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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.

Blog

Thu 07
Apr
2005

Max: the long version

Writing I did an interview with Australian Speculative Fiction recently; they’re putting together a book on Australian sci-fi writers and apparently I qualified. They e-mailed me a list of questions and, as per my usual policy, I decided, “Must respond to that soon,” then let it sit in my inbox for about a month. (I blame my mail program. Thunderbird lets you press “1” to mark a mail message in red as “Important” to make sure you don’t lose those e-mails you really need to follow up. But this gives me a totally false sense of accomplishment and closure, as if I have dealt with them and can move on. I now have a solid red inbox.)

Fortunately they kept hassling me about it, so I eventually got around to pounding out my answers. I mailed them off, they thanked me, then a week later sent me a copy of their article for the book. Of my response, they’d used four sentences.

Four sentences!

I can’t let all those other sentences go neglected. So here’s the full text, for anyone who’s interested.

1. Why do you write (insert genre)?

That’s like asking why you pick your nose: you just do. I mean, not YOU, necessarily. I’m sure you’re very hygienic. But writing is a compulsive thing: I do it because I do it. First I get an idea and it bounces around my head for a while. If it sticks around… well, I can’t just leave it there. That would be cruel. If I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens next in this story myself, I sit down at a keyboard and find out.

I’ve never chosen a particular genre and thought, “Okay, let’s come up with a story in that.” In fact, I don’t think about genre at all. That’s the kind of thing I don’t worry about until I’m trying to sell it. When I was searching for a literary agent for Jennifer Government, one wrote back, “Sorry, we don’t represent science-fiction.” And I thought, “Science-fiction? Is that what this is?”

2. What are your motivations in writing (insert genre)?

Not very sophisticated, unfortunately. I just enjoy it. Sometimes people say I must be very disciplined to write full-time, as if I have to force myself to work on a story. But that’s not it at all; I write because it’s great fun.

I have had times when I haven’t enjoyed my writing, and I’ve forced myself to knuckle down and wade through it. This made me feel very noble and hard-working, but the fiction I ended up with was the most unmitigated crap. It turns out that, for me at least, when writing is fun and easy I’m producing good writing, and when it’s a struggle I’m wasting my time.

3. What is unique about your work?

I notice all these questions inflame the ego. I’m not sure that’s a good idea, when you’re dealing with writers. We don’t need much encouragement in that regard.

Actually, I think it’s hugely helpful to be able to convince yourself that what you’re working on is the greatest piece of literature to ever grace a page—because a novel takes a really long time to write, and if you lose faith in it, well, you might as well go watch The O.C.

“Unique” is a big word; you can argue that very little in literature is unique. But I hope my books are distinguishable by their amusing take on life, particularly all things corporate, and their focus on telling a good story with a minimum of messing around. Oh, and their complete lack of physical description. But I’m working on that.

4. Do you write in other genres or mainstream?

All of my novels are corporate satire, but the first is mixed with romantic comedy and the second with science-fiction. Of course, what kind of a genre is corporate satire? I may have gone needlessly specific there. But if that’s not my genre, I’m not sure what is, so I’ll stick with it.

I can see myself writing about things other than corporations, but I don’t think I’ll ever lose my love of humor and satire.

5. When did you first begin to write?

Apparently I dictated a book about frogs when I was two. Does that count? It was non-fiction, and somewhat terse in style, but it was published, in the sense that my Mum stapled all the pages together. Some time after that I veered off the path of journalism into fiction. I remember writing horror short stories in high school that featured my classmates — they were very popular, except among people who were in them — but I don’t remember ever actually starting writing. I’ve just always done it.

6. Do you do much research for your novels?

I do as little as possible. I will research before I’ve started work on a novel — because this is basically just reading about subjects I’m interested in. But once I’ve come up with the book’s basic premise, I don’t run out and bone up on all the relevant topics. Doing research at this point feels to restrictive: I end up trying to fit the story into the confines of reality, when I should be bending reality to fit my story. So once I’ve started writing, I avoid doing any research, even if it means leaving big, obvious gaps in the book that need to be filled in later.

