Justine Larbalestier's Blog

June 20, 2016

Step One: Ask Yourself Why


Why are you writing this book? Why have you decided to write a protagonist whose background is different from your own?


Is it because you want to make the world a better place? Because doing so seems to be the cool new thing? Because you lived for many years in a foreign country and you think that writing about it from that outsider’s perspective is voyeuristic and exploitative? Because you have the imagination and understanding to do so? Because you’re the reincarnation of an African king? Because you came across a cool story in the local newspaper and only you can do justice to that story? Because you’ve been part of the community you’re writing about since birth? Because the voice of the character came to you in a dream?


Once you’ve figured out why you’re going to write an Indigenous protagonist or Protagonist of Colour and can explain your motivations clearly you can move on to:


Step Two: Research


Writing from the point of view of someone from a community that gets less representation in mainstream culture than your own is hard. Especially when what representation they do get is largely negative and/or stereotyped. If you do not know people in that community, and have not spent time in that community, it will be an uphill battle to write from that point of view believably.


Which is why you must research.


As much as you can avoid accounts written by outsiders—all you’ll learn is how outsiders see them, not how they see themselves. Read books written by the people of that community. Watch TV and movies created by them. Look at what they write about themselves on social media. Listen to their podcasts.


Confusingly, you will find many of their accounts of themselves and their communities contradictory. Take a moment to think about that. Is it really confusing to have a wide range of opinions within the one community?


Consider the histories and novels that have been written about your community. It’s likely they’re every bit as contradictory. There is no completely unified community that agrees about everything. You know, other than, say, The Borg.


Ask the people you know well in that community questions. Listen to their answers.


If you don’t know anyone well from the community you’re writing about go back to step one, Why are you writing this book?


Do not jump onto social media to ask strangers about their community. Though some may be kind enough to respond it is not their job to teach you.


Step Three: Find Sensitivity Readers


When you have finished your diligent research, and have a complete manuscript you’re happy with, you need to have people from the community you’ve chosen to represent look at your book. Approach these readers in good faith and pay them for their work. Because it is hard work.


When someone critiques your book about their community it’s called a sensitivity reading. It’s called that because they’re reading to see if you have been sensitive to the community you’re writing about. If you have instead written stereotyped caricatures then critiquing your book is going to be even harder work. For some readers it will be painful work.


It’s best to have more than one sensitivity reader. Some readers might tell you the book’s fine, or only find a few minor problems with it, while others will find major problems. No community agrees on everything. Listen carefully and rewrite your book accordingly.


I had two of my readers tell me they found some of the dialogue of the black characters in Liar jarring. While other readers had no problem with it. I opted to change it. None of those readers had a problem with Micah’s use of the word “nappy” to describe her hair, though they agreed it might be a problem that I, a white writer, was using it. After publication some readers found it offensive. I discuss that at greater length here.


No amount of careful rewriting based on your sensitivity readers’ critiques will shield you from criticism. That is not what sensitivity readings are for. They are to show you how to write your book as accurately and as sensitively as possible.


And there you have it in three easy steps you now know how to write from the point of view of a Person of Colour or an Indigenous person. What could go wrong?


What’s Wrong With This Guide


Sadly, a lot goes wrong, particularly at step one.


Let me speak from my own experience, having written six books from the points of view of Teens of colour and an Indigenous teen. I went wrong at that first step. I did not ask myself why I was doing this. It did not occur to me that writing from an Indigenous or PoC point view was problematic.


If I had asked myself, these are the reasons I probably would have given: that I wanted to examine racism, and that I was trying to make YA more diverse.


My old belief that I couldn’t write about racism from a white point of view is garbage. Certainly books like To Kill a Mockingbird show that. But books like Mockingbird have other problems. Racism in Mockingbird is something that good white people save black people from. Racism is something that bad whites do, not a system of oppression that benefits all whites. There need to be more books in YA that examine white complicity in systemic racism.


I also thought I was saving YA by writing PoC and Indigenous main characters. It’s a notion that is dangerously close to the idea of the white saviour.


Once I’d proffered those two woeful reasons I would have explained that I was qualified to write these books because I spent part of my childhood living on Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory of Australia and because I have many friends who aren’t white. At the time I doubt I’d have realised I was literally saying, “Some of my best friends are black”. Yes, I’m ashamed.


Arrogantly, I did not let what I didn’t know about my Aboriginal and PoC protagonists be a bar to writing them. I made my protags of the same class and gender as me, which I figured would give me enough commonality to write them convincingly. Spoiler: it doesn’t. I did not consider how much I didn’t know about the ways in which race and ethnicity shape class and gender. It is impossible to know what you don’t know, which also makes it incredibly hard to write believable characters’ whose experiences are far from your own.


