BookPeople questions we ran out of time to answer

Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.

Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.

Questions for Justine:

Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?

A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.

Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?

There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”

A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?

I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.

Questions for Scott:

Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?

A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.

Q: Why did you k*** Z***?

A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.

So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?

A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )

Questions for both Justine and Scott:

Q: Are you friends with any other authors?

Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.

Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.

Q: Is there any news on a movie?

Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.

Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.

Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).

But no auditions yet!

Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?

Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.

I guess I let people bully me!

Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.

Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?

Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:

  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
  • Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
  • Write a lot.
  • Learn how to critique other people’s work.
  • Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!

Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.

Q: Which is your favourite cover?

Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.

Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.

The full story can be found here.

Q: Why are most of your protagonists girls?

Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.

I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!

Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.

Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.

Deadline: Next Friday

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

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

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

Right then, back to the grindstone goes me.

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

Who am I kidding?

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

But who am I kidding?

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

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

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

Let it end now, please.

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

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

Too interesting

I’ve been trying to diagnose my current writing woes. While, yes, there has been an insane amount of admin, travel, and the site disasters of the last two days1 have not been helpful, but they’re not the cause, they’re just hindrances.

This is my current theory:

The world I’m living in right now is much more interesting than any world I could write.

I can’t look away from the election. From the world financial crisis. From all the crazy stuff that’s going on.

Is anyone else having the same problem?

  1. Plus now having to look for a new webhost []

It’s just wrong

Even though I am much better at writing novels than I’ve ever been before it’s still insanely hard. Actually, it’s MUCH harder than it used to be when I didn’t realise how hard it was. Why? It makes NO sense!

Right now, stuck in the middle of rewriting the Liar novel, I have the distinct sense that I’ve exceeded my skill set. I simply don’t have the writerly chops to get this book to where it needs to be. Yet tragically, the only way I can get to the level of skill I need to be at is to, well, rewrite this book.

Did your head just explode? I know mine did.

To make me feel better I think you should all go to Holly Black’s blog and vote for her to watch Shaun of the Dead. She is afraid of zombies and attempting to conquer her fears. Let’s make her do it! Her other options, quite frankly, are deeply lame.

You will watch Shaun of the Dead, Holly, oh yes, you will!

Dream Sequences

Riddle me this:

Why do I so often think that a dream sequence will solve my plot problems when as a reader I hate dream sequences?


Yeah, I just deleted the dream sequence.

A most excellent day

The sun is shining, the sky is clear, you can see the entire length of the avenue, the Chrysler Building gleams and last night the New York Liberty made it into the conference finals. Let’s go, Liberty! (And San Antonio got through to their conference finals. Oh, how I long for those two to meet in the WNBA finals. That would make my year!)

My editor loves my new book, work is going great on the even newer book—how much fun is it researching NYC in the thirties? VERY FUN—and HTDYF keeps getting lovely reviews. In my world everything is fabulous.1

How about youse lot? I had to shut down the old Good News post on account of evil spam so why not tell me your good news and sources of happiness here instead?

Me, I’m turning the computer off and going out to enjoy the glorious, glorious day!



  1. *Cough* It helps to not read newspapers or news blogs. []

Popular versus critical acclaim

There’s an excellent post by the whip-smart1 Sherwood Smith on this hoary toothed and clawed subject generating much excellent discussion. It’s mostly been said over there but I cannot resist adding my tuppence worth.2

Firstly, the discussion over there is in terms of “award winning”. As Sherwood acknowledges, I think this is a problem because all awards are not created equal. There are a number of awards such as the Quills for example which explicitly go to popular books. Some awards are voted on, some are juried with a different jury every year, some have the same jury for years. Some awards have huge amounts of prestige, some no one’s ever heard of. Some awards will make a book popular if they win it. The Booker in the UK and the Newberry in the USA create bestsellers every year and keep books in print for decades. “Award-winning” and “popular” are not (necessarily) oppositional terms.

But the question is usually a hypothetical and assumes that you can have one or the other but not both: Would you rather be a bestseller or be critically acclaimed?

Every writer I know says bestseller because that means money and making a living. The question winds up sounding like, Would you rather eat well for the rest of your life or have one perfect meal and then starve? Most sane people are gunna say, “No to starving. I wants to live!”

The question also makes assumptions about the kind of books that are critically acclaimed versus those that are popular. I see many DREADFUL shockingly written books get critical acclaim and awards, while there are also gorgeously written books that sell bucketloads.3

The concept of the “commercial fiction” writer comes up in the discussion on Sherwood’s blog and how they are generally not respected etc. etc. This has a lot to do with what field you write in.4 Commercial fiction is usually taken to encompass the genres: crime, romance, fantasy, sf etc. It’s a bit of a misnomer because some genres sell better than others—sf is in the doldrums right now and most sf writers are hardpressed to make a living. Does that still make them commercial? And what about literary writer Cormac McCarthy writing a science fiction novel? Does that make him a commercial writer? Cause he sure is making a lot of money. Also in crime in particular there are many writers who are critical darlings such as Richard Price. Does his award-winning critically-acclaimed work lift him up from being a “commercial” writer and deposit him in the lofted halls of the literary?

I am a commercial fiction writer producing YA. Within my field I have won awards, been totally ignored by other awards, been critically acclaimed, been critically dumped on, and had one book sell bigger than expectations5 as well as in many non-English speaking markets, as well as had books sell only so-so, as well as totally bomb in some markets6. In my very small way7 I’m both popular-ish (though by no means a best-seller) and critically acclaimed-ish.

Within my field I’m slightly known; outside my field, of course, I am unknown. There are at most three YA writers with name recognition outside the land of YA: Stephenie Meyer, Philip Pullman, and J. K. Rowling. There are, of course, other big names in my field: Meg Cabot, Sarah Dessen, Garth Nix, Christopher Paolini, Scott Westerfeld. But, trust me, when I mentioned their names to readers who don’t know YA8 they’ve never heard of them.

What does this all mean? I have no idea. I’m thinking out loud here. *Heh hem.*

The two categories are slippery. How popular do you have to be to merit the term? How critically acclaimed? The category of bestseller is notoriously slippery. The New York Times‘s methods for deciding border on voo doo. I know people who are USA Today bestsellers but not NYT bestsellers and vice versa.

