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By: Justine Larbalestier
Blog: Justine Larbalestier
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How To Ditch Your Fairy
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I am now almost up to November answering my correspondence. There’s only a hundred more emails to answer! Yay!
If you’ve written to me this year and not heard back from me, that means I either didn’t get your email, or you did not get my response. Either way best thing to do is to write me again.
I received more fan mail this year than all previous years added together. (Which, admittedly, was not hard as I received very few until this year.) Of all the fabulous things that have happened to me in 20081 those letters are by far the best. The majority were about posts and essays on this website—especially requesting writing advice. The next biggest group of letters were about the trilogy, and lastly about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Though to put that in perspective HTDYF has already attracted more letters in the few months since it was published than Magic or Madness did in its first 18 months of publication. Yay, fairy book!
Thank you so much for the wonderful letters. Each one gave me a tremendous lift. Even if I was already in a good mood they made me happier still. While I’ve always wanted to be a writer, until my first book came out, it had never really occurred to me to think about what that would actually mean, about what it would be like to have readers. I know that sounds a bit bizarre, but I was so focussed on my writing, and on getting published, that I just hadn’t considered that part of the equation: that being published means being read by people I’ve never met. I’m glad that part didn’t occur to me ahead of time. I think it would have spooked me. But it turns out to be fabulous.
Thank you for all the letters pointing out the typos and errors in my books and my blog. I really appreciate them and do what I can to fix future editions. Keep ‘em coming!
Thanks to everyone who wrote and begged for more books in the Magic or Madness and HTDYF universes. I’m pretty sure that HTDYF is a standalone and the MorM series a trilogy, but I’m thrilled my books left you wanting more. The best way to get more is to write it yourself. There are gazillions of wonderful fanfic sites out there. You could add your own stories about the further adventures of Tom and Charlie. Go forth and create more fanfic! Mash up MorM with Buffy or Nana. Or HTDYF with Naruto! What would be cooler than that?
Thanks for all the tips on quokkas and mangosteens and cricket and 1930s fashions and photo sites. Much appreciated! Though I’m horrified that any of you are settling for dried mangosteen or mangosteen juice. Ewww. There are no substitutes for the actual fresh fruit!
Good luck with your writing. Yes, sometimes it can be hard and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That happens to the professionals too. The only thing you can do is keep pushing through. Don’t give up. But remember to have fun with it too. One of the best things about not being published yet is that you have heaps of time to experiment. Write the same story in all the different points of view. See which one works best. Try writing a story backwards. Starting at the end and working your way towards the beginning. Write in lots of different genres. Muck around! Have fun!
Thanks for your letters, your comments, and all your support. It means the world to me.
Here in the USA’s publishing capital, NYC, there are many signs of a publishing downturn: reports and rumours that books sales are down and that the big chains are ordering less books. A few of the big publishing houses are laying off staff, cutting expenses, not acquiring books, and various agents are seeing a slow-down in their sales, especially for debut novels.
Of all the genres children’s (which includes YA) seems to be the least affected. Sales have slowed but not nearly as drastically as in adults. The Times reports that while parents are curtailing their own spending they’re still buying their children presents. It’s interesting that the recent Times article that covered Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s freeze on acquisitions did not mention that the freeze does not apply to children’s books.
Children’s books are relatively inexpensive. Especially compared to adults. An average YA hardcover is US$16 while an average adult hardcover is US$24. Quite a difference. Adult books are also given higher advances (on average) and earn out slower, if they earn out at all. Several people told me that way more of their children’s list earns out than their adults. You hear that? We are profitable.
While sales are down, every single children’s division has at least one bona fide hit. Not all of those hits are as insanely huge as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books, which have earned every employee at Little Brown a bonus, but they’re still doing very nicely. Not to mention that Meyer’s books have also benefited other authors by creating a demand for “more like that, please!” I’ve gotten quite a few letters from Twilight fans telling me they turned to the Magic or Madness books because they’d run out of Meyer’s. I am very very very thankful to Stephenie Meyer. She and J. K. Rowling are a huge part of why children’s is as profitable as it is. Bless you both!
That said, we are in (at the very least) a recession. Libraries are seeing big increases in traffic and more and more people are borrowing when before they might have bought (which as I argued yesterday is far from a bad thing for authors). Like I said, sales are down. They’re down all over and for many things not just books. (Unless you make Spam, that is.)
So am I worried?
Well, sure. But not that much more than usual. Publishing is a risky business even when the economy is booming. Genres go in and out of fashion, as do authors. I know writers who were doing brilliantly in the 1980s, who are now only published in the small press world. How many of the super popular children’s writers of the eighties and nineties are popular and publishing now?1
Most writers don’t make a living writing even in the best of times. Unpublished writers who are freaking out that they’ll never break through in such tough times are forgetting that their odds aren’t great anyway. It’s not just the unpublished who have trouble. The vast majority of authors with one published book never publish a second. Even long established writing careers go into decline.