All writers need to have the ego it requires to write. But we white writers also need to step back from feeling we have the right to write the stories of people with less power than ourselves. Especially because every year more books by whites are published than by any other race. In YA, not only are the majority of books by white people, so are the majority of books about PoC and Native peoples. When we write these books we are literally keeping books by PoC and Native writers off the shelves.


Outside of my books with multiple protags, I now only write white protagonists because I realised that I was part of the problem of lack of diversity in YA, not the solution.


There are books by white writers with PoC protagonists that are loved by some people in those communities. But I think we white writers can do more good by calling attention to the books by PoC and Indigenous writers and by thinking about PoC and Indigenous readers.


In answering the question of why you want to write a book about someone else’s community try to think of those readers before you think about yourself. Think about who is better qualified to tell their stories: you or them?


Misusing Sensitivity Readers

In the last few years I have heard multiple stories about white writers in the YA, Romance and SFF communities misusing and abusing sensitivity writers. Writers who have employed sensitivity readers in bad faith, only wanting these readers to give them the Indigenous or PoC seal of approval. Spoiler: there is no such thing.


Sensitivity readers do not read your manuscript to give you cover. They read to show you how to make it better, how to make it not offensive. If they think that’s not possible they will tell you to kill the project.


Listen to them.


Writers who keep getting the same critique from sensitivity readers and ignoring it are acting in bad faith. If more than one person finds the same problem with your manuscript LISTEN TO THEM. And if it’s more than five or ten or, as in one case I heard about, twenty people pointing out the same problem? And you continue to ignore them and send your manuscript to yet another sensitivity reader? You need to stop. You need to burn the manuscript and go all the way back to step one and realise that you had no good reason for writing that book.


You also need to realise that you have trashed your good name in the community. People talk. People know what you’re doing and they’re appalled.


If you can’t take critique from the people who know the life experiences of your protagonist better than you do then STOP.


Pointing to the good reviews your book received once it was published, the prizes it won, is irrelevant. The vast majority of trade reviewers are white. The vast majority of major literary prizes come from white institutions. We white folk are not the best judges of accurate representations of any communities other than our own.


Nor is pointing to the Indigenous readers and Readers of Colour who’ve told you that they love your work. All too often they are so starved for representation that many have learned to be generous readers of even the worst representations. All too often I have heard teenagers say they’re just grateful to see themselves on their cover, to be able to read a book about someone like them, even if it doesn’t ring true.


Read the thoughtful analyses of books on Edi Campbell’s blog or on Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature. Some of the problematic books they discuss received multiple starred reviews and prizes.


What makes Edi and Debbie’s work powerful is that it is so clearly about the children and teenagers in their communities. Their mission is not to castigate white writers; it is to find books they can recommend wholeheartedly to those readers.


That is all the readers of any community that has been historically stereotyped and underrepresented wants: to read books that won’t make them roll their eyes, wince, or put the book down because reading it is too painful in the very worst way.


It’s Not About Us


Their work is not about us white writers. This debate about diversity in literature is not about us white writers. The only way to fix what’s wrong with publishing is systemic change at every point within the industry: from the CEOs of publishing companies through to the writers and editors and agents and sales reps and booksellers and librarians. Right now the majority are white. That has to change.


But we white writers keep centring ourselves. As Patrick Jones does in his recent article,

Writing While White, published in the June 2016 issue of Voya where he discusses writing PoC teen protags as a white man:


I shared the first few chapters with two award-winning black female authors who said, more or less, “No, you—as a white male—can’t tell this story.” I also asked a black female librarian from Flint to pre-read it. Her comment-slash-question, “Why didn’t you have them eating fried chicken and watermelon?”


Chasing told one black girl’s story; the pre-reader saw it as a white retelling a stereotypical story. I caved, but at the time, I didn’t think it was the best move. I understood the arguments about writing outside of race, but I didn’t accept them. So Tonisha became Christy.


Jones did the right thing in that he asked knowledgable readers to critique his book and they said, don’t do this. So he changed “Tonisha into Christy.” Well and good. Except that Jones does not seem grateful for their critiques nor does he acknowledge their hard work. He seems to have wanted his sensitivity readers to give him the PoC seal of approval and is annoyed that they didn’t.


Jones also doesn’t seem to understood what they told him. Maybe they did say to him, “No white man can write this story.” But it also seems like they were saying, “You, Patrick Jones, cannot write this story. You have not created a believable black girl living in Flint. You have created a stereotypical caricature of a black teenage girl living in Flint, who might as well be eating fried chicken and watermelon.”


He presents their thoughtful critiques as bad advice that he caved to. He says he understood their arguments but that he didn’t accept them. He describes the long-running debate about racism and the need for more diversity in YA as noise.