Most of the writers I know don’t obsess as much as you’d think about being either a bestseller or critically acclaimed. They want to be able to make a living at writing and they want to be able to do it while writing the best books they possibly can. Naturally, we all mean something very different by that. Both what it takes to make a living and what constitutes a good book.

Those two things are a big enough struggle. The vast majority of published writers do not make a living from writing. And most of us struggle to meet our own standards of good bookness. Though writing the best we can is usually the only thing we have any control over.

Speaking of which, I have a zero draft of the Liar book to make good.


  1. What is so smart about whips? []
  2. I realise that I have never in my life so much as seen a tuppence. Never mind . . . []
  3. Why, yes, I am not going to give examples. You know I don’t say mean things about living writers. Well, okay, I have mentioned my disagreements with OSC but I have not dissed his books on account of I haven’t read them. []
  4. Romance writers are not dissed for being commercial writers within the romance field. []
  5. The expectations were low. []
  6. France and Taiwan. []
  7. At this moment in time. It could all go pear-shaped. []
  8. And who don’t have teenage kids []

Jesus played cricket

And the liar novel is almost finished. I’d say all’s right with the world, wouldn’t you?

He notes that in the Armenian Gospel of the Infancy, translated into Armenian in the 6th century from a much older lost Syriac original, a passage tells of Jesus playing what may well be the precursor of cricket, with a club and ball. (Via Lili.)

Sounds like a hundred per cent conclusive evidence of Jesus playing cricket to me.

I got nothing

Well, I got lots of things but a couple of them are embargoed. [[Kicks embargos]] And most of them are all about the book I am currently writing (more than 70 thou words now) which is deadly dull to anyone other than the person what’s writing the book, which would be me.

Ordinarily I would demand that you lot entertain me, but seeing as at the moment I only emerge from the bunker to have a brief squiz at the internets for a few minutes of every day . . . So how about you entertain yourselves?

Or something.

I returns to bunker. Is happy there. Warm. Filled with writing vitamins. Mmmm . . . bunker.

Writing goals

A while back I said that one of my writing goals was to publish a book in every one of the following genres. Here’s the updated list with more genres crossed off cause I done ’em in How To Ditch Your Fairy:1

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller (the John Grisham, Tom Clancy etc etc genre2
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy (do you call ’em comedies if they’re books?)
  • Horror
  • Mainstream (you know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis)
  • Western
  • YA

For those keeping track I crossed off “romance”, “comedy” and “SF”. Three down with the one book! How clever am I?

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

Sadly, HTDYF is in first person so nothing to cross off there. Poo. But soon, my pretties, soon.

As well as these:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series

Score! HTDYF is a standalone. Now I only have to write a series and that list will be taken care of. Piece of cake.

Crossing things of lists is my favourite thing in the whole world. Almost as good as passing the 65,000 word mark on your latest novel. 65k is a landmark for me because that’s how long my first three published novels are. I passed it today. Woo hoo!

  1. Yes, I know HTDYF isn’t pub’d yet, but, c’mon, it’s only a month away! []
  2. I’m using “genre” and “category” interchangably cause now that I’m no longer an academic—I can. []

The next next novel (updated)

Because I am nearing the end of my next novel, and fast approaching my deadline, naturally my mind has turned to the novel I’ll be writing after this one. It will be set in New York City in the 1930s. Yup, I’ll be trying my hand at some historical fiction. Why not, eh? After all, it’s on my list.

And like, Cassie, who’s preparing for her next novel by only reading books about or set in Victorian England, I’m going to only read Depression era New York City books. Though because I am cunning I also get to watch many of my fave movies from the 1930s. An astonishing number of which are set in NYC. Damn I’m good.

I need no help with movie recs but I’d love to get recommendations for books, especially non-fiction such as histories and journals and collections of letters from that era. Novels would be fab as well. Preferably written and published then, but if a book is particularly good just set then should be fine.


Update: Thanks so much for all the suggestions. Just to be clear: New York City recs only. I have no need for general US recommendations. And as I said I’m especially interested in primary sources: letters, diaries etc. Thanks again for all the help.

News from the writing bunker

Both Scott and me are writing up storms, or, you know, novels. Our bunker is excellently designed, being gorgeous, with great views, comfy writing spots, and NO internet access. It’s brilliant: we get so bored we can’t help but write.

I am now five stories away from the bunker in the secret place of wifi access. I have snuck out while Scott’s not looking to have a peek at the wider world and to see what’s happening here on me blog. Thanks much for all the fascinating comments on previous post. The discussion has left me feeling much more relaxed about the writers I refuse to read. I am zen.

I wonder how zen Stephenie Meyer is feeling? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a negative reaction to the final book in a series before. I’ve seen Scott cop some flack because of the way he ended the Uglies and Midnighters series but wow the response to Breaking Dawn is, um, intense.

The whole thing makes me grateful that I’m not nearly as popular as Meyer (or Scott for that matter). What would it be like to have your fans turn on you? I mean the Amazon reviews are dripping with anger. I’ll be honest: I feel awful for Meyer. Negative reviews are hard to weather at the best of times. Plus everyone I know who’s met her has said what a lovely person she is.1

I feel like saying to her fans: Relax, it’s just a book! But that would be hypocrisy of the worst kind because I felt the same way about the third book in His Dark Materials. You betrayed me, Mr Pullman! How could you? I WILL NEVER READ YOU AGAIN! Which was a lie, but I was ANGRY.

The Twilight phenomenon has been fascinating. There are thousands reading for pleasure now who weren’t before Meyer’s books came along. It’s a wondrous thing. Other than Harry Potter these are the bestselling children’s/YA books we’ve seen in a long time. I’m wondering if this last book has ended the phenomenon. It seems unlikely. I’m also wondering if we’re going to see another such hugely successful YA series. Or if Potter & Twilight are it for the next decade or so.

And now I must return to the bunker. But before I go I’ll note that there have been some particularly nasty spam attacks. Sorry if your comment winds up in moderation as a result. I promise to free it ASAP. And sorry too for all those unanswered emails. When the book is done I will catch up. Promise.

