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Wed 12
Dec
2007

New Fiction: How I Met My Daughter

Writing Creepy doll's head pic from How I Met My DaughterI wrote another short story! I know, it’s crazy. It’s like I’m just pumping these things out. Anyway, it’s in stores now in Australia as part of The Bulletin’s Summer Reading Edition, in a super-cool layout complete with creepy doll’s head pic. I tell you, there’s something about a creepy doll’s head pic that just works with my writing, you know? Maybe I can get them to print some in my next novel.

If you’re not in Australia, this would be the time when you start to get annoyed. I mean, Australia was already pretty ace, but now it’s also got new Max Barry short stories with creepy doll’s head pics? That’s just too much. But I say would, because The Bulletin said I can post their spread here for your online enjoyment. Which is damn cool of them. So here it is:

How I Met My Daughter: pretty PDF version (120KB), layout and images copyright The Bulletin, or plain web version.

This story is quite different to my usual groove, and I’m interested in what you think—whether you prefer this or Springtide, for example.

Mon 22
Oct
2007

Barry vs Doctorow: The Ultimate Smackdown

Writing Forbes is running a special on “The Future,” and a bunch of writers, including me, contributed fiction. The deal was everyone’s story had to be based on this:

It’s the year 2027, and the world is undergoing a global financial crisis. The scene is an American workplace.

I was intrigued by the idea of going head-to-head against other writers. It sounded like a kind of writers’ cage match. I found myself thinking, “All right, Doctorow’s gonna lead with a world controlled by draconian IP law, he won’t be able to resist. But maybe I can counter with the entire American economy being purely about advertising. He’ll never see it coming.”

Possibly no other writers saw it this way. They may have just been concentrating on writing a good story. Suckers.

Anyway, my short story, Springtide, is up now. To read the others, including shorts by Cory Doctorow and Warren Ellis, visit the Forbes Future page and scroll down to “Fiction.”

Forbes has a 90-day exclusive on this piece but after that I’ll post it alongside my other short stories, with formatting that doesn’t suck so much.

In other news, you can now search this site. Little box on the left there. Thanks to Wyatt, who complained about this until I got off my butt and added it.

Sat 13
Oct
2007

Rookie Mistakes #4: Horror Novelist Dismembers Girlfriend

Writing Maybe you heard about the arrest of Jose Luis Calva, who is described as an “aspiring horror novelist.” Police found a draft of his manuscript Cannibalistic Instincts, along with pieces of his girlfriend stashed in various places around his apartment, including in the frypan. I know, I know, I had the same reaction: it’s pretty unfair to call him “aspiring.” It sounds like that draft was finished. And not just finished, but comprehensively researched. Sure, some people say you’re not a novelist until you’re published, but in this day of print-on-demand and internet vanity presses, is that really a meaningful distinction? I say, if the guy went to all the trouble of crafting a story arc, putting words on the page day after day, and boiling his girlfriend’s flesh, he’s a novelist. Give him that.

I’m sometimes asked how much research you should do when working on a novel, so let me say: this is probably too much. It wasn’t just the girlfriend, you see; there’s also a missing ex-girlfriend and a chopped-up prostitute. That seems excessive to me. One, I could understand. I mean, I wouldn’t support it. You let horror novelists start cutting up hookers, and the next thing you know Tom Clancy is commandeering nuclear submarines off the coast of Florida. Or, I guess, appointing ghost writers to do that for him. But the point is I can imagine a frustrated Jose at his keyboard, a half-finished sentence dangling from the screen, thinking: “How do you sever a femur with a railway spike?”

Three corpses, though, that’s getting carried away. I haven’t read Cannibalistic Instincts, but I bet it contains long, tedious passages where Jose was unable to resist info-dumping his hard-won knowledge onto the reader. That’s the problem when you get to body number three: your research overshadows the writing. At that point, Jose really needed to be cutting fewer limbs and more adverbs. Fleshing out his story, not his apartment. Also, having a supportive spouse or girlfriend can be really important, especially to a first-time writer, so I can’t help but think it was counter-productive to eat her.

But there’s something in this tale to make writers everywhere feel a little better about themselves, because no matter how bad your own work is, at least you wrote it without butchering anybody. That’s a plus in anybody’s language. The corner Jose has backed himself into is that even if his book is published, when people read it they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, it’s good… but is it three murdered innocents good?” It’s extra pressure he doesn’t need. I mention this because I’m sure there are unpublished horror writers out there thinking, “No wonder I can’t get an agent; all the other horror writers are out there sawing limbs.” Sure, that probably provides a certain amount of realism that could elevate your fiction to a more visceral plane. I mean, I’m just guessing. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hollywood bible Variety reported this story with the line, “How soon before someone gobbles up the film rights to this?” But still. Call me a purist, but I prefer to do things the old-fashioned way: dismember people in my head.

Wed 05
Sep
2007

Max Does a Workshop

Writing And sorry to abuse your email inbox, but I’ve just signed on with the good people at ChuckPalahniuk.net to run an online writing workshop based around novel-writing. Places are limited, so if you want in, clicky clicky:

Max at ChuckPalaniuk.net

Yes, they photoshopped me into a suit.

Fri 22
Jun
2007

The Response

Writing I heard back from Bill, my editor, about my new book. It wasn’t good news. It wasn’t bad news, either. It was kind of inexplicable news. I’m still trying to digest it.

My fear, of course, has been that Bill would say, “Max, you know this book you’re so excited about… well, it’s not so great.” Every time this has threatened to overwhelm me the last couple of weeks, I shooed it away, because I knew in my heart that surely that could not be true: this was a great book, my best, even.

And it turns out that Bill does think it’s great. So too, apparently, do other people he’s shown it to. I pushed him on this, in case he was doing that thing where you say only nice things to the author because my God they’re temperamental, but no: I really think he considers it quality.

That’s the good news. The bad news is he can’t publish it.

It’s hard for me to explain why. It’s hard for me to understand why. I think it has a little to do with the nature of the story, and a lot to do with the nature of the publishing business. I can’t relate the details here without being immensely unprofessional, even for me, so that will have to do, sorry. But the situation is incredibly bizarre, like something out of one of my books. (One of the published ones, ha ha.)

Bill is a genius editor. When he says there’s a publishing problem, I completely believe him. I know he’s looking out for me and my career. He’s proven his skill and dedication over a couple of books.

There are options. I have to believe I can get this book out there somehow. Surely we’ll figure out something.

Surely.

This is a very weird feeling.

Fri 25
May
2007

Max Craps On About Writing: Originality

Writing I mentioned earlier that I’m planning to talk a little about writing this year. Today I carry that threat through.

