George Carlin

So, um, before he died I had never ever heard of George Carlin. You know, just like you yanquis had never heard of all those song from yesterday. Sorry!

So it is only retroactively that I have decided that George Carlin is wonderful. It was his piece on stuff that totally charmed me:

Makes me want to throw all my stuff away. Well, you know, except for the really good stuff. Got to keep that stuff . . .

Passing Strange

In my new I-will-go-to-shows phase I has already been to three shows this year. Three! Manon Lescaut, South Pacific, and last night Passing Strange. I know none of you recommended that one but I was taking Emily’s advice that it’s best to see a show that’s still fresh and whose cast isn’t jaded and cranky.

Passing Strange was definitely that show. I loved it.

Some brilliant music, some fabulous sendups of proper Broadway show tunes and dancing. The acting was wonderful and the writing sharp as. But what I loved most about Passing Strange was that I recognised so many of the characters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical about people so familiar to me. Twas eerie.

What kind of people? Middle class wankers, who want to make art, music, write, save the world. The show mocks them and their politics and loves them. It made me so very happy. And kind of embarrassed. Cause, um, I was just as self-centred and blinkered as a teenager and into my early twenties,1 which is the period covered by this bildungsroman.

There’s something very YA about the show. In the bestest of ways. Go see it.

But don’t go expecting a proper Broadway musical cause it’s nothing of the sort. It’s started life well off Broadway, has no elaborate sets or dance numbers, and it’s definitely not got any show tunes. Go see it anyways.

Next show on my list will be In the Heights cause of your warm recommendations and because I used to live in Washington Heights.

  1. And probably later, much later, but let’s not think about that, eh? []

Best musical of all time

I went and saw South Pacific this week with the fabulous Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. My head’s been stuffed full of those songs ever since. It’s definitely one of my favouritest musicals. I’d only seen the movie before and, well, “good” is not a word you can use to describe it. But the stage production at Lincoln Centre is wondrously good. I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.

I’ve seen so few musicals live. Kiss Me Kate is, I think, the only other one I’ve seen as an adult. Loved it! My resolution for this year is to see many, many more. I’m dying to see Passing Strange. And I’m convinced that getting to see good productions of Anything Goes and West Side Story would make my life complete. The movie version of West Side Story is disfigured by the horrible miscasting of the leads, who can neither sing nor act, without Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn that movie would be unwatchable.

I’m also a fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but, again have only seen the movie.

So what are your favourite musicals? Which do you think I should see if I get the chance? I do live in NYC half the year, afterall. I hear they have musicals here.

Be aware though that I cannot stand Les Miserables. I also really hate the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m not even sure you can call it music. I would rather eat my own eyeballs than sit through Phantom of the Opera.

More art

A friend of mine, Nick Stathopoulos, is a fabulous artist. So fabulous that two of his portraits have made the finals of two of the most prestigious art awards in Australia.

The Archibald, which really is THE most prestigie:

David Stratton, a well-known film critic back home

Getting into the Archibald is the Holy Grail of portrait painting back home. More, actually, because it’s the most famous art prize we have. Gets covered by all the media at home. Is very big deal. There’s even a special packers’s prize given by the people who unpack all the entries.

And the Doug Moran:

Shaun Tan

While they’re both brilliant, my fave is definitely the portrait of Shaun Tan. I love how Nick’s incorporated creatures and images from Shaun Tan’s own work. The painting is gorgeous and witty and wonderful. Pretty much like Nick, really.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for him. Go, Nick, go!

Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life by Fanny Hurst was published to great success in 1933, made into a film in 1934, and then again in 1959. All three are a fascinating window on race in the USA. Fascinating and deeply depressing.

The movies are kind of an obsession of mine. Particularly the contrast between them. So much changed in those intervening 25 years, and so very little. David Kehr in today’s New York Times describes the films thus:

Douglas Sirk’s 1959 “Imitation of Life” is among the most closely analyzed films in the Hollywood canon, a Lana Turner soap opera turned into an exercise in metaphysical formalism by Sirk’s finely textured and densely layered images. Less well known is John M. Stahl’s first film version (1934) of this Fannie Hurst novel about the complex bond between an enterprising white businesswoman (Claudette Colbert) and the black woman (Louise Beavers) who becomes her housekeeper and supplies the secret formula for pancakes that becomes the basis of Colbert’s character’s empire.

That was the year that Hollywood began seriously to enforce what had been the largely toothless Production Code, which, among its many nefarious effects, would result in the near disappearance of socially engaged films for the next two decades. But Stahl’s “Imitation of Life” still benefits from the frankness and skepticism of the early Depression years. Though hardly free from stereotyping, it stands today as perhaps the most powerful Hollywood film about race until the civil rights movement of the 1950s.

Hardly free from stereotyping is right. The black characters are happy with their place in the world. All but the housekeeper’s daughter, Peola, who is so light-skinned she can pass for white. Yet in both films her decision to do so seems inexplicable. The black people are all happy. Why would you want to pretend to be one of the tormented white people? Look how hard the white man’s burden is!

If you were an alien watching the movies you’d be scratching your head trying to figure out what was so very terrible about being black. In neither film are there any cafes with signs saying “Whites Only.” The black characters never have to sit at the back of the bus. There’s no mention of slavery, lynchings, or the civil rights movement.

There is one horrible scene of racism in the 1959 version, but it plays out as though racism is just that particular person’s problem, not anything systemic. The most you get in the 1934 version is the kids at school looking shocked when they discover that Peola is passing. Their reaction shot lasts less than five seconds.

One of the things that puzzles me most is that in 1934 a black actress was cast in the role of the daughter who passes as white, but in 1959 she was played by a white actress. What’s up with that? Were there truly no light-skinned actresses of Fredi Washington’s (pictured above) calibre around in the 1950s? Colour me doubtful.1

I find the 1934 version more powerful because it doesn’t lose its focus on racism; the 1959 movie winds up being largely about Lana Turner’s scandal-ridden life, specifically her daughter killing her mobster boyfriend. David Kehr is spot on about the final scene of both movies:

Like the Douglas Sirk version, Stahl”s “Imitation of Life” climaxes with a lavish funeral procession. But what Sirk turns into a triumph of coolly expressive visual style becomes, in Stahl”s version, a sustained march of silent protest against a system as unjust as it is deeply ingrained. The film seems unable to put a name to the monumental grief it depicts with such devastating force.

That’s a large part of the problem with boths films: they are about systemic racism and injustice, but they cannot name them. Both films are exercises in avoidance, shame, and lame liberal justifications. What fascinates me is their inability to articulate the bleeding obvious: It is unjust that the black woman who makes the white woman’s life of money and privilege gets so little for it. It is unjust that the black woman’s daughter cannot get what she wants unless she pretends to be white and then when she does that she is punished.

Both films are clear that the problem lies with Peola for trying to be something she is not. Her passing is what is at fault, not the system of racial inequality that makes passing as white an attractive path.

But most of all neither of these films are about Peola or her mother: They’re about the white woman. Claudette Colbert in the first film and Lana Turner in the second. I’ve always longed for it to be remade with the focus squarely on the black woman with the miracle pancake mix.2

Happy Super Tuesday to all you USians living in those states. Vote well! I bet Peola would be happy to see a black man in the running, but sad to see how much racial and sexual inequality still exists. But we can change that, right?

  1. Well, okay, Fredi Washington was AMAZING; finding any actress as good as her would have been tricky. But Susan Kohner was definitely not up to the job. []
  2. The second film takes away the pancake empire and makes the housekeeper character just a housekeeper. Another reason I prefer the first film. []

Documenting Our Lurve

Thanks to everyone for all the photos. You are all the bestest and most wondrous people EVER! As Jeff Fenech would say, “I love youse all!”