  1. Not that this would be fun for her if she wasn’t lovely . . . []

From an undisclosed location

Scott and me has run away to finish our novels at an undisclosed location. Posting from behind the walls of our hidden bunker may be intermittent and on the shortish side. Book must be finished on the soonish.

In the meantime, it is conclusive, “monster” and “white-ant” are verbs only in Australia. For confused non-Australians a white ant is a termite. Thus to white-ant someone is to undermine them: to bore away at their foundations, you know, like termites do. Is most useful verb.

Thanks for the Cadel Evans commiserations. Second two years running. Surely next year.

Yes, I is stoked that the Liberty are in the second place in the Eastern conference. Here’s hoping we come out after the Olympics break ready to take over first place from smelly Connecticut.

Here’s hoping youse lot are happy wherever in the world you are. I sure am.

Quick stuff

I may not be blogging so much for the next few weeks. I is busy. Plus book still not writing itself. But here’s some links for youse:

  • Maureen weighs in on the should-you-major-in-creative-writing-for-your-undergraduate-degree debate and manages (as usual) to be both funny and wise.
  • Rethinking basketball, my new fave WNBA blog, talks about last night’s Detroit-LA brawl. I disagree that it will have a negative effect on attendance, but I do worry that they’ll wind up over-officiating games to make up for last night’s shoddy under officiating.
  • Publishers Weekly has named How To Ditch Your Fairy one of the wackiest Fall titles they’ve come across more specifically it’s the “Least Practical DIY Guide”. Via way too many folks to thank all of ’em.

You may have noticed I haven’t gotten around to answering all those excellent quessies for my FAQ. It will happen! In the meantime feel free to hit me with more quessies.

And now I must write book while listening to the Liberty defeat the Mystics.

Live long and marry auction

The Live Long and Marry auction has topped $30,000 46,000. Wow. That’s just astonishing. Thirty thousand dollars! Forty-six thousand dollars!

For those who are curious: the winning bid to have me name a character after you (or something) went for $225. (Gulp.) So the biology teacher in my next novel, who already had a Japanese name, is now named Yayeko Shoji after the bidder’s mother.

Great name, huh? I’m very pleased it worked out. I was worried I’d wind up with an unusable name, you know, like BrushWithDeath Mergatroid. But it worked out perfectly. Happiness for everyone.

Here’s hoping that this nasty anti-love initiative to strip people of the right to marry is defeated.

Another reason books are teh devil

Just when you’re approaching the end of one book and you really must give that book all your time and all your brain, another one comes along and starts insisting you write it instead.

This is WRONG and must stop. IMMEDIATELY.

Bugger off, stupid new book. GO AWAY!

Book = Teh Devil

Libba Bray likens writing a book to a love affair complete with the foul ending where everything goes pear shaped.1

Libba’s analogy does not work for me. It is too kind. It also implies that the author is some how at fault when the affair sours and ends. Au contraire.

The truth is that books are Satan. Or at least devils of some particularly nasty kind. Mine keep demanding bits of my body. And those demands escalate.

Initially they just want some hair, the odd fingernail, dead skin cells. That’s cool. I have a lot of hair. Fingernails grow back. I don’t even mind when it steps up to wanting all my fingernails down to the quick.

But right now it’s after my muscles. As in, it seems much happier when every muscle in my back and shoulders and neck is locked in place and I cannot move anything but my typing fingers and the muscles that make my eyes move. See? It has everything it needs to continue to be written but I’m incapable of doing anything else.

Cunning, eh?

This happens every single time with every single book. When my neck stopped moving on Monday, Scott sighed, looked at his watch and said, “It’s that week, isn’t it? I’ll be getting you a massage appointment then, won’t I?”

The devil books Maureen writes also freeze her muscles though the current one added a new variation when it threw in a dread skin disease. Sometimes the devil books we write visit even nastier afflictions upon us: like Scott‘s and Cassie‘s shingles. I have even heard of some writers being struck with leprosy and bubonic plague.

I am not complaining, and require no sympathy, think of this instead as a gentle warning to anyone foolish enough to want to make a career out of dealing with the devil writing books.

Gotta dash, book’s demanding blood.

  1. Yes, I’m doing it again, linking to someone what just linked to me. But, see, Libba and me are gunna get married and engaged people can do the mutual linky thing to their heart’s content. It’ll even be in our wedding vows. []

Time is running out

If you would like me to name a character (or something) after you in my next novel you’d better hurry up and bid. I mean, if you can afford it. The bidding is now at—I swear I am not making this up—US$150.

You have until one minute past midnight on 15 July USA Pacific time to place your bids.

There are also many other amazing things up for auction. Including a map that Tamora Pierce put together for her book Trickster’s Queen. The bidding for it is currently at US$175. Personally, I think it’s worth more.

There are also all sorts of fabulous goodies over there: care packages from all over, baked goods, an astonishing array of most excellent things and services. Some haven’t been bid on! Some are going for silly cheap! You should get over there and bid!

All money goes to fight those who are against love and want to stop gay and lesbian marriage in California.

The next novel

A bunch of questions are being asked about the next novel both here and in emails. Here are some answers:

When is it due?


When will it be published?

September 2009

Who is publishing it?

Bloomsbury USA

What is it about?


What’s it called?

As mentioned the working (and I hope permanent) title is the same as a song from the 1990s by an all-girl band. Feel free to guess. No one has gotten close so far.

Is it a sequel to How To Ditch Your Fairy?


Why isn’t it a sequel to HTDYF?


Will there be a sequel to HTDYF?


How long do you think it will be?


How long is it now?


Wow, you have quite a few words to go and August isn’t very far away—are you panicking?

Aaargh!! Damn you!! Leave me alone!! STOP asking questions!!

You seem a bit tightly wound—have you thought of maybe getting a massage or something?

I kill you. I kill you with my bare hands.

I is sorry

That I haven’t answered emails in ages and ages or done many many other things I’m supposed to do. Like respond to comments here. But you may have noticed from some of my posts of late that I has book.

I has unfinished book.

Which must be finished before not too long.

Thus I am only capable of two things:

  1. Writing said book.
  2. Complaining about writing said book.

All else—communicating with other peoples, washing clothes and dishes and floors and self etc, paying bills, following the Tour de France, functioning like normal human being—all is on hiatus till book be done.