To those of you who couldn’t care less about this topic: my God, can you put aside your own selfish interests for five seconds? No, wait, I mean: sorry. But there are people out there interested in this. I know because whenever I post about it, I get emails of weeping gratitude. That’s hard to resist.

So to originality. I raise this because I think it’s reasonably common for unpublished (and underpublished) writers to think: “Man, the only way to make it as an author is to churn out predictable, formulaic crap. Nobody’s interested in publishing really original books.” Well, when I say this is a common attitude, I mean I used to hold it, and I assume everybody is like me. There I was in 1998, collecting rejection letters for Syrup, and the underlying message seemed to be that it wasn’t mainstream enough. And I couldn’t describe my own book; I couldn’t find the pithy couple of sentences that people seemed to want, that would make them say, “That sounds interesting,” instead of their eyes glazing over with confusion. I needed something like: “Terrorists hijack a submarine and ex-Special Forces agent Jack Fyre is the only man who can stop it.”

It’s tempting to believe that formulaic crap sells because there seems to be so much of it. But I now think you can look at a shelf full of Grisham novels or whatever and assume they’re all the same until you read them. Then you find some common elements, for sure, but much less than you thought. There is formula out there, but not much of it.

I reacted to my Syrup rejections by writing a standard, genre thriller. It was terrible. And I learned that you never improve anything by making it less original. It’s the opposite: the worst thing writing can be is not new.

I’m convinced this isn’t just me. I think everybody wants newness. Editors, agents, readers: we all want new plots, new ideas, new ways of looking at the world. Nobody wants to get twenty pages into a book and know where it’s going, or even feel too much like they’ve seen all this before. Even within a genre’s iron-clad conventions, we want twists, surprises, and reinventions.

Young writers in particular can sometimes try to crawl inside a pre-conceived box labeled “novel” or “screenplay,” and end up with something far less interesting than if they’d forged their own path. I’m not saying you want to hit the other extreme, and pursue a lone, bizarre vision with no regard for how it reads. But you must nurture the things that make your story and your writing unique—that make you unique, since writing is letting people crawl around inside your head. Billions of people can write a sentence. Why should I bother reading yours, unless they’re different?

Fri 18
May
2007

The Exceptionals Goes to Manhattan

Writing Now I don’t want to go on and on about this new book. Well, I do. I really do. But I realize that’s of limited interest when you can’t actually read it, and probably won’t be able to for at least a year. And maybe it’s of limited interest even then. Although why are you bothering to read my blogs? That’s just weird, man.

Anyway. The fact is, the most exciting thing I did this week was email it to my agent. From there it will go to Bill, my editor. Bill hasn’t read it yet, so I will wait with thoughts like these: “He’s going to love it. It’s by far my best book. Maybe he’ll hate it. It’s probably all wrong for my demographic and the market has changed and he’ll ask if I’ve written anything else lately. Oh, shit. I’ve wasted a year.”

Now I know from responses to a recent blog that some of you find the idea of my career heading anywhere but upward laughable. Or at least you were kind of enough to pretend that. But you have to keep in mind, I’ve been dumped by a publisher once. If you had heard nothing but positive things right up until the moment they showed you the door, you’d have paranoia issues, too.

So even though I love this book, love it, I know that until I hear back from Bill I will fret. I will regret posting this blog, for making the humiliation when it gets rejected so much more public.

But today: damn. I just sent my best book to my publisher. I’m ecstatic.

Fri 27
Apr
2007

The Joy of Creation

Writing So I’m almost finished the last pre-publisher draft of my new book, and I’m watching the TV show Heroes. Where I live we’re about three months behind the US. Well, a few weeks ago on Heroes they introduced a minor character with a super power that’s very similar to one of mine. Uh, I mean, similar to a particular talent that one of my characters has. It’s not particularly original—it’s a form of mind control—but in the show it’s described in an atypical way, the exact same atypical way I’ve used.

Last episode, this character shot herself in the head. On the sofa, I said, “Yes!” It was a terrific moment.

Hopefully by the time my book comes out, nobody will remember her.

Wed 11
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Days #11-13 (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Melbourne)

Writing I wake to the aroma of banana loaf. I’ve made barely a dent in Katrina’s goodies, and my hotel room smells as if Momma’s been a-bakin’. It’s quite delightful. Hotels should consider leaving out banana loaf instead of chocolates, I think.

Take two for Google. This time I seem to have the right day, and Ricky leads me through the campus to do my talk. And oh my God. The stories are true. It is the most wonderful place in the world. It’s like the company is saying, “Just come in, hang out, and I’ll give you everything you could possibly want. And if, you know, you have a minute free and want to do some work for us, that’d be cool, too.”

There are endless cafeterias; free, of course. Snack and drink machines everywhere. Massage chairs. A laundromat. A beach volleyball court. A wave pool. Grass, trees, open space. A full-scale model of SpaceShipOne. A T-Rex skeleton being attacked by a flock of pink flamingos. And geeks, geeks, as far as the eye can see: young, free, happy geeks. I want to weep for the years I spent at HP: why did I waste a single minute of my life there when this exists? If I didn’t already have my dream job, I swear I would throw myself on the Google doorstep and beg for employment.

Which makes things a little ridiculous, because I am here to preach about the innate evil of workplaces, and Google’s campus is so wonderful that I expect bunnies to frolic amongst the cubicles while chocolate donuts rain from the sky. Still, I’m not persuaded that my thesis is wrong. I strongly suspect that Google will never be as good a place to work again as it is right now. Today, Google’s corporate identity is dominated by the personality of its founders. I expect that as it ages, and outlives the people who started it, the corporation’s natural inclinations will gradually take over. After all, one time, long ago, HP was something like this.

The good thing about speaking to a room full of people who have probably never heard of me is that I can dredge out old stories I no longer tell on book tour out of fear that everyone who cares has already heard them. I also try to make the most out of the sensation that I am a Person Worth Listening To, because I know that in 24 hours I will be back to Person Who Needs To Do Those Dishes.

[Update: Here’s the full Google video of my talk.]

The very first question is whether I am wearing the same shirt as in my author photo on the back of the book. I confess that I am, and use as my excuse that it’s all I have clean on my last day of tour. But hey, I’m at Google. There are guys here who probably consider it unnecessary and inefficient to own more than one shirt.

Back to my hotel, and as I pack for the last time I begin to feel like I might miss this. I dunno; there’s just something about people rushing to open doors for you and delivering hamburgers to your room at 1am that’s fairly easy to get used to.