It was kind of weird to see how many photos there are of me and Scott I never knew existed. Eerie even . . .

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to my sister, Niki Bern, as well as my good friend, Cat Sparks. I’m sorry I’m always so recalcitrant about having my photo taken. You were both right that some day I would be happy you both insist on documenting everything.

That said, I now no longer need to have my photo taken ever again. Hallelujah! I shall keep intact what tiny bit of my soul is left.

Because some of you have expressed curiosity here is one photo for every year Scott and me have been together. Enjoy! We certainly have.

2001: Our wedding day. Upstate New York. (Photo by Phyllis Bobb.)

2002: On the Woomera Prohibited zone in South Australia to see a total eclipse. (Photo by Sean Williams.)

2003: Goofing around with Adrian Hobbs in Newtown back home in Sydney. (Photo by Olivia Rousset.)

2004: At the SFWA drinks night. (Thanks Liza Trombi and Locus for sending the photo.)

2005: With Andrew Woffinden and Lauren McLaughlin in London. (Photo by Niki Bern.)

2006: At the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue, Washington. (Photo by Shelly Clift. Thanks!)

2007: On our way to the National Book Awards.

Wedding dance

Me and Scott did not have a proper wedding on account of eloping but I’d like to think that if we had done the full-blown thing we’d’ve got our shit together to pull off the now traditional surprise wedding dance a la:


But I suspect not. I’d settle for attending a wedding where the couple pulled off something like it. How very fabulous.

I never get tired of these vids. I love youtube.

Teen movies

The death of Heath Ledger got me thinking about all my favourite teen movies seeing as how he was in one of my faves: Ten Things I Hate About You. And because thinking about fabby teen movies is more fun than thinking about talented people dying. I love ’em—almost as much as I love YA.

Here are my off-the-top-of-my-head favourites:

Bend It Like Beckham
Better Off Dead
Bring It On
Dirty Dancing
East of Eden
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ginger Snaps
Gregory’s Girl
The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love
Looking For Alibrandi
The Lost Boys (added because of reminders in the comments)
Mean Girls
Rebel Without A Cause
Say Anything
She’s All That (mostly for the dance sequence at the end)
The Sure Thing
Ten Things I Hate About You
The Warriors
The Year My Voice Broke

You may notice that I have omitted the John Hughes oeuvre. That is because I had the misfortune of rewatching Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink recently. And, to be kind, I will simply say they do not stand up.

What are your faves? And why?

Why can’t I be Guest of Honour all the time?

I will confess that I was nervous about going to High Voltage ConFusion. There were several reasons for this:

  • I’m afraid of cold places. And Detroit in winter is COLD.1
  • I’d never been a guest of honour before and was worried I’d be crappy at it.
  • I was aware that most of the people at the con would not have heard of me or Scott and was worried that they would feel dudded of a proper author guest of honour what wrote adult sf and fantasy.

I need not have had any concerns at all. I was right that most of the people there didn’t know us or our work (unless they were a teen librarian or had teen children—there were precious few actual teens in attendance). But it turned out to be a really good thing. No pressure and no expectations. It was really relaxing. One of the most relaxing weekends I’ve had in ages.

Mostly because of Anne Murphy, our liaison. I had no idea that guests of honour get someone to take care of them. It was fabulous. Anne made sure we were fed and happy. She is the best liaison of all time. Thank you, Anne! Why can’t she take care of us all the time? We’re lost without you, Anne!

There was much fun. The Opening Ceremonies were hilarious. A picture of which below. Scalzi interviewing us was very silly and totally enjoyable. Though I was bummed he didn’t bring up unicorns or quokkas.

We got to design our own panels. Thank you so much con organisers for indulging us! And thus were able to vent about stuff that’s been bugging us for ages. Why is there so little sport in fantasy and sf? Why did our audience turn on us during that panel back in Boston in 2004? Do they really just love wheat?

Thus the wheat panel which was FABULOUS therapy for me and Scott, though audience members expecting us to follow the panel description might have been disappointed. Sorry about that! But thank you for not turning on us. You were the best audience ever. Actually, all the panel audiences were smart and engaged and awesome. Me and Scott were dead chuffed that as the weekend went on more and more folks were showing up to hear us gasbag and pontificate. Yay!

The sport panel was also wonderful. Though we had way too much to say and not enough time to say it in. I especially loved that the audience was almost entirely women. Hah! There was also a sports writer, Dave Hogg, in the audience (he really should have been on the panel) who turned out—along with his partner—to be a huge Detroit Shock fan. Go, WNBA! We had an excellently geeky women’s hoops gossip.

I’ll admit that my last few cons had left me with panel fatigue. But now I love them all over again. I wish I’d gotten to see some of the panels I wasn’t on. I heard that all of Kevin Dunn’s (the science guest of honour) were brilliant. He explained soap and and all sorts of other Caveman Chemistry. I can’t wait to read his book.

You’ll be shocked to hear, however, that the best fun was not had during the panels, but at the parties and in the bar, and just generally hanging out. The ConFusion organisers and regulars are the best people on the planet. Seriously I got into so many great conversations and arguments and teasing contests. I can’t wait to go back!2

May I share with you the three best words in the world?

Roaming Pirate Party

Thanks again, Hugh, for the photo.

I haz met the Roaming Pirate Party. They haz rum3 and pirate hats and jollity by the galleon load. Best pirates ever! I shall treasure my pirate hat and t-shirt for ever!

We got to catch up with old friends like Karen Meisner, John & Krissy Scalzi, and Doselle Young. Why don’t they all live MUCH closer to me? I miss you all already. Waahh!! Not to mention making stacks of new friends. You know who you are! Yanni! Brian! Aaron! And SO MANY OTHERS! You all made it the best weekend ever.

Hell, we even got to see a movie: Cloverfield and it were good. Very good indeed.

If anyone needs a guest of honour me and Scott are so up for it!

  1. How cold? Minus a million cold! That’s how cold. So cold that I’m back in NYC and it’s freezing and it seems warm in comparison. []
  2. Any chance you could move it to a warmer time of year? []
  3. Though, obviously, being a YA author I didn’t drink any of it. Heaven forfend! []

How to Rewrite

I get a lot of beginning writers asking me how to rewrite. This post is aimed squarely at them: the ones who are unsure how to fix a story they have written from beginning to end. Which is my way of saying that any experienced writer is going to find what I am about to say obvious, boring, and un-useful. You folks should go read Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing or, you know, get back to work.

(It’s also a really LONG post. Hence the cut.)

“How can I learn to rewrite?” is an incredibly hard question to answer. It’s sort of like asking a pro tennis player (or coach): “How do I improve my tennis?” Continue reading


This vid exactly expresses my current feelings. Be warned that it involves intemperate language and violence:

Do not ask me how many times Microsoft Word has crashed on me today. Let’s just say I better not run into Bill Gates anytime soon.

The first person who tells me I can switch stupid Mr Clippy off gets punched. He is switched off. But when Word crashes it magically gets switched on again. Have I mentioned that I HATE Microsoft Word?

Oh and the first person who tells me to switch to Scrivener gets yelled at. I have switched, but I’m doing final rewrites, and have to keep my doc in smelly Word in order not to blow formatting etc. Going back to Word after Scrivener is breaking my brain. Waaaah!!!

Heh hem. Talk amongst yourselves. My deadline still needs vanquishing.

