This poem was first published when I was nine. First in the Newcastle Morning Herald and then later in the feminist magazine, Refractory Girl.1
I can fly.
They say I can’t.
They don’t exist.
I can fly.
They won’t believe me.
They aren’t real.
They can’t understand me
They won’t understand me
They don’t understand me
They say I’m mad
no-one can fly.
I can fly
The day after it published in the local newspaper some of the kids at school demanded that I fly for them. They recited the poem back at me and laughed in my face. I spent the day wishing I’d never written it but also basking in my teachers’ praise.
The next day the other kids had forgotten about it but the teachers were still praising me. Yup, I was still buzzing about being an actual published poet. I enjoyed and was weirded out by the publication and attention thing. Praise = good! Kids laughing at me = oogie!
It was an early lesson in the gap between writing and publication. The writing part is private and often wonderful. Publication and public responses to the writing is a whole other thing. I’ve been doing my best to keep that in mind ever since.
My mother, Jan Larbalestier was part of the Refractory Girl collective. Yup, nepotism got my poem republished. For the record, I didn’t know anyone at the Herald. [↩]
A few weeks back @bysshefields was being really smart on twitter about being a young adult excluded from conversations about Young Adult literature. This is something that has often annoyed me, that the go-to “experts” on the genre for the mainstream media are almost never young adults themselves, that we only rarely hear from the people at whom the category is purportedly aimed. I asked Bysshe if she would write a guest post on the subject for my blog and happily she said yes.
All the words below are hers:
My name is Bysshe and I’m a 19 year old aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn, NYC. I spend most of my time reading and writing.
Two different conversations led to my tweeting about the way YA voices are being ignored. I was talking to a friend (who is also a writer) about how no agent will want to take on my manuscript because it deviates too far from “the norm” (aka straight white girl protagonist being a badass and defeating the government). Both of us know that the audience for our stories is out there; if we and our group of friends, and THEIR groups of friends, and so on and so forth want to read about queer girls of color, then someone out there is lying about what’s actually popular in YA (particularly speculative fiction).
The second conversation occurred when my friend and I were discussing high school trauma, and how we felt that we couldn’t turn to YA because there weren’t representations of kids in our situations. Instead, we were reading books like The Godfather and Fight Club and who knows what other adult-marketed books because there was nothing heavy enough in YA to match how heavy we felt.
In what I’ve written below, I know there are misconceptions about how YA publishing works but I’ve left them in because I think they represent how little communication there is between those who market YA books and their audience. That also ties into what the idea that it’s harder to sell books about non-white/non-middle class/non-straight characters.
I truly, deeply don’t think it’s that they’re harder to sell, so much as people aren’t working as hard to sell them. Social media has taught me that the market is there. My own existence has taught me that the market is there. In my experience, the only people who truly think that diverse books might be harder to sell are people who wouldn’t buy them.
I’m certain that if Sherri L. Smith‘s Orleans got the same explosive blockbuster treatment as, say, Divergent, it would sell. Thinking that it wouldn’t is another example of young adults being underestimated because it suggests that we’re incapable of handling differences, which just isn’t true. I think that if publishers, or whoever’s in charge of properly exposing books, put the same effort into exposing diverse books, we would see a change in how they sell.1
Young Adult is defined as the ages of 15 to 25. By this definition, I’m about four-ish years into young adulthood. So far, it feels like a lot of things. It’s stifling, frustrating, exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I won’t make it out of these years alive. As a young adult, a lot of my decisions have already been made for me (if not by an adult, then by circumstances that were generated under adult influences). What little freedom I have has been cut down almost to the point of nonexistence (again, if not directly by adults, then by systems that adults put in place long before I was born).
In spite of the release that reading is supposed to give me, I’ve noticed a trend in mainstream2 YA literature: it’s exactly the same as reality, in that I have close-to-no input with regards to what happens in it.
There are a lot of teams on the playing field of the YA lit scene. Out of everyone, I feel a lot like Frodo at the Council of Elrond as I struggle to assert my voice over the Big Folk who seem to think that only they know what’s best for Middle-earth.
Just like Middle-earth, the world has become an increasingly toxic place for people my age to navigate. And basically, the parameters for the books we turn to for empathy and escape are shaped and defined by people who have little to no idea what we’re going through; people who make laundry lists of what YA is/is not, or what YA does/does not need. People telling us what we can/can’t handle, what we are/are not ready for despite the amount of things we’ve already been through. As we write our own stories and seek publication, I’ve had my own friends go over YA parameters they disagreed with but feel the need to adhere to. They’re always something like this:
No blatant sex, drugs, violence, or cursing.
Nothing too complex.
Stick to characters and themes that are easy to understand.
Otherwise, the book “won’t sell”. Won’t sell to whom?
I’d sure as hell buy something that went against each and every one of those points. You know how that list translates to me?
Sex, violence, and so forth are not a part of adolescence.
Young adults are unintelligent.
Young adults have no adults in their lives.
Young adults don’t have real problems—never mind the harsh and diverse realities of abuse, rape, deportation, international terrorism, identity crises, mental health, the trauma of high school, etc. Let’s dumb this down, then turn it into a blockbuster film series. The end.
Have the majority of editors in YA publishing houses ever actually spoken to a young adult? If you have, have you asked them what they needed to read? What they needed empathy for? Have you, as an adult, tried to think back on what you needed to hear when you were my age or younger? Because if yes to any of those, then it isn’t showing. None of the Big Folk seem to have ANY idea what I needed to read at the age of 16, and what I still need to read now at the age of 19.
When I was an even younger young adult than I am now, I needed to read about sex. I can already visualize a bunch of mainstream authors pulling on puppy faces and gesturing to copies of their novels: “But what about my—?”
Stop right there. As a young, queer girl of color, I needed—no, NEED to read about sex. Heroines of my race having sex in a way that isn’t hyper-sexualized. Heroines having sex that isn’t just romanticized rape. Heroines having sex with multiple partners over the course of a series, because the first-boyfriend-only-boyfriend model is a dangerous misconstruction of reality.
I wanted heroines who know that it’s okay to fall in love multiple times. Heroines who know that it’s okay to leave relationships. I wanted to read about queer kids having sex. Period. None of those fade-to-black sex scenes between straight characters have ever taught me anything about safe, healthy sexual relationships. Sure, I could go to Planned Parenthood for that, but that’s embarrassing and terrifying for a kid to have to do and I’d rather just access my bookshelf like I do for everything else.
You know what? Sixteen-year-old me wanted to read about sex because she wanted to read about sex. Period. Good portrayals of sex are something that sixteen-year-old me desperately needed, and that nineteen-year-old me desperately needs now. Good portrayals of sex help kids to learn the signs of abusive, coercive relationships. “But that’s too explicit” my ass. The virgin, white-girl heroine never taught me anything except that my version of adolescence was dirty and needed to be kept off the shelves.
I needed to see violence—not some sick gore fest or anything, but something that subverted the violence happening around me. I grew up in Detroit—America’s capital of violent crime and murder. If you know anything about Detroit, then you know it’s closer than any city in America to becoming a modern urban dystopia. And yet the only message I’ve managed to pull from half the dystopias on shelves is that “the government” is “after me”.
How is the government after me? Is it the devastating impact of capitalism on the working class? Is it the fucked up education system? The school-to-prison pipeline? The military industrial complex? The ever present hetero-patriarchy that many, YA writers, editors, and publishers included, are complicit in? Because after taking a long list of classes and reading a long list of essays, I’ve finally figured out that, yes, those are the problems. But somehow my books couldn’t tell me that. Interesting.
Surprisingly, I need to see adults. I’m really curious about this one. Why do adult writers of young adult books tend to write adults out of the picture? Or else portray them as flat, villainous characters?
Throughout high school, I had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother, and definitely needed to see people my age communicating effectively with their parents. After having endured many mentally and verbally abusive teachers, I learned to neither trust nor respect adults, but to fear them. Even though I was going to be an adult soon, I hated all of them and had no idea how to approach them.
Reading about abusive adults in YA lit hasn’t done anything to heal me from that. I definitely needed to see that it was possible for someone my age to have a connection with an adult that wasn’t full of miscommunications and didn’t border on abusive. At this point, I’d say that stereotyping adults as vapid villains does more harm than good.
More than anything, I need a spectrum of issues—a whole rainbow of characters and themes to match my identity, and the identities of the many people I know. This is probably more important to me than any of the above.
Adults in the publishing industry are currently responsible for the devastating and, frankly, embarrassing lack of diversity in the YA canon. Publishers and edits and basically everyone else who’s not writing what they see for a living, don’t seem to think we’re capable of handling a catalog of diverse narratives—which is complete and utter bullshit.
Don’t project your racist, sexist, transphobic, queerphobic, xenophobic, and otherwise marginalizing overview of reality onto my generation. Our realities encompass racial identity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, mental illness, disability, abusive relationships, poverty, immigration. The list goes on and on, and we need to see people with complex identities and narratives in our fiction.
We need to see people coping with racism. We need to see queer and trans people coming out of the closet. We need to see queer and trans people doing things OTHER than coming out of the closet. Seriously. There’s always been more to my life than queer angst. There is more to my queer life than the closet, than simply telling people that I’m queer.
We need to see queer kids breaking out of the established set of queer tropes. We need to see people ending unhealthy relationships and forming newer, healthy ones. We need to see all the issues that the Big Folk think they’re hiding from us because these issues are not exclusive to adults. These things are happening to us, too, and censoring in our fiction only makes us feel more alone. We need to see these things happening to people like us in the books that we’re supposed to be able to turn to. Even if the character’s problems aren’t solved, just knowing that someone with the same issues means the world to people who feel trapped in their lives.
I don’t think this is an issue with authorship. I don’t think this is an issue of editorship, either. To be honest, I’m not sure what type of issue it is. All I know is that I am very, very frustrated with the lack of complexity and diversity in the mainstream catalog of books for my age range. I think that there are plenty of authors I haven’t heard about writing just for me, but for one reason or another, I can’t access them.
Justine provided an excellent insight, which is that it isn’t that things aren’t being published, but because they’re not being promoted as heavily as the big books like Divergent. Or they’re being published by smaller publishers with a smaller reach. Or they’re not being published at all.
Is it that adult-operated publishing houses are telling adult writers what they should/shouldn’t be writing for the YA audience, without first consulting the audience itself? If so, this is blatantly disrespectful not only to authors, but to me, because a large portion of the industry that wants my support doesn’t respect my identity or my intelligence. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve given wide berth to the young adult bookshelves while I sit back to write the series I’ve always wanted to read. If it weren’t for the fact that I eventually want to be published, I might’ve quit altogether.
But I don’t want to quit.
The books I’ve needed to read are out there. They’re just few and far in between. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith follows a young, black rape survivor navigating a hostile post-deluge New Orleans, where people are hunted for their blood. Coda by Emma Trevayne follows a diverse group of teens operating within a dystopia fuelled by music. Pointe by Brandy Colbert features a black girl protagonist with an eating disorder and deals with a multitude of heavy issues that teens in her situation might normally face. Last year’s If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is a f/f love story set in Iran. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina features an Aboriginal Australian protagonist in a supernatural dystopian future. These books are all immensely important, but they’re under-marketed, and even then, they’re not enough.
YA lit is too important to be given up on, and instead needs to be worked on. Many of the criticisms of YA are baseless and frivolous, such as the notion that adults should be embarrassed to read YA because, according to Slate, it’s all “written for children.” Bullshit.
If after the age of 25, I can only read the Adult Literary Canon™ for the rest of my life, I may as well just sign out now. It’s easy enough to address all these problems: cut down on the Big Folk vs. Hobbit mentality. Publishers need to start treating their young adult audiences like growing, developing human beings, or else the industry runs the risk of ending up as dystopic as half the books on the shelves. Stop telling us what we need and ask us instead.
We are more than just a market. This should be a partnership.
This Thursday at 6:30PM in the glorious city of Sydney the wonderful Melina Marchetta will be launching my new book, Razorhurst.
Here’s hoping you can attend. I have SO MUCH to say about this book. It was some of the most fun research I’ve ever done. Razors! Women mobsters! Walking every street of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross! Wearing 30s clothes! Studying enforcers!1
In other also super exciting news Liar is now available in Brasil under the title Confesso Que Menti. Here’s what it looks like:
Hope my fans in Brasil like it even though it’s very different to my other books that have been published there.
One last thing: I know I have not blogged for several weeks thus, breaking my promise to blog at least once a week, but I was travelling and it was not possible. There will be much more bloggage from here on out. In the meantime you can always find me blathering away on Twitter.
From a very safe distance in a way that they wouldn’t notice with a mask on. [↩]
This is my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life for the year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2013. I do this so I can have a handy record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” category.)
Last year was not a happy year for me so you’ll be pleased to hear that 2012 was lovely. There was some huge personal changes and they were all very very good indeed. What I’m really saying is this post contains no whingeing. Phew, eh?
