Post-a-Rejection-Letter Friday

Tempest Bradford links to Shaun C. Green who has declared today post-a-rejection-letter Friday. Tempest also links to an INSANE rejection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s brilliant Left Hand of Darkness which is one of my favourite books of all time. The person who wrote that letter clearly read an entirely different book. Possibly one by Ayn Rand.

My rejection letters are in a filing cabinet in Sydney. The only bit I can remember from them is from a rejection I received in the 1980s that included the following PS:

If you insist on writing under a pseudonym it is best to also include your real name. Thank you.

The crazy outlandish pseudonym I used? Why, that would be “Justine Larbalestier”. I know! What was I thinking?

I do have a few rejections from Strange Horizons—they do everything electronically—but they’re all super nice and encouraging so that’s no fun. Sidenote: If you write sf or fantasy short stories I strongly recommend them as a market. They publish great stories, they respond promptly, and their rejection letters are really nice even when they clearly hated your story.

I just remembered another one, which came from an English magazine. It went something like this, “You write beautifully but this story is completely pointless. Please don’t waste our time again until you learn to plot.” Ouch! They were right though. Sigh.

Post a rejection letter of your own! The club of those who have received them is a very very very big one.

The next novel

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

When is it due?

August

When will it be published?

September 2009

Who is publishing it?

Bloomsbury USA

What is it about?

Lies

What’s it called?

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

Is it a sequel to How To Ditch Your Fairy?

No

Why isn’t it a sequel to HTDYF?

Because

Will there be a sequel to HTDYF?

Maybe

How long do you think it will be?

75,00-85,000

How long is it now?

54,013

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

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

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

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

I is sorry

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

I has unfinished book.

Which must be finished before not too long.

Thus I am only capable of two things:

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

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

That is all.

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

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

PANIC!!!

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

WELCOME!!!

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

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

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

How I finished my first novel

Often when people find out what I do it turns out that they harbour ambitions of writing a novel too. Mostly they just daydream about it. But sometimes they confess that they’ve had a whack at it but not very successfully. “How do you actually finish a novel?” they’ll ask. “Starting’s easy but how do you finish?”

I cannot tell you how many novels I started but did not finish before I finally managed to complete one. Not because I don’t want to tell you, but because I honestly don’t know. On the hard drive of my current computer there are fourteen unfinished novels. But there are others that didn’t make it to this computer. Not to mention many notebooks that are lost or in storage. I started my first novel before I was twelve, started many more in my teenage years, not to mention my twenties, but I kept stalling.

Every. Single. Time.

I could write beginnings. Some of them are corkers. I could even get some of the middle stuff happening. But I could not get to the third act. Hell, I couldn’t even finish the second act.1 None of my unfinished novels get anywhere near the climax, let alone the actual ending.

There were lots of reasons why. My short attention span was definitely part of it. I’d think of some other shiny shiny idea and start on that instead. Or I’d get bored with the work in progress and go read a book instead. Or I’d get stuck and have no idea what happens next. Or I’d decide the whole thing sucked and realise I could never show it to anyone else because of its hopelessness and give up. It could also have been the absence of a deadline—I find they concentrate the mind quite fabulously well.

I also suspect part of my problem was that I never had a clear idea of the whole book. I’d just start writing a conversation, or describing a scene, and figure out who the people were and what was going on as I went. I had never heard of outlining so it never occurred to me to do so. Maybe it would have made a difference and I’d have finished a novel much earlier. I’ve always imagined that writers who figure out the plot ahead of time, who know who their characters are and what they’re going to do before they start typing have a much easier time finishing their first novel.

Left to my own devices I suspect I would never have finished. I’d still be an academic. Or possibly a rabbit farmer. Or a stringer for National Enquirer.

But one fateful day I got talking with an acquaintance, who happened to work at a book shop in Sydney where I fed my book habit frequently bought books. I’d been going there for years. We’d chatted many times but didn’t really know each other. On this occasion we both confessed that we were wannabe writers. I remember how embarrassed I was by the confession. How stupid it sounded. But she was embarrassed too, which encouraged me to admit that for all my ambitions I’d never managed to finish a single thing. Turned out she hadn’t either. Somehow we ended up agreeing to read each other’s stuff.

Once every one or two weeks we’d meet, swap pages, have lunch, talk about what we’d written, offer (very gentle) criticism, and cheer each other on. Within six months I’d finished my first novel. Or the first draft of it anyways. A novel I’d started in 1988 was finished in 1999. Greased lightning!

I could not have done it without her. Writing can be a lonely, frustrating business. Having someone who’s in it with me made a huge difference. Because back then I had no idea whether I could finish a novel. And not knowing if that was possible made finishing really really difficult.

Now when I start a novel the fact that I’ve already finished six makes me pretty (not wholly) confident that I’ll finish this one too. Even if it is turning out to be longer than expected.

  1. Possibly because I have never thought of my books in terms of acts. But whatever. []

Little round up

Firstly, the polls: I thought you all should know that the result of the poll was that Nevada is our chosen smoking state of the US of A. Closely followed by Wyoming. Hope you’re happy, Mr Williams!

The new poll is on fashion atrocities. I’m a bit cross that no one has voted for espadrilles yet. Oh, how I HATE them! Soles of shoes are not supposed to be made of rope! It’s UGLY, people! Are you all blind?! (Poll is to your right.)

Matter the second, the word count discussion has been interesting and enlightening. In fact, it made me realise more fully the why of my word count dislike. I do not care to share my day-by-day process. Don’t get me wrong I adore talking about process. But I like to talk about it overall: here’s some thoughts on rewriting, here’s a very silly set of suggestions for writing a novel, here’s how I wrote this book, here’s how I find looking at other people’s writing incredibly useful and so on and so forth.

But posting daily on my struggles or successes in the writing coal mine? Nah. Too close to the bone. I feel like I’ll come across as a massive whinger (Oh my Elvis writing this book is killing me! Why are leopard ballet sequence so bloody difficult?! What was I thinking?! I’m a hack! A talentless hack!!) or the most conceited self-satisfied writer in the universe (Wow, I am a genius! I am the Lord Barham of writing! Look at these pearls of unspeakable genius that I crafted today! How could perfection such as the crystalline words that coruscate from my fingers exist in this oh so imperfect world?! It astonishes me!). So I confine such thoughts to myself.

Oh, hang on—wooops!

Look over there: Leopards dancing! Flying giant woolly squirrels playing badminton with quokkas!

There is no matter the third.

As you were.

Word counts

I’m curious: Are any of you interested in reading about writers’ word counts? And if so why? Cause I confess I’m not sure I entirely get the point of blogging about it. And those who post ’em on your blog why do you?

Don’t get me wrong I keep an eagle eye on my word counts. They are the measure of my days.1 I’m aiming to hit 60 thou by the last week of July. But, you know, it’s housekeeping. I don’t keep people posted on how many dishes I’ve washed, meals I’ve cooked, or hours I’ve spent exercising.2

Now, I know that I blog about many things that people find deadly dull such as quokkas and sport of any kind and that doesn’t stop me—actually it provokes me to further bloggage on topics of annoyance to the complainers. However, I can defend and explain why I blog on those topics. So to repeat my opening: why do you blog your word counts if you do? And does anyone other than the blogger of the word count get anything out of it?

Coming up soon: my post on the sport of quokkas.

  1. Better than coffee spoons. []
  2. For the record: today I’ve washed no dishes, put together two meals, and spent an hour at the gym. I’ve also bitten off all my fingernails and failed to find my favourite T-shirt. Every second of today, er, yesterday, was a thrill ride! []

How To Ditch Your Fairy is almost real . . .

An ARC1 of How To Ditch Your Fairy just arrived! I am filled with squee. HTDYF is almost a real book!

Here’s what it looks like:

You know what the most fabulous part of it is? (Other than the quote from Libba Bray2 ) My name is as big as the title. My name is bigger than it’s ever been! Oh, happy day!