7. If you could write and be published in another genre what would that be?

I’m not especially established as a science-fiction writer, but I’m interested in doing more of it. I want to write a sci-fi movie, because there is a shameful dearth of good ones.

8. What did it feel like when you had your first book published?

The first time I saw my book on the shelf of a bookstore, it looked as if someone had sneaked a copy in there. The other books all looked legitimate, but mine felt like an impostor.

It was a truly magical time, because I also thought that my run up the New York Times bestseller list was surely only a matter of time. Then reality had to go and spoil it.

9. What are your goals for writing in future? Eg break into the US market.

More than anything else, I want to tell good stories. Hmm, wait, that sounds as if so far I’ve been telling bad stories. I mean that my main motivation is to create stories I’m proud of. I hate working on a novel that doesn’t feel right, and I would hate the idea of having a novel published I didn’t love.

Sales-wise, I don’t want any novel to sell fewer copies than the one before it—but this is not something I can do much about, other than write good stories. So I’ll stick to that.

10. In your opinion, are there any uniquely Australian elements in your writing either in your characters or setting?

Only one of my books is set in Australia, even partially, and it’s a very Americanized Australia. So I don’t write what you would typically consider to be Australian literature: no Aussie slang, Outback settings, or lovable rascals. But I do think my sense of humour is very Australian. I’ve heard from a few readers that they recognized that style in my books, even before they knew I was an Aussie. Also, I think my appreciation for satire is an Australian characteristic.

11. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes, but none of it is startlingly original. Aspiring writers should write: that’s by far the most important thing. A person with no contacts and no knowledge of the publishing industry but who writes a little every day and loves what he’s doing is eventually going to get published: I really think it’s that simple. Some people will hit it big with their first novel, but most of us need time to learn what we’re doing. I have two published novels and a third coming out soon: these are, together, the second, fifth, and seventh novels I’ve written. This is success in publishing: getting three out of seven books onto the shelf.

12. Why do you think there are so many Australians writing in this genre now?

I ended up going outside Australia to find a publisher, so I’ve never really connected with the local scene. As a result, I don’t know much about it. Hmm. Maybe I should read this book.

Comments

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Scott (#354)

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Quote: "Max Barry tastes like awesome"
Posted: 5159 days ago

11. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes, but none of it is startlingly original. Aspiring writers should write

Your advice in invaluable. Now if only I could get over my fear of writing crap that no one wants to read. :(

Ruth (#288)

Location: Bath, United Kingdom
Quote: "Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Posted: 5159 days ago

Out of interest, what few sentences did they use in the end?

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 5159 days ago

They used: “I hope my books are distinguishable by their amusing take on life, particularly all things corporate, and their focus on telling a good story with a minimum of messing around. Oh, and their complete lack of physical description. But I'm working on that.”

and

“Doing research at this point feels to restrictive: I end up trying to fit the story into the confines of reality, when I should be bending reality to fit my story.”

Thomas (#1221)

Location: Germany
Quote: "One more, and I'm going to consider you my penpal."
Posted: 5159 days ago

Maybe they want to keep the mystery. If they included all of your answers, as enjoyable as they are to read, you'd come across as the guy next door.
Some people like the mysterious kind better, which hides in their library, and which shrieks, when intruders enter their territory. People look up to that kind of authors.

Looking up to you is like looking at one of those stereographic pictures. One has to concentrate, or one is prone to think that you're a guy who one would like to have a beer with, instead of fainting when you even remotely show some attention.

Of course, there's always the iron man testicles, that remind us of your non-averageness.

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 5159 days ago

Max the more and more I watch The Apprentice (I just finished watching tonight's episode), the more I think you'd be perfect for a version set in Sydney, Austrailia.
what do ya thing?
(:

Emily (#609)

Location: New York
Quote: "When in doubt, fuck it. When not in doubt, get in doubt!"
Posted: 5159 days ago

I think you should TOTALLY tackle a good sci-fi movie project. Are there any non-adapted sci-fi movies that have done well? I mean, aside from those affiliated with Spielberg?

