Guest Post: Sarah Cross Tells Lies

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.


Sarah Cross is the author of Dull Boy, a YA superhero novel. She blogs intermittently, posts random videos on tumblr, and is hiding in a unicorn-and-zombie-proof bunker until this whole mess is over.

Sarah says:

You may be wondering where Justine is.

And I am sorry to tell you that something horrible has befallen her.

She’s been kidnapped by unicorns.

Mo' unicorns, mo' problems
Yes: these vile creatures.

You may be familiar with the zombies vs. unicorns debate, and the forthcoming anthology that was inspired by that eternal struggle. If you take a look at the anthology’s cover, you’ll see that the zombies and unicorns are engaged in an epic battle for dominance. It’s a gorgeous panorama of rainbow-colored destruction: severed unicorn heads, zombies impaled on pearlescent-yet-deadly horns, and corpses floating in a sky blue stream.

But one element has been left out of this struggle–and that, my friends, is the human element.

Typical Team Unicorn supporters
Members of Team Unicorn pose with their deadly mascot.

Humans will not emerge from this battle unscathed. They have been forced to take sides. (Vote here … if you dare.) Either you’re Team Zombie, or you’re Team Unicorn; and Justine, unfortunately, as the founding member of Team Zombie, has been targeted by her enemies: those sparkly, bone-crushing, rainbow-mane-shaking, marshmallow-defecating, zombie-impaling unicorns. From what I understand (I’ve been sent several encoded messages, written with a crayon that was rubberbanded to their leader’s hoof), the unicorns intend to hold Justine prisoner until she betrays the zombies and swears allegiance to her sparkly captors. Since we KNOW that will never happen … I was hoping to drum up some support for her release here.

Please, if you believe in fairies … er, believe the unicorns should release Justine, leave a comment here pleading her case. Personally, I believe that zombies, humans, and unicorns can get along. But some people are so frightened for their lives (or so passionate about unicorn domination), that they’re doing their best to disguise themselves as unicorns.

Team Unicorn 4EVA
I think this is Diana Peterfreund’s new author photo …

It’s a sad state of affairs. And yet, given the ‘corns’ legendary cruelty, totally understandable.

Unicorns are more ruthless than the Spanish Inquisition. Their rainbow vomit can induce madness in even the most stable mind.

Rainbow vomit spells your doom
Unicorn torture tactic #1.

And you do NOT want to be subjected to their special blend of “Lucky Charms.” Seriously–you’re better off starving. If they bring you any colorful marshmallow cereal, beg for some gruel.

These marshmallows are not magically delicious
That’s so unsanitary, Mr. Unicorn …

I am posting these lovely unicorn pictures as a peace offering. Please, infernal unicorns, release Justine. Before Sarah Rees Brennan comes back and blogs about another Matthew McConaughey movie.

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. []

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. []

Debut YA to look for next year

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that these three titles will be the big debuts of 2009:

Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant
Killer uni***ns and the tough gals what fight them. It’s funny and exciting and romantic and has amazing action scenes. What more do you need to know?

Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth
Zombie apocalypse, scary nuns, and a girl who’s never seen the ocean. You know you want this.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon
I have not yet read this one but Scott has and he keeps bugging me to read it. He loved it. I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s extremely witty and wonderful blog so I have high hopes.

They’ll all be out next (northern hemisphere) spring. I guarantee that you will love them.

What books are you all looking forward to next year?

Answering your zombie v un***rn questions

Yes, there will be a zombie-un***rn story. I hope you’re happy. Because personally I think that’s a bit gross.

No, I can’t tell you the names of any of the contributors. But trust me, they are all fabulously excellent writers.

Yes, it is a YA anthology. It will be edited by the marvellous Karen Wojtyla. That’s right, me and Holly, who are editing the Zombie versus Uni***ns anthology, will in turn be edited. It’s, like, a whole editing chain.

Sorry, the anthology is closed.

Yes, there will be lots of different kinds of zombies. Not just your regular Romero types.