On spoilers

Cedarlibrarian, a major Harry Potter fan, doesn’t care about spoilers. Her arguments are smart and convincing.

And yet.

I’m really not a very evolved consumer of texts cause spoilers bug the crap out of me. I want my first experience of any narrative—be it book, manga, graphic novel, TV show, movie, play, whatever, to be untrammelled by knowing stuff about it. I don’t read reviews unless there of something I’ve already read/seen or it’s something I don’t care about.

Frankly, I’d almost prefer not to know what genre it is.

I don’t want to know if people liked it or not. All the spoilery grumbling about the latest series of TV shows I haven’t seen yet drives me spare.1 Could you put all commentary on Heroes behind a cut? Please. Be your best friend.

How do you lot feel about spoilers? And why? No spoilers in your examples! Thank you!

  1. And I almost always haven’t seen it yet. We travel so much we cannot commit to watching a show at the same time once a week. We tend to catch up with stuff on DVD because we’ve become addicted to watching a whole series over a couple of days. I hate having to wait a week between episodes. Bugger that! []

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. []


A warning: this is one of those stumbly thinking out loud posts.

I just read a dead interesting essay by Jim Huang reflecting on twenty years of selling books. Most of his comments have to do with mystery books but a lot of it applies to other genres. I’ve been thinking about this comment:

When I think about the center of gravity of the mystery genre, I still believe that it lies in series. Seventy percent of the titles on the bestsellers lists of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 2007 year to date are part of a series. Seventy percent of these series titles belong to long-running series of five or more books. Sales in IMBA member stores are not necessarily representative of the marketplace in general, but they are the best indication we have of what the most devoted mystery lovers are looking for. Yet you can in fact generalize from these numbers. When you look at the BookScan mystery bestseller list for the week of 8/12/07, representing sales throughout the industry, you see that over 70%—closer to 80%, actually—of these bestselling titles also belong to series.

While not to that extent, Young Adult, is also dominated by series books: from Nancy Drew to Harry Potter through to the Gossip Girls. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had from following the adventures of the same characters over multiple books and huge sales prove that I’m not alone in thinking so.

I know I have whinged about the trickiness of writing a trilogy, which is just a shorter series, but as a devourer of story I am all about the arc plot. In fact, lately I’ve kind of lost interest in movies and am much more into television precisely because it’s all arc. Right now we’re working our way through Homicide: Life on the Streets (which Scott had never seen!) and the first season of Heroes (anyone spoils me I kill them) having already screamed through American Gothic and the first three series of The Wire, there being no more Rome or Deadwood to be had.

I’m also gobbling manga by the truckload—my current obsession being Hikaru no go and Hellsing. I love them! But it’s also frustrating. Like right now I’m missing volume 6 of Hikaru. I have 7-10 waiting for me but no 6. And when I have all of the available volumes, I’m waiting on the next ones. Where is Nana 7? Emma 5? ES (Eternal Sabbath) 6? Hellsing 9? Her Majesty’s Dog 7? Monster 11? Mushishi 3? Waaaah!!!

But that’s nothing compared to the kinds of problems readers of mysteries have. Huang writes:

Series matter, and what publishers do with them tells you a lot about their inclinations and abilities. I write a lot about series and the bad job that the most publishers do with them: not keeping books in print (especially the first book which is where readers want to start), not clearly indicating the order of books in series, not identifying books as part of a series, not packaging series titles with a common look to make it easier to find them on new releases tables, not timing publication of new hardcovers and paperbacks to maximize sales, not indicating for the benefit of buyers for stores a new title’s place in the series, not soliciting orders for series backlist and frontlist together, not waiting months (if not years) between UK and US publication, etc.

I’ve definitely seen this happening a lot in sf and fantasy publishing but less so in YA. I wonder if that’s because YA books tend to stay on the shelves longer? Or maybe my anecdotal evidence is dodgy and it happens in YA too. Whatever. I will never understand how publishers allow book 1 of a series to go out of print while books 2, 3, 4 etc are still in print.

The first volume is always the biggest seller of a series because every time a new volume comes out it kickstarts fresh sales for the first volume. I’ve had several people write me to say that they bought Magic or Madness when Magic Lessons or Magic’s Child came out because the appearance of the later books reminded them about the series and also meant they could by the first book in paperback. My sales figures show the sales of Magic or Madness going up on the publication of the other two books.

On a much bigger scale that’s what happened with each book in Scott’s Uglies series. So much so that books two and three made it on to the New York Times bestseller list more than a year after first publcation. It will be interesting to see what happens when the fourth book comes out next month.

Obviously, the first volume of a bestselling series like Scott’s won’t be allowed to go out of print, but why publish the third book in a lesser selling series if the first one is no longer available? It minimises sales of all volumes in the series.

I have no idea where I’m going with any of this. Read Jim Huang’s essay!

Beluga whales

The train trip was fun. Biggest difference between travelling by air in the US of A and travelling by train is that the staff are happy and relaxed and like to talk to you. We heard all sorts of stories about train life (includuing gruesome stuff about what happens when someone throws themself under one).

Although the cabins are kind of on the squalorous side—especially compared to first class sleepers in Europe—it was fun hanging with Holly and Theo and Cassie and Maureen while kudzu covered forests zipped by. We dissected the YA publishing world, described the plots of our next five books, and planned collaborations that will never ever happen but would be amazing if they did. I could live on a train with those guys forever!

Except that would mean not staring at the beluga whales at the Georgia aquarium. We were the first people into that part of the aquarium this morning. It was just me and Scott standing in front of Nico as he pirouetted and somersaulted over and over again in front of us. Staring back at us as intently as we were staring at him. We could see the texture of his skin. Every scar, every pore. I have never been so close to such a large mammal in all my life. I could have stayed there for hours.

Tomorrow DragonCon begins. We’ve already seen our first klingons. I suspect there will be photos. Lots of them.

American Gothic

Okay, why did no one tell me what a flawed masterpiece American Gothic is? Is there any other brilliant tellie of the last twenty years you’re hiding from me? I mean I never even heard of American Gothic before! Why? Twin Peaks is total rubbish in comparison. (Don’t get me started on my Twin Peaks hatred. What an evil tease of a tv show!)

If my next novel features an evil but charming sheriff trying to corrupt their illegitimate child you’ll know why.

Matter of taste

Someone just told me I’m wrong about Bring It On being the best movie of all time. Excuse me? If I say it is then it is! This is my personal list of the best movies of all time. I cannot be wrong about it.

I’m not saying there aren’t other best movies of all time. There are! The Princess Bride is one. Rififi is another. Not to mention Out of the Past and Lagaan.

I am also not wrong about mangosteens being the best fruit.

Or The Wire being the best television.

Or Emma and Hellsing and anything by Osamu Tezuka being the best manga.

Or zombies being the best monsters.

And cricket absolutely is the best sport.

So nyer!

Though, of course, I reserve the right to tell you that your choices of best movie etc of all time is completely wrong. Because I am blog overlord.


Apparently there are lots of people out there who hated Sunshine and think it the worst movie ever. I beg to differ.

While I don’t think it was anywhere near best-movie-ever-made status, there was a lot I enjoyed about it compared to your average sf movie, which as a genre I mostly hate. Seriously the amount of sf films I think are okay (in a non-camp way) is very very small. Sunshine gave me a mission to save the world without big long speeches about saving humanity, uniformly good acting, no boredom, plus it was pretty.

What I didn’t like were the standard annoying Hollywoodisms, like, and here come the spoilers, Continue reading

Zombies, of course (updated)

For research purposes, I am going to drastically increase my zombie culture consumption.