The desk clerk asks if he can fetch me a cab, and I say, “No thanks, I’m catching Bart.” I am quite excited about my plans to catch Bart, and being able to use the sentence, “No thanks, I’m catching Bart.” I was meant to take a cab, but when I mentioned this to Katrina last night she was horrified at the idea, since Bart pretty much runs direct from my hotel room to SFO check-in. So I trundle my suitcase down Market St to the station. Unfortunately it’s 5pm and a lot of people are doing the same thing, only without suitcases and with annoyed looks at people standing around with suitcases trying to figure out where they’re going. I know that most public transport systems don’t make much of an effort to tell newbies how to use them, but Bart seems to take that to a whole new level of mystery. It even leaves up to me how much the ticket should cost: at first it suggests $20, I bargain it down to five cents with the down arrow, then we compromise on $5, which sounds about fair to me. I hope any transit police I encounter feel the same way.

The train is packed and disappointingly not covered with Simpsons characters or, really, remarkable in any way. It’s just a train. So sitting there with my 50-pound suitcase biting into my thighs, I’m thinking I probably should have caught that cab after all. But I don’t want to leave you with the vague idea that this is all Katrina’s fault. I want that to be clear. It totally is.

On my ninth journey through airport security screening in eleven days, I find myself appreciating how polite and serene the staff are. They deal with the exact same situations about a million times per day. I am already shouting in my head: Hey, you! Shoes off, idiot! You there, a laptop in your bag? What are you, stupid? Whoa! Where do you think you’re going with that jacket? Hey! Yes, moron, you! Shoes! SHOES!

For the flight home I am reaquainted with my old friend seat 48G, which no amount of begging, calling, and mouse-clicking over the last two weeks has been able to budge me from. But it turns out that the seat beside me is miraculously empty—one of only a handful of spaces on the entire flight. This allows me to angle my legs diagonally under the next seat along and, oh sweet jesus yes, straighten them. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing you can fall asleep without risking Deep Vein Thrombosis.

We touch down in Melbourne and before long I’m through Customs. At first I can’t see Jen and Finlay, and do a big circuit of the arrivals hall. Then I spot them from behind. I yell, “Hey!” They turn and grin. Jen sets Fin down and she stumble-runs toward me across the floor. It’s like the day I left, except instead of leaping into my arms, she pulls up right in front of me, looking suddenly shy. I sweep her up and hug her tight, and after a second I feel her little arms hug me back.

Wed 04
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Days 9-10 (Phoenix, San Francisco)

Writing I can’t sleep. Part of the problem is that when I lie down, all the blood in my body rushes to my sinuses. Actually, maybe that’s rushing phlegm. Yeah. It’s phlegm. The other part of the problem is that back home, it’s Round 1 of the football season, and my team is playing.

It would be stupid to get up, turn on my laptop, and check the scores online. The game won’t finish until 3am my time, so I won’t get to find out the result tonight anyway. But…

I get up, turn on my laptop, and check the scores online. It’s Richmond 44, Carlton 44. I also discover that there’s a streaming radio broadcast available. “Hmm…” I say.

At 3am, I’ve got the laptop in bed with me, piping out commentary. We lose. I turn it off and fall asleep.

Sunday is a travel day: the first day without a bookstore event since I started the tour. All I have to do is fly to San Francisco, check into my hotel, and marvel at the can of personal oxygen on offer in the bathroom. It’s a relief to know that’s there, just in case, say, all the oxygen molecules in the air coincidentally rush to the other end of the room. I will grab that can and inhale until the entropy principle reasserts itself.

For dinner I meet up with Katrina, a NationStates moderator, and discover that she’s the girl who gave me a home-baked banana loaf in San Francisco when I was here last time. I figure this out because this time Katrina has brought me not one but two banana loaves. And not just that: she and players John and Thom have hand-made a “NationStates Monopoly” set, complete with “Issue cards,” “UN Resolution” cards, custom money, and a board where key regions and alliances are the property. It’s amazing. And I would post a picture, except when I set up the game back at my hotel room later, my camera batteries die in the middle of extending the lens. But trust me: it’s amazing. I can’t believe how much time and care went into it.

On Monday morning I shave my head, because my hair was getting so unruly, and meet Frank, who was also my media escort from last time. One of the many great things about Frank is that he has an extraordinary, apparently endless store of pithy quotes. Any given situation, Frank can produce a famous quote to express what I was trying to say, only better.

Frank takes me out to Mountain View, where I’m scheduled to read at Google. I’m very excited about this, because I’m a geek, and because as far as I can tell Google is the best big company in the world. I have heard many tales of wonder about the Google offices and want to see if these are true.

We’re there early, though. Really early. About 24 hours early, in fact. There’s been a miscommunication and I’ll have to come back tomorrow.

So instead of wandering through the magical fields of Google, I drop into San Francisco bookstores and sign stock. Everyone in San Francisco is very fit, I notice. Not that I’m surprised. Just walking up and down those hills, residents must build incredibly powerful thighs. They probably need to exercise a lot to balance that out.

I call home and discover that Finlay has really gotten into YouTube lately. When Jen turns on the computer, Fin comes up and says, “Movies? Movies?” Then she sits on Jen’s lap and watches clips from the “Pets & Animals” section. Apparently Charles has a licking problem is popular.

Then it’s time for my reading. I’m expecting a small crowd, because it’s in Danville, which was met with howls of despair from my Bay Area readers when announced. And indeed there are fewer people, perhaps 15 or 20, but since most have made a big effort to get here, they’re a lovely audience. One guy, Fazil, has brought me a bottle of the legendary Fukola Cola, which I discover tastes pretty much like regular cola. I was expecting to at least hallucinate a little. Disappointing.

On the drive home, Frank suggests that I take a photo of each audience and post it on my blog. That’s a terrific idea, one that I could have used about ten days ago. Damn. Next time.

The last thing I do is a little more bathtub washing. I thought I was done with this, but since my Google reading was knocked back a day, I need one more non-ugly shirt. I decide to try a technique recommended by Tim in the comments of a previous blog, whereby you wrap the wet item in a towel and stomp on it. I’m generally in favor of plans that include stomping on things. And this technique seems to work pretty well, although Tim did promise that I would be “astounded” by it. I’m not sure I’m astounded. I think to astound me, my shirt would need to come out bone dry and already ironed. Or have maybe transformed into a much hipper, more expensive shirt. That would be astounding. This is merely satisfyingly less wet.

Mon 02
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Day #8 (Austin, Phoenix)

Writing On the plane from Austin to Phoenix, I finish my advance copy of Rant, the new Chuck Palahniuk novel. Somehow I have ended up reading incredibly explicit books on every flight. I flew from Melbourne to LA with Past Mortem, by Ben Elton, and unexpectedly found myself in the middle of the filthiest sex scene I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, it was very educational. Only a Brit could could produce a book that’s essentially a comedy of manners, but with felching. I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a mother traveling with her two young children, and had to tilt the book away from her during these passages. The danger then was that the man across the aisle would think I was trying to show it to him. It was a delicate balance.