That’s the language of someone who is not listening. Someone who mischaracterises this vital movement to change YA as being about whether white people are allowed to write PoC protagonists. This is a common misconception.


Later in the article Jones says he’s decided to stop writing PoC protags because he worries Teens of Colour might view his books as “perpetuat[ing] stereotypes.” But then he undercuts that central concern by saying he’s stopping because it’s all “too complicated and stressful” making it about him again.


He’s not alone. Indeed VOYA’s Editor-in-Chief RoseMary Honnold told Fusion that


she didn’t expect Jones’ piece to spark controversy. “Patrick Jones is a highly respected member of the YA library community and the YA lit community,” she wrote in an email. “The first person account of his own journey of questioning the efficacy of his writing about POC, extrapolated to that topic, in general, brings a human dimension to the article for his many admirers and colleagues in the field.” When asked if she had concerns about the headline before publication, she said she did “not at all.”


This is a complicated and stressful debate but the central question is not whether whites like me and Jones can write PoC protagonists. No one is stopping us white writers writing whatever we want. Let me repeat: the majority of books in YA in the USA with PoC or Native protags are written by white writers.


We whites have to stop hijacking the debate to talk about us.


By all means grapple with this question on your own, as Jones has done, as I have done.

But we have to stop taking up space on Twitter, in Voya, and elsewhere to do so. If you read all the other articles in that issue of Voya you’ll find work by Debbie Reese, Edith Campbell, Sarah Park Dahlen, Amina Chadhri, Marieke Nijkamp and others on the truly central issues around Native American and PoC and other communities’ access, safety, autonomy, constructions of intersectional identity and so forth.


But PoC Writers Get to Write About Whites It’s Only Fair We Get to Write About Them

We whites do not know as much about Indigenous people and People of Colour as they know about us. This is a large part of why when we write from their points of views we all too often get it wrong.


Yes, we’re all human. Yes, we all have the same physiology. We all experience love and hate and desire and jealousy. We all need to eat and go to the toilet. But I’m no longer sure that our white imaginations are enough to fill in what we don’t know about loving and hating and existing as an Indigenous person or Person of Colour in a world where whiteness is prized and white people hold most of the power. In a world where the vast majority of our publishing, film and television industries, and other media is run by, produced for, and about white people.


On Twitter writer Justina Ireland has talked about how:


Every PoC lives with a dual consciousness. It’s the idea that PoC have to take on two identities in order to survive in a hostile society. Meaning: we learn how to act white in order to be successful. At school, in jobs, and in publishing. We know what it takes to be white. Which is why PoC can write white characters effortlessly. Because we’ve all played a white person at one time or another. . . Bottom line: the oppressed are forced to learn to identify with their oppressors, it rarely happens in the other direction.—Justine Ireland.


White people do not have to take on two identities to survive in a hostile society. Our society is not hostile to white people.1


In a recent discussion writer Doselle Young put the difference more strongly, talking about:


the reality of what “playing white” entails. From my PoV, it’s about learning to instinctively bundle up, separate, partition and obscure almost every element of one’s cultural identity at the drop of a hat. To set aside the body language, dialect, the physicality, the casual modes of communication, and the unspoken values that all those things are used to express, as a daily act of survival. It’s about learning to do something monumental with casual ease. The fact, however, remains that this is actually anything but casual. It can often feel like a low-level but ever present source of stress.


If anyone thinks otherwise, take a gander at white folks’ reactions when a beloved celebrity of color decides not to obscure their cultural identity.


White people lose their damned minds.2


What happens when we reverse that? Do we, as white people, have the same kind of insights into POC experiences, that PoC have into what it is to be white? We do not.


How would you respond if someone you didn’t know started telling you about your identity? As Doselle Young puts it:


Would you, as a writer, really expect someone else to do better job with the most telling details of YOUR autobiography? What forces would they need to marshal in order to pull that off? How many interview hours, how much research, thought, blood, sweat and tears would it take to get YOUR story right?


Everyone’s identity is complicated. All of us belong to different religions, cultures, subcultures, groups, clubs, kinship networks. We all come from particular families. One of the most common complaints I hear about white people writing Indigenous and PoC characters is that we leave out their families and friendships with people like them. We tend to give them absent brown families and present white friends.


All of which leads back to step one: Why are you writing this book?


Maybe you shouldn’t.


TL:DR: Think long and hard before you write a book about a community not your own. Listen to your sensitivity readers. Whose story are you really trying to tell?


NOTE: Thank you to Mikki Kendall, Scott Westerfeld and Doselle Young for all your hard work, brilliant writing, and wonderful conversation, and for your truly excellent notes on this post. Any remaining lack of clarity etc. is all on me. Thank you also to the too many people to name in the YA, SFF and Romance communities who have shaped my thinking. I.e. pretty much all the folks I follow on Twitter.