I think I've been attacked by your lack-of-genre tendency. My current project is sort of a sci-fi political/religious/social/economic satire romantic dramady with heavy elements of both Hitchhiker's Guide and M*A*S*H. The movie, I mean.

...Wow, that's even worse. :-P

-Em

Rob2Kx (#1125)

Location: Canada
Quote: "Anything for laughs even if it kills you"
Posted: 5159 days ago

Max, having that big #1 beside your name on the comments page makes you look a little pretentious. You should have another number. Umm... That being said, can I be #1?

Loki (#1015)

Location: Maryland
Quote: "I (heart) XY"
Posted: 5159 days ago

ooh, what number am I? I can't remember...

"I notice all these questions inflame the ego. I’m not sure that’s a good idea, when you’re dealing with writers."

love it ;)

Austin (#814)

Quote: "You might be stretching."
Posted: 5159 days ago

Hey...

I like The O.C.

Machine Man subscriber Kramy (#818)

Quote: ""it's the way of the future""
Posted: 5159 days ago

Maxx! RELEASE the other 4 books on the net! I'd pay ya money through paypal for sure :) Of course, you prolly don't wanna release something you are not happy with... shame I'd love to get my hands on those other 4 books! It's a bit like my desire to read Jim Morrison's diaries that he wrote when he was growing up, and burned before he died...come on Maxxy babe - what do you think?, release those words - set them free!

Tom Hurst (#1186)

Location: Marketing
Quote: "Now with blue bits."
Posted: 5159 days ago

Let's see good sci fi:

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Star Wars (not episode 1)
Terminator (1 and 2)
Independence Day
I Robot
Blade Runner (yes def Blade Runner)
Matix (only the first one)
Starship Troopers
Alien(s) (1 and 2 and maybe 3 but the rest were blah)
Gataca (cool film)
AI (the Kubrick parts)
2001 a Space Odyssey
2010
Star Trek (most but not all)
Fifth Element
Alien Nation (ok that's a personal choice)
The Fly (1986)
Minority Report
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959)
The Time Machine (1960)
Forbiden Planet (1956)
Running Man
Contact
The Abyss
The Day After
Any Manga (Akira!!!)

Shall I continue? Oh, and I can...

A dearth you say.

Although, why won't they makw some Orson Scott Card Flicks or Kim Stanley Robinson ones?

I love Sci fi. Don't dis the sci-fi!

Tom Hurst (#1186)

Location: Marketing
Quote: "Now with blue bits."
Posted: 5159 days ago

I need to edit my post. Why can't I edit my post? Max spend the cash for a better dohicky on the whatsamacallit.

Super (#600)

Location: The Netherlands
Quote: "I'm not deaf I'm just ignoring you!"
Posted: 5159 days ago

Yeah, Kramy!

http://www.petitiononline.com/cgi-bin/create_petition.cgi

*rolls eyes*

Super (#600)

Location: The Netherlands
Quote: "I'm not deaf I'm just ignoring you!"
Posted: 5159 days ago

Crap, that didn't work. Well, someone how's more computery then me can fix an online petition?

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 5159 days ago

Fri, 08 Apr 2005

Writing?

I am not very good at writing. Just ask all the people who are reading this as I type this. My friends and I at school think it is funny that I blog off max's blog, but everyone else probably think it is stupid.
Why do I enjoy writing?
I do it mostly for attention.
What is my motivation?
Again...I do it just for attention.
What is unique about my work?
I have accepted that it is not unique.
Do I write any other genres?
No.
When did I first began to write?
June 4, 1991.
I am just kidding. The date was not the first words I wrote.
Do you do much research for your writing?
No, I occasionally watch the O.C. for inspiration.
What did it feel like when you had your first novel published?
I once placed a book that I wrote on the shelf of a book store. Does that count as being published?
What are your goals for writing in the future?
I plan on writing only on the max barry comments section of this website.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Give up. I need less competition!