Next up was Craig Clevenger’s Dermaphoria, and a sex scene involving a dripping tap. By the time I got to Palahniuk, I decided that if people didn’t want to know about olfactory cunnilingus, they shouldn’t be reading over my shoulder.

All three were great books, by the way. I’m now going to get myself a copy of Clevenger’s first, The Contortionist’s Handbook. And Rant is brilliant; nobody messes with my head as delightfully as Chuck. Definitely one of my favorites.

It’s my first visit to Phoenix, and the city has a great feel. Although maybe part of that is my joy at seeing the sun again, which I last sighted in Denver. My cab driver is an effortlessly cool Jamaican man who jabbers into his cellphone and gestures wildly with his free hand, controlling the steering wheel with, as far as I can tell, sheer willpower.

Phoenix has palm trees, mountains popping unexpectedly out of endless plains, and cacti. The latter strike me as jokes, as if somebody put them there to be funny. I’m not really sure why. But they are very amusing.

I settle into my hotel, pausing only to note that the doormen wear shorts, and then it’s off to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. I’m supposed to do a 2-hour writing workshop ahead of my reading, and not really sure what that means. I’m imagining maybe five or six people and an interactive session where I set them a writing task and then we discuss their work. While they’re writing, maybe I’ll go out for pizza.

But 20 or 30 people have turned up, and the questions fly. I end up doing the entire session as Q&A. I think most people are relieved at not having to write something and talk in public about it, although a few were clearly looking forward to that part. I guess my next workshop should be longer.

Some people leave, others arrive, and then I do my reading. Halfway through, I realize that a young girl in the audience, maybe eight years old, is staring at me stonily. At first her gaze is startling, and then I find it funny, and have to deliberately avoid looking at her to keep it together. Really, you try reading something in public while a little girl with eyes the size of dinner plates stares at you unblinkingly. It’s not easy.

Afterward, her mother brings her up to have a book signed, and I learn that her name is Kaia. Kaia has a question: “Have you met The Wiggles?” She thought that seeing as we’re all Australian, maybe I occasionally bump into them. But, sadly, no.

In line, Lisa gives me a home-made rabbit. It’s extremely cute, with long, dangling arms and legs, and wearing a sweater. She tells me not to give it to Fin, though, because the hands and feet might pop off and choke her to death. But I can put it on her bedroom shelf, where it can smile down at her temptingly.

As I’m leaving the store, a young, muscular man rushes out the darkness at me. “Max! Max!” This turns out to be Kale, who wants some books signed but I guess didn’t want to wait in line. It’s just as well for Kale that I’m not very famous. If I was Jimmy Carter, my bodyguards would have put five slugs into him. Maybe one day I will have armed bodyguards. One day.

Sat 31
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #7 (Chicago, Austin)

Writing I love my breakfasts. But when I’m at home, I don’t usually get to them until late—11 or 12, if I’m writing. (Some writers drink. Some do drugs. I find creativity via coffee on an empty stomach.) And I eat cereal. Or oatmeal/porridge. Milk should always be somehow involved with breakfast, I feel. The hearty, American-style breakfast of egg and bacon and sausage and hash browns is a little too much for me, especially early. If you ask me, there’s something a little immoral about cooking anything before noon but toast.

This is why I’m having a little difficulty with the hordes of people in line for pizza at 8am at the airport. And “breakfast tacos!” You can’t just put the word “breakfast” in front of something as if that makes it okay! No! There are no breakfast pot roasts, are there? Breakfast buffalo burgers? Breakfast prime rib steak?

It’s raining in Austin. But that’s okay, because I have to stay in and do my washing. Originally, my plan was to have the hotel dryclean some clothes for me. But I’m never long enough in one place for this. So I fill up the bathtub, toss in some soap, and wash a load of shirts and underpants, old-school. Then I wring them out, arrange them on hangers, and distribute them around my hotel room. It really adds something to my luxurious hotel room; a certain third world ambiance.

I call home, and we get the webcam thing happening. Jen puts Fin on her lap, and Fin sees my picture and smiles. I sing nursery rhymes to her through the phone and she grins and claps and says, “More?” when I finish. It’s wonderful. Being able to see them, even in jerky low-resolution, makes me feel much closer to home.

On a geeky note, I’m very pleased with my laptop computer. It’s the first time I’ve left home with a Linux-powered machine (it’s running Ubuntu), and thought I might hit problems trying to hook up with the internet services of various hotels. But nope: everything’s worked perfectly.

Today’s amusing email:

im doing a book report on your book “Jennifer Government” and i need some books that contain information about you as an author. my stupid english teacher insists that i find at least 3 books that contain information about you as an author, even though it seems to be impossible.

i also need to know if you are “respected” as an author in the writing community because it is part of my paper.

please please help me

That’s a good question, whether I am respected. Who knows what those bitchy other authors say about me behind my back?

I wonder if authors ever go on tours together. That would be cool. All this travelling would be more fun if there was somebody else. I should go with Paul Neilan, because I’m recommending his book at every stop. It feels good to recommend Paul’s book here, because back home, every time I tell someone how great it is, I have to add, “But you can’t buy it here.” This makes them disappointed and angry. But it’s not my fault no-one’s published it in Australia. I don’t control the world. But here, at readings I can say, “And it’s available in the US!” Then we all look at the bookstore person, who says, “I don’t think we have that.”

At tonight’s reading, a girl named Jessica asks whether Chuck Palahniuk and I hang out together. She says that she read online that he’s a fan of my work, and I hyperventilate for a few seconds before realizing that she’s confusing Chuck with the webmaster of chuckpalahniuk.net, Dennis. So I guess Chuck won’t be calling up any time soon and asking if I want to come over and shoot some pool, or, you know, murder some puppies or something. Whatever, Chuck. I’d be up for it.

Jessica has an adorable accent and says “y’all.” It’s so strange to hear actual “y’all”s. I kind of assumed they were just in movies and Jerry Springer. For some more local flavor, a guy—I want to say Mike, but my notes aren’t clear, sorry—gives me a “Fightin’ Texas Aggies” T-shirt, from Texas A&M University. He helpfully advises me not to wear it in Austin, though, because it may prompt locals to beat me up. I’m glad he mentioned that. I hope it doesn’t cause any problem with airport security tomorrow.