Though it can certainly be hostile to other parts of our identities as many white women and most LBGTIQA and disabled and poor and working class and fat whites can attest. But our society is not hostile to our whiteness.As an example of what Doselle is referring to think of the furore over the Obama’s “terrorist” fist bump.
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Published on June 20, 2016 05:55 • 18 views

June 10, 2016

9781616956257Razorhurst is now available in the USA as a paperback, with a whole new look. The new cover is getting a very strong response.


As a bonus, this brand-new paperback includes the first two chapters of My Sister Rosa. Cool, huh? You folks of the USA and Canada will get a teaser to get you even more excited for My Sister Rosa publishing in your countries in November.


My Sister Rosa will be published by Record in Brasil. I’m super thrilled with this as they have published many of my other books and I got to hang out with them a few years back and they are the best. Especially Ana Lima.


Rosa will also have a North American audio book produced by Blackstone Audio. They’re the ones who did the fantastic all-Australian audio book ofRazorhurst. So far all of my novels have had audio books. These means a lot to me because I know how important they are for my blind fans.

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Published on June 10, 2016 16:24 • 14 views

May 23, 2016

This weekend I’ll be a Guest of Honour at WisCon in Madison Wisconsin. WisCon is the longest running feminist science fiction convention in the USA.


I used to be a regular attendee and always had an amazing time. This will be my first time back in ten years. Pretty cool to return as a Guest of Honour, eh? I’m thrilled. Disbelieving, but thrilled, and in such company: Nalo Hopkinson is one of the finest writers of science fiction and fantasy ever. Sofia Samatar is an astonishing new voice. Her debut novel was rapturously received.


In addition to my convention schedule I’ll be doing one event open to the public:


Thursday, May 26, 2016 – 5:00pm to 6:45pm

WisCon Guest of Honour Reception and Reading

A Room Of One’s Own

315 W. Gorham Street,

Madison, Wisconsin

Nalo Hopkinson, Justine Larbalestier, Sofia Samatar


As well as my Guest of Honour duties of speechifying etc. I’ll be on the following panels:


Fri, 9:00–10:15 pm

Genre Blending

Whether it’s a steampunk fairytale or an end of the world love story between science and magic or a Hong Kong-style revenge space opera, stories are spilling over the edges of genre. When is it done well? What is left to explore?

M: Rebecca Holden. Alex Jennings, Justine Larbalestier, Loren Rhoads, Kristine Smith, Brooke Wonders


Sat, 10:00–11:15 am

AMA with GOHs

Have a question for Guests of Honor Sofia Samatar, Justine Larbalestier, or Nalo Hopkinson about writing craft, writing life, or their fiction? Come to this Ask Me Anything session with your questions!

M: K. Tempest Bradford. Nalo Hopkinson, Justine Larbalestier, Sofia Samatar


Sat, 1:00–2:15 pm

#KeepYAKind and Other Nice Tools of the Oppressor

There is always a point in the midst of heated Internet discussions where someone lifts their voice to make a call for Kindness, Niceness, Civility, or any other adjacent concept. These calls often go up when the issue at hand concerns an individual with privilege being called out by folks with significantly less privilege or cultural power. And Kind, Nice, and Civil become synonyms for Keep Your Mouth Shut. When this happens again, what tools can we use to dismantle this toxic dynamic and get back to the core matter? Are there secret code words we can deploy to neutralize the terms?

M: K. Tempest Bradford. Becky Allen, Betsy Haibel, Justine Larbalestier, Mark Oshiro


Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm

Science Fiction and Social Change

Many people believe science fiction/fantasy is escape from reality into made up worlds. But all sci fi is based and rooted in this world’s problems and issues, and will reflect those back. Often times mainstream science fiction reflects back visions of the future or alternative realities that reinforce systems of power. But throughout history science fiction has been used as a means of envisioning progressive new worlds, and has also been used by those organizing to transform power dynamics and create a more fair and equitable today, rooted in the experiences of those who have been marginalized and silenced historically. Come hear a panel of presenters discuss the ways science fiction is being used on the ground to create social change.

M: Jacquelyn Gill. Carlie Forsythe, Justine Larbalestier, Fred Schepartz, Sheree Renée Thomas


Sun, 10:00–11:15 am

Women Can Be Evil Too

Mikki Kendall and Justine Larbalestier discuss their research on women serial killers and psychopaths long thought to not exist.

M: Tanya D.. Mikki Kendall, Justine Larbalestier


Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm

GOH Kaeseklatsch: Justine Larbalestier

Come hang out with Guest of Honour Justine Larbalestier and talk about whatever comes to mind! In honour of Wisconsin, we will sample cheeses. Note: Since this is in a parlor room, it may get crowded and attendance may be limited. Sign up at the Registration desk to reserve a seat.


