Quotidian Climate Catastrophe

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Screen shot from RFS’s fires near me visualisation. Blue means the fire is contained. No yellow or red is good. No fires at all would be better.

My sister is texting to find out how we make the niece scrambled eggs. I ask Scott how and text his response. Outside the sky is grey and the AQI is at 155. Unhealthy. We’ll be doing our walk in the evening when the smoky air is supposed to clear. Though we were supposed to wake up to clear air. The AQI projections are sometimes wrong.

The niece rejects the eggs. My sister didn’t have butter and used olive oil instead.

Butter is better, I text her. Our father chimes into the group family chat to agree: Butter is absolutely essential for eggs!

Tomatoes, lime, sorrel, sage and marjoram from our garden.

Coincidentally I made me and Scott scrambled eggs this morning with ingredients I picked from our small garden on the deck wearing my P2 mask and the eggs, cheese and butter I bought from farmers at the Eveleigh Street markets. Last Saturday was the first one of 2020. Lots of the regular vendors were missing.

Overnight a firey died in Victoria. The good news is that most of the fires are under control. The temperature dropped here in NSW. There’s even been some isolated rain. No where near enough. The bad news is that under control doesn’t mean put out. There are still hundreds of fires and it’s due to get hot again in a few days. It’s possible more firies will die. The vast majority of them volunteers.

How many weeks are we now into the worst bushfire season Australia has ever seen? I’ve lost count.

The fires started in September in Queensland and New South Wales, but it didn’t seem worse than usual then. Except that it was September. Though the year before the fires started in August. The fire season starting in spring seems more normal than in the middle of winter. Fires burning in ever state, though? That’s new.

Me wearing a P2 mask on our deck.

Living in an ongoing climate change catastrophe is starting to seem normal. We wake up, check the Fires Near Me app and then the AQI and the government health warning to see if we can go outside without masks. Hey, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment,1 could you please make an AQI app for us citizens of this fine state? Though we don’t really need the apps, turns out if you can smell smoke, the purifier needs to be on, and so does your P2 mask if you venture outside. Next we check the bushfire coverage online and on TV and radio.

Then I text the folks I know most directly affected to find out how they are doing. Have you been able to go outside down there in Canberra? Have you got an air purifier yet down there in Melbourne? Have you managed to convince your asthmatic teen daughter to wear a mask?

A friend is in Kangaroo Valley. So far she’s been lucky. But she’s not taking chances, she and her partner are down there doing everything they can to make their holiday home more fire proof and removing anything they can’t bear to lose. She rents it out to folks over the school holidays and weekends during the rest of the year. She cancelled some of this summer bookings and had folks irate at her even after she pointed out how close the fires are. She and her partner plan to retire there.

Checking the AQI has become routine. As it is for many around the world. In Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Urumqi (China), Noida (India) New Dehli, and Belgrade (Serbia). The majority of the cities in this hour’s worst AQI cities are in China and India, but then there’s three South Korean cities sneaking in, oh and Canberra, right here in Australia. It’s spent quite a lot of time at no. 1 on this list. Sydney held that honour on 19 November.

On the scale of the horrible things that are happening here in Australia this season, we’re doing fine. Being confined to home and having to run an air purifier and wear P2 masks does not compare with being burnt out and losing friends and neighbours, being in the middle of those utterly destroyed landscapes. But it’s not about the bad air, it’s not even about the fires, it’s about climate change. What we humans have wrought upon ourselves and what we now must reckon with.

Because we are all living in a climate change catastrophe. The smoke from here effects NZ. The emissions from here helps raise temperatures and sea levels and drown our many island neighbours, who we then don’t give nearly enough aid to. Living (dying) in a climate catastrophe is normal.

Until this bushfire season, I was one of the insulated ones, knowing climate change was real, but not being affected by it in a big way. I’d seen bushfire skies. Smoke had come into the city a few times, but this? Nancy Cushing, an air pollution historian, writing for The Conversation says,

The New South Wales government’s Air Quality Index data has shown that since late October, days when the index was higher than 100 – signalling exposure is unhealthy – have outnumbered clear days in Sydney, Newcastle and the Illawarra.

If you’d’ve asked me, I would have told you that most days we’re fine here in Sydney. A few really bad days, but on the whole, fine. In my defence, my part of Sydney hasn’t copped the brunt of it as often as they have in the west and south of the city. But it’s also me minimising what we’re going through.

We know this isn’t normal. We talk about it daily, but we also can’t quite believe it’s happening, still happening. It’s January. This unbreathable air started in November.

James Bradley, writing in The Guardian, points out that we’re not alone:

Overseas the story is the same. In the middle of last year, fires spread through the Arctic, igniting not just grassland but boreal peatlands dried out by unusually high temperatures in the region. In Brazil fires destroyed nearly 10,000 sq km of rainforest, prompting warnings from scientists that the Amazon is now close to a tipping point, beyond which its collapse will be unstoppable. In March Cyclone Idai left more than 1,300 people dead in Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Indeed one report by British charity Christian Aid suggests the changing climate amplified the effects of no less than 15 major disasters in 2019, while in July last year the UN warned climate change is now causing an average of one disaster a week.

I’m ashamed to say that despite all the apocalypses around the world, it took this bushfire season, here in Australia, for me to truly take in that the blasted future climate change hellscape is already here. It’s impacted my entire life without me fully realising. This despite my friends around the world, who’ve been affected by other climate change disasters: fires in California and Brasil, floods in Queensland, extreme cold weather events in the USA.

I kept on living my life, planning for a future that somehow would be not that much different from what my life now: writing novels, getting on planes to promote them, getting on planes to visit family and friends. At a minimum, every year for more than twenty years now, I have flown back and forth between Sydney and New York City once a year.

That’s a lot of carbon emissions.

I would even say to people with a straight face that I had a pretty low carbon footprint, flying aside. I mean I pay offsets! Surely that makes it okay? A few flights a year can’t be as bad as someone who drives a car every day, can it? Turns out the answer to that question is complicated.2

I recycle! I walk or take public transport everywhere. Only riding in taxis in emergencies. I rarely put the AC on and always have it at a reasonable temperature so it doesn’t have to work too hard. In NYC there’s no turning on the heat because the building does that in a super efficient low carbon way. Lately I’ve been even more virtuous: only buying vintage or circular economy clothing, reducing the plastic in my life. I’ve even given up liquid soap!

All while flying at least once a year. It is to laugh.

The aviation industry is one of the biggest carbon emitters. On 11 September 2001, only military planes flew in the USA for several days. All other aviation was grounded. Scientists were able to use that data to see the effects of aviation on mainland USA. When the planes weren’t flying, high and low temperatures narrowed across the USA. On top of carbon emissions’ long-term damage, there are immediate effects of aircraft contrails that we only barely understand.

Those of us living with a climate catastrophe, think about it every day. On the family group chat today we’ve been trading photos of how smoky it is outside and my dad just texted that he and mum have now donated to the Fire Relief Fund for First Nations Communities.

We’ve all been hearing the reports that a lot of the relief money and goods are bypassing Indigenous people and this one that an Elder was actively turned away from an evacuation centre by a racist. First Nations communities around the world have been living with climate catastrophe brought on by invaders for generations.

If we–and by we I mean all of us folks who know climate change is real, who have lived through unbreathable polluted air, terrifying floods, rains, fires, cyclones, hurricanes, muds slides, unbreathable air etc.–downed tools and became full-time climate activists, clogging the streets all around the world outside our houses of parliament, our seats of government, demanding real change, demanding we clean up polluting industries, switch to renewable energy, phase out fossil fuels and earth-destroying agricultural practices, clean up our waters, ground all unnecessary air travel, pour money into better, cleaner train networks, bring back international sea travel–if we did that in our millions, we would see real change. It would happen.

Hell, our prime minister, Scott Morrison has started to say that he and his government might possibly maybe change their carbon emissions targets. Presumably from the current magical numbers–where Australia doesn’t have to do anything and carbon emissions keep climbing–to real targets. I’m not holding my breath though. But he’s definitely frightened that if he doesn’t do something he’ll lose the next election. Or be deposed as PM as soon as parliament returns. Whether by those in his party who want more done on climate change or the extremists who want nothing done. His first poll numbers came out. They weren’t good. Unfortunately, it looks like the government is merely changing its strategy. They’re still going to do next to nothing to curb emissions, but they’ll no longer deny climate change is real while doing it. Yay?

We international community of the millions, who know that climate change is real, won’t quit our current jobs in huge numbers to make this the central cause of the rest of our lives. We should, but we won’t. I’m deeply grateful to do those of you who already have or about to. We need you climate change activists!

I won’t because I have a chronic illness. In my last essay I said I’d go to the climate protest here on Friday. I didn’t make it.3 Fortunately, thirty thousand others made it.

I wouldn’t even if I was healthy. I’m not an organiser. I’m not, in all honesty, any kind of doer. I watch and I research and I write. I can bear witness. I can document it. I can donate money. I can go to protests. I can watch in awe and support the people who do give up everything to save our planet.

As she often points out, Greta Thunberg isn’t the only young activist in the world. Ridhima Pandey is one of many activists in India. Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, Oladosu Adenike and Vanessa Nakate are activists from Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, respectively. All under thirty.

There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have climate activists doggedly fighting the most important fight of humanity’s existence day after day. There are activists who have been doing so since before most of us were born. The knowledge that industrialisation is making humans sick and changing the planet for the worse has been with us for decades.

But most people dealing with the peripheral effects of climate catastrophes, the bad air, dodgy water, the intermittent electricity etc. continue to live their everyday lives. They wear masks, boil water, only go outside when necessary. We humans are really good at adapting.

But we all have snapping points. The protests last Friday were full of folks who’ve never been to a protest before. For whom this bushfire season has been too much. Now they’re doing something: making their voices heard. There were folks there who lost everything in the fires. Everyone was angry.4

It’s hard to convey to people, who haven’t lived through an ongoing catastrophe, what it’s like.

I’ve had several texted conversations with friends overseas that kind of go like this:

Them: Are you okay? The coverage is terrifying! Is Sydney burning down?

Me: The fires are far. I’m fine. My family and friends are fine. We just have to deal with smoky air.

Them: Will you be evacuating?

Me: Lol. No. Does NYC or LA evacuate when the smog’s bad?

Them: How are you otherwise? Other than all this stuff?


I tend to put my phone down when that happens. I mean how do I answer that question? “How are you doing other than your entire country burning and the air being unbreathable for millions for months on end?”

But what I want to text them is:


But of course that’s not entirely true. This bushfire season dominates everything. It’s at the top of the news cycle here. We all talk about it. We donate. We volunteer. We wear masks. Use air purifiers. But we’re also living our lives.

Sometimes I’m watching the cricket, and being amazed by Glenn Maxwell, and reminding myself to get tickets for the women’s T20 World Cup in February, and eating ice cream, and not thinking about the bushfires at all, but then the commentators will mention what the latest bid for Shane Warne’s baggy green cap is, proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross, and there it is back again: this bushfire season.