Books Out This Year
This is the first since 2009 that I had a new novel out. Woot! Mine and Sarah Rees Brennan’s Team Human. The response has been truly wonderful. Starred reviews! Acclaim! Rose petals! Best of the year lists! My favourite review is this one by Thy because of the wonderful fanfic Twitter conversation between Team Human‘s main characters Mel, Cathy and Francis. It’s seriously funny.
Books Out in the Future (The Distant Future)
Note that I didn’t call this section Books out Next Year. That would be because I have nothing scheduled to be published in 2013. Sorry about that. I remember the days when I thought having only one book published a year was embarrassingly slow and was aiming to ramp it up to two a year. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!
So, yeah, I only had one book out this year, and even though it was co-written, it still counts as the first novel by me since 2009. I know, I know, SO SLOW. It’s like I’ve turned into a writer of literary novels for adults. Those lazy, lazy types who think it’s fast to publish a novel every five years. My romance writer friends are deeply ashamed of me. I am deeply ashamed.
But I have been writing. This year I finished a complete draft of a new novel. It’s my first book set in Sydney since the Magic or Madness trilogy and involved oodles of research. Fun! And even though it’s at least two drafts away from being sent out to publishing houses I’m feeling good about it.
But I’m taking a break from it for the moment while I turn to another novel. The Sydney novel is intense and more complicated than I had intended. It takes place over one day. I figured that would be easy. I WAS WRONG. SO VERY WRONG.1 It was supposed to be a relaxing, easy break from the 1930s New York novel! Stupid tricksy books acting like they’re all easy and then being super insanely complicated! Grrr.
So now I need a break from the novel that was supposed to be a relaxing break from the overcomplicated and intense New York novel. If the novel I turn to winds up being more complicated than I thought and I have to start another novel to take a break from it and then that novel winds up being too tricky and I have to take a break and work on yet another novel . . . then, um, actually I have no idea what will happen. Either the world will blow up or I’ll never finish any novels ever again and starve.
Funnily enough the book I’m turning to now was also started while taking a break from the New York novel.2 It’s a middle grade I started in 2009, which involves a chaotically neutral fairy sort-of-but-not-really godmother and is set in Bologna and is wryly funny.3 (I hope.) I had a lot of fun writing it and only stopped because I had to work on Zombies versus Unicorns and then Team Human.
As for the 1930s New York novel I do keep working on it. On and off. In between all these break novels. It grows ever longer—I suspect it’s more than one novel—but it remains a long way from a finished draft, which is why I keep turning to other novels. Or something. What? Not all of us are super focussed types. And I’m not listening to your suggestion that maybe the NYC novel isn’t finished yet because I keep turning to other books. That’s just silly.
Since I started the NYC novel in 2007 I’ve begun work on five other novels, one of which is now published, Team Human, and another of which is close to finished, the Sydney novel. Not to mention writing the bulk of Liar and putting together Zombies versus Unicorns with Holly Black.
In conclusion: I am writing. A LOT! There will be new novels from me. In the future.
I’m doing a lot better. Not only am I now a total pro at managing my pain but I found a therapy that seems to be making my arms better and not merely managing it: active release. (Here’s the wikipedia article, which points out that very few studies have been carried out. So it’s mostly anecdotal evidence thus far.) The therapy is only good for soft tissue damage. It’s early days so who knows if the improvements will keep happening but right now my arms are in the least pain they’ve been in for ages. But I’m not going to be stupid and push it. (Been there done that.)
The plan it to slowly push to writing five hours a day. So I may start blogging again more frequently. Yes, I have missed blogging. SO MUCH. Twitter is fun and easy. But it’s not the same.
The last paragraph was written more than two months ago since then I’ve been on the road for six weeks and home for two and have had the longest break from writing in a very very long time. And let me tell you: my arms feel great! So really the best things for them is for me not to write.
But that’s not going to happen.
In conclusion: I’m doing much better but I am not going to push things.
The garden is still totally wonderful. The passionfruit are flowering but not fruiting I am about to commence Operation Hand Pollination. Will let you know how it goes.
Most of the year I spent happily ensconced in Sydney. And it was good. Then there was a brief trip to NYC last month where I voted in my first US election and, lo, it went how I wanted it to. Woo hoo! Well, the results did. The voting process was chaotic and insane and wow does the USA need the Australian Electoral Authority to take over and fix stuff for them, like, NOW.
Then we went to Sao Paolo and Rio in Brazil and Santiago in Chile. My love for South America grows. It’s warm when it’s supposed to be warm. None of this insane cold Christmas rubbish. The Southern Hemisphere rules, yo!
Truly Brasil, in particular, was AMAZING. I shall blog about it more in the new year. But in short our publisher, Editora Record, spoiled me and Scott rotten. Ana Lima, the executive editor, was so helpful and kind and fun to be with and we learned so much about Brazilian publishing—Editora Record has their own printing press (!)—and about Brasil. If you’re an author and you’re ever invited to Brasil. Just say yes. The fans are smart and funny and so enthusiastic. They are both legal and very fofa. See? I learnt a wee bit of Portuguese! I can’t wait to go back. Oh, and the food. How I miss the food and the caipirinhas and the cachaca. We just ran out of the bottle we brought back. Waaaah!
I hope your 2012 was as productive and fun as mine. And that your 2013 is awash with fabulosity.
Make sure you all get hold of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s new book The Summer Prince. Best YA book of 2013. Oh, and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which is most definitely the best adult book4 of 2013, probably of the century. You heard it here first. Both books are pure genius.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!
I may blog about what exactly is so hard about having the action confined to one day. [↩]
How To Ditch Your Fairy was also a break novel. What can I say? I’m easily distratced. [↩]
So did I use the D&D term correctly? You know what don’t tell me if I didn’t. [↩]
No, not Fifty Shades of Grey adult. Get your mind out of the gutter, people! [↩]
Recently I argued that the best way to deal with a cranky author coming after you for writing a less-than-glowing review about their work was to delete the review but say why you had done so. My argument was that obscurity is the worst thing that can happen to an author. No reviews = no attention = no sales = no career. Bye, bye author.
Kat Kennedy (and others) responded in the comments (and on Twitter) to say that while she could understand responding that way she personally would not do it for three reasons: 1) She was proud of her reviews. 2) Some authors badgered reviewers into taking down their negative reviews. Why should they be given what they want? 3) Readers deserve to see the full range of reviews.
Today I woke up to the latest online storm around an author and their fans going after negative reviews which culminated in the reviewer receiving threatening calls. It is so petty and so stupid I just can’t even . . . Aaargh!
What is wrong with people that they can’t take in a simple very obvious fact: we all have different opinions.
Didn’t I just write about this the other day?1 You can’t control what people think of you or your books. I guess I should have also said, and if you try you’ll look really, really, really bad. You’ll look like you’re abusing your powerful position as a bestselling, popular author. You’ll make people not want to buy your books far more than any one-star review ever could have.
I have a theory that there’s been a lot more of this kind of bullying from authors lately because there are far more authors who publish themselves without first going through the process of submitting to agents and editors and experiencing rejection. Authors whose work has not been workshopped or critiqued or, in some case, even edited, before publication.2 They’ve only been read by people they aren’t related to or are friends with. Then they start being reviewed by strangers. Thus their first experience of criticism happens in public. Ouch. Sometimes there are unfortunate consequences.
My theory may well be true for a handful of those at the extreme end of self-publishing but it does not explain the established, published-by-big-houses, several-books-into-their-career, New-York-Times-bestselling authors who also freak out about negative reviews in public.
How on earth can they think a one-star review on Amazon or Goodreads is going to have the slightest effect on their career? What exactly are they afraid of from less-than-stellar reviews? The more widely read your books are the bigger amount of bad reviews you’re going to get. Simply because more people are reading you. Bestsellers are pretty much always the most hated. How many haters of Da Vinci Code, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey are there? Surely they’re in their gazillions. As are the lovers of those books. It goes with the territory.
It’s the sheer quantity of reviews and responses and other indications of your being read that fuels further sales because they mean your book is being talked about. Lots of reviews means word of mouth is happening. Whether they’re negative or positive is neither here nor there.
Look, I get that there’s a lot of pressure on those bestsellers for their next book to outsell the last. For them to always be a bestseller. I know it’s stressful.3 But seriously? Siccing your fans on an Amazon reviewer? Why?
So, yes, I’ve changed my mind. Too many of these cranky authors want negative reviews to not exist. Don’t give them what they want. Don’t let them bully you into taking down your reviews. Be strong. And make sure as many people as possible know that you’re being bullied. Authors have to stop doing this.
I think the other strategy is only effective for books that are already obscure. In the real world my plan of them having no reviews at all and disappearing into obscurity is not really going to happen.
You should do what works best for you. Being in the centre of an online shit storm is horrible. I’ve been there. For most of us life is too short.
The fact that any amount of energy is being spent on this is so ridiculous. The fact that readers are nervous about sharing their honest opinions about books is also ridiculous.
You publish books, you get bad reviews. If you don’t want bad reviews don’t write books.
Since a few of you expressed mild interest in the speech I gave at Sirens in October last year I thought I would share it with you. The theme was monsters and my speech involved me showing many monstrous images. Yes, that’s my disclaimer, I wrote this to be spoken to a real life audience with funny pictures and the funny may not work so well without the kind and appreciative live audience. Or something. *cough*
Here it is:
Monsters I Have Loved
Ideas = Brain Monkeys According to Maureen Johnson
Like every other writer ever I get asked “where do you get your ideas” a lot. Today I thought instead of answering that question in the Q & A at the end, I’d show you.
Here’s how I got the idea for the speech I’m about to give, which is very similar to how I get ideas for the novels I write.
Excellently recursive, yes?
I knew I had to write a speech for Sirens more than a year ago. For many, many many months I didn’t think about it at all because, you know, other deadlines, basketball games to watch, old movies to pillage for info about the early 1930s, issues of Vampires & Rosario to read. But in the deepest darkest recesses of my brain those monkeys were juggling the nouns associated with this year’s Sirens: feminism, YA, monsters.
Then one day in July, or possibly August, I was walking around New York City with my headphones on listening to music. That’s unusual for me. Usually I walk around listening to podcasts from Australia when I wander about the city. But on this particular day I’d run out. So I was listening to one of my favourite playlists. And for some reason I started writing this speech in my head. When I got to my office I immediately wrote everything down. It flowed out of me like magic.
Nah, not really.
When I got to the office I gossiped with the doorman on the way in, and answered a phone call from my agent on the stairs on the way up (how fancy am I?), and then gossiped with the receptionist. By the time I took off my walking-around-the-city-listening-to-podcasts-and-sometimes-music headphones and donned my-talking-to-the-voice-recognition-software headset I’d forgotten everything I’d thought of on the walk over except this:
Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis
Am I right?
I can tell long-term readers of my blog—both of you—knew where I was going with that.
Hmmm, looks like I may have to explain myself a bit more.
Me and Elvis
My parents are anthropologists/sociologists. (I always understood the difference to be that anthropologists studied people with a different skin colour to them and sociologists study those with the same skin colour. That may perhaps be a tad unfair.) When I was little my family lived for a time on two different Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory: Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and Djemberra (now called Jilkminggan) not far from the predominately white town of Mataranka. It is the part of my childhood I remember most vividly. For many reasons.
The red dot up top is Jilkminggan. The purple dot is Sydney. For scale: Australia is roughly the same size as mainland USA.
I remember the hard red earth, the heat making everything in the distance shimmer, towering termite nests, brolgas, eating food that had been hunted or found that day: kangaroo, emu, goanna, crayfish, turtle eggs, wild honey, fruits and tubers I don’t remember the names of and have never seen or (more sadly) eaten since.
I remember being allowed to run wild with a pack of kids (and dogs) of assorted ages and skin colours (though none so pale as me), swimming in the Roper River, playing games like red rover for hours. I remember learning that I was white and what that could mean, and that the Aboriginal kinship system my family had been adopted into meant that I could have many more mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousines and grandparents than the bare handful I’d been born with. I became fluent in a whole other language, of which only two words remain: “baba” meaning brother or sister, and “gammon” meaning bullshit (sort of).
Yes, um, that is a smaller me. I am being extremely helpful getting the fire hot enough for them to brand cattle. EXTREMELY helpful! Thanks for the photo, Dad.
(I’m making it sound more romantic than it was. I’m forgetting the flies—more flies than I’ve ever seen before in my life. So many you soon stop waving them away because there’s no point. Many of those kids had cataracts. And, yeah, we kids ran together and the dogs were always underfoot, but they were so underfoot that when the numbers got too big—authorities—mostly white—would come in and shoot them.)
I was a city child. I knew nothing about the outback. I was alien to those kids and those kids were alien to me. Until, after a few weeks, we weren’t.