I have no idea about the uni***n side of things. I doubt there’s more than one kind. And if there is, who cares? Hmmm, maybe you should direct your uni***n questions to Holly Black or to Diana Peterfreund both of whom know ridiculous amounts about that very lame topic.

Send your zombie questions my way. If I don’t know the answer I will turn to Robert Hood, who is Professor Zombie, and knows everything there is to know about zombies.

Thanks for all the excited emails and comments about the anthology. Us two editors are both thrilled that you’re thrilled.


Sekrit news no longer sekrit! Involves zombies!

I am very very very excited that I finally, finally FINALLY get to share this fantabulous news. Seriously, I have had to keep this secret for MONTHS AND MONTHS. It’s been driving me crazy.

What is my spectacular news?

Holly Black
and me are editing an anthology: Zombies Versus Unicorns, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2010.

We have quite the line up. There are more best-sellers and award-winners and all-round geniuses than you can poke a stick at. Sadly though I cannot name names. That part has to stay secret until the official press release. Trust me, though, you are going to be stunned when you see who is on Team Zombie and who is on Team Lame Uni***n.

Once you’ve read the anthology you’ll be able to vote on which team made a more convincing case. Who will win? Team Zombie or Team Uni***n? I trust you will all make the right decision!

Or face my wrath!


Zombies + Books of Wonder

I was reading today that the whole zombie v un***rn debate was started by John Green. I’m not going to link to the person who claims that because, you know, I’m not into shaming people. But, EXCUSE ME?!

The mighty zombie versus un****n debate began right here on this blog back in February 2007 with me on the side of zombies and Holly Black on the side of uni***ns. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or ignorant. Sheesh!

Let’s just say I am not happy that such a slanderous lie is circulating. John Green will be the first to tell you that it began over here.

In less cranky-making news I will be doing an appearance right here in New York City this coming Saturday with a cast of hundreds, including New York Times bestseller Suzanne Collins of Gregor and Hunger Games fame. But as far as I’m concerned the highlight is being on the same bill as Robin Wasserman of Skinned fame. Have you read it yet? If not why not?

You’ll find us here:

Saturday, 15 November, 12:00PM-2:00PM
with William Boniface, P.W. Catanese,
Suzanne Collins, Joanne Dahme,
Daniel Kirk, Dean Lorey, Amanda Marrone,
Ketaki Shriram and Robin Wasserman
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY

Who knows? If you join us you might spot some zombies. Or uni***ns. Though I hope not. I hear those single-horned creatures are definitely not toilet trained. I’m just sayin’.

Why zombies rule (updated x 2)

Mr Simon Pegg of Spaced and Shaun of the Dead fame has explained perfectly why fast-moving zombies are so deeply lame:

    You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can’t fly; zombies do not run. It’s a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I’ll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It’s hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.

Exactly! But wait there’s more what is even better:

    More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.

    However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them—much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares—the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.

That is why zombies are so powerful and so chilling. You can fight them off. You can get away. But in the end? Not so much.

No one escapes death.

Un***rns as a metaphor? For what exactly? Tooth decay? Give me a break. They are a beastie entirely without resonance.

Zombies for the win. Yet again.

Update: Because I am nothing but fair I am pointing you to Diana Peterfreund’s response. In which she defends lame sparkly boring uni***ns. Feel free to go over and point out her wrongness.

Update the second: Now John Green, who is on the side of zombies, weighs in.

Next novel poll

What 27% of my readers want is for me to write a novel about unicorns versus zombies. And right now I gotta tell you I’m dead tempted cause it wouldn’t require nearly as much research as the current novel.1 So colour me slightly nudged on the zombie v unicorn front. I may have news to report upon said subject at some point in the future. Or not. You never know where my ten-second attention span will take me.

The next most popular options were a ghost story where the ghosts are perfectly aware that they’re ghosts. Which would be just a regular ghost story, right? One day I will write one of those. And then the snowboarding werewolves. Gotta tell you, I don’t see it happening. I’m not oudoorsy and I am particularly against being outdoors in snow. I have no desire to try snowboarding. None at all. And you can’t write about a sport you haven’t tried yourself. Also I’d have to learn all about wolves. Too much research! I am currently against research.