Fri 30
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #6 (Madison, Chicago)

Writing What happens to the soap? Every day I check into a new hotel and unwrap at least one small, packaged, and apparently pristine bar of soap. I use a tiny amount before I leave. What happens to the rest? I can’t believe they’re throwing all that out. I haven’t seen any big soap collection trucks backing up to hotels, and that’s what they’d need to haul away all the leftovers. They must collect the used bars, mold them into new ones somehow, and repackage them. So when I’m in the shower, I’m actually rubbing myself with soap that has passed over hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bodies before mine. Maybe the way to look at hotel soap is as a hundred million invisible skin particles from everyone who stayed there before you, compressed into a sweet-smelling bar.

Feeling more connected to humanity, I head down for some breakfast. There’s a TV running FOX News, and on screen people are agreeing that the only way to deal with Iran’s seizure of British soldiers is to “make them feel some pain.” Anything less, like diplomacy, would cause the UK to become “a laughing stock.” It’s amazing how similar all this is to the last time I was here, and the time before that, and that. The names of the countries change (Iraq, Iran), and the precise issue everyone’s agitated about, but the solution is always the same: send in the military. And I understand that mindset. But I don’t understand how they can still be talking as if it’s February 2003.

A little later I receive the following email from David:

Dear Max,

In today’s blog entry (March 28, 2007) you mention that Finlay crossed her arms for the first time earlier in the day, and express wishes that you could have a picture of this occurrence. I cannot provide you with an actual photograph of this important milestone in your daughter’s life, but I can offer this artist’s rendering of the occasion. I hope that it will convey the situation to you just as well as an actual photograph would have.

Now I don’t really want to encourage people to Photoshop pictures of my daughter. But that completely cracks me up, so I have to share it.

At Madison airport, the woman at check-in is surprised that my final destination is Chicago. I figure out why on the plane: I’ve just about finished buckling up my belt when we commence our descent. I spent more time going through security than actually travelling anywhere.

Chicago is a great city. I’ve been here twice before, once in January and once in July, and I love how completely different it looked each time. And I still think that having a beach right in the heart of the city is one of the best ideas ever. Of course, I’m going to see practically nothing of the place this time except through the window of my taxi. I keep getting great tips for incredible places that I absolutely must visit, but never get to use them. This is not much of a way to sight-see, catching a plane every day.

My reading is at Barbara’s Bookstore, and it’s an especially chatty, interactive crowd, which is awesome. I like that I’ve done enough of these now to be able to relax and have fun—in the early days, it was all a little too nerve-wracking to do that.

In the long line of wonderful people who want me to deface their books, I meet Joe, who rode 11.86 miles on his bike to be at the reading. I know people who drove for many hours to make one of my readings (I believe the record is 6.5 hours), but Joe posits that nobody has ever cycled further than him. So there you have it, people. The bar has been set.

Thu 29
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #5 (Milwaukee, Madison)

Writing “I smell worms,” says Mary.

Mary is my media escort for the day. We’ve just stepped out of her car at FOX-6, ahead of my first TV interview in eight years, and Mary can smell worms.

“Ewww,” she says. I look down and see that what I initially took for sticks strewn across the sidewalk are indeed long worms: dozens of them, hundreds. We have to pick our way carefully toward the studio doors, and wipe our shoes of any collateral damage when we get there. On the one hand, it seems a little disgusting to be leaving a bunch of worms on the doorstep of FOX. On the other, it feels a little appropriate.

I still can’t actually smell them, though. That’s got to be some kind of super power: the ability to smell worms.

I’m nervous. I try a few calming techniques—thinking about it being over already, telling myself nobody cares, remembering that it’s only FOX, not a real TV network—but they have limited effect. “Dress cute,” Mary advised me on the phone earlier. I don’t think I packed cute.

I’m taken into the studio and miked up. Seen from behind, the set looks like something cobbled together by high school students for a play. Everything is scuffed, small, and fake. Except the presenters: interviewing me is Kim Murphy, and she’s lovely. She takes a couple of minutes to chat to me off-air beforehand, helping me settle in and feel more comfortable. And then, without warning, she’s reading from the auto-cue. It’s go time!

And here’s me on FOX.

I think I do okay, considering what a TV noob I am. I look pretty tired. But I don’t stammer or freak out or stare too obviously at the cameras. That’s a plus.

After the interview, Mary drives me to Madison. We stop along the way to drop into bookstores and sign stock. This can go either way: sometimes the person behind the desk is excited to meet me; sometimes I am clearly about the fifth author to stop by that day, and the novelty has well and truly worn off. Usually at chain stores it’s the latter, but at a Barnes & Noble on the way out of Madison, I get my best reception ever. By the time I leave, it seems as if half the store’s staff have been called over to meet me. It’s like I’m famous.

Mary is kind enough to suggest I catch a nap on the way, and also kind enough to not tell me if I snore in my sleep, or mutter, or jerk my legs around. Apparently I can do that.

Last time I was in Madison, January 2004, a huge blizzard was blowing. I fought my way to the store to find that endless rows of seats had been set up, and nobody was in them. I think I ended up reading to about six people, who were (of course) mostly sitting right up the back. That was tough. If I get more than six people tonight, I’ll be happy.

But it’s a good night for a book reading, I’m told: not so cold that you can’t bear going out, but not warm enough to want to do anything more exciting. I can’t see how many people are here until I actually step in front of them, but then it’s a pleasant surprise: there are lots. The store guy tells me later that he counted 55, which makes it my most well-attended reading so far. So all is forgiven, Madison. Thank you.

I can start to see differences in audiences. Tonight, I suspect that many more people have read the book than usual. Four people down the front are all reading along with me from their copy, which is kind of funny; I’m used to one or two people doing it, but not a whole block of them. It feels a little like taking English class.

There’s a long line of people to sign for afterward, and then I’m done. That’s four down! I’m halfway through this tour already.

Wed 28
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #4 (Denver, Milwaukee)

Writing It’s here. The scratchiness in the throat. The sweating. There are a million multiplying bio-agents in my head and they’re all manufacturing phlegm.

I get up in the middle of the night to gargle antiseptic mouthwash and discover that this stuff is much stronger than back home. I think it actually dissolves my teeth a little. But I’m prepared to take a little friendly fire. This throat needs to be liberated.

The key to getting out of a hotel room on time is to corral all your gear into one small area and not let it escape. It tries, of course. When you’re not looking, your shoes sneak under the desk and your wallet climbs onto the bedside table. Then when you’re chasing them down, your underpants run giggling into the bathroom. You have to be vigilant.

My dilemma this morning is that I have no dollar bills with which to tip the guy who will inevitably try to lift my bag into the back of the taxi. I’m not sure which is weedier: not saying anything or launching into a big sad story about how I don’t have anything smaller than a twenty because I lost my credit card temporarily and blah blah blah. But luckily I manage to get out to the curb on my own, and then the cab driver lunges for my bag before the doorman can reach it. That’s good: I can tip him with my credit card. Crisis averted.