The happiness continues when I turn the ARC over and gaze on the back cover where there’s a marketing plan. A marketing plan!

I’ve never had one of those on the back of an ARC before. And it includes the words “multi-city author tour”. So maybe I’ll be getting to your city and have a chance to meet you later this year!

My very first author tour. Who’d’ve thunk it?

  1. Advance Reading Copy which looks like a paperback only it’s printed on heavier paper and is full of typoes. They’re printed to send out early to booksellers and librarians to get them excited about your book. []
  2. OMG! Libba Bray liked my book! []

Five years of freelancery

Another year, another anniversary. Once again I mark 1 April not by being silly like some I could mention but by saying, “Oh my Elvis. I’ve been a freelance writer for exactly five years! And I’m not starving! How on Earth did I manage that?”1

For my own benefit some stats:

    Books sold: 72
    Books published: 53
    Countries books have been sold in: 104
    Countries said books have been written in: 65
    Published words: 372,0006
    Books written and unsold: 27
    Ideas collected: 372,4568

Lots of fun had at fair today. Much publishing gossip and wisdom attained. Will share with you when not exhausted. I sleep now in order to make it to the drinks, dinner and party appointments that lie ahead of me today. Yes, my life continues to be gruelling!

  1. Luck. []
  2. One non-fiction tome, one anthology, five young adult novels. []
  3. 6 in September []
  4. In order of sales: USA, Australia, Taiwan, France, Thailand, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Japan and Indonesia. []
  5. Argentina, Australia, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand and USA. []
  6. Guestimate. []
  7. One I hope will be some day. The other NEVER. []
  8. As of 16:32 Bologna time. []

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? []

Genre schmenre

I had a conversation with Holly Black recently where we both admitted that every time we’re told that we can’t do some particular writing thing we are compelled to do it.

“Vampires are played out. There is no new take on vampires left!” someone will tells us.

“Right then,” we’ll think to ourselves. “Challenge! We’ll be writing a vampire story.”

“Avoid adverbs and adjectives,” someone will say.

We will immediately have an attack of the Angela Carters.

David Moles admitted to a similar reaction to definitions of genres. They make him want to write something entirely outside the limits of the genre being defined.1 Holly and me are the same,2 whenever we see a YA definition we find ourselves thinking of the exceptions and thinking of ways we can stretch those boundaries. How can we get away with writing books where the protags aren’t teens? Or have the kind of content everyone is so sure you can’t have in a YA? Or where the story does not have the immediacy everyone associates with the genre?

It’s probably very childish but there’s a level at which all writing rules (never head hop! avoid passive voice!)3 and genre definitions make my back straighten, my nostrils inflate, and leave me with an overwhelming urge to shout, “You are not the boss of me! I’ll write what I bloody well want to write!”

When I was chatting about it with Holly we decided it was a good thing. Definitions be damned!

  1. Well, okay, he said something kind of sort of like that but it’s my paraphrase and I’m sticking to it. []
  2. I also like to defy certain grammar rules: “Holly and me” sounds way better than “Holly and I” which always sounds to me like the British queen saying “My husband and I”. []
  3. Except for always add zombies. That writing rule you should all obey. []

The juvenilia panel

I have returned home to oceanic amounts of work. It is crazed!

But I must tell you briefly about the Juvenilia panel at High Voltage ConFusion before it all fades from my memory.

Short version: Best. Panel. Ever.

Longer version: It were me, Scott and Merrie Haskell. I cheated and read cute stuff from when I was 7 or 8. And some pretentious 10 year old stuff. They were brave and read teenage monstrosities so bad that we wept on account of laughing so hard. WEPT!

John Scalzi moderated and he was so appalled by the pretentious badness of Scott’s writing that he couldn’t look at Scott directly. It was AWESOME.

The best lines were:

Merrie Haskell: “Keeper of Earth Gaia,” the Light One said arrogantly, “I honor you with my manhood.”

Scott Westerfeld: Recognition of the House of Eleven took no long time, and the lady midst the compliment was none other than wench Mary, a liaress whom I had met before in the rank combats of her style, and who had left more than one of the Clan Demonus with garrote between chin and breathless breast.

Oh no, I starts to laugh all over again . . .

Heh hem. In addition to being really really really funny. Sharing our crappy writing from when we were beginning writers has the salutary effect of making it clear to those what aspire to be published writers but aren’t there yet that we published folk didn’t step fully formed from Zeus’s head. There was lots and lots and lots of bad words and phrases and sentences and stories and novels written before we were good enough to be read by anyone other than our doting parents.

Every con should have a juvenilia panel. I’ve been on two. The other one was in Brisbane in 2006 with Kim Wilkins and Sean Williams. It was just as fabulous and funny as the ConFusion one. Better in a way because the audience was much bigger thus more people got to laugh at our stumbling first writing steps.

Last Day of 2007

The year two thousand and seven was another good year for me personally. My third novel, Magic’s Child, was published in March which completed the Magic or Madness trilogy. The trilogy also finally earned out! That’s right. When the royalty statements come now there’s money attached. Woo hoo! The trilogy also sold in Japan.1 Surely the manga version can’t be too far off?!

I went from never having won a literary award to winning three. The Norton Award for Magic or Madness and the Atheling and Susan Koppelman for Daughters of Earth. So I’m legitimately an award-winning author! Now I just need the best-selling to go with it. 🙂

I sold my fifth and sixth books—the fairy novel and an as yet untitled (and largely unwritten) book—to a brand new publisher, Bloomsbury USA.

I love my new house. Everyone I’ve met there—the editors, publishers, sales & marketing, publicity, just everyone—is fabulous. Their excitement about my fairy book makes me very very happy. I am very proud to be a Bloomsbury girl. And hopefully early next year—just a few weeks away—I’ll be able to share all sorts of cool news about the fairy book. Its new title! Cover! Exact date of publication! It’ll be all fairy news all the time!

And to speak of someone else’s success for a second: I’m thrilled to see how well Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing is doing. I saw exactly how much work she put it to that book. Seriously, for a while there I thought she might not survive the experience. But she did and now the book (by far the best of the trilogy) is selling out of control. Yay! Congrats, Libba, you totally deserve it.

Non-professionally, I reckon the best thing that happened all year was the change of government back home. Did that happen only last month? I’ll be coasting on the joy of that for some time to come. Right now it seems that every time I read an article about home something new and fabulous has happened. To which I can only say, “YAY!”

This time last year I said my goal was to finish two novels, which was my goal the year before also. So, um, how’d that go?

Not so much. Time to pick a new goal, methinks.

I rewrote the fairy book many times—so many times that it felt like writing more than one book—but I did not finish any other novel. Le sigh.

I did, however, write two short stories both of which come out in 2008. The first, “Pashin’, Or the Worst Kiss Ever” is in First Kiss (Then Tell) edited by Cylin Busby for Bloomsbury and due for publication in January: i.e. tomorrow. It’s very gross and (I think) funny. The other stories in the anthology are awesome but what would you expect with the likes of Cecil Castellucci, Shannon Hale, David Levithan, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Robin Wasserman and Scott Westerfeld contributing?

The second story is considerably longer and much more romantic. It’s called “Lammas Day” and will be in Love is Hell edited by Farrin Jacobs for Harper Collins and due out around September. The other stories are by Melissa Marr, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Scott Westerfeld and Gabrielle Zevin.2

I also wrote an article for an Australian pearl magazine3, the beginning of several novels, a proposal, an appreciation of John Scalzi, many many emails, comments and blog posts. If I added them all up I reckon it would be as long as a whole other novel . . .

For 2008 I have a novel due in August. I honestly can’t see myself writing another one after that but maybe if I don’t make it a goal to write two novels next year I’ll do it accidentally?

In addition to the August novel—which may or may not be any of these—I have three sekrit projects on the go. All collaborations with sekrit writers. One of these already has a proposal written so I’m very confident it will happen. The other two consist of enthusiasm and late night conversations. I am full of optimism but I wouldn’t lay odds on their completion just yet.