Publishing is a tough business no matter what the economic climate. But at least we’re in the strongest part of our industry, and at least we’re not on Broadway, or making cars.
Ally Carter has a wonderful post on asking the wrong questions about writing.1 She is a HUNDRED PER CENT correct! Go read her!
I’ve been asked every one of those questions many many times and I always struggle to answer them but I couldn’t figure out why exactly. Thank you so much, Ally Carter, for figuring it out for me.
So many beginner questions at writers conferences are more concerned with marketing than they are with writing. This is putting the cart so far in front of the horse it ain’t funny. Questions like—How long should a YA novel be? Should I blog to promote my book? (NO! Blog because you enjoy it.) How do I find an authentic teenage voice?—are coming at things from the completely wrong direction. (Read Ally Carter’s post for the right questions and excellent answers.) Especially when these questions come from people who haven’t finished a novel yet.
Write the book first.
Write in a genre you know and love and understand. Do not attempt to write a YA novel if you’ve never read any YA novels. My first novel is an adult historical. A genre I know and love. It didn’t sell. My second novel was YA. Another genre I’d read obsessively for years. It also didn’t sell, but it was seen by an editor who took a risk on buying an unwritten trilogy from me because she loved the concept. She’d seen that I could write a good novel so she trusted me to write three more.2
As I wrote the Magic or Madness trilogy I did not think about word count. I just wrote the book and it was as long as it needed to be, which happened to be 65 thousand words. I have never worried about the length of any of my books. They’ve all been the length they needed to be. YA novels range in length from as little as 40k words to as long as—what was Libba Bray’s The Sweet Far Thing?—25 billion zillion katrillion words? Right then. But they were good words. The book is unputdownable even though it’s so heavy it could break your wrist.
When you’re writing your first novel your job is not to worry about word count, or any of those other irrelevancies, like how it will be marketed, your job is to write the best book you can. If it’s a billion zillion katrillion words long then fine as long as those words aren’t boring and crap.
Writing comes first. Always.
I have said this many times and sometimes I get the response that I must be lying because that person sent their extremely long novel out and it was widely rejected. The reason given was that it was too long.
I doubt very much that the agent/editor was saying that the book was too long for YA. There are many very long YAs.3 What they probably meant was that the book was too long for the novel it was. I.e. it wasn’t well-paced. The book needed cutting—not because it was YA—but because it was boring. If you’re getting that same comment over and over again then it’s time to stop sending the book out and go over it to see if they’re right. Are there sentences/chapter/sub-plots that could do with cutting and or trimming?
Or is it time to let that book rest and move on to the next one?
I’m always astonished by the people who say they want to be a writer who stop at one book. Well, it didn’t sell, they’ll tell me. THEN WRITE ANOTHER ONE. If you’ve written the book and it’s as good as you can make it then move on to the next one. Rinse and repeat. One of my friends wrote more than a dozen novels before they finally sold one. I sold my third novel. My first and second remain unpublished. It’s just how it goes.
It could be that your first novel was not ready to go out. It could be that now is not a good time for it. There are many many reasons books get rejected. Ninety-five per cent of the time it’s because they suck. Don’t worry, if you’ve been paying attention to the criticisms you’ve been receiving, and reading lots of really good novels, and working on your rewriting skills as well as your writing skills then your next novel will be much better. By the time you get to your tenth you’ll be rocking out loud.
Did I mention that it’s the writing that’s the thing?
1) The fabulous Guarina Lopez, who is a genius with the camera and took my author photo as well as Diana Peterfreund’s, now has a truly gorgeous website showcasing her beautiful work. Check it out!
2) The Magic or Madness trilogy has sold in Korea! Woo hoo! Chungeorahm Publishing have made a very lovely offer for the trilogy and I have said yes! For those keeping count the trilogy is now published in eleven different countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States. My happiness is huge. All hail Whitney Lee of The Fielding Agency who made the majority of those sales. She’s incredible.
By: Justine Larbalestier
Blog: Justine Larbalestier
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Magic Lessons
, Magic or Madness
, Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!/Magic's Child
, New York City/USA
, State of the World
, Writing & Publishing
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I stopped studying maths in Year 7. Before that I’d made a bit of an effort but in my first year of high school (in New South Wales high school starts in Year 7) I downed tools. I was bored, annoyed, and couldn’t see the point so I quit. Technically I kept going to maths class—it was compulsory until the end of Year 10—but I failed each year and was never made to repeat. I didn’t learn anything new after Year 6.