We’re all in mourning for our country, some stage of it: shock, denial, rage . . .

This climate catastrophe, which is just one of too many. This country that I love, with obscenely high per capita carbon emissions, which is, right now, part of the problem, not the solution. And I read yet another article by a climate scientist looking for hope and finding tears and despair. Then I read Ross Garnaut’s book on how Australia could turn it all around and become a renewable energy superpower and I’m filled with hope again.

One of my friends has two daughters, who are becoming engineers, so they can work on climate change solutions. There are folks in the fashion industry inventing new textiles that have zero carbon footprint. I heard on a podcast that folks are working on future solar powered passenger planes. It’s theoretical now but in the future. Drones are being trained to plant trees on a massive scale. There’s a lot of people working on truly amazing solutions and ways to get the world to zero carbon emissions.5

There’s a lot to be hopeful about.

But the coverage of our fires and unbreathable air is off the front pages in the USA and UK. I’m not complaining. We got more attention and for longer than any other ongoing climate catastrophe because of koalas and kangaroos. Though I can’t help noting how many news organisations are giving way more coverage to the latest British royal family brouhaha than they ever did to our fires.

I get it. Royal soap opera is a lot more fun than glaring signs of the end of humanity. The bushfires are slipping from the focus of our news organisations too. The urgency to fix this will fade, here and in the many other countries who are also doing nothing to slow down climate change. Climate catastrophes are becoming normal, everyday, quotidian.

This is our world now. We have to fix it, but I very much fear we won’t.

  1. No conflicts of interests there, eh? []
  2. But basically if you drive a hybrid or an electric car, and you have passengers, then your carbon footprint is way smaller than even an occasional flyer. As for flying, long flights are actually better than lots of small flights, but they’re all terrible. []
  3. That was a bad day. Food became vomit. Migraine screamed. Muscles and joints decided to take a day off from functioning. []
  4. Well, except my seven-year-old niece. When I asked her about the protest the next day she said it was terrible. Too loud and too many people and she was tired and hungry and just wanted to go home. []
  5. You would not believe how many different ways I spell “emissions”. Is it actually even a word? []

Accompanying Scott on his tour of the USA

I’ve not been blogging much because I’m accompanying Scott on his Afterworlds tour. So far we’ve been to Raleigh, Lexington, Louisville, Philadelphia, Washington DC, St Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee. And there’s much more to come. Check out the rest of the tour here. I’d be delighted to sign anything you want signed but mostly I’m just happy to say hi and chat.

We’ve had many adventures so far including staying in what I swear was a haunted hotel. Uncannily cold temperatures? Check. Eerie cold winds that came rushing out of the elevators/lifts? Check. Strange rustling sounds in the hotel room in the middle of the night? Check.

If you haven’t read Afterworlds yet you should. It’s definitely Scott’s best book so far.

Hope to see some of you soon!

Getting Away

One of the things I need most as a writer is a routine. For me that’s not as much about what time of day I write, that varies, but about where I write. When I sit at my ergonomically gorgeous desk and writing set up I write because it is the place of writing.

Unlike many other writers I don’t have a specific moment that signals writing will commence. I don’t drink coffee so that’s not how I start my day. Some days I write for a bit before breakfast. Some days not till after brekkie, going to the gym, and doing various chores. I do have a broad time for writing: daylight. I almost never write at night. When the sun is down I take a break from writing. That’s when I get to socialise and to absorb other people’s narratives via conversation, TV, books etc.

I have found, however, that I can’t write every single day. I need at least one day off a week. And I can’t go months and months and months without a holiday from writing.

Getting away from my ergonomic set up and the various novels I’m writing turns out to be as important to me as my writing routine. Time off helps my brain. Who’d have thunk it? Um, other than pretty much everyone ever.

I spent the last few days in the Blue Mountains. Me and Scott finally managed to walk all the way to the Ruined Castle. We saw loads of gorgeous wildlife, especially lyrebirds. There was no one on the path but us. Oh and this freaking HUGE goanna (lace monitor). I swear it was getting on for 2 metres from end of tail to tongue:

Photo taken by me from the rock I leapt on to get out of its way.

Photo taken by me from the rock I jumped on to get out of its way.

This particular lace monitor was in quite a hurry. Given that they have mouths full of bacteria (they eat carrion) and they’re possibly venomous getting out of its way is imperative. It seemed completely oblivious of me and Scott. Which, was a very good thing.

Watching it motor past us was amazing. All the while the bellbirds sang. Right then I wasn’t thinking about anything but that goanna.

Which is why getting away is so important. Clears your mind. Helps your muscles unknot.1 Lets you realise that finishing your novel is not, in fact, a matter of life and death.

At the same time two days into the little mini-holiday I realised what the novel I’m writing is missing. The answer popped into my brain as I tromped along the forest floor past tree ferns and gum trees breathing in the clean, clean air, listening to those unmistakeable Blue Mountain sounds2:


And it was good. Really good.

TL:DR: Writing routine good; getting away from writing routine also good.

  1. After their relieved that the goanna has gone away. []
  2. Did I mention the bellbirds? I love them []

Where I Will Be in 2013

After Scott put up this post about his appearances for the rest of this year, I realised I should do likewise because most of those places he is, I will be also. An eerie coincidence, I know.

Most of the events are in Australia. Sorry, rest of the world, who may have some interest in saying hello. We’ll always have Twitter.

Canberra, ACT
April 26-28

I’ll be interviewing the brilliant and wonderful Nalo Hopkinson on Saturday, 27 April (i.e. two days away) at 2:30PM, Forrest Room 1 & 2 at the Rydges Capital Hill. (Do come say hi. Unless I’m, like, on stage or in the ladies room or something.) Conference site.

3-13 May

I am turning off the internet for this whole week. No twitter, no nothing. It’s going to be AWESOME. The mental hygiene, I needs it. Oh, okay, I’m just turning it off for me, yours will still chug along. (Probably.)

Sunday, 26 May
Sydney Writers Festival
Pier 2/3 Club Stage
I imagine this will involve juggling and poker. I bet we can get Libba to pop out her fake eye. I love it when she does that.
Walsh Bay, Sydney, NSW
This is free and no bookings required.

Alpha Teen Workshop
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
13-16 July
I’ll be teaching at this week-long writing seminar for teenagers. Admissions for the workshop are closed, but there will be a bookstore appearance in Pittsburgh. I’ll post details when I know them.
href=”http://alpha.spellcaster.org”>the Alpha site

Melbourne Writer’s Festival
August 22-30

I’ll be attending and saying wise stuff with other wise people. Details not set yet, but you can always check back here or on the festival site.

Brisbane Writers Festival
September 4-8

There will be more wisdoms here in sunny Brisvegas. Again as soon as I know what I’ll be doing I will share with you. Festival site

There may be other events in which case I will let you know here on the blog. You can also check my appearances page which I am most scrupulous about keeping up to date.

I really hope I’ll get to see/meet some of you this year.

Me at the Adelaide Writers Festival

In early March I will be at the Adelaide Writers Week. Which is the oldest and most prestigey1 writers festival in all of Australia.

I’ve never been before. Indeed, I’ve never done any events in Adelaide unless you count going to a friend’s wedding.2

Here are my events:

West Stage, 2.30pm

The readership for YA fiction continues to grow and grow. Yet for young women today questions of identity, sexuality and friendship remain as problematic as ever. This session asks – how do women write for girls? Join Isobelle Carmody, author of the Obernewtyn Chronicles, Justine Larbalestier, author of Liar, and Vikki Wakefield, author of Friday Brown for a spirited conversation about women and words.

Isobelle is one of Australia’s most popular YA fantasy writers. Her fans span generations and all clutch her books to their chests like they are precious babies. She’s wonderful and funny and genuinely does not think like anyone else I have ever met. I did a panel with her at last year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival and it truly was awesome. Mostly because of Isobelle. So if you’re in Adelaide you want to see this.

I’m looking forward to meeting Vikki Wakefield. I’ve heard good things about her debut novel All I Ever Wanted. Yes, it’s true, not all Australian YA authors know each other. But we’ll fix that after a few more festival appearances.

My other event is:

West Stage, 3.45pm

As the debate about what it means to be a feminist is ongoing, this session brings together three writers, all of whom identify as feminists. Justine Larbalestier is a YA and fantasy writer, playwright Bryony Lavery is the author of iconic works including Thursday, and Chika Unigwe is the author of the novel On Black Sister’s Street, about a group of African women in the sex trade.

This panel marks the first time I’ve ever been on a panel with writers for grown ups (i.e. whose audience is presumed to be primarily adults, as opposed to mine which is presumed to be mostly teens) at a literary festival. I think it’s wonderful that there’s a festival in the world that is actively breaking down boundaries between genres and writers and readers. Honestly, I was so surprised when I saw this I thought they’d made a mistake. Then I looked at the whole programme. And, lo, it’s full of such inter-genre cross over panels. Way to go, AWW, way to go!

I like that they list all the panellists’ nationalities. I was excited when I saw there was a USian on both my panels. But a little bewildered when I looked the other panellists up and discovered none of them were from the USA. I’d been looking forward to asking where they were from, and if they knew NYC or any of the other cities I know, we could compare notes. Which is when I realised that I am the USian on those panels.


In my defense I’ve only been a US citizen for a year. It’s easy to forget.

TL;DR:3 I will be in Adelaide in early March. Come to my panels!

  1. Yes, that’s a real word. Shut up! []
  2. Which, no, I don’t. It was a lot of fun, but. I love weddings! So much love! So many wonderful speeches about love! So many opportunities for it to all go horribly wrong! Especially at doomed weddings between those Who Should Not Marry. Someday I’m going to write a Doomed Wedding book. Though to be clear: the Adelaide wedding was not doomed. Um, I think I’m digressing. []
  3. For the old people that stands for: Too long, Didn’t Read. You’re welcome. []

Brasil! Legal!

In just a few days me and the old man, Scott Westerfeld, will be in Brasil. First Sao Paolo and then Rio. And, yes, we will be doing events. Scott’s there to promote the first volume of his Leviatã trilogy being published in Brasil and I’m there for the newly published there, Zumbis x Unicornios. We are both published by Galera Record.

Neither of us has ever been to Brasil before. Our only previous visit to South America was to Buenos Aires, Argentina lo those many years ago. So, yes, we have excitement. Muito!

Here are the details for all you folks in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro:

Programação Scott Westerfeld – lançamento Leviatã

24 de novembro

16h – Apresentação de Scott Westerfeld sobre Leviatã e bate-papo. Distribuição de 100 senhas para a palestra, distribuídas pela Livraria Cultura, 1 hora antes do evento.

Cine Livraria Cultura, do Conjunto Nacional – Sala 2.

17h – Sessão de autógrafos de Scott Westerfeld. Autógrafos livres, sem distribuição de senhas, com fila. Só será permitido autografar 3 livros por pessoa.