My 2008 publications:

    January: the short story I mentioned above, “Pashin’, Or the Worst Kiss Ever”.

    February: the paperback version of Magic’s Child hits the shelves! Which means the entire trilogy will be available for cheap! Plus there’s a mini-essay on writing the book at the back. Bonus! I am VERY excited about this!

    September (or thereabouts): the fairy novel for Bloomsbury! My first new novel in 18 months! Woo hoo! Dance and sing and party!

    And also the other short story mentioned above, “Lammas Day”.

You should also get hold of Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes when it comes out. It’s the sequel to City of Bones and is even better. I loved it! Seriously, I read it in one sitting. When can I read the third one, Cassie? I need closure!

Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett will be out in May. One of her best. In fact, if it had vampires or demons or zombies in it, I would say it was her very best. But for now I love it second only to Devilish.

E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is total genius. Remember how much I raved about Dramarama? This one’s even better. The only way she could surpass herself would be to throw in some zombies or demons or vampires. I’m just saying, E.

You’ll all be stunned to hear that my favourite book of 2007 was Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger. If you haven’t read it already, why not? Run to your nearest library or bookshop and get it NOW!

And make sure you all go see the Spiderwick movie. I can’t wait! Yay, Holly Black!

I think 2008 is going to be fabulous. But then even when I have really crap years I’m always full of optimism for the next one.

Happy new year, everyone!

  1. Bringing the number of countries the trilogy’s been published in up to nine. []
  2. I’ve only read Scott’s—on account of I don’t think there are ARCs yet—but it’s brilliant and worth the price of the anthology alone. []
  3. don’t ask []

Deadlines, polls, a question answered etc

My deadline is still not met. Many obstacles keep piling up to keep me from it. I will not list them all since they are boring as well as annoying but one of them involves my webmistress duties.

Until the deadline is vanquished there will be only sketchy posting here. I will also continue to not answer email, the phone, courier pigeons, or smoke signals. Sorry! Though if you do hear from me and I haven’t achieved deadline vanquishment you should yell at me to get back to work.

I will try to put up an occasional poll so you don’t all die of boredom. Feel free to complain about them in the comments. Yes, I am referring to you, Mr Eric Luper. Which reminds me to mention that I can see when someone votes from multiple machines. Nice try, Eric. Your jerboas still lost despite half their votes coming from you!

The latest poll may reflect this Aussie girl’s state of mind on finding herself far from home not long after a momentous election in weather colder than anything she ever experienced at home in Sydney. I would sell my left knee to have a meal at Spice I Am right now . . .

Regarding the previous post some people wanted to know whether not having an oven is de rigeur in New York City. I have seen flats here that have no kitchen at all and yet I still believe most flats in New York City come equipped with ovens. However, some of those do not work. One such is the oven in this flat. The oven does not work, nor does the grill, but three of the burners on the cook top function. (Mostly.) I suspect this may be typical of New York City flats . . .

For those who are annoyed that my “How To Rewrite” post still hasn’t gone up. A quick tip: when thinking about structure some writers find Shakespeare’s five acts the way to go. Or you could try the standard Hollywood three-act model. Or you could just wing it.

For those annoyed that I haven’t written about manga lately. I endorse The Drifting Classroom.

Writing = hard

Fellow writers, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re looking at your manuscript covered with line edits by your editor and you come across something like this:

I could feel felt . . .

And you stare it. Really? Really? I wrote “I could feel” when I could simply have written “I felt”? What was I thinking? Why is my editor a better writer than I am? Gah!

And then there’s this:

I could still feel the warmth of where his thumb had been1

I wrote “the warmth of”? I’m, like, the WORST writer ever. I totally deserve all the paper cuts this stupid manuscript is giving me. Every single one. Even the one across my nose. Maybe especially the one across my nose.

  1. On her forehead, okay? Don’t go thinking rude thoughts. My fairy book is very chaste. []

That glorious feeling

Today I finished and sent off something I’ve been working on for quite awhile that has been kicking my arse and keeping me from working on the secret shiny new things I want to work on, not to mention the delicious Ultimate Fairy Book rewrites.

Anyway now it’s done!

And right at this minute I think it’s pretty good. I’m all buzzy and happy.

Ironically, I now want to expand it into something even bigger and more complicated. Last week I was dying to finish it; this week I’m wanting to keep at it.

Stupid brain.

But the feeling of having written something I’m proud of? Yum. I hug it to my chest. Especially as I know next time I read it I’ll prolly hate it.

Anyone else done something they’re proud of lately? (Other than all the fabulous LOLcovers. Mate, we’re going to have some trying times deciding the winners.) Tell us all about your prideful work!

I’m gunna be drinking champers tonight!

The Tour

Marrije asked over on insideadog if I’ll be following the Tour de France this year. Sadly, I will not.

This year has gotten out of control. I cannot afford to spend hours every day watching the Tour and following it online. I am incapable of following the Tour non-obsessively. So for the first time in years I’m not following it at all. (No spousal pressure was brought to bear in the making of this decision. Well, okay, just a little bit. I am not husband-beaten! I am not!)

Waaaahh!!!!!

The New York Liberty (10-8) will have to sustain my sport-following needs this northern summer.

And now I go back to the myriad tasks that confront me. At this point it’s so bad I’m resorting to triage. “Which of these tasks will most blow up in my face if I don’t do it?”

But, you know, Vive Le Tour!

Beginning Writers

John Scalzi told teenagers that their writing sucks. A few (but by no means all) were offended. Mr Scalzi has now responded in detail to teens who do not believe that their writing sucks.

I got a similar response from a small number of teens to a piece I wrote called “Too Young to Publish“. Those offended seemed to think that I wrote the piece to mock aspiring teenage writers. Not true!

Neither Scalzi nor I have any interest in stopping teenagers from writing. Au contraire. We both wrote then and got a hell of a lot out of it, including reasonably successful careers now. I wrote the piece in the spirit of passing good advice along. (As well as to mock the younger me.) When I was a beginning writer lots of people went out of their way to help and encourage me.

Still, were I to write that piece now I would call it “Too Early to Publish” rather than “Too Young”, because the crux of the matter is not age but experience.

I started writing stories very young, but I didn’t start writing seriously until I was 20. By seriously I mean writing regularly with the aim of publishing short stories and novels with a reputable publisher. When I first tried to get published in adult markets I was fifteen.

My work was rejected. This made me sulk (for ages) and then (eventually) write something new. I did not sit down and try to figure out why my stories were being rejected. I didn’t try to improve my work because I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how because I didn’t think my writing needed to be improved. Back then I believed the problem was not with my work, but with the foolish blind mean editors who were rejecting it.

Which is why, as Mr Scalzi would say, my writing sucked.

I have come across writers in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties who have a similar attitude to their writing. They think it’s wonderful and when told it’s not, even if they’re shown ways to improve it, they are bewildered, hurt or sometimes even angry.

I once critiqued a novel by a long-way-past-teenage acquaintance. I spent a long time on it because the novel showed a vast amount of potential. The writer had bucketloads of talent. But they had been in their novel for so long, and knew the characters and world so well, they’d forgotten to include vital pieces of information, leaving the reader at first intrigued, then bewildered, and ultimately frustrated and annoyed.

It was like reading a novel in thousands of haiku. My edits were pointers to where the confusion lay and to where things could be teased out, and expanded.1 They were really good edits! (Yeah, yeah, self praise is no praise. Whatever.)

The writer, black affronted, yelled at me. Then sent me dozens of emails refuting Every. Single. Point. It was astonishing. I found out later that others who’d helped had met with the same response. This writer would not make a single change. And years later they still won’t.

So despite all that talent—and they were positively corruscating with it—and many completed novels, the writer has not found a publisher. And if they ever do I can’t imagine any editor wanting to work with them more than once.

Technically that writer was not a beginner—they’d been writing for years—and yet they were. Because they weren’t learning. Their writing wasn’t getting any better and they weren’t getting any closer to being published.