However, what most astonished me about the latest poll was that several of my readers—3% of the total—voted for mainstream realism. Clearly, they were messing with me. There can be no other explanation. Me write non-genre? Are you insane? I have noted all your names and will go after you in my own time. Watch your backs.

Enjoy the new poll. I was feeling random. It happens.

  1. Don’t hit me, Diana. I know you’ve done tonnes of research for your unicorn novel. But my unicorn v zombies novel would be a lazy one, okay? []

Why I don’t like uni***ns

People keep asking why I’m so against uni***ns. I think this picture explains everything:

Photo taken by me of the creepy bus always parked around the corner on sixth street. Avert your eyes!

Uni***ns + High School Musical

Libba Bray1 is the best friend a girl could have. Look what she done gived me:

oh my Elvis!

I screamed.

Do you notice the choking hazard warning? And that the evil uni***n is call “Destructicorn”?

Happy sigh.

Have any of you seen High School Musical? I think it may be the most conflict-free movie I’ve ever watched. Quite astonishing. I admit I was a tad disappointed by the choreography. The dance sequences were much better in She’s the Man. Also how come there were so few songs? And is that the richest high school in all of the US of A? The size of the gym! and the theatre! and the gorgeous patio! Wow. Also the basketball team had about twelve different uniforms. Way more than the New York Liberty have.

Speaking of the WNBA. The last of the finals is on tomorrow. Let’s go Phoenix!

  1. and since I’m mentioning Libba I should also mention that Maureen Johnson is not the only one to have already read The Sweet Far Thing. That’s right! Me too. It is deeply awesome. The best of the trilogy. []

Vampire elves

Holly Black is making me giggle (via Gwenda). Now all I can think about is vampire elves and zombie unicorns and werewolf-griffins and pirate-orcs and . . . and which of all of those would win in battle and what they’d look like and what they’d eat. Would vampire elves still not like steel and not tell lies? And what would a novel with all these creatures in it be like?

Oh, hush, Justine. You have stories to write! Novels to unbuggerize! Admin to adminerate! Stop procrastinating.

The F-bomb

USians sometimes talk about the “f-bomb”. A euphemism I heard for the very first time last year from a librarian whose full time job is to fight censorship. We were on a panel (at WisCon) discussing book banning and censorship in front of an audience of adults. I was the moderator and in my introduction I used quite a few of the words that are likely to cause a book aimed at teenagers to run into trouble. It didn’t occur to me not to given that the panel started at 10PM and was in front of an audience of adults.

For less than a second all the air went out of the room.

And then the librarian laughed and said as how she had been tiptoeing around those words for so long that she could no longer say them out loud. Everyone else laughed too.

You’ll notice I’m not using any of them in this post either. That’s because I happen to know that some of the readers of this blog would be offended and I do not wish to offend them.

Chris Crutcher in his keynote speech at the Humble Teen Literature Festival last February eloquently defended his use of “cuss words” (tee hee! Sorry, it just makes me giggle) in his books without using any, but making it clear which ones he was talking about. It made me wonder what the difference is between making it clear what the word you’re not saying is and simply saying that word. It’s obviously a huge one because I’m pretty certain that if Chris Crutcher deployed any of those words in his speeches he would not get as many speaking gigs as he gets and he would lessen his power in the fight against censorship.

Ironic, innit?

I happen to like swearing. Some of my favourite words are offensive to many people. And so are those of Chris Crutcher and Holly Black. The enjoyment comes not from the shock value. Frankly, none of my friends or family are offended by swearing. The pleasure is from—to borrow a term from the land of wine and food lovers—the mouth feel.

I love the way many rude words feel in my mouth. I love their explosiveness. I love to use them as punctuation, as intensifiers, as poetry, as song.