Livraria Cultura, do Conjunto Nacional – Piso térreo.

Av. Paulista, 2073 – Bela Vista, São Paulo – SP

Observação: A foto com o autor será feita por um fotógrafo profissional e estará disponível em um Flickr cujo endereço será divulgado no site da Galera.

Programação Justine Larbalestier – lançamento Zumbis X Unicórnios

25 de novembro

14h30 – Bate-papo com Fabio Yabu, com mediação da editora da Galera, Ana Lima, na Livraria da Vila, em São Paulo.

15h30 – Sessão de autógrafos de Justine Larbalestier e Fabio Yabu

Livraria da Vila – Rua Fradique Coutinho, 915 – Pinheiros, São Paulo – SP

Scott e Justine

27 de novembro às 19h – lançamento de Leviatã e Zumbis X Unicórnios

Sessão de autógrafos na Livraria Cultura – São Conrado Fashion Mall Shopping Center.

Estrada da Gávea, 899 – Lojas 201, 202 e 204 – São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro – RJ

Clink on these thumbnails to see the beautiful banners for the events:

See you soon!

Monsters I Have Loved

Since a few of you expressed mild interest in the speech I gave at Sirens in October last year I thought I would share it with you. The theme was monsters and my speech involved me showing many monstrous images. Yes, that’s my disclaimer, I wrote this to be spoken to a real life audience with funny pictures and the funny may not work so well without the kind and appreciative live audience. Or something. *cough*

Here it is:

Monsters I Have Loved

Ideas = Brain Monkeys According to Maureen Johnson

Like every other writer ever I get asked “where do you get your ideas” a lot. Today I thought instead of answering that question in the Q & A at the end, I’d show you.

Here’s how I got the idea for the speech I’m about to give, which is very similar to how I get ideas for the novels I write.

Excellently recursive, yes?

I knew I had to write a speech for Sirens more than a year ago. For many, many many months I didn’t think about it at all because, you know, other deadlines, basketball games to watch, old movies to pillage for info about the early 1930s, issues of Vampires & Rosario to read. But in the deepest darkest recesses of my brain those monkeys were juggling the nouns associated with this year’s Sirens: feminism, YA, monsters.

Then one day in July, or possibly August, I was walking around New York City with my headphones on listening to music. That’s unusual for me. Usually I walk around listening to podcasts from Australia when I wander about the city. But on this particular day I’d run out. So I was listening to one of my favourite playlists. And for some reason I started writing this speech in my head. When I got to my office I immediately wrote everything down. It flowed out of me like magic.

Nah, not really.

When I got to the office I gossiped with the doorman on the way in, and answered a phone call from my agent on the stairs on the way up (how fancy am I?), and then gossiped with the receptionist. By the time I took off my walking-around-the-city-listening-to-podcasts-and-sometimes-music headphones and donned my-talking-to-the-voice-recognition-software headset I’d forgotten everything I’d thought of on the walk over except this:

Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis

Am I right?

I can tell long-term readers of my blog—both of you—knew where I was going with that.


Hmmm, looks like I may have to explain myself a bit more.

Me and Elvis

My parents are anthropologists/sociologists. (I always understood the difference to be that anthropologists studied people with a different skin colour to them and sociologists study those with the same skin colour. That may perhaps be a tad unfair.) When I was little my family lived for a time on two different Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory: Ngukurr in Arnhem Land and Djemberra (now called Jilkminggan) not far from the predominately white town of Mataranka. It is the part of my childhood I remember most vividly. For many reasons.

The red dot up top is Jilkminggan. The purple dot is Sydney. For scale: Australia is roughly the same size as mainland USA.

I remember the hard red earth, the heat making everything in the distance shimmer, towering termite nests, brolgas, eating food that had been hunted or found that day: kangaroo, emu, goanna, crayfish, turtle eggs, wild honey, fruits and tubers I don’t remember the names of and have never seen or (more sadly) eaten since.

I remember being allowed to run wild with a pack of kids (and dogs) of assorted ages and skin colours (though none so pale as me), swimming in the Roper River, playing games like red rover for hours. I remember learning that I was white and what that could mean, and that the Aboriginal kinship system my family had been adopted into meant that I could have many more mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousines and grandparents than the bare handful I’d been born with. I became fluent in a whole other language, of which only two words remain: “baba” meaning brother or sister, and “gammon” meaning bullshit (sort of).

Yes, um, that is a smaller me. I am being extremely helpful getting the fire hot enough for them to brand cattle. EXTREMELY helpful! Thanks for the photo, Dad.

(I’m making it sound more romantic than it was. I’m forgetting the flies—more flies than I’ve ever seen before in my life. So many you soon stop waving them away because there’s no point. Many of those kids had cataracts. And, yeah, we kids ran together and the dogs were always underfoot, but they were so underfoot that when the numbers got too big—authorities—mostly white—would come in and shoot them.)

I was a city child. I knew nothing about the outback. I was alien to those kids and those kids were alien to me. Until, after a few weeks, we weren’t.

That year changed me completely. Especially my thinking about race. I want to be clear, however, that I’m not saying those experiences made me magically understand what it is to be “The Other.” (And, ugh, to that term, by the way.) To my horror, when I’ve told these stories of my childhood in the Territory too many people have understood me to be saying “I lived with people who weren’t white so I know what it is to be oppressed.”

A thousand times NO!2

What I learned was that I was white. I had not thought about the colour of my skin or what it signified. I had not been aware of whiteness or what it meant.

What I learned was that race and racism exist. Which was something I’d had the privilege of not learning earlier because I was white growing up in a predominantly white country in predominantly white bits of that country. Spending time in a predominately black part of Australia made me aware of my whiteness before the majority of my white peers back in urban southern Australia did.3

It was also the year I discovered Elvis Presley.

My first Elvis memory is of the juke box in one of the pubs in the white town of Mataranka. There were only two pubs which in Australia means that it was a very, very small town. The jukebox had records by Slim Dusty and Elvis Presley and no-one else. When Slim Dusty played it caused the child-me physical pain. As far as I was concerned it was noise, not music. But when Elvis played, well, that was heaven. The best music, the best voice I’d ever heard. For years I couldn’t stand Slim Dusty, but I’ve always loved Elvis.

I was not alone in this judgement, by the way, cause almost all the kids—and a fair number of the adults—of Jilkmingan liked Elvis too. Added bonus: my dad couldn’t stand him.

My second memory is of watching a 1968 Elvis movie, Stay Away Joe, on the outdoor basketball court at Ngukurr. The screen was hung over the hoop. We all crowded onto the court, restless (the last few movies had been total busts) and excited (there was always the hope this one wouldn’t suck), sitting in each others’ laps or on our haunches on the gravel. We’d pull each others’ hair, poke each other with fingers, elbows, feet and knees, throw handfuls of gravel at each other. The adults would laugh at us, or tell us to shut up or both.

From http://www.outbushpitchas.com

This time the rowdiness only lasted through the opening credits. We settled down quick because we loved it. Stay Away Joe is set on a Native American reservation. Elvis plays an Indian. Everyone on the basketball court recognised what they were seeing up on screen.

Like the movie reservation, Ngukurr was full of crap cars, there were dogs everywhere, houses fell apart, and there was high unemployment. There was also a tonne of singing and dancing.4

Some of us kids really thought Elvis was Native American.5 I’m sure my parents disabused me of that notion pretty quickly, but for a long time I wasn’t quite sure who or what Elvis was. When I returned to southern Australia none of my school friends liked Elvis (if they’d heard of him). They thought I was weird. I associated Elvis with indigenous Australia, with the Territory, with stockmen & rodeos & outdoor crappy movie projectors.

The way I discovered Elvis made him seem racially fluid.

I have always thought that one day I would write a novel about that Elvis.


I also thought Elvis wrote all his songs and that he was the first person to sing them. Frankly, until I was ten or so I’m pretty sure I thought Elvis invented rock’n’roll, if not all music.

Then someone played the original recording of Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton for me.

Turned out the song had been written for her by Leiber & Stoller and she recorded it in 1952. Her original version was number one on the billboard R&B charts for six weeks in 1953. There followed multiple cover versions, mostly by white bands. Elvis discovered the song, not through Thornton’s version, but through a white band, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys’s live version that he heard in Vegas. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys? (I for one cannot think of a sexier or more dangerous name for a group, can you? Don’t answer that.)

They changed the lyrics because they were considered too dirty for a white audience. “Snoopin’ round my door” was replaced with “cryin’ all the time,” and “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more” was replaced by “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.”

Elvis’s recorded the Bellboy’s lyrics. The original lyricist, Jerry Leiber, was appalled, pointing out that the new lyrics made “no sense.” Which they really don’t. In Elvis’ version I had no idea what the hound dog wanted or why it was a problem. Was the hound dog crying cause it couldn’t catch rabbits? Then why was Elvis so unsympathetic?

Here’s Elvis’ version for comparison:

I’ve never liked Elvis’ version as much since.

Listening to Big Mama Thornton’s version exploded the song for me. It didn’t mean what I thought it meant. It was bigger and sexier and BETTER.

Elvis was not an orginator. He was a borrower. He was a remaker of existing things. He didn’t write songs. Those lyric changes to “Hound Dog” weren’t even his changes—that was Freddie Bell & the Bellboys. At the time I decided that meant he was no good. He could wag his tail but I was done.6

Then not too much later I read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. Their retellings of the fairy tales I grew up with changed those stories utterly: made them bigger, sexier, better. Elvis had made “Hound Dog” worse. Was that the difference?

Had Elvis appropriated Big Mama Thornton’s Houng Dog?

Was it appropriation because Elvis was white and Mama Thornton black? Because his version went to no. 1 on all three Billboard charts of the time: pop, c&w, and r&b. Whereas her version was limited to the R&B chart only? Because to this day his version is more famous than hers as he is more famous than she is?

Elvis’s success was monstrous. Both in scale—it’s more than thirty years since he died—and he’s still one of the most famous people in the world. I have bonded with people over Elvis in Indonesia, Argentina, Turkey & Hawaii. He’s everywhere.

But there’s also an argument that his career is a testament to the monstrous power of racism. He was the first white kid to do what dozens—if not more—black performers had done before him. (Especially Little Richard.) His success was dependent on an appropriation of black music, black style, black dancing, black attitude. He become famous for bringing black music to a white audience. But if Elvis had actually been black then I would not be talking about him right now.

I have often thought of writing a novel about that black Elvis. The black female Elvis. It would probably turn out that she was Big Mama Thornton.

Given my track record as a white writer who has written multiple novels with non-white protags, appropriation is, naturally, something I think about a lot.


My initial reaction to discovering that Elvis, not only didn’t write his own songs, but that sometimes the original versions were better than his, was horror. I had, like, many of you, I’m sure, grown up with the notion that originality is the thing.