That is all.

The writing-not-easy thing, part the millionth

Yes, again! What of it? I promise this will be the last whingeing-about-writing post. Truly.1

I think I’m still in shock that my job is not always a doddle. You see, I fully expected that it would be.

Let me explain:

A full-time novelist is all I’ve ever wanted to be. Obviously the main reason I wanted to do it is because I’ve always loved telling and writing stories and I’ve done it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. But I also kind of figured that it would be easier than any other job. Writing stories was fun. Something I did when I wanted to take a break from the onerous crap that I had to do. Surely doing it most of the time would be even more fun?

I imagined my life as a full-time novelist would involve never having to get up before noon, writing only when I felt like it, never being stressed, six-figure advances for every book, mangosteens for every meal, and walking on rose petals while fairy dust fell from the sky.

None of this has happened! NONE of it.2

I’ll admit that my job is not as hard as some people’s. I’m not down a coal mine. I’m not in a war zone. I don’t run the risk of death or injury very often—though paper cuts can be nasty.3 Many people work way harder than I do. Like my sister, who does 3,000 hour a week in dark rooms, making everyone in Hollywood’s hair look real, and the monsters look super scary.4

What was I saying?

Oh, yes, I thought writing would be the easiest job on the planet and I’d never have to work hard. So every time I do have to work hard it’s a horrible shock. Thus my whingeing.

Though it probably is the easiest job on the planet, which leads me to the depressing thought that no job is without hard bits. How unfair is that?

  1. Though I am writing a novel about a compulsive liar so I could be practicing. Plus all I’m doing right now is writing. What the hell else do I have to blog about? []
  2. Though I do occasionally get to eat mangosteens. []
  3. Not to mention RSI and back pain. []
  4. Or something. I’m never entirely clear on what exactly Niki does. []

How to Write a Novel Redux

It has come to my attention that many readers of my post on how to write a novel are under the misapprehension that it is a description of how I write novels.

It is not.

It wasn’t even an accurate description of how I wrote them back when I wrote it. Lo, those many years ago.1

The novel I’m writing now makes no use of a spreadsheet,2 I did not borrow the plot for it,3 and the first sentence does not begin with “the” or “once upon a time”.4

I wrote the how-to-write-a-novel post for two reasons:

  1. I thought it would be funny. Maureen Johnson had just written a very amusing how-to-write-a-book post and I wanted to try my hand at the genre.
  2. I was also responding to the beginning writers who’d written asking questions about novel writing. Thus I was thinking about what might work for them. A common complaint was that they could never think of a plot. Hence the borrow-a-plot advice. Also they worried about the length and how to organise such a big amount of words. Hence the spreadsheet advice.

Personally, pretty much every novel I’ve written has been produced differently from the previous one. I have no set methods. Though I have lots of madness.

The novel I’m writing right now is the first one I’ve written with Scrivener and that’s making a huge difference to how I’m writing it. I’ve certainly never written a book completely out of order before. The last scene is already written though many from the middle are not. For me that is very strange.

I’m sure there are people who write each novel in the exact same way5 but most of the writers I know say they find each one different and have to figure out how to write it as they go.

I am the same.

  1. Well, okay, almost two years ago. []
  2. Scrivener renders spreadsheets unnecessary. []
  3. I’ve never written a novel that way, though I have written a number of short stories that retell ballads. One you can find here and another one will be published as part of Love is Hell later in the year. []
  4. None of my novels do. Though Magic Lessons begins with “once”. []
  5. There are some who write the exact same novel over and over again. []

The hard bits

The hardest part of writing a novel isn’t the beginning, or the middle, or the end. It’s not getting characters right, world building, keeping your sentences gorgeous, it’s none of those things. The hardest part is having to write when you don’t have the heart for it.

When you’re sad, or distracted, or in a bad mood, or bored. It’s writing when you can’t think straight, when the words are arranging themselves in dreadful “sentences” that hurt your brain. It’s writing when writing is the last thing you want to do, and every word, phrase, sentence is a struggle.

Writing through a crap day is the very hardest part of being a writer. Then getting up the next morning and doing it again. And the next. And repeat until the bloody book is finally finished.

(Blurbs are still harder, but.)

Live long and marry (updated)

There’s an auction going on over in the wonderful world of LJ to raise money

for the fight against the California initiative which will legally destroy existing same-sex marriages and ban any further ones. If the initiative passes, it will write discrimination into the state constitution, annull existing marriages, and make Mr. Sulu cry.

You can find more information about the auction here. There are some amazing items being offered for auction, not just jewellery and other objects but services. Writers offering to write a story for you, or to critique your own writing. Trust me that is a very big offer.

Sadly, I don’t have time to offer anything like that. Or I could offer but it wouldn’t happen till 2042 or something.1 But I would like to support the cause because I believe in LOVE! George Takei and Brad Altman finally being allowed to get married after being together for more than twenty years? Well, it made me very teary indeed. And I’m not even a Star Trek fan.

My offer: I will name a character (or something) after you in my next novel.

You can go bid on it here.

Update: I forgot to say that bidding ends on 15 July (USA time).

  1. Plus I suck at short stories. []

Lost in your book

My job means that I spend many hours each day lost in the novel I’m writing. It’s a very weird way to make a living. When I have a looming deadline—like I do right now—and have to drop everything but finishing said novel I feel like I get further and further away from real world and more and more lost in the imaginary one. Talking to real people in the real world gets trickier and trickier.

I was thinking about this today and decided that it’s no co-incidence that “novel” and “navel” have only one letter different. No co-incidence at all.

Now I return to imaginary world.

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

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


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


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

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

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


I’ve been playing with wordle, which is a lovely app by Jonathan Freiberg that a bunch of writers have been playing with on account of it is irresistible. You plug in your novel (or whatever text you want) and the app makes it all pretty. You can futz with the layout, the colours, the fonts etc. Procrastination heaven!1

I fed in a bunch of my novels. And oohed and ahed. And then I fed in my novel what I is currently writing and lo and behold not just pretty but useful. I could see at a glance what words I’m overusing and which characters and threads are getting the most attention. Interesting . . .

Notice that I have made it small enough that there are no real spoilers. I am so good to you people.