Sun, 2:30–3:45 pm

Women Writing SFF, All Around The World!

A reading recommendation panel! What books would be of interest to WisCon members? Whether Anglophone, in translation, or in different languages, from Indigenous to diaspora works, let’s share SFF we’ve read recently that encourages USian WisCon members to step out of our cultural bubbles.

M: Jaymee Goh. Jackie Hatton, Arrate Hidalgo, Emily Jiang, Justine Larbalestier


Sunday 4:00-5:15 PM

How Not To Think About Women Characters

Debbie Notkin, Becky Allen, Megan Arkenberg, Claire Humphrey, Justine Larbalestier

“She’s such a Mary Sue.” “She’s only there to serve the story of a male character.” “Her characterization is so inconsistent” or “She’s too flat to be interesting.” As consumers of media;even feminist consumers;we have a whole language at our disposal when we need to justify disinterest or dislike towards a woman character. But as often as these idioms are accurate criticisms of a work, they can also be ways to avoid actually talking about the character AS a character. Some questions to consider: Do the ways in which we critique women characters result in a denial of their agency? Is describing women characters as “inconsistently characterized” a way to avoid seeking out their motivations? Is being a “foil” or a parallel always a subordinate role?


Quite the schedule, eh? I’m especially excited about talking evil women with Mikki Kendall. But I reckon they’ll all be fun.


If you’re going to be at WisCon I look forward to seeing/meeting you. I’ll be at the big sign out on Monday and am happy to sign whatever you want. Well, almost anything.


See you soon, Madison! I’ve missed you!

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Published on May 23, 2016 16:14 • 17 views

March 3, 2016

This post is so I have somewhere to send people when they ask me which book of mine they should read first. Click on the links to learn more about each book.


Authors who sensibly only write the one kind of book don’t have to write guides like this. I’m not envious. Honest.



Update:
There’s a bonus section at the end for those who’ve read one of my books and are wondering which one to read next, assuming that you want to read the one most like it.


WARNING: If you consider knowing whether a book has a happy or a sad ending to be a spoiler do not read this!


Novels with unambiguously happy endings:

How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human


Novels with endings that might make you tear your hair out:

Liar

Razorhurst

My Sister Rosa

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (though I consider this novella to have a happy ending many readers disagree with me)


Novels with endings that might make you cry in a sad way:

Razorhurst

My Sister Rosa

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (Beats me why, but many readers have reported crying.)


Novels that just end, with no resolution, and WHY DID YOU DO THAT, JUSTINE?!

Liar (Though, come on, people, it’s called Liar! Novels that are built on lies about a liar cannot be resolved. This is a scientific fact.)


Fantasies:

Magic or Madness trilogy (contemporary with magic)1

How to Ditch Your Fairy (contemporary, different world, very mild superpowers)2

Liar (contemporary [redacted] because it might be a lie)

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (contemporary with faerie)

Zombies v Unicorns (self-explanatory)

Team Human (contemporary, vampires and zombies)

Razorhurst (historical, ghosts)


Science Fiction:

How to Ditch Your Fairy (Very few readers have realised this one is science fiction possibly because I left out the part about the fairies being micropscopic alien invaders.)

“Little Red Suit” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean (post-apocalyptic Sydney)


Realism:

Liar (Though some don’t think so. See previous section.)

My Sister Rosa (Though I could mount a strong argument that psychopaths are monsters.)


Historicals:

Razorhurst (1932 Sydney)


Thrillers:

Liar (psychological)

Razorhurst (gangsters and cops trying to kill protags)

My Sister Rosa (psychological)


Anthologies/Short stories:

Daughters of Earth (I edited this collection of 20th century feminist science fiction with accompanying essays by feminist scholars)

Zombies v Unicorns (I edited this one with Holly Black)

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell

“Little Red Suit” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean


Novels with sex:

Magic or Madness trilogy

Liar

Razorhurst (very little)

My Sister Rosa


Novels without sex:

How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human


Humorous books:

How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human

Zombies v Unicorns (Mine and Holly Black’s bantering in between the short stories is funny and so are some of the stories.)


Non-fiction:

Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

Daughters of Earth


What to Read Next:

If you loved Liar then read My Sister Rosa next. And vice versa. Though the protag of My Sister Rosa is not unreliable like Micah from Liar, My Sister Rosa is as twisty and dark as Liar. After you’ve read those two if you still want dark and twisty try Razorhurst, remembering that it’s set in 1932 and there are ghosts. So if historicals or supernatural elements are not your thing you might want to skip it.


If you loved How To Ditch Your Fairy because it’s light and funny then read Team Human. And vice versa.


