Liar Trailer

Just found out that my US publisher, Bloomsbury, together with BookSpots has put together a trailer for Liar:

Pretty good, eh? It kind of reminds me of late 1950s/early 1960s film credits. Feel free to share the link far and wide.

Is it just me or is this the year when book trailers are everywhere? My favourites so far are Scott‘s, Libba‘s, Robin‘s and Diana‘s. I also love Lauren‘s but it’s not live yet. Keep your eyes peeled.1

What do you think about the whole book trailer thing?rty od

  1. Or maybe don’t. Eyes peeled sounds so painful. []

Liar Tour

I now have almost all the dates and times for the US Liar tour. For the first time ever I’ll be doing some tour stops in the South and the Northwest. In fact, my only repeat visits are to Austin, Philadelphia and, of course, NYC.1

But first I must apologise. Profusely. Despite what I said earlier, I will not be visiting Phoenix. I’m very disappointed. Phoenix was one of the first cities mentioned for this tour and the Bloomsbury publicists did every thing they could to make it happen. But alas. If it was down to me I’d spend a week in Phoenix visiting every school and library that has ever asked me to appear. Sadly I do not get to choose where I go. So I won’t get to meet the locals who faithfully follow this blog and have done so for years. Or the lovely librarians. I won’t get to talk about the Phoenix Mercury with youse all in person. Or eat at all the wonderful restaurants people have been recommending. I am deeply bummed.

I should never have mentioned any possible tour stops until they were absolutely confirmed. That’s my lesson learned. I’m so sorry to get hopes up with my dumb mistake.

On the bright side, there’s a tour addition: I’ll be going to Chicago, which is another city where I’ve never done an appearance before and another city with really good food.2

Okay, enough of my rabbiting on, here is my 2009 tour schedule:

US Liar Tour

Thursday, 8 October, 7:00 pm:
Joseph Beth Bookstore
387 Perkins Ext

Memphis, TN

Saturday, 10 October, 2:00-3:00 pm
Southern Festival of Books
Talk in Room 16
Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN
Followed by signing
3-4 pm
War Memorial Plaza
Between 6th & 7th Avenues.
Nashville, TN

Friday, 16 October, 7:00 pm:
Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave

Larchmont, NY

Monday, 19 October, 4:00 pm
Mukilteo Public Library
4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.
Mukilteo, WA

Monday, 19 October, 7:00 pm
UWash Bookstore
4326 University Way N.E.
Seattle, Washington

Tuesday, 20 October, 7:00 pm
Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA

Wednesday, 21 October, 7:00 pm
Barnes & Noble
19401 Alderwood Mall Parkway

Lynnwood, WA

Thursday, 22 October, 4:00 pm
A Children’s Place
4807 NE Fremont St

Portland, OR

Thursday, 22 October, 7:00 pm
Barnes & Noble
12000 SE 82nd Avenue

Portland, OR 97266

Saturday, 24 October, 10:00 am -5:00 pm
Austin Teen Book Festival
Westlake High School
4100 Westbank Drive
Austin, TX

Thursday, 29 October, TBD
Children’s Book World
17 Haverford Station Rd
Haverford, PA

Thursday, 29 October, 7:00 pm
Blue Marble
551 Carpenter Ln

Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, 4 November, TBD
Anderson’s Bookshop
123 W Jefferson Ave
Naperville, IL

Thursday, 5 November, 7:00 pm
B&N Skokie
55 Old Orchard Center

Skokie, IL

Tuesday, 10 November, 5:00-7:00 pm
Books of Wonder
18 W. 18th St.

New York, NY

Yes, there will be school appearances as well but as those events are not public I cannot announce them here. I’m really excited about this tour and hope I get to meet some of you.



  1. I mean, I live here half the year, I’ll always do appearances in NYC. []
  2. Yes, I think with my stomach. []

Beginning of Liar, Read Aloud!

Okay, this, I’m really excited about. Remember when I posted about getting to sit in on the recording of the audiobook of Liar? Well, now you can listen to some of it.

I’m thrilled and delighted with the amazing job Brilliance Audio did. Channie Waites is perfect reading in Micah’s voice. But don’t listen to me, listen to her, and make up your own mind:

01 Part01-01-Telling the Truth

The audio version of Liar publishes at the same time as the book in both North America (29 Sept) and Australia (1 October). Here are the links to buy the Liar audiobook in North America: CD and MP3. And in Australia: CD.

Hope you like it as much as I do.

US edition of Liar will publish on time

Because of the jacket change there was a wee bit of doubt that the US edition of Liar would be available on its scheduled release date of 29 September. I’m here to tell you that it most definitely will be available on that date. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up in book shops ahead of schedule.

How do I know?

Because of this:

Yup, those are my author’s copies of Liar. They’re here and it’s only the beginning of September. I’d say we’re good to go.

My Silence

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

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

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

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

Events, I does them

In addition to my Melbourne Writers Festival events—first one is tomorrow with Scott and Isobelle Carmody *squee*—soon I’ll be off on my second US tour. Pretty, exciting, eh?

I just added a few events to the appearances page. So far I have events confirmed (or close to) for Phoenix, Nashville, Memphis, Austin, Seattle, Portland and New York City. I’m especially excited about those first three cities as I’ve never been to any of them before.

Also: Memphis = Gracelands = Justine hyperventilating. For those of who don’t know, yes, I am a daggy Elvis fan. Goes back to when I was very little.

There will be at least one or two more cities on my tour. I’ll let you know which ones as soon as I know. Here’s hoping it’s your city.

Just so you know, I don’t pick where I go. The wonderful publicists at Bloomsbury make those decisions and it largely depends on which book shops, libraries and schools want me to come to talk to them. It could be that I’m not going to your town because no one there asked my publisher to send me. So get mad at your local book shops, schools and libraries, not at me!1

What will I be doing on tour? Talking about Liar, how I came to write it, my thoughts on lying, and the many other things that shaped the book. I’m also happy to talk about my earlier books, especially How To Ditch Your Fairy which comes out in its brand new shiny paperback edition at the same time as Liar debuts in hardcover. In fact, I’ll talk about whatever you want me to talk about. Last year, at one school event all they did was ask me about food. Oh, and to tell them vomit stories. I live to answer your questions.

Here’s hoping I’ll get to meet some more of you over the next few days and months. It’s my favourite part of touring.

  1. Kidding! Book shops, schools and libraries never do anything wrong. []

The Audio Book of Liar

My last week in NYC I was invited to visit the studio where the audio book of Liar was being recorded. Even though I had a gazillion million things to do I made sure to get there. I’m so glad I did. It was an amazing experience.

I’d never had my prose read out loud by a talented actor like Channie Waites before. It was a revelation. I know it’s a cliche but she really did make my book come alive. Bits that I hadn’t realised were funny, she rendered funny. (In a good way!) It was strange and wonderful and gave me chills. And as you can see I’m really struggling to articulate how incredible it felt to listen to Micah brought to life.

Channie Waites in the booth behind the glass and Lisa Cahn reflected in the glass

Channie Waites in the booth and Jeffrey Kawalek doing his sound engineering thing

Let me instead talk about the nitty gritty. There were three people in the studio: Channie Waites in the recording booth, then the engineer, Jeffrey Kawalek, who’d call a halt to proceedings anytime he heard a P or T pop or the rustle of Channie’s clothing (those mics are crazy sensitive) who fiddled with knobs and dials and, lastly, Lisa Cahn, the producer, who would stop the recording to ask Channie to read it with more or less emphasis and so on. It was unbelievably hard to keep my mouth shut and not interrupt with my own suggestions, but I managed, and after a few minutes was able to relax and just enjoy hearing someone else’s interpretation of my book and my characters.

Channie Waites in the recording booth

Both Channie and Lisa had really interesting theories and questions about the book. I wrote Liar to be read in at least two different ways, but the responses I’m getting are showing me that there are way more than just two interpretations. I love hearing them all. Especially Channie’s and Lisa’s because they’d both read it very closely indeed. The finished recording is eight hours long but it takes at least double that to do the recording. That’s a long time to spend reading one book. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing.

The Liar recording was produced by Brilliance Audio and the How To Ditch Your Fairy one was produced by Bolinda Audio. Each will be available from the other company because of their cunning co-production. Liar will go on sale in each country at the same time as the print edition.

Quickly Answering Some Recent Questions About Liar

Yes, the new cover means that it is unlikely possible that Liar will may not be available in US and Canadian stores on the announced publication date of 29 September. I don’t know what the new pub date is but it will definitely be in October. As soon as I know I’ll pass it on. Update: My US publisher says there’s still a strong possibility Liar will be available at the end of September as planned. (Note: this is the hardcover first edition of Liar I am talking about. There will not be a North American paperback until next year.)

There is no planned UK edition as UK rights have not sold. The English language editions, both to be published in October, are the Australian one published by Allen & Unwin and the North American version published by Bloomsbury.

There will also be an audio version read by the amazing Channie Waites (scroll down to see the photo of her) for Bolinda in Australia and Brilliance in the USA. I was able to sit in on part of the recording session and plan to blog about that incredible experience (with pictures) next week. (Short version: my work brought to life! OMG!)

If you prefer to read in languages other than English Liar will also be published in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, and Turkey. I have no details yet on when those editions will appear.

I am hoping for a manga version, because I am always hoping for manga versions of my work. So far there has not been the faintest hint of a nibble in that direction for any of my books. Personally, I think How To Ditch Your Fairy would make the best manga series ever.

If you have any other questions fire away. I promise to answer them all even if it’s just to say, “Why are you asking me about stalactites? I don’t know anything about them. I can’t even remember if they’re the sticky up-y ones or the pointy down-y ones.”

The New Cover (Updated)

As you’ve probably heard by now Liar is getting a new cover for its publication in October.1 First Bloomsbury considered going with the Australian jacket of Liar and specifically with the black and red version you can see here because that would be the easiest thing to do. The design already exists after all and the window to make the change was very narrow.