That year changed me completely. Especially my thinking about race. I want to be clear, however, that I’m not saying those experiences made me magically understand what it is to be “The Other.” (And, ugh, to that term, by the way.) To my horror, when I’ve told these stories of my childhood in the Territory too many people have understood me to be saying “I lived with people who weren’t white so I know what it is to be oppressed.”
What I learned was that I was white. I had not thought about the colour of my skin or what it signified. I had not been aware of whiteness or what it meant.
What I learned was that race and racism exist. Which was something I’d had the privilege of not learning earlier because I was white growing up in a predominantly white country in predominantly white bits of that country. Spending time in a predominately black part of Australia made me aware of my whiteness before the majority of my white peers back in urban southern Australia did.3
It was also the year I discovered Elvis Presley.
My first Elvis memory is of the juke box in one of the pubs in the white town of Mataranka. There were only two pubs which in Australia means that it was a very, very small town. The jukebox had records by Slim Dusty and Elvis Presley and no-one else. When Slim Dusty played it caused the child-me physical pain. As far as I was concerned it was noise, not music. But when Elvis played, well, that was heaven. The best music, the best voice I’d ever heard. For years I couldn’t stand Slim Dusty, but I’ve always loved Elvis.
I was not alone in this judgement, by the way, cause almost all the kids—and a fair number of the adults—of Jilkmingan liked Elvis too. Added bonus: my dad couldn’t stand him.
My second memory is of watching a 1968 Elvis movie, Stay Away Joe, on the outdoor basketball court at Ngukurr. The screen was hung over the hoop. We all crowded onto the court, restless (the last few movies had been total busts) and excited (there was always the hope this one wouldn’t suck), sitting in each others’ laps or on our haunches on the gravel. We’d pull each others’ hair, poke each other with fingers, elbows, feet and knees, throw handfuls of gravel at each other. The adults would laugh at us, or tell us to shut up or both.
This time the rowdiness only lasted through the opening credits. We settled down quick because we loved it. Stay Away Joe is set on a Native American reservation. Elvis plays an Indian. Everyone on the basketball court recognised what they were seeing up on screen.
Like the movie reservation, Ngukurr was full of crap cars, there were dogs everywhere, houses fell apart, and there was high unemployment. There was also a tonne of singing and dancing.4
Some of us kids really thought Elvis was Native American.5 I’m sure my parents disabused me of that notion pretty quickly, but for a long time I wasn’t quite sure who or what Elvis was. When I returned to southern Australia none of my school friends liked Elvis (if they’d heard of him). They thought I was weird. I associated Elvis with indigenous Australia, with the Territory, with stockmen & rodeos & outdoor crappy movie projectors.
The way I discovered Elvis made him seem racially fluid.
I have always thought that one day I would write a novel about that Elvis.
I also thought Elvis wrote all his songs and that he was the first person to sing them. Frankly, until I was ten or so I’m pretty sure I thought Elvis invented rock’n’roll, if not all music.
Then someone played the original recording of Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton for me.
Turned out the song had been written for her by Leiber & Stoller and she recorded it in 1952. Her original version was number one on the billboard R&B charts for six weeks in 1953. There followed multiple cover versions, mostly by white bands. Elvis discovered the song, not through Thornton’s version, but through a white band, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys’s live version that he heard in Vegas. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys? (I for one cannot think of a sexier or more dangerous name for a group, can you? Don’t answer that.)
They changed the lyrics because they were considered too dirty for a white audience. “Snoopin’ round my door” was replaced with “cryin’ all the time,” and “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more” was replaced by “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
Elvis’s recorded the Bellboy’s lyrics. The original lyricist, Jerry Leiber, was appalled, pointing out that the new lyrics made “no sense.” Which they really don’t. In Elvis’ version I had no idea what the hound dog wanted or why it was a problem. Was the hound dog crying cause it couldn’t catch rabbits? Then why was Elvis so unsympathetic?
Here’s Elvis’ version for comparison:
I’ve never liked Elvis’ version as much since.
Listening to Big Mama Thornton’s version exploded the song for me. It didn’t mean what I thought it meant. It was bigger and sexier and BETTER.
Elvis was not an orginator. He was a borrower. He was a remaker of existing things. He didn’t write songs. Those lyric changes to “Hound Dog” weren’t even his changes—that was Freddie Bell & the Bellboys. At the time I decided that meant he was no good. He could wag his tail but I was done.6
Then not too much later I read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. Their retellings of the fairy tales I grew up with changed those stories utterly: made them bigger, sexier, better. Elvis had made “Hound Dog” worse. Was that the difference?
Had Elvis appropriated Big Mama Thornton’s Houng Dog?
Was it appropriation because Elvis was white and Mama Thornton black? Because his version went to no. 1 on all three Billboard charts of the time: pop, c&w, and r&b. Whereas her version was limited to the R&B chart only? Because to this day his version is more famous than hers as he is more famous than she is?
Elvis’s success was monstrous. Both in scale—it’s more than thirty years since he died—and he’s still one of the most famous people in the world. I have bonded with people over Elvis in Indonesia, Argentina, Turkey & Hawaii. He’s everywhere.
But there’s also an argument that his career is a testament to the monstrous power of racism. He was the first white kid to do what dozens—if not more—black performers had done before him. (Especially Little Richard.) His success was dependent on an appropriation of black music, black style, black dancing, black attitude. He become famous for bringing black music to a white audience. But if Elvis had actually been black then I would not be talking about him right now.
I have often thought of writing a novel about that black Elvis. The black female Elvis. It would probably turn out that she was Big Mama Thornton.
Given my track record as a white writer who has written multiple novels with non-white protags, appropriation is, naturally, something I think about a lot.
My initial reaction to discovering that Elvis, not only didn’t write his own songs, but that sometimes the original versions were better than his, was horror. I had, like, many of you, I’m sure, grown up with the notion that originality is the thing.
Before the 1960s a popular singer was not looked at askance if they did not write their own songs. They were singers! Why would they write their own songs? Then came the sixties and the singer-song writer revolution and suddenly if all you could do was sing then you better join a band with someone who could write songs for you or you were screwed. And song writers WHO COULD NOT SING AT ALL started singing. Yes, Bob Dylan, you are one of the worst. True fact: Dylan songs are way better when sung by Elvis.7
In English classes through high school & university the highest praise given to a writer was originality. I remember asking a lecturer why there were no women writers on his post-modernism course.
He gave me a disdainful look and asked, “Who would you suggest?”
“Angela Carter?” he sneered. “Light weight! Completely unoriginal!”
He then spent the rest of the course carefully delineating the antecedents of all the boy writers we’d been assigned. Astonishingly none of them had stepped fully formed from a clam shell either. No originality anywhere! But somehow magically their penises protected them from lightweightness. Maybe penises are really heavy or something?
It’s a moment that’s stayed with me. Not just because of his why-are-you-wasting-my-time dismissal but because of the way everyone else in the room looked at me. There was much rolling of eyes. But two of the women in the room smiled. We became friends.
At the time I thought about writing a novel in which a white middle-aged male lecturer writes a novel about seducing all his female students to ease his mid-life crisis, which every publishing house in the entire universe passes on, so that he ends his days in a padded cell with only Angela Carter to read. But the thought of staying in his point of view long enough to write a whole novel was too depressing so I wrote a 13th century Cambodian epic instead.8
And my point? Right, as you all know: all art comes from somewhere. Nothing is truly original. If it was we’d have no way of making sense of it.
Octavia Butler and Angela Carter and Tanith Lee are three of the biggest influences on my writing. I see traces of them in every novel I have written.
But so is Elvis and my childhood experience on Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory and a million and one other things. People who know me, and sometimes strangers, point to other influences I hadn’t even thought about. I find that scarily often they’re correct. My writing is the sum total of everything that has ever happened to me, everything I have ever seen, or read, or tasted, or heard, or felt, or smelled.9 That’s how writing works.
I am no more original than Elvis.
Can Feminists Love Elvis?
But how can a feminist love Elvis? How can someone who believes in social justice and racial equality love Elvis?
He starred in a movie sympathetic to the confederate lets-keep-slaves cause, Love Me Tender, there’s a tonne of Elvis memoribilia out there which juxtaposes his name and/or face and the confederate flag. Good ole boy Southerners often adore Elvis. Every single one of his movies is jaw droppingly sexist. In Elvis movies all a woman wants is a man. All a man want is a good woman, lots of bad women, and to be a racing car driver. Correction: a singing, dancing racing car driver.
How can we love any number of cultural figures and artefacts that are sexist, racist, homophobic etc? Can I remain untainted by my Elvis love? (Or by my love of Georgette Heyer’s anti-semitic, classist, sexist regency romances?)
In loving something that’s monstruous do we become monstrous? Which gives me another idea for a novel. What if a girl falls in love with someone who she’s always been taught to believe was a monster? And vice versa. Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling that’s been done.
No! Yes! Um, maybe.
Yes, your typical, sparkly jumpsuit wearing, monstruous-sideburned US male.
Here’s one of Elvis’s more egregiously sexist recordings, US Male, and not coincidentally one of his sillier songs. Written and first recorded by Jerry Reed, who plays guitar on the track. It is a dreadful and very wrong song. And pretty much impossible to take seriously. I do not for a second believe that it was written with a straight face.
I adore it.
US Male owns woman if she’s wearing his ring. If another man is interested in said woman US Male will do him in. Woman has no agency in any of this, the song isn’t addressed to her, it’s for the perceived rival. So far so cave man-esque10.
Yet it’s so over the top. So absurd. The terrible puns! “Male” as in a bloke plus “mail” as in letters. “Don’t tamper with the property of the U.S. Male” and “I catch you ’round my woman, champ, I’m gonna leave your head ’bout the shape of a stamp,” “Through the rain and the heat and the sleet and the snow the U.S. Male is on his toes.” And the half-spoken, half-sung tough guy-ese delivery! It makes me laugh. It’s so freaking camp.
I start to imagine the U.S. Male’s woman sitting there chewing gum and rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. You done? No, the waiter was not looking at my rack. Gonna give the poor guy a tip already? A big one. Bigger. Okay. Now, sing me a song.” I suspect eventually she would set him on fire though that would probably qualify as tampering with the US male.
You all make up stories that go with songs, right?
That’s how I feel about a lot of Georgette Heyer’s work not uncoincidentally. Makes me laugh it’s so freaking camp. And also witty and well written. (Pity about the anti-semitism.)
Heyer’s regencies have had a ridiculously big influence on YA today. You would not believe how many YA writers are also huge Georgette Heyer fans. It’s scary. Come to think of it most of her heroines are teenage girls . . . So they’re practically YA in the first place.
I have been meaning to write my own Heyereseque YA for ages. One in which the rake-ish hero is actually the villian and has syphillis from all that raking around.
But, Heyer kind of already did that with Cotillion in which the hero is a barely-in-the-closet gentleman, who is not in the petticoat line, but adores picking out excellent gowns for the heroine. (The villain is the bloke who in many of Heyer’s other books was the hero. His syphllis is clearly implied.) They get married. I imagine them having an awesome future of many shopping trips to Paris and fabulous dinner parties with assorted lovers and friends.
So now my Heyeresque YA is going to take place below stairs because I’m sick to death of the equivalence between the aristocracy and worthiness. I want a democratic regency romance! Where people earn what they get from hard work and not because of who their family is! Workers’ revolution! Solidarity forever!11
As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this speech the germ of it came to me while I listened to music while walking to my office. That day it was my 1960s Elvis playlist with super campy songs like US Male and the scary stalker song Slowly But Surely, those songs set this whole chain of thoughts—and this speech—in motion.
And led me to wondering how I have come to adore such monstruously misogynist songs. I mean apart from them being AWESOME. I guess I manage to set aside the monstruous parts and revel in the campy deliciousness. But it’s not just that: I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can critique the bad, take the good, and add whatever I want. That is a pretty accurate description of my novel writing process. And of my reading (in the broadest sense) process.
My fond hope is that every time I do that—every time we do that—the power of those monsters is eroded.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the worst monsters: the monsters of misogyny, of bigotry . . .
Most especially the monsters in my brain and under my bed because they are where I get my ideas.
At the Sirens conference everyone in the audience looked at me like I was a crazy person and insisted that no one on the planet thinks that Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis. I remain unconvinced. Plus I am on this planet, am I not? Don’t answer that. [↩]
I was going to have NO appear a thousand times but I think I can trust you all to imagine it. [↩]
Team Human has its first piece of fan art and it hasn’t even been published yet! I am beside myself with excitement. Seriously, I screamed when Sarah Rees Brennan tweeted it.
Unlike many of my YA author friends, my books do not attract a lot of fan art. It would be more accurate to say that they attract almost no fan art at all. Seriously click on the fan art category for this blog and see how little there is. Now go over to Scott’s blog and check out his Fan Art Fridays. Or check out the paucity on deviantART.1
I’ve put it below the cut because it’s spoilery and if you’re anything like me you don’t want to read anything that might even possibly lead to the vague chance of spoilification. So really don’t look at it! Continue reading →
Not that I do that and not that I weep salty tears when I don’t do that. [↩]
One of the most frequent queries I get is: “Are your books e-books yet?”