If you loved the star-crossed lovers of “Thinner than Water” then try My Sister Rosa. Remembering that it has no faerie or magic and the emphasis is not on the romance. You could also wait for the novel I’m working on now, Psychopath In Love, with the star-crossed lovers more at the centre. If it was the world of “Thinner than Water” that grabbed you then see if you can find copies of the Magic or Madness trilogy or wait till I finally finish my epic 1930s NYC book(s) cause it’s basically all star-crossed lovers with magic.


If you loved Razorhurst and want to read another historical from me you could read “Thinner than Water” which has a kind of historical-y feel to it. Or wait for my 1930s NYC historical with magic that I’ve been working on forever and may never finish. Lucky heaps of other authors write historicals, eh? If you were more taken with the thriller aspect then read My Sister Rosa or

Liar.


Out of print. I include the trilogy to be complete and who knows one day it might be back in print.I can also make an argument that this one is science fiction. Most readers disagree
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Published on March 03, 2016 19:03 • 4 views

This post is so I have somewhere to send people when they ask me which book of mine they should read first. Click on the links to learn more about each book.


WARNING: If you consider knowing whether a book has a happy or a sad ending to be a spoiler do not read this!


Novels with unambiguously happy endings:


How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human


Novels with endings that might make you tear your hair out:


Liar

Razorhurst

My Sister Rosa

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (though I consider this novella to have a happy ending many readers disagree with me)


Novels with endings that might make you cry in a sad way:


Razorhurst

My Sister Rosa

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (Beats me why, but many readers have reported crying.)


Novels that just end with no resolution and WHY DID YOU DO THAT, JUSTINE?!


Liar


Fantasies:


Magic or Madness trilogy (contemporary with magic)1

How to Ditch Your Fairy (contemporary, different world, very mild superpowers)2

Liar (contemporary [redacted] because it might be a lie)

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell (contemporary with faerie)

Zombies v Unicorns (self-explanatory)

Team Human (contemporary, vampires and zombies)

Razorhurst (historical, ghosts)


Realist novels:


Liar

My Sister Rosa (Though I could mount a strong argument that psychopaths are monsters.)


Historicals:


Razorhurst (1932 Sydney)


Thrillers:


Liar (psychological)

Razorhurst (gangsters and cops trying to kill protags)

My Sister Rosa (psychological)


Anthologies/Short stories:


Daughters of Earth (I edited this collection of 20th century feminist science fiction with accompanying essays by feminist scholars)

Zombies v Unicorns (I edited this one with Holly Black)

“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell

“Little Red Suit” in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean


Non-fiction:

Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

Daughters of Earth


Novels with sex:


Magic or Madness trilogy

Liar

Razorhurst (very little)

My Sister Rosa


Novels without sex:

How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human


Humorous Books:


How To Ditch Your Fairy

Team Human

Zombies v Unicorns (Mine and Holly Black’s bantering in between the short stories is funny and so are some of the stories.)


Out of print. I include the trilogy to be complete and who knows one day it might be back in print.I can also make an argument that this one is science fiction. Most readers disagree
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Published on March 03, 2016 19:03 • 56 views

February 20, 2016

My biggest writing struggle is getting started. My current novel, the Psychopath Book, was going well until My Sister Rosa came out in Australia and New Zealand. Suddenly there was promotion to be done, interviews, book launches, travelling.


I’ve been for home more than a week and this is how it’s gone:


Day One: I catch up on admin, which includes interview questions, paying bills, laundry etc as well as tweeting. Because Twitter is a vital part of my process. *cough*


Day Two: More admin. How does admin build up so quickly? Why can’t bills pay themselves? Why can’t Twitter pay my bills?


Day Three: More admin. More tweeting. I open Psychopath Book file. I have no idea who any of these characters are or what this book is about. Not entirely convinced I wrote these words. Who has been messing with my computer while I was away? I ask Twitter. Answers are unsatisfactory.


Day Four: More admin. Way more tweeting. I stare at Pyschopath Book file and read some of it and recoil in horror. Why is this so hard? There are plenty of writers with full time jobs, who are carers for children and elderly parents, who write ten books a year. I am the worst. I ask Twitter. Twitter overwhelmingly confirms my worst-ness.


Day Five: I ignore admin. Time to get back to actually writing this damn book. After I’ve delivered a very important rant on Twitter and commiserated with friends over the dread ways in which Twitter algorithms are trying to destroy Twitter. I read my notes on Psychopath Book. They don’t make any sense. Staring at this stalled novel fills me with despair. I watch Attack the Block for the millionth time. Surely it will inspire me? It does. To write an entirely different book.