I said I became serious about my writing when I was twenty. I did. But that seriousness manifested itself in volume. And it’s true the more I wrote the better I got, but only very very slowly. I didn’t make my next big leap forward until I learned to rewrite. That thing about which most writers bitch incessantly.

Back in my twenties I thought I had mastered rewriting. But what I was really doing was shifting deck chairs on the Titanic. I’d delete a bit, add a bit, push a few words around, polish bits. To say my “rewrites” were merely cosmetic would be too kind. Make up can totally change the way a person looks; I wasn’t changing nothing.

I’m still learning how to rewrite. How to go in and tear things apart and then rebuild from the ground up. It’s dirty, effortful, messy, time consuming work. What I used to call rewriting I now call a quick once over of the final draft.

I think of myself as a beginning writer, but I’m probably more like a journeyman because I actually have some idea of what it is that I don’t know and how very vast that is. Like commas! Stupid bloody commas.

Many beginning writers are clueless about the depths of their writing ignorance. And the beginningest of them squall and rage when it’s pointed out to them. But that has nothing to do with how old they are. I know a few teenage (or just post-teenage) writers who are well into their journeyman writing years. And I’ve come across all too many older writers who are no where near them.

Too many people try to rush their babies into print before they’ve learned how to tell a story, before they’ve learned how to structure a sentence, or even a clause, or, Elvis help us all, how to pick the words they want (I do not think that word means what you think it means).

Whether you’re sixteen or sixty, if you want to be published then you have to learn how to write.

  1. This is really unusual for a beginner novelist, by the way. Normally they err on the side of too much. I certainly did. []

Multitasking

I hate that word. Multitasking. So very blerky. I prolly feel that way because I’m really crap at it. Really crap.

Like this weekend I’m trying to work on two different essays, the lodger novel, and also on a short story. Not to mention all the admin (correspondence, shopping, cooking, cleaning, organising, blah blah blah).

I’m trying to get as much stuff out of the way before I get The Ultimate Fairy ed letter, which will come in the next week or so. That way I’ll have oodles of time (due date’s the middle of September) for the rewrite. I want to make it shiny shiny shiny!

Most especially I want to have a solid chunk of the new novel so that coming back to it won’t break my brain. I don’t know about other writers but I much prefer to write one complete draft of a novel before beginning the next. I hate leaving things unfinished. Not to mention that it’s really hard to keep two big novel worlds in your head at the same time. It is for me anyways.

Right now I’m nowhere near a complete draft of the Lodger (hmmm, the working title needs work, doesn’t it?) so that when I return it’ll only to take a few days (if I’m lucky) to figure out what I was thinking way back then and who the hell all the characters are. If I’ve barely got a few thousand words then there’s not a lot for me to get back into.

I cannot write more than one novel at the same time.

I’m discovering that I can’t write a short story and a novel at the same time. I can barely work on a short story and figure out what to make for dinner. The best writing multi-tasking I can manage is one essay and one novel. On account of essays are not much like stories or novels thus they require different parts of the brain. (It’s like your dessert stomach being different from the rest of your stomach.) But two essays at once? Too hard.

My other multi-tasking impairments are laziness and being very easily distractable.

Thus this weekend I’ve managed to partly re-write a (very short) essay, write half of a new (and equally short) one, make dinner, re-organise my sock drawer (truly—it was a mess!), blog three times (this will be the third), take a stab at catching up on email (then stopped after a while depressed at the impossibility of ever doing so) and update my website (a tiny bit). I also opened the short story and Lodger documents and perused them. No new words were added to either.

But I’ve read many books, much manga, watched several episodes of The Wire and a fair few articles on and off line. (None of them related to either of the essays I’m writing.)

I feel discombobulated and disjointed and feel that I’ve lost my way.

I am now closing all documents other than the essay due Monday. I am even turning the intramanets off. When I have finished and sent off the essay—and only then—I will turn to the next pressing document. I will then work on nothing but it for a bit before turning to the next one. Otherwise nothing will get done.

So successful multitaskers do you have any tips for me? I have no children, no day job, no excuses for being this crap. I know people with children and day jobs and many other responsibilities who are vastly more productive (to the tune of two or more books a year) than I am. How do they do it? Help!

Bloomsbury Girl

My big news is that my next two books are going to be published by Bloomsbury USA. That’s right the great Aussie cricket mangosteen monkey knife fighting fairy YA novel has found a home! Not to mention an actual title: The Ultimate Fairy Book.

I am so excited I cannot sit still. I’m bouncing as I type this. I am all over with yays!

My new editor is Melanie Cecka who is wonderful. We had a three-hour lunch last year where we learned conclusively that we are each girls after each other’s heart. Hot sauce! Mexican food! Dessert! Love of many of the same books!

The whole team at Bloomsbury are incredibly impressive and seem to be almost as excited about my book as I am about becoming a Bloomsbury girl. It’s a match made in heaven. Just take a look at some of the books they publish! I am going to be on the same list as Shannon Hale, Simmone Howell, Susan Vaught, Herbie Brennan, Phillip Reeve! What’s not to love?

Before you ask The Ultimate Fairy Book or the UFB is scheduled to be published in Fall 2008 (ie September or October of next year). I know some of you will think that is a long, long, long, way away, but I was very surprised that they’re going to publish it so soon. Most publishers have already planned their Fall 08 list and are now plannning their 2009 books. I squealed when I heard it was coming out next year. More yays!

Also being on the Fall list in the US of A (and let’s face it where else do they even have a fall1?) is a Very Big Deal. The majority of the books featured at BEA, for instance, are Fall titles.

  1. Where I come from it’s autumn. []

Vicious koalas, leeches and deadlines

Things are tense around here. Scott has not very long to finish Extras, the extra book that sort of has something to do with the Uglies trilogy. The ninth of April is his final cannot-be-moved-no-matter-what deadline. Other deadlines have come and gone, but this one is for real.

My job at the moment is to keep other stuff from getting in the way of his writing. You know like evil laundry, vile dishes and wicked wicked postage. Not to mention the scourge of phone calls, email, deliveries and visitors.

Leeches!I have created a moat of acid, and anyone who mangages to get past it to press the buzzer now gets a nasty little electric shock. Leeches await those hardy souls who make it all the way to our doorstep. I had them specially imported from The African Queen and they are very large indeed.

It’s also very bloody cold outside with occasional snow which should further cull the numbers of potential deadline interferers. But if all else fails and they manage to get in, I have my rabid pet koala to sic on them. She is not only diseased, but has a naturally mean disposition.1

I also supply him with the appropriate beverages, writing companions, massage his weary typing fingers and try not to time my coughs ill.

It’s not pretty but someone has to do it. Besides he did the same during my gruelling many-deadlines-missed finishing of Magic’s Child.

So wish us both luck surviving this deadline and if neither of us blog much in the next few days you’ll know why.

Ooops, must dash. The author requires a hot towel.

NOTE: did you notice that I cunningly wrote this post without caps even though it’s longish? That way the old man can’t read it. Mwahahahahah!!!!

  1. Like most koalas, actually. Even the non-diseased ones smell bad and scratch. That’s the only reason we occasionally let tourists hold them. []

Perhaps today’s the day + non-crappy prize

That’s right, the final book of the trilogy, Magic’s Child should now be available in the US of A (and possibly Canada too). You can celebrate by

  • buying Magic’s Child
  • borrowing it from your library (or getting them to order it in ’cause they’re very unlikely to have it already)
  • reading it
  • reading the whole trilogy through all in one go (please to let me know what that’s like)
  • reading the first draft of the first book in the series, Magic or Madness and laughing at how bad my first drafts are
  • downloading a special Magic’s Child screensaver (they’re on the sidebar to your right—pretty flutterbyes!)
  • Reading through the various reviews of Magic’s Child
  • Making origami ammonites

Or if you’re me, the mad author, you sit and play with the hardcovers of Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child and chuckle madly to yourself “I did it! I did it! Look at my pretties! All finished! All finished!”

[Accompanying image of mad author assaulting her books censored. Your eyes are grateful.]