At the time I thought it was excellent that I could get away with it. In class I read novels under the desk. I never studied and finished my maths exams quicker than anyone else cause I guessed all the answers. Thus giving me more time to read novels.
Now I regret it. My regret is very very very big. Because now I don’t have the underpinnings to understand even the most basic mathematics and science. (I also stopped studying science very early.) Writing the Magic or Madness trilogy was a nightmare. It’s very difficult to write a character who is a mathematical prodigy when you yourself are a mathematical moron.
My current regret, however, is fuelled by the Rethinking Basketball blog. Quentin who writes it is a numbers boy. He has all sorts of fancy formulas and statistics to map the performances of different WNBA players and teams. Like how to take defence into account when figuring out who the Most Valuable Player should be.
I understand almost none of it and that fact fills me with despair. If I could go back in time I would tell the bored and cranky twelve-year-old me that maths would come in handy later on and I should really pay attention to the nice man. (My Year 7 maths teacher was a sweetie, who did not deserve me as a student.)
But plenty of people—including my parents—were telling me that at the time and I ignored them. I probably would have ignored the adult me as well. Sigh.
So it’s now more than a little bit ironic that I am in the position of telling twelve year olds that they should pay attention in maths class. But you really really should. Who knows when or where it will come in handy. But trust me, it will. Don’t be as stupid as I was.
This has been a public service announcement. You are most welcome.
Sartorias aka Sherwood Smith continues the cranky discussion. Both threads have really excellent comments. Fascinating stuff. If only I weren’t in computer hell, I’d be contributing to said discussions. Once things stop sucking in computerland I’ll plunge in. There’s LOTS more to be said.
In other news I just found out that the Magic or Madness trilogy has now sold to PT Gramedia in Indonesia. I’m particularly stoked about this sale as I studied Bahasa Indonesia for four years in high school. It’s a country I’ve always been fascinated by. For those keeping count—I know I am—the trilogy has now sold to ten different countries.
Interviews hurt my brain. Being asked to talk about my work in the abstract feels weird. Especially when I’m asked about what message I wished to convey, what I want to teach people, how I want to change the world, and why did I have this bit of my book symbolise x, y, or z.
The truth is I don’t think about any of that stuff when I’m writing a first draft. Nothing in any of my books is meant to symbolise anything. As far as I’m concerned my zombies are just zombies. I don’t set out to teach anyone anything and I have no overt messages to convey.
(The secret message of my books is that mangosteens are the best food in the universe, quokkas the cutest animal, and anyone who lives somewhere cold should have their head examined.)
If other people see my zombies as representing the corruption of Western capitalism or the horrors of commodification or whatever. That’s cool. If they learn something that’s fabulous, too. One of my favourite things is hearing what readers take out of my work. Mostly it’s not anything I intended. My readers teach me stuff.1
But I didn’t do that on purpose. Truly. I don’t write like that.
I know writers who do, though. A friend of my carefully plans all sorts of symbols and always talks about the message of their book. Not me, though.
I just had to answer a set of questions from the members of the Teen Advisory Group of the Kingsbridge Branch Library in the Bronx via their Young Adult Librarian, Andrea Lipinski. Their questions were awesome. There was nothing about metaphors or meanings or messages. Bless you all! They wanted to know if I believe in magic, whether I like Sydney or NYC better, who I think is the better writer me or Scott, whether my trilogy’s going to have a fourth book, and which of my characters is most like me.
So much more fun answering those kinds of questions! Especially as the answer to all of them is “Maureen Johnson.”
All three volumes of the Magic or Madness trilogy will be out in Germany in the next few months. Here’s what they look like:
These may well be my favourites out of all the trilogy’s covers.
Talk about eye-catching! She even looks a little bit like I imagined Reason looking. Though the nose is wrong, the face too narrow, and Reason doesn’t have facial tats or elf ears or blue-black hair and eyes . . . details, details.
Here’s the first page in German:
If you’re in San Francisco, Seattle, or New York City you can find signed copies of my books here:
866 Valencia St
They not only have the Magic or Madness trilogy but also Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and Daughters of Earth
Books Inc Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness
All For Kids
2900 N.E. Blakeley Street
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
If you’re hankering for a signed copy of one of my books but don’t live anywhere near those shops—they all do mail order.
And because I’m curious how many of you like to have all your favourite books signed by the author? Do any of you collect signed books even if you’ve not read the book in question?