I check-in but am not assigned a seat, instead being told to see someone at the gate. In retrospect, I should have realized right away that this meant a problem. But I’m still a little naive about flying and assume that if you book a ticket, they’ll let you on the plane. This silly notion is beaten out of me at the gate, where a woman explains that the plane can only take 49 passengers instead of the booked 50 because of weight issues. “And you’re number 50,” she says. This strikes me as a little unfair. I mean, I know I’m not a teenager any more, but there have to be plenty of passengers with more significant weight issues than me. Surely in this situation it should be surivival of the thinnest?

The solution, apparently, is to get a passenger to voluntarily give up their seat. So I stand by the desk while she makes a series of attractive offers to anyone willing to do so. Nobody bites. Finally, when everybody’s on board but me, she shrugs and just prints me off a boarding pass. I’m reminded of the movie French Kiss, where Kevin Kline says: “The pilot says there is a crack in the engine, but not to worry, he take off anyway.”

“Head through to Door E,” she says. “E,” I say, nodding. “No, E,” she says. This is the sort of discussion that could go on a while, so rather than educate her about Australian accents, I just nod. Door E is down a stairwell eerily reminiscent of my old high school, complete with chewing gum stuck to the rail. Then I am told to wander out on the tarmac for my plane. “It’s the gray one,” an assistant says helpfully.

I walk outside and there are about 18 gray airplanes in a row preparing to take off. I choose the closest one and climb aboard. It feels like catching a bus. “Is this Milwaukee? Are we going to Milwaukee?”

The answer is maybe, because while we’re in the air, a thick fog rolls over Wisconsin. The pilot tells us we might end up in Chicago. I’ve never been diverted before, so this seems quite interesting, albeit something of a problem in that a bunch of people are expecting me to be at a Milwaukee bookstore in a few hours’ time. But that wouldn’t be my problem, exactly. One of the wonderful things about being on book tour is that other people are responsible for figuring out where you are supposed to go and how to get you there. It’s kind of like they assume you are a complete moron, unable to do anything for yourself, and once you learn to go with that, it’s very pleasant.

Our pilot, who has a deep Southern accent and clearly isn’t the sort of guy to let little things like excess weight regulations stop him from flying his plane his way, decides to take a stab at a Milwaukee touchdown even though he can’t see anything. The ground materializes out of fog about eight seconds before we make contact, but it’s a pretty smooth landing. He talks the talk, our guy, and he backs it up.

Milwaukee is cold. Not as cold as the last time I was here, in January 2004, when everything was under a two-foot blanket of snow. That was awesome. But still cold; colder than it looked when I did a quick search on US temperatures before I left home and tried to convert fahrenheit to celsius in my head. Since I’m kind of sick, I don’t think I’ll be doing any sightseeing on foot today.

I have a media escort here, Mike, whose job it is to assume I’m a complete moron for the day. Mike is a great guy, very easy to talk to, and he plays tour guide as we drive around and I drop into book stores to sign stock. “The only bad thing about Milwaukee is the crime,” Mike says. “Crime is worse than it should be. But where you’re staying, downtown, that’s safe. Well… relatively safe.”

I find the bookstores a little depressing, especially the big Barnes & Noble store. There are so many new books; endless shelves of them. And every hardback has a carefully crafted eye-catching cover and amazing quotes from allegedly rave reviews and is written by a good-looking celebrity. I wonder how it’s possible for a small, good book to fight its way out of this circus. I’m glad I don’t have to see this very often: the pointy, business end of publishing. I love writing books; I don’t want to have to think too much about selling them.

My reading is at Harry W. Schwartz in Bay View. It’s a new store, and I think the unfamiliar location is probably why people keep trickling in at a steady rate throughout the reading. Either that or because I initially posted the wrong address on this web site. I’ve been changing the parts of Company I read from stop to stop, but think I’ve got a good selection now. Then we have a particularly good Q&A session, with lots of great questions. Afterward, I sign books, including about a dozen hardbacks for a guy who has laminated the covers. He’s a collector, so I ask him how that works: how does he decide how long to hold on to an author’s books, and when it’s time to cash in? I’m particularly interested in his opinion about when I’m going to peak, or if I already have. But he says he’s the kind of collector who can’t bear to sell his books. “I have 16,000 hardbacks,” he says. “My wife doesn’t especially like that.”

Back at my hotel, I have a fax from Martin at Vintage saying I have a TV interview in the morning on FOX 6. Wow. I’ve only ever done one TV interview before, a show called “Jersey’s Talking” with Lee Leonard on my first ever book tour in 1999, and I’m sure I was completely terrible. I will try to do better tomorrow.

Finally I call home and hear that earlier today Finlay crossed her arms for the first time. Crossed her arms! That sounds hilarious. I need a picture of that.

Tue 27
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #3 (Los Angeles, Denver)

Writing I wake at 7am and don’t feel like heaving. This is a big improvement over this stage of my last book tour. I’m pretty pleased with how I’ve adapted to the 17-hour time difference so far. The only issue I have is with my appetite: it’s coming up on 24 hours since my last meal and I’m not hungry yet. That’s just not right.

I pack up my stuff and leave my hotel, pausing only to try to check my reflection in the TV. Honestly, this thing is the size of a surfboard; I keep thinking it’s a mirror. I also swipe a hotel pen, because back home I’m running low, having by now lost most of the pens I stole from hotels on my 2006 tour.

I board my flight to Denver and settle in to my seat. The woman to my left dabs at her nose, and with dawning horror I realize: she has a cold. Over the next 90 minutes, she sneezes, hacks, coughs, and wipes, while I try to breathe through a pillow. I wish the check-in screen had mentioned that during seat selection. I would definitely have chosen the “non-virus bearing” area of the airplane. In fact, when choosing my seat I’d ideally like to see little pictures of who’s going to be seated where. That would be interesting. I would choose to sit near small but tired-looking people.

But for now, I am stuck leaning to the right, away from Cold Woman and her contagens. Then the passenger on that side, also a woman, unexpectedly tells me: “You have lovely eyes.” I don’t know quite what to say to this. But I suspect I may have been leaning too far.

This is my first visit to Denver, and I like what I see: it’s quite charming, the kind of size that’s big enough to be interesting but not so crowded that you can’t stroll down the sidewalk without elbowing somebody, or being mugged. It’s definitely spacious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much ground-level car parking. I imagine that if you tell a Denver resident that in other cities they have entire buildings for parking cars, one level above the other, their eyes would widen in shock.