For a long time, they were not and I could only respond in the negative. This was never a very satisfactory reply. Not for me, because I dreamed of having books of electrons, and piteously begged my publishers to make it so.1 And certainly not for the would-be purchaser of said electrificated tomes.
“No, sorry they’re not,” I would say mournfully.
They would demand to know, “Why? What is wrong with you that your books are only available as piles of extruded wood pulp? Electrify your novels at once!”
This led to me having to explain how it’s beyond my control. They never believed me just as no one believes John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasions. No amount of talk of contracts and publishers reserving the right and blah blah blah ever convinced them that I was not being willful and obstreperous. Their eyes would glaze and they’d walk away.
They weren’t happy. I wasn’t happy. There was SO MUCH UNHAPPINESS!
But now, at long last,2 I do not have to have that upsetting conversation anymore because:
All of my novels are now available as e-books in North America and some of them are on sale right now.
Let there be rejoicing!
Yes, even the first book of the Magic or Madness trilogy, which is called, wait for it, Magic or Madness. Their wise publisher deemed it absurd to have the first book in the trilogy available when readers could just skip to the second and third book. But no longer! You can download all three in any format for any device you wish to purchase them on. Halelujah!
The anthology I edited with Holly Black, Zombies versus Unicorns, is also available on all devices. And is currently available for the bargain price of $3.99 which is ludicrously cheap. Love is Hell which includes my short story “Thinner than Water”3 is also available on every device known to humanity.
Meanwhile Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy are available for Kindle and the Nook and I think other devices but only HTDYF is available via ibooks. They are, however, currently available for the low, low price of $4.79, which, BARGAIN.4
Team Human by me and Sarah Rees Brennan will be available in all formats going, which is how I like it.5 I don’t know when or how much it will cost. Though 3 July 2012 is the current publication date for the paper version in North America.
Some of you Australians and New Zealanders may be wondering, “What about us? Can we access these e-books?”
I am investigating and it looks like only Zombies versus Unicorns is definitely available in e-book form. You can get it from Readings and Read Without Paper. I hope that in the not too distant future all my books will be yours for the push of a button. We are living in the future!
So, how many of you actually consume e-books? I do. In vast numbers. Usually books that in the past I would have bought in paperback. When I truly love an e-book I tend to buy a hard copy. It has made a huge difference to travelling. I never run out of books now.
On the other hand, as a bunch of us were discussing on Twitter, formats becoming obsolete scares me. I have floppy discs from the olden days . . . So useful! So glad I backed all my early writing on those little babies.
This post brought to you by demonic voice recognition software. Apologies for brevity, wrong word choices, weird syntax and occasional incomprehensible swearing.
Update: All my Allen & Unwin books are now available on multiple platforms in Australia and New Zealand. Those books are How To Ditch Your Fairy, Liar, Zombies Versus Unicorns and Team Human.
Or, well, okay, I begged my lovely agent Jill who in turn. You know how it goes. [↩]
Well, actually I think they’ve all been available for almost a year now. But what with my RSI problems and voice [mis]recognition annoyingware it has taken a long time to write this post. [↩]
Nope, I will not explain the title. Figure it out yourself! [↩]
I had nothing to do with them being on sale. How much books cost is yet another thing we humble authors are not consulted on. [↩]
Much of the fan mail and comments I get from adults includes this phrase “I’m not your target audience” before continuing to say how much they enjoyed one or more of my books in (sometimes) slightly embarrassed tones. As if they’re a tad worried to find themselves reading and enjoying a book published for teenagers. How did that happen? they wonder. Does it make me less of an adult?
I understand the anxiety. Before I became a published YA author, I was unaware of how disdainful many adults are towards teenagers and anything that smacks of teenager-y-ness, such as books marketed at teenagers. Looking back, I now find it weird that I was unaware of this. Firstly, I once was a teenager. How did I manage to forget the way many adults treated me?1 Secondly, I stopped reading books for teenagers when I was twelve because I decided I was too good grown up for them. So, yeah, I seemed to have imbibed adult disdain for the things of childhood and adolescence at a very early age. Yet I got over it enough to forget such disdain existed until I started writing YA.
At which point, wow, did I learn it all over again.
So, yes, I understand why some adult readers of YA feel a bit apologetic about it. But, truly, you don’t need to apologise to me. I am very happy to be writing the books I write and to be published as YA. Every day I wake up and cannot believe my luck to be in such a fabulous genre.
Also it so happens that I don’t write for a target audience. When I’m deep in the writing I’m not thinking about audience, but about writing the best book I can. Unless by “target audience” they mean “subject matter”. Absolutely, adolescence is the central matter of my work. But that’s a subject of interest for those who are about to be adolescents, for those who are adolescents, and for those, like me and the readers who say they are not my target audience, who were adolescents. From the fan mail I see that my books are read by all three of those groups, which makes me very happy.
Or in other words: I happen to think that everyone is my target audience.
I recently tweeted a really interesting review of Leviathan by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s my favourite review so far partly because she puts into words something Scott and I have been noticing:
I find it interesting that so many people are talking about this as the latest Scott Westerfeld novel without really acknowledging that this is such a departure from his more recent work. I would not be surprised if some of the audience for the Uglies and Midnighters and Peeps books (at least the teenagers) were less interested in this new series, even as Leviathan draws in an entirely new generation of readers. It’s always interesting to see an author whose work you admire move on to pastures new.
Note: she’s NOT saying that teens aren’t reading Leviathan, she’s just saying that some of the teen fans of Scott’s other YA books will be less interested in the new series. But that a whole new audience will be.
This is exactly what we’ve been finding. Especially amongst the hardcore Uglies fans. Many of whom won’t read any of Scott’s books other than the Uglies books. Here’s a conversation Scott had at almost every stop on his recent tour:
Fan: OMG! I love the Uglies books SO MUCH. You are my favourite writer in the entire world! *hands Scott multiple editions of every Uglies book to be signed plus extra copies to be signed for friends*
Scott: Thank you! So many Uglies books. Amazing!
Fan: When will you be writing a new book? I can’t wait for the next one!
Scott: Well, I’m on tour for a new book. *points to giant stack of Leviathan*
Fan: *looks at Scott blankly*
Scott: Leviathan is my new book.
Fan: Um, when will there be a new Uglies book?
Now, Scott has plenty of fans who read every single book he writes. There are even a few who’ve tracked down his very first publications: kids books about Watergate and the Berlin Airlift. And a few more who are proud owners of Scott’s choose-your-own-adventure Powerpuff Girl books. However, there are a substantial group who are not Westerfans per se, but fans of only one of his series.1 Especially when it comes to the Uglies books.
Now, this is not at all uncommon. There are plenty of Dorothy Dunnett fanatics who only read her Lymond books and have zero interest in the others, Scalzi fans who only like the Old Mans War books, McCaffrey fans who ditto the Pern books and so on. I myself am a Georgette Heyer fan who only likes her regency romances. I won’t touch her straight historicals or detective fiction with a barge pole. So I totally get it.
It is, in fact, a small percentage of readers who will follow a prolific and diverse writer throughout their career and read all their books. This is true even for writers like Stephen King. Plenty of his readers read only the novels and ignore the short stories and non-fiction.
I frequently describe myself as a huge Margeret Mahy and Diana Wynne Jones fan. Yet I have not read all their books. Most, but not all. There are fans and then there are fans.
What’s been so interesting about Leviathan is that it seems like the same percentage of Uglies fans that didn’t pick up Midnighters or the three New York books2 are also not picking up Leviathan. The difference is that a whole bunch of folks who never really heard of Scott before are picking it up in their place. Leviathan really does seem to have brought Scott a whole new audience.
Broadly, we’re noticing way more boy readers than before and a much wider age spread: from eight year olds up through eighty year olds. Scott toured with Sarah Rees Brennnan, Robin Wasserman, Holly Black and Cassie Clare. At pretty much every event, boyfriends of these other authors’ fans, who had come along in a suffering kind of way, saw Scott’s presentation and wound up buying Leviathan, stunned that something could possibly interest them at such an event. Leviathan has also drawn in two specific groups who’ve had little interest in Scott’s books previously:
Obviously there’s a big overlap between those two groups. But it’s been fascinating to watch the audience of his tour events change. Scott’s always had people coming along dressed up like Tally or Shay or other characters from his books, but this tour he had people showing up in full on steampunk garb. Fabulous. So far pretty much all the steampunkers are dressing in a generic steampunk way. I’m hoping that will change for his 2010 tour. I can’t wait to see the first person showing up dressed like Derryn or Alek.
Now before any of you jump into the comments and say “I’m a bloke! I love military history and steampunk and I’ve ALWAYS read Scott’s books!” I’m not saying you don’t exist, I’m just saying that before Leviathan you were only a teeny tiny slice of Scott’s audience. Now, you’ve got lots more company. Enjoy! We sure are.
There are adult readers who’ve only read The Risen Empire and have no intention of ever touching that smelly YA stuff. [↩]
So Yesterday, Peeps & The Last Days. All three books are set in the same world, by the way. It’s just that Hunter (of So Yesterday) is totally unaware of all the vampires running around. See how the world of products and advertising distracts you from what’s really important? Let that be a lesson for you. [↩]
Most aspiring writers ask the right questions. I worry that my last post, which is an echo of manyearlierposts, gives a different impression, so I feel the need to say it loud and clear: the vast majority of aspiring writers who contact me ask smart, sensible, interesting questions. It’s really only the ones who are more in love with the idea of being a writer than with actually, you know, writing who ask the wrong questions. Mercifully, they are massively outnumbered by the people who love writing.
During my events at the Melbourne Writers Festival I wasn’t asked any wrong questions. My audiences were smart and full of excellent questions. The encounter I blogged about was with an adult aspiring writer who button holed me after one of my events, not during, which makes me think they were aware of just how wrong their questions were.
That was my lowlight of the Festival, the highlight also happened after one of my events.
Isobelle Carmody invited me to have a coffee1 with her and some of her fans. They were a lovely group2 some of whom had been reading Isobel’s work for more than 20 years and know it better than she does. They run a couple of Carmodyfan sites. At least two of them were aspiring writers. They were full of the right questions. Smart, technical, writing questions. Questions about rewriting, about juggling characters, about how Isobelle and I manage our writing schedules, about Isobelle’s books, about how we’re all fans, about publishing madnesses (of which there are so many). It was fun and intense and I came away deeply impressed by both Isobelle and her fans and feeling joyous about what we YA writers do and the effects it can have on our readers, including turning them into us.3 I was very sorry when I had to leave.
Or in my case, water, because coffee tastes like death. [↩]
Whose names I have forgotten because I have the memory of a crushed gnat. Sorry! [↩]
I keep meeting published authors who wrote (or still write) fanfic before they tried writing original fiction. I know of folks who wrote (write) Star Trek, Buffy, Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, Supernatural and Naruto fanfic. And I’m sure lots of others I can’t remember.
I’ve never written fanfic. I didn’t hear about fanfic until long after I was already writing original fiction. And it never occurred to me on my own to write stories set in other people’s worlds. I’m slow that way.
How many of you write fanfic? What kind? How did you first hear about it?
One of the discoveries I made while doing research for my PhD thesis, which ultimately became The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, was that women had always read and written science fiction. I found letters to science fiction magazines from women as early as the late 1920s, a short story contest winner in 1927.1 This was contrary to so many people’s views that there were no women engaged with science fiction until the 1950s. (Though some said not till the 1960s.) There were also a few women who attended science fiction conventions from the very beginning.
As I read through fanzines and science fiction magazines from the 1920s onwards, I found many article dismissing these women, which is largely what Battle of the Sexes is about:
The letters were from bored housewives with nothing else to do, the stories by women were crap and only published cause it was like a dog walking on its hind legs, and the women at conventions were only there because their boyfriend/husband dragged them along. And look how few in numbers! See? There are no women in science fiction!2
What those arguments have always failed to recognise is that the majority of readers/viewers of anything are not active in their engagement with a genre/show. Vastly more people were reading science fiction magazines than ever wrote a letter to the editor of an sf magazine or fanzine or went to a con. There are always huge numbers of people who are avid readers/viewers who are never counted by the people who are active in their engagement so those active fans start to assume that they are the centre of their genre and no one else exists.
Throughout my time as a doctoral student (which was pre-internet) I would meet people I never would have pegged as science fiction fans, who upon hearing of my research would start reminiscing about the sf magazines they read as a kid, of the Heinlein/Le Guin/McCaffrey books they adored, and their love affair with Star Trek/Doctor Who/Blake’s Seven. Most of these people had never heard of fandom, had no idea there were conventions etc. They just loved science fiction on their lonesome. I met others who had heard of it but there was no way they would have attended a con because back then it was all white boys and they knew they wouldn’t fit in.