In my previous life I was an academic. Not a very successful or prolific one. I spent four and a half years researching and writing my PhD thesis, while on a scholarship and doing paid-by-the-hour teaching (what’s known in the US as being a TA) as well as IT support. After that I was awarded a three-year post-doctoral fellowship that my university extended for nine months. In that time I wrote and published one book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction
, and edited a collection of stories and essays, Daughters of Earth
as well as writing a bunch of essays and papers (and on the sly I wrote short stories
and a novel
Twas an eight-year-and-three-month career that ended more than four years ago. Yet, people write to me disturbingly often asking me my opinion of the field I studied, about what books I think are at the cutting edge, and curly questions about my two scholarly books which I wrote ages ago and can’t remember a thing about.
I haven’t read any scholarly work since it stopped being my job. I have no idea what the latest work on science fiction is. I don’t even read science fiction novels anymore. It was never my favourite genre and having to read it for more than eight years put me off for life. Though I don’t mind YA science fiction. I pretty much enjoy YA everything.
Not having to read scholarly work any more is one of my greatest joys. Too much of it is turgid and boring, which is why I’m so relieved I don’t have to write it any more. I hated having to second guess every possible objection to every sentence I wrote. It’s a joy not having to write as if I have constipation or to footnote every single argument.
The only things I loved about being an academic—research and hanging out with like-minded people—I still get to do. For the Magic or Madness trilogy I read a scary amount of books on mathematics and number theory (I’m not saying I understood ‘em). For the book I’ll be writing after The UFB I’ve been going back and reading gazillions of ballads. I even plan to crack open some ballad scholarship. For the book after that I’ll be doing lots of research on [redacted for reasons of spoileration] and [also redacted for the same reason].
The glorious thing about research for fiction is that if the research doesn’t fit I can ignore it. I’m writing fiction—most often fantasy—so I twist the facts to fit my books not the other way round. Such bliss!
I’ve written five novels since I quit being an academic. I can’t remember my research for the Magic or Madness trilogy so I really can’t remember any of my scholarly projects. I’m not alone in this. I remember hearing Jonathan Lethem say that when Motherless Brooklyn came out he was taken up by the Tourette’s Syndrome community. But by that time he was onto the next book and had forgotten all his Tourette’s research. We writers are a fickle short-term memoried lot.
To sum up: please don’t ask me about my scholarly books. I know nothing.
Two weeks ago I mentioned that I’d been criticised for making the main character in the Magic or Madness trilogy black when the story isn’t about her being black
. I said I’d write more about it and then didn’t. Mostly because there are so many disturbing assumptions in that criticism that it makes my head explode. And also because I was secretly hoping someone else would post about it.
Well, yay! Tempest did:
Why, they ask, does the character have to be non-white if the story isn’t about being non-white? Because, I say, every story of my life isn’t about my non-whiteness. Sometimes it’s about my ability to let go of a crush, or figure out what raptor birds are doing on my fire escape at night, or what I plan to do with my life after college, or why I love the view from on top of a mountain yet fear the way up. If that’s true for me, it’s true or other non-whites, too.
And, you know, there are lots of non-white people in this world. It’s all right to have a few stories where they just exist, okay?
Specifying race helps to fill a character in, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the filler is standard and clichéd. When the reader first reads that Brenna is of a specific ancestry rather than a general, unspecified one, it makes her more real. Same with Reason. That’s what it adds to the story.
Many white writers are nervous about writing characters who aren’t white and seem to think that if they do so there must be a reason for it. They fear being criticised for writing people who have a different skin colour to them, they fear getting it wrong. On the other hand they worry about being criticised for having no non-white characters. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
To which I say, well, der. Of course, you’re going to be criticised. If you write and people read the words you have written some of them will not like those words. Doesn’t matter if you’re posting on your blog, writing an email, or publishing a novel.
My trilogy has been criticised for being too Australian and for being not Australian enough, for getting the American characters completely wrong, for getting Sydney and New York City wrong, and for many other things. That’s what happens when stuff you write is out there where people who don’t know or care about you can read it.
If you’re not going to write something because you’re afraid of criticism why bother writing at all?
As for why Reason has to be black: It’s because she is black, okay?
Also, Tempest, you have raptor birds on your fire escape at night? Really? That is so cool.
Today I am doing lots and lots of admin. Such joy!
Top of the list is putting together a list of all the typos in Magic’s Child as well as writing a teeny tiny essay about the trilogy to go at the back of the paperback edition.
If you came across any typos please tell me now!
Also if you have any ideas of what you would like to read in a short essay about Magic’s Child and the other books in the tril now’s the time to let me know.
My waiting continues. It’s been more than a month. Le sigh. Definitely helps not being alone.
Off to Paris today. I’m not sure what my intramanet access will be like while there, plus I’ll be busy, so I figured I’d best leave you with a slightly meaty post given as I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again.