However, given the paucity of black faces on YA covers, and the intensity of the debate around the original Liar cover, Bloomsbury felt really strongly that a more representative approach was needed. Rather than using a stock photo, Bloomsbury went the whole hog and did a photo shoot. The gorgeous design is by Danielle Delaney (who’s also responsible for the fabulous paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy cover).

Here’s the result:

I am extremely happy to have a North American cover that is true to the book I wrote. I hope you like it as much as I do. I also hope we can prove (again) that it’s simply not true that a YA cover with a black face on the cover won’t sell. But let’s also put it to the test with books written by people of color. You don’t have to wait to grab your copy of Coe Booth’s Kendra2 or any of the many fabulous books recommended by Color Online etc.

Update: I have turned comments off because there has been an uptick in people attempting to comment merely to berate others.

  1. No, it’s not actually out yet. []
  2. Have I mentioned that I really love this book? []

Cover Change

As you may have already discovered if you read Publisher’s Weekly‘s “Children’s Bookshelf,” Bloomsbury is rejacketing the hardcover edition of Liar. My wish came true much sooner than I expected. Thank you to everyone who expressed your concerns. Thank you to Bloomsbury for listening.

As soon as the jacket is final, which should be soon, I’ll be posting it here. Yes, I was involved in the cover design process.

I am delighted that my post about the original Liar jacket got some traction. But everything I said there had been said many times before by authors and bloggers of colour. Whitewashing of covers, ghettoising of books by people of colour, and low expectations (reflected in the lack of marketing push behind to the majority of those books) are not new things. The problem is industry-wide.

I’m seeing signs that publishers are talking about these issues, and I’m more hopeful for change than I have been in a long time. However, as many people have been saying, we consumers have to play our part too. If you’ve never bought a book with someone who isn’t white on the cover go do so now. Start buying and reading books by people of colour. There are so many wonderful books being published right now, such as Coe Booth’s Kendra and M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow. Color Online is a wonderful place to find more suggestions as are all the blogs linked to in this paragraph.

Happy reading.

PS If you’re too broke to be able to buy any new books right now don’t forget about your local library. Or you could enter this contest to win A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott.

Ain’t That a Shame (updated)

In the last few weeks as people have started reading the US ARC of Liar they have also started asking why there is such a mismatch between how Micah describes herself and the cover image. Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover.

Many people have been asking me how I feel about the US cover, why I allowed such a cover to appear on a book of mine, and why I haven’t been speaking out about it.

Authors do not get final say on covers. Often they get no say at all.

As it happens I was consulted by Bloomsbury and let them know that I wanted a cover like the Australian cover, which I think is very true to the book.1 I was lucky that my Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, agreed with my vision and that the wonderful Bruno Herfst came up with such a perfect cover image.

I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover. Micah’s identity is unstable. She spends the book telling different version of herself. I wanted readers to be free to imagine her as they wanted. I have always imagined her looking quite a bit like Alana Beard,2 which is why I was a bit offended by the reviewer, who in an otherwise lovely review, described Micah as ugly. She’s not!3

The US Liar cover went through many different versions. An early one, which I loved, had the word Liar written in human hair. Sales & Marketing did not think it would sell. Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah.

I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.

I haven’t been speaking out publicly because to be the first person to do so would have been unprofessional. I have privately been campaigning for a different cover for the paperback. The response to the cover by those who haven’t read Liar has been overwhelmingly positive and I would have looked churlish if I started bagging it at every opportunity. I hoped that once people read Liar they would be as upset as I am with the cover. It would not have helped get the paperback changed if I was seen to be orchestrating that response. But now that this controversy has arisen I am much more optimistic about getting the cover changed. I am also starting to rethink what I want that cover to look like. I did want Bloomsbury to use the Australian cover, but I’m increasingly thinking that it’s important to have someone who looks like Micah on the front.

I want to make it clear that while I disagree with Bloomsbury about this cover I am otherwise very happy to be with them. They’ve given me space to write the books I want to write. My first book for them was a comic fairy book that crossed over into middle grade (How To Ditch Your Fairy). I followed that up with Liar, a dark psychological thriller that crosses over into adult. There are publishers who would freak. No one at Bloomsbury batted an eye. I have artistic freedom there, which is extraordinarily important to me. They are solidly behind my work and have promoted it at every level in ways I have never been promoted before.

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

No one in Australia has said that they will not be buying Liar because “my teens would find the cover insulting.”

Both responses are heart breaking.

This cover did not happen in isolation.

Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all. How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white? Why would she pick up Liar when it has a cover that so explicitly excludes her?

The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them.4 Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”

Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people? That’s not a very sustainable model if true. Certainly the music industry has found that to be the case. Walk into a music store, online or offline, and compare the number of black faces you see on the covers there as opposed to what you see in most book stores. Doesn’t seem to affect white people buying music. The music industry stopped insisting on white washing decades ago. Talented artists like Fats Domino no longer needs Pat Boone to cover genius songs like “Ain’t That a Shame” in order to break into the white hit parade. (And ain’t that song title ironic?)

There is, in fact, a large audience for “black books” but they weren’t discovered until African American authors started self-publishing and selling their books on the subway and on the street and directly into schools. And, yet, the publishing industry still doesn’t seem to get it. Perhaps the whole “black books don’t sell” thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I hope that the debate that’s arisen because of this cover will widen to encompass the whole industry. I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions. Publishing companies can make change. I really hope that the outrage the US cover of Liar has generated will go a long way to bringing an end to white washing covers. Maybe even to publishing and promoting more writers of color.

But never forget that publishers are in the business of making money. Consumers need to do what they can. When was the last time you bought a book with a person of colour on the front cover or asked your library to order one for you? If you were upset by the US cover of Liar go buy one right now. I’d like to recommend Coe Booth’s Kendra which is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Waiting on my to be read pile is Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger, which has been strongly recommended to me by many people.

Clearly we do not live in a post-racist society. But I’d like to think that the publishing world is better than those many anecdotes I’ve been hearing. But for that to happen, all of us—writers, editors, designers, sales reps, booksellers, reviewers, readers, and parents of readers—will have to do better.

Update: Because some recent commenters haven’t heard that Bloomsbury have changed the cover here is a link to the new cover.

  1. I didn’t see the Australian cover until after the US cover was finalised. []
  2. Yes, another protag of mine who looks like a WNBA player. What can I say? I’m a fan. []
  3. If you’re interested, I imagine another character in the book, Sarah, as looking like a younger Rutina Wesley, who’s not a WNBA player. []
  4. And most of those were written by white people. []

Stalker Song Contest Ends Today

The stalker song contest ends at midnight today East Coast USA time. I’ll be turning comments off on the thread then. Since there has been so many fabulous entries I’ll be giving away more than one signed copy of Love is Hell and am thinking of throwing in some Liar samplers if people seem interested.

You have until midnight tonight. Make sure you enter over there not here.

I may be announcing another contest this Saturday. Our house is overflowing with authors’ copies. It’s ridiculous.

Now back to my finish-the-novel death march.

Want to Know More About Liar?

The Liar pages are live. Ta dah!

There’s a plea for those who have read the book not to spoil it, a lengthy excerpt, a list of places in the world where Liar has sold, and a non-spoilery discussion of some of the influences on the book.

There’s also a review section on account of the astonishing number of early reviews that have appeared. (Bless you, book bloggers!) Though I decided not to include the blurbs from dead writers because I didn’t want my fellow alive writers to get jealous of my powerful ouija board:

Liar is almost as dark as one of my books. Not bad, Larbalestier.

—Patricia Highsmith

If you can’t get hold of a good book I suppose you could give Liar a go.

—Chester Himes

So creepy I had to put it down and seek solace in Anne of Green Gables.

—Shirley Jackson

Liar proves everything I said about parents was true.

—Philip Larkin

There was also going to be an essay on how Scrivener influenced the writing of the book. However, I’ve decided to hold off on posting that until after Liar is published. On account of how the Scrivener essay won’t really make any sense unless you have read the book. And not many people have at the moment on account of Liar doesn’t publish for another three months. Such a long time . . .

So there you have it some Liar content that is not even a tiny bit spoilery.

In today’s news

Liar just sold to Salani in Italy. They’re the publishers of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Cool, huh? For those keeping count Liar has now sold in six countries. This is massively more sales than any of my other books have made prior to publication. I am dizzy. (I posted recently on how foreign rights works for those who want to know why I am so excited.)

In other news: today I met someone who looks so much like Tom in the Magic or Madness trilogy I almost gasped. He’s a red head and taller and older (20 rather than 15) than Tom, but other than that identical. I had to stop myself from calling him “Tom.” This has never happened to me before and it is deeply weird. When my fictional worlds collide with my real world than my head explodes.

I may have to lie down to recover.

Lying About Who You Are (Updated)

Because my next book is Liar there has been much talk of lying on this blog lately. But for all that talk I haven’t yet touched on people who are forced to lie about who they are in order to survive. Libba Bray posted beautifully and movingly about her gay dad and the ways he was forced to lie:

My dad came of age in the 1940’s in the Deep South. Being gay was more than just not okay then; it was downright dangerous. When my father was involved with a man while stationed in Korea and it was discovered, he was given a dishonorable discharge from the Army, which in effect nullified his service to the country and haunted him the rest of his days. He was unable to buy a house using the G.I. bill and unable to explain to anyone why he couldn’t do so because it would expose his secret. Despite having a family, friends, accomplishments, my father also lived his whole life with a sense of self-loathing, of self-doubt that was painful to bear witness to. Understand—he had his faults. But one of his greatest strengths was his warmth, his fierce love. And it was a shame that he could not extend this love to himself, conditioned as he was over the years by a society that continually told him he was less than. In fact, it told him his very self was intolerable. Dangerous. He should keep himself hidden. And he did.