Thus far I’ve been reading and loving The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. (I read the trades not the skinnies—so no spoilers for the latest issues!)

I also plan to read World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks. So no spoilers, people!

Update: Forgot to mention I have read the entire and very excellent Kelly Link zombie oeuvre.

What other zombie books and graphic novels should I be reading?

And there’s the movies—because really the whole zombie thing is very movie driven.

Obviously I’ve seen and loved all the George Romero zombie films. Yum. My faves. Yes, even the recent Land of the Dead that I’ve heard quite a few people bagging. The only one of his I think is a bit sub-par is Day of the Dead and even it is totally worth watching.

I’ve seen The Dawn of the Dead remake. Very disappointing.

And obv. there’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks.

Not to mention Shaun of the Dead. Very droll.

There’s also Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. Yes, that’s right I’m open to non-Romero voudun-style zombies.

Update: Also forgot to mention that, yes, I have seen the Resident Evil films. I love ’em.

So what are the best zombie movies that I haven’t seen? And if you could sell ’em to me and not just list titles. I’m trusting youse lot to be my zombie entertainment quality control.


Two friends of mine have had their books made into movies. Karen Joy Fowler‘s Jane Austen Book Club and Holly Black‘s Spiderwick Chronicles will be out in September and next February respectively, and can now be seen in trailer form right now.

I can’t tell you how rarely this happens. Lots of books get optioned, which means that someone has paid the writer for the right to make a movie based on their book. An option usually lasts a year and if work hasn’t started on the movie by the end of that time the option expires. That’s what happens in at least ninety per cent of cases; rarely do options result in films being made.

I know lots and lots of writers who’ve had work optioned. I’ve come close to an option myself, but Karen and Holly are the first to have had an actual Hollywood movie made. It’s like a miracle. A well-deserved miracle. If you haven’t read their books you should—they’re awesome.

I’m definitely gunna go see both movies the second they open. Can’t wait!

Best T-shirt ever (updated)

On Saturday I ran into wondrous super-librarian Carlie Webber at Book Expo America (BEA). She was wearing the best T-shirt of all time. Check it out:

The Mary Sue-iest!

And how about the back:

Ha ha ha!!

I laughed and laughed.

For those who do not know what a Mary Sue is or have not read any of the Harry Potter books—where have you been?

Update: The T-shirt of greatness was created by Amy
Tenbrink of Narrate Conferences.

Sometimes basketball makes me cry

Today at the New York Liberty versus Phoenix Mercury game (we won!) the Rutger’s women’s team stood in the middle of the court during one of the breaks. We gave them a standing ovation, stamping, and clapping and yelling for them. At every timeout thereafer they were beseiged by well-wishers and autograph seekers. They may not have won last years’ finals but they definitely won the battle against racist radio announcers. Yay!

Kay Yow one of the greatest coaches of women’s basketball ever and Vivian Stringer the fabulous coach of Rutgers were also there. So was Teresa Weatherspoon the best pointguard the Liberty has ever had. All were applauded and mobbed for autographs. It made me so happy. It made everyone happy. I’m still glowing.

Somewhat relatedly, Amy Fiske says she met Michelle Timms. To which I can only say, “Oh my God! You met Timmsie! She’s a goddess!”

Also check out this article about playing women’s basketball in Russia. Incredible stuff.

Still on the road

Tired, overstimulated, happy. I have lots of news but none that I can share. Mostly because I’m too tired to type straight.

Has anyone read any of Somerset Maugham’s writings on writing? You should. I loves him. (More coherent thoughts on it when I get my brain back.)

Also what’s the consensus on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? I read it on a plane. Started off hating it, warmed to it, got teary, but am now completely unsure what I think of it. I found it kind of slight oddly enough. But I may change my mind. Maybe I’m having hype allergy?

I do know what I thought of Sergey Lukyanenko’s Day Watch sequel to Night Watch. Loved it. More please! For the first time in my life I am tempted to write fan fiction. I mean what would the Sydney Day and Night watches be like? I’m seeing Simon Westaway as a world-weary medium ranked magician—but I’m not sure for which Watch . . .

Tis very strange reading so many not-YA books. They’re not half bad. I guess I should stop being rude about adult books.

Also saw Dreamgirls—yes on a plane—what an amazing film. Incredible sets, awesome adaptation of a muscial, unbelievably good acting, everything was absolutely perfect—except that the music sucked. SUCKED. Worst. Music. Ever. It caused me psychic pain having to listen to it. Aaargh. Is there some way to edit in good songs?

Have I mentioned that both Holly Black’s Ironside and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones made the New York Times bestseller list? I love both those books. Isn’t it wonderful? And if you haven’t read them you really really really should.

So Pistons-Spurs final?

Oh, and I am deeply in love with Paris. Yet another city I want to live in. Plus now I must learn French!

Of fans and geeks

El and Rachel Brown correctly surmised that the fan half of my question was inspired by the bruhaha about whether John Scalzi should be nominated for a fan writing Hugo or not.

For the record: yes, Scalzi should, and I hope he wins for all the reasons that have been described in great detail here, here and here. I’m also not comfortable with people telling other people that they are or aren’t “fans” or “geeks” or anything else. Those are the kind of labels you get to choose for yourself.

The geek half was inspired by my being asked to contribute a story to an anthology about geeks and geekery. My instant response was to say, “No.” Not just because I can’t write short stories, but because I couldn’t begin to think of a geeky story. (Plus no way am I biting the head off a chicken. Ewww.)

Also I was just curious about how you lot define those words. Part of what’s interesting in the great Is-Scalzi-a-Fan debate is that there were so many different definitions of what a “fan” is, which led to much talking at cross purposes. Seems thesame is true of “geek”. Veronica defined it the way I would, but Cecil defined it the way I would define “fan”.

A number of people take “fan” to mean someone who loves something uncritically. I can’t help but laugh at that when I think of the number of letters I’ve had from self-proclaimed Magic or Madness fans who tell me in minute detail the stuff they don’t like about the trilogy, just as much as the stuff they do. Clearly, these are slippery, slippery terms.

Thanks everyone for such fascinating responses.

So why do I call myself a fan but not a geek?

Let’s take the word “fan” first. I’m not a fan of science fiction, which may sound odd for someone who did a Phd on it, which became a book. To be honest the whole PhD thing was never a passion. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be a writer, but as everyone knows there’s no money in that, so I went for an academic career to support my writing habit. The subject of my PhD was an accident. I’d read sf as a kid but I’d read lots of other things too and, honestly, I think the vast majority of sf (film, television or film) is on the nose. Many of the so-called classics of the genre like the work of Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke or Star Trek or Blade Runner leave me cold.

It’s the world building that does it for me with science fiction, being transported to somewhere that is not like the world I know. I get that just as readily from books about places I’m unfamiliar with: Japanese crime books fascinate me; Australian ones not so much. I also get that button pressed by books from the past (Jane Austen, Tale of Genji,1 Elizabeth Gaskell, Miles Franklin et al) historicals, fantasy, westerns and so on. Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson create worlds that are almost completely alien to me. I adore their work.

I love the writings of Samuel R. Delany and Maureen McHugh and Ursula K. Le Guin. But I’m not convinced that it’s the science fictioness of their work that does it for me. I’m just as happy when they’re writing fantasy or memoirs or criticism or blogging or whatever else they choose to write. I love the way they string their words and sentences and paragraphs together. Yum.

If I were to be banned from reading one genre it would be less of a hardship for me if that genre were sf rather than fantasy or historicals. (Naturally, I exempt manga from all these categories.)