For your delectation some thoughts on the efficacy of spreadsheets for novel writing:
A while back I posted a tongue-in-cheek guide on how to write a novel in which I suggested using a spreadsheet. I’m still getting letters from folks telling me what a revelation that was, how it’s transformed the way they write, solved all their plotting problems, and made their teeth whiter.
And I’m still coming across comments from those who are appalled and outraged by the very idea. A spreadsheet! For creative work! The utter utter horror! Spreadsheets are for accountants! The muse is allergic to spreadsheets. What kind of philistine is this Justine Larbalestier? (If that is her real name.)
I don’t get the outrage.
A novel is a large document containing a whole world with a population that can range from one (boring navel-gazing novel about a man trapped inside a unicycle) to billions or more (space opera where the Empress of the universe destroys a whole planet and the reader follows the last day of each inhabitant of said planet). Keeping track of all of that is tricky. The longer or more complicated the novel the harder it is to keep all of it in your head.
I’m sure some writers can do it. Some writers can also write entires novels in their head and produce but one perfect draft.
But pretty much every writer I know has some method of tracking their novel. It might be a set of notes, a wall chart, a spreadsheet, a ouija board, an outline they annotate as they go, index cards, pigeon entrails, their ghostwriter, whatever. They have some kind of a thing that is not their novel that tells them stuff they need to know about their novel.
My first novel is an epic, 145 thousand words long*, spanning many years, with a cast of gazillions, and multiple point-of-view characters. I wrote the first draft using another word document to note down who was related to who, what the countries were, the different language groups, the seasons, things I needed to change, and etc. By the time I finished the first draft, my notes about the novel was almost longer than the actual novel. I needed another document to keep track of it. And then I needed another one to keep track of the one keeping track of the notes keeping track of the novel. Spot the problem?
My boyfriend of the time (thank you, Geoff!) suggested I use Microsoft Project. I fell in love. It was the first (and only time) I’ve been smitten by any of Microsoft’s software**. Project was exactly what I needed: I could chart each character in relationship to the other characters over a period of days, months, years, whatever I needed. At a glance, I could see characters who disappeared with no explanation, who remained pregnant for two years, babies who stayed at the baby stage even though five years had passed since their birth.
It made rewriting much easier.
My second novel was much more straightforward, shorter, and told from only one point of view. A very short file was all I needed to keep track. And to be honest I didn’t use it much, which might be why it’s so very bad, and will never ever see the light of day.
My third novel was Magic or Madness, which while not as complicated as my first, had its own challenges, such as being set in Sydney and New York City. Towards the end of the first draft, Scott introduced me to his spreadsheet method, which made it much much much easier to track what time it was in the two different locations as well as the shifts in points-of-view.
I used the same spreadsheet for all three books of the trilogy. It made me happy.
For the Great Australian Mangosteen Monkey Knife-Fighting Elvis Cricket Fairy Young Adult book I also used a spreadsheet, but it served mostly procrastinatory purposes. The book is told from one point of view and is pretty much beginning, middle, end. It woulda been just as easy to write it without one.
So there you have it: spreadsheets neither write your novel for you, nor do they stab the grand muse of writerising through the heart. They’re just this sometimes-for-some-people useful thing, ya know?
And now I believe I have a plane to catch.
*For contrast all the Magic or Madness books are around 65 thousand words.
**And, of course, Microsoft instantly stopped producing a Mac version. So I never got to use it again, which is a shame because it is the most excellent instrument of
procrastination novel tracking I have ever used.
Very flaky internet access—the wifi keeps dropping to one bar so I’m keeping this short. Also I don’t seem to be able to reply to emails, but I’ll be back in NYC by Saturday and will catch up then. If it’s urgent call me on the mobile.
We’re doing two more Texas appearances. Details here. Come say hi.
Also I’m getting a lot of people asking me the same questions about the ending of the trilogy so I’ve started a SPOILER FAQ over here [scroll down]. If you have questions about the trilogy that aren’t already answered you can ask them on the comments thread over there and I will respond. But please don’t ask spoiler questions in the comments for this post. Lots of this blog’s readers have not read Magic’s Child yet.
Hope no one’s too damp in NYC.
Okay, now I attempt to post this . . .
Courtesy of Marrije, I now know what happens to Reason after the Magic or Madness trilogy:
She’s now working advertising coffee in the Netherlands!
See the eerie resemblance?
It’s a huge relief to me to know that at least one of my characters is not going to starve just because I’ve stopped writing about them. Phew!
Right now there are not one but two competitions to win a copy of Magic’s Child.
Go to Diana Peterfreund’s blog and make a comment and you’re in the running. She promises that she will ship the book anywhere in the world. I signed it and all! Or you can to the Teenreadstoo site to win a copy. The intermanets are positively dripping with free copies of Magic’s Child!