Before the 1960s a popular singer was not looked at askance if they did not write their own songs. They were singers! Why would they write their own songs? Then came the sixties and the singer-song writer revolution and suddenly if all you could do was sing then you better join a band with someone who could write songs for you or you were screwed. And song writers WHO COULD NOT SING AT ALL started singing. Yes, Bob Dylan, you are one of the worst. True fact: Dylan songs are way better when sung by Elvis.7

In English classes through high school & university the highest praise given to a writer was originality. I remember asking a lecturer why there were no women writers on his post-modernism course.

He gave me a disdainful look and asked, “Who would you suggest?”

“Angela Carter.”

“Angela Carter?” he sneered. “Light weight! Completely unoriginal!”

He then spent the rest of the course carefully delineating the antecedents of all the boy writers we’d been assigned. Astonishingly none of them had stepped fully formed from a clam shell either. No originality anywhere! But somehow magically their penises protected them from lightweightness. Maybe penises are really heavy or something?

It’s a moment that’s stayed with me. Not just because of his why-are-you-wasting-my-time dismissal but because of the way everyone else in the room looked at me. There was much rolling of eyes. But two of the women in the room smiled. We became friends.

At the time I thought about writing a novel in which a white middle-aged male lecturer writes a novel about seducing all his female students to ease his mid-life crisis, which every publishing house in the entire universe passes on, so that he ends his days in a padded cell with only Angela Carter to read. But the thought of staying in his point of view long enough to write a whole novel was too depressing so I wrote a 13th century Cambodian epic instead.8

And my point? Right, as you all know: all art comes from somewhere. Nothing is truly original. If it was we’d have no way of making sense of it.

Octavia Butler and Angela Carter and Tanith Lee are three of the biggest influences on my writing. I see traces of them in every novel I have written.

But so is Elvis and my childhood experience on Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory and a million and one other things. People who know me, and sometimes strangers, point to other influences I hadn’t even thought about. I find that scarily often they’re correct. My writing is the sum total of everything that has ever happened to me, everything I have ever seen, or read, or tasted, or heard, or felt, or smelled.9 That’s how writing works.

I am no more original than Elvis.

Can Feminists Love Elvis?

But how can a feminist love Elvis? How can someone who believes in social justice and racial equality love Elvis?

He starred in a movie sympathetic to the confederate lets-keep-slaves cause, Love Me Tender, there’s a tonne of Elvis memoribilia out there which juxtaposes his name and/or face and the confederate flag. Good ole boy Southerners often adore Elvis. Every single one of his movies is jaw droppingly sexist. In Elvis movies all a woman wants is a man. All a man want is a good woman, lots of bad women, and to be a racing car driver. Correction: a singing, dancing racing car driver.

How can we love any number of cultural figures and artefacts that are sexist, racist, homophobic etc? Can I remain untainted by my Elvis love? (Or by my love of Georgette Heyer’s anti-semitic, classist, sexist regency romances?)

In loving something that’s monstruous do we become monstrous? Which gives me another idea for a novel. What if a girl falls in love with someone who she’s always been taught to believe was a monster? And vice versa. Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling that’s been done.

No! Yes! Um, maybe.

Yes, your typical, sparkly jumpsuit wearing, monstruous-sideburned US male.

Here’s one of Elvis’s more egregiously sexist recordings, US Male, and not coincidentally one of his sillier songs. Written and first recorded by Jerry Reed, who plays guitar on the track. It is a dreadful and very wrong song. And pretty much impossible to take seriously. I do not for a second believe that it was written with a straight face.

I adore it.


US Male owns woman if she’s wearing his ring. If another man is interested in said woman US Male will do him in. Woman has no agency in any of this, the song isn’t addressed to her, it’s for the perceived rival. So far so cave man-esque10.

Yet it’s so over the top. So absurd. The terrible puns! “Male” as in a bloke plus “mail” as in letters. “Don’t tamper with the property of the U.S. Male” and “I catch you ’round my woman, champ, I’m gonna leave your head ’bout the shape of a stamp,” “Through the rain and the heat and the sleet and the snow the U.S. Male is on his toes.” And the half-spoken, half-sung tough guy-ese delivery! It makes me laugh. It’s so freaking camp.

I start to imagine the U.S. Male’s woman sitting there chewing gum and rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. You done? No, the waiter was not looking at my rack. Gonna give the poor guy a tip already? A big one. Bigger. Okay. Now, sing me a song.” I suspect eventually she would set him on fire though that would probably qualify as tampering with the US male.

You all make up stories that go with songs, right?

That’s how I feel about a lot of Georgette Heyer’s work not uncoincidentally. Makes me laugh it’s so freaking camp. And also witty and well written. (Pity about the anti-semitism.)

Heyer’s regencies have had a ridiculously big influence on YA today. You would not believe how many YA writers are also huge Georgette Heyer fans. It’s scary. Come to think of it most of her heroines are teenage girls . . . So they’re practically YA in the first place.

I have been meaning to write my own Heyereseque YA for ages. One in which the rake-ish hero is actually the villian and has syphillis from all that raking around.

But, Heyer kind of already did that with Cotillion in which the hero is a barely-in-the-closet gentleman, who is not in the petticoat line, but adores picking out excellent gowns for the heroine. (The villain is the bloke who in many of Heyer’s other books was the hero. His syphllis is clearly implied.) They get married. I imagine them having an awesome future of many shopping trips to Paris and fabulous dinner parties with assorted lovers and friends.

So now my Heyeresque YA is going to take place below stairs because I’m sick to death of the equivalence between the aristocracy and worthiness. I want a democratic regency romance! Where people earn what they get from hard work and not because of who their family is! Workers’ revolution! Solidarity forever!11

Recursively Speaking

As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this speech the germ of it came to me while I listened to music while walking to my office. That day it was my 1960s Elvis playlist with super campy songs like US Male and the scary stalker song Slowly But Surely, those songs set this whole chain of thoughts—and this speech—in motion.

And led me to wondering how I have come to adore such monstruously misogynist songs. I mean apart from them being AWESOME. I guess I manage to set aside the monstruous parts and revel in the campy deliciousness. But it’s not just that: I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can critique the bad, take the good, and add whatever I want. That is a pretty accurate description of my novel writing process. And of my reading (in the broadest sense) process.

My fond hope is that every time I do that—every time we do that—the power of those monsters is eroded.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the worst monsters: the monsters of misogyny, of bigotry . . .

Most especially the monsters in my brain and under my bed because they are where I get my ideas.

Thank you!

  1. At the Sirens conference everyone in the audience looked at me like I was a crazy person and insisted that no one on the planet thinks that Feminism + Young Adult Literature + Monsters = Elvis. I remain unconvinced. Plus I am on this planet, am I not? Don’t answer that. []
  2. I was going to have NO appear a thousand times but I think I can trust you all to imagine it. []
  3. Check out these accounts of discovering you are black or white (though mostly black). They’re from Baratunde Thurston’s tumblr for his book How to be Black which you should all read because it’s smart and insightful and funny as. The book and the tumblr. []
  4. I recently re-watched Stay Away Joe and it turns out to be jaw-droppingly bad and not just because it is sexist and racist. There is, in fact, nothing good about that movie at all. []
  5. I was little! See photo above. []
  6. For about a week to be totally honest. []
  7. Dissenting comments will be deleted. []
  8. As you do. []
  9. Yes, including the farts. []
  10. By the way there’s increasing evidence that cave humanity was not as cavemanish as we think but I digress []
  11. Courtney Milan has written several historical novellas along these lines. They are delicious. []

On New Zealand Not Being the Same as Australia (updated)

Right now I am at Auckland airport and it is nothing like Sydney airport. For starters there are All-Blacks jerseys everywhere and people are laughing at my accent and not Scott’s. It’s Bizarro-world!

Now a serious question for my USian readers. Do you guys have any theories as to why so many of the USian blog reviewers of Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead are under the impression that her extremely New Zealand book is set in Australia? Many NZ cities are named, such as Christchurch, where it is largely set. The South & North Islands are frequently mentioned as are many other very very very Kiwi things and people. No mention is made of Australia.

What gives? Are you taught at school that NZ and Australia are one and the same place? I am also wondering if this happens to all New Zealander writers when their books are published in the USA. Are USians the only ones who can’t tell the difference between our fine nations? Or do the French and Armenians and Chileans labour under the same delusion?

I am confused. Your explanations are most welcome.


Update: To re-iterate because apparently I was not clear: my question isn’t about ignorance per se, it’s very specifically about the way this one book is being read as Australian, even though it’s very clear that it’s set in New Zealand. Yes, including using the words “New Zealand” in the text. That’s not mere ignorance, but a really interesting and consistent misreading of the text. That’s what’s been puzzling me. Are there people who think that New Zealand is part of Australia?

I don’t think that USians are any more ignorant than any other peoples in the world. Nor do I expect everyone in the world to know all about Australia or New Zealand or any other country for that matter.

Off to Brisbane

Off to the Aurealis Awards in Brisbane. I am not taking my computer with me. Have fun, oh internets, while I’m gone.

I leave you with this gorgeous music:

“Djarimirri” by Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.

If you don’t own his album you might want to fix that.

Oops! Forgot to mention that I’ll be part of a signing tomorrow:

Saturday, 23 Jan 2010,
Signing at Pulp Fiction Books
10.30-11.30AM: Trudi Canavan and Kaaron Warren
11.30-12.30AM: Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, Sean Williams
12.30-1.30PM: Karen Miller and Glenda Larke
2.30-3.30PM: Pamela Freeman and K J Taylor
Shop 28-29 Anzac Square Building Arcade
265-269 Edward Street
Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

Last Day of 2009

This is my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life in that year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2010. Basically I do this so I can have a handy record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” tag.) Do feel free to skip it.1

This year, though, was less happy than any of the previous years I’ve summed up here. Thus my summary is brief. I want to get past 2009 and on to the fun of 2010 as fast as I can.

Books out: Liar (hc in US & tpb in Oz), HTDYF (in Oz & pb in US)

MorM&MLDeustchEdLiar sold in nine different countries this year (in order of sale): Taiwan, Germany, France, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands & Spain. That last sale was to Ediciones Versatil. I only just found out about it. Since I’ve been wanting to sell Spanish-language rights since I even knew such a thing existed I’m dead happy. (Champagne tonight!) Spanish is the only language I can even vaguely speak. (Other than English, obviously.) I’m going to be very curious to read the translation. (Or try to anyways.) Liar has now sold in as many countries as the Magic or Madness trilogy. HTDYF remains my least popular book o.s. having only sold in Australia, the US, Germany & this year to Japan. Germany is the only country other than Australia and the USA to have bought all my novels. Apparently, the trilogy is doing well there—yay for German readers! I figure that’s because of the awesome covers. The cover above is of a new German edition of the first two books in the trilogy which will be out in October next year. Isn’t it gorgeous?

There were also audio editions of Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy released in Australia by Bolinda and the USA by Brilliance. I was able to sit in on a bit of the recording of Liar and was invited to help choose the narrator of HTDYF both wonderful, wonderful experiences. I think the end results are amazing.