I’m also not a fan in the sense that Ulrika is talking about. That is I’m not a member of a community that came together around a love of science fiction in the late 1930s and is still going strong today. Or am I? I definitely feel like I’m a part of the WisCon community. For years I helped with the running of that particular science fiction convention. I was on the ConCom. Can you get much more fannish than that? And, like John Scalzi, I feel very much at home with many members of the science fiction community who definitely consider themselves to be fans.

However, I’ve never written fanfiction. So I’m not part of that thriving aspect of fandom. Nor do I read it. Though there are definitely books and stories I love, like The Wide Sargasso Sea, that are a kind of fanfiction—but the kind that plays around with out of copyright texts and thus gets to be published.

I’m happy to call myself a fan not just because of the WisCon thing, but because there are a lots of things I love. Elvis Presley’s voice. Cricket. Madeleine Vionnet and Hussein Chalayan’s clothes. The writing of way too many people to list here. I love Bring It On and Deadwood and Blue Murder and My Brilliant Career and ES and Nana and Osamu Tezuka and mangosteens and the food of countries like Spain and Mexico and Thailand and Japan and Italy and Ethiopia and the great wines of Australia and New Zealand and Argentina and South Africa and Italy and France and Spain and many other places.

I don’t think the word “fan” implies uncritical love. There are clothes of Vionnet and Chalayan’s that I think are naff, Cricket matches that bore me, Angela Carter books ditto, and Spanish food and French wine I’ve had to spit out.

So why aren’t I geek?

First up, the word is American and doesn’t have much resonance for me. I never heard it as a kid nor “nerd” neither. Not outside of a John Hughes movie. (That’s not true of younger Aussies.)

The people I know who are self-described nerds or geeks have passions for stuff that bores me. Video games, role-playing games, board games and the insides of computers. I have many friends who are into these things and, well, I am not like them in this regard. I do not know what “chaotic good” is, even though Scott’s explained it to me like a hundred times.

I’ve had flirtations with various computer games over the years, but my attention span for them is microscopic, and ulimately I’d much rather be reading a book.

Once I got into Go for about a year, to the extent that I was playing it with a bunch of Go fanatics on servers in Korea, and reading books on it. But it was largely research for a novel I was writing. When I finished writing the book my interest in playing Go lapsed. It’s still by far the best game I’ve ever played, but I doubt I’d even remember how anymore. I haven’t played since 1999.

Many of my geeky friends are also collectors.

I hate stuff. I spend a large chunk of my life recycling and throwing stuff out. I hate things that sit on the mantlepiece and serve no purpose other than to collect dust. I see no point in them. Nor in stuffed animals, or dolls, or collectable cards, or any of that. I love cricket but I have no desire for cricket stuff cluttering up my house and am endlessly giving away the cricket tat people give me (clothes excluded).

If I collect anything, it’s books, but I cull them ruthlessly and often. If I’m not going to reread it, or I’ve had it for more than a year without even cracking the spine and there seems little likelihood that I will, then out the book goes.

Also I have a terrible memory. Always have had. I can’t tell you what year Bring it On came out, or who directed it, or who all the actors are without looking it up. I have to read a book a billion times before I can remember any details about it and even then I’m pretty crap. I just did a test on Pride and Prejudice I don’t think I’ve read any book more times than that one. I got 5 out of 10. I would not be able to tell an original Vionnet gown from a knock off. I do not have the trainspotting gene.

So, yes to “fan” and to “enthusiast” (thanks, Bennett), no to “geek” or “nerd”. I’m also quite happy to be called a “dag”. Yes, I am also a “spaz”. (Though, Christopher, I say to you: Know thyself!) And “dilettante”? Oh, yes, that’s me. I have the attention span of a gnat.2

  1. I confess I have never finished The Tale of Genji despite repeated attempts. The bits I’ve read have been fabulous. It’s just that the book is so damned heavy and hard to read in bed. I know, I know . . . dilettante. []
  2. Except for blogging, apparently. Bugger but this was a long post . . . Sorry! []

Ode to Kirihito

I’ve been dipping my toe in the worlds of manga and graphic novels over the past year or so. Allow me to express some neophyte enthusiasm: WOW!!! Seriously, I’ve loved the majority of what I’ve read and the stuff I haven’t like that much in the early volumes (I’m looking at you, Saiyuki) has become fabulous later on.

I’m pretty sure the 90% rule1 still applies, I just happen to have very excellent guides (thank you, Micole, Rachel, and Doselle). And Anne Ishii of Vertical Books who led me to Osamu Tezuka‘s Ode to Kirihito, which I loved so much I feel compelled to rave about it here.

Ode to Kirihito is like nothing I’ve ever read before. So much so that I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a medical thriller, it’s a philosophic musing about what it is to be human, it’s completely unputdownable. That’s saying something because it is a very big book. There are depraved sideshow performers, corrupt doctors, scary small town locals, depraved and corrupt crime lords, nuns, as well as racist mine overseers.

From page to page I had no idea what was going to happen next, but when it did, it made sense. It all worked. More than worked, it sang.

And that’s just the story. The art is something else again.2 Although Ode was first published in the early 1970s if I hadn’t known that I couldn’t have guessed it. The art looks contemporary. More than that it looks cutting edge contemporary. It’s so beautiful that I would stop to just stare at many of the pages. And, trust me, I’m not someone who will stop to smell the roses when I’m as caught up in a story as I was with Ode to Kirihito. It was just so gorgeous I could not soak it up.

You all have to read this book. It is gobsmackingly awesome. And weird. Very very very weird.

I am now going to read the first volume of Tezuka’s Buddha. I must now read everything he has ever written. He is a genius and I am smitten.

  1. Otherwise known as Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety per cent of everything is crap”. []
  2. Not that they’re separable. I know that. I’m just new to this, remember. []

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. []

Best movie of all time

For ages people have been telling me that I have to see Lagaan. Well, now I have. And everyone’s right. It is the best movie of all time. No contest.

It has everything that should be in a movie: cricket, the British are the baddies, more cricket, dancing, singing, a love triangle, and more cricket. Lagaan is perfect. (Well, it could have been longer with a wee bit more cricket and a few more songs, but other than that—perfect.)

At least seventy minutes of the movie is a cricket match. How did that make any sense to American viewers? Cause most of the folks who’ve recommended it have been yanquis who know nothing about the noble game. How did you keep track of the balls and overs? How did you even realise


that Bhuvan wasn’t out at the end cause the evil bastard captain had stepped over the boundary when he took the catch?

Also what was it like not getting all the cool little cricket history references?

I mean the actor cast as the big baddie captain even looks like Douglas Jardine (or at least he looks like Hugo Weaving playing Douglas Jardine in Bodyline—same thing). And he certainly behaves like Douglas Jardine. Right down to stretching the ethical limits of the game to breaking point. And then there was the fabulous homage to Baloo Palwankar with the untouchable spinner. Fabulous stuff.

Sigh. And now I believe I will watch it again.

Hollywood sucks: a rant

On the plane from Sydney to NYC, I watched a lot of films and most of them were awful. Especially The Departed. Once again, I sat there, jaw dropping, thinking this is what racks up gazillions of award nominations? What are they seeing that I am not? Am I the only one who cares that no one’s motivations make any sense? That there are plot holes so deep and wide you could ride all the world’s horses through them?

Warning: Spoilers follow.

Not that you will care within about ten minutes of the film starting. Frankly I was hoping they would all die. It was the only way in which the film gratified my wishes.