Science fiction cons have been white and male for most of their existence. I remember the first con I went to more than a decade ago. I was terrified. It was mostly male. And, yes, I was sexually harassed. (A very common experience for women at cons.) But I also met many wonderful people who have remained friends to this day and before too long I discovered WisCon, the feminist convention, which was a much more hospitable place for me.3
There has long been speculation about why there are so few non-white fans of the genre. I have always been convinced, based on my research, that it’s hard to know how big that readership is. If as a woman in the 1990s I felt uncomfortable walking into a convention that was about 30% female how much more uncomfortable would someone not white feeling walking into a space that was 99% white?
Over at Deadbrowalking: the People of Color Deathwatch there’s a wild unicorn check in where people of colour who read/watch genre and love it are putting up their hands. So far there have been more than 900 comments. And many of the people talk about their parents’ love of science fiction and their grandparents too. Those 900 plus declarations are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more fans out there who don’t own computers, or if they do, have no idea that Deadbrowalking exists.
As I read through the pages and pages of comments over there I couldn’t help thinking about all the “Science Fiction is Dying” panels at cons I’ve seen over the years. I’ve always been bewildered by that claim and the prevalence of those panels. But it wasn’t until I read all the wild unicorn comments that I realised what those panels are really about. They’re talking about their brand of science fiction: the stuff that began in the late 1920s and and has been largely white, male, and all too frequently misogynist and racist. They’re not talking about the other streams that were growing up in Japan and China and Europe and, yes, the USA and elsewhere. They’re not talking about feminist science fiction or manga or anime or YA. None of that counts to them.
They’re saying that the white, male-dominated science fiction of boys with their hard science toys is dying.
And, you know what? I won’t weep if they’re right.
Which is essentially when USian science fiction began. [↩]
I just finished going through and answering all your letters. *mops brow* Thanks so much for writing to me. I hope my responses arrive okay. But alas there were some bounce backs.
Because the volume of letters has been going up in the last few months, and I’m not getting any faster at answering, 1 I’ve decided I’m going to respond to questions asked on this website first. Especially the questions asked on the FAQs. That way the answer will be available for everyone and not just the people who email me. That’s fairer, right?
Currently I have four FAQs:
There’s the Personal one: Where you can ask any questions that don’t have to do with particular books or writing. But let’s not get too personal.
The one about Writing: This is where I answer all those tricky writing questions. I’ve answered many already so before you ask yours check that it hasn’t already been asked and also have a squizz at the posts on writing.
About the Magic or Madness Trilogy: This is where you can ask questions about the trilogy. Don’t read if you don’t know the books. It gets VASTLY spoilery.
I am now almost up to November answering my correspondence. There’s only a hundred more emails to answer! Yay!
If you’ve written to me this year and not heard back from me, that means I either didn’t get your email, or you did not get my response. Either way best thing to do is to write me again.
I received more fan mail this year than all previous years added together. (Which, admittedly, was not hard as I received very few until this year.) Of all the fabulous things that have happened to me in 20081 those letters are by far the best. The majority were about posts and essays on this website—especially requesting writing advice. The next biggest group of letters were about the trilogy, and lastly about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Though to put that in perspective HTDYF has already attracted more letters in the few months since it was published than Magic or Madness did in its first 18 months of publication. Yay, fairy book!
Thank you so much for the wonderful letters. Each one gave me a tremendous lift. Even if I was already in a good mood they made me happier still. While I’ve always wanted to be a writer, until my first book came out, it had never really occurred to me to think about what that would actually mean, about what it would be like to have readers. I know that sounds a bit bizarre, but I was so focussed on my writing, and on getting published, that I just hadn’t considered that part of the equation: that being published means being read by people I’ve never met. I’m glad that part didn’t occur to me ahead of time. I think it would have spooked me. But it turns out to be fabulous.
Thank you for all the letters pointing out the typos and errors in my books and my blog. I really appreciate them and do what I can to fix future editions. Keep ’em coming!
Thanks to everyone who wrote and begged for more books in the Magic or Madness and HTDYF universes. I’m pretty sure that HTDYF is a standalone and the MorM series a trilogy, but I’m thrilled my books left you wanting more. The best way to get more is to write it yourself. There are gazillions of wonderful fanfic sites out there. You could add your own stories about the further adventures of Tom and Charlie. Go forth and create more fanfic! Mash up MorM with Buffy or Nana. Or HTDYF with Naruto! What would be cooler than that?
Thanks for all the tips on quokkas and mangosteens and cricket and 1930s fashions and photo sites. Much appreciated! Though I’m horrified that any of you are settling for dried mangosteen or mangosteen juice. Ewww. There are no substitutes for the actual fresh fruit!
Good luck with your writing. Yes, sometimes it can be hard and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That happens to the professionals too. The only thing you can do is keep pushing through. Don’t give up. But remember to have fun with it too. One of the best things about not being published yet is that you have heaps of time to experiment. Write the same story in all the different points of view. See which one works best. Try writing a story backwards. Starting at the end and working your way towards the beginning. Write in lots of different genres. Muck around! Have fun!
Thanks for your letters, your comments, and all your support. It means the world to me.
From the comments on the last post I get the feeling some of you think that I’m saying writers shouldn’t blog.
Many of my favourite blogs are by writers. I love writers’ blogs! I love reading about their struggles with their writing, about their thoughts on craft, their battles with their psychotic neighbours, the zeppelins they build. I love learning how different most writers approach to writing a novel is from mine. In fact, later this week I’ll be posting a bit more about outlining versus winging it. Cause who gets tired of that topic? Not me!
I frequently encourage writer friends to start blogging. In fact, I feel a little swell of pride about certain writers’ blogs because I’m convinced my nudging them is part of why they started blogging. Go me!
There are a gazillion positive effects of blogging: direct communication with other writers and readers you wouldn’t otherwise meet, becoming part of communities,1 having fun, talking craft, encouraging everyone to try fresh mangosteens2 etc etc.
And, yes, if your blog entertains people there’s a chance that some of them will wind up buying your books. All I’m saying is that if that’s your sole motivation for starting a blog then odds are you will be disappointed.
It’s rubbish that starting a blog is an excellent way to flog books. The majority of brand new blogs have teeny tiny audiences. It takes ages to build one. And if all you’re doing is flogging your books you will never build an audience. Because a blog full of exhortations to BUY MY BOOK is pretty much the most boring blog in the universe.
Which does not mean that I don’t want you to buy my books. I do! But only if you want to and if you can afford it. But I’m just as happy with you borrowing them from the library. Support your local library!
Or not reading them at all. Life’s short and there are many wonderful books. I totally get reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles or King Hereafter or anything by Jean Rhys or Angela Carter or Jane Austen before you’d read my books. I’d certainly rather read them or Alice in Wonderland or way too many books to name than anything I’ve written.
Quite frankly I’m just as thrilled by the people who enjoy this blog as I am by the people who enjoy my books. The fact that there’s often no overlap between those two groups is awesome. It means I can amuse people who have zero interest in YA or fantasy but have a fascination for cricket or mangosteens or quokkas or any of the myriad other topics I crap on about.
Which is yet another reason I love blogs so much. They’re places where we can share and discuss our obsessions. There are few things more fun than that.
Especially important if you live in a small town far from other writers. [↩]
Dried, juiced, tinned mangosteens are all abominations. The one true mangosteen is the fresh fruit. Which can now even be purchased (for a fortune) in the US of A. [↩]
Recently a fair few folks have apologised to me for reading my books, but not buying them. “I borrowed them from the library. Sorry!” “I borrowed them from a friend. Sorry!” “I just can’t afford to buy as many books as I want.”
Never apologise for borrowing a book. On the big scale, borrowing books is good because that’s what keeps libraries alive: the more people who borrow books from libraries the more likely they are to be funded. And the more libraries there are the more people who are reading. Most people can’t afford to buy every single book they want to read. I know I can’t. That’s why we have libraries. That is a very very good thing.
Borrowing books from your friends and talking about them is excellent because it helps strengthen friendships and build communities. Plus it’s one of the best ways of finding out about good books. I heartily approve of borrowing and lending books. Why, I even do it myself.
I also approve of books being loaned and borrowed because it helps my career. Every time someone borrows one of my books from a library that justifies that book’s existence there. And if it’s borrowed often enough and starts to fall apart, the library will order more copies. Or if it has an excessively long wait because too many people want it, the library will order more copies.1
Certain books I loan out to friends never return, so I buy another copy. There are books I’ve borrowed from friends, that I loved so much, I bought my own copy.
All of which helps the author of those books.
Word of mouth is the most powerful tool in helping a book sell. What better word of mouth could a book have than lots of people eagerly borrowing and lending it? If reading a book for free destroyed a book’s chances of success then why do publishing companies give away thousands upon thousands of copies of books in the form of Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) every single year?
It can’t just be because they’re crazy. Though maybe I should ask Maureen? She knows everything.
To recap: borrowing books is good.
I’m assuming a well-funded library. Sadly, that’s not always the case. [↩]
This is my favourite USian holiday. A day set aside to give thanks for the good stuff in your life is a lovely idea. I’m extremely lucky because I have so much to be thankful for that if I listed them all this would be the longest post in the history of blogging.
Instead I will be brief:
I am thankful for the fabulous readers of this blog. Whether you comment or lurk I am grateful for your continued support.1 Without you there’d be no point. You all rule.
Even those of you who kvetch about my unorthodox grammar. [↩]
Scott and me are having a wee bit of an argument. He thinks I sign too slow on account of I like to chat to everyone and make my dedication as personal as possible. He thinks that’s fine with a very short queue but when the line is long you owe it to the people standing in line waiting to go as fast as possible.
The argument arose because I had a big line at NCTE1 on account of the lovely Professor Nana talked very enthusiastically about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Bless you!
In my defense
Where I was sitting I couldn’t see the queue so I didn’t know how long it was.
English teachers are interesting and I wanted to know what grades they taught and where they were from.
Just signing a book is boring. I like to talk to people and figure out why they want their book signed.
Scott is a hardened pro; I’m still a (relative) newbie.
What do youse lot think? Would you prefer an author who rushes to make the line go quicker? Or would you prefer an author who takes the time to chat with everyone?
Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.
Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.
Questions for Justine:
Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?
A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.
Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?
There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”
A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?
I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.
Questions for Scott:
Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?
A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.
Q: Why did you k*** Z***?
A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.
So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?
A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )
Questions for both Justine and Scott:
Q: Are you friends with any other authors?
Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.
Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.
Q: Is there any news on a movie?
Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.
Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.
Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).
But no auditions yet!
Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?
Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.
I guess I let people bully me!
Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.
Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.
Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?
Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
Write a lot.
Learn how to critique other people’s work.
Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!
Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.
Q: Which is your favourite cover?
Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.
Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.
Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.
I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!
Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.
Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.
Last night’s event in Austin went splendidly. The folks at BookPeople—Mandy, Topher and Emily were wonderful hosts. Emily mc’d brilliantly and we were asked lots of very smart questions. Many we’d never been asked before. I really like the Actor’s Studio format, which meant there was no awkward oh-noes-there-will-be-no-questions-tonight moments. It was a lot of fun to do an event with Scott again which we haven’t in ages.
And then there was this:
Rebecca’s superb anti-uni***n T-shirt. Doesn’t she look fabulous? She made me one too! Thank you, Rebecca, it fits perfectly. I’ll be wearing it here at NCTE.
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.
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!
Okay, not really. But a girl can dream, can’t she? [↩]
I’m stuck on the ground at Cincinnati in a not-so-big plane waiting to be cleared to fly to LGA, so I thought I’d take the time to thank everyone who came to see me on my very first book tour. I really appreciate it. Twas a blast meeting you all. I had no idea I have so many lukers here. Bless you all! And thanks to for the lovely emails and gifts. You all rule!
Here’s hoping I’ll have as much fun in Texas as I did in Northern California, Michigan, Ohio and Kansas City. (The ribs last night were AWESOME!)
I’m getting lots of questions about the HTDYF tour and how it’s going etc. I’ll be posting about the first leg of the tour—Northern California—in the next few days. In the meantime what I’ve loved most is meeting other lovers of YA books—students, readers, booksellers, sales reps, teachers, librarians—and talking about our favourite books. It’s been a blast. Especially this year when there have been so many amazing books.
It’s so lovely to have you writing and commenting here on the blog asking me to come to your neck of the woods. I’m dead chuffed and flattered. Thank you!
Tragically, it’s not up to me. My tour is organised by my publisher, Bloomsbury. More specifically the wonderful Deb Shapiro is the tour boss. She’s the one who spends ages finding out which book shops/trade shows/schools are interested in having me show up. Then she had to check all the possibilities, check my availability, and then line up all the places and dates to make it all fit together. Having fans in an area is not enough to guarantee an appearance.
According to the venerable agent, Molly Friedrich, being a publicist is the hardest job in publishing. I don’t doubt it, watching Deb at work. Because she’s not just organising publicity for my book, but for all the other Bloomsbury Children’s books. I suspect Deb is the hardest working woman in publishing in the entire world. I do not know when she sleeps.