Okay, that was my 2009. Now on to next year!

First up, I have two books coming out in the USA in fall:

The paperback edition of Liar

Zombies versus Unicorns anthology edited with Holly Black

I am so excited about the antho. You would not believe how fantastic the stories are. Not a dud one in the book. Well, except for the unicorn stories which are all dreadful (Holly edited those) but you are going to adore the zombie stories, which are, no lie, the best stories written in the history of the universe by some of the best writers ever. Um, yes, I edited those ones. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to announce who the writers are yet. I’ll just give you their initials: LB, CC, AJ, MJ, SW, & CR. Tell no one! I’m not giving you the unicorn story writer initials because 1) I know you don’t care, 2) they’re all hack writers you never heard of anyways.

It’s quite astonishing that someone as spectacularly talented as Holly could be such a unicorn fan. I don’t understand. I think the best plan is for everyone to skip the unicorn stories and instead read Holly’s new novel, The White Cat, which is out in May next year and is the best thing she’s ever written. I say that as someone who adores everything Holly writes. The White Cat, though, beats them, hands down. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. You are in for such a treat! In even better news: it’s the first of a trilogy.

The ZvU antho began life as a sekrit project in 2007. It is my first sekrit project to see the light of day. Very happy making. It’s also the first project of mine to be inspired by this blog. By this comment exchange between me and Holly and many others, to be exact.

So that’s what I’m publishing, what about what I’m working on? People have been asking me about that a lot lately. I suspect because I’ve not blogged about it much lately. Especially compared the flurry of 1930s book posts earlier in the year. Speaking of which there have been queries about how the 1930s novel is going, seeing as how I haven’t mentioned it in awhile. “Have you given up on it?” I’ve been asked anxiously. (Mostly by my friend and critique partner Diana Peterfreund, who’s read some chunks of it.) I have not! But I have kind of been cheating on it.

Right now I’m working on four novels at once:

  • One is the 1930s novel, which has turned out to be much bigger than I thought. More than one novel, in fact. When it became clear to me that there was no way I was finishing it any time soon my brain spat out another idea for a much shorter novel and I started working on that.
  • That novel is set in the here2 and now and is closer in tone to How To Ditch Your Fairy. When I started working on it I stopped reading only 1930s books. I now only restrict myself when I’m working on the 1930s novel.
  • The third book I started awhile ago, it’s the lodger book for those of you who’ve been with this blog for awhile, and then rediscovered it while procrastinating. It was the one I put aside to concentrate on Liar.
  • The fourth one is a sekrit. Though not the sekrit project I thought would come to fruition this year that I mentioned at the end of last year. I still have hopes for that sekrit project but I do not see it happening for at least two or three years. Thank Elvis for the new sekrit project, eh?

At the moment none of these novels is winning the fight for my attention. And, honestly, while touring I was unable to get any writing done at all. I truly admire those who can. School events all day and then a library or book store event at night means no writing on tour for this particular writer. And travelling and returning home ate my December. (In a good way!) My next clear, no travelling, stretch starts tomorrow. Bless you, January 2010. So tomorrow I start writing again in earnest and that’s when I expect one of the four novels to take over my brain completely. But maybe it won’t. Maybe my new style of writing is to flit back and forth between books. I guess I’ll find out in 2010.

My only goal for this year is to be happy writing. If I finish one or more of these novels then wonderful. If not, no big deal.

I hope 2010 shapes up beautifully for all of us.

Happy new year!

  1. Cause it will be boring. Don’t say you weren’t warned. []
  2. Well, not Sydney (or NYC), but this planet and not an alternative version of it. []

In Istanbul

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

In Istanbul we have eaten.

A lot.

First course at Borsa restaurant.

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

The Egyptian spice market.

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

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

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

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

Hmm . . . is it lunch time yet?

On the Road Again + Collaboration Quessie

Or getting in a plane again. This time to Istanbul, which is a city I’ve never been before. Am I excited? Yes, I am. But it does mean that blogging may not be as every single day as I like it to be. Might be a couple of weeks before normal service resumes. On the other hand, there may be kickarse wireless in the hotel and I’ll blog like a demon. Just to keep you on your toes.

Have fun in my absence—I know it will be hard—and patient with my slow response to emails and questions etc. If you do have any quessies for me the best way to get a response is to go to the FAQs and ask there. I check them regularly. Whereas questions asked on regular posts often go unanswered. Sorry bout that.

I have a question for youse lot though: What do you feel about novels written in collaboration? I’ve heard some readers won’t touch them, which I find really odd. But I’m curious to know if it’s a widespread feeling. You don’t see that many bestselling collaborations, though there are a few. (I’m excluding ghostwritten books.) I’ve always wanted to do one but the opportunity has never arisen.

Thanks for your answers.

Missing soul

Who was it that claimed jetlag is caused by souls not travelling as fast as bodies? I can’t remember. But I think they’re a hundred per cent correct.

The rumours are true

So, this is very weird but I’ve had three people write to ask if it’s true that I changed hotels in Perth in order to watch the South Africa v Australia test.

Yes, it’s true. The Duxton did not have Fox 3, the Hyatt did. What else could I have done?

Perth Writers Festival Thus Far

I shall be brief for the internets is expensive and wobbly.

Organisation: superlative. The PWF crew know that authors are a hapless lot and they have kept us on course and on time. Why, I have not gotten lost or been late for a single event. Bless them all!

I have met too many wonderful writers to name them all but I particularly enjoyed meeting Barry Jonsberg and his wife Nita who love the cricket as much as I do. There was much discussion of the South Africa v Australia and West Indies v England tests that are currently unfolding.

For the first time in my career I wound up talking to under twelve year olds as opposed to over twelve year olds, which was dead interesting. I was asked many questions that I’ve never been asked before. Also my jokes that knock ’em dead when they’re a bit older did not always fly with the younger set. Fortunately, they laughed at many jokes that hitherto only I have found funny. It made me really want to write a book that skews even younger than How To Ditch Your Fairy. It will involve quokka.

Thanks to everyone who came out to see me. Thanks for the great questions and comments and stories of your fairies and curses. I especially loved the girl who has a sunshine fairy.

And now (for me) it is over and I wend my way back home. Later!

How hotels should be

In the last few years I have spent way more time in hotels of every kind than I ever though I would. This has led me to the realisation that there are four essential items for a hotel to be acceptable:

  • Free fast wireless
  • Windows that open
  • Good food—especially breakfast
  • Decent bed and bedding. (I.e. something you can sleep on without waking up feeling broken and which is also clean.)

You’d be amazed how many hotels can’t manage any of these. It fills my heart with sadness.

What are your bare minimums for a hotel?

In a dancing kind of mood

Everything today was wonderful. Just everything. Especially my book launch. Thank you, all! Especially Lili and Jodie for your blush-making speeches, and Readings in Carlton for hosting, and all my wonderful friends for coming along to cheer HTDYF‘s official appearance in Australia. And all the people I don’t even know. Bless!

Thanks to everyone who’s written after my Melbourne events. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to reply. Hopefully on my return to Sydney but more likely when I’m in NYC. But I just wanted to let you all know that I SO appreciate your wonderful letters. And, no, being a good speller is not necessary if you want to be a writer. Though it’s not a bad thing either!

For those who were asking, HTDYF should now be available in book shops far and wide across this fair land. And if they don’t have it—demand to know why not! Or alternatively buy Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful which rocks.

I leave you with this Alien Onion post on parallel importation, which links to many profound, beautiful, and smart submissions on publishing in Australia. You should especially read Tim Winton’s piece.

And now I will dance towards bed.

Tomorrow = Perth.

Not that fussed

Initial disclaimer: I realise that just by announcing that I’m not that fussed I’ll be seen as protesting too much. To which I respond: Whatever.

In the course of reading Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan’s lovely posts about all the ways in which YA is dismissed by people who know nothing about it and have read at most two YA novels, and the New Yorker blog post that set Carrie off, I realised that I, in fact, wasn’t particularly annoyed or outraged by it. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. The post in question, while declaring that it is the exception that proves that YA is not worth reading, raves about a novel by a truly wonderful writer: Kathe Koja’s Headlong. I’ve not yet read it. (Tragically, it is not set in the 1930s.) But I have heard great things and I’ve read several of Koja’s other novels. She’s a genius. Pure and simple. Anyone spending time praising her work in a public forum is okay by me. Continue!
  2. I’ve seen that kind of dismissal of the genre many times before—not just YA, but also sf and fantasy. It’s boring and I’m bored by it. Yawn. Been there done that. The more you hear an erroneous set of assumptions, the less they bother you. I’ve also mounted the counterarguments and had them largely fall on deaf ears so I can’t be bothered saying it all again. I’l leave it to those more able and willing. Like Diana and Carrie and Maureen Johnson and John Green and Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
  3. We’re doing better than they are. I don’t want to skite about my genre, but . . . Oh, who am I kidding. I totally want to skite! I don’t care that there are adults who will never read YA because there are heaps of adults who are reading it. Not to mention the gazillions of teenagers. YA totally outsells adult litfic. Our audience is bigger than theirs. Our books earn out; theirs mostly don’t. Many of the YA writers I know can make a living writing; most of the litfic writers I know can’t. Many YA writers sell in multiple territories. We have books in Korean and Russian and Indonesian and Turkish and Estonian as well as English. We get fan letters from our readers all the time. We’re doing just fine; it’s adult litfic that’s in trouble.

Now that last skiteful point may turn out to be an historical aberration. Horror as a genre was riding very very high in the eighties and look at it now! Exactly. There are very few “horror” sections left in book shops and Stephen King’s pretty much the only one still doing fabulously well. Best to take that point with a grain of salt. I imagine that when the genre dries ups and my books stop selling1 I’ll be annoyed all over again at those mean litfic types peeing on YA. But I hope not. On both counts. But, yes, especially in the US, this has been a very scary year in publishing.

In the meantime, yay for Koja praise. Yawn to ignorant dismissals of any genre. And yay for all us YA writers doing just fine, thank you very much, while the rest of the publishing world collapses. Some of you astute followers of publishing in the US may have noticed that there were way more job losses and other slash-and-burns in the adult publishing world than there were in children’s/YA. Maybe the current spate of litfic sniping at YA is sour grapes?2

Oops, seems that I’m still skiting3 Look away, pretend you saw nothing! And read whatever damn books you want to read: litfic, YA, romance, fantasy, manga, airplane manuals, cricket books. It’s all good.

I’ll get out of your way now . . .

  1. Those two events may or may not be concurrent. []
  2. Well, except that as I pointed out t’other day many of them haven’t even heard of us. []
  3. Which is dangerous given how precarious publishing feels right now, even though book sales are actually up in the USA on what they were the year before. []

Excellent article on accent

Over at Daily Kos, Meteor Blades (via Scott) has an article on accents in which he points out that, yes, everyone has one and quotes Geoffrey Nunberg being smart on the same topic:

    If authenticity is a matter of heeding your true inner voice, then it probably isn’t surprising that people listen for signs of it in the way you speak. And our idea of an authentic accent reflects our idea of the authentic self. It’s the natural speech you sucked up from the surroundings you grew up in, unfiltered and uncorrected. It’s how you’re supposed to sound when you’re talking to yourself.