Like why would you, on finally (at long bloody last) figuring out who the bad guy is, go arrest him yourself? Why would you not take the ample evidence you had straight to the authorities? Or at least go arrest him with lots of back up? Why do female psychiatrists in Hollywood movies have absolutely no ethics and sleep with their patients within seconds of meeting them? And why are they not in the slightest bit conflicted by this?

(Side questions: Why did all the white lead males under forty look and talk exactly like one another? I could not tell them apart!)

There were no real people in The Departed. Not one. Maybe that’s what the title really refers to: the departure of charcterisation and coherent plot. None of them had families. None of them had remotely believable pasts. They only existed—and that barely—for the duration of the movie. It wasn’t a movie. It was a shell of a simulacrum of an impression of the photocopy of an idea of a movie.

There’s a reason films and television like this spawn no fanfic. There’s no there there for fans to run and play with. Everything is cardboard. Shiny cardboard with way-too-white teeth.

I also saw Miami Vice which was just as ludicrous. Colin Farrell wins my award for worst American accent ever. But at least it was cheerfully and colourfully stupid and way more stuff blew up.

If I hadn’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth and The Queen recently I’d be concluding that all movies suck. (You know, just like all those folks who conclude that all YA sucks after reading one Gossip Girl book.) But wait a second. They’re not Hollywood films, are they?

Why does Hollywood keep spending gazillions of dollars making so-called A grade movies that make no sense at all, are badly written, cliche ridden, and boring, and why does it keep giving such train wrecks a gold statue with no penis? I’m looking at you, Crash.

I can’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed a Hollywood A grade prestige flick. Quite frankly I’ve reached the point where I will never spend money on such movies again. Bugger ’em. I’ll stick to the much-better B grade and independent and non-USian films from now on. Some of them will suck too, but not in the same glossy, vampiric, scary simulacra way that the Hollywood monstrosities do. A pox on the lot of them and their shiny interchangeable stars.


Happiness is . . .

This post is dedicated to
my beloved father, John Bern,
because the novel I dedicated to him
has not found a publisher yet
and because
I think it will make him gag

Happiness is . . .

  • Finishing the first draft of a novel that was tonnes of fun to write, which means the rewrites are going to be even more fun.
  • Celebrating said finish by going out to see fabulous theatre (Keating at the Belvoir) with my parents, sister and husband.
  • Continuing the celebration with a wonderful meal at Tabou (best mussels ever!), drinking loads of champagne, and filling Scott in on all the stuff he missed in Keating: Gareth Evans, Eddie Mabo, Native Title and why Alexander Downer was in drag with fishnet stockings.
  • Coming home to discover that Bertelsmann Verlag has bought the German rights to Magic’s Child and will be publishing the whole trilogy in 2008 with two month gaps between each title. No annnoying waiting for the German readers.
  • Trying to decide whether to have a bit of a holiday in Ireland or Spain. Such a dilemma!

What all is making you lot happy? We happy peoples love company!

And she goes

I’ve been just a few days away from finishing the first draft of the great Australian Elvis mangosteen monkey knife-fighting cricket fairy novel for weeks and weeks. What is it with that? I feel like there’s someone up ahead with my ending, who—every time I get close enough to touch it—madly sprints away.

Bloody bastard!1 Stop it!

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to finishing this draft. I have such plans for the rewrites! Rewriting is so much funner. You can’t really get the monkey-knife-fighting scenes right until you’ve gone over them many times adding zeppelins and fireworks.

I’m also a bit cranky cause this was going to be my shortest novel ever, but it keeps growing. Grrr.

Do any of youse ever have the receding-into-the-distance ending problem? What do you do about it?

  1. Just rewatched Bodyline. My favourite bit is when Douglas Jardine (evil captain of the English team) goes to the Australian dressing room to demand an apology for being called a bastard. The captain turns to his men and asks, “Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?” Jardine stalks off in high Pommy dudgeon. Tee hee! []

The third day . . .

I haven’t been blogging the third test because I’ve been sitting in front of it entranced, transfixed, and incapable of typing (plus there’s the whole absence of wireless thing). Those first two inning were something else, weren’t they?

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see Andrew Symonds back and making magic for the Australian test side. He’s one of the best fielders of all time. His bowling was fabulously effective—if only he could stay in a tad longer he’d be a lock on the number six spot. Frankly, I think his performance in this test should bag him number six no matter what. His fielding alone makes an insanely big difference. Plus he’s one of the most entertaining cricketers in the world.

And speaking of entertaining cricketers—how about that Monty Penasar? He’s a bit of alright, isn’t he? And not nearly as crap in the field and with a bat as we were led to believe. Are the English selectors mentally challenged? I reckon that’s the end of Ashley Giles’ test career. Go, Monty!

And now tis almost time to turn the tellie on for the third day’s play. Heaven!

Arduous Research

So I have a genius idea for a book1 that requires me to watch lots of old American movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It’s tough but someone has to do it. Plus Scott’s never seen a lot of these movies and I consider that to be criminal. Do you know before he met me he’d never even heard of Preston Sturges? What kind of a life is that?

So far we’ve worked our way through the films of (natch) Preston Sturges, George Cukor, and Douglas Sirk. As well as almost all the ones starring Rita Hayworth (Yay Gilda!).

Today we watched Mildred Pierce. Bless it. Bless Joan Crawford and Anne Blythe. The role of Veda is such a hoot. Has a greater bitch ever graced the silver screen? Sure, probably, there’s always Eve Harrington in All About Eve which we watched the day before. Scott had never seen it and is now smitten. Who wouldn’t be? Such a fabulous movie!

Yes, that's Fredi Washington again. Write a book about her already!Watching these more-than-fifty-year-old movies I’ve been struck by how many of them are written by women and how many of them are driven by women. They have not just genuine starring roles, but also lots of juicy supporting parts. There are women older than forty in these movies.

Last time I went to the movies I sat through the regulation ten minutes of shorts and did not see a single woman. Not one. The time before that there were two women and both seemed to be in the girlfriend role and were a long, long, long way off forty. What on Earth happened in the intervening years? How come most of the good roles for women are now on the tellie?

I’d love to hear your theories. Lauren, ex-Hollywood producer friend of mine?

And bonus question what are your favourite movies from the first three decades of talking pictures? (Doesn’t have to be American.) I’d tell you mine but it would take hours . . .

  1. Scott does not believe in the existence of this genius idea. He thinks I just like watching the same old movies over and over. I’ll show him! []

Giving up

How long before you give up on a writer that you once loved? Or a TV series you adored? Or film director? Or actor? Or band you loved? How many dud books, TV eps, movies or songs before you say, “That is it. I’m never spending money on you again?”

Or do you never give up and keep hoping against hope that they’ll regain form?

I’d tell you who this was apropos of, but then I’d have to kill you.

Write me this book!

My intensive google research has revealed that there is no biography of Fredi Washington. I demand that one of you get off your arse and write one immediately! (Or use your better research skills to find me one.)

Who is Fredi Washington, you ask? Why, let me tell you:

Fredi Washington as Peola in Imitation of LifeFredi Washington was a light-skinned black actor and dancer. She largely starred in movies for the Jim Crow circuit and often with her skin darkened. She was such a compelling screen presence that the Hollywood bigwigs in the thirties offered to make her a big star if she’d pass as white. She told ’em all where to go. Yay, Fredi! (I also want to know if that’s actually true.)

Ironically, her one big role in white movies was playing the “tragic mulatto”, Peola, in the original Imitation of Life.1 She steals the movie. Everytime she’s on screen she’s where you’re looking.