I check in to my new hotel and go searching for food, since it’s now a day and a half since I’ve eaten and my body has decided it’s ready for something now. In fact, in between ordering a burger and it arriving, I become ravenous. Then, eight bites in, I’m not hungry at all. I’m getting a bit exasperated with my appetite. It needs to figure out what the hell it’s doing, and get with the timezone.

My reading is at Tattered Cover, which is a completely cool bookstore in a converted theater. It’s 25 or so people, very warm and friendly, and I think it goes great. While signing books, I notice a guy still in the seats, feeding a baby, and start to get misty-eyed for home. Then the baby starts barking like a dog. It’s coughing, but seriously, in the most eerily dog-like way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As a parent, I completely understand that kids do odd things. But people in line could very well be under the impression that this guy is feeding a bottle of milk to a swaddled-up pooch.

Beth, the organizer at Tattered Cover, has a surprise for me: an Advance Reader Copy of Syrup. This is the first incarnation of my first novel ever printed, back in 1999, and I managed to lose every one of my copies many years ago. Since then I’ve been trying desperately to get my hands on one. And suddenly I’m being given one! Well, when I say “given,” I mean that Beth asks me to sign it for her, and then I tell her this sad story about not having any of my own left, and she caves in and hands it over.

On the way back to my hotel I stop off at a drugstore to load up on bio-weapons with which to fight off any viruses I acquired on the plane. There I discover that I have somehow lost my credit card. This is my second worst fear on tour, right after running out of dollar bills and having to endure the silent contempt of doormen, and I panic, because if I have no cash I can’t even pay for a cab to the airport tomorrow morning. I finally locate my card in my other pants, back at the hotel, but only after spending my last dollar bill at the drugstore. Oh-oh. Tomorrow morning could be tough.

Mon 26
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #2 (Los Angeles)

Writing Wow, I probably shouldn’t write blogs at 3AM. When I began typing up yesterday’s post, I intended to describe the rest of my day, which involved meeting NationStates admins for dinner and enjoying some ice cream that was like sex in a bowl, only creamier. But it was the middle of the night (I’d woken and couldn’t find sleep again), and after typing for a while, I started to feel like the only person on the planet. Then thinking about Fin saying “Neena, neena” tipped me over the edge, and it all abruptly ended in a very melancholic place.

On Sunday, however, I am reminded that I am actually incredibly privileged to be here, because today is my first reading. And before that, I get to do the LA thing: take meetings with movie people. First it’s the Syrup producers, to discuss the next draft, then Steve Pink, who’s writing the Company screenplay. Steve throws questions at me like, “Okay, my problem with Eve is this: in the third act does she redeem herself with Jones or should I have her sink deeper?” And I have absolutely no idea. I can’t even remember the book properly any more; I get confused between what’s in the final draft and what I threw out several years ago. I wish I could give Steve the kind of great story insights that only the original author can provide, but I’ve got nothing.

While being completely useless to Steve, I have breakfast, or lunch, or something. My body is still suspicious about what time it really is, and doesn’t want to commit to full-blooded meals: it wants to eat lots of small things, spaced about an hour apart. I order a bowl of oatmeal and an orange juice, which unexpectedly shatters my previous record for most overpriced book tour meal: it’s $53, excluding tip. Even the waitress is a little embarrassed, and this is Beverly Hills. It may be difficult to explain this one to my publisher.

In the afternoon I have my event at Book Soup. It’s at an odd time, 4pm on a Sunday, which I’m expecting will mean a smaller crowd than last time. On previous tours this would have worried me, since I’m still emotionally scarred from the experience of reading to empty rows of seats on earlier book tours. It’s pretty hard work to stand at a microphone when the only six people in the audience have all chosen to sit at the very back of the 90 seats the bookstore laid out. (Ah, Madison.) But now I think a small crowd would be fine. More personal and fun, even. I had such amazing turnouts on the hardback tour a year ago; I think it’s made me less paranoid that a small crowd means a freefalling career and crawling back to Hewlett-Packard to beg for my old job back.

Twenty or thirty people show up, which is about perfect for the space, and that’s when I realize I have to stop wallowing in homesickness. Because how amazing is it to have people actually bother to come see you and talk about how much they like your books? Most writers would kill for something like this. I get to do it for the next eight days, plus eat bowls of $53 oatmeal.

The reading has a great, casual feel; I talk a little about the origins of the book, read a few sections, then answer questions. It finally occurs to me why the publisher was a little reluctant to send me to the same city I visited on the hardback tour: I need to come up with something original for anyone who was here a year ago. So one of the things I do is read a couple of pages from the new book I’m working on, which I’m calling The Exceptionals. This is actually a little nerve-wracking, because it’s still pretty raw and almost nobody’s seen it yet. But it seems to go down very well, and a few people tell me afterward how much they liked it. So I might do that at my other readings, too. I just have to hope my editor doesn’t find out and want to know why the hell other people get to hear about it before him.

After the reading, I meet Dennis Widmyer, who runs the Chuck Palahniuk web site The Cult (and who read an early draft of Company for me, several years back). I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me at book signings that they first heard about me at that site, so I probably owe Dennis half my royalties or something. Instead I buy him a hot chocolate. Really, it is a very nice hot chocolate.

And then back to my hotel. I’ve noticed that this tour seems to have a much easier pace than the hardback one. There’s almost no media by comparison, so I have time to do things like eat and check my email. Man, that’s pretty sweet. The last thing I do on Sunday is settle down to call Jen and Fin. It turns out that Fin has just woken from her afternoon snooze in a foul mood and is screaming the house down. Yikes. When I put the phone down on her howls, I get into bed and watch a video clip I took before I left where she’s all smiley and gorgeous. Ahhh. Bliss.

Yep. Not too bad, this trip.

Sun 25
Mar
2007

Travel Diary: Day #1 (Melbourne, Los Angeles)

Writing “Daddy!” Fin shrieks, and begins to run toward me across the airport hall floor. There are a million people around but no-one between her and me, and she runs/staggers/falls toward me with a huge grin on her face. I crouch down and she leaps into my arms. Her little fists bunch the material of my sweater, trapping it in her miniature iron grip. It’s so good to hold her again. It’s so good to smell her.

I haven’t seen my daughter since she got bored in the check-in line, about an hour ago, and Jen took her off to play near the fire engine that moves if you put in a dollar.

My quest was to avoid seat 48G. I was booked on seat 48G, but I didn’t want it: thanks to SeatGuru.com I knew it was the row behind the babies in bassinets, two rows behind the toilets, had reduced leg room, and was in the middle section. Melbourne to LA is a fifteen hour flight; you want a good seat. The only way to change it, the travel agent told me, was to turn up early at check-in.