    It’s also a delusion. Or at least if your speech is like yourself, it’s because both are a work in progress. My own speech covers a lot more territory than it did when I was growing up in a New York suburb. Sometimes it shifts toward what people would hear as East Coast nondescript. And sometimes it gets pretty sidewalks-of-New York, particularly when I’m talking to friends from college days. (“Hey — you never used to talk like that,” my sister once said to me after she overheard me talking on the phone with one old friend.) But it doesn’t make sense to ask what part of that is my “authentic” voice. You grow up, you meet new people, you change the way you talk. If you still sound the same way you did when you were fifteen, you haven’t been getting out enough.

That’s my emphasis on the last sentence. Because, well, EXACTLY. People who travel a lot, live in other places, and pick up some of the local accents, aren’t freaks, they’re just paying attention. Accents are never set in stone unless your ears are clogged and you’re living in a hole in the ground. (And even then wouldn’t you pick up a worm accent or something?)

We are all hybrids.

That is all.

Signed books in Toronto

If you want a signed copy of HTDYF and you live in Toronto you should go to Bakka Phoenix Books, a lovely sf bookshop located at 697 Queen Street West. I believe you’ll also find books signed by John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld.

My history with Bakka Books (as it used to be known) goes back to the 1990s when I was in Toronto doing research for my Phd at the Judith Merril Collection. I spent many hours at Bakka, gossiping with the staff, and feeding my book habit. So it was quite the thrill to be back there and signing my own books. Who’da thunk it?

I was also reminded me of how much I like Toronto. It’s not the prettiest city in the world but who cares when there’s so much cool inventive stuff going on? It totally reminds me of Melbourne. Queen St and Brunswick street bare a very close resemblance. I stumbled into Magpie Designs1 and may have accidentally wound up with some clothes. Can’t be sure.

It was lovely to be reminded even briefly of another of my favourite cities. I could totally live in Toronto.2

  1. Sadly, none of the images on the site are as fabulous as the clothes they have in their shop right now. []
  2. Just not in winter. []

You does not have to read my books + interview + assorted other stuff

I am noticing an odd phenomenon: Readers of this blog apologising for not reading my books.

Please don’t!

I do not write this blog to get people to read my books.1

I write it cause it’s fun and because I’m shockingly opinionated—seriously there is NOTHING I don’t have an opinion about2—and I like to share. Blog writing is the most relaxing fun writing I do.3

It saddens me if any of you are feeling guilty about not reading my books. Put that guilt away. You are excused from ever reading them. So no more apologies, okay?4

In other news an interview with me can be found here. Thanks for the great quessies, Cynthia.

Brooke Taylor is giving a copy of How to Ditch Your Fairy away for Faery Week of her Monster Month of Giveaways.

Bloomsbury’s HTDYF contest also continues. There are several different prizes but I think this one’s best: $150 gift certificate to Forever 21.

Shortly, I am off to Toronto. If you’re there come see me and Scott Monday:

Monday, 27 October, 7:00PM-8:00PM
Indigo Bookstore
Yorkdale Mall
3401 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario

  1. Ewww! []
  2. Ask me about wolves some time. Or chewing gum. Or musicals. Or corks. []
  3. Way better than smelly novels. []
  4. But do read E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or Coe Booth’s Kendra or The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. []

Oh Canada!

I have neglected to let all you fabulous Canadians know that I will be in Canada next week. Toronto to be precise and, yes, there will be an appearance. Me and Scott will be here next Monday:

Monday, 27 October, 7:00PM-8:00PM
Indigo Bookstore
Yorkdale Mall
3401 Dufferin Street
Toronto, Ontario

Here’s hoping some of my Torontonian readers will be there. I promise to tell really gross vomit stories. Or, you know, not, if that grosses you out.

They’re really great vomit stories, but.

Zombies! + book divas + banned books week

It is with great sadness that I realise I haven’t posted about zombies in ages. That’s SO wrong. Fortunately, Cecil Castellucci sent me a link to this science article all about how we all have an inner zombie:

[S]tarting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.

Notice that it’s not an inner uni***n; it’s an inner zombie. I think that proves once and for all time that zombies are more powerful, interesting and make for way better metaphors than smelly old uni***ns.

Take that, Holly Black!

I am now off to Michigan to talk about the glories of zombies fairies with the locals. Posting may be erratic for the next few days. Though I will, as usual, do my valiant best to post every day.

I will also be popping in to chat at Book Divas this week: 29 September through to 6 October. So if you’re a member or want to join do go check it out. I will answer any question you might have. Any question at all!

Today, or, oops, yesterday is also the first day of Banned Books Week. Maureen Johnson has a fabulous post about it over at YA for Obama, with which I agree entirely. On some topics she’s completely wrong but when it comes to banning books and zombies you can totally trust her.

Go forth and read a banned book!

A Few More Fairies + Michigan week

Time for some more YA celebrity fairies:

Lili Wilkinson is an insanely talented Australian YA writer, who is yet to be published in the US. But just you wait, it will happen any minute now. I wish I had her fairy:

My fairy would be a Getting Things Done fairy, although it often likes to take a holiday when your Procrastination fairy comes visiting. I’m pretty happy with that fairy, although I wouldn’t say no to a Keeping Things Clean fairy . . .

Melina Marchetta, best-known at home for Looking for Alibrandi and here in the US for Saving Franchesca, which I adore, wanted a retroactive fairy:

The one I wish I had when I was teaching was a Marking Fairy who would mark exam papers.

Coe Booth wrote the fabulous Tyrell, which deservedly won gazillions of prizes. I cannot wait to read her new one, Kendra. I would definitely like the fairy she wants:

Unfortunately, I’ve been saddled with the Sweet Tooth Fairy. She renders me incapable of saying no to such goodies as candy, cupcakes and ice cream—ever! I wish I had the Speed Reading Fairy, one that would let me quickly read yet still savor all the books that are currently on my ever-growing to-read list. Of course speed reading while eating ice cream, now that would be the best of both worlds!!!

Lastly, Meg Cabot, who needs no introduction because she’s, like, totally famous, not to mention being awesomeness personified:1

Honestly I don’t think I have a fairy unless it’s a fairy that makes you bump into things and lose your money with no idea where it went, but I think your fairies are nice ones, not mean ones, so I guess I would like to pick a fairy I wish I had: I wish I had a fairy who would help me find the perfect outfit every time I went shopping like Ro’s stylist fairy! Because whenever I go shopping I can never find anything that goes together. I NEED a shopping fairy like Ro’s! She’s so lucky. I wish I lived in New Avalon. It sounds like the perfect place.

Everyone wants Ro’s clothes shopping fairy. I know I do and at yesterday’s event it was by far the most requested fairy.

A fairy that makes you bump into things and lose money is not a fairy, it is a curse. Best avoided. I was going to include curses in HTDYF but it was too complicated and would have made the book twice the size. I once knew this guy who had a restaurant curse. He was invisible to wait staff even when he had a red mohawk. When they finally saw him they always get his order wrong. It’s bizarre.

I digress.

You can find other fairies here. Feel free to keep sharing yours over here or in the comments to this post, or on your own blog, or wherever you want.

Please to find my touring schedule for this week:

How To Ditch Your Fairy Tour 2008: Part the Second: Michigan

Tuesday, 30 September 2008, 7:00PM
Schuler Books & Music
3165 Alpine Ave
Walker, MI

Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 4:00PM
Pooh’s Corner
Breton Village
1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI

Thursday, 2 October 2008, 7:00PM
With Kathe Koja and Michael Spradlin
Oak Park Public Library
14200 Oak Park Boulevard
Oak Park, MI

I’m especially looking forward to that last event. I much prefer doing events with other writers. Also I’m really excited about meeting Kathe Koja. I’ve been a Koja fan since her debut, The Cipher, back in 1991.

There will also be a tonne of school appearances. Some of them at the very crack of dawn. I would like to issue a disclaimer: I am not a morning person. Seriously, I’m really really really not a morning person. You have been warned.

  1. No, I haven’t met her. I can just tell, okay? []


I’m lying awake with a nasty case of bunker brain. Sleep eludes and weird thoughts intrude. I’m trying to combat them by

    a) planning some fun ways to promote How To Ditch Your Fairy—so far the winning plan is to glue copies of the book to the backs of toilet doors—and,

    b) trying to figure out how to describe the smell of flying foxes without using the words “musk” or “feral”.

Also I’m wishing I could draw.

How about you?

Not liking a good book

I just read a book that’s been getting rapturous reviews. It is every bit as beautifully written as advertised. There were whole paragraphs that were very WOW inducing.1 I loved parts of it and not just because they were about cricket.2 But I did not enjoy this book.

I will break my usual procedure and name the book: Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. I’m naming it because it really is gorgeously written. Seriously, it’s stunning. O’Neill deserves the reviews he’s been getting. I think many people will love it. Hell, many people are loving it. I’m writing this to figure out why it didn’t work for me.

The book’s a realist fictional take on the after effects of 9/11 on a marriage, on the narrator, on the city of NYC, centring around the narrator’s experience playing cricket and getting involved with a shady cricket-obsessed entrepreneur. I loved the descriptions of cricket as well as the discussions of the game and why USians don’t get it. I also loved the sequence in which the narrator attempts to get a NY driver’s license. It’s a deliciously funny and accurate description of city bureaucracy.

Yet, other than those glorious parts, Netherland bored me. I found myself skimming, looking for the next mention of cricket.3 I was not engaged by the passive drifting narrator. Worse, I didn’t care about him. I didn’t care about his marriage. I was bored rigid by his reminiscences about his past. He is so distanced from his life, so flat, that he seemed passionless about everything.

But my biggest problem was that there was no discernible plot. Over the course of 250 pages all the dramatic events happen offstage. The more I read the more frustrated I became. Perhaps, though, that’s the same problem: Because I was uninterested—and eventually came to dislike the narrator—I could not look past the lack of plot.

I love Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. It has no plot. It’s about a poor writer stumbling around a city starving. That’s the entire book. What could be more boring? I love that book. There’s way less plot in Hunger than Netherland.

Come to think of it, the likability of the narrator is not that big a deal. The narrator of Hunger isn’t likable. I can think of lots of protags I don’t like, but who are immensely engaging. My problem with Hans is not that I didn’t like him, it’s that I found him and his life boring. Almost every other character in the book is more interesting than Hans and yet it’s his head we’re stuck in.

I tried very hard to like Netherland. I can’t remember the last time I disliked a book that was as good as this one. I suspect quite a few of you will like it. Do ignore me and give it a go!

Have any of you experienced this? Read a book that you didn’t like despite being able to see that it’s really really good?