And did I mention pretty?

  1. What do writers on a deadline live for but to procrastinate? []

Not thinking structurally

Warning: This post is longish, rambling, and possibly incoherent.

I don’t think structurally.1 But most of my novelist friends do. When they talk about the books they’re currently writing, they rabbit on about three and four-act structures, beats, setting things up for the climax, the dénouement and blah blah blah.

I’ve never thought about my books that way. I have no idea what the act structure of any of them is. I don’t know what a beat is. I am an idiot savant novelist.

I suspect part of this is because when I first started learning how to write novels I’d never heard of act structures or outlining so I didn’t use any of those models for writing a novel. I winged it. And thus learned how to write novels by winging it.

Mostly I have no idea where my books are going. I’ll have an initial incident, or sense of the protag, or a setting. Occasionally I think I know how the book ends, but mostly not. In fact, when I think have an ending I find out that I am wrong.

When I’m writing the first draft, I’m very often lost in the sentence level, or going from scene to scene. For a long time, I can’t see very far ahead, which means I don’t have much of a macro view. Not until I’ve written the first draft and can look at the whole thing. When I start rewriting, deleting and moving scenes around, I don’t do it to balance out acts—on account of having no idea what the different acts are—I do it to get the book to feel right:

This bit drags = I delete it or trim viciously.
This bit doesn’t really make sense so early in the book = I move it.

The way I think about structure is most clearly articulated in my post on how to rewrite, proving that I do think about structure, just not in the organised way so many of my friends do.

I wonder if part of this is the winging it versus outlining it school of writing. In order to write an outline you have to start with an overall sense of the structure of your book.2 Whereas I learn what the structure of my book is by writing it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I just realised that the book I’m working on right now has three parts. Could they be three acts? Could I accidentally be doing what I thought I didn’t know how to do? The first part sets everything up, introduces all the characters, reveals the main conflicts. The second part, well, I’m not sure how to describe what the second part’s doing given that there’s not even two thousand words of it. And the third part will, hopefully, bring stuff to a head and then wrap everything up. Or something.

We’ll see.

I defnitely feel that I have a much stronger sense of the structure of this novel and where it’s going at a much earlier stage. I’m about half finished and I’m pretty sure I know where it’s going and how to get there. It is most odd.

I suspect that Scrivener may be at least partly to blame. The way it works has made me aware of the overall shape and, well, structure of my book almost immediately.

I’m also enjoying writing this book a great deal. Something about working with Scrivener has forced me to think about the craft of writing in ways I haven’t before. I feel like I’m being stretched and the book is better for it. Even if I do wind up writing a book with the English-speaking world’s most conventional structure: the three-act structure.3

Whatever. Nothing wrong with reinventing the wheel.

  1. I’ve been tinkering with this post for quite some time. Part of my problem writing it is that because I do not think structurally about my writing I do not really have the language I need to write this post. I borrow other writers’s language, but most likely I don’t use it in the ways they intend, hence the messiness. I’m just feeling my way and thinking out loud. My apologies! []
  2. I once wrote an outline of a book—for Magic or Madness. However, I wrote it in order to sell the book (and trilogy) and once I got stuck into the writing I never looked at the outline again. []
  3. I may have more coherent thoughts once I’ve actually finished it. []

And so does wombat excrement!

No, not really. I just wanted to type “wombat excrement”.

I’ve had some complaints about not changing the poll. The reasons for that are that:

  1. I’ve been really busy. This book ain’t writing itself!
  2. I’m waiting for a clear winner. Seriously, ugg boots, lingerie as outer wear, formal shorts, pregnancy dresses and tops on the non-pregnant, and low riders are pretty much neck and neck.
  3. It’s my favourite poll. I would miss it if it were gone.

I’ve also been cooking. The farmer’s market at Union Square has gotten good again after its hideous nothing-but-gourds winter doldrums.1 The spring garlic especially is making me really happy. Also I have discovered garlic scapes. Yum. I’ve been frying them with tomatoes and serving on bread with soft boiled eggs and whatever greens looked best at the markets. Yummiest breakfast ever.

Anyone else a farmer’s market addict? What’s best where you are? And what have you been doing with it? I mean other than just plain eating like I am with the strawberries that are just coming in. Delicious!

  1. Yet another reason not to be in NYC in winter. []

Stupid recalcitrant novel beasties

You know when you set out to write a novel and it’s supposed to be around 60-65 thousand words, like your last four novels, and knowing that you’ve calculated how much time you need, and how many words per day, and it’s all going along crackingly, and you’re meeting your targets, wrangling words—some of them are even pleasing words—when you realise that this novel is not, in fact, a 60k beastie, it’s more of a 75k beastie, possibly even a 80k or 90k MEGAbeastie? Well, um, that is somewhat sucktastic and hair-pullingly wrong.

Stupid recalcitrant novel beastie. I spit at you! Spit, I say.

Riding high (Updated)

The rest of the publishing industry may be in the doldrums but according to The New York Times we are riding high:

Juvenile books overall, including paperbacks, were up 3.1 percent, to 900.9 million copies. Net revenue in the juvenile segment, the largest of all categories in terms of copies sold, increased to $3.66 billion, from $3.4 billion.

Perhaps surprisingly, sales of children’s books, which includes the rapidly growing young adult segment, are not expected to rise strongly over the next few years. “If it weren’t for Y. A., this sector would be in worse shape than it is,” Mr. Greco said.

Given that picture books and middle grade are doing crap,1 the article leaves me wondering how fast Young Adult sales have been growing? I suspect the answer may be google related or I could just, you know, ask the people in the biz I know, but, well, I’m lazy and there’s this book to be writ.

So I’ll settle for going YAY! And hoping those sales remain strong for the next forty years.

Update: Gwenda reminds me that this excellent Newsweek article cites growth figures of 25%.

  1. Though I hear middle grade is about to start improving. []

A Tender Morsel

I have been noticing much skiting on the internets of late. “Oh look,” says a blogger, “look what amazing Advanced Readers Copy I has been sent! Is mine, not yours. Hahahahahah!”