The first person to send me photographic evidence of actual copies ofMagic’s Child in an actual book shop will win a signed copy of the book complete with matching Magic’s Child bookmarks.

What should I write next?

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

Here are the options:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s it to be?

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!

Some late-breaking news & a corrective

I just finished the first draft of the great Australian feminist young adult Elvis mangosteen monkey knife-fighting cricket fairy novel. Woo hoo!!!

Now all I have to do is rewrite it till it all makes sense. *rolls up sleeves* What larks!

And just to say: None of the points I made in the previous post refers to any writer who actually reads my blog. Okay? And, in fact, I’ve met very few writers who were so obnoxious I decided not to read them. Very very very few.

Remember the whole this-is-writ-ironical thing? I was just going for the laughs, folks.

I am a cross between Pollyanna and the monkey dude. I see, hear, smell, touch, and taste no evil. It’s all about the glad game. That’s just how we happy-go-lucky Sydney folks are.

Right now I’m really really really vastly hugely fully wholly glad that I finally found the end of my novel.

Jeeves? Some champagne, please!

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! []

Last Day of 2006

It’s been another good year for me professionally and I will now skite about it: My second and third books, Magic Lessons and Daughters of Earth, were both published to some very nice reviews and reader responses. The whole Magic or Madness trilogy sold to Editora Record in Brazil, Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons sold to Mondadori in Italy, while Magic Lessons and Magic’s Chld sold to Amarin in Thailand. And then there was the recent sale of the trilogy to the Science Fiction Book Club for a 3-in-1. Not to mention Magic Lessons being on the shortlist for the Aurealis.

It was a great year for Scott who hit the New York Times bestseller list not once, not twice, but three times! Woo hoo! Twice for Specials and once for Pretties. Also my friends Yvette Christianse’s (Unconfessed), Kate Crawford (Adult Themes), Ellen Kushner (Privilege of the Sword), Julie Phillips (James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon) and Delia Sherman (Changeling) all published wonderful books that were well-received. If you haven’t already read them—do so immediately!

Other dear friends also published fabby books, but these are the ones that I saw through gestation. In the same way I’m very excited to see how Holly Black’s Ironside and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones fare next year. Do yourself a favour and get hold of copies as soon as you can!

Next year I have three English-language publications on the horizon:

  • Magic Lessons will appear in paperback in February.
  • The final book of the trilogy, Magic’s Child, will be out in hardcover in March.
  • Also in March—the SFBC’s 3-in-1 edition of the trilogy.

As you can imagine I’m dead excited to find out what my readers think of the complete trilogy. Do not hold back! (Unless what you have to say might harm a writer’s delicate sensibilities. Always remember: praise is good!)

This year has also been a great one for me blog. Readers way more than doubled this year, which is just lovely. I’m particularly excited to have picked up so many more readers here in Australia. Especially the ones I don’t know and am not related to. (Not that there’s anything wrong with my friends and relatives, mind. Well, not that much wrong.) Thank you so much everyone for hanging out and commenting. Your comments are more than half the fun. Without you there wouldn’t be much point. Much appreciated.

Last year on this day I set out my goals for 2006:

I’m aiming to write two books (both of which I’ve already started) in 2006 and sell one (two would be nice, but I don’t want to jinx myself). I also plan to spend the majority of the year in Sydney, cause now that I’m home I just want to stay. And I really, really, really want to get tickets for the Sydney Ashes test. Ideally for every day of play.

How did that work out?

I finished one book: Magic’s Child, but it wasn’t one of the books I was talking about above. So I didn’t finish either of the books I aimed to. Though I got awfully close to finishing the first draft of the great Australian feminist monkey knife-fighting mangosteen cricket fairy young adult novel. (So close I can smell it! Oh the frustration!)

This year I have the same goal: to finish two novels. My odds are much better given that I’m mere days away from finishing the fairy book . . . And I’ve made good starts on six other novels. Dunno which one I’ll write next. What fun not to know!

I didn’t sell any books on account of not finishing any to give to my agent for said selling. I won’t be declaring my intent on sales again because it’s pointless. I have some control over how many books I write; but none over how many I sell.

The big change this year was my decision not to sell any books until I’ve finished them. (Another explanations for no sales this year.) It’s also why I’m finishing this year without any dread deadlines over me. Much less stressful!

I spent only five months in Sydney and even though that’s more time than I spent anywhere else I still did not see nearly as much of my family and friends here as I’d like. Sigh.

There was way too much travelling this year. And while I loved all the places I visited—Bologna and Kyoto especially—I haven’t stayed anywhere for more than three months since 2003. I’m sick of it. I’d love to travel less, but already 07 is shaping up to be very travelly. Come June though and I believe we’ll be applying the breaks. Aside from it being exhausting and conducive to the contracting of viruses, travelling that much in aeroplanes and staying in hotels is terrible for the environment and no amount of offsets makes up for that.

I did get tickets to the Sydney test. Fourth day. Can’t wait. And we Aussies reclaimed the ashes what should always be ours. Bliss. Now I have to figure out how to get coverage of the world cup while we’re in the US of A. We may even cough up for satellite coverage. Would be fabulous to get over to the West Indies, but see above on wanting to travel less.

To sum up: Life is good. I hope yours is too.

I have a very good feeling about 2007, not just for me, but for the wider world.

Happy new year!

Writing Goals

I’ve seen and read various writers admit to various goals they have for their writing careers, but most of them seem to be of the win-Booker or become-New-York-Times-bestselling-author type, which I don’t think you can realistically aim for. Sure you can hope, but what can you do to make those dreams come true? Other than write the best books you can, which don’t guarantee a bloody thing.

My goals are a tad more possible. For example, I aim to publish a book in every one of these categories:

Romance
Historical
Crime (what some call mysteries)
Thriller (the John Grisham, Tom Clancy etc etc genre1)
Fantasy
SF
Comedy (do you call ’em comedies if they’re books?)
Horror
Mainstream (you know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis)
Western
YA

I chose the categories cause those are all the ones I’ve actually read and think I have a bit of a shot at writing and publishing. Though Thriller and Mainstream will prolly be my biggest stretch. I just don’t seem to get many ideas for books without magic or werewolves or bloodshed or fairies. It was my goal to write in all of these categories long before I ever sold a book. In fact I’ve written romantic, science fictonal, horrific and funny short stories. Very few of them published, though. (Short stories are not my thing.)

As you can see, I’ve got a wee bit of a ways to go. I’ve written an historical but until it’s published it doesn’t count. Why am I not counting the unpublished ones? Cause I’m talking about my career and unpublished manuscripts no matter how fine are not a visible part of my writing career.

Some would say that for those writing for the grown ups publishing in so many different categories is career suicide. “Build your audience! Don’t abandon them or expect them to follow you!” But I don’t write for adults so I can publish in every one of those categories and still have my books shelved in the same place in a bookshop. Ah, the many wonders of writing YA!

The other beautiful thing about my goal is that I can knock over several birds with one stone. For example, I reckon the great Australian monkey-knife fighting feminist cricket mangosteen fairy novel is a romance as well as a comic science fiction novel. Bam! Three categories crossed off for the one novel. Excellent, eh?

It’d also be fun if I managed all of these:

First person
Second person
Third person limited
Omniscient

I’ve crossed off first and third limited as I used ’em both in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I guess technically I didn’t write a whole novel in either, but I’m the one who decides what counts . . .

Also these:

Standalone
Trilogy
Series

The idea of writing a series is a little bit scary. I’d like to write one where every book is self-contained but the characters and world are shared. I suspect that the great Australian monkey-knife fighting feminist cricket mangosteen fairy novel might be the first of a series. But what if I run out of ideas after two or three books but more are wanted? Many more? Worse—what if I’d actually sold more . . .

I’ve written (but not published) two standalones so the prospect scares me not at all.

Some might have noticed that “short story collection” is not on my list. That’s because I’m more likely to win the Booker than I am to get a short story collection published. I need my goals to be realistic!