Note: I have now left the bunker but bits of the bunker are still lodged in my brain. It may be a while yet before I catch up on the crazy email backlog. Or my life. Or anything really.

  1. Imagine Stephanie Rice saying, “Wow!!!” []
  2. I just gave away what book I’m talking about, didn’t I? []
  3. Yes, I’m shallow. []

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.

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.

The Art of Writing Blurbs (updated)

NB: The Alchemy of Stone is not a YA book.

I have just read a splendid book, Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, and now I must blurb it. I am realising once again that blurbing a book is really hard. As you may have noticed from this blog, I am not naturally succinct. I fail at all forms of writing that are on the short side: blurbs, pitches, haikus, summaries. They are all nightmarish to me.

I am so crappy at pitching my own books that Scott uses my feeble attempt to pitch Magic or Madness to a Sydney bookseller as his standard example of how not to pitch. (After hearing me out the bookseller put on a forced smiled and said, “Hmm, that sounds really complicated.”)

I wish I could just say:

Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone is rooly good. Read it!

—Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness

Or do as Quentin Crisp used to, which was to respond to blurb requests with the following:

You may attribute to me whatever words you think will assist in the marketing of this fine work.

On this occasion my problem is that The Alchemy of Stone is a really complicated book and I love it but I don’t know how to describe it and thinking about it is hurting my head.

Maybe that should be my blurb? Hmmm.

The Alchemy of Stone is a really complicated book and I love it but I don’t know how to describe it and thinking about it is hurting my head. Buy it! Read it!

—Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness

Blurbing a dense, original and smart book like Sedia’s is especially hard. There are so many things to say about it. I love the alienness of the protagonist, Mattie, who is an intelligent automaton in a world in which automatons are dumb: they can neither talk nor think and are used as servants. How she grapples with being the only one of her kind and with actually knowing and talking to her creator is the heart of the book. She never once reads like a human being and yet she is a compelling character. I like her. I want her to succeed.

I love, too, the stone gargoyles who watch over the city, the power struggles between Mechanics, Alchemists, and the hideously oppressed miners and farmers, the subtle yet brilliant worldbuilding, the quasi-myth like though also fairy tale-ish feel to the language. Oh, yes, the language! Sedia’s a gorgeous maker of sentences. Not in an obvious show-y off-y way. Many of her sentences are sparse and unadorned. Yet several times I had to back up and re-read in order to savour and relish the implications of a particular word or phrase.

You see my problem? And I haven’t even really begun to describe why I enjoyed the book so much. Or mentioned the Soul-Smoker or explained why I don’t think it’s steampunk, which leads me into a long rant on why I don’t find “steampunk” a very useful term for describing books.

Stupid blurbs. I kick them.

How about:

Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone bursts with inventiveness from its robot heroine to the Soul-Smoker and stone gargoyles that watch over the city. The book is full of explosions both literal and metaphorical as well as being a gorgeous meditation on what it means to not be human. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beautiful book.

—Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness

Or something. Did I mention that I hate writing blurbs?

Alchemy of Stones is rooly good. Read it!

Update: Here’s what the publisher decided to go with:

“A gorgeous meditation on what it means to not be human. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beautiful book, from its robot heroine to the Soul-Smoker and stone gargoyles that watch over the city.” —Justine Larbalestier, author of Magic or Madness

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. []

Rue de l’Arbalète

The Rue de l’Arbalète is a very fine street in the middle of Paris:

Here is me on the Rue de l’Arbalète being all excited on account of my surname. “Arbalest” is old French for crossbow; “arbalète” is modern French for the same:

What I read on my travels

As usual I’m not going to mention the books that I didn’t like because I don’t want the authors to hunt me down and kill me.1 Writers are scary people.

I’m still on a bit of a crime binge. And have been reading a scary amount of adult books. Who’d’ve thunk there was some good books over on those shelves? Colour me, shocked.

So here are the novels:

  • The final book in Denise Mina‘s Garrnethill trilogy, Resolution, was every bit as good as the other two. I have a major writing crush on Mina. She’s amazing. I love the way she writes. I love it so much, in fact, that I typed out an entire chapter of Exile so I could figure out how she did the very cool thing that she did in that particular chapter. I’ve yet to read a book of hers that wasn’t pure genius. I also like the warmth with which she portrays her characters. Even the total shitheads. Set in a very bleak dark Glasgow. Left me feeling hopeful despite the subject matter. (Adult, crime.)
  • Clockers by Richard Price. This is a brilliant book. Astonishingly so. Richard Price can write. Some of his sentences made me cry they were so perfect. And yet . . . And yet I did not love it as much as I wanted to. There are two protags and I did not like either of them. Though Strike is definitely less repellent than Rocco. Though that wasn’t it either. Because there are lots of books I love that have wholly repellent protags. Hmmm. I’ll prolly have to read it again to figure out what my problem is. It’s my problem though not the book’s. Clockers truly is amazing. (Adult, crime.)
  • We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Speaking of books with repellent protags—the narrator of this book is completely unlikable. She’s self-obsessed, self-serving, unreliable, a racist, an elitist. I would go so far as to say that I hated her. And yet I loved this book. It did not leave me cold the way Clockers did. Along with The Man in the Basement by Walter Mosley this is the best meditation on evil that I have read in a long long time. Plus it’s a bad seed novel. And I adore bad seed novels. Shriver totally deserves all the accolades and prizes this book as won. Do not read this book if you’re thinking about having kids. It will put you right off. (Adult, crime—though I believe it gets classified as Literature, but it is a pure crime novel.)
  • Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. See? Immediately after finishing Kevin I had to read more Shriver. I didn’t like anyone in this book either. And yet, once again, I loved it. Shriver totally reminds me of Patricia Highsmith. They have the same bleak, unblinking gimlet eye. As they write it we all have something to hide, we are all complicit and selfish and incapable of happiness. This book is the anatomy of a marriage between two tennis players. Reportedly she based it on her own relationship to another writer. Wow. That must have been the most fun couple ever. Like Highsmith I highly recommend that you don’t read too many of her books in a row. Otherwise you’ll start thinking poorly of everyone. (Adult, not crime although it sure felt like it.)
  • No Place Safe by Kim Reid. A memoir about the Atlanata child murders from the point of view of a young girl who lives smack dab in the middle of where the children are disappearing and being murdered whose mother is one of the investigating officers. It took me awhile to warm to this one because I kept comparing to Tayari Jones‘s astonishing novel about the same events, Leaving Atlanta. It’s not a fair comparison. Tayari Jones is one of the best novelists in the US and Leaving Atlanta is stunning. But it’s also a novel and while No Place Safe uses some novelistic techniques it’s not—it’s shape is constrained by the real events in retells. Those events are chilling. If that many white children were being killed no way would it have taken so long to start a proper investigation. The crimes remain unsolved. (Adult, memoir.)

Manhwa and manga read on the Queen Mary 2:

  • Bride of the Water God Vol. 2 by Mi-Kyung Yun. You know, I’m not entirely clear on what’s going on in this one but it’s so gorgeous I don’t care. There are gods. There is a human sacrifice who isn’t killed and lots of really gorgeous art. (Mythological Korea.)
  • Line by Yua Kotegawa. Didn’t like this one as much as her four volume Anne Freaks. It wasn’t as dark or disturbing, but still worth checking out. Well, not if you don’t want to read about about mass youth suicides. (Contemporary Japan.)
  • Emma Vol 7 by Kaoru Mori. I would have read this A LOT slower if I’d realised it was the last volume. Only seven volumes!? Mori hates me, doesn’t she? How can I go through life not knowing more about Emma’s life? How? Highly, highly recommended. This is so romantic. It’s reminds me very strongly of Brief Encounter but without the incredibly annoying—I was going to say ending, but the middle and beginning drive me crazy too. It’s also gorgeously drawn. One of the many things I love about this series is how light on text it is. Some of the most moving sequences happen with no words at all. I can’t wait to sit down and read all seven volumes back to back. (Victorian England.)
  • Monster Vols. 12-14 by Naoki Urasawa. Speaking of bad seed narratives—Monster is a beaut. I especially love how rarely you see the Monster and yet he spurs almost everything that takes place. Tense, unputdownable, and every volume introduces some new strand or character or complication. Yes, the female characters are a bit same-ish. Don’t care. Love it. (Contemporary(ish) Europe.)
  • The more manga, manhwa and graphic novels I read the more I want to write some of my own.

Have any of you read any of these? What did you think?

  1. Or their family and agents. []

One of those ex-smokers

Like David Sedaris I am an ex-smoker.

I started smoking when I was twelve. I’d just seen Rebel Without a Cause and thought the way James Dean held a cigarette was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be like him.

So I started smoking. For awhile I smoked Rothmans because they were featured on the cover of one of The Jam’s albums—a band I was way into but none of my friends had even heard of. But I soon moved on to unfiltered Camel cigarettes because they came in such cool packets—I smoked Gitanes for the same reason—and because I was sick of having to explain to people about The Jam.

I was such a cool smoker that I could blow smoke rings. Not lame, see-it’s-kind-of-a-whispy-circle ones, but the real thing. I could also, while in my brief roll-your-own phase, roll cigarettes with one hand. Not very good ones, but recognisably cigarettes.

I quit when I was fifteen after being shown a gruesome anti-smoking film at school that included smokers smoking out of holes in their throats, smokers with limbs removed because of smoking-induced gangrene, smokers’ lungs drippy black tar, and wizened low-weight babies being born because of their smoker parents.

None of those images got me to quit.

Oh, no, it was the very brief mention of how smoking makes you ugly: stains your teeth (I’d started to notice that), shrinks the capillaries under your skin causing premature wrinkling (close up of a twenty-five year old with lots and lots of lines around her mouth—even at fifteen I knew twenty-five wasn’t that old), causes your hair to thin, and your eyes to redden, eventually turn yellow and fall out of your head.

If I kept smoking I would turn into a hideous crone!

Quitting was dead easy given that I’d never liked the taste of tobacco and had the extreme good fortune not to have gotten addicted. I’d solely been attracted by the Hollywood movie cool-osity of cigarettes. But smoking did not transform me into a dead American male from Indiana, did not give me one iota of his coolness. I’d gone through three years of a habit I didn’t much like for nothing but yellow teeth, wrinkles and eyeballs that could soon depart my head.

Needless to say the fifteen-year-old me was very cross indeed and became the most vehement anti-smoker you can imagine, which is pretty much where I remain. Especially after seeing people, such as my grandmother, die painful smoking-caused deaths.

I have rejoiced as more and more cities and countries implement smoking bans. Our recent and glorious tour of Europe was especially fabulous because now even places I thought would never do it—France, Germany, Italy, the UK—have brought in excellently stringent smoking laws.

The glorious spread of non-smoking laws has made the countries that have yet to comply more and more intolerable. It was shocking in Austria and Switzerland to see people smoking pretty much wherever they wanted to. Especially as they mostly wanted to smoke in my face at restaurants.

