Photo by Lauren Thomas
Max Barry is an
Australian who pretended to sell high-end computer
systems for Hewlett-Packard while secretly writing his
first novel, Syrup (1999). In
fact, he still has the laptop he wrote it on because
HP forgot to ask for it back, but keep that to yourself.
He put an extra X in his name for Syrup because he
thought it would be a funny joke about marketing and failed
to realize everyone would assume he was a pretentious
Government, his second novel, was published in 2003
with no superfluous Xs and sold much better.
Max's third novel, Company, was
published in 2006, and his fourth,
in 2012, was based on a
real-time interactive web serial
written and delivered in real-time one page per day from
this web site. It made more sense than it sounds.
Max's fifth novel, Lexicon,
was named one of the Best 10 Books of the Year by
Max also created the online political
for which he is far more famous amongst high school students
and poli-sci majors than his novels.
He was born March 18, 1973, and lives in
Melbourne, Australia, where he writes full-time, the
advantage being that he can do it while wearing only
Is VR going to live up to the hype this time?
Not for me. I can’t change direction without feeling motion sick, so Virtual Reality headsets are super-charged vomit inducement machines.
Also, I know it’s just for games, but someone with one of those things strapped to their head looks like the ultimate psychically defenseless human being to me, because they can only perceive what a computer decides. I mean, I’m sure it’s fine. But if I could put you in one of those and control what you saw and heard, I bet I could convince you to do anything at all and make you think it was your choice.
Max… Do your toilets flush in the opposite direction of those in the Northern Hemisphere, or has the Simpsons been lying to us all of these years?
Good question. You are referring to the
which influences toilets
to flush counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and the correct
clockwise direction here in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a real force but it’s so
weak it only works if your toilet is in a climate-controlled, vacuum-sealed laboratory,
which is probably not true for both of us.
For me, the real Hemispherical mind-bender is the date the seasons begin. Everyone
knows the seasons are backward in the Northern Hemisphere. But DID YOU KNOW
they’re not exactly opposite? Countries have different definitions of when each season
begins so it can be Winter in the US while it’s Spring in Australia.
Unfortunately you can never be sure if this is true, because it’s one of those
things people like to be pranksters about. If you know someone in another Hemisphere,
the conversation goes like this:
You: What season is it there?
Them: Winter. Why?
You: Are you kidding me?
Them: No. Why? It’s Summer there, right?
You: No, Summer isn’t until next week.
Them: You’re joking, right?
You: Are you?
Max! So good to see you back! You’ve been sorely missed… totally can’t wait for your new story. So, question: how do you know a story isn’t going well? Or, how do you know it *is* going well?
Thanks for the question! Over the years I have figured out a foolproof process for telling whether a story is working.
This won’t work for everyone, but it works for me, 100% of the time. Occasionally I think
I’ve found an exception, but then I realize I haven’t.
Foolproof Method for Determining Whether Book is Working
- Do you wonder whether the book is working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
- Do you ask people to read parts of the book to tell you whether it’s working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
- Do you stop to go write other stories? If yes, it’s not working. If no, continue.
- When you read the last thing you wrote, do you feel like writing more? If no, it’s not working. If yes, continue.
- Are you convinced the book is (or will be) the greatest thing in the world ever? If yes, congratulations, it’s working, for now.
Books that aren’t working can be made to work, though. They may require radical
surgery, like removing everything except one scene, but it can be done. Most of my
books were Not Working for a long time before they started working.
Okay okay! I have a new plan. From now on, this site is all about
ASK MAX!, where people like you post random questions and I post back.
This should be a big improvement over the current situation where I
wonder if there are any topics that someone needs my opinion on and decide no.
BUT WHY NOT JUST DO THAT ON TWITTER, MAX, you ask. Good question. The
answer is: this is my site, crafted with my own bare hands,
and one day Twitter is going to become totally commercial and everyone will be like,
“Ugh, I hate Twitter but now I’m trapped there,” and I’ll be all,
HAHAHAHA. Although I’m probably still going to use Twitter, too. I just
don’t want to live there.
So quick update on what I’ve been up to lately! Mostly I’ve been writing
many different books that kind of suck. That’s less fun than it sounds. I’ve been
trying to fix this in various ways, such as closing down all social networking until I
got it right. I don’t know if that helped. It may have made things worse. But anyway,
I found a story. And I’m pretty deep into it now and it’s failed to die so I’m
a thousand times happier with writing than I’ve been in a long while. So that’s good.
Another thing I’ve been doing is making a computer game. WHAAAT. Yes. I have.
I actually can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner. Computer games are story-writing plus programming.
I love those things. They’re basically all I’ve done since 1999.
And this has been turning out unexpectedly well. I don’t know when it will
be ready to show and in the meantime I’m going to keep quiet on what it’s actually about,
just like I do with novels, so… yeah. This is a content-free kind of update.
That’s it. Please hit me with questions via the super-cute speech bubble on
the site front page. And I’m sorry for going silent for so long!
Especially to you guys who have been with me for years and years. You are a big part of what
has made my life and career so rewarding. Please forgive me for going off alone until
I could find something good enough for you.
I think I must look like I’m smiling when I’m actually in a lot of pain. Like
today, in the middle of a 15km (9.4mi) run, I’m barely
keeping it together, so my face is a rictus of agony, my
lips pulled back from my teeth in a skull-like grimace,
and people running in the other direction are all, “Hi!”
and big smiles and eyebrow jiggles. This has been going on for a while.
At first I just assumed runners were naturally friendly. But there’s
some surprise in their reactions, so I think I must be grinning at them.
They are definitely not picking up my real feeling, i.e. that I am
moments away from death. If they were, they’d look a lot
My Dad would have turned 70 today. He was some kind of runner.
I only began running after he died, so I never appreciated this.
Now I realize his 2:45 marathons are practically superhuman.
I can maintain that pace for approximately 10 minutes, and that’s
I’m working on too many books again. Sorry about that. It’s
a fast way to finish none of them. In the meantime, though, I
am drowning in foreign editions. I love getting foreign editions.
I could never throw one away. So I have shelves of
Portuguese Jennifer Governments and French
Syrups. And now a Chinese Machine Man!
This novel gets the most interesting covers:
The new Lexicon paperback is still selling well, which is great but
doesn’t quite free me from the constant terror of thinking my
career could end at any minute. I’ve thought about the reasons
behind this feeling, because it’s been there essentially the entire
time, and have concluded it’s because when you’re an
author, your career really could end at any minute. Each year it
doesn’t is like a little miracle. I visit my Dad’s cemetery on his birthday,
just to say hello and talk about the last year, so that’s what I’m
going to tell him today: when I run, it looks like I’m smiling, and
holy hell he was fast, and this last year, it has been another miracle.
Someone explain to me how this happened.
Didn’t we just do