Writing across all those different genres, experimenting with person and form will not only be good for me—it’s learning and improving, innit?—it’ll also keep me from being bored out of my skull.

What are your writing or publishing goals?

  1. I’m using “genre” and “category” interchangably cause now that I’m no longer an academic—I can. []

Good work ain’t always published

There’s a lot of grief out there from unpublished writers dealing with rejection. Go read the comment thread of any agent’s or editor’s blog and you’ll see what I’m talking about. No matter what the topic, at some point a writer will vent about all the unfair rejection they’ve been getting. Like I’ve said before if you want to be a published writer you have to cope with hearing “no” over and over and over.

Many of the questions to those industry blogs boil down to wanting the keys to the kingdom of publishing. As Diana Peterfreund eloquently points out, there aren’t any. Many agents and editors will tell you that you just have to write well which is (mostly) true, but also not very helpful.

Anyone in the industry can tell you the vast majority of submissions are awful. I’ve seen some of those slush piles myself and, well, wow. I honestly hadn’t realised it was possible to write that badly. Even in crayon. So, yes, writing well will lift you above the rest. But it’s also true that there are other factors involved. Sometimes brilliant writing isn’t enough.

One of the finest writers I know has never been published. But the reason why ain’t hard to find: she’s never submitted anything. She’s been working on the same novel for more than ten years. I’ve read the first forty pages. They’re incredible. Hardly a word out of place. It’s so beautiful and perfect it made me want to cry.

I can’t tell you how rare that is. I read drafts by published writer friends all the time (they do the same for me). As with my drafts, there’s always something to criticise. Always. My only criticism of that non-published writer friend is that she’s a crazy perfectionist and should finish the damn book already! It’s so good publishers will snap it up.

But I could be wrong. I’ve read another unpublished book that I also think is wonderful. It’s been rejected by every major NYC publishing house, not to mention quite a few of the small ones. The rejections have included much praise of the novel’s beautiful writing and requests to see anything else the writer might have. The reason for rejection? That the novel isn’t commercial enough, they don’t know how to market it, the structure is flawed, the lack of a romance is frustrating, it’s not for that particular house and etc.

There are any number of published writers with books they can’t sell. Mostly because those books aren’t good enough, but sometimes because there’s not a publisher out there who can figure out how to sell it, despite how good it is.

One of the hardest things for the unpublished writer to grasp is that publishing is a business. A publisher is not going to buy a book unless they think it can

    a) make them money, or

    b) garner them lots of prestige.1

An agent is not going to take you on unless they think you can fulfill a) or b) plus they have to really love your work as well. Publishers may publish books they don’t love if they think they’ll make money. But I’ve never met an agent who took on a client whose work they were lukewarm about. No matter how commercial.

Making any money at all as a novelist is hard. Making a living at it is even harder. It’s not one of those jobs where if you put in the hard work you will be rewarded. There are no scheduled annual pay rises. You can’t apply for promotion. You just have to write the very best books you can and even then it may not be enough.

And even if you do sell a novel there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell a second. Or a third. Nothing about publishing is guaranteed.

Just as well that that we writers (published or not) are rewarded with those days when the writing just goes and goes and we’re vibrating with the happiness of it. Here’s hoping all you NaNoWriMo folks are buzzing with just that kind of writing experience. There’s nothing better!

  1. There are other reasons but I’m keeping it simple. []

Bangkok

Since some of you have been asking here’s a wee bit about our current Bangkok adventure.

We’re staying at Siri Sathorn in downtown Bangkok. It’s a serviced residence which means it’s like a hotel, but instead of rooms there are proper flats with kitchen and everything. Not that we’re doing any cooking—the room service here is awesome. Though even if it wasn’t Bangkok is full of incredible restaurants and food stalls. There’s fab food literally everywhere you go.

Yes, I have eaten some mangosteens, though they were sadly not the best. To be expected given that the season ended last month and they’re best when really fresh. Don’t be too sad for me though cause I still get to gorge myself on very fresh and yummy longan, dragon fruit, pineapple and mangoes. Yup, I know, life is harsh.

We’re not near Khao Sahn Road. Back-packing districts are typically not conducive to getting writing done. Where we are is dead quiet and peaceful, though that’s mostly because we’re on the twelfth floor . . The views are extensive!

We’re not near the river either. All part of keeping distractions to the minimum. In fact, we’ve done very little sightseeing thus far. Just walked around a bit at night on our way to dinner. We’ll probably do more exploring once we’ve got our writing rhythm going.

Which is what we’re here to do: write.

I’m working on the Great Australian, Elvis, Mangosteen, Monkey Knife-fighting, Cricket, Fairy, YA Novel. Indeed, I plan to finish the first draft while here.

Scott is working on . . . actually, I think what he’s working on is a secret. I’d ask him but he has his intense don’t-even-ask-me for-a-synonym-for-“effulgent” writing face on.

Hmm, that face makes me feel guilty. I shall return to my monkey knife-fighting fairies!

Thanks for all the well wishes. Lovely to hear from so many of you that you enjoyed the first two chapters of Magic’s Child!

Off to copyediting

Blessed release: Magic’s Child is now on its way into Polly Watson’s genius copyediting hands. Thank Elvis!

I confess I was worried. Especially when Penguin’s spring catalogue arrived with Magic’s Child listed as if it was an actual finished book. Gah! I thought. Booksellers will be ordering a non-existent book!

Well, it exists now—in finished form even! And, if you don’t object to a moment of skiting, it’s not too foul, not too foul at all. Phew!

Rather than thanking all the peoples what helped (their moment of glory is in the book’s acks) I’m gunna list the music what got me through the last few gruelling weeks:

  • Benny Goodman Sextet (with Charlie Christian prominently featured)
  • Billie Holiday
  • Blur (Think Tank—thanks Andrew)
  • Cat Power (Moon Pix—thanks Richard)
  • DJ Dangermouse (The Grey Album)
  • Fairuz (Zikrayat—thanks Tina)
  • Gorecki: Symphony No. 3 Sad and Sorrowful Songs (Gritton, Simonov)
  • In The Mood For Love soundtrack (Michael Galasso—thanks, Adrian)
  • Missy Elliott (The Cookbook)
  • Piazzolla (Yo-Yo Ma)
  • Ray Charles (Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music and The Very Best Of Ray Charles)
  • Sarband (Sepharad)
  • The Shangri Las (“Past Present Future” cracks me up every single time. Genius! Thanks Ray for telling me about the Myrmidons Of Melodrama compilation)
  • Shuggie Otis (Inspiration Information)
  • The Streets (Original Pirate Material—thanks Rob)
  • Sufjan Stevens (Come On Feel The Illinoise!—thanks Mike)

I wonder if the resulting book is at all influenced by any of that music? Looking at the list also makes me realise it’s time for some new music. Should at least get the new Cat Powers . . .

Reading things like this and all your encouraging comments here and in email also helped me get through my toughest novel writing experience thus far. Who knew that wrapping up a trilogy would be such a bugger?

I’m so happy it’s finished. Doesn’t the complete trilogy look fine? Imagine it sitting all together on the bookshelf!

And now I sleep for a week or more. (Scott, wake me up when the copyedits arrive.)

PS Today is the official pub date for the Australian Magic Lessons and is currently featured on the front page of Penguin Australia’s kids’ books. Spread the word!