Day Six: I continue to ignore admin but not Twitter. I make myself read more Psychopath Book. I edit some sentences. Some of them are okay. Most are not. I start to have vague memories about these characters. I marvel at the many ways I have misspelled pyschopath. It’s impressive.


Day Seven: I continue to ignore admin and am on Twitter slightly less than usual. I blog. What? It’s important for an author with a new book out to stay abreast of social media and blog the rants that are too long for Twitter. It’s also important to watch the cricket in case I one day get around to writing that highly commercial cricket novel I’ve been thinking about writing for years.


Day Eight: I finally write some actual new sentence of the Psychopath Book. They’re total shite.


Day Nine: I write more shitey sentences of the Psychopath Book. I know who these characters are! I can write this book! Shitely! I just have to make sure I never take more than a day or two off ever again.


And repeat. A lot.



TL;DR:
Getting started is really hard.

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Published on February 20, 2016 15:10 • 23 views

February 15, 2016

I think we’ve all had the experience of meeting one of your favourite writers and them turning out to be horrible. They bark at their fans, they’re rude to their publicists. Sometimes you don’t even have to meet them. They launch online attacks on anyone who doesn’t give them five-star reviews, tweet racist “jokes”, or they’re arrested for beating up their partner.


Some writers are truly awful people. Yet some of those truly awful people write brilliant books. How?!


One of my favourite writers is Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian writer, who deservedly won the Nobel Prize in 1920. His 1890 novel Hunger blew my teenaged mind. I’ve read it many times since and still find it amazing. It’s about a bloke wandering around Oslo (then called Christiania) starving. It should be boring; it isn’t. I keep rereading it to try and figure out why. All I’ve got is compelling character + amazing writing.


Hamsun was also a card-carrying fascist. He thought Hitler totally had the right idea. He was tried for being a traitor to Norway after World War 2 and found guilty. You know, because he was.


How could Hamsun, who wrote moving, beautiful, psychologically insightful books, be a fascist? I don’t know. I have theories though.


The first is the fairly obvious one. People compartmentalise. They decide whole groups of people aren’t really people. They only see the psychological complexity of people like them and that’s who they write about: the ones they see as fully human. I suspect that’s what was going on with Hamsun. White Scandinavian/German people = yes. Everyone else = no.


My other theories are a bit more woo woo.


Sometimes something extraordinary happens in the process of creating. I’m convinced that even the worst people can produce magic because of it.


It’s hard to describe, but most creatives will know what I’m talking about. There are times when the writing is going so well it feels like words are pouring out of me, that they have nothing to do with me, even though obviously, I’m the one typing.1 When I’m in that magical zone I can write for hours and have almost no memory of what I wrote.2 It’s almost an out-of-body experience, like being high.3


There are other times when the writing is going well, and the words are flowing, when I’m fully aware of what I’m writing, but somehow I’m making connections I wasn’t previously and I’m smarter. I can see more, and write deeper, and truly understand all the characters, even the villains. This is my favourite kind of writing zone.


During those moments it feels like the act of creating has changed me. I’ve become my best self, full of empathy and insight that I don’t always have. I assume this happens for other writers. Even the evil ones. Because I have met some truly horrible human beings whose books are wonderful. Magic is the only explanation.


TL;DR: Writing is so magical it can even transform nasty people into empathetic souls.


To be clear. This is pretty rare. Most writing days are more sweating and yelling than magicking.This does not, alas, means those words are always perfect. I wish.I imagine. As someone who writes for teenagers I obviously have no first-hand experience. *cough*
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Published on February 15, 2016 21:22 • 42 views

January 26, 2016

Today’s the day you can buy My Sister Rosa in Australia and New Zealand! Woo hoo! A new book by me! Out today! *dances*


I hope you enjoy this charming tale of seventeen-year-old Australian Che Taylor’s adventures in New York City looking after his precocious psychopathic sister, Rosa Klein. Already critics are calling it, “Heartwarming and touching.” Would you believe they called it “Adorable”? Okay, fine, no one is calling it heartwarming, touching or adorable. More like “Creepy” and “soul-destroying.” But, remember, it’s a fine line between heartwarming and soul-destroying.2


You can read the first chapter here and about what inspired the book here.


This is also release day for Kirsty Eagar’s fabulous Summer Skin, which is a sexy contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet set amongst Queensland university students. It’s funny and hot and wonderful. You are in for such a treat with this book.


We will be celebrating their release next week:


Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 6:00pm for a 6:30pm

Kirsty Eagar and me will discuss our books

and talk of Sex and Psychopaths

And answer all your questions for we love Q&A!

Kinokuniya

Level 2, The Galleries,

500 George St,

Sydney, NSW


Hope to see you there, Sydney!