I love getting creative with my swearing. I love using old standards. I love the age of these words. The majority of the rudest words in English go back to the beginnings of the language. I love that feeling of longevity. Words like these have been exploding out of people’s mouths for centuries.

I would love to write a book for teens that used the kind of language that I hear them use every day. That I use every day. I would love to capture those rhythms and cadences. But such a book would probably not get published.

I’d also love to write a book that did everything I want it to: was exciting, dramatic, moving, fun, and populated with recognisably teen characters but also managed to not offend anyone. What would such a book look like?

There would be no swear words in it. Everyone would speak uncolloquially and without grammatical errors. Characters would only fall in love with people of the opposite sex and same race and religion, yet they would not have sex. They would not smoke or lie or cheat.

But I know people who are offended by books that create worlds in which the ten per cent of the population that isn’t heterosexual do not exist.

I’m not sure a book that offends no one is possible. After all, I’m deeply offended by unicorns and by books in which the heroine keeps falling over and has to be rescued by the big handsome hero. That’s right, passive heroines drive me spare. But lots of other people just gobble them up.

I do not wish to have those books banned. I just wish people wouldn’t gobble them up. I also wish never to be subjected to the foul smells of coffee, petrol and perfume ever again, but I don’t fancy my chances.

I don’t want to offend anyone but as long as I’m writing books I don’t see how I can avoid it.

Yay! Aargh! Woohoo! Eep!

I have like a gazillion billion trakazillion emails in my inbox. This is the first chance I’ve had to go online in almost three days. It’s been crazy busy and exhilarating and fabulous and every big positive happy adjective you can think of.

San Antonio is wondrous. The Texas Library Association conference has been so extraordinarily wonderful I’m left without words. I’ve met so many amazing, fun, smart cool people I think my brain has exploded. Thank you everyone! Yay! Joy! Mangosteens! This trip has also been very educational: I know now how boots are made and have a much better idea of what distributors do.

Scott and mine’s presentation in front of what seemed like thousands of librarians, including Scott’s high school librarian, Darlene, was exhilarating. I’ve never had so much fun doing an appearance. Basically we just gasbagged about how we met, our books, writing, travelling, living in two countries, and answered lots of cool questions from the wonderful audience.

Then we signed what felt like a million books. I think I’m still floating.

To quickly answer two of your questions:

The beasts that shall not be named are evil. That is all you need to know. What do they need that horn for anyway?

Maureen is also evil and you should not do what she tells you to do.

Friday the thirteenth is excellent. Zombies love it. But yesterday’s was the best ever!

The Tall One

John Hinde was one of my favourite film critics of all time. He was a wonderfully warm and funny man. He could give charmingly negative reviews to sucky films without a hint of rancour, reviews that made you want to see the crappy film just to see what he was talking about. I always wanted to meet him. When he died I cried.

Now he’s made me cry again by setting up an extraordinary literary prize in his wife’s memory. It’s the “Barbara Jefferis Award for the best Australian novel that empowers the status of females or depicts them in a positive light.” The award goes to an Australian writer, but isn’t restricted by setting or genre, only by the requirement that they postively depict women. (Were Patrick White still alive NO WAY would he win one of these babies.1) So if you’re an Aussie and you write a book set in Uzbekistan about a zombie unicorn apocalypse you’re still in with a shot. That’s in keeping with both the wide variety of films John Hinde loved and with the tremendous range of Barbara Jefferis’ novels.

Barbara Jefferis was brilliant. I read and adored her novel The Tall One when I was eleven or twelve. The book had a huge impact on me.

See, when I was young I was very tall. Much taller than anyone else my age. When I stopped growing at twelve I was 172.5cm (5ft8in). I got teased about it a lot. My aged Old World relatives offered to pay for operations to stop me growing so I’d still have a chance of getting a husband. No, I’m not making that up. My parents were laughing too hard to be horrified. “What are they going to do cut off your knees?”