Answers

While I’ve been buried in my book and/or in Kyoto (will tell all about it when my sister sends me photos) you lot asked a bunch of interesting quessies. Here are my answers:

    Quessies from Ken Kugler: I was wondering if the deadline given to you pushes you to complete a book before you are really ready to give it to the editor? It seems that if that is the case, writing the book first and being satisfied with the final results before handing it in would be the way to go if you can hold out for money. Also there is the question of payment. Are there financial incentives to consider such as preselling a series at a lower price?
    A: Sure, that definitely happens. So far it hasn’t happened to me. I’m blessed with editors who won’t publish anything from me unless they’re sure it’s the best I can do. I’m running late on the current book and rather than publish prematurely we’ve chosen to skip doing arcs (advance readers’ copies). If this were a standalone book or the first in a series that would be a disaster. Fortunately it’s the third book in a trilogy so it should be okay. I’d much rather be late and unreviewed than publish a sub-par book.
    Typically a starting writer will get more money for a finished book than for a partial (usually a first-time writer can’t sell from a partial at all). There are exceptions obviously. As you get more established and particularly if you become a New York Times bestselling author like Libba Bray or my old man or other exalted folk you can prolly sell a rough idea scribbled down on a napkin for scads of dosh. In my case I imagine I’ll get more money for a finished book (depends on the book, natch). If an agent or editor wants to step in and answer this one I’d love to hear it.
    Now a bunch from Amanda Coppedge to help flesh out my wikipedia entry:What is your favourite book? Er, um. So hard! It used to be The Master and Margarita. Some days it still is.

    Food: mangosteens.

    Colour: Um again. I am tempted to say puce. Easier to tell you what colour I don’t like: yellow. But that’s only cause I look crap in it.

    Animal: my husband.

    Toothpaste: people have a favourite toothpaste?

    Did you always want to be a writer, or did you have other career aspirations as a youngster? I never wanted to be anything else, but I did work on having a main job so that I could support myself. For the longest time that job was being an academic.

    Any awards, degrees, etc. that should really be up there? Not that I can think of. I am award-less. Though I do have a Ph.D so you must all bow down and call me Dr Justine.

    Anything else that just screams “essential Justine bio factoid”? That my religion is the noble sport of cricket.

    Quessie from Marrije: I wonder what stories the taxi drivers in New York tell themselves and each other about black people.

    A: Here are some theories I’ve heard: Cab drivers don’t stop for black men because they think they are more likely to be robbed and/or assaulted by black men then by anyone else. And they don’t stop for black women because they think they are accompanied by hidden black men who are just waiting for the cab to stop so that they can jump out and assault and/or rob them. And even if there is no assault the black passenger will make the cab driver go to an “unsafe” neighbourhood where they will be assaulted and/or robbed.

    Q from Kristine Smith: Have you run this [the idea of writing a book on spec] past your agent?

    A: Yup. She thought it was an excellent idea.

    In response to those (few) folks wanting to read the Cambodian novel: I may well make it available online some day, but only when all possibilities of traditional publication are totally exhausted.

If anyone else has any further theories, answers or questions fire away.

And thanks again for all the fab comments on the writing on spec post. I feel very encouraged by your responses. My loins are now girded. I shall do this thing!

lizard levels of flatoutness

That sound? Is me running by fast with my wings asingin’

Silence is because I been:

  • working, working, working on the making good of book,
  • seeing Bill Clinton walk down 50th street to the sound of a hundred school kids letting out I-am-near-a-rock-star squeals,
  • plotting out my liar book,
  • attending the launch of Catherine Gilbert Murdoch’s Dairy Queen. How good is this new young adult book? Very very very. It has cows, gridiron, dentistry and true love and the most wonderful first person protag I’ve come across in an age. I heart DJ.

In the meantime here are some intermanet webby things of great interest:

  • and, lastly, while I’ve been away the prime minister of Australia appears to have gone completely barking mad and appointed a horse as a member of the board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I shudder to think what else will happen during my six month absence. Maybe I should hurry home right now?

Okay, back to work for me. One last thing in advance of tomorrow’s 9am (NYC time) match against Brazil: AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE! OI! OI! OI!

Or, in other words, please, please, please let us not give away too many goals against them . . .

All About Me (Bugger Eve!)

There’s a fun profile I did up on Norm Geras’s blog (a blog I discovered via Rjurik. Thank you, Rjurik!). I went to read Norm’s words of wisdom on cricket and stayed cause it’s most excellent.

I’ve already been asked what I mean by giving the answer “passion” to the question of what’s a person’s worst fault as well as their best quality. I’m with W. B. Yeats on “passionate intensity”: every day someone somewhere is killed because of someone else’s passion. On the other hand every day someone somewhere is creating something beautiful because of that passion.

Marrije enjoys Magic Lessons and has many many questions for the final book in the trilogy, which although smart and interesting frankly filled this writer’s heart with dread. How am I going to please all the people waiting for Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!? I’ve already seen the anguish that a not completely happy ending to a trilogy can bring. Aaarggh! No more trilogies for me!

Okay, better get back to rewriting the ending so that the heavens open and fairy dust is sprinkled over the land and everyone’s magic becomes happy fairy magic and all the badness melts away and everyone is happy forever and ever and ever. That, or have them all die on the bus.

Stupid Smelly Brain

Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! must be rewritten and the send button pressed by midnight Friday week. The writing is going just fine and dandy. However, my brain will not stop coming up with other ideas for the bestest, most brilliantest, most amazingest novels eva!

It’s driving me mad. There I am finally nailing a scene that has been allluding me for months and brain starts whispering sweet nothings about snowboarding werewolves, zombie cowboys, Australian ex-ballerina underwater police. If you don’t write them now, brain tells me, they will run away, never to return. They will die of starvation! In a gutter! It will be all your fault!

Aaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!!

What do you lot do when this happens? How do you make the brain shut up and focus on the urgent urgent urgent task at hand? Do I have to threaten it with the withdrawal of gold koala bear stamps? Make it stand in the corner on the naughty mat?

Help!

Done and away and over and off and like that (Updated)

I just pressed the send button, and now Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi! is winging its way across the Pacific, and then across mainland USA, all the way to Hudson Street in New York City. Except that, you know, technology, being what it is, my baby is already there. Freaky, eh?

I can now watch the Sri Lanka v South Africa One Day International in good conscience. Who am I barracking for? Sri Lanka, natch. But it would prolly be more interesting for the competition if South Africa won. But, frankly, without Makhaya Ntini South Africa just ain’t that interesting. Even if Sean Pollock does look uncannily like my husband.


Sean Pollock aka Scott Westerfeld (original source)

Can I just say that I love the extreme slow mos? Beautiful.

I have now worked way more than 20 days straight on finishing MorM 3. In that time I also achieved the following:

    wrote the first 500 to 1,000 words of three other novels.

    exchanged many many whingey emails with Holly Black moaning about our novels-in-progress.

    was waited on hand and foot by my most excellent husband.

    resisted reading the second Temeraire book which Naomi Novik so kindly sent me (so. very. difficult.).

    was given a first edition hardcover copy of Steve Waugh’s autobiography by my wonderful Australian publisher, Laura Harris (Something else to resist reading).

    chewed my finger nails way beyond the quick (ewwww! Do you know how many times I’ve sworn I would stop that? Aarrghh!)

    read the last five chapters of my novel to Scott at least three times. Fortunately for him, each time they were completely different!

    wrote five different endings to the novel (two of them so shockingly bad I didn’t read them to Scott).

    watched the first ten episodes of the second series of Battlestar Galactica. Thank you Sean Williams! Thank you Cat Sparks and Rob Hood!

    watched all of Ultraviolet. More thanks to Cat & Rob!

    completely failed to arrange accommodation in Bologna.

    realised that there is no sport on earth remotely as wonderful as cricket.

And now I fall asleep on the couch watching Sri Lanka defeat South Africa. Yea verily, this is the life!

Update: South Africa won! Wowzer.

Last Day of 2005

Woo hoo! Another year gone! A fridge full of champagne and yummy food! Who could ask for anything more? (Well, it would be nice if we didn’t both have books due 3 Jan . . . )

I see that many in blogland (and elsewhere) are summing up their year, taking stock, making resolutions for 2006 and etc. I’ve already skited enough about my achievements this year. It’s been a bloody brilliant year personally. I just want it all to keep on keeping on.

I’m aiming to write two books (both of which I’ve already started) in 2006 and sell one (two would be nice, but I don’t want to jinx myself). I also plan to spend the majority of the year in Sydney, cause now that I’m home I just want to stay. And I really, really, really want to get tickets for the Sydney Ashes test. Ideally for every day of play. If anyone has a cunning method of getting said tickets, or is a member of the SCG—I’m am so up for offering you huge bribes! Whatever you want you got it!

