. I hear Micole Sudberg stunned everyone with her stupendous intellect, humour and wit. Mental note: must not get sick and spend way too much time napping in my room. At least I wasn’t alone in my illness.

Most moving moment: When Susan Vaught signed over her $1,000 cheque for winning a Carl Brandon Award to the Carl Brandon society. So generous! Such a classy gesture! I’m buying her book, Stormwitch as soon as. I hear it’s as wonderful as she is.

Now I go to bed.

P.S. I have no idea how any of my panels went. Sigh.
P.P.S. Too tired to paste in links to all the abovementioned folks.
P.P.P.S. I am massively behind with email. Sorry!

  1. I have a number of best friends in the whole world. []

Apologies & Updates

Sorry for the silence. My excuses are many and covered in mucus and jetlag. Which led to my inadvertantly consigning a number of thoughtful posts to spam purgatory. My apologies. Please comment again. I hope to be non-mucus laden and competent any day now and am much less likely to nuke future comments.

While I lay sweating, coughing, swelling and dripping mucus, the wonderful Deborah Biancotti was making additons to my website to accommodate the imminent (and in San Francisco, at least, actual) arrival of my second novel, Magic Lessons the sequel to Magic or Madness. Feast your eyes here and here. You can even read the first two chapters. She’s also created a new section for the soon-to-arrive anthology, Daughters of Earth. Thank you, Deb! And thank you, Cat, for designing such a beautiful cover.

Do take a squiz at both and let me know what you think. The Daughters site still has some content to come, but all the design work is done.

The events in San Francisco at Borderlands and Books Inc went very well. Scott was a star (he even read for me!) and I coughed a lot. And Jude (Borderlands) and Jennifer (Books Inc) took wondrous care of us. Thank you! Thanks so much to everyone who came. I hope I didn’t give any of you my dread lurgy.

I go sleep now.

Posted: NYC, 2:30AM

Self Promotion

How’s about that for a post title to put everyone off?

I’ve been hearing some complaints about writers who are too self promotery, who go on panels at cons waving their book around, saying,”Look at me! Look at me! I’m a published writer! Buy my book!” There are also complaints about certain writers’ blogs which only talk about their books and their latest publishing news with links that only lead to places that sell their books. As well as whinges about the folks who relentlessly campaign for awards.

Accusations of being too self promotery make me a bit jittery. Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job. If no one knows the book exists how is it going to sell? A writer should be out there lining up bookshop appearances, sending out postcards/business cards/tshoshkas of some kind. You should be attending cons/trade shows/schools/libraries or whatever will help get the word out about your work. It may not have that much effect (no one really knows how to get word of mouth going1), but it might, and besides, for your own peace of mind it helps to know that you’re doing something. No one cares how well your book does as much you what wrote it. Not your agent, your editor or your publicist. It seems mighty unfair to complain about a writer doing what they can to secure their livelihood.

I’m sensitive about such accusations because I was accused of it. My promotion of my first book (a non-fiction tome) at WisCon some years back got up some people’s noses. But it was WisCon: the feminist science fiction convention, the only place in the world where my book on, yes, feminist science fiction had a real shot at selling lots of copies. So I kind of overdid the whole “look at me! I have a book” thing. Yes, I did wave around my book on panels and trumpet its availability in the dealers’ room. I’m still sort of embarrassed, but also defensive about it. It was my first book! I was excited! And you know what? Every copy of the book sold out and my publisher was pleased with me. I was doing my job. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t done what I could to promote the book not as many copies would have sold.

On the other hand, I have seen writers relentlessly promoting themselves at various gatherings. (Hence my embarrassment when I think back on that WisCon.) Drowning out everyone else on their panels, continually using their own work as an example when it’s only tangentally relevant. On one occasion I was accosted by a writer at a party who interrupted my conversation with someone else to tell me all about his book, ply me with postcards of it, and information on how I could buy it. Not a good look.

Obviously a balance needs to be struck. Pissing people off is not actually very self promotery. Neither is being rude. (And really being polite should be the ground rule for all interactions.) But I wish the folks who complain about over-the-top self promotion would cut some slack to first- or second-time authors. You know, the way most of us make allowances for our friends with their brand new baby, who can’t shut up about it, and endlessly show you photos. Yes, it’s boring, but in most cases it will pass.

My third book is about to come out, but I’m too busy working on the fourth to put as much energy into promoting it as I did my first and second books. I’m no longer an enthusiastic first-time author. I’m dead proud of it and I’ll be doing signings and readings to promote it. But I will not be bouncing up and down, thrusting postcards into everyone’s hands, and talking it up at every opportunity. Been there, done that.

Do I not think this book is as good as my others? Magic Lessons is the best book I’ve published thus far. But I’m older and wiser and less energetic. I guess I’m well on my way to being a hardened old pro.

NYC, 12:12PM, 12 March 2006

  1. I’m convinced that the most useful thing you can do to promote your work is get copies into the hands of the opinion makers in your genre. The people who write the most read and discussed blogs, the librarians and booksellers who love to push their favourite titles. How to do that is a whole other question, but, obviously, writing the very best books you can is essential! Getting out and meeting said opinion makers comes in second. []