Despite everything my parents said about the fabulousness of being tall and of being a girl, I was taking in the messages from my insane relatives and the kids at school. I slumped my shoulders and desperately wished to be a boy. Reading The Tall One helped clean that crap out of my mind. It’s about this 182cm (6ft) girl in medieval times in, I think, England (it’s a while since I read it so I’m hazy on the exact setting). Here was someone like me, or, at least, how I’d like to be: Tall and strong, standing up to people putting her down, owning her power, standing straight. And wry and funny too.

I was smitten and started being proud of my height. (After which I promptly stopped growing and ceased to be tall. Whatcha going to do?)

This award is a wonderful legacy from two exceptional and fascinating Australians, John Hinde and Barbara Jefferis. I hope it honours a series of wonderful novels and, even more, I hope it will do something towards bringing Jefferis’ work back into print. I’d love to see The Tall One readily available again.

  1. I am suppressing the urge to list all the prominent living Australian novelists who are even less chance than Mr White. I sit on my fingers. I hold my breath. Must. Not. Be. Bad. []

Quit it already

What is it with you people?

I tell you what an abomination in the sight of the Lord unicorns are and how much I love love love zombies and what do you do? You send me an endless stream of unicorn-related stuff. Gah!

Quit it already! No more!

Now zombie related links I’m all for. Fire away. Share your zombie love with me.

But the next person to so much as type or say the u-word anywhere near me? Well, that’s a paddlin’.

I hope I have made myself clear.

Stop asking already

So apparently knowing my position on zombies and unicorns is not enough for you people. You need to know my stance on all the other important issues. Here you go then:

Werewolves versus vampires

Gotta be werewolves. There’s the whole monthly cycle thing. What could be worse1 than menstruating? Turning into a wolf! The whole metaphor for adolescence: “Ew! My body is changing in hairy and grotesque ways!” Plus wolves! What is not unbelievably awesome and fascinating and wondrous about wolves? Nothing!

Best examples: “Boobs” by Suzy McKee Charnas which is possibly the best short story ever written2 and Ginger Snaps, a most excellent Canadian movie.3

Vampires do not do it for me. The thought of getting intimate with someone who’s not only walking dead, but has (usually) been dead for centuries. Ewww! Call me old fashioned but that does not spell romance to me; it spells necrophilia. (I know that seems to contradict my stance on zombies, but no one’s talking zombie boyfriends.)

Superman versus Batman

Batman. Please! Where is the interest in someone who can do everything and can only be defeated with a really lame plot coupon? Kryptonite can kiss my left eyeball. Plus Batman is campy goodness. I am less fond of his darker incarnations. Plus Eartha Kitt! Julie Newmar!

Best examples: the TV show! Kapow! Zap! Biff! Zonk!

Saiyuki versus Scott Pilgrim

No! Don’t make me choose! I can’t. My brain will explode. The world will break into tiny pieces. I loves them both. I do! A jeep that’s a dragon versus dance fights with evil ex-boyfriends? They’re both so wonderfully cracktastically heavenly. If you haven’t gotten into either you really really really should.

I can give you no more answers. I’m too busy clutching my copies of Saiyuki and Scott Pilgrim to my chest and sobbing over their perfection. (Plus gotta go pack for Houston.)

But feel free to ask more curly quessies and supply your own answers. Though not if they’re the wrong answers, obviously. That’s right, unicorn lovers, I mean you.

  1. Some would say better. There are times when I would rather be a wolf than menstruating . . . []
  2. Except for all the other great short stories. []
  3. I quite like the sequel, but on no account see the third one. In fact, let us just pretend there is no third movie. []

Zombies, unicorns, scrotum (updated)

What have I started? Arguments about the relative merits of zombies and unicorns rage across the intramanets. And on each thread someone suggests the zombie-unicorn hybrid. Great minds think alike? Or fools seldom differ?

I was greatly distressed that lovely friends of mine like Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Meg McCarron and Literaticat have fallen pray to the false glittery charms of unicorns despite the fact that being virgin fascists unicorns would have nothing to do with them. I guess it falls into the whole desiring-what-you-can’t-have camp. Perhaps to resolve our issues Holly and I should collaborate on a Zombies vesus Unicorns novel? I will write the zombies and she can have the unicorns. Though I’m not sure how well that will work given that she won’t read about zombies and I won’t read about unicorns.