Most writers set up their own appearances. Both Scott and me did. We volunteered for reading programs like the NYRSF, which has been going for many years now. We organised events where we lived: Sydney or New York City. Or at cons we attended. I had a book launch at a con in Melbourne and one in Madison, Wisconsin. Early in our careers we didn’t have the resources (time or money) to set up a book tour of our own. We didn’t have the contacts a publicist has and we couldn’t afford to hire one. Also there was no demand. When you’re unknown it’s hard to get people interested in hosting you.
Basically, if you want me to come to your town you need to badger your local book shop to badger my publicist to get me there.
I hope that explains how it works. If I wind up not going to your town or city it’s not because I don’t love you, but because no book shop or library there wanted to host me. Or because there was no way it could be made to fit into the tour schedule.
And remember, I don’t have the full tour schedule yet. There will be more places and dates added in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
A note to those who threaten me with the loss of their readership if I express opinions contrary to their own:
If I worried about what each and every potential reader thought of me I wouldn’t write novels. I wouldn’t keep a blog. I wouldn’t express opinions out loud. Hell, I wouldn’t venture outside my house for fear of saying something that might accidentally offend someone.
I have news for you: Many of the writers/actors/politicians/sportspeople you admire hold at least one or two opinions you don’t. Do you seriously want to silence them all?
I have been known to disagree with some of my favourite writers and bloggers. Me, I use voodoo dolls when they say wrong things. But I’d never be so rude as to tell them where the pins go.
Stop reading me if you want. But don’t post comments that “threaten” you’ll stop reading me.
All such threats will be deleted. After all, you’re claiming you want to disappear from this community. I’m just lending you a hand.
Justine, I was wondering what you would do in a situation like this:
“As some of you may have heard, my partial draft of Midnight Sun was illegally posted on the Internet and has since been virally distributed without my knowledge or permission or the knowledge or permission of my publisher.”—Stephenie Meyer
Since I don’t really write or anything I don’t know what I would do. Would it bum you out to where you couldn’t write it anymore or would you just ignore it and keep going?
I’d be very unhappy and hurt that someone had betrayed my trust like that. I recently sent my most recent novel, Why Do I Lie?, to a bunch of people for comments—if they’d passed it on to other people to read I would be furious. That’s an enormous violation of trust.
As for what I’d do in that situation? It’s very difficult for me to say. I’m not Stephenie Meyer. It’s really unlikely an unfinished ms. of mine would wind up online and widely circulated. I don’t have anywhere near her fan base.
I can definitely imagine the whole thing souring me on the book. On the other hand, I really like to finish what I’ve started. Not to mention that my manuscripts tend to change a lot after I’ve finished the first draft. So what was distributed would not bear much resemblance to the final book.
I certainly feel a great deal of sympathy towards Meyer. That situation sucks.
A while back I said I was updating the FAQ and please to ask me questions. And then I didn’t answer any of them. On account of book to write and blah blah blah.
But I’ve had a nudge from Certain Important Parties about the out of dateness of the FAQ and, erm, it’s been moved up the priority list. So here are at last are the answers:1
Gina asks, How do you write a novel? you said in another post that you have changed how you write them.
Tricky question! The short answer is: Scrivener. I promise that in the future I will answer in more detail. But it involves writing scenes out of order rather than from beginning to end. The book I just finished was written pointillist style.
Anon asks, Whats it like living in 2 countries?
(For those who don’t know, me and Scott spend half the year in Sydney, where I’m from, and half in NYC, where Scott has lived the majority of his life.)
Living in two places is most excellent. I have two sets of friends. Two sets of favourite restaurants. Two sets of everything really. When it’s six months at home and then six months in New York City I rarely get homesick and nor does Scott. Works out pefectly. Also lots of summer. I love me some summer.
Ariel Zeitlin Cooke asks, Will there be another book set in the MORM world? Will there be another book set in the HTDYF world? Have you ever written non-fantasy? (And then you can talk about the new one) What other books do you recommend?
At the moment I have no ideas for more books set in the Magic or Madness world or in the How To Ditch Your Fairy world. That doesn’t mean I won’t get some great idea later on. But right now the next few books I have planned have nothing to do with those worlds.
Why, yes, Ariel, I have written a non-fantasy book. I finished it just this week as it happens. It’s called, Why Do I Lie? and is set in New York City. It’s told from the point of view of a compulsive liar and involves a murder. I think it is the best book I have written. But then I think that of every book I’ve just finished the first draft of.
Everyone must read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. For very different reasons.
Diana Peterfreund asks, You seem to be drawn to very unusual names for your characters: Reason, Jay-Tee, and now Charlie and Fiorenze. I know you’ve talked about the story behind “Reason,” but what about the new books? Also, how did you come up with the idea for personal fairies? And why do you love Elvis so much?
Charlie’s not an unusual name! The names in How To Ditch Your Fairy come from two sources: 1. Famous sports people, 2. I borrowed them from teenagers I met doing appearances in libraries, schools and book shops in Australia and the USA.
I answered the question of how I came up with the idea for How To Ditch Your Fairyhere. Is good story because I have good friends. If you are a writer it is best to have many friends for they are much goodness in the giving of ideas.
I think the question should be Why doesn’t everyone love Elvis? The story of the genesis of my Elvis love is here.
hillary! asks: And sports? Why do you love sports so much? And what’s your favorite color? and what type of car do you have, if you have one, if not, what kind would you like? Do you want a chimpanzee or a monkey or a teacup piglet?
Again the question is Why doesn’t everyone love sport? Explaining my love of sport is like explaining my love of breathing or eating. Without air and food and sport living is impossible.
All colours are good colours. Except vomit yellow.
I do not drive. I have never learned how. I dislike cars. I think they are the worst invention of all time and responsible for untold carnage. Not just to all the people killed in and by them but for making us so dependent on oil. I wish cars did not exist. Our world would be in much better shape. We need to switch to bicycles and horses. And airships. Transmat beams would also be most excellent.
I want no pets or teacups of any kind. I travel too much to have a pet. (Though if I could have one it would be a quokka.) Also I don’t drink tea.
Patrick asks, Have you ever played organized basketball?
Briefly in primary school. I have never excelled at team sports. I, um, don’t take direction well.
Liset says, I think in your FAQs you should write more about your marriage, I know it’s extremely personal but I find it so interesting! (way more than any celeb couple!)
The truth is Scott and me aren’t actually married. We don’t even live in the same flat or country even. We just thought it would be excellent publicity if we pretended we were two married writers in the same field. Sadly, it has generated almost no publicity. We should have pretended to be monkeys instead. Next time!
Benjamin Rosenbaum asks, What do you feel is the essence of inspired play in the loose in fifteen-man rugby? In the scrum? The line-out?
I have no opinions about rugby. Or league for that matter. I have nothing against them either. But I live in perpetual summer. They are not summer sports. Thus I never see them.
Lizabelle asks, What’s your favourite place in Sydney (apart from the cemetery in Newtown)?
There are so many! But right now—other than my parents’ house—it’s the Botanical Gardens.
Brittany asks, The devil books, must they be typed and submitted in a particular format? Or is standard Times New Roman 12pt Single spaced ok?
One of the nice things about being a published author is that I submit my books electronically. Thus the font I use is irrelevant. The publisher can change it. When you’re unpublished and having to submit paper it’s best to stick to the industry standard stuff: double spaced, readable font, single-sided, etc.
For those wondering why Brittany asks about “devil books” it is because of this post where I say that books are teh devil, which they are.
Feel free to ask more questions. Is there anything you’re burning to know? It doesn’t have to be about me. In fact questions that aren’t about me are more fun. Though, um, Certain Important Parties would prefer the quessies be about me and my books. But, honestly, how boring is that? Very!
That’s right. You need to know nothing more. From this point on you have all knowledge necessary! [↩]
One aspect of the strong fan reaction to Meyer’s Breaking Dawn is the notion that some of them have that Stephenie Meyer owed them a particular book and a particular ending.1 As a writer I have to say that does my head in. No writer owes their readership anything. NOT A SINGLE THING. They have to write the book they have to write. Writers should not be thinking about giving their audience what the audience wants. For starters there is no unified audience. They don’t want all the same things. So pleasing them is IMPOSSIBLE.
On the other hand, Joss Whedon owes me big time for the mess he made of season seven of Buffy. The creators of Veronica Mars owe me BIG TIME for the monstrosity that was season three of Veronica Mars. And do not get me started on the egregious ways in which Weeds has jumped the shark. Head should roll!
So, um, I appear to be in two minds on all of this. Writer Justine does not agree with fan Justine. But whatever the contract with the reader is it does not include having to fulfill all the reader’s desires. On account of that not being possible.
Hmm, I repeat myself. What do youse lot think?
My apologies for the worst sentence ever I’m hoarding the good ones for the Liar book. [↩]
Both Scott and me are writing up storms, or, you know, novels. Our bunker is excellently designed, being gorgeous, with great views, comfy writing spots, and NO internet access. It’s brilliant: we get so bored we can’t help but write.
I am now five stories away from the bunker in the secret place of wifi access. I have snuck out while Scott’s not looking to have a peek at the wider world and to see what’s happening here on me blog. Thanks much for all the fascinating comments on previous post. The discussion has left me feeling much more relaxed about the writers I refuse to read. I am zen.
I wonder how zen Stephenie Meyer is feeling? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a negative reaction to the final book in a series before. I’ve seen Scott cop some flack because of the way he ended the Uglies and Midnighters series but wow the response to Breaking Dawn is, um, intense.
The whole thing makes me grateful that I’m not nearly as popular as Meyer (or Scott for that matter). What would it be like to have your fans turn on you? I mean the Amazon reviews are dripping with anger. I’ll be honest: I feel awful for Meyer. Negative reviews are hard to weather at the best of times. Plus everyone I know who’s met her has said what a lovely person she is.1
I feel like saying to her fans: Relax, it’s just a book! But that would be hypocrisy of the worst kind because I felt the same way about the third book in His Dark Materials. You betrayed me, Mr Pullman! How could you? I WILL NEVER READ YOU AGAIN! Which was a lie, but I was ANGRY.
The Twilight phenomenon has been fascinating. There are thousands reading for pleasure now who weren’t before Meyer’s books came along. It’s a wondrous thing. Other than Harry Potter these are the bestselling children’s/YA books we’ve seen in a long time. I’m wondering if this last book has ended the phenomenon. It seems unlikely. I’m also wondering if we’re going to see another such hugely successful YA series. Or if Potter & Twilight are it for the next decade or so.
And now I must return to the bunker. But before I go I’ll note that there have been some particularly nasty spam attacks. Sorry if your comment winds up in moderation as a result. I promise to free it ASAP. And sorry too for all those unanswered emails. When the book is done I will catch up. Promise.
Not that this would be fun for her if she wasn’t lovely . . . [↩]
Ever since I was aware that writers were actual living breathing people, I have heard readers talking about discovering how putrid the politics/personality/hygiene/habits of a particular writer is and deciding that they can no longer read that particular writer, or give them money by buying the books they once loved.
I always respond by pointing out that when I discovered that Knut Hamsun was a fascist, who thought Hitler was the best bloke ever, it didn’t stop me form loving his fabulous novel, Hunger. Writers are not their books!
As a writer, it freaks me to think that some people will stop reading me, not because of my books, but because of something I’ve said or done. I feel all defensive every time someone tells me they’ve stopped reading Orson Scott Card because of his homophobia. Or John Green because he supports Barack Obama. I love Elvis. Is someone not going to read me because of that? Should I shut up and keep my opinions to myself for fear of offending potential readers? But why should we writers have to shut up? We are not our books. They is independent of us. You make them yours, dear reader, when you read them.
And yet, I must admit that there are a few writers I have met and disliked so much that I have never read any of their books again.1 How is that any different? Am I being a hypocrite?
Yes, I think I am.
Why should a reader keep reading the work of someone who pisses them off? Sure some readers can make the distinction between the writer and their work. Like me still being able to read Knut Hamsun. But it sure does help that he’s dead and that I’ve never read anything but his fiction. I haven’t read his online frothing at the mouth outpouring of Hitler love. It’s a lot harder to achieve that distance with a writer whose offensive views are all over the beastly intramnets. And worse when you’ve been subject to their unpleasantness in real life.
Some readers can still manage to make that distinction between book and author, but many can’t and, really, why should they? There are so many great books out there which makes cutting your choices down a bit of a relief. I’m pretty sure there are enough books on my TBR pile right now to last me till the end of time.
I’m not going to censor myself either. Elvis haters are never going to like my work. I’m cool with that. Their loss.2
What do you lot think?
Or at all in the case of writers whose work I hadn’t read when I had the misfortune of meeting them. [↩]
There are two new How To Ditch Your Fairy reviews. Both of them a bit too spoilery for my liking. I.e. they give away plot points beyond the title of the book. I am very spoiler sensitive.
