What’s your age?
A lonely man
I’m 43. It’s a problem because the main photo of me on my website
is from seven years ago and I designed the site’s whole color scheme around it.
So now it’s about time to update that pic but I don’t want to have to restyle all the
menus. It’s a real dilemma. They say age brings unexpected challenges
but I didn’t see this coming.
Another problem is I have more trouble suspending disbelief.
So where in my youth I would read a line like, “Commander Zorko strode onto
the bridge, his brows furrowed,” and thought, “Yes, excellent, you
have already impressed me, Commander,” now I’m more like, “That is some pretty cliched writing.”
You might think this is a positive, raising my standards, but when your workflow is
blasting out a terrible first draft and reworking it from there, it’s not.
I have to drink a lot more coffee to delude myself into thinking that pearls are dripping
from my fingers whenever they touch the keyboard, that’s for sure. And that’s
a pre-requisite belief for any novelist hoping to complete a first draft,
as far as I know.
It also means I finish fewer books. I used to finish everything, even books I hated.
I would grind my way to the end, my hate for the author burning brighter with
every page. Because once you check out of a story, there’s no coming back.
It just gets worse and worse. Stories are a partnership, a deal between
author and reader, and they don’t work unless both sides hold up their end.
I went to a comedy show once and for some reason
didn’t find him funny, but everyone around me was rolling in the aisles,
so pretty soon I hated that guy with every fiber of my being. Also I felt kind
of psychopathic, because it’s weird to be the only person not laughing. That’s not a great look.
But now I bail out of a book at the slightest provocation. So I’m probably missing out
on some great reads.
I liked The Phantom Menace when it came out in 1999. I really did.
After the 13-minute pod-race scene, all I thought was, “That was a bold cinematic choice,
inserting an action sequence with no relevance to anything else in the story.” All the stupid stuff
I loved. But you just can’t do that at 43. I was unable to enjoy Pacific Rim
because MY GOD WHY ARE THE ROBOTS PUNCHING THE MONSTERS. Like obviously that’s the
point of the movie, why go see it if you don’t want robots to punch monsters, but SERIOUSLY ARE
THERE NO LONG-RANGE WEAPONS, OH WAIT, YES THERE ARE, AND THEY PUT THEM IN THE ARMS OF
THE ROBOTS, WHO ARE PUNCHING MONSTERS.
You see the problem.
Max, I hear you’re Australian. Do you support Australia becoming a republic?
Yes, I do! Australia almost became a republic in 1999 but the referendum was
defeated 45% to 55%. It was interesting because according to the polls, most
people were in favor of the general idea, but against any specific implementation.
So we wanted to be a republic right up until someone said, “Would we have
a Prime Minister or a President, then?” at which point it dissolved into bitter
This seems to be the general case. For example, a couple of months ago New Zealand
tried to change its flag, since, like Australia’s, it has a certain
Beneath-The-Iron-Heel-Of-The-Colonial-Empire vibe to it, and that idea had a lot of
support in principle, which collapsed when faced with a particular alternative design.
That was when the “Classy Silver Fern” people realized they didn’t have as much in common
with the “Kiwi Shooting Laser Beams Out of its Eyes” people as they thought.
I think the lesson is that you should make people to agree to do something before
you tell them exactly what.
What do you do in your off-time when you aren’t writing books?
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:
write things that aren’t books, like TV pilots that will never get made
Not really a question, but it was really interesting to see your book Lexicon in my local library!
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.”
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?
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:
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.
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?
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.