Throughout my life many of my friends and acquaintances have been homosexual. I have known people who were beaten up because of their sexuality, who lost custody of their kids, were sacked from jobs they were incredibly good at, who were denied access to long-term partners in hospital. All because they chose to love someone who has the same genitals as them and not to lie about it. To this day, even in Australia and the USA, there are costs to being out of the closet.

Right now the US military has a policy that forces people to lie about their sexuality or be thrown out of the armed forces. The policy is called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It is an absurd and destructive policy which as led to the US armed forces losing some of their most qualified and dedicated people.

It’s not just gay and lesbians who sometimes have to lie about who they are. I’ll never forget my parents telling me the story of a close friend of theirs, a Sri Lankan man. He was on a train when armed men went from carriage to carriage asking people if they were Tamil and beating them up if they said yes. My parents’ friend was Sinhalese. He stood up to the men and said he was Tamil1 refused to say what he was. They beat him badly. Many of the Tamils on the train that day said they were Sinhalese. I’m pretty sure I would have said the same.

All around the world right now there are people not being honest about who they are to protect their lives, their families, their livelihood. People who are homosexual, transsexual, atheist, Christian, Muslim, one of the many persecuted minority religions around the world. It’s a long list.

Every time I hear someone say that lying is always wrong I think of all the people around the world saving themselves and their families by lying and of the terrible consequences of having to live a lie like Libba’s father did.

I don’t blame their lack of courage in not telling the truth when to do so would mean losing their job/children/lives. I blame the world we live in for making such lies necessary.

  1. Turns out I misremembered the story. Thanks, Jan & John! I think the real version makes Chandra even braver. []

Literary Influences

One of the questions writers get asked fairly often is who their literary influences are. I rarely know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s usually asked about a specific book. I have no idea what writers and books influenced How To Ditch Your Fairy. And the Magic or Madness trilogy was more influence by fantasy books that drove me spare than the ones I loved. The people asking the question tend not to want to hear about negative influences.

I suspect the people best positioned to answer the question are not the writers but the readers. I’m dreadful at spotting my influences.

SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this post is going behind a cut because I discuss literary influences on Liar and I happen to know that some of you are as nutty about spoilers as I am and don’t want to know even the tiniest bit about the book before you read it. Though I think identifying specific literary influences is way more that just a tiny bit spoilery. And one of the ones I’m going to talk about below this cut is MASSIVELY spoilery. (Well, in JustineLand. I have a much broader definition of spoiler than most people, which makes conversations with Sarah Rees Brennan and Diana Peterfreund difficult sometimes as neither seems to understand the concept of the spoiler at all. Bless them!)

You has been warned.

Continue reading

Foreign rights/Liar Sells to Brazil & Turkey

Late breaking news: Liar has sold to Editora Record in Brazil, who are also the home of the Magic or Madness trilogy. And for the first time in my career a book of mine has sold in Turkey! Liar has found a home at Artemis, an imprint of Alfa Yayin Grubu. Yay! Liar will now be published in seven different countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Taiwan, Turkey and the USA. Not bad for a book that isn’t out until October.

A couple of readers have asked me what this means exactly. How do books get sold to other countries? How does it all work?

Basically the world is divided up into various different territories for publishing rights. Those territories (more or less) correspond to different countries. Though notoriously the UK is under the delusion that many other countries are part of its territory. Newsflash to the UK: Your empire crumbled decades ago. Get over it!

When my agent, Jill Grinberg, sells one of my books the first rights she sells are North American (USA + Canada) and ANZ (Australia + New Zealand). Those two rights are sold directly. Thus my agent gets 15% and I get the rest.1

Translation rights to my work are sold by my agent working with different sub-agents around the world. Which means that they split the agents’ commission, with both my agent and the sub-agent taking 10%, and me getting 80%. Some sub-agents handle more than one territory. I know of one who handles Spanish and Portuguese language sales in multiple countries, but most sub-agents work only in one territory, which is usually their home country, and thus they know it really, really well.

The larger commission is no big deal because without agents working on your behalf you would not sell in other countries. The sub-agents are the people who know which publishing houses are after what kind of book, and who has the best translators. They’re the ones who sort out the labyrinthine tax laws and tax arrangements between your home country and the country you’re selling into. Also, I don’t know about you, but I am not fluent in any of the languages spoken in any of the countries I’ve been sold in other than Australia and the US.2

I became very interested in foreign rights after my first visit to the Bologna Book Fair, where I met some of my foreign publishers, and saw the world-wide business of buying and selling rights to kids and teen books up close. I was totally fascinated to learn that the Netherlands is not big on fantasy, Brazil loves chicklit, and most of Eastern Europe loves science fiction. The US market is notorious for buying almost no translation rights at all. I wonder what the Australian YA market is known for buying?

I hope that helps you understand a bit more what I’m talking about when I jump up and down because Turkey just bought my book. Did I mention that I just sold in Turkey?

  1. Well, minus the taxman’s cut. []
  2. I’m still working on my USian []

My BEA Schedule

For those what will be attending Book Expo America, where publishing in the US of A is showcased, and there are dancing ladybugs and bears, as well as many free Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) of upcoming books, here’s where I will be:

Friday, 8:00AM
Me and Scott will be at the YA breakfast. (I’ll be the wide awake one.)

Friday, 6:00PM
Me and Scott will be at the ABC Not-a-Dinner and Silent Auction. This time we better not be gazumped by some last minute annoying bidding person. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Saturday, 3:00PM
I’ll be signing free ARCs of Liar in the Autograph Area Signing Table No. 9.

Saturday later
Various cocktail parties. I’ll be the one wearing feathers and gold lame and not drinking any alcohol because YA authors don’t drink. They don’t fuss or cuss or smoke or drink or lie or cheat or step on people’s feet or dance the hoochie-koo either. Just in case you were wondering.

What do you mean those are some of the lyrics from the song “Saved”? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

*cough* *cough*

Here’s Elvis singing “Saved”. It starts at around 5:30.

This version is from the 1968 comeback special1 which, everyone remembers on account of Elvis in sexy black leather,2 but my favourite bits are the campy big production numbers such as the gospel medley. (Apologies for the less than optimal quality. *shakes fist at youtube*)

Forgot to say that YA authors don’t dance the boogie all night long either. How could I forget that one? They’re heinous those all-night boogie dancers.

  1. Best comeback special of all time. []
  2. And he does look mighty fine. []

What Do My Readers Lie About?

Yesterday’s post got a pretty overwhelming not really from most of my readers. Most of you do not lie about those five things. (I was made very happy by all the teenage non-drinkers. Yay, youse!)

Judging from your comments and my own experience here’s my suggestion of a top five:

  1. That you didn’t do the thing your parents/teacher/boss busted you for
  2. That your friends’ clothes/appearance looks fine
  3. Your health in order to get out of school/work
  4. Height
  5. Weight

I have lied about all of these. But not about no. 1 in a very long time. Or about no. 3 and no. 4 in ages. Haven’t lied about no. 3 since I had a regular job. Sadly my no. 2 areas of lies is still going strong. But I don’t think of no. 2 as a lie so much as a difference in aesthetics that there’s no point in going into. I will never like t-shirts tucked into jeans or formal shorts or the colour yellow or espadrilles or gladiator sandals.

Is that any closer to a list of things most everyone has lied about? How many have you lied about these? What popular area of lying am I still missing out on?

A Little Bit More on Lies

An anonymous reader sent me this link to the top five things people lie about:

    1. Age
    2. Alcohol Consumption
    3. Sexual History
    4. Changed Appearance
    5. Job

I am very pleased to see that I haven’t lied about any of them.

Well, except no. 1 when I was little in order to get into bars.1 Oh, and no. 5 a few times when I didn’t feel like answering the usual questions you get after you say you’re a writer. “Have you published anything?” “Would I have heard of you?” “Can you set me up with your agent?” I said I was a dental assistant. Oddly, that didn’t inspire any questions at all.

How about youse lot? Any of you lied about the top 5? What are your most common lies?

Feel free to be anonymous.

  1. Don’t try that at home, kids what are under 18 (in Australia) or 21 (in the USA). []

Much Yay

Last week was a very big week for me. I found out that How to Ditch Your Fairy sold in Japan and Liar in France and Germany. (I also had my first lindy hop lesson. Next one is on Tuesday.)

How to Ditch Your Fairy sold to Tokyo Sogensha in Japan, who also publish Diana Wynne Jones. I know it’s tenuous proximity but it makes me happy, okay?

I can’t give more details on the French sale but I can say that my German publisher continues to be Bertelsmann Jugendbuch Verlag, who published the Magic or Madness trilogy in quick succession last year. It’s doing amazingly well over there, which I put down to the glory that is the covers:

Bertelsmann will also be publishing How to Ditch Your Fairy later this year. I met some of the crew over in Bologna last year and they were wonderful. Feels fabulous to have a solid home in Germany, which is one of the biggest book publishing markets in the world. Germans love to read. Bless them.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is real. It took twenty years to find anyone who wanted to publish for my fiction. I never dreamed it would appear in any language other than English. Yet here I am with a whole shelf full of various different editions of my books. Please let this last another twenty years.1 Fingers crossed!

In other yay news, Scott has previewed the final cover of Leviathan. It’s spectacular. And I say that as someone who loved the first version.

  1. Yeah, I’m aware of how great the odds are against that. []

Fact-checking, Spelling and Blogs

My blog has no copy editor, no proof reader, and no fact checker. It’s just me. Occasionally I’ll get Scott or one of my friends to proof a post, but not often. They’re busy. Even more rarely my readers will point out errors. Yesterday someone wrote and told me I’d misspelt Count Basie’s name on my bio page. *Blushes*. I was extremely grateful. That mistake had already been there close to a year! Who knows how many more such errors there are all over this blog?