Some school librarians are saying that they won’t have Susan Patron’s Newbery Award-winning novel, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, in their library because it contains the word “scrotum” (in reference to a dog). Apparently “scrotum” is an offensive word. I had no idea. I thought it was an anatomical term for a part of the male body. I’ve never heard anyone use it as a swear word and I come from a swearing people.

The New York Times also covers the story but seems to think that authors sneak words like “scrotum” into their novels solely to offend.1 Um, what now? Rosemary Graham responds eloquently to the extremely unbalanced Times coverage. The best reporting on the whole story can be found at Publishers Weekly which points out the role Jordan Sonnenblick and Asif! had in drawing attention to it.

I write novels to tell the best stories I can for teenagers. I try very hard to write characters who are believeable and I choose the language they use accordingly. I do not set out to offend anyone. I’m sorry when that happens, but I’m not going to write less believable stories in order not to offend people. That leads to the worst possible kind of censorship: When you start second-guessing yourself. Can I use the word “pom”? No, that will offend English people. Can I use the word “pink”? No, that will offend pink-haters (and possibly also pink-lovers). How about “jasmine”? No, Margo Lanagan will come gunning for me. When does it end?

Librarians and school librarians in particular have an incredibly hard job. I admire them tremendously. I just wish we were living in a world where people’s response to being offended was to talk about why, to explain the history and context of the word, and how that has made it offensive to them, rather than trying to wipe the books that contain the word off the face of the earth. I mean I am not advocating banning books about unicorns. I just won’t blurb them.

As soon as it is warm enough to go outside I’m off to buy a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky from my local children’s bookshop.

Update: Scott adds his two cents’ worth.

  1. For the record, if concerned adults can find the naughty words we wicked authors sneak into our books then we clearly haven’t been sneaky enough. []

More on blurbs, plus zombies

I am so proud that my serious, soul-baring post about the trials and tribulations of blurbs wound up turning into a debate about whether unicorns or zombies are better. Sometimes I just love my genre people.

This response to Scalzi and me on blurbing also made me smile. I am, indeed, very proud of this sentence:

“How do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?”

The writer of that post suggests that it would be amusing to just blurb everything and if you don’t like a book give it an ambiguous blurb of the “I cannot praise this book too highly” variety. Clearly they meant it in jest, but it reminded me that there are writers out there who do exactly that.

Writers of this ilk let you know that they don’t like your book via their blurb:

Justine Larbalestier’s Zombie Dancing is the worst kind of commericial romantic filth. My eyes they bleed! I would rather eat my own entrails than be in the same room with this “book”. Run away as fast as you can!
—Discerning Genius Writer, author of genius books that sell very well thank you very much

It’s only happened to me once (very early on in my career) but, wow, did it hurt. Basically in four sentences this famous (in Australia) writer said they thought my writing sucked and I had no future.


Frankly, I think writing ambiguous, indifferent, or bad blurbs in the real world is passive aggressive nastiness. If you don’t like a book, don’t blurb it. Writers are delicate fragile creatures. Don’t be pouring acid on them!

To sum up, zombies are a zillion, bazllion, katrillion times better than smelly old unicorns, and blurbs are a tricky business.


John Scalzi has a post up explaining his blurb policy. He even kindly explains what blurbs are.

I think his policy is so spot on that I’ve adopted it (slightly amended) as my own:

1. Yes, I am happy to look at books and if I love them I will blurb them.

I adore reading my peers’ work and getting to read them ahead of publication is particularly exciting. It makes me feel like I’m really part of the Young Adult publishing world with my little ole finger right on the pulse. Not to mention that being asked for a blurb is an honour.1 It says that someone somewhere thinks my say so might be good enough to sell a book. That’s flattering as hell. I mean, Wow.

