MaxBarry.com
nice idea, shame about the execution

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Fri 22
Apr
2016

When I’m Not Writing

Max

What do you do in your off-time when you aren’t writing books?

James

I think about high schools. My daughter needs one in two years (I KNOW) and obviously the wrong choice will ruin her life forever. I mean, as a parent, you feel like every decision you make might ruin your kid’s life, right from the moment you get them, but this is a big one.

So I’ve been researching schools, and visiting schools, and emailing school teachers asking if I can come and speak to their classes, so I can figure out how good they are. If they say no, I know they have high standards. AHAHAHAHA. No, not really. It’s actually the opposite: If they say no, they suddenly seem terrible, like when you like someone and discover they don’t like you back. So all I’m really doing is making myself super biased.

Another problem is that when I visit a private school, I get a super-slick professional presentation, because that school is a business with an incentive to attract new customers. Whereas there’s a state high school near me that’s in such demand, they won’t even meet prospective parents. They had an Open Day but it felt grudging. So the private school comes off better, but they’re the only one selling.

Plus private schools are expensive. But then if you won’t bankrupt yourself for your kid’s education, what are you doing? But maybe that’s self-defeating because you wind up stressed and limited and that’s not good for anyone, either.

Then there’s the single-sex vs co-educational thing. I’m totally sold on the academic benefits of girls-only schooling, but I wonder about the social side, because there was a girls’ school across the road from my high school, and those girls were crazy. But then they were also Catholic. So that could have been it.

Today I visited a school where all the students seemed happy. That was pretty great. Maybe that’s it.

P.S. Aside from this I also:

  1. write things that aren’t books, like TV pilots that will never get made

  2. do NationStates

Thanks to Australian customs, Amber Heard’s dog is now the biggest celebrity I’ve ever met. youtube.com/watch?v=Y4Xh2K…

Wed 13
Apr
2016

A Real Book

Syrup

Not really a question, but it was really interesting to see your book Lexicon in my local library!

Matt

Why, because it’s not a real book? Because I go around slipping self-printed copies of my novels onto library shelves and into bookstores just so I can pretend for a few vain moments that my life and work matter? Because that is PREPOSTEROUS.

I’ve blogged about this before, but the first time I saw my novel in an actual bookstore, it felt a lot like someone put it there by accident. It wasn’t like, “Wow, I have a real book.” It was: “Look at all those real books, plus mine.”

Answering questions about “Lexicon” for Reddit bookclub right now: reddit.com/r/books/commen…

Thu 24
Mar
2016

Post-Zombie Apocalypse Plans

Writing

In the inevitable event of a zombie apocalypse in Australia, what would be your plans to ensure your survival? Will you still write books for the non-infected population?

Atom

I don’t think so. It’s hard enough to make a living as an author without the undead clawing at the windows. I can barely work with metaphorical monsters trying to consume my brain.

That raises a good question, though, which is why I write. Some of my reasons over the years, roughly chronologically, have been:

  • It’s fun

  • Expectation that brilliant words will change world

  • Hope of fame & fortune

  • Hope of seeing book on shelves one day

  • Better job than telephone sales

  • Story trying to crawl its way out of my brain won’t let me think about anything else

  • Just published novel and too young to retire

It’s never one thing, of course. But I used to be very motivated by the idea of getting attention while today I’m not at all. That probably happens to everyone as they get older. Or else I’m disappearing into an elaborate fantasy world where my characters are the only people I really care about. One of those.

Today, I mostly write because when I sit down and read back what I wrote yesterday, it seems interesting but also not quite right, so I feel the urge to fix it and also see what happens next. It’s actually not that different to reading any book, only with more self-loathing. Also it takes longer. But I think readers and writers are fundamentally trying to do the same thing: find out what happens.

Post-zombie apocalypse, I don’t think I’ll write novels, but I will tell stories to children. I think that will be important.

Thu 03
Mar
2016

When I Quit Writing

Writing

Hey Max! I’m sure writing has highs and lows. Have you ever had a point where you thought about packing the whole gig in? What was that point? Why didn’t you?

Anonymous

This morning. I thought I knew what I wanted to write. But when I started, it sucked. The words felt stupid. In the past, when this has happened, I have told myself, Just push through, but now I know that when I do that, I wind up with a lot of stupid words, which I have to delete the next day. It’s always a mistake to think I might be underrating my words; that if I just slap them down there, it might turn out that other people like them better than I do. THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

So then I stopped, because it wasn’t working, and felt sad, because I couldn’t write. I had forgotten how to do it. My career was over.

Fortunately this is a frequent occurrence so I knew it wouldn’t last long. What I have learned is that being a complete failure as a writer is not my fault. It’s the book’s fault. If the book was good enough, it would make me enjoy writing it more. Working on a good book is great fun. It’s joyful. Words come easily. It doesn’t make sense that I would be able to write plenty of good words one minute and no words at all the next. I’m still the same guy. So it must be the book.

Therefore I just need take a break and change something when I get back. Have an idea. Try a different opening. Delete someone. And tada! Words. Sooner or later, words.

Wed 24
Feb
2016

How I Won My Wife

Max

I had the pleasure of reading “Machine Man” for college and right now we have to write an argumentative essay on whatever we want. Do you mind sharing your thoughts on Technology and how it affects Relationships and Face-to-Face communication?

Marc

I’m not sure this is a good question for someone who never goes anywhere. My face-to-face communications today have been:

  • I bought a quiche and a cookie from some people in a cafe

  • I accidentally scared a girl while running

  • My cat was like, “I’m going upstairs,” and I was like, “Oh no, you’re not,” then she ran upstairs.

Also family. I do talk to my family.

But yes, it is a complex and fascinating question. For example, I convinced my wife-to-be to move across the country for me by writing her letters. She was two thousand miles away at the time. So in the absence of technology, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with her at all.

But if there had been more technology, like Skype, that would have been bad for me, too. I was very fortunate to be wooing her at a time of prohibitively expensive long-distance phone calls. Because I’m really playing to my strengths with the written word. I come off relatively well there. If I’d had to carry on actual conversations, I don’t think things would have gone so well. She had seen me attempt conversation shortly before she moved away and clearly it wasn’t very compelling. It was the absence of affordable communications technology that caused her to forget that and come back.

(Obviously once she got here, she remembered. But by then she’d already uprooted her life. So she was stuck.)

I believe that comprehensively answers your question. Good luck with your essay.

Thu 18
Feb
2016

Outlines: Nice in Theory

Writing

Are you a “knows-the-beginning, knows-the-end, so-now-let’s-write-the-middle” kinda writer, or are you “let’s-start-with-one-image-in-mind-and-see-where-that-takes-me” kinda writer?

Basu

The second one. The first one makes a lot of sense in theory, and it’s what I’d do if it didn’t inevitably lead to me sobbing over a tub of comfort ice-cream. But it does.

I don’t know whether anyone has made the first one work. I know some writers claim to have done it. But I think they must be lying. That would mean you can figure out almost everything you need to about a book before you start it. That’s not my experience. My process is more like this:

Day 1: “That’s a great idea.”

Day 5: “That idea was terrible but this character is interesting.”

Day 20: “I hate everything about this book except these two lines I just wrote.”

Day 40: “What was that original idea again, it wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Day 41: “OH RIGHT, YES, YES IT WAS.”

Day 50: “Ha ha this first chapter is great now that I changed everything I used to like about it.”

Day 150: “The later chapters are so much better than the first. The first one makes me want to vomit with anger.”

And so on. I also like to throw out the entire second half of a draft at some stage. Well, I don’t like to. But it’s what usually happens.

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