I’m not a great speller and I find proper nouns especially difficult. The copy editors on my last two books, How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar, found I’d spelled various of the characters names in two or more different ways. I hadn’t noticed. Apparently that’s because spelling is linked to visual memory and mine is crap.1

There are very few blogs out there that are copy edited or proofed or fact checked. Something I frequently forget even though I have a blog myself.

This is just to remind myself to try and be a little bit less credulous.

That is all. Resume your Friday night festivities or Saturday morning frolicks.2

  1. Note that I have no idea where I got that factoid from and no idea if it’s true. Told you I had no fact checker. []
  2. Half my audience is back home in Oz and the rest here in the US of A or Europe. []

On Research

In the comments thread on my post about some of the research for Liar Kathleen asked:

Justine, is there a point in your writing/editing process when you have to make yourself stop researching?

I started answering the questions in the comments but it got too long so I have given my answer its own post. Lucky answer gets an upgrade!1

No, there’s no point in writing a book in which I stop researching. In fact, I was up at Central Park again this week checking out a few things for Liar that I’ll now be changing in the first pass pages.2

Especially when I’m writing an historical the research is all the time. As some of you may know my current project is set in the 1930s in New York City. Before I started writing I already knew a fair amount about the place and the period because of earlier research projects. So the first thing I did was to find out if there’d be any new books since I my research was now more a decade old. Then I started reading those new books and articles. At the same time I started writing the novel.

That’s one of the important things I have learned. Never leave the writing until you feel like you’re on top of the research. Because if you’re anything like me you’ll never get there. I’ve been at this for well over a year now and I still don’t feel like I know enough. I’m still finding out cool tidbits. Did you know there was a Little Syria in NYC in the 1920s? I just found that out yesterday. Now I’m wondering if it was still around in the early 1930s. What did it look like?

I used to do the research first and only when I felt like I knew enough did I start writing. But I never felt like I did. So—you guessed it—I didn’t start writing. The only reason I started my PhD thesis was because my scholarship was going to run out. But I learned my lesson: never put off the writing.

I write until I hit a point where I don’t know enough. If it’s a big thing—I’m writing a scene set in a buffet flat in Harlem but I’m not sure what one might have looked like—I’ll stop writing and go back to researching. But if it’s just a small thing I leave a note for myself [what kind of toothpaste? powder?] and continue writing.

Which means I’m always constantly rewriting—going back and filling in the square brackets, as well as changing stuff I’ve guessed wrong, and adding cool new details: Little Syria!3 That’s one of the many reasons I love writing historical fictions. The research is fun. And unlike scholarly research I don’t have to footnote everything. Or anything really.

It’s all of the fun with little of the tedium.

Kathleen also asked:

I’ve been doing a lot of historical/scientific research for my story and there is always so much more to learn. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve missing something or that a scientist somewhere is writing a breakthrough paper that will destroy my entire plot. Is this feeling just part of the fiction writing gig?

Yes, that feeling is part of any writing gig that involves lots of research. There’s always more to learn. But it’s one of the beauties of fiction. It doesn’t matter if some scientist makes a breakthrough that negates your plot because you’re writing fiction not a peer-review science article. A good story is a good story. Lots of my fave sf is based on outmoded science. Proabably all of it. Doesn’t matter.

All fiction dates in one way or other. But the good fiction outlives its datedness.

  1. Hope it doesn’t go to the answer’s head. []
  2. Typeset pages which have been proof read. I.e. these are the first page that look like the book will finally look. I check to see if I agree with the proof reader’s catches and to fix anything else that needs fixing. []
  3. Which may change the direction of the plot. []

Forensic Science & Lying + Tiny Sneak Peek at Liar

There were two fascinating articles in the New York Times yesterday both of which related strongly to Liar, my novel that comes out in October in both Australia and the USA.

Article the first by Natalie Angier is about a school were forensic science is one of the classes you can take and it’s insanely popular. This is increasingly the case all over the USA:

And though the forensic menu at New Rochelle is unusually extensive, schools everywhere are capitalizing on the subject’s sex appeal to inspire respect for the power of the scientific mind-set generally. According to an informal survey of 285 high school and middle school teachers conducted in 2007 by the National Science Teachers Association, 75 percent replied yes when asked, “Do you or other teachers in your district use forensic investigation in the science classroom?” A third of the respondents said the subject was woven into the regular science curriculum, a quarter listed forensics as a stand-alone course at their school, and one-fifth replied, we do both. Bring out your dead!

I really wish I had known about these classes before I wrote Liar because I definitely would have added forensic science to the curriculum of my invented school. When you read the novel you’ll know why it would have worked so well. Mmmm . . . maggots. You all know this novel is my first mystery/thriller, right?

The other article by Benedict Carey is about new techniques for determining whether people are lying or not. As you can imagine I did a lot of research on why people lie and how lies can be detected when I was writing Liar. The method the article discusses focusses on what people say when questioned not on how they say it:

In part, the work grows out of a frustration with other methods. Liars do not avert their eyes in an interview on average any more than people telling the truth do, researchers report; they do not fidget, sweat or slump in a chair any more often. They may produce distinct, fleeting changes in expression, experts say, but it is not clear yet how useful it is to analyze those.

Nor have technological advances proved very helpful. No brain-imaging machine can reliably distinguish a doctored story from the truthful one, for instance; ditto for polygraphs, which track changes in physiology as an indirect measure of lying.

“Focusing on content is a very good idea,” given the limitations of what is currently being done, said Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

It turns out that details are key:

In several studies, Dr. Colwell and Dr. Hiscock-Anisman have reported one consistent difference: People telling the truth tend to add 20 to 30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying. “This is how memory works, by association,” Dr. Hiscock-Anisman said. “If you’re telling the truth, this mental reinstatement of contexts triggers more and more external details.”

Unsurprisingly that’s one of the things successful liars talk about. Micah, the liar who is the protagonist of my next novel, puts it this way:

Details. They’re the key to lying.

The more detailed you are the more people believe. Not piled on one after another after another—don’t tell too much. Ever. Too many details, that’s too many things that can be checked.

Let them tease the information out of you. Lightly sprinkle it. One detail here, the smell of peanuts roasting; one there, the crunch of gray snow underfoot.

Verisimilitude, one of my English teachers called it. The details that give something the appearance of being real. It’s at the heart of a good lie, a story that has wings.

That’s also a description of writing fiction. There’s a lot of overlap between the techniques of the skilled liar and the skilled story teller. Though the study cited above makes it sound like Micah’s wrong: more details need to be piled on to be really convincing. Most people don’t tell what’s happened to them in the ordered way a story is written. They often spill out too many details that get in the way of the story. Micah’s right, though, that too many details leave you vulnerable cause they can be checked. Tricky situation for the liar.

I wonder if we’ll ever be in a position where we can absolutely know whether someone is lying or not?

The article mentions some of the limitations of the new technique:

It applies only to a person talking about what happened during a specific time — not to individual facts, like, “Did you see a red suitcase on the floor?” It may be poorly suited, too, for someone who has been traumatized and is not interested in talking, Dr. Morgan said. And it is not likely to flag the person who changes one small but crucial detail in a story—“Sure, I was there, I threw some punches, but I know nothing about no knife”—or, for that matter, the expert or pathological liar.

But it’s a huge step forward that more and more law enforcement around the world are shying away from coercion and phony science (i.e. lie detector machines) and looking closely at the words actually said and the context in which they’re said. Who knows maybe one day false arrest and imprisonment will be impossible.

Yes, I woke up in a utopian kind of mood.

First foreign language sale for Liar

Yesterday I said yes to an offer to publish Liar in complex Chinese from Taiwanese publishing company, Sharp Point. They also publish such obscure books as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies books, Garth Nix’s Key To The Kingdown series, as well as Lian Hearn’s Otori trilogy. Pretty sellar company, eh?

This is the first foreign language sale for Liar. I am dead excited. Can’t wait to see what cover it gets in Taiwan. I am hoping that Liar will be a many covered book.

If you look at the left sidebar you’ll see that the Oz & USian covers of Liar have been added. So that I’m not seen to be favouring one publisher over the other they will randomly switch back and forth. Sometimes the Oz Liar will be in front and sometimes the USian Liar. Thank you, Stephanie!

The ARC thing

I’m getting some push back in email and elsewhere about this post so I’d like to set the record straight1:

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking a publisher for an ARC (advance reader copy) of a book.

ARCs are created solely to promote the book in question. The hope is that the ARCs will go out to bloggers and reviewers and librarians and booksellers and generate excitement and enthusiasm for the book ahead of its publication date. That’s what ARCs are for.

My sole purpose in posting was to let people know that I’m not the person to contact for Liar ARCs. I was not saying that you should not try to get hold of Liar ARCs. Or ARCs of any other book you might want to talk about on your blog. Just that I personally don’t have any. (My publicists are the people to ask. Their contact details are on my contact page.)

If I’d thought about it a bit more I would not have published that post. Because, of course, the people who read my blog are not the people who’ve been bugging me for ARCs. Isn’t that always the way?

Publicists are not bothered by people asking for ARCs. On the contrary, it helps them figure out which books have a lot of buzz. If thousands of people are all asking for the ARC of Maureen Johnson’s Weasel, for example, that lets her publicists know the buzz is very strong indeed. And if no one is asking for early copies of Liar then my publicists realises that more work has to be done.

Publishers may not give you a copy when you ask. There are lots of reasons for this which mostly have to do with the limited print run of ARCs. But there is zero harm in asking. Just be preparted to tell them where you will review the book in question (i.e. explain about your blog) and how giving you a copy will help the word get out about the book.

Just, you know, make sure you’re asking someone who actually has ARCs. Very often that’s not the author.

And one last thing: I am absolutely thrilled and delighted and basically over the moon that there’s so much interest in Liar. I’m not complaining about that one little bit.