So far I’ve been lucky: None of the books I’ve been asked to blurb have been bad. And yet I’ve blurbed only one novel. I’ve not blurbed books I thought were pretty darn good because I didn’t think they’d be a good fit with my audience. Or because they touch on certain taboos or bugbears of mine. (You know, like unicorns or negative portrayals of Australians.)

I have now read and not blurbed several books by people I know and like and who’ve written other books I would have blurbed in a heartbeat. It sucks, but not as much as having my name on the back of a book that I feel uncomfortable about. I can’t have my readership thinking I endorse unicorns.

I have to really love a book or think it’s doing something important or new to have my name on the back extolling its virtues. I don’t have the largest readership in the world, but I want my readers to know that if I’m talking up someone else’s book I’m really into it. That way if they read it, hate it, and call me on it, I can in good conscience say, “I blurbed it because I loved it. I’m sorry you don’t agree.”

2. Requests for blurbs should come from the book’s editor or publisher, not from the writer.

That’s the ideal, but sometimes your editor is too busy, or your press too small to do it, and it falls on your shoulders. I understand. I’ve been there.

Scalzi gives lots of excellent reasons why it’s better for the blurb request to come from the publishing house than from the writer. I’ll add another one: it’s really embarrassing for a writer to have to ask another writer to publically praise them.

I’ve had to ask writers to sing the glories of me. Even if I know they like my work, and are likely to be willing, it makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. I really really really hate having to ask. I’d much rather have someone else do that. I’d much rather not know if a writer chooses not to blurb me. I’d much rather not even know who was asked.

And I’d really much rather have writers not know I’ve been asked to blurb their books so it never comes up that I haven’t done so. Having to explain to a friend why you won’t blurb their book is one of the world’s least fun things to do. Me, I don’t even like hurting the feelings of authors I’ve never met! Scalzi’s right, it’s just like shooting their dog. And how do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?

I have several writer friends who have a no-blurb policy. I’m starting to think that’s a really good idea. The reason I can’t adopt it is that so many people have blurbed me. It would feel churlish not to blurb other people. I know from fan mail that people have picked up my books because of blurbs from Holly Black, Samuel R. Delany, Cory Doctorow and Karen Joy Fowler. While I don’t have anywhere near their audience, if a blurb from me will help someone new whose work I love, than of course I will blurb them.

The other scary thing about blurbs—and let’s face it they’re a whole lot of terror for a writer—is that they’re really really hard to write. Seriously it’s easier to write a whole new novel than it is to write a good blurb:

“You should read this book. It is really good. I liked it. Heaps.”
—Justine Larbalestier, author of books that must really suck if that’s her idea of a good blurb.


  1. Though who gets asked is a mystery to me, seeing as how I get asked to do it so much more often than Scott “New York Times Bestselling Author” Westerfeld does. What’s up with that?

Paragraphs: the long and the short of it

I just attempted to read a screed that everyone’s been linking to and had to give up because the paragraphs were so crazy long my head exploded. Co-incidentally I’ve been reading a wonderful novel for a friend and it too has lots and lots of endless paragraphs which majorly interfere with my reading pleasure.

Stop it already!

Paragraph breaks are your friend.

White space is gentle on the eye.

Embrace it!

Forget what you were told in school: A paragraph does not consist of one point or one idea. That bogus notion leads to paragraphs that go on for pages and pages and pages as the writer explicates everything they can which supports the one point they are making.


In beginner fiction, you see paragraphs that contain every thought that particular character is having about the situation they are in. Or action scenes where everything the character does is in one paragraph. And the next paragraph is everything some other character is doing. This makes for long long paragraphs and an unpleasant reading experience where your eye keeps skipping ahead desperate for some glimmer of hope, ie some white space.

Double gah!

Paragraphs can be any length you want them to be. There is no hard and fast rule on their length. One-sentence paragraphs are fine; whole-page paragraphs can be too. Anyone who tells you to avoid either one is smoking crack. Like everything else—ornate word choice, omniscient point-of-view, adverbs—it’s all about how you use them, not about whether they’re evil. (The only thing that is evil and wrong and should never be written about is unicorns.)