Things are going well for me back home and I am happy.
Today is the official pub date of Magic’s Child in Australia and New Zealand. First person to send me photographic evidence gets a signed copy. Why should the North Americans get all the prizes?
Yay Magic’s Child! What now exists on two continents!
If that weren’t enough I just found out I’m up for not one, but two Ditmars for Daughers of Earth. Wow.
Angelia Challis for establishing Brimstone Press as a mass market publisher
Bill Congreve for Mirrordanse Press and 2 issues of the Australian Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy
Russell B Farr for Ticonderoga Publications
Gary Kemble for work on ABC’s Articulate and promoting the genre through radio and other mediums
Alisa Krasnostein for providing new paying markets for readers and writers of both fiction and non-fiction, art as well as forums for reviews and interviews within the speculative fiction genre, enhancing the profile of Australian speculative fiction
Justine Larbalestier, for editing Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
I’m really honoured to be part of that list. What fabulous achievements! But, um, spot the odd one out: You know, the nominee who put one measly book together (and whinged about it a lot) and did bugger all to enhance the profile of Australia. *Cough* *Cough*.
And then I’m also up for
The William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review
Miranda Siemienowicz for her review of Paraspheres appearing in Horrorscope
Justine Larbalestier for Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
Robert Hood for “Man and Super-Monster: A History of Daikaiju Eiga and its Metaphorical Undercurrents” Borderlands #7
Grant Watson for “Bad Film Diaries - Sink or Swim: The Truth Behind Waterworld” Borderlands #8
Kathryn Linge for her review Through Soft Air ASif
William Atheling was the penname for James Blish’s critical writing. This is the second time I’ve been up for this award. Yay! It’s a real honour and not just because Blish was a hell of a critical writer. It’s wonderful to be recognised by the Australian science fiction community. Thank you!
There are lots of fabulous nominees in all categories this year, but selfishly the one I’m most excited about is Cat Spark’s nomination for best artwork for her unbelievably fantastic cover for Daughters of Earth. I’ve had a lot of wonderful covers for my books, but this is my favourite. Thank you, Cat! I really really really hope you win!
Today is the fourth anniversary of my becoming a full-time freelance writer. That’s right, on 1 April 2003 I stopped getting a regular salary and set about trying to earn dosh with the words I write. What more appropriate day than April Fool’s day?
It was Scott who convinced me to do it.
For the previous eighteen months my regular salary as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Sydney had been the bulk of our income, but Scott’s earnings as a freelancer were on the rise. It would be more than enough, he asserted, to support both of us while I found my legs as a writer. There were several academic jobs I could have applied for, but Scott convinced me not to. It wasn’t hard, while I preferred being an academic to any other job I’d had, I liked writing way more. “It’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do,” he told me over and over again. “Now’s the time to do it.”
I thought he was mad.
I was right.
The next three years and a half years were filled with financial anxiety: loans were taken out, credit cards were juggled, and tonnes of panic was panicked. Two freelancers living together is not for the faint of heart. It’s not even a good idea for nerves of steel, lion-hearted types.
I received my first freelance money—the advance on signing for the Magic or Madness trilogy—in December of 2003, which was eight months after I’d gone freelance. It was my first professional sale. The offer came in September so by publishing standards I was paid very quickly. But it was an awfully long time to be bringing in no money. In the meantime Scott signed up for two separate three-book deals (the Uglies trilogy and the three Razorbill books—So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days) to keep us from going under. Problem was those books were on top of the Midnighters trilogy he’d already sold.
Suddenly he was writing three books a year and experiencing the joys of shingles. All because I’d gone freelance prematurely.
Do I regret it?*
No. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. In my first four years of freelancing I’ve written four books, edited another one, and published four: the Magic or Madness trilogy and Daughters of Earth. I sold my first novel only five months after going freelance. Not bad, eh?
Of course, I’d been trying to sell a novel since 1999, so it was four (almost five) years from first finished novel to first sold novel. And I’d been trying to sell short stories for much, much, much, much longer than that (way back into the eighties). I still haven’t had a pro sale for any of my short stories.** And since I’ve pretty much stopped writing them, or sending them out, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Although the trilogy hasn’t earned out (bloody joint accounting!) it’s close and with the foreign sales of the trilogy (thank you, Whitney Lee) I’m now earning enough to support myself***.
But if someone who’d never sold a novel asked me whether they should go freelance I would tell them no.