  1. Wish me luck with that. []

Tale behind the joke Weasel cover + PSA

Thanks to everyone for playing along with mine and Scott’s joke yesterday. It was very kind of you.

Here’s how it happened:

Ever since I showed Maureen Johnson the US cover art for Liar she has taken to pushing her hair across her month and making her eyes go wide.

So I took a photo. A very bad photo. Then I thought it would be fun to make it look like the Liar cover and post it here claiming that my publisher had decided to change the cover. Sadly, I does not have photoshop on my computer so I gave it to Scott to do.

He ignored my instructions and invented the new Maureen Johnson book Weasel. Naughty Scott!

I laughed my arse off. Then I sent it to Maureen for permission to post. She said, “plz!” Then I posted, hoping you’d all enjoy the joke as much as we did.

My apologies to anyone who thought it was for real. Honestly we did not intend to trick anyone. Was solely for the giggles.

Brooke Taylor supplied some more tee hees:

Oh noes! Another lying Maureen Johnson cover! She must be stopped!

And in late breaking news I have found the perfect way to stop her. Maureen Johnson has just publicly declared that if her next book: the paperback edition of Suite Scarlett (which comes out in cheap cheap paperback on 1 May 2009) hits the bestseller list she will GO TO TRAPEZE SCHOOL.

I encourage every single one of my readers to buy Suite Scarlett on 1 May. Even if you were thinking of buying one of my books. Don’t! Buy hers instead. I want her to suffer. I need her to suffer.

Send Maureen to TRAPEZE SCHOOL!

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Cover theft? You decide (updated)

I don’t know if any of you have noticed but there are quite a few covers in YAland that look alike. Lately there have been so many covers with girl’s faces that I admit I’ve been a little concerned that the US cover of Liar will get lost. But people have been reassuring me that it’s different to the other girl face covers, that it will pop.

Then someone anonymously emailed me the image you see below. Apparently it’s the cover of a forthcoming Maureen Johnson book.

Am I being oversensitive in thinking it looks more than a bit like the US Liar?

You can be honest with me. Do you see any similarities between this:

And this:

What do you think?

Are they the same? Could it have been done on purpose? Or maybe the two designers just happened to use the same stock photo?

Update: Full story is here.

Stop asking me for ARCs! (updated)

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

Let me put it another way:


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

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

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

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

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

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

*Goes back to copyedits.*

As you were.

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

A request for those with Liar ARCs

I know I said a while back that I would no longer be linking to reviews of my books. I’m making an exception today for the the very first review of Liar because I’m so grateful that Jenn Hartley’s review contains no spoilers. Bless you, Jenn.

Liar is the most complicated book I’ve written to date. It’s my first attempt at a psychological thriller and contains many twists and turns. I’m convinced that reading it will be a lot more interesting if you don’t know any of them ahead of time. I’d be really grateful if those of you who have an advanced copy would keep those reversals and surprises to yourself. If you’re bursting to talk about it you can always email me. Or Maureen Johnson she’s read it.

I know some people love to be spoiled but maybe you could just whisper a few spoilers in their ears rather than post it on your blogs? I really would be ever so grateful.

Thank you!

The USian cover of Liar (Updated)

Remember way back on Wednesday when I previewed the Oz cover of my next novel, Liar? Well, now it’s time to have a squizz at what my publisher in the US of A came up with. This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue. Front of the catalogue! One of my books! Pretty cool, huh?

Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover. In fact one girl said she thinks the US cover of Liar is the best cover she’s ever seen! Wasn’t that sweet of her?

So here it is, the USian cover of Liar:

It was designed by Danielle Delaney the genius responsible for the paperback cover of How To Ditch Your Fairy. Have I mentioned that’s my fave cover I’ve ever had?

Here’s hoping this cover helps Liar fly off the shelves in North America!

What do youse lot think?

Update: I’m shutting off the comments here because I have written a longer post about the US cover of Liar and the outrage about it. If you have something to say about the cover please say so over there.

Request to mad scientists everywhere!

Some of my writer friends are going barking mad waiting for their books to come out. Especially the newbies. I have decided the only solution is for the world’s mad scientists to drop whatever they’re working on1 and instead invent a brain patch that stops the thinking-bout-next-book-coming-out part of the brain.

Could you do it now-ish, please? Some of my friends are OUT OF CONTROL.

I, of course, am completely sane and rational as I wait for Liar to come out.

  1. Turning us all into twitttering pod people, taking over the world’s supply of mangosteens, turning the lakes of Canada purple etc. etc. []

The Australian cover of Liar

Because I don’t write graphic novels or cheat like Scott and get one of my regular novels illustrated1 the only art I get is the cover. I think that’s part of why we authors are so obsessive about the cover. And also why we get so very upset when it’s not what we were hoping for. Well, that and the fact that a cover can make or break a book.

Well, this year I’m lucky enough to have two different covers from the get go. Two pieces of art! Yay!

Why am I so lucky you ask?

Because 2009 marks the first year in which I have a book coming out at the same time in Australia and the US of A. Hence the two covers.

I never truly feel that a book is real until it has a cover. Since Liar has two it must be realer than most.

Without further ado here is the Allen & Unwin cover designed by the incredibly talented Bruno Herfst:

I love it more than I can say. It captures the book so perfectly. I asked for something spare, iconic, cool and dark. Possibly a typographical treatment. Bruno exceeded my expectations by miles. I keep staring at it cause it makes me so very happy.

There will be embossing only on the title, Liar. Won’t that pop?! Awesome.

I also think it will cross over most excellently well into the adult market. I’ve been told by several grown ups that they were a little embarrassed to be reading How To Ditch Your Fairy in public. Not a problem with this cover.

I hope youse lot like it as much as I do.

I’ll reveal the USian cover on Friday.

  1. Yes, Scott’s next book, Leviathan—out in October—is fully illustrated. Best. Art. Ever. And the rest of the book’s not bad either. []

HTDYF & Liar Audio rights sold (Updated)

I am extremely happy to let youse all know that I just said yes to a joint offer from Bolinda in Australia and Brilliance Audio in the USA to produce audio versions of How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar.

This makes me especially happy as it guarantees an Australian actor will read How To Ditch Your Fairy. Yay! It will sound the way it’s supposed to and not like Dick Van Dyke doing a cockney accent in Mary Poppins.1

Will let you know as soon as I hear when the release dates will be.

Update: It will be simultaneous with US publication on 29 September 2009.

  1. Yes, I might possibly be referring to the audio version of the Magic or Madness trilogy. I might even be implying that it’s unspeakably bad. Maybe. []

For those asking

Yes, the title of my next novel what is coming out in October is Liar. Simple but effective. Libba Bray came up with it after my title was rejected. For those of you who don’t know all my titles are rejected. I have a title curse. Libba Bray has a title fairy. She also named How To Ditch Your Fairy. Bless you, Libba!

Yes, I do still mourn (a little) for the title I gave it, Why Do I Lie?, after the Luscious Jackson song which partly inspired the novel. But nobody liked it. I can stand up to one or two nay sayers but not to everyone in the entire universe.

Yes, I will be sharing the cover shortly. There are two. One for my Australian publisher (Allen & Unwin) and one for my USian (Bloomsbury).

Yes, it will be out in October in both Australia & the USA. This is my first simultaneous publication. W00t!

Yes, it is a hardcover in the USA and C format paperback in Australia. That’s the large trade paperback format. It is the Australian equivalent of a hardcover. I have never had a book in C format before and am very excited.

Yes, there are about 400 pages.

Yes, no one actually asked that last question. But surely page count is crucial? Especially as this is my longest novel in print.

Yes, it is my first realist novel. Sort of a psychological thriller. It is much darker than any of my previous books. Bloomsbury are billing it as 14 +, which means it probably won’t find its way into middle school libraries in the USA. Allen & Unwin are hoping to attract the cross-over adult market. I’m very interested to see how that goes.

Yes, there are ARCs (Advance Research Copies) in existence in the USA and shortly in Australia. No, I am not the person to ask for one. I have none. You need to contact publicity or marketing at Allen & Unwin or Bloomsbury (childrens DOT publicity AT bloomsburyusa DOT com) depending on what country you are in.

Yes, I am very excited about Liar‘s progress over the next few months. Will anyone who enjoyed HTDYF also like Liar? Will my fans be mad at me for writing a non-fantasy? What will be the general response?

Yes, my fingers are crossed.

On the other hand, I’m more proud of this book than of any of my other books. It’s the first one entirely set in the USA with no Australian characters, which frankly was really hard. I know I did the best I’m capable of and anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.1

  1. No, I did not use any cliches like “icing on the cake” in the actual book. I promise! []

Liar is now out there

Yesterday and today at TLA (Texas Library Association) I signed 200 ARCs (advance readers copies) of Liar. That’s right, there are now copies of Liar out there in the wild.

This is a little unnerving. I’ve been thinking about Liar since I first got the idea in February 2005. Here it is just over four years later and Liar is almost a real book. Which other people will be reading soon.


I was not feeling at all nervous about Liar being read by people who aren’t my agent, publisher, or friends until I started signing the ARCs. Suddenly it dawned on me that my book—the actual solid paper thing—is now going to be read and thought about, or put down in disgust, or lost on a bus, or whatever.

This is a strange feeling. I’m deciding whether it is good or bad. I’ll let you know.

TLA has been wonderful. I particularly enjoyed today when a whole bunch of teenagers were let loose to create havoc and mayhem. They were all most excellent. I especially loved the session I did with the fabulous Neal Shusterman where we got to talk with around 40 teenagers and answer their most wondrous questions. I just hope that next time they do it there will be longer sessions.

And now I must nap before the cocktail party.

My life is hard.

In Houston

Me and Scott are in Houston for TLA (Texas Library Association). Tis much warmer than NYC. W00t! Also we’ll get to hang out with many teen librarians.1 Always a good thing.

