MaxBarry.com
will dance for food

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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  • Syrup: movie tie-in
  • Jennifer Government: US hardback
  • Company: US hardback
  • Syrup: US hardback
  • Jennifer Government: German large paperback
  • Company: US paperback
  • Syrup: US paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Italian paperback
  • Company: German paperback
  • Syrup: Australian paperback (Scribe)
  • Jennifer Government: Spanish paperback
  • Company: Dutch paperback
  • Syrup: Chinese paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Dutch paperback reissue
  • Company: Brazilian paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Brazilian paperback
  • Company: Polish paperback
  • Syrup: Australian large paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Taiwanese paperback
  • Company: Spanish paperback
  • Syrup: US Audio
  • Jennifer Government: Swedish paperback
  • Syrup: Australian small paperback
  • Jennifer Government: Swedish paperback
  • Syrup: German large paperback
  • Syrup: German small paperback
  • Syrup: French paperback
  • Syrup: Israeli paperback

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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.

Wed 10
Feb
2016

Naked Wet Flour-Encrusted Tong Strangulations

What Max Reckons

Hello Max,

If memory serves me correctly, you wrote a blog about cement being your prefered way to hide a corpse quite a number of years ago. But what would be your prefered (if not favorite) way to kill someone?

Atom

In order to get away with it, or maximize my enjoyment? Because if you mean the second one, you’re a sick puppy, Atom. Get some help.

I think there must be one layer of misdirection. You want the kind of murder where people’s first reaction is, “What the hell, how did that happen,” then a minute later, “Ohhhh.” They think they’ve figured out the secret. But they haven’t. That’s when people stop thinking. No-one wants the thing they figured out to be wrong.

For example, let’s say say I just strangled you to death, Atom. The first thing I’m going to do is strip you naked. Then I’m going to drag you to the bathroom, dip your head in the toilet, put a pair of tongs in your hand, roll you in flour, and throw you off the balcony.

So the cops are in an unfamiliar environment. That’s important, too. They’re more experienced with murder than I am. They know what to look for. But they won’t have dealt with too many naked wet flour-encrusted tong strangulations. That puts us back on even ground.

Now for the misdirection. I’m leaving a suicide note signed by you. I CAN’T LIVE IN A WORLD THAT WON’T ACCEPT MY TONG-BASED SEX RITUALS. But it’s not convincing. The cops were already going to be suspicious and here it is, the thing that justifies their feelings. That’s when they find your phone, with angry messages to your girlfriend. WILL YOU SHUT UP ABOUT THE TONGS. I’M NEVER GOING TO DO THE TONG THING WITH YOU. Bang. Case closed. That girl is going to prison, because one twist is plenty.

Tue 02
Feb
2016

Setting

Writing

Hey, one of the things my teachers are always telling me I need to improve on in my writing is setting. Even in this simple question, you can note the complete absence of any indications of time and space. Seeing as my teachers are all incompetent, you got any tips that could help me?

Adam’s Neighbour

Setting is very important. Without setting, your characters would float helplessly in a formless void. I definitely recommend setting your story somewhere, so that they can move about and order coffees.

I’m not a big setting guy. You probably knew that. Probably I am half your problem, since you think my opinion worth writing in for. Maybe you should stop reading books like mine. But if we’re separating stories out into their constituent parts (which kills them, but anyway), setting ranks very low. Here’s a list of some things that might be in a scene or story, from most to least important, according to me:

  1. Someone wants something

  2. One person says something that the other person can’t think of a good reply to

  3. The feeling that something bad is going to happen soon

  4. Guess what, something wasn’t like you thought

  5. The feeling that something good is going to happen soon

  6. Somebody dies

  7. Where everybody is

  8. How old they are

  9. What they’re wearing

But setting is important. A good setting makes everything more believable. It’s just something I tend to leave until last, once everything else is working. Because no-one loves a book for its setting, and it’s relatively easily changed. This isn’t a film where you have to rebuild the sets. You can do it with a sentence here and there. Small details, implying larger ones. Like if we’re in a hospital, you don’t want to describe the walls, or the color of the uniforms, or say how many rooms there are. We’ve all seen plenty of hospitals; that stage is prebuilt in our heads. But you can mention an old guy shuffling by in urine-soaked pajama pants, or a woman sitting up doing her lipstick in her bed, or the bucket catching leaks behind the nurses’ desk. Something different and suggestive like that.

Thu 28
Jan
2016

What I’m Angry About Today

What Max Reckons

Hey Max, what are you angry about today?

Anonymous

My newspaper offered a “life hack” for better storage of food in zip-lock bags: Put your germ-laden lips on the bag and suck the remaining air out. They had a video of a woman doing her best not to exhale a mouth full of bacteria into a bag, to demonstrate. That really enraged me. I’m no doctor but I’ll take my chances with regular air over sealing in the escaped vestiges of whatever just crawled back out of your lungs. Really, it’s the label “life hack” that put it over the top. Like they think it’s so clever. Why don’t you go save some snakebite victims by suckling at their open wounds, you barbarians.

Mon 18
Jan
2016

Stages of Creative Laziness

Writing

hey buddy are you workin on anything new? i’m on the toilet right now at work and can think of no one i’d rather have in here with me.

davem

Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. Later, when I answer my own call of nature, I will think of you, too.

Yes, I’m always working on something new. The funny thing about novels is the enormous lag time to publication. I cycle like this:

Stage 1: New novel is not working and everything is terrible. But my previous one was just published so people think I’m industrious and productive.

Stage 2: Several abandoned creative detours later, I’m still struggling to animate the stitched-together corpse of the new book. But the previous book is coming out in paperback so there’s still no pressure.

Stage 3: BWAHAHAHA. It’s alive. Progress is made. People ask me when the new book will be out because it’s been a while, dude.

Stage 4: OH MY GOD MAX WHERE IS YOUR NEW BOOK. I have a first draft, so am tempted to say, “Oh it’s basically done,” even though I know in reality there is a year of rewrites looming.

Stage 5: It has a publication date, so I can point to that. This is my laziest time creatively because it’s so tempting to polish up the thing that’s already fully formed, or work on its promotion, rather than pick up the shovel and head down to the cemetery to start sifting through body parts for the next book. And I can totally get away with it because no-one will say, “Hey, Max, I know the new book isn’t even out yet, but it’s time to start collecting body parts.”

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