No matter how talented or promising you are, going freelance without a single professional sale is madness. Perhaps you have a partner or a parent or a patron who’s willing to support you—it’s still dangerous and scary to try to make a living at something you’ve not proved yourself at. And there’s no guarantee that your partner or parent or patron will continue to support you. They might one day get jack of the whole thing. You might never make a single sale. Lots of extraordinarily talented people have failed to make a living as writers.
I have no idea what the future will bring. I’ve seen too many writers with stalled careers after even the most brilliant of starts to be sanguine about my own. The young adult market is thriving right now and advances seem to be going up all the time, but who knows how long that will last?
Yet despite the financial insecurity, the never knowing if my next book will sell or not, and the destruction of Scott’s health, these have been the best four years of my life. All the books i’ve published are the very best that I could make them at the time. There’s no book out there with my name on it that I’m ashamed of.
Turns out that I love being a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted, and now I have it, it’s better than I imagined. Fingers crossed that it lasts.
Happy anniversary to me! And thank you, Scott, for everything.
*The real question is: Does Scott
**When I sold to Strange Horizons in 2001 it wasn’t classified as a pro market.
***Or to support the alternative me what doesn’t have expensive tastes and lives in Dubbo.
NOTE: I apologise for the complete absence of April First Foolery. Fortunately others in the blogosphere are more than making up for my seriousness.
If you’re around the fair city of New York in the Manhattan vicinity on Saturday, you might consider wending your way to the fabulous Books of Wonder children’s book shop where me and some other writers for teens will be talking about our stuff. We will even sign books for those who desire it:
Saturday, 24 March 2007, Noon to 2PM
Great Teen Reads
Lisa Barnham, Olivia Birdsall, Celeste Conway,
Justine Larbalestier, Lauren Myracle and Margo Rabb
Books of Wonder
18 W. 18th St
New York, NY
I met Olivia Birdsall last night (thanks for putting us in touch, Kelly!) and I can vouch that she is decidely witty. I have never met Lauren Myracle but her wit is legendary and New York Times bestselling certified! And I’m sure Lisa, Celeste and Margo are also wit personified. You would be crazy to miss this appearance.
I’m now hearing that Magic’s Child is actually out on Thursday. First person to spot it in a shop and send me photographic evidence wins a prize. It may be a crappy prize, but it will be a prize!
By: Justine Larbalestier
Blog: Justine Larbalestier
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For the next month, there’s an ad for Magic’s Child up on Locus online. Tis my very first one and I’m dead excited. Ordinarily, I can’t stand ads but somehow it’s different when it’s an ad for one of my books. That makes me want to pat it and sing it songs. Lovely, lovely ad. Designed by the fabulous Courtney Wood who also made those beautiful screensavers which you can now download from the links in the sidebar.
There is now a cover for the Science Fiction Book Club’s 3-in-1 version of my trilogy. It’s called The Magic
or of Reason.
In other vainglorious news, the Hathor Legacy likes Daughters of Earth, describing it as the “perfect marriage of fantastic stories and excellent critical analysis”. Yay! That’s what I was going for.
And to stop skiting for a second, wouldn’t it be great if this happened? An ODI series between India and Australia right here in NYC? I could bring all my USian friends what want to learn about the noble game and convert them to the glories of cricket in their own country. Bliss!
Also this could be the day Magic’s Child is released into the wild. i await reports. Remember there is a prize for the first person to send me photographic evidence that my latest book exists and it may not be as crappy as I said.
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.
Shashi Tharoor has written a wry op ed piece
for the New York Times
on the World Cup and how Americans are oblivious to what is preoccupying a billion plus folks at the moment. It ends thus:
In any event, nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld. They are rather like Indian classical music, in which the basic laws are laid down but the performer then improvises gloriously, unshackled by anything so mundane as a written score.
Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game. Even the possibility that five tense, hotly contested, occasionally meandering days of cricketing could still end in a draw seems derived from ancient Indian philosophy, which accepts profoundly that in life the journey is as important as the destination. Not exactly the American Dream.
Ha ha! That makes me giggle. Though to be honest I’m not convinced. Cricket’s popularity in India and elsewhere is an historical accident. If in the early days of cricket in America they’d had some home-grown cricketing heroes demolishing visiting English players and some ambitious entrepreneurs touring the game around the country and bringing in the dosh I reckon things woulda turned out differently.
Cricket’s also bloody popular back home. I’m pretty sure the majority of Australians don’t consult astrologers or believe in the capricious influence of planets (of pollies? yes, but planets? not so much). Or certainly we don’t do it any more than Americans do.
I’m always suspicious of sketches of “national character”. I’m not saying there aren’t difference between nations. I’m often amazed by the extraordinary confidence of the middle and upper classes in the US, especially the white folk. So many of them seem to have this sense of the inevitability of their own success (whether it’s happened yet or not). I’ve never met so many people who are just waiting for their first million, their first broadway show, big movie role, bestselling novel. No question in their mind that it will happen. Even if they’ve never acted or ever written anything longer than a limerick.