Another w00t worthy thing: I have just learned that the ARC (advances readers’ copies) of Liar have made it to TLA. Yee hah!2 I have not actually seen it myself. So I’m eager to get my hands on a copy. Well, not eager so much as afraid. I know I’ll just open it up and go, “Crap. Typo. Also that section really doesn’t belong there. I need to move it. Another typod. Also I’m not sure this minor character’s got the right name. Perhaps I should have called them Rexford? What was I thinking! Crap. Yet another typo. And another.” Etc.

But I’m excited that people who aren’t my agent, friends, or publishers will soon be having a squizz at it. Liar is unlike anything I’ve ever written before and especially not like How To Ditch Your Fairy. Thus I am dead curious to see how people respond. I hope no one throws things at me.

Admin note: Sorry for everyone whose comments were held up in moderation yesterday. Wifi access was sketchy. I believe I have set everyone’s comment free at this time. Let me know if you still can’t find yours.

  1. To be clear, I mean librarians who specialise in books, manga, anime, etc for teenagers, rather than librarians who are teenagers. []
  2. I am in Texas, after all. Though maybe it’s not spelled “yee hah”. That looks wrong. []

Make it the best book you can

There’s a certain misery in the air right now. I’m reading it on other writer’s blogs. I’m feeling it myself. Seeing it in tweets. Hearing it in late night conversations in bars. It’s kind of everywhere. So many writers I know, or who I follow on line, or in interviews, are grappling with their own self worth as writers. If I’m not selling am I still a writer? If I can’t get published am I still a writer? If my contract got cancelled am I still a writer? If my next book doesn’t do as well as my last book am I still a writer? If I don’t win awards am I still a writer? If reviewers hate my books am I still a writer?

I myself have thwacked a few writer friends with pep talks in the last few weeks.

Actually, it’s just the one pep talk and it goes like this:

You can only control the book you write.

You can’t control whether you sell it. You can’t control how big the advance is if you sell it. You can’t control how much is spent promoting it. You can’t control how many copies Barnes & Noble takes or whether they take it at all. You can’t control whether punters buy it when it finally appears on the shelves. You can’t control the reviews. You can’t control the award committees.

Spending time and energy angsting about any of that stuff will only do your head in.

All you can do is write the very best book you can.

It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

Books with huge advances and the biggest marketing and publicity budget in the world sink like a stone. Books with nary a sheckle spent on them take off out of nowhere. Books you think are terrible do great; books you worship sell fewer than a thousand copies. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Do not let it do your head in.

Because if you believe that your worth as a writer is tied up in how well your books do even success won’t help. Do not be gloating that your book is doing better than so and so’s. That you can write full-time while they need a day job. Tables turns. So what if your current book is the hugest hit ever? What happens if the book after that isn’t? What happens if your biggest success is already behind you? Does that mean you’re not a real writer? That you’re a failure?

Elizabeth Gilbert touches on all these issues in her recent wonderful talk on genius and creativity. If you haven’t already, you really must check it out for she argues that you cannot let your sense of self get tied up in how your books do and also that it’s a pernicious myth that a creative person must be insane or damaged or both and that ultimately your art will destroy you.

It dovetails neatly with my thinking of late. Because I’ve been wondering if all the angsting that I and so many other writers do is fueled by a belief in those myths. Do we angst because we think we should? Because that’s what we’ve learned writers do? Deep in our subconscious do we believe that we’re not a real writer if we’re not suffering?

I believed it growing up. When I was young I obsessively read and re-read Katinka Matson’s Short lives: Portraits in Creativity and Self-destruction and the work of all the writers included in that book. I honestly thought that in order to be creative I would have to suffer and be self-destructive.

It bewildered me that any time actual bad things happened I found myself unable to write. I was not inspired by them, I was devastated. I have always written more prolifically and better when I’m happy. Later, much later, I could make sense of the bad things, but never at the time. Conversely I am always much happier when I’m writing a lot. When the writing is going well I’m way happier than any award or review or book sales have ever made me.

I have also discovered no correlation between how emotionally fraught it is for me to write a book and the book’s success. How To Ditch Your Fairy was the easiest and most fun book to write, thus far it’s been my most successful. Despite my struggles on the rewrite of the liar book it’s still been a much easier and more fun book to write than Magic’s Child, which was (other than my PhD thesis) my most unhappy writing experience. Rewriting the liar book’s been hard, but it’s also mostly been pretty enjoyable. Sometimes I’d really like not to be in the narrator’s head, cause, well, she’s a compulsive liar, but the tricky structure has been an excellently brain stretching experience. I’ve learned so much writing the book; I think I’m a better writer because of it. That’s very happy making.

If the liar book does well in the real world that’s great, but even if it doesn’t, I still know it’s the best book I could possibly make it.

I will admit that I have talked about writing the liar book as though I were suffering. Because I kind of thought I should be. Which is nuts.

The myth of the suffering artist is very pervasive.

But Liz Gilbert is right: it’s a stupid myth. We should forget about it. Write because you love it. Write because it’s your job. Write to produce the best books you can and to be happy with them. No matter what happens after they’re out of your control you will know that you made them as good as you knew how.

That’s the part of being a writer that is in our own hands; that’s the part that truly matters.

Women’s World Cup

Is on in Sydney and thereabouts right now. And I am not able to view ANY OF IT. Even though many of the games are dead easy to get to and cheap as chips.1

There are deadlines, there is packing, then there’s leaving of beloved Sydney and beautiful and wondrous brand new digs. So no women’s cricket for Justine. But next time, next time I will enjoy every second of it!2

I hope that the Sydney based cricket fan readers of this blog, of which I happen to know there are at least three, manage to get to some of the matches in my stead. Lucky ducks!

I get back to the never ending rewrite of tortuous horror wonderful rewrite of my next book what comes out in October and is in no way annoying me at all.

I leave you with a photo by the lovely Sarah Dollard taken from deck of brand new digs:

  1. Though had I gone to today’s Oz v NZ match at North Sydney oval I would have spent much time huddling against the rain. []
  2. Also, thank Elvis for the radio. []

Your most recent lie?

Given that my next book is about a liar, I’ve been thinking about lies and why we tell them a great deal for the last year or so. Weirdly, writing this book has made me lie less. I told Scott as much and he pointed out that I’d told a lie just 30 minutes before I told him that. But it was just a tiny lie, I said.1 Still counts, said he. He’s right. It does.

I do have a few friends who never lie. I have other friends who lie constantly. Never about anything important. They’re all social, make-people-feel-better, don’t-upset-the-apple-cart kind of lies.

What was the most recent lie you told? How long ago did you tell it? Why did you tell it?

Those of you who don’t lie and are appalled by lies no need to comment. I have heard your position put forth very strongly by my non-lying friends. I understand and sympathise. But I want to hear from the liars on this occasion.


  1. I told someone I was allergic to wheat because I didn’t want to offend them by not eating their homemade cake. []

My next book

The round up of fall books (USian for autumn) appeared in Publishers Weekly. I think that’s why I’ve been getting such an uptick in queries about my next book. Here’s what PW said about my publisher’s fall list:


Bloomsbury shows its claws with Girls Acting Catty by Leslie Margolis, a sequel to Boys R Dogs; Forest Born by Shannon Hale, fourth in the Books of Bayern fantasy series; Eat Fresh Food by Rozanne Gold, a guide for young chefs; Lady Macbeth’s Daughter by Lisa Klein, about a girl who learns of her complicated heritage; and an untitled mystery novel by Justine Larbalestier.

I’m in great company, aren’t I? Leslie Margolis, Shannon Hale, Lisa Klein! Fab writers all. I’m especially keen to get my hands on Forest Born. Or I would be if I was allowed to read books that weren’t set in the 1930s in New York. Le sigh. Lucky for me, Eric Luper’s Bug Boy will be out fairly soon (great cover, Eric!), which is not only set in New York (in Saratoga) but also in the 1930s. Thank you, Eric!

I’m a bit shocked, though, that PW were so revealing about my book. So many spoilers! Why would you guys want to read it now?! Sheesh.

Heh hem. To answer the queries I’ve been getting:

    Q: When is your next book out?

    A: September in the US of A; October in Australia. (That’s right for once my country folk don’t have to wait very long at all. W00t! Hopefully from now on all my books will come out at roughly the same time in both countries.)

    Q: What’s it called?

    A: Sekrit!

    Q: A mystery? Does that mean there’s a murder in it?

    A: Could be.

    Q: Are there weasels?

    A: What kind of a question is that?

    Q: Quokkas?

    A: You’re just being silly now. Either ask a sensible question or don’t ask any at all!


    A: Fine, then.

To sum up I have a book coming out in September which may or may not be about a murder. It’s title is ” ” and this is what the cover looks like:

I hope we’re all clear now.

Flying things seen from our flat

flying foxes
myna birds (alas)
white ibis
rainbow lorikeets
sulphur crested cockatoos

Heard but not seen:


We’ve learned that the flying foxes fly past at the same height as our flat—so we can see and hear them clearly—mostly when it’s raining or there’s low cloud cover. They’re way up high when the skies are clear. So, um, there has been much praying for rain. There weren’t nearly as many flying foxes in Sydney when I was a kid so I never get tired of seeing them.

Same for rainbow lorikeets. They’ve been everywhere over the last week. Yesterday they decided to distract me by landing on our deck directly in front of where I sat writing on our couch. I mean seriously how am I supposed to keep working with them frolicking about in front of me? Here’s a photo Scott took after I called for him to come down from the study and check ’em out:

And here’s a close up:

They hung around for about half an hour. Chirping to each other and to the other lorikeets perched on nearby buildings. Um, no, I got no work done during that time.

Why, yes, I am loving our new digs. It’s amazing how having a view changes everything.

And, I kid you not, another flock of ’em flew past just as I was about to publish this. Their brilliant greens, reds, blues and yellows even more intense against the grey sky. Leaving this place is going to be such a wrench. I want to stay forever.