I want to know more about her. I demand to know more about her! I want a big fat bio on the scale of the Tiptree one. I want it to be as thoroughly researched and as beautifully written and I want it right this minute.

On your bikes, people!

  1. I totally recommend watching the two Imitations of Life back to back. The 1934 one followed by the 1959 Juanita Moore one. Fascinating to see the shifts in representations of race relations. Though in both, Peola/Sara Jane’s decision to pass as white seems inexplicable.

    If you were an alien watching the movies you’d be scratching your head trying to figure out what was so very terrible about being a black person. Other than the only other black people being servants, but there are so few of them you’d think maybe they’re off enjoying cool jobs elsewhere. In neither film are there any cafes with signs saying “Whites Only”. The black characters never have to sit at the back of the bus.

    There is one horrible scene of racism in the 1959 version, but it plays out like racism is just that particular person’s problem, not anything systemic. The most you get in the 1935 version are the kids at school looking shocked when they discover that Peola is passing. Their reaction shot lasts less than five seconds. []

Fan art, my next novel, & reading

I got my very first fan art by the lovely Kate of Refrigerate Kate. Here are her sketches of Jay-Tee:

Isn’t that fabulous? (Though for the record Jay-Tee doesn’t smoke.)

There are also sketches of Tom on her site. I’m dead chuffed! I have fan art! Really good fan art! Thank you, Kate.

I’ve also neglected to mention what novel I decided to write next. On account of it was youse lot’s overwhelming favourite (and me having already written 25 thou words of it) I will now be turning my attention to finishing the Great Australian feminist monkey-knife fighting Elvis mangosteen cricket fairy young adult novel.

Anyone who’d like a sneak preview—I’ll be reading the first three chapters later today:

NYRSF Reading Series
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
7PM (doors open at 6:30PM)
Scott and me
Melville Gallery
213 Water Street
New York, NY

Hope to see some of you there. Now it’s past my bedtime . . .


Last night after a hard day’s work we thought we’d order up a movie. As you do. And we’re trying to pick one, but the movies we know anything about we’ve already seen or would rather die than see. So we’re reading descriptions of movies and we both start exercising the veto like you wouldn’t believe:

Scott: not watching any movie that has the word “cop” in the description.

Justine: or “battered” or “gruelling” or “genocide”.

Scott: not “lawyer” either or “detective”.

Justine: Isn’t that covered by “cop”?

Scott: No. Look “private detective”.

Justine: I rule out “bleak”, “heart-warming”, and “family-oriented”.

Scott: Also “doctor”.

Justine: Not to mention “life-threatening” and “disease”, especially if they’re the one phrase.

Scott: Aren’t those ruled out on account of my previous anti-“doctor” call?

Justine: Not necessarily. See this description of Love Story? Do you see the word “doctor”?

Scott: Point.

Justine: I nix “eternal” unless in relationship to the undead.

Scott: And “Zombie” is an automatic yes.

Justine: Der. So is “Robert Mitchum”.

Scott: Is there a Robert Mitchum zombie movie? Cause that would rock.

Justine: Funny you should say that cause look—here is Rachel and the Stranger (1948) with Robert Mitchum, Loretta Young and William “Tedious” Holden. Let me read you the description:

    A widowed pioneer needs someone to clean the house and help raise his child. So, he purchases a zombie to be his wife. But the forlorn frontiersman misses his first spouse so much that he’s barely aware of his new zombie bride. He changes his tune, however, when a buddy of his shows a romantic interest in her.
    (Synopsis swiped from Rotten Tomatoes.)

Scott: How could you marry a zombie? They would eat you.

Justine: These are pre-Romero zombies of the Caribbean voudoun kind. More soul-missing, sleepwalking, than “mmm, brains”. Plus it is based on a story by Howard Fast who is my personal god of popular fiction.

Scott: Okay, call it up.

Justine: [rubs hands together in the approved evil-genius manner] Mwahahaha!

Plot disturbances

I should so not be writing this post. Too much to get done before we leave Monday. No time! Aaarggh.

However, Gwenda’s writing a quest novel and thinking out loud about whether she can skip the whole boring refusing-to-take-up-the-call part. Also known as “but I don’t want to be a vampire Slayer!”

In a fantasy novel the odds of the protagonist not taking up the call to destroy the one true ring or whatever are pretty non-existent. If they say “no” then book is over, or it becomes something else which is most definitely not a quest novel. So why should the writer spend too much time on that part?

I equate refusing the call with the passage of disbelief. And, indeed, the two often go together: the protag is told, “You were created to destroy this one true ring and in doing so you will save the world!” Protag’s response: “There’s a one-true ring? I’m the chosen one? What now?”

Passages of disbelief can also be really tedious. I pick up a book called, let’s say, Zombie Apocalypse from Hell and am faced with endless setup chapters where the character blithely go about their day squabbling with spouse/children/boss, engaging in other banal and boring activities just so the reader can get to know them. Meanwhile all signs point to the undead walking the streets and eating brains. But the stupid characters don’t recognise said signs, oh no, they keep coming up with lame so-called rational explanations. Yawn. Have they not seen the cover of the book? It’s called Zombie Apocalypse from Hell for Elvis’s sake! Wake up and smell the putrefying flesh! Can we get to the apocalypse already?

One of the things I loved about Buffy the Vampire Slayer was how quickly and wittily they got through the different characters’ disbelief, culminating with Oz discovering the true nature of Sunnydale and saying, “Actually it explains a lot.”

Do I think writers can skip the refusal of the quest/passage of disbelief? Absolutely! I love books that start media res. Whoosh—straight into the action. Good writers can build character and action at the same time. Funny that. They convey their protag’s ambivalence about the role they’ve been thrust into whilst the character is busying saving the world. Two birds, one stone.

On the other hand, sometimes the passage of disbelief/refusal of the quest is the best part. Shaun of the Dead becomes a lot less interesting after they realise that zombies are real. The opening where the two ambitionless, slacker Londoners get on with their stultifying everyday lives (drool in front of tellie, slouch off to work, buy crisps, fight with girlfriend and/or flatmate) in the midst of the spreading zombie apocalypse is the best pisstake of and homage to zombie movies I’ve ever seen. I laughed so hard I wept.

In Magic or Madness I set up the passage of disbelief scenario a little differently by giving the protag a mother who’s always specifically denied magic’s existence. Reason’s been brought up knowing about magic, but negatively. And although it’s almost a hundred pages before Reason is hit with solid evidence that magic is real, it’s only thirty pages later that she accepts the existence of magic.

I guess that adds up to 130 pages of disbelief, which should make any hardened fantasy reader completely ropeable (sorry!). Fortunately she’s the only deluded point-of-view character. I guess I’m saying it’s cool to take a long time with a disbelief pasage if there’s other stuff going on.

To tie this more closely to what Gwenda’s talking about: one of the main things the writer has to balance is the gap between the reader’s knowledge and that of the characters. Afterall, the protag can’t actually look up at the top of the page to the title of the book (Zombie Apocalypse from Hell ) or chapter (Eat more brains!). Unlike the reader they’re not privvy to the back-of-the-book blurb (“In this scintilating debut all hell breaks loose as Chandler Hammer does battle with hordes of zombies with only her pet dog, Misty, and son, Dopey, by her side”)—they have to figure stuff out for themselves, but in a way that doesn’t bore either writer or reader into a coma.

Nothing easier . . .

Con artists

You know how in Hollywood movies con artists are usually sexy, or interesting, or secretly kind of good guys, or all of those things (think The Grifters, Paper Moon, The Sting etc. etc.) and most of the people they scam are greedy bad people anyways, so it doesn’t really matter? When I watch those movies I’m completely sucked in, and on their side, and want them to win.