The trick is to vary your paragraph lengths and make them serve the story or argument you are making. If you want to emphasise a point. Go the one-sentence.

It can help drive your point home.

If you’re writing an action scene throwing in a one-sentence paragraph can be like a gun shot:

The blue sparks glowed through the trees again, revealing the silhouette of a great cat raised up on his haunches. The creature was young and eager for a kill, full of the fervor of Samhain. Then Rex spotted a human form just past the darkling: Melissa tossing up handfuls of metal, hurling the bolts and screws that Dess had created into the cat’s face, driving it wild with fury. It let out a cry, swiping a claw at the tiny missiles.

Then it dropped into a crouch, ready to launch itself at her.

Obviously I don’t mean a gunshot as in:

The car exploded!

It’s more gunshot as in your eye gives it more weight. The way your ear gives more weight to the sound of a real gunshot.

So the example above is longer paragraph that is all, la, la, la, something is happening, building up, building up, building up. Ominous, nervous-making, scary, scary scary. It’s non goodness is becoming more and more obvious and thus more and more erky perky and scary scary scary.

And then—short paragraph!—things get even worse.

Long paragraphs can be useful too. Your eye tells you that all the stuff in one belongs together. It’s all happening at the same time. All stems from the one train of thought. Long paragraphs can slow things down when you need them to. They can replicate a state of revery:

She’d seen that happen sometimes with dance floors, especially old ones that had been danced on by thousands and thousands of people over the years. The dance floor absorbed all that crowd magic, began to dance a little itself. Once, in a shoe store in the city, Jay-Tee had taken one step on the old wooden floor and felt it reaching toward her, accommodating itself to the movement of her feet, ready, eager for her to dance. Instantly she’d known it had been a dance floor—people had waltzed, fox-trotted, Charlestoned, jitterbugged, boogied, and twisted across its surface for many, many years. She’d spun, feeling the floor push back, giving her extra spring and lift. She’d grinned. One of the guys who worked there had grinned back, danced toward her. “Isn’t this song great? Just makes you dance.”

I could have broken it up like this:

She’d seen that happen sometimes with dance floors, especially old ones that had been danced on by thousands and thousands of people over the years. The dance floor absorbed all that crowd magic, began to dance a little itself.

Once, in a shoe store in the city, Jay-Tee had taken one step on the old wooden floor and felt it reaching toward her, accommodating itself to the movement of her feet, ready, eager for her to dance. Instantly she’d known it had been a dance floor—people had waltzed, fox-trotted, Charlestoned, jitterbugged, boogied, and twisted across its surface for many, many years.

She’d spun, feeling the floor push back, giving her extra spring and lift. She’d grinned.

One of the guys who worked there had grinned back, danced toward her. “Isn’t this song great? Just makes you dance.”

I felt the second version loses its rhythm and become too staccato-y, which works counter to the fairy-tale, reminscing feel I was going for. Another writer might have made a different choice. It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about what works for you.

I know blog entries are not (usually) professionally written and edited prose, but surely those writing them don’t want potential readers to land on the site, see nothing but one solid block of text stretching as far as they can be bothered to scroll, and retreat screaming to the nearest friendly-to-white-space blog?

I love a good insane screed, so it’s a crushing disappointment to me when I can’t read ’em because they’re so horribly punctuated. Thousand-kilometre-long paragraphs make a person seem even loopier than their rant does.

See how much white space there is in this rant? You’re not thinking I’m crazy at all, are you?

Don’t answer that . . .

How to write a novel*

Ever wanted to write a novel but had no clue how? Having just finished my fifth novel, I am now ready to pass on my accummulated novel-writing wisdom to those what have never writ one but wants to.

Here is the complete, full and unexpurgated guide:

First of all you need a computer. (Yeah, yeah, I know in the olden days they made do with quill, ink and paper, and typewriters—aargh! don’t get me started on how creepy and scary typewriters are—plus, whatever, this is not the olden days.) Continue reading