This one really tickled me as it is from an eleven-year-old reviewer who is also a fan of the Magic or Madness trilogy. Have I ever mentioned that I was worried about what my MorM fans would think of HTDYF seeing as how it is so very different from the trilogy? This review set my fears at rest.
The reviewer is not the youngest fan of the book. I received a lovely fan letter from a nine-year-old HTDYF fan not too long ago. That’s especially excellent as me and my publisher were really hoping the book would cross over into middle grade. In fact, there was some discussion about publishing it as middle grade instead of YA. Bloomsbury decided against because many teenagers are thought to be less willing to read middle grade than they are YA. Whereas middle grade readers will read up. Bless their hearts!
Funny and whimsical, this isn’t just a fantasy, but a romance, sports, and even a bit of a mystery novel. Larbalestier threads sly pokes at celebrity obsession and adolescent self-centeredness throughout Charlie’s snarky narrative, which will delight close readers and us “olde” teens who fancy ourselves above all that? Personally, I could use a “no one ever sits too close to me on the subway” fairy, or a “write brilliant book reviews in no time at all” fairy.
Once again, a reviewer gets what I was going for. I am blessed!
Have I mentioned that one of the most wonderful things in the world is being reviewed by smart, articulate, witty reviewers. Seriously, writing a novel takes AGES. When you’re writing and rewriting and dealing with copyedits and proofs and all the rest of it you start to think that it will NEVER end. You become convinced that the book will never be read by anyone but you and the people who HAVE to read it as part of their job.1 And when other people do read it they will just lecture you about serial commas and plot discontinuities. And that all the smarty-pants, I’m-so-clever stuff will only be noticed by your mum. So reviews (and letters and comments from readers) like this make everything seem worth it. I am not alone! My novel exists beyond me and some people think it makes sense! Hallelujah!
Further to the last post: I may have given the impression that I am against reviews or think less of reviewers. Au contraire! See above paragraph. Writing a smart review is one of the hardest things to write in the world.
Um, okay that does kind of include some reviewers, but not that many. [↩]
Some of you have expressed annoyance that I have not named the hated book in previous post. To which I can only say: tough.
My blog, my rules.
Is long-standing policy of this blog never to name the author or title of books I don’t like. This will never change.
I don’t name them because authors are the most sensitive creatures alive. Layers of their skin disappear every time one of their babies books is dissed. This is why agents and editors never pass along any but the good reviews. They do not want their authors to wind up skinless because then they’ll be in intensive care unable to write more books.
Then there’s the other kind of author who seek out and destroy those who speak less than praise-ingly of their books. And—even worse—the fans who do likewise. Fans can be VICIOUS. What can I say? I am a coward.
The only time I will name a craptastic book or author is if they’re dead AND they don’t have a rabid fan following. Mentioning my dislike of a certain detective by a long-dead author led to my receiving hate mail. I have learned my lesson: Passionate readers are to be FEARED.
So far that means I can only tell you how much I hate hate hate hate Moby Dick. That’s because American Lit scholars aren’t very scary. I can so take them.
I recently finished reading a book that I found so poorly constructed and lazily written I was kind of astonished it had been published by a reputable house. It read to me like a poorly edited first draft by a talented writer. Vast stretches consisted of dialogue only. There was no sense of place. The only way you could tell where you were was because names of streets and other landmarks were dropped in. Oh, and the cover copy announced where it was set, which, truly, was my biggest clue.
I’ll be honest it kind of made me angry. I know lots of writers who work their arses off getting it right and here’s this writer just phoning it and getting away with it.
But then I talked to a librarian friend of mine, who liked (though didn’t love) the book and whose students enjoyed it. She also mentioned that it had some very enthusiastic reviews, which I immediately looked up. They left me bewildered and a bit cranky. If someone can phone in a crappy first draft and suck in the readers and reviewers why bust a gut to write the best books we can? Why do we bother doing research? Why aren’t we phoning them in too?
Now, of course, my reaction assumes that there’s a shared understanding of what makes a good book and good writing, which clearly there’s not. Each reader is bringing something different to the page and thus reading something different. But I feel like even when I hate a book I can at least see what other people are seeing it. I think I get why some people love Moby Dick even though it bores me into a coma. I don’t think it’s badly written. It’s just the last book in the world I want to read.
Not this time. This book was shoddy. There was no there there.
But maybe that’s exactly what it has going for it? The less there is on the page, the more a reader can bring to it, and the more they can make the book their own? And that what I think of as “good writing” just gets in the way of that kind of reading experience.
Who knows? Certainly not me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the appeal of this particular book or the many books just like it. But it doesn’t really matter because it clearly wasn’t written for me. And heaps of wonderful books that were written for me are getting plenty of love too.
And, yes, I will keep writing the best books I can. There’ll continue to be readers out there who think they’re rubbish. Because those black squiggles on white paper? We can interpret them any old way we choose.
See, when I mentioned here that I get more fan mail from adults than teens it was said wistfully—with a little sadness even. One of my teen readers saw and understood:
In your latest blog post, you said that most of your fan mail comes from adults. Because of this, I believe that, being the teenager I am, I should send you fan mail.
So, here is your fanmail from a teenager:
I luuuuuurve the Magic or Madness trilogy. Each one is incredibly fawesome. I made the mistake of bringing them to school this past year, where I could not read them straight through. (Side note: Fellow classmates give you weird looks when you’re reading a book entitled Magic Lessons.) I had to wait until I finished my work to read them. I did not want to wait. They were too awesome.
So, yeah, I loved them a lot. I can’t wait to read How to Ditch Your Fairy. It too looks awesome. Good luck finishing your new book.
Oh, and in regards to the last line of your latest post: You better stay a YA writer. I will be sad if you don’t. D:
Thank you, Khy, you made my day. Week, really. No, month. Actually you may have made my entire year. Bless!
I especially liked that she talks about how she read the trilogy. It reminded me of when I was still in school and would read books under my desk when teachers weren’t looking. Yeah, I know, I was bad to the bone. When I was caught up in a book it was pretty much impossible to stop reading so International Studies and Maths be damned I was gunna keep reading till I finished even if there was a class going on.1
Like Margo Rabb says one of the most amazing parts of writing YA is the gorgeous letters you get from adults and teens—but especially teens. They’re who I write for after all.
Apparently, Khy is more disciplined than I was. [↩]
Certain writers write the same book over and over and over again. Personally, that would drive me insane. Here are the novels I have written thus far:
Novel, the first: (unpublished) is a big sweeping historical set in ancient Cambodia from multiple points of view. Third person, past tense. Adult.
The second: (unpublished) is—actually it’s so bad I’m not even sure what it is—let us not think of it. First person, past tense. Young adult.
Novels, the third, fourth & fifth: (the Magic or Madness trilogy, Penguin) a medium dark urban contemporary fantasy from three povs. Third & first person, past tense. Young adult.
The sixth: (How to Ditch Your Fairy, Bloomsbury) is a light and fluffy romantic science fictional take on luck and talent from one pov. First person, past tense. Young adult.
The seventh: (unfinished, Bloomsbury) is a dark dark dark crime novel from one pov with a weird and wonderful structure that’s doing my head in. First person, past & present tense. Young adult.
I’m not sure what these novels have in common other than my writing them. Many of my favouritest writers are much more varied than me. No two books by Karen Joy Fowler are alike and Samuel R. Delany has written every genre from high fantasy through to porn. They’re both as adept at stories as they are at novels. I imagine that they also enjoy being able to stretch themselves as writers by trying different approaches, genres, styles, voices and like me it keeps them from being bored.
But what about the reader?
I confess that I adore quite a few authors who are not varied at all, and further, that it is their lack of variety that is a large part of why I love them. Georgette Heyer’s regencies are (more or less) the same few books over and over again with a few variations. They are some of my favouritest books in the universe. In fact, I hate the Heyer books that veer from this formula. Her detective books suck and her serious historicals are unspeakably boring. I resent the time she wasted on them. Just think: she could have written twenty more regencies! Selfish bint!
I am also not fond of the stories by Raymond Chandler that are not about Phillip Marlowe. His fantasy stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in the 1950s are dire. What on Earth possessed him to write them? Foolish man!
I am of the school that thinks F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the same group of people over and over again and that the novels and stories are sometimes interchangeable. I don’t care. I love pretty much everything he ever wrote. I like that he never tried his hand at historicals or science fiction. He stuck to what he was good at. Go, you, Scottie!
On the other hand, I recently read a wonderful, wonderful novel that I adored so much I immediately read another novel by the same author, which I also liked even though it was remarkably like the first novel. Then I read another one. It was exactly the same as the first two and I was bored. The sameness gave me none of the pleasures I get from Heyer and Chandler and Fitzgerald. In fact, I won’t be reading that writer again and am now feeling faintly hostile towards them. You are so talented! Why are your wasting your time and mine by writing the same damn book several hundred times? Unlaze yourself!
Ever since I’ve been trying to figure out what it is I get out of Heyer and Chandler that I don’t get out of this other author, who, incidentally, has legions of fans, is well-reviewed, hits bestseller lists, and is very talented. The one book they write is a wonderful book. I think the difference is that at their best Chandler and Heyer were investigating the genres they wrote, and more specifically, the kinds of books they themselves wrote. And that the variations in their own work are bigger than it would seem at first glance.
But maybe that’s what the fans of this particular writer think. And what to me looks like the EXACT same novel is to them infinite and fascinating variations that I am too dense to appreciate. Just as Agatha Christie, who to me wrote the same extremely tedious book over and over again, is a source of great pleasure to millions of people.
Thanks for all the deeply smart and thoughtful comments to yesterday’s question. You lot are awesome.
Youse lot have gotten me thinking muchly on the topic. On the one hand, I am a fan of many writers I’ve never met, like, Denise Mina, Meg Cabot, Geraldine McCaughrean, Walter Mosley, Megan Whalen Turner, Peter Temple and would probably embarrass myself by breathless gushing all over them if we were ever to meet. On the other hand, I’m a working writer who knows a lot of working writers and knows that we’re not particularly different from everyone else. (Well, except for Maureen Johnson . . . )
It does not surprise me in the slightest that Karen Joy Fowler and Ursula Le Guin are friends. But it surprises me HUGELY that I am making a living as a writer and therefore I have many writer friends. I constantly have to pinch myself. How on Earth did I get here? Please don’t let anyone take it away!
That fear is real: many writers don’t make a living at it for their whole lives. It takes a long time for most of us to get published (took me close to twenty years) and then once you are published there’s no guarantee that your books will keep selling. Styles of writing go out of fashion. So do genres.
Your comments were all so useful, I thought I’d respond in more detail:
Danica’s point is a really good one: “I guess we (meaning non-writers) don’t always think of publishing as an industry and don’t realize that most writers must be connected somehow.”
That’s so true. I remember the first science fiction convention I went to back in 1993. I was astonished to see all these writers and editors I’d heard of in the one place. All of them clearly knew each other and were, in fact, a community. A pretty big community that consisted not only of those whose living was directly tied to the publishing industry (writers, editors, publishers, publicists etc) but also readers and fans and a handful of students and scholars. Long before I sold a single short story I was becoming friends with the likes of Ellen Datlow, Samuel R. Delany, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Terri Windling. It was astonishing.
That community—of science fiction people— is the oldest genre community I know of and has roots that go back to the late 1920s. There are also romance communities, crime fiction communities, YA communities etc., and to a lesser extent mainstream lit fic communities (though I suspect that the easy access of fans to pros is not so strong in the lit fic world).
Tole said: “Perhaps it’s not so much that we are surprised that you know each other, as much as amazed at how lucky you are to not only have the talent and perseverance to write a novel, but that you have an amazing set of friends as well.”
I am also amazed by that. I mean, yes, I said above that we’re not that different from everyone else, but my writer friends understand the ins and outs of this weird job we have better than anyone else. No matter what questions I have there’s someone I know who’s been through it before and can help me out. “My book’s been remaindered! Does that mean my career is over?” “Barnes & Noble aren’t stocking my book! Does that mean my career is over?” “How do you write action scenes?” “What’s the best writing software?” and so on and so forth. When I have a success that’s hard to explain to people outside the industry (my book is on the BBYA) my YA writer friends get it and can celebrate with me and vice versa.
Having peers is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And when your peers are as talented and amazing as mine. Well, it’s pinching yourself time.
JS Bangs made two excellent points:
1) People think of authors as solitary geniuses scribbling away and living on water and crusts of bread, without any contact with others of their kind.
2) It feeds people’s fear that the publishing industry is all about who you know.
1) There are writers like that. There are definitely working writers who live a long way from their peers and don’t ever meet them at conferences and convention and so on. But I think they’re getting rarer. The internet has allowed more and more people in the same industry to be in contact with each other and break down that isolation. Is very good thing!