Until next time...

I am Adam.

Ari (#1107)

Location: somewhere around California
Quote: "Can I be a random member of the moment?"
Posted: 5158 days ago

Awww. I so think they should have kept the whole "That's like asking why you pick your nose" part! Otherwise the sentences they used just make you sound like any other guy out there.

OverlordBill (#1197)

Location: ~2B, -4B
Posted: 5158 days ago

“Doing research at this point feels to restrictive..."

You missed an 'o'. And you call yourself an author. For shame Max Barry. For shame.

Ari (#1107)

Location: somewhere around California
Quote: "Can I be a random member of the moment?"
Posted: 5158 days ago

That wouldn't be a mispelling so much as a typo. Don't be so picky.

Ari (#1107)

Location: somewhere around California
Quote: "Can I be a random member of the moment?"
Posted: 5158 days ago

Besides, you should have put a comma after "for shame" in your sentence.

Super (#600)

Location: The Netherlands
Quote: "I'm not deaf I'm just ignoring you!"
Posted: 5158 days ago

Ari said: "And you call yourself an author."

That period should have been a question mark, mate.

Justin Holt (#147)

Location: Rochester, NY
Quote: "www.justinholt.net"
Posted: 5157 days ago

"The first time I saw my book on the shelf of a bookstore, it looked as if someone had sneaked a copy in there. The other books all looked legitimate, but mine felt like an impostor."

The way you worded this, it's just pure beauty. This image will stay with me...

Ari (#1107)

Location: somewhere around California
Quote: "Can I be a random member of the moment?"
Posted: 5157 days ago

Ai! I didn't say that. Overlord Bill said that!

OverlordBill (#1197)

Location: ~2B, -4B
Posted: 5152 days ago

Sarcasm much?

Oh. You said it alright. CNN has proof.

William S (#485)

Location: North Carolina
Quote: "When the time comes, cut the green one."
Posted: 5151 days ago

>Although, why won't they makw some Orson Scott Card Flicks or Kim Stanley Robinson ones?
They're currently making an "Ender's Game" movie(which will incorporate parts of "Ender's Shadow", which is the same story from Bean's POV). OSC's writing the screenplay.

Nicole (#1233)

Location: The US
Quote: "Since somebody else already got the quote that I wanted (you know, the one about feeling bad when they're offered the quote option because they're worried about sounding witty?) I am just going to have a whack at it: "More is Good, but Less i"
Posted: 5151 days ago

I answered the questions too! http://www.gotdiary.com/users/elonwy/
Because...well, I'm a geek! And I love you Max Barry!!!!! *gushes geek love*


Super (#600)

Location: The Netherlands
Quote: "I'm not deaf I'm just ignoring you!"
Posted: 5148 days ago

Sorry Ari, you're right!

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 5140 days ago

Rob2Kx:
> Max, having that big #1 beside your name on the comments
> page makes you look a little pretentious.

But if I can't be #1 on my own site, where can I?? Oh, okay, okay. Just for you, no more "#1"s.

Airborne (#1471)

Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Quote: "C 1/501 Artic Airborne Infantry "Geronimo!""
Posted: 5048 days ago

Can I become number one then? You can't have a number two without a number one. It's only fair; I'm like, your biggest fan in the Airborne Infantry in Alaska, that's got'a count for something.

Galen (#1516)

Location: In a land far, far away, sometimes referred to as college.
Quote: ""It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. " - Oscar Wilde"
Posted: 5029 days ago

I don't suppose we'll ever get a chance to read the rest of those novels, eh?

I actually grew up (meaning I lived there until last year when I left for college) in the OC, and I can tell you- the show is crap. They hide it behind cute boys and girls with no bras, but really: it's crap.

joshua beatty (#2151)

Location: west liberty, wv
Quote: "pizza rocks!"
Posted: 4862 days ago

i hope one of your books gets made into a movie. your writing causes me to put down a chuck palahniuk book.

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