In real life, not so much. Cause, you see, scam agents and publishers are also con artists. They prey on people who are ignorant of the publishing industry and desperately want to have their work published and read. I was once ignorant of publishing and desperate to become a real author with a real published book. If I’d come across one of these scams back then I bet I would’ve fallen for it. Many otherwise smart people have.

Falling for a con isn’t about how smart you are. It’s about how much you know. It’s many years now since I’ve known enough about publishing to be immune to the kinds of scams that are regularly exposed by Writers Beware and Predators & Editors.

But on many things I’m easy to fool. If someone tells me something my instinct (like most people’s) is to believe it. I’m endlessly tricked by my friends and relatives—curse them. And April’s Fool’s Day? Gah. For starters, I’m a freelancer, so I never notice what day it is, besides most April Fool’s day gags consist of telling people something that could be plausible. What’s so dumb in believing them? There’s so many implausible things in the world that are true. You know, like Tom Cruise being a sex symbol, and people actually believing that American Beauty and The English Patient are good movies, and that Bring It On and Resident Evil 2 are bad. Excuse me?

I’ve almost been conned in NYC, but fortunately I was with a more knowledgeable person who recognised a scam (whatever it was—I still don’t know) coming.

I even understand the impulse to trick people—there’s an element of the trickster in every fiction writer. I’m just saying it ain’t that hard, nor if you’re doing it to trick money out of folks is it glamorous, noble, sexy or any of the other things that Hollywood likes to make it seem. You don’t even have to be especially smart to do it. That particular scam consists of the scammer advertising for unpublished writers and then when they send their writing the scammer says it’s fabulous and for a fee will represent the writer. Easy. All the scammer needs is for the unpub’d writer to be ignorant of the fact that good agents don’t charge fees and especially not in the multiples of a thousand.

Of course, it’s not just Hollywood that glamorises scammers. There are lots of really excellent crime books out there from the point of view of grifters. I just read Lawrence Block’s The Girl With the Long Green Heart (thanks, Naomi) and I really enjoyed it. But something happened as I read it, I started thinking about things from the griftee’s point of view. Even though—as is usual with these stories—he was a thoroughly nasty piece of work because he was greedy and thought he was gaming those who were gaming him. At which point it’s hard to see which way’s up ethically speaking. Who’re worse the people who make a living gaming people illigetimately? Or real estate speculators etc who game people legally? The grifters point at the griftees and say it wouldn’t happen to them if they weren’t so greedy. But isn’t greed for money one of the key motiviating factors of the grifter?

My head hurts.

There are lots of movies and books I enjoy whose ethics are beyond questionable. Gross Point Blank anyone? In which the hero is a guilt-free paid killer. And yet the audience is expected to be barracking for him to wind up with the girl. Which I always do even though I’m sure that were it real life and not a perverse fairy tale the first time his girl annoys him he’d off her without thinking twice.

And my point would be?

Dunno. Oh, hang on, yes I do. My point is that fiction ain’t life and that Writer’s Beware and Predator’s & Editors are doing stellar work and I salute them.

Flying foxes at dusk

I’m sitting at my desk watching the flying foxes make their nightly voyage out from the Botanical Gardens. Hundreds of bat silhouettes against the darker-by-the-second sky.

Have I mentioned how much I love this flat? How sad I am that we’re leaving?

Well, bugger that! I refuse to give into melancholy. Here’s the view I’ll be enjoying soon:

© good friend, brand-new father, and all round artistic genius Robin Cave

That view’s not so bad as all that, is it? Even if there are no flying foxes, or rainbow lorikeets, or ibis, or cockatoos . . .

Writer’s Block

There’s an article in the SMH about writer’s block by Catherine Keenan—which draws a lot from Zachary Leader’s Writer’s Block, which I will superstitiously never read. I mean what if it’s contagious? Anyway the article is full of lots of ace anecdotes, but what I liked best about it was the accompanying illustration:

Simon Letch (Click through on the link and you’ll learn just how dangerous a life illustrators in Australia lead.)

How cool is that?

Now I must get back to my own writing bouyed by yesterday’s excellent news, and last night’s fabulous food and champagne (thank you, Jan & John—you are the best!) and with my ears stoppered against any hint of writerly blockage . . .

Me Quoted in the Chicago Tribune

I know it’s not the New York Times, but I’m pretty stoked. Especially as Pat Reardon has written a smart and interesting article about author photos and I’m quoted alongside the likes of Jane Smiley. Woo hoo! Here are my pearls of wisdom:

“When you’re really sucked into a book, it’s an incredibly intimate experience,” says Justine Larbalestier, an Australian science fiction young adult writer and historian. “You’re really in that person’s brain.”

As an author, Larbalestier is ambivalent about dust-jacket photos. She’s even tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade her publishers to go without her photo. But, as a reader, there are times she finds herself gazing at the writer’s image for answers. She did so recently while reading The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics by Marcus du Sautoy.

“It’s about maths, but the writing is passionate and beautiful,” Larbalestier says, “and I kept trying to reconcile the smug picture of the author with the elegance of the text.”

Mate, I hope Mr du Sautoy doesn’t come across it. I didn’t really mean smug exactly, the photo’s more, sort of, pompous. No! That’s worse isn’t it? How about self-satisfied? Or, um, I know, English. The photo looks very English. And, Mr du Sautoy, I really, really love your book.

Don’t mind me, I’ll get back to finishing my own book now.

Off to Byron, Whingeing about Deadlines, Boasting about My Sister, and Some Lovely News (updated)

Sorry about the not blogging of late, especially with you lot being all interesting in the comments (I’ve finally gone through and responded, bless you all). I was kept from it by boring, boring non-internets stuff and the looming deadline. Or rather, panic about the looming deadline. Corey asked of my deadline how soon “scary soon” is: 2 January, which is 17 days away, and I’m about 15-20 thou words short of the end. Also, I’d like to, you know, revise and rewrite before I send it off.

Ordinarily I leave myself a month or more for that, and while I’m revising I send it out to my first readers for comments. There won’t be none of that this time, which worries me deeply. Maybe I can send to first readers at the same time as sending to my editors? Hmmm. Don’t mind my panicking out loud here. Any suggestions for creating time pockets or outsourcing some of the writing are very welcome.

Today we’re off to Byron Bay for almost a week courtesy of my hard-working and very talented sister, Niki Bern, who is so very cool that one of her shots is the current front cover of Cinefex magazine. How amazing is that? Here’s a better look at her shot:

For Niki making the front cover of Cinefex is even better than if I got the front cover and a rave review in The New York Times Book Review. It’s beyond cool! My sister is ubercool! And she’s just hired a house in Byron on the beach for us all to hang out and relax. I ask you: does anyone have a better sister than I do? I didn’t think so. Now, if only I didn’t have to work the whole time I’m there . . .

The lovely news is that Magic or Madness is a finalist for the Aurealis Award for Young Adult novel and so are two (!) of Scott’s books: Peeps and Uglies! Between us we make up three quarters [update: three fifths] of the short list. Most excellent, eh? The other quarter [update: one fifth] is Anthony Eaton for Nightpeople [update: and Isobel Carmody’s Alyzon Whitestar] both of which we’ll be grabbing copies of asap. To make the lovely news even lovelier many our friends are also nominated in other categories: Cat, Sean, Rjurik, and Garth, as well as Rob (stories he edited).

Oh, and one last thing: First Test against South Africa starts at the WACA today. Kill ’em, boys! Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!