2) Oh, yes, that old bugbear. Pretty much every industry from medicine to the building industry to agriculture has a certain amount of who-you-know going on. The world runs on personal relationships. What most people who are paranoid about the publishing industry don’t get is that an unpublished writer knowing some editors may get them read but guarantees nothing beyond that. I’ve had editor friends since 1993. A decade later I sold my first novel.
I know plenty of writers who started selling before they’d met a single person in the industry.1 Knowing people in the industry means that it’s easier to figure out how it works—you have friends you can ask—but it doesn’t mean anything if you have no talent.
Camille expanded on the solitary point: “I think, too, it’s because you can write from anywhere. With lawyers and professors and the like, generally you have to congregate in a place to get anything done. (Less now, with the Internet, but still, predominantly people go TO work.) You HAVE to physically associate with your colleagues. Writers can live anywhere and yeah, somebody above said we think of writing as being a solitary exercise.”
That’s true. Part of my knowing so many writers has to do with my living in two very big cities: Sydney and NYC. And in both cities the writers in my genre have made an effort to make contact. Because so many of us write alone, I think the need for community is much stronger than those who work with people in their profession every day.
Of course, there are still writers out there who don’t know other writers and aren’t part of any writing communities.
Herenya: “I think it’s because we know who these other writers are. If I started talking about who my friends are, people would look at me blankly because none of my friends have done anything to warrant that sort of recognition (yet!) But you talk about your friends, and I think ‘oh, yes, I know who they are, I was reading one of their books yesterday.’ It’s a bit like the same sense of surprise you get when you find you and a friend / acquaintance ‘know’ someone in common, but with the awe factor involved, because we only know them through their writing and not personally.”
That makes a lot of sense to me and jibes with my own experience. The awe factor is nicely summed up by Bill: “Myself, I’m still so amazed that certain books exist at all (say, Stranger in a Strange Land) I can’t rationally believe that it was typed by hand by a human being named Robert Heinlein. Books, especially books that change your life, are inherently mystical objects to those of us on the receiving end.”
Even though I write books myself, I still feel that way about the books that move me. There is something fundamentally mysterious about the process of creating (no matter what you create). I think that’s why so many writers struggle to explain where they get their ideas.
On that note, I should probably get back to doing some creating of my own.
Scott Westerfeld and John Scalzi are two that come to mind. [↩]
I keep getting letters from people being spun out that I know Maureen Johnson and Holly Black and Margo Lanagan and Libba Bray and Garth Nix and Cassandra Clare and a bunch of other writers. I’m trying to figure out why they’re so amazed.
My parents are scholars; they know heaps of other scholars. I’m pretty sure that lawyers know other lawyers, dentists other dentists, hairdressers and bricklayers ditto. So what’s so startling about a bunch of YA authors knowing each other?
To all of those who wrote asking for my insomnia cure: I promise I’ll write about it as soon as I have time. Last week was insane. And next week looks like more of the same with all the Aussie events and deadlines and blah blah blah1. Don’t forget to come see me and Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix and Scott and Jonathan Strahan at Books of Wonder.
Yesterday I did an appearance with Scott out at the Bronx Library Centre. It was fabulous! The ninth graders are part of the Gear Up program and if they’re an example—that program totally works. They were one of the smartest, funniest, and most engaged group I’ve had the good luck to hang out with.
I’ve been trying for some time to figure out a way to write about how incredibly moving some of these events we do with teenagers can be but I just don’t seem to be able to express how I feel about them without coming across all saccharine and cloying. When someone tells you that they feel like they are one of your characters or that before they read your book they’d hated reading . . . well, words really do fail.
Let’s just say yesterday was incredible. I wish I had remembered to let them know that Jay-Tee (the character a few of them identified with so strongly) is from the Bronx! I am such a der brain.
Thanks so much, Jack and Carole, for inviting us.
And thanks, too, for all the fascinating responses about sleep and dreams. You make me want to go back to bed perchance to dream of the best novel or manga idea of all time.
Tonight’s appearance at Books Inc (Opera Plaza) was fabulous. Lots of rabid, smart, enthusiastic Scott fans and passionate arguments about David/Zane. For the record I like Zane better than David but prefer Shay to either one of them.
The most wonderful part of the evening for me was meeting London, who’s a guy from Sacramento, who drove all the way to San Francisco (which is at least two hours!) to tell me how much he loves my books. Isn’t that awesome? Also turns out he’s a Sacramento Monarchs fan and has even met their big star Yolanda Griffiths. I was deeply impressed and we got to talk women’s hoops which always makes me happy.
Equally happy making was the lovely Liset who gave me a beautiful piece of fan art:
What a wonderful day. Thanks to Jennifer and Shannon for all your hard work. You guys are deeply splendiferous!
There’s lots more to say. And a tonne of your comments I want to respond to, but I’m completely knackered.
Tomorrow there are more events. Also we fly to Seattle.
In a bit over a week Scott is going on his very first proper book tour. Hooray! I am going along in my wifely capacity. Largely because everyone we know who’s done a book tour solo says it can be total misery. “Don’t do it alone!” they all cried.
FOR the publication in July  of her first book, “The Late Bloomer’s Revolution,” Amy Cohen imagined a promotional tour of bookstores in Sydney, Australia. And Paris. And a few places closer to home, New York City, would work, too.
Then her publicist at Hyperion told her, as Ms. Cohen recalled somewhat tongue in cheek, “You aren’t going to Scarsdale.”
Why, I sometimes wonder, does anybody want a book signed? I have a whole wall of books by friends, and it never occurs to me to ask them to sign them.
My wife, who has an abiding passion for hagiography—we have a surprising number of editions of Lives of the Saints, not one of them signed—has her own theory. As she explains it, a book signed by its author is a second-degree relic, not as precious as a finger bone, but on a par with a pair of cast-off sandals.
I like the explanation, but how long before the bastards start wanting the damned books signed in blood?
I was stuck in traffic yesterday, thinking about how awful book tours were because I had to get up early and not get enough sleep and deal with lots of different people and never get any down time to just relax and I remembered what it reminded me of: working for a living. Not that writing isn’t working for a living, but I used to have to put on pantyhose and go out to teach at 7:30 every morning and I was always on the run and there was never any quiet time and I almost lost my mind. Which is what most people do every damn day. Meanwhile on the tour, I was sacking out in the Hotel Metro eating amazing room service and bemoaning my fate. Tell me again why nobody here threw things at me? Note to self: STOP WHINING, YOU INGRATE.
The folks I know who’ve enjoyed their book tour did it with someone else. Holly Black and Cassandra Clare had a fabulous time on their book tour earlier this year. The way a whole bunch of us did going to DragonCon together.
There are lots of claims that book tours don’t work: That for most authors they don’t increase sales; or contribute to that writer being better known; and that more money is lost than gained from doing them. Others claim that you have to look beyond immediate money returns for the value of book tours.
Although I’ve never been on an official book tour, I’ve done appearances back home and in the US of A, mostly I really enjoy them. I love meeting the people who sell and lend and buy and borrow my books. I love hanging out with folks who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about books—YA books in particular—and gossiping and arguing with them. I find signing and talking to folks fun. I enjoy the Q & A sessions. And I love going to places I’ve never been before.
There’s less than fabulous stuff too. I’m not wild about staying in hotels where the windows don’t open, having to eat truly horrendous food cause it’s that or faint, air travel and all the related hassles, but compared to the cool stuff all of that is minor. Also I’m lucky: I’ve never had to do any of it alone. I’ve barely done any events alone. We usually put on the Justine-and-Scott show which we both enjoy heaps and seems to go over better with audiences then when we do appearances on our own.
For the authors who’ve toured—do you like touring? Consider it a necessary evil? And for those—like me—who haven’t do you want to? What are your expectations if you do tour?
I’m also curious to hear from the publishing pros: what’s your take? Does it entirely depend on who’s touring? Do you think blog tours are more useful? Are there authors who, no matter how great they’re books are doing, you would never send on tour?
And the booksellers and librarians who host authors on tour—what do you make of the whole thing?
And those who’ve seen authors on tour doing appearances what do you reckon?
Magic’s Child only came out last Friday and already I’ve had a stack of letters and some comments here asking when there’ll be another book in the series.
Wow! I’m stoked at the enthusiasm and thrilled that you like the Magic or Madness world so much you want more. I’m not sure there’s a bigger compliment you can offer a writer. Thank you.
But right now I have no plans for more books set in that world.
Don’t yell at me! I’m not saying there won’t be books in the future. But there won’t be any in the immediate future.
Why? Lots of reasons but mostly because I need a break. I started work on the trilogy in June 2003 and had been thinking about it for months before then. I finished making corrections to Magic’s Child in early November 2006. So I spent more than three years solidly in that one world, with those same characters, and for now that’s enough. We need our space. Both the characters and me. Otherwise ugliness would ensue.
Also at the moment I have no idea what happens next. No clue at all. It’s very hard to write a book without any ideas.1
Right now I’m busy rewriting the fairy book (otherwise known as the Great Australian Elvis cricket fairy mangosteen YA novel), and on the weekend I started a new book.
I really did start the lodger book. You know how sometimes starting a book consists of hours and hours of staring at the screen, lots of deciding the front room needs to be tidied, or that there’s urgent mail to be sent, or that it’s a long time since the sock (ew!) drawer was rearranged, or that perhaps a long walk is needed to get the thoughts to coalesce into words and sentences and paragraphs?
Not this time.
I sat down to write the lodger novel and had several thousands words in a matter of seconds. Scary excellent stuff! (I mean the writing process. I can’t tell about the words yet.) This book is practically writing itself. Yum.
Here’s hoping my Magic or Madness fans will enjoy also the fairy book and the lodger book. Oh, and that they find a publisher . . .
I’m not saying it hasn’t been done. Do not ask me for examples! [↩]
Lodger book: 12
Liar book: 8
Cricket romance: 7
Werewolf snowboarding epic: 6
Baby killing ghost novel: 6
Vintage clothes shop book: 4
Hollywood book: 1
NT family epic: 1
Short story: 1 [↩]
This comes from Jennifer Laughran at Books Inc in San Franciso who reports:
It’s on the register! And we’ve already sold two in the five mins its been out of the box!!!!!!!!
Now since Jennifer works at a book shop I thinks it’s only fair that I keep the prize open. So if you don’t work in a book shop and you’re the first to send me a piccie of my book out in the wild there’s a signed Magic’s Child and matching book marks just for you.
But you’ll still get your prize, Jennifer. You were first first.
The first offline review of Magic’s Child has appeared in Kirkus Reviews. They seem to like it. The entire review is riddled with spoilers so here are the highlights:
In this sizzling conclusion to a mordant fantasy trilogy, magic is more curse than blessing for 15-year-old Reason. . . . Alternating chapters by Reason, Jay-Tee and their friend Tom recount this crackling blend of fantastic adventure and soap-opera angst with vivid splashes of Aussie and American slang. . . . [A]dolescent readers will be left pondering their own hard choices. Not a stand-alone story, but the entire trilogy is a worthwhile purchase.
Not bad, eh? A number of pullquotes. Thank you, Kirkus!
In other news scifi.com’s Scifiwire is interviewing various award shorlistees, like, um, me for the Norton Award. I hear there’ll be interviews soon with Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld. I assume they’ll also talk to Susan Beth Pfeffer and Megan Whalen Turner. Hope so!
In other news Rebecca designed this T-shirt in honour of Scott and mine’s visit to Houston. Isn’t it awesome?
Is that not the coolest Magic or Madness/Midnighters combination you ever saw? There are even butterflies! I love it!
The Humble Teen Lit Festival was unbelievably wonderful and run by the awesomest group of librarians and teachers ever. Thanks for taking such great care of me, Dawn!
The Humble students and the other folks who showed up were smart and receptive and asked lots of questions I hadn’t been asked before. Fabulous!
My old man is insanely popular. I mean I knew he was popular, but I didn’t realise he was that popular. I thought I was going to burst I was so proud of him. You shoulda seen his signing queue! Around the block! Mental!
Scott’s family are lovely. Catching up with Uncle Ronnie the principal (and wow do his students love him) and Jackie and Ken would have made the trip totally worthwhile without the added bonus of Teen Lit Festival.
All writers obsess about their character’s shrugging or smiling or raising eyebrows too much.
Apparently there are two airports in Houston. Ooops.
Getting from one to the other is a seventy dollar cab ride.
None of you knows about Scott Pilgrim?! This causes me great pain. Go out and read the three volumes immediately! That’s an order.
Although I feared three days without my computer it turned out to be way more of a blessing than a curse. I may now take a couple of days off from its evil thrall once a week. Or monthly. Or possibly every six months . . .
It was still lovely to come home to all your mail and comments here. Bless!
And now I go pass out. While being other places is wondrousness, getting to and from them is increasingly horrible. It took us fourteen hours to get from Houston to NYC. That’s how long it takes to get from LA to Sydney . . . That ain’t right.