I have an older character, who lives in upstate NY and has pretty much her whole life, who refers to jeans as “dungarees”. I had her use that word after consulting with friends from upstate who remembered people of their grandparents’ generation and older using that word. I have been challenged on this by someone who thought the word was Australian. Absolutely not.1

I’m looking for more evidence than just my upstate New Yorker friends’ say so. Thus far I’ve found this in wikipedia which lists the word as archaic for the New York City area. But am coming up blank on other supporting evidence.

Can any of you help me?

Thanks in advance!

  1. I suspect I’m going to cop that a lot with the Liar book—people assuming I’ve gotten things wrong—like having New Yorkers saying they’re waiting “on line”—when, in fact, I’ve gotten it right, but they just don’t happen to know some of the local New Yorker dialect. Many USians assume that all USians talk the same. So not true! []

JWAM reader request no. 26: Bringing it altogether

Kim says:

How do you organize all the jumbles of idea generating, plot generating, character generating, and so on, in order to see what you have, so you can then take it and put it all together somehow? In my example, I have a 100 page document focused on one story (one novel) only. It has snippets of scenes, plot ideas, potential background for characters, what ifs and opposing what ifs, outlines and ideas for character’s backgrounds, and so on and so forth. Again, it’s specifically focused on one novel and one story idea, but it also includes multiple options for that novel and story idea etc. I’m finding that I can’t move forward with structuring this story without knowing what I even have, i.e. being able to SEE it so that I can make CHOICES about all of the above. I have never quite seen this problem addressed anywhere. I’ve seen info. on generating plot and characters, generating ideas, how to outline, how to write a synopsis etc., but no one tells you what to do with the disorganized mess you create when you’ve done all of the above. How do YOU do it? And have you heard of genius ways others have done it? How do you take your idea-generating mess and turn it into something cohesive to work from?

Eep. Wow, what a question. I suspect I’m not the right person to answer this because I don’t write this way and never have. If there are any writers who do, please speak up in the comments. I would love to hear different takes on this question and I’m sure Kim would too.

With that in mind, Kim, and taking everything that follows with a truckload of salt, my first thought was Scrivener, which is a software package for writers that allows you to bring all your novel materials together so you can see them all and get on with your writing. Here’s my post on Scrivener and why I find it so useful.1

WARNING: Scrivener is only for Macs, but there is similar software for PCs. (If you go here and scroll down you’ll find a list of such software.)

You’re drowning in too much stuff, what this software will allow you to do is immediately separate out your background material from the actual matter of your novel. I would put everything that isn’t actual scenes into research or some other folder. You need to get all your meta-material cleared away from your actual book. You especially need to clear away anything that isn’t directly related to the book your writing.

The important thing is that you find some way to get an overview of your novel so that you’re able to see the forest and not get lost looking at the trees, or worse, the bark and the leaves, or, worse still, the veins of the leaves, and the insects living under the bark, and the parasites dwelling in those insectes and, well, you get the idea. You need a global view too!

I used to advocate the use of a spreadsheet. But no longer use it because of Scrivener.

Sherwood Smith, who is a wonderful writer and very thoughtful and smart about it also has a response to your question over on her blog. Several of her readers have chimed in.

I hope some other writers will chime in here with helpful suggestions.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

  1. Note for Mitch Wagner: I will write more about how Scrivener changed my writing, but as it’s so tied up with how I wrote the liar novel, I thought I’d save it for closer to that book’s release date. []

JWAM reader request no. 14: Similes

Michelle says

Hi, Justine! You probably don’t remember me, but I started the Westerboard 2 years ago and had lunch at a mexican restaurant with you and Scott that summer in Hell’s Kitchen after the writing conference in the Algonquin Hotel.

I’m currently working on writing my first novel, and came across your blog! I’m so excited to read about the writing process from someone who’s been there (and has done it right.) One topic I would like to see addressed––and I don’t know if this makes sense––is how to find great similes to create good imagery. I’ve been analyzing young adult fiction books and comparing them to what I’m writing, and I’m having a difficult time finding comparisons that make sense and have that extra pizazz to bring a book to life. Do they just come to you, or do you have some sort of process on coming up with them?

I don’t know if that’s something that can be taught or if it’s just natural, but I figure it can’t hurt to ask.

Of course I remember you, Michelle!

Now to your question: it’s not one I’ve been asked before. It’s not one I’ve thought about either, and the more I think about it the harder I find answering it. Mostly, I think, because similes are more frequently overused than underused. The idea of propagating more seems wicked.

I definitely notice them more when they’re are too many, which happens a lot. (It’s my most frequent note for Scott—less similes, please!) Raymond Chandler was notorious for his similes. Personally, I love them but it’s true that he sometimes slipped over the edge into self parody. Here’s one of my favourites. Though many believe it crosses over the parody line:

    Moose Malloy “looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food”.

Isn’t that perfect? A giant hairy spider looming over the food of an angel! Of course, you’d notice that. It’s a simile I’ve never forgotten. But, like I say, many consider it to be overwritten.

I don’t consciously write similes and going through the pages of a few of my novels I see that’s because I don’t use them often. Why do you want to write similes? There are many wonderful writers who are very spare in their use of similes and other kinds of metaphors. It’s absolutely fine to describe something directly and not in terms of something else. Just because you see a lot of similes in YA does not mean that you have to deploy lots of ’em in order to write YA.

Similes can backfire. I’m often pulled up by a simile that doesn’t work. I put a novel down because it described something being as “black as velvet”. Really? I thought. But not all velvet is black. I’d recently been out with a friend who was wearing a black velvet dress which in certain lights had a rust-red sheen through it. Was that the kind of black the writer meant? Or did they mean black as solid black velvet with no coloured sheens in it? Then why didn’t they say as black as a solid black velvet coat? Probably because that’s clunky and the writer’s not assuming that someone as annoyingly picky and literal-minded as me is going to read them.

Here’s another recent one that threw me out of the story: His emotions rumbled like thunder. Really? Some thunder is sudden, extremely loud, and doesn’t rumble at all. It’s one giant house-shaking clap and then gone, leaving nothing behind but the echo in your ears. Only to repeat several beats later and scare the bejesus out of you even though you knew it was coming. But that ain’t rumbling. Thunder that rumbles is further away. Does the writer mean his thoughts are rumbling in the distance like a storm on it’s way out (or in)? But in context the rumbling was continual. The character had a big problem that wouldn’t go away and that they couldn’t stop thinking about. The thunder simile did not evoke that for me. It felt clumsy and unthought through. I put the book down.

Similes are also a double-edged sword because on the one hand they should be familiar enough to evoke something for the reader, but on the other they should not be so familiar they’re worn out. A scary number of similes are cliches: “black as coal”, “black as tar”, “black as night”. When I see a lot of them in the one story I assume the writer is just phoning it in. If they can’t be arsed thinking about they’re writing, then I can’t be arsed reading it.

Not only is “black as night” a cliche. It’s not a very accurate one. Night often isn’t black at all. Especially not in the city. Sometmes it’s not that black way out in the country if the sky is clear, the stars are bright, and the moon full.

Her skin was white as snow is another one that drives me spare. Not only is this one overworked past death, but it it doesn’t ring true. I’ve never seen anyone whose skin was the same white as freshly fallen snow. White skin isn’t actually white no matter how pale. I happen to have very pale skin. I am holding my arm up to a piece of white paper. Guess what? They’re not the same colour.

On the other hand, I’m very fond of “dumb as a stone”. Yup, it gets used lots, but for me it still works and evokes exactly what it should, plus it always makes me smile for, yes, I have met stone-dumb people in a way I have not met flame-haired or indigo-eyed people. I am very fond of smile-inducing similes.

Try to describe what you see and smell and taste and hear. If you find yourself writing about coal-black hair or emerald green eyes, STOP. Go find someone with really black hair or really green eyes. Does it really look like coal? Like emeralds? I doubt it. Eyes are never one colour. And even the blackest hair can look different in different lights.

I think the best similes are the ones you’ve never read before that conjure a clear and fresh image. That’s why I like Moose Malloy looking like a tarantula on angel food. It makes me think of someone big and dangerous and hairy. People who are as cunning as foxes, radiant as the sun, and have blood-red lips, that doesn’t evoke anything for me except a desire to read something else.

To sum up: similes can go a long, long way. Less is more! (Unless you’re Raymond Chandler.) Cliches should be avoided especially in simile form, and go read Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye.1

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

  1. Though “erotic as a stallion” is a simile to be avoided. []

JWAM reader request no. 12: Choosing ideas

Sky says:

As a writer, you must have tons of ideas. You probably think of dozens of new things you could use in your writing every day. How do you choose just one to start? What separates that idea from the rest of the things that floated into your brain?

This is one I was asked recently. It’s at the top of the writing FAQ:

    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?

    A: 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. That book will be out in (the USian) autumn of 2009.

    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.

But I realise I have a bit more to say on the subject. Namely that one idea isn’t enough for a novel. If you only have one idea then what you have is a haiku not a novel. (And that’s unfair to haikus.) I’ve had the idea for the liar novel since early 2005. I imagined a character who at the outset of her story declares that she’s a liar but that she’s not going to do it anymore. She’s turning over a new leaf. She then starts telling her story only to pause a couple of chapters later to say, “So I think I’m doing pretty well so far. But, um, you know how I said that I’m eighteen? Well, actually, I’m fourteen, which is practically eighteen so it’s not that big of a lie.” And so on and so forth.

Except that she didn’t have a story. I needed more than my unreliable compulsive liar protag; I needed a reason for her to lie. I wasn’t able to start writing in late 2007—almost three years after the initial idea—until I had that second idea. And I wasn’t able to keep writing the novel until I had a bunch more ideas.