Best book I read this year: Walter Mosley’s The Man in My Basement. I just made my parents read it too and they were also blown away. It’s the most powerful, moving examination of evil, of race and gender, and what it is to be human I’ve ever read. But rest assured this ain’t just philosophy and ethics; it’s a scary arse story that’s completely unputtdownable.

Books I’m most looking forward to: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake the sequel to Dreamhunter, and frankly it just can’t get into my hands soon enough!

Hope you lot have a fabby new year, too. And achieve everything you want to achieve. I’m going to get started on the champers now. Happy new year!

All Finished

The Daughters of Earth manuscript was finished, packed in a box, and posted back to the tender ministrations of its publisher yesterday (only a couple of days late). Magic Lessons is also back with its publisher (on time) and about to be typeset. It should be an ARC in a few weeks. Yay!

Thanks to Tim Pratt and Pauline Dickinson and the good folks of Sydney Uni library’s Rare Books (why didn’t I think of them in the first place? [Slaps forehead]) for coming through with the page numbers. And thanks to everyone for being kind during these last few weeks of way, way, way too much work. Now I can go back to writing the new novel. If I wasn’t so knackered I’d be dead excited.

Then There Were Two

Now there are two manuscripts sitting on my desk glaring at me, waiting to be checked and made perfect. The pages for the Australian edition of Magic or Madness just arrived. Corrections on it and Daughters of Earth are due the same day. At least morm isn’t 800 pages long and full of complicated footnotes and bibliography and other irritating scholarly apparatus. Stupid scholarly apparatus.

There go my fingernails.

Panic!

There’s an 800 page manuscript sitting on my desk. It’s so very big. The biggest ms. I’ve ever had anything to do with. The enormity of it is paralysing me.

Daughters of Earth, my anthology of feminist sf stories and essays, has to be checked and made as perfect as possible in a terrifyingly short amount of time if we’re going to launch it at WisCon next year. I have to photocopy 11 essays to send to their authors to check. Then I have to read through and correct the whole thing.

I have four unsharpened red pencils. I have a sharpener. I have the Chicago Manual of Style. I have Scott’s moral support.

Wish me luck!

Magic or Madness Really Truly is Real

Just before we left Sydney my foreign rights agent (doesn’t that sound posh?), Whitney Lee, wrote to tell me that Cheng Chung Books of Taiwan have made an offer for the Chinese (complex character) rights to Magic or Madness. Did I want to say yes? Oh yes. Very much so. Affirmative. Absolutely. Too bloody right. Yes, please!

My first novel has now sold in three different markets: USA, Australia, and now Taiwan (including Hong Kong and Macau). Magic or Madness is going to exist in a language completely unlike my own. Ideograms not alphabet! Top to bottom not left to right! I can’t wait to see what it’ll look like.

So I am now finally convinced that the book is real. Surely they wouldn’t have offered for an imaginary book? Besides I’ve been into four bookshops since we arrived in NYC and even through my jetlagged haze I could see that they had my book. They had them in their twos and fours and at Books of Wonder in their fourteens! I love that shop. At the Union Square Barnes and Noble there was a special section, Myths and Heroes (I may have that title arse up, I’m jetlagged, okay?), that featured Magic or Madness along with five other books including Holly Black’s fabulous Tithe.

Booklist gave the book its second starred review:

In this fierce, hypnotic novel, character, story, and the thrumming forces of magic strike a rare, memorable balance . . . Readers looking for layered, understated fantasy will follow the looping paths of Larbalestier’s fine writing, as graceful and logical as the coiled chambers of Reason’s ammonite, with gratitude and awe.—Jennifer Mattson

Sigh. Gratitude and awe . . .

Heh hem, what was I saying? Oh yes, Magic or Madness is real. Okay, just so you don’t think I’m irretrievably lost in the maws of the mighty praise monster (which, actually, I am) I also got my first review from a reader on barnesandnoble.com. He gave me a scant two stars and declared that the book is like a "bad Australian episode of Charmed". Brilliant turn of phrase, eh? I’ve been imagining Charmed a la Neighbours ever since:

Jane: Charlene!

A petite, curly-headed blonde emerges fron beneath a car dressed in overalls, holding a spanner. She wipes her forehead leaving a grease mark.

Jane: Whatcha reckon about that new warlock, Cole? Bit dodgy, eh?

Charlene: Too right. I don’t reckon he’s really you-know-who’s son. And what were you doing snogging my hubbie, anyway?! You witch!

If the movie rights to Magic or Madness ever sell, I do hope they get the Charmed/Neighbours combination right. Could be tricky. I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that our Kylie’s available for the role of Reason.

Tomorrow I begin a brand new novel. One that hasn’t even been sold in English yet. Can’t wait.

New York City, 17 April 2005

Pressing the Send Button

I did it! I finished my very first sequel! Magic or Madness 2 (working title: Chooks or Chokos) has been written, the send button has been pressed, one of my editors, thirty pages in, has said so far she’s loving it. I can open that champagne, drink, breathe deep, and then turn to the next (and also previous) project. Yay!

I started Magic or Madness 2
(working title: The Magic Puddle) on the 14th of June, 2004, and finished on the 24th of January, 2005. Seven months! Not quite the nine weeks that it took to write Magic or Madness. No Mexican writing idyll this time around: I had to do housework, deal with admin, work on other projects like editing Daughters of Earth, an anthology of feminist sf.* The first 25 thousand words of Magic or Madness 2 (working title: Magical Crazies Down Under) were written painfully and slowly in New York & Buenos Aires from June to early November; the remaining 40 thousand plus words were written lightning fast in Sydney in the last two months. Yes, I’m knackered, but not as knackered as Scott—he’s written three novels since last June.

Magic or Madness 2 (working title: Magic, Madness & Minties) was a much harder book to write than Magic or Madness. It took forever to get started, though my cunning plan of using "once upon a time" as the kickstarter ended up working. Here’s the first sentence:

Once, when I was really little, we passed a road sign peppered with bullet holes.

(Once is just shorthand for "once upon a time".)

Turns out that making the second book in a trilogy stand alone is not easy. There’s a whole book’s worth of backstory that you have to artfully drop into a sentence or two. I can see why some writers don’t bother. I wondered why I was bothering. It’s not like I’ve ever picked up the second book of a trilogy and read it first. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to start at the beginning (according to Julie Andrews it’s a very good place to start). Does anyone read trilogies out of order? (Write me if you have. Be nice to know all my efforts weren’t for nowt!)

I did my best, and Scott, and my first readers, Gwenda Bond, Pamela Freeman, Carrie Frye, Jan Larbalestier, Karen Meisner, Sally O’Brien, Ron Serdiuk, and Lili Wilkinson, let me know exactly where my best wasn’t good enough. Thank you! Now I just have to sit tight (or, er, get back to work on Daughters of Earth) and wait for my editors’ comments.

Meanwhile, the day Magic or Madness is published (17 March) approaches. Reviews are starting to appear. Kirkus just called it "A cleverly creepy fantasy with likable, complex characters and a sinister conclusion". Not too foul, eh? And I’ve heard rumours that it’s also getting a good review in the School Library Journal. People who aren’t my publishers or friends are reading it! Gulp, but also yay! It’s about time. I wrote it, like, a million years ago.

I have now written four novels, sold three (one, Magic or Madness 3, is not written yet, so, yes, there are two unsold ones), and planned about a thousand others. What to write after this trilogy? I’m thinking the world is finally ready for my great Australian, feminist, monkey knife-fighting, cricket & Elvis novel. Whatcha reckon?

Sydney, 26 January 2005

*I’d thought editing would be a complete doddle. Me with my feet up on the desk, while other people killed themselves writing. Not the case: editing that anthology has been much, much harder work than any novel I’ve written. Not editing again, me. I’m not cut out for hard work.