Fear not, lovely Melbourne peeps, we will be there doing our double launch with extra bonus Ellie Marney introducing us a week later on the tenth. And while we’re having our Sydney launch, if you’re in Melbourne, you can go to Leanne Hall’s launch for Iris and the Tiger. I’ve heard nothing but good things. Can’t wait to read it!


She has their mum’s last name, Rosa has their father’s. Just like me and my sister. Except with no psychopathy.Not really.
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Published on January 26, 2016 18:39 • 24 views

January 13, 2016

My US publisher, Soho Teen, have come up with an amazing cover for My Sister Rosa. Feast your eyes:


Rosa_HC REV


What do you think? I love it. I love the echoes of the famous Silence of the Lambs poster. It also reminds me of the cover of my parents’ edition of John Fowles’ The Collector, which I read as a kid, which I can’t find online. Boo! Which also had a pinned butterfly. It’s a wonderful evocation of psychopathy. Well done!


I honestly can’t decide which cover I like best: the Australian one or the US one.


My Sister Rosa will be out in the US in November. You can read the first chapter here and more about where I got the idea here.


Meanwhile it will be out in Australia and New Zealand in two weeks. SO SOON!


Update: I forgot to say who the cover designer is. Vanessa Han. Doesn’t she do fab work?

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Published on January 13, 2016 11:18 • 24 views

January 10, 2016

Recently I critiqued two unpublished novels. Their authors wanted to know whether they should give up or not.


There’s no clear cut answer to that question. Some great novels had unspeakably bad early drafts.1 Some that their author never feels happy with, and are never published, have pretty good early drafts. Who am I to say this particular novel has no hope of one day being excellent?


I have novels started years ago I’ve never managed to get into a publishable state. But who knows? Some day I might. I never give up on a novel. I just kind of abandon them for, um, a while. Sometimes a really long while.


It’s also true that I rarely go back to these abandoned novels. There’s always a newer, more shiny novel to write.


Other writers do go back to them. I know someone who only got an agent after they pulled out a long forgotten novel, rewrote it, and sent that out. It was exactly what the agent they most wanted was looking for.


However, I would definitely suggest you give up on a novel (however temporarily) if you’ve been writing and rewriting it for years. Particularly if it’s the only novel you’ve ever written. It’s more than past time to write a new one. Who knows maybe in the process of writing a second novel you’ll figure out what was wrong with the first one?


Almost every novelist I know has given up on a novel.2 The important thing to remember is that writing that novel was not a waste. What you learned writing the abandoned novel will help with the next one. Bigger than that: YOU WROTE A NOVEL. You did it once so odds are good you can do it again.


Sadly, the lessons learnt from writing the previous novels don’t always directly apply to the next novel. Usually the lessons are more of a what-not-to-do kind of a thing. You’ve learned not to write novels with only one character locked in an empty room. Maybe you’ve learned about creating believable characters, but sadly not much about world building or setting, because you only had that one empty room to describe.3


Each novel tends to present different problems.4 They do this in order to keep things interesting. Thanks, novels.


So, yes, feel free to give up on a novel. But only once you have a complete draft.


If you’ve never finished a novel before, no matter how much you hate it, no matter how convinced you are that it will never work, you need to see it through to a complete draft. Especially if you’ve never completed a draft before.5 Scott has some cogent words to say on the necessity of writing endings as well as beginnings and middles.


It’s also good to keep trying to make a novel work. I know too many (mostly) unpublished novelists who don’t rewrite. Instead of continuing to work on the newly completed draft to make it work they move on to a brand new novel. The problem with doing that is rewriting requires a different set of skills from first drafting. You’ll never write a good novel if you can’t stand to work past that initial draft.


“But I don’t know how to rewrite!” I hear you cry.


For your convenience I have written this handy guide to rewriting. You’re welcome.


Whatever decision you make it’s going to be okay.


TL;DR There is no definitive answer on whether you should give up on your novel or not. It all depends.


None of these novels were unspeakably bad.Or two, or twenty, or a hundred.There are many first novels sent in the one room with hardly andy characters that don’t go anywhere. Funny that. About the only successful novel set in one room I can think of is Emma Emma Donoghue’s Room, which totally pulls it off. But then not the entire novel is set in the room.Unless you’re one of those writers who writes the same book over and over again. If that one book is super popular. Congrats! You are a sure-fire commercial success. We readers love authors who are consistent and don’t freak us out by writing totally different books in completely different genres.Once you’ve finished a bunch of novels you’ll have a better sense of whether a novel isn’t going anywhere and can put it aside if it’s really not working.
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Published on January 10, 2016 13:21 • 30 views

Justine Larbalestier's Blog

Justine Larbalestier
Justine Larbalestier isn't a Goodreads Author (yet), but she does have a blog, so here are some recent posts imported from her feed.
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