Well, now it’s my turn. I has an ARC of Margo Lanagan‘s first novel in years and years, Tender Morsels. I hugs it to my chest and will share with no one! Well, okay, I’ll share what I thinks of it with you but not the actual ARC cause that’s mine!

But before I get to actually, you know, read the delicious bookie which is calling to me—seriously, everything about it screams, READ ME!, from the gorgeous cover to the jacket copy to the fact that Margo Lanagan wrote it—I must work. Back down into the word mines to excavate sentences and paragraphs of the next book. It’s back-breaking work but someone must do it.

Okay, I write now buoyed by the fact that I have Tender Morsels and you don’t!



Thank you

Thanks so much for all the many cheer ups. You all made my day much brighter.

Special thanks to Patrick for this:

I laughed and laughed.

I’m off to niece Renee’s graduation. All hail education and Renee!

Afterwards we go on a mini-writer’s retreat. I’m not sure what the intramanets will be like in our bunker but if I can blog I will and if not I’ll be back next Friday.

Enjoy whatever your heart is set on right now and try to avoid crazy writers!1

  1. Seriously, you don’t know where they’ve been. []

Made my day

Cricket Buzz just named its top 51 cricket blogs and I’m on the list!


And also—how embarrassing! I have been very remiss of late when it comes to cricket blogging. I mean I haven’t mentioned the blessed sport since March and not written anything proper since January. Largely because (for reasons beyond my control) I have not been home since May of last year.1 Thus I have not been immersed in cricket culture and have not been keeping up with things such as the new Twenty20 Indian Premier League. 2

I like the idea of it in theory. But I hate the idea of it as a replacement for Test cricket. That will never happen! Or at least not in my lifetime.

I miss cricket. I must find ways to re-immerse myself. Or, I will, when this book is finished.

  1. Waaaaahhhh!!!!! []
  2. The link is to a NYT article explaining the League which will amuse those of us who know about cricket and hopefully be a clear-ish explanation for those who know nothing. []

My next book (Updated)

Some of youse are asking what it is that I’m hard at work on. You know the thing that’s impeding my ability to get other stuff done like answer email?

It is a book.

Here is where I explain all about said book. I can also tell you that I estimate it will be about 60 thousand words long or possibly 300 pages. Unless it’s not.

There, hope you’re satisfied! You know so much that there’s hardly any point in reading it now. See what your questions lead to? I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

Update: No, no one has guessed the name of the song by a 90s all-girl band that I took the title from.

Email backlog etc

I am still very behind with all my email. As I have a book due soonish and much much much more work to do on it, I suspect that I will not be getting through that backlog any time soon. For which my apologies! But, you know, my publisher pays me, which helps keep roof over head and rent paid and food in mouth—so they’re my priority.

I will continue to keep blogging daily and as much as possible responding to comments here. Cause if all I do is write all day I’ll go insane.

Anyway what I’m attempting to say is if I haven’t gotten back to you it’s not because I don’t love you but because I’m working my arse off.

Back to the book . . .

Roman Restaurants

While we were in Rome we worked and we ate. I wrote four thousand words; Scott about thirteen thousand. I am thoughtful writer, who thinks about her words, okay? Or something. Like Scott had an immediate deadline and I did not. My deadline’s not till August, which is AGES away.

The eating was way more fun than the writing, not that it wasn’t fun. I like my four thousand words but not as much as I loved these restaurants:

Osteria dell’Arco
Via G Pagliari 11
06 854 8438

This is a neighbourhood restaurant with a simple but elegant fit out. The owner was a total sweetheart whose good English made up for our non-existent Italian. The food was also simple but elegant. My favourite dish was home-made ricotta with roasted tomato and zucchini and intense wild mint. Though Scott’s artichoke soufflé was also pretty amazing. Way more artichoke than soufflé. Served with dried roasted artichoke. Though all the food was fabulous and the owner was very helpful picking a wine for us as neither Scott nor I know much about Italian wine.

I really loved the pace of this place. I never felt rushed. The long breaks between courses were very welcome. And we were given much help designing our vegie repast. The Waitress was also charming. She didn’t speak English (and why should she?) but did speak Spanish. Was fun getting to use my extremely rusty Spanish.

La Campana
Vicolo della Campana 18
06 6867820

La Campana is very old school, which befits a place that’s supposed to be Rome’s oldest restaurant. The waiters were mostly older blokes and spoke almost no English. We muddled by on my Spanish and guess work, which made everything that much more fun. The place cooks only traditional Italian (mostly) Roman food. Everything we had was wonderful. My favourite dish was (again) a salad. A huge oval of mozzarella di bufala with tomatoes and rocket. The tomatoes were sublime: sweet and firm and probably the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. Their skin was mostly red with some green and yellow striping and the seeds a dark green. I’m desperate to figure out what they were. Yum! The cheese was also sensational and bears no resemblance to the substance of the same name I’ve had in Australia and the US. (We actually had the same tomatoes at lunch at Cantina Cantarini Piazza Sallustio, 12—a very simple mostly fish restaurant that we also enjoyed heaps).

I ordered the wine at every restaurant we went to La Campana was the only one where they had Scott taste it. I did say old school. They also automatically gave him the cheque.

Glass Hostaria
Vicolo Del Cinque, 58 Traselevere, Roma

This was our favourite meal. Prices were very reasonable and the food was adventurous, well-executed, and delicious. Definitely not old school. This time my favourite course was my main: monk fish with almond cous cous and yellowy orangey reduction that I cannot remember what it was but it was wonderful and a sprinkling of chili. The whole thing was amazing. Dessert was sublime. We both had the orange and pavlova dish. Which was several orange segments in a line with salt and paprika sprinkled on them and then a big round kinder-surprise looking meringue filled with orange gelato with a kind of sherberty mixture at the bottom. It resembled an egg and was deeply fabulous. Even the bread was amazing. It came on a long platter with two slices of each kind which ranged from regular sourdough through to black squid ink bread.

The restaurant has a really fun fit out with dangling lights and plenty of glass. Including the tables. The wait staff are young and lovely, though sometimes a wee bit confused. The sommelier was spot on though and we wound up having the best wine we’ve had so far on this trip: a 1999 Gaja Chardonnay “Gaja e Rey”. I want it again!