A novel requires more than one idea.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

JWAM reader request no. 7: The storyless character

Dahlia Says:

Justine, what do you do when you have a great character but no story to put them in???
It’s a question that’s been bugging me for about a year, which is the amount of time I’ve had a plotless character in my head that I really want to write about… but can’t.
I don’t have anywhere to put her.

Hmmm. Tricky. I do touch on this with the ideas post and also the one on how to get unstuck. There’s much about plot generation there.

Maybe you should plonk your character down in a fairy-tale plot and see what happens? Holly Black did that with Valiant, reworking “Beauty and the Beast” to most excellent effect. (I adore that book.)

One of the satisfying things about rewriting a familiar story is how it can surprise you. Because your character is not Cinderella or Puss’n’Boots when you put them in their shoes you’ll find your character has transformed the story so that’s it’s almost unrecognisable. It took me awhile to realise that Valiant was a rewrite of “Beauty and the Beast”. (I can be thick that way.)

It could be that the book for this particular character of yours just isn’t ready yet. Perhaps you need longer than a year to think and mull and let the story grow. It took me three years before I was ready to write the Liar book.

Often I just start typing in the character’s voice and the story starts to unfold and take me in unexpected directions. How To Ditch Your Fairy started with Charlie ranting about how much she hates her parking fairy. Her voice was clear and strong right from the beginning. I knew instantly who she was, but I had to figure out where she was, why she wanted to get rid of her fairy so much, and what would happen when she did. What is now the third chapter of the book was the first thing I wrote.

On the other hand, I’ve also started writing a character and gotten no further than that. Back in the olden days, I had loads of characters who never found a short story to live in, let alone a novel. They were nothing more than character sketches. But they taught me a lot about writing people and dialogue.

As I’ve discussed, there are many ways to generate story. Throwing things at your character teaches you a lot about them (Aristotle’s drama is character revealed through action yet again). Make their life complicated. Give them relatives, friends, impediments, responsibilities, a shitty job.

When I started Magic or Madness, Reason was on her own a lot. It was really boring. So I added another character, Tom, who pushed the plot in all sorts of interesting directions. There’s nothing more boring than one person in a room. Add another one. Add two. Why not four? Have them argue. Right there you have the plot engine of Scott’s Midnighters series: five midnighters arguing with each other for three books.

More people = more complications = more plot.

Whenever I’m stuck I throw more stuff in. That’s the engine of all novels: more stuff being thrown in. Take Pride & Prejudice. Pretty early on you learn that there’s a husband and a wife with five daughters. She’s hellbent on getting them married off. He’s worried about them not being provided for, though is too lazy to do much about it. Two new marriage prospects come to town. One of the daughters falls for one of them and he for her. One of them is slighted by the other new bloke in town.

More and more stuff keeps happening. More blokes are thrown into the mix, as well as aunts and uncles, also illness, vapours, marriage proposals, refusals, acceptances, elopements, miscommunications, lies, zombies. More and more complications. So it goes until the book reaches its climax, resolving the miscommunications and complications, and rushing (too quickly!) to its end.

Your character needs other people, other stuff, a quest, a band, a mission, a zombie apocalypse to react against in order to have a story. Your job is to get them out of the blank white room and into a wider (and hopefully exploding) universe.

Good luck!

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

JWAM reader request no. 1: Choosing povs

Malcolm Tredinnick Says:

Picking a point of view and how you learnt to work with the different types would be something I’d be interested to hear about. As a reader, I kind of know when the point of view works for the story and when it doesn’t, but I don’t really know how consciously writers make the choice or how you do it.

Hmmm, a tricky one first up. Curses!

I think I may have mentioned that for most of my writing life i.e since I was five and first started, I wrote short stories, not novels. I’d start many but not finish them. But I finished hundreds of short stories. None of them were much good as stories, but they were excellent for learning stuff like how to use the different points of view.

And, wow, did I. I even have a few stories written in second person. Those were on purpose experiments, but in my early days I did lots of experimenting without knowing what I was doing. I would change points of view willy nilly. One minute a story would be in first, and then in limited third, and them in omniscient. I’d write from Jack’s pov, then Chan’s, then Jill’s, then Kara’s. Sometimes all in the one paragraph. Those stories were mostly unreadable, but slowly I started to learn my way around the four basic povs.

In those early bouncing-around-all-over-the-place stories I had no control over what I was doing with pov. I didn’t notice the constant changing. That was something I learnt by writing all those bad stories.

How does that translate to what I write now?

The first draft of Magic or Madness was written in third person. I also thought the book was going to be entirely from Reason’s pov. I wound up with Reason’s voice being in first and the two other pov characters, Tom and Jay-Tee, being in third. I’m not sure how that happened. Reason just wasn’t working in third. Her voice seemed flat. As soon as I tried shifting it to first, the book took off. I’d found the right voice.

I think my struggle to find the right voice for Reason stems from the trilogy beginning life as a set of ideas, rather than with a specific character. Both How To Ditch Your Fairy and the Liar book began with the strong voice of the protag. Both are in first person. It never occurred to me to change. Didn’t need to.

Scott says he uses first person when the book is more digressive—So Yesterday, Peeps—it allows him to stop the narrative and say, “Hey, let me tell you this cool thing.” He uses third when the narrative has more of a straight drive, like the Midnighters and Uglies books.

My current novel is (at least partly) in omniscient. It’s big with a large cast of characters. I believe that omniscient is the point of view best suited to epics. I think Dunnett’s and Pullman’s1 deployment of it is a large part of what gives those books their distinctive epic feel. If I can make it work even half as well as they do I’ll be home and hosed.

I’m loving writing in omni. I love being able to move from a close in view of a character’s thoughts all the way out to a sweeping view of the city and that character’s place in it. Omniscient feels like the most metaphysical point of view. The most flexible too. It allows for straight driving narrative, digressions, whatever I want to do with it. Right now I am deeply in love and feel that it is perfectly suited to the huge story I am attempting to tell. Bless you, omni!

Hope that answers your question, Malcolm.

NOTE: Please ask your writing questions over here. It’s easier for me to keep track of them and answer them in order if they’re all at the end of that one post. Thanks! I’m taking writing advice quessies for the whole of January.

  1. in His Dark Materials []

Outlining v winging it

One of the conversations that I have most frequently with my good friend, Diana Peterfreund, is about our different writing methods. She’s an outliner; I wing it.

Tis most excellent fun talking writing with her precisely because we could not be more different. So different that we frequently wind up talking at cross purposes. Last time we had this discussion we got hung up on the phrase “first draft”. Turns out that what she means by “first draft” is not what I mean.

Because Diana outlines she figures out much of the novel before she begins writing. I figure things out as I write the first draft. Thus my first drafts—zero drafts really—are frequently messy conversation spines. A large part of what I do when I rewrite my first draft is make it coherent. Describe where the conversations are taking place, illuminate thought processes—flesh the skeleton out.

Diana’s already figured out most of that stuff before she types a word. She has a clear vision of her book before she starts writing. I have only the haziest of notions, which changes as I write. I had no idea when I started writing How To Ditch Your Fairy that a large part of would take place at a sports high school in an alternative universe in the city of New Avalon. I found all of that out as I wrote.

Diana’s “first draft” is much closer to the final book because she wasn’t figuring stuff out as she went along; my “first draft” is a mess. So when she says she doesn’t like to change her first draft too much I think she’s insane. Because I keep forgetting that her first draft is not a broken mess like mine.

On occasion I am made to write an outline or a proposal by my agent or editor. I hate writing them more than anything in the whole world. I would much rather write the book than a description of it. The reason for this is that I don’t know what the book will be until I write it. Writing a description of the book before writing it is pretty much impossible for me.

Diana, on the other hand, loves proposals, outlines and the like. They make her excited about writing the book. Whereas I see them as something that gets in the way of writing a book. I sold the Magic or Madness trilogy before I wrote it on the basis of a proposal, which consisted of the first three chapters, an outline, and short descriptions of the world. It was some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done. Writing the first three chapters was easy. Writing the rest of the proposal was nightmarish. The only way I could do it was to tell myself that the outline was an advertisement for the book, not a description of the book.

I never looked at it again. It did its job of selling the book; I did mine of writing it. Never did the twain meet.

I’m not exactly sure what Diana’s planning and outlining looks like, though she has posted pictures of her plot board. It seems crazy detailed. I’m not even sure how I’d go about doing that. Though sometimes I make notes before I start writing.

My notes for the Liar book start on the 24th of February 2005. I wrote seven short notes—jotting down ideas and a few lines—before I started writing in earnest at the beginning of this year. Those notes amount to a few hundred words (to put that in perspective this post is more than 900). That was my planning. Except that the first time I read those notes again was for writing this post. The point for me is not the notes, but the act of writing them. I remember because I wrote them down, which means I don’t have to look at them again.

It’s not until I have a completed first draft that I get serious about planning. In my pre-Scrivener days that’s when I’d start using a spreadsheet to map out the structure of the book and see where and how it was broken. With Scrivener the structure is plain to see—on the cork board—-making the spreadsheet redundant.

So my outlining and planning stage comes after writing the book. Diana’s comes before. Which makes me wonder if our novel-writing methods are actually that different. What she works out in her head, or on paper, or plot board before beginning the actual writing; I do during the writing. I nail down the structure once I have a draft. Whereas Diana does it before she begins the draft.

All the same things are happening just in a different order.

Maybe winging it and outlining are identical methods put into practice in a different order? Maybe all novelists write in the exact same way but merely change the order? Maybe we are all the same?! Me and Diana and Jean Rhys and Vladimir Nabokov, all identical!

Or maybe not.

Heh hem.

Either way my method is the best method. I’ll get back to applying it to my latest novel now.


Title of liar book

So I may have mentioned that my title for the liar book, Why Do I Lie?, was rejected by my publisher and by most of the people who’ve read the book.1 We’ve been on the hunt for a new title and may, at long last, have settled on one.


  1. Curse you all! []