Which I did, to find that the line is already so long that it snakes through several other dimensions. Whenever I make some progress, an airline employee wanders through the line and calls passengers on flights ahead of mine to come to the front. This continues until finally I am one of those passengers who needs to be called to the front, which occurs exactly six places before I would have gotten there anyway. By that stage, I don’t want their help. It’s like ascending Mt. Everest and then with a hundred yards to go and the summit in sight, my Sherpa offers to carry me.

The woman at check-in can’t change my seat. She says, “If you want to do that, you have to get here early.”

So it’s time for goodbyes. I kiss my beautiful wife and daughter. Fin says, “Bye-bye.” Last time, 14 months ago, she couldn’t talk. She didn’t even have teeth. Nowadays she’s smart enough to come to the bottom of the stairs, rattle the stair-gate, and yell, “Daddy! Daddy!” until I appear. I don’t even want to think about how much I’m going to miss her.

Once through security, I proceed directly to the gate, pausing only to drop into the bookstore and see if they’ve got mine. They do, but it’s on the very bottom shelf, filed under “W.” I can only presume that some unethical author has swapped their books for my prized “B” placement. Appalling. I take my books and swap them for some novel that looks exactly like The Da Vinci Code if you aren’t paying attention.

The flight itself is notable only for the fact that my seat’s entertainment system plays all dialogue at near-inaudible levels. So I can enjoy a movie for its visuals, background noise, and soundtrack, but can’t hear a word anyone is saying, unless they’re doing it off-screen. This strikes me as the kind of fault that is so bizarre someone must have carefully engineered it.

Then it’s US Customs. Ah, Customs. How we have danced, over the years. This time I notice that as a visiting alien, I am granted certain rights; in particular the right to appeal any decision by a Customs official. I know this because on the back of the Customs form, I am required to officially waive these rights. This seems a little like offering somebody ice-cream but only if they first agree to not have any ice-cream. It seems to be getting more common lately that the way I discover that I have various rights is when I’m asked to waive them.

One small thing really bugs me about LAX Customs. There are about two dozen booths, maybe half of which are occupied by officials. Above these booths are scrolling LED screens, which usually tell you something helpful, like please present these papers, or don’t drink and drive because you’ll die. (Seriously.) But on the unoccupied booths, the screens advertise themselves. They scroll messages about how many characters they can display at once (27), how vibrant their colors are, and how simple they are to operate. Not so simple to change the default messages, apparently, because it’s been this way for frickin’ years.

Customs asks me a series of questions about the purpose of my visit, including a request for me to describe the plot of all three of my novels. I’m not sure whether they guy is just curious or my entry to the United States of American really does depend on having sufficiently engaging storylines. But either way, he lets me go through. The next guy asks me about my book as well, and takes a fancy to the way I say “satire.” He says it himself, trying on my accent. On one hand, I appreciate that anyone in this Gulag has a sense of humor. On the other, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this guy can order me stripped, probed and deported if I don’t laugh at his jokes. I bet he finds his audiences mystifyingly less appreciative away from here.

At my hotel, I am pleased to discover that Los Angeles is just how I left it: all eating disorders, tiny dogs, and 70-year-old guys in baseball caps. My first job is to find one of those hole-in-the-wall stores that sells international phone cards, so I can call home without bankrupting myself. But my hotel is in Beverly Hills, and this is hard to do. If I wanted to whiten my teeth or buy diamonds, it’d be no problem. But phone cards are very thin on the ground.

I finally find a Rite-Aid (medicine and booze in the one store! What could possibly go wrong?), secure a card, and head back to my hotel for a phone interview. On the way I’m passed by a fire engine. If Fin was here, she’d say, “Neena, neena.” She likes fire engines. I wish I could teleport my girls here. I wish there was no time difference. I miss them so much already.

Thu 22
Mar
2007

Travel Diary 2: This Time It Has Chicago

Writing So I’m going to do another travel diary. That was fun last time, and what else am I going to do in my downtime, dance around my hotel room naked and get drunk from the mini-bar? I mean, apart from that?

This will mean an increase in the number of emails you’ll get from here (daily-ish instead of weekly-ish), if you’re subscribed that way. If that will bother you, you might want to change your preferences now. (Unfortunately, no, there is no “Un-hear that sentence about Max dancing naked” option.)

[ US Tour Details Here ] <— (note change of venue in Milwaukee)

Tue 30
Jan
2007

Sloth: the new discipline

Writing For 2007 I have resolved to make every single blog about writing. Okay, no, not really. That would be boring as all get-out. But I am still a little giddy from my staggeringly disaster-free latest effort, so I might do a few more than usual. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s forced to read them, right? If you’re here for the cutesy Finlay pics, you can skip on by, can’t you? Right. And where possible I will try to relate them to non-writing areas, in order to avoid disappearing up my own butt.

So. To discipline. I have come to suspect that discipline is a myth. These elite athletes who train at four in the morning until their toes bleed; the child violinists who stay locked in their rooms practicing while all their friends are out doing fun stuff like drugs and unprotected sex; we’re supposed to think they’re disciplined. We’re meant to shake our heads in admiration and say, “Wow, she really earned it.” But I reckon what they’ve actually been doing is having a good time and calling it work.

I’ve reached this conclusion because I have no discipline, and I assume my character flaws are shared by the rest of the world. (The good parts are just me.) I work from home. There’s nobody stopping me spending my days browsing girls-with-glasses-having-mudfights.com instead of writing novels. The fact that I do manage to squeeze out a new book now and again is often interpreted as evidence that I must have great discipline. But I write books because I love it. That’s not discipline, is it? Isn’t that just being fortunate enough to get paid for recreation?

When I first decided to give full-time writing a shot—before I was published, by the way, which should tell you how very stupid I was—I was extremely disciplined. I had daily word targets. I graphed my progress. If I fell behind, I would berate myself about wasting precious time. And I did write many words. But I didn’t enjoy it much, and my output fell off, and the book I was writing turned out to be a steaming pile of crap, which I never finished.

I bet the same thing happens if you’re trying to become a professional violinist, or swimmer, or even something more mundane like trying to get into shape. Unless you enjoy the process and take pleasure from practicing, you give up.

Hmm. When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be kind of inspirational. You know, about how there’s not that much separating us normal people from world-class achievers. But now I think about it, you can also read it as a depressing indictment on how people are pathetic they can’t achieve anything unless they get lots of little rewards along the way.

Well, either way.

Note: I didn’t really mean to skip a whole month of blogs there. Sorry about that. I did get a ton of writing done, though, and played with my daughter. So, really, can you complain? I mean, and still sleep at night?