The chef, Cristina Bowerman, came out to talk to us because there was almost nothing on the menu for vegetarian Scott. She was utterly charming and organised a fabulous meal for Scott that included coffee quinoa and chickory. It turned out she trained in Austin and spoke well of the wonderful restaurant we’d been to there, The Driskill Grill. Her favourite restaurants in NYC are our faves: Per Se and WD-50.

I wish we’d had longer in Rome. We didn’t manage to get in at La Pergola, which some say is the best in Rome. But there were also gazillions of neighbourhood restaurants I wanted to explore. Oh, yeah, and I guess we should have checked out the Colosseum and the Pantheon and that stuff. Did I mention we were working? Novels don’t write themselves you know! And hungry writers cannot work. Their mind’s wander and they start typing the same thing over and over again. It was essential for our careers that good food be our priority.

In short: Rome is now on my list of cities I could live in.

For a city to make this list it must be pedestrian friendly, have really good food and wine, and I must have, you know, been there. The other cities on the list are: Sydney, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Paris, Mexico City.

I’m also very fond of Bologna, Salamanca, San Miguel de Allende, and Dunedin, but suspect they are all too small to live in for more than three months or so. Bangkok, on the other hand, is a bit too big, though I’d definitely love to go back and stay for a few months. Such good food there! Yum.

Oh, look at the time. I must away to my next meal.

What are your favourite food cities?

Novel hints

hillary! wanted a hint as to what the new novel is about. I will give you three:

  1. The working title is a song by an all-girl band from the nineties. The title (and song) pretty much covers what the novel is about.
  2. There have been many hints in previous posts. You just have to find them. Hint: there is a one click way to do so.
  3. There are no witches or fairies in it. Is my first stab at realism. All those teachers and idiots friends of mine who’ve been after me to read/write “proper” books will be dead happy. The thought of making them happy, of course, really annoys me. I’m still trying to figure out how to sneak some fantasy elements in. So far it’s not working out. Curses!

Hope that helps. Actually, no I don’t. Cause it’s so early in the life of this novel—I only have twenty thousand words—that I don’t want to be sharing too much. Might break it. Is tender delicate plant needing extra gentle care or will curl up and die.

Let us speak of something else. Oh, look, over there: giant flying woolly squirrels!

London, 25 March 2008, 6:16PM.

Why all the research?

Enough of you have been emailing to ask why I wants to know about lying and DNA testing and race that I feel I should offer some kind of explanation, or several even:

  • I am hard at work building a lie-and-DNA-detecting robot.
  • I was bored.
  • Maureen Johnson made me ask you cause she’s too lazy to do her own research.
  • It’s for my new novel.
  • It’s procrastination to avoid work on my new novel on account of Scott took my IM capability away.
  • I am distracting myself from certain sad events on The Wire.
  • None of the above.

I hope that’s cleared everything up to your satisfaction.

More research: DNA testing and race

Than you so much for all the excellent liar info yesterday. I’m now halfway through Paul Ekman’s Emotions Revealed: Recognising Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life and finding it extraordinarily useful. Thanks to Gwenda Bond, Jenny Davidson and Malcolm Tredinnick for suggesting him. I’ll be chasing down all the other leads as well. You are all the best research assistants ever!

Since you were all so amazingly helpful on yesterday’s research question I have another:

Last year (I think) I read at least two articles about DNA testing being used in a classroom (or possibly classrooms) in California (but I may have the state wrong) to demonstrate that no one is racially “pure” and, indeed, to promote discussion about what race even is. The test gives the percentage of your DNA that comes from Africa, Europe, Asia or Native America. And many people get results they’re not expecting. The correlation between your skin colour and your DNA is not straightforward.

I have googled any number of combinations and have found articles on DNA testing and race. Even on DNA testing being taught in the classroom, but not on DNA tests being used to talk about race in the classroom.

If any of you can help with this I will be eternally grateful.

Questions about lying

Have any of you ever taken a lie detection test of any kind? (Polygraph or written q & a or some other kind of test I have not read about yet.) If so would you care to tell me about it? Feel free to be anonymous in the comments if you’d prefer.

And more generally: for those of you who have told lies and gotten away with it—what’s your method?

Do any of you believe you have the ability to tell when someone else is lying? Is it a general ability or just with people you know well?

Can any of you recommend any good non-fiction articles and books about lying? Most of what I’ve found so far has been deeply underwhelming.


And thanks for all the fabbie fairy responses. It was mucho gratifying to see that quite a few of your fairies are already in How To Ditch Your Fairy.


Thanks so much for all the responses to the grandmother question. Fascinating! Plus I might use some of your responses in my next book, which has surprised me by being set entirely in the US of A with no Australian characters. Gulp.

I just read the first few chapters to Scott and he reckons my only misstep was the word “posh”, which I had my teenage protag use to describe a super-expensive private school. Which left me wondering what word you’d use instead. What’s the USian equivalent of “posh”?

I’ve had “classy” suggested but it doesn’t work for me because “posh” also has connotations of being a bit stuck up, and hard to get into, not merely expensive. Something can be “classy” but not expensive; a person can be “classy” without being “rich”. Scott says “fancy schmancy” or “hoity toity” but those sound to me like they come from the stone ages.

I suspect I’ll be asking more such questions over the coming months.

My Future Writings

Magic’s Child only came out last Friday and already I’ve had a stack of letters and some comments here asking when there’ll be another book in the series.

Wow! I’m stoked at the enthusiasm and thrilled that you like the Magic or Madness world so much you want more. I’m not sure there’s a bigger compliment you can offer a writer. Thank you.

But right now I have no plans for more books set in that world.

Don’t yell at me! I’m not saying there won’t be books in the future. But there won’t be any in the immediate future.

Why? Lots of reasons but mostly because I need a break. I started work on the trilogy in June 2003 and had been thinking about it for months before then. I finished making corrections to Magic’s Child in early November 2006. So I spent more than three years solidly in that one world, with those same characters, and for now that’s enough. We need our space. Both the characters and me. Otherwise ugliness would ensue.

Also at the moment I have no idea what happens next. No clue at all. It’s very hard to write a book without any ideas.1

Right now I’m busy rewriting the fairy book (otherwise known as the Great Australian Elvis cricket fairy mangosteen YA novel), and on the weekend I started a new book.