I have now decided that I am only going to countries where smoking is banned in public spaces, or, at the very least, in restaurants. Sadly, this means I can’t visit Spain, which I’ve been wanting to return to for years and years. Sorry, Lawrence. There’ll be no China, India or Russia in my near future. Bulgaria is also off my list. In fact, smoking is so insanely out of control in Bulgaria that I have a suggestion:

Why not declare Bulgaria Europe’s smoking country? Then all the other European nations can ban smoking completely and their smokers can move to Bulgaria, where they can happily smoke in cinemas, hospitals, or anywhere else that takes their fancy. Burma can be Asia’s. Though China’s so big you’d probably have to give over a whole province for the smokers. Maybe two.

The US is also on the big side. Maybe it needs a designated smoking state. Dunno what state it should be, though definitely not New York or California. What do you lot reckon?

Australia doesn’t really have the population to support a whole smoking state. Plus every one of her states and territories have fabulous bits; I couldn’t in good conscience give any of them to smokers. But I am willing to cede them Fort Denison, though we’d have to tow it further out to sea so their fumes don’t get blown back into the city. Just think future school children would never be forced to visit Fort Denison again.

We’d all win!

Southampton: City of Tenuous Jane Austen Connections

While we waited to board the mighty Queen Mary 2, we wandered around Southampton, stopping at Marks & Spencer for knickers, and into Forbidden Planet to stock up on manga for the voyage and (joy!) I signed their stock of the paperback editions of all three volumes of the Magic or Madness trilogy1.

We also goggled at the many Jane Austen plaques. Here, for my mother’s delectation, is a sampling:

Most excellent. Hope you enjoy, Jan!

  1. I love Forbidden Planet. They’re the only English bookshop that stocks my books. Bless them! I also signed copies at their store in London. []

Thing that remains a mystery

As detailed in my previous post I have learnt much on this trip, but one thing remains a mystery:

How do women get around in high heels on cobble stone streets without destroying their ankles?

Every European city we’ve visited has had much cobble-stoneage and yet almost all the women are in high heels. It is bewildering. I have gone over on my ankles wearing the most comfortable and supportive of footwear. No harm was done because my beloved boots have non-ankle-spraining super powers. Yay boots!

I saw one woman get her heel stuck between stones. She came to a sudden and whip-lash looking halt, before bouncing about, trying to extricate herself. She was promptly rescued by a kind gentleman (who unlike me didn’t stand their giggling helplessly) and tottered off on her way as if nothing had happened. But that’s the only mishap I’ve seen. I suspect there are high-heels-on-cobble-stones training camps all over Europe.

Paris continues to be fabulous. Even without cobble stone related accidents. I don’t want to go home.

And now we are in Paris

Which I can report is wonderful though cold. Great food, great gorgeousness, great people. Thank you, Luis and Maude, for showing us such a great time!

Several people have written to ask what on Earth we are doing galivanting about Europe. I could have sworn that I mentioned why at some point. But here it is again for those what missed it:

We are here to do research for Scott’s next book part of which is set in the European alps. As it involves air ships we went for a ride on a Zeppelin. We also came to attend the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, to launch Extras in the UK, to get some writing done, to catch up with some of our European-based friends such as Coe Booth, David Moles and Ben Rosenbaum who are all in Basel at the moment, and to eat lots of wondrous food (see poll to your right).

Things learned on the trip so far:

  • Dutch publishers hate fantasy, but they love Maureen Johnson.
  • Germans ones love fantasy.
  • Stephenie Meyer is a Scott Westerfeld fan and has been going out of her way to tell her foreign publishers how much she loves his books. Thank you, Stephenie Meyer!
  • Switzerland is INSANELY expensive for tourists. Every menu I looked at I thought there had been a series of bizarre numerical typos. Surely the soup couldn’t be twenty dollars in an ordinary cafe?
  • Ben Rosenbaum’s kids are fabulous.
  • You can get great vegetarian food that isn’t cheese and noodles anywhere in Europe that isn’t German speaking.1
  • Zeppelins are quiet and smooth and the best form of transport other than a bicycle or shank’s pony. You would not believe the views.
  • Free wifi is the best thing in the universe. Why are posh hotels so allergic to it?
  • Paris remains the most beautiful city I have ever seen.2 Though Bolzano’s pretty gorgeous too. As is Rome and Bologna. And Buenos Aires. And, um, oh nevermind.

And now I must return to having fun in Paris. As you were!

  1. Oh, okay, I can’t speak for the whole German-speaking world, but Austria was pretty dire. And what’s with all the smoking everywhere? []
  2. Other than Sydney. []

Seen in Germany + some news

Look what I saw in an actual bookshop, RavensBuch in Friedrichshafen! Isn’t it gorgeous?:

Yup, it’s the German version of Magic or Madness. It’s even more beautiful in real life. Sigh. The book next to mine (the yellow one) is by John Marsden. Two Aussies together in Germany. I’ve been stunned by how many Aussie books I’ve been seeing in translation on our travels. Oodles of them by the likes of Trudi Canavan, Sara Douglass, Sonya Hartnett, John Marsden, Garth Nix, Marcus Zusak etc., etc. World domination!

Speaking of Germany. Random House Deutschland has just made an offer for How to Ditch Your Fairy. A very enthusiastic offer and they’ll be publishing it in hardcover. I am very happy. I met my German publishers in Bologna and they’re all lovely. Possibly because they’re all named Susanne.

This is the first time one of my books has sold to another market before publication. Very exciting. HTDYF will be out in the US in early September. And I may be sharing the cover with you some time soon . . .

Vicious dogs and other joys

The main reason I haven’t been blogging (or answering email) much on this trip is that even when we have internet access there’s been no time. We has been busy with appointments and meetings and research. Almost all of which has been most excellent fun, but away-from-computer fun.1 This has been the best trip ever. I don’t see why we ever have to go home.2

One of the most excellent things we did in Bologna3 (other than meeting with many of our publishers and agents at the Book Fair) was grabbing a cab up to San Luca, the gorgeous church that looks down on the town.

The view is indeed stunning but my crappy phone camera was not up to it. Instead it managed to capture this encounter between Scott and a vicious dog. First the dog tried to tear apart Scott’s trouser legs with its teeth. Scott valiantly resisted. Sadly that part of the battle was not captured, but I did catch the maneater pretending like it had never even seen a trouser leg:

Next Scott set about slowly disarming his enemy:

Until it was putty in his arms.

Or is that a puppy? Once again man conquers nature. Or something . . .

After we’d recovered from that searing encounter, we headed down the hill into town. Conveniently there is a very very very long set of porticoes that run all the way from the church back into town. The porticoes mean it is impossible to get lost as you walk back. Even those of us who are directionally impaired.4

Once back in Bologna we returned to work at the Book Fair. Where en route to our next appointments we checked out the wall of amateur art, all vying to capture the attention of publishers. Some of it’s amazing:

We also had a squizz at the official exhibition of Argentinian illustrators, which was stunning. This is my favourite though stupidly I didn’t note down the artist’s name:

I also got one of the roaming book model robots to pose for a photo. Not really a coup given that that’s their job, but still I’d never seen such life-like robots before:

Doesn’t she look nice? I’m all for robots. Well, unless they start writing books, that is. Only humans can write books!

More next time we get a window of time + internet access. Maybe I will share our Friedrichshafen zeppelin adventure. Or possibly the world’s largest Tyrolean bathroom.

Who knows? Bye till then.

  1. Who knew such fun even existed? []
  2. Why, Scott? []
  3. Wow, that seems a long time ago now. We are now in Friedrichshafen (Germany) and have also been in Bolzano (Italy) and a gorgeous Tyrolean spa just outside Innsbruck (Austria). []
  4. I’m not, but a certain person I spend a lot of time with is. Not naming names or anything. []

Magic’s Child in paperback!!

Constant travelling, crappy intramanets, writing, and fun have kept me from announcing the best news ever:

The ENTIRE Magic or Madness trilogy is now available in paperback in North America!!

Oh, happy day. Outside of a library, borrowing from a friend, or stealing it1 this is the cheapest way of reading my books. Yay for paperbacks!

In other news we are in Bolzano. It is beautiful. I write this on my phone thinking about all the snow we tromped through yesterday. Pictures when we find working wifi and can use our computers. Snow remains cold. If they could just fix that I’d prolly like it.

And now the train to Innsbruck.

Will answer email and comments in the future.

  1. Which I do not encourage—the stealing I mean—libraries and friends are good. []

Bologna (updated)

We are in Bologna at the Children’s Book Fair. There are five of us in a tower flat. Me, Scott, Holly, Cassie and Maureen. We are the Tower Gang.

So far we have eaten really good food, gossiped and walked under many porticoes. Tomorrow the fair starts and we meet our non-English language publishers. And we eat more good food.

My life is so very hard.

Update: Fine. Here have some photos. Courtesy of Maureen, which is why she is not in them. I will remedy that later.

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?

And now London

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

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

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

London, 24 March 2008, 11:12PM.

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

Rome = good; Internet = not so much

Food, wine, old stuff, spring blossoms. All of it fabulous. Rome is gorgeous. I’m even getting writing done. Yay!

Internet is for crap, however. Le sigh on hotels and their inability to join the 21st century. Sorry for the non-response to emails, comments etc. Normal service will resume at some point in the future.

In the meantime to all those who asked: Yes, I will be at Scott’s event at Harrod’s in London:

Tuesday, 25 March, 3PM
Waterstone’s Harrods
Children’s Book Department
Harrods, 87 Brompton Road
London SW1X 7XL
on the 4th floor
Further details: 0207 730 1234

Hope to see a few of you there.

Rome: Friday, 21 March 2008, 11AM.

I is on plane

As you read this I will be on a plane to Rome for the beginning of our six weeks and six countries European odyssey. I will try, as I always do, to blog every day, but I suspect I will not succeed—especially during our crazy week at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

For the New Yorkers: look after the town while I’m away. You Sydneysiders: continue looking after my home town. I miss her! Everyone else, as you were.

Ciao for a bit,


Snow research

I’m spending the weekend in upstate New York catching up with friends and researching snow for my next novel.

My research involved sitting in a rocking chair and staring out the window:



12:36PM (Can you see the red squirrel?)


Sadly, there is still not enough snow for snow shoeing, cross country skiing, or tobogganing. None of which I have ever done before even though my characters (pesky annoying things) have. But I have high hopes for tomorrow.

We went out for a walk. It were pretty and not scary cold (about 1C or 34F):

I was taught how to make snow balls, snow men, as well as snow angels. All of it fairly wet-making. But, I will admit, fun.

Apparently that big pile of sticks in the centre there is a beaver lodge. A conservation biologist told me so:

Here he (Peter Zahler) is telling me killer bee stories.1 Or it could have been the one about the crazed grasshopper mice or possibly wild boar. Peter has many fabulous stories:

Keep your fingers crossed for lots more snow tomorrow!

  1. You may recognise the name “Zahler”. Scott named one of his characters in The Last Days after Peter. []