But I’ve also met enough Americans who are not like that, and Australians who are, to be wary of typing a whole people. People are complicated and large groups of them even more so and you can never discount regional and class and racial and gender differences.
I also wonder how much of that disturbing confidence is real and how much of it is people saying what they think they’re supposed to be saying.
Back home you’re emphatically not supposed to say stuff like that. If you do you’re a wanker who writes tickets on yourself. Being up yourself is one of the worst things anyone can say about you.
Here that attitude doesn’t seem nearly so wide spread. For instance American English has no home-grown synonyms (that I’ve heard) for “writing tickets” “being stuck up”, “getting above yourself”, “being up yourself”, or “being a wanker”. Mostly because they almost never accuse anyone of that kind of behaviour. Nor do they have the terms “tall poppies” or “cultural cringe”.
So while it might be true that on the whole Americans=confident and Australians=not confident. It could also be that we just know what we are and aren’t allowed to say out loud. If an Aussie says “I’m a genius!” odds are they’re being sarcastic. If a Usian says it not so much. But does the Aussie secretly think they are a genius while the Usian secretly fears they are not?
There are, of course, lots of exceptions to all of this. And things are changing in both countries. I even know Americans who adore cricket.
And, um, did I mention that I have a new book out, Magic’s Child
? And, er, it’s not too foul. Really. Well, um, other people
think it’s okay. Sorry. Don’t mind me. I’ll get out of your way now . . .
This comes from Jennifer Laughran at Books Inc in San Franciso who reports:
It’s on the register! And we’ve already sold two in the five mins its been out of the box!!!!!!!!
Now since Jennifer works at a book shop I thinks it’s only fair that I keep the prize open. So if you don’t work in a book shop and you’re the first to send me a piccie of my book out in the wild there’s a signed Magic’s Child and matching book marks just for you.
But you’ll still get your prize, Jennifer. You were first first.
I just received a lovely letter from a fan saying they’d just finished reading Magic’s Child (that was quick!) loved it and now want to know what to read next. They want something that will give them the same “glowy” feeling. *Blush*
Now because I wrote the trilogy I feel really weird saying what books I think are similar. Might make it look like I’m writing tickets on myself and my trilogy. So you can help out my fan? What books would you recommend as a follow up to my trilogy? Preferably books that are readily available.
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Magic’s Child only came out last Friday and already I’ve had a stack of letters and some comments here asking when there’ll be another book in the series.
Wow! I’m stoked at the enthusiasm and thrilled that you like the Magic or Madness world so much you want more. I’m not sure there’s a bigger compliment you can offer a writer. Thank you.
But right now I have no plans for more books set in that world.
Don’t yell at me! I’m not saying there won’t be books in the future. But there won’t be any in the immediate future.
Why? Lots of reasons but mostly because I need a break. I started work on the trilogy in June 2003 and had been thinking about it for months before then. I finished making corrections to Magic’s Child in early November 2006. So I spent more than three years solidly in that one world, with those same characters, and for now that’s enough. We need our space. Both the characters and me. Otherwise ugliness would ensue.
Also at the moment I have no idea what happens next. No clue at all. It’s very hard to write a book without any ideas.*
Right now I’m busy rewriting the fairy book (otherwise known as the Great Australian Elvis cricket fairy mangosteen YA novel), and on the weekend I started a new book.
What book was that? Remember I asked you all to vote on what I should write next?
Well, you voted and you chose by an overwhelming majority—
very big drum roll
so big it’s still rolling
So I started the sexy cricket one instead.
Nah, just kidding.
I really did start the lodger book. You know how sometimes starting a book consists of hours and hours of staring at the screen, lots of deciding the front room needs to be tidied, or that there’s urgent mail to be sent, or that it’s a long time since the sock (ew!) drawer was rearranged, or that perhaps a long walk is needed to get the thoughts to coalesce into words and sentences and paragraphs?
Not this time.
I sat down to write the lodger novel and had several thousands words in a matter of seconds. Scary excellent stuff! (I mean the writing process. I can’t tell about the words yet.) This book is practically writing itself. Yum.
Here’s hoping my Magic or Madness fans will enjoy also the fairy book and the lodger book. Oh, and that they find a publisher . . .
*I’m not saying it hasn’t been done. Do not ask me for examples!
Lodger book: 12
Liar book: 8
Cricket romance: 7
Werewolf snowboarding epic: 6
Baby killing ghost novel: 6
Vintage clothes shop book: 4
Hollywood book: 1
NT family epic: 1
Short story: 1