What book was that? Remember I asked you all to vote on what I should write next?

Well, you voted and you chose by an overwhelming majority—

drum roll

very big drum roll

so big it’s still rolling

and rolling

and rolling




    The lodger book.2

So I started the sexy cricket one instead.

Nah, just kidding.

I really did start the lodger book. You know how sometimes starting a book consists of hours and hours of staring at the screen, lots of deciding the front room needs to be tidied, or that there’s urgent mail to be sent, or that it’s a long time since the sock (ew!) drawer was rearranged, or that perhaps a long walk is needed to get the thoughts to coalesce into words and sentences and paragraphs?

Not this time.

I sat down to write the lodger novel and had several thousands words in a matter of seconds. Scary excellent stuff! (I mean the writing process. I can’t tell about the words yet.) This book is practically writing itself. Yum.

Here’s hoping my Magic or Madness fans will enjoy also the fairy book and the lodger book. Oh, and that they find a publisher . . .

  1. I’m not saying it hasn’t been done. Do not ask me for examples! []
  2. The votes:
    Lodger book: 12
    Liar book: 8
    Cricket romance: 7
    Werewolf snowboarding epic: 6
    Baby killing ghost novel: 6
    Vintage clothes shop book: 4
    Hollywood book: 1
    NT family epic: 1
    Short story: 1 []

What should I write next?

Remember way back when I asked you to help me to decide what to write next? You all told me the fairy book, which I dutifully wrote, but now I’m feeling all indecisive again. Can you help me out?

Here are the options:

  • The great Australian feminist monkey knife-fighting cricket Elvis mangosteen fairy novel . This one is written.
  • The compulsive liar book narrated by a—you guessed it—compulsive liar. Downside: will involve lots of outlining. I hates outlining. Plus it’s going to be so hard! Upside: whenever I mention this one folks get very excited.
  • The beginnings of cricket historical romance. Downside: lots of research and all my cricket history books are in storage in Sydney. Upside: yumminess. I am besotted with my protag and her love interest.
  • The baby killing ghost novel set in Sydney in the late 19th century in which the ghost does not kill babies nor do babies kill ghosts. Downside: research materials all in storage in Sydney. Upside: ghost story!
  • The plastic surgery running away from Hollywood novel. Downside: protag is a USian. I am not USian thus writing it will be really hard. All the sentences in my head are Australian. Upside: Very cool structure that makes me grin just thinking about it.
  • Werewolf snowboarding epic. Downside: I’ve never snowboarded making it tricky describing it plus I’d need to do a lot of research on wolves. Upside: Werewolves snowboarding!
  • Northern Territory multi-family multi-racial lots of killing epic. Downside: yeah, yeah, research materials elsewhere. Plus I’d need to spend at least a few weeks up there again, doing lots of non-book research. Fun but not possible for quite awhile. Upside: I love love love writing epics.
  • Kid who grows up in a Vintage Clothes Shop which her mum runs who can pick the best buys at fifty paces (much more interesting than this description makes it sound—honest!) Downside: I know nothing about the vintage clothes industry works. More bloody research! Upside: clothes, yummy delicous magic clothes.
  • Protag’s father goes missing presumed dead on account of he and protag’s mum very into each other. Mum is forced to take in a lodger to help pay the mortgage. She advertises for a female uni student but takes in a strange youngish man who has no visible means of support and yet pays the rent on time. He’s gorge and speaks a zillion languages but the seventeen-year old girl protag doesn’t trust him. Her twin brothers (eight) almost immediately fall under his sway. I could go on, but it’s just not very pitchable. Alas. Downside: Not very ptichable. Tis one of those books that’s clear in my head but takes months to explain. Sigh. Upside: tis very clear in my head.
  • Try to write a short story. I’ve had a brain wave for completely transforming a story of mine that’s never worked into one that will. It involves making the ending not suck (why did I not think of that before?!) and setting it a couple hundred years ahead of where it’s set now. It involves no research. Downside: I suck at short stories. Upside: Not starting from scratch and may lead to an actual good story. That would be cool!

My agent is most excited about the Liar book on account of its ease of pitchability but she also agrees with the famous children’s book editor, Ursula Nordstrom, who wrote

I never want to forget that if Lewis Carroll had asked me whether or not he should bother writing about a little girl named Alice who fell asleep and dreamed that she had a lot of adventures down a rabbit hole, it would not have sounded awfully tempting to any editor.

The book described before writing it rarely exactly matches the finished book and sometimes doesn’t even come close. And if it did what would be the fun in writing? There’d be no surprises!

I could sit down and start writing any one of these. Yes, heaps need research, but writing first and researching sketchily as you go is fun. I do have the intramanets afterall. And it’s not that long till we’re back in Sydney where I can fill in some of my [did they have spin bowling back then? When did they first call them “googlies”] notes.

But I do not have a burning desire to write any of them at the moment. I do not have a burning desire to write at all. My one burning desire is to continue reading lots of lovely manga . . . But I did say I’d write two novels this year. Sigh.

What’s it to be?

John Green and The Art of Lying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyone you would never lie to?

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

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

Is there anything you would never lie about?

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

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

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

John: Oh, yeah. What are your categories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justine: Do you have any categories of your own?

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

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

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

Justine: Once again we are in complete agreement.

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

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

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

Do you have that reputation within your family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justine: Who is your favourite real person liar?

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

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

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


Cheryl Morgan has reviewed Daughters of Earth at Emerald City. I think she likes it.

Amanda Coppedge has kindly started a Wikipedia entry on me. Thank you! One of the many smart things about Wikipedia is that you’re not allowed to write entries about yourself—that’s right, isn’t it?—or you know I woulda done it already.

Anyways if any of you feel like adding to the stub she has created, don’t forget to add my nobel peace prize, valiant service during the Spanish civil war, cricketing prowess, and invention of the mangosteen. You also might want to mention my previous marriages to Alida Valli, Cab Calloway, Gerard Phillipe (yeah, I know it only lasted two days, whatever) and Dorothy Dandridge.

So I’m thinking instead of the Great Australian cricket, Elvis, mangosteen fairy novel I might write one about a pathological liar. Whatcha reckon?