happened! I knew it was coming—the data made that clear—but still,
it’s thrilling. Yes, for the first time, more people are visiting my site
than Internet Explorer.
Two years ago almost nine out of ten visitors were riding Internet Explorer.
One year ago it was down to 64%, with Firefox roaring up the charts. Now Firefox
sits on top with 46%, smacking Internet Explorer down to second with 42%.
Okay, it’s a little sad, but I really do find this exciting. I’ve grown into a
total geek fanboy since I converted to Linux: once I saw a couple of
developers blogging about Jennifer Government and got all giggly.
Tell you what, if open source software coders did tours, I’d be in the front
row trying to persuade them to sign a bunch of CDs.
In other news, it’s almost Christmas and I live in Australia, so you know
what that means: it’s time for me to go somewhere sunny and do nothing
for a couple of weeks. I’m going to Perth to show off my baby girl
to Jen’s relatives, so until January, I wish you all the best. (After that,
I may be more vindictive.)
And in closing, I have included the photo of Finlay being menaced by
a giant rabbit because it amuses me.
While researching Company—I mean, while doing
unrelated things in the hope that something would happen that
I could use in the book—I heard lots of corporate horror stories.
Some funny, some terrifying, most in the same theme: it’s amazing
just how clear a company can make it that you’re completely unimportant.
Some of these stories went into my novel, but there are so many
others that I’ve created a new web site to capture them:
Tales of Corporate Oppression.
I want it to become a repository for the best, funniest, and most
appalling stories of everyday workplace inhumanity out there.
This is where you come in. If you’ve got a tale, help me get started:
jump on in and
If you don’t, you can still read other people’s tales and vote for them.
In other news, I’ve updated the Company
section of this site to include a description of what (more or less)
the novel is about. It’s relatively spoiler-free, so should be safe
reading… but if you’re one of those people who doesn’t want to know
anything at all about it, I applaud you. Assuming you’re motivated by a desire
to preserve the mystery, that is, and not because you have no intention of
ever reading it. If it’s the latter, I’m not so impressed.
has made up some Company coffee cups and Mission
Statement posters and I’m allowed to give five away. This is
fantastic, because usually this stuff goes to uninterested magazine
editors already drowning in book-related collateral, and not to fans,
who would stab their own mothers for it.
It’s like this: Company is set within a fictional
corporation named Zephyr Holdings, and Doubleday’s cups and Mission Statements have
Zephyr logos on them. There’s no mention of me or the novel,
which seems a little odd for promotional merchandise, but then it does
make them even more cool and obscure.
If you’d like to win a coffee cup and Mission Statement poster, all
you need to do is get yourself on
my mailing list.
You can uncheck the relevant boxes so you don’t get my blogs by
e-mail, if you want: the important thing is that you be
on that list, and have followed the instructions to validate your email address.
Don’t join multiple times, or I’ll disqualify you.
On Monday January 9th, 2006, I’ll randomly select five people from the mailing
list and e-mail them. If I don’t get a reply or at least a vacation autoreply
within a few days, I’ll draw somebody else.
Thanks to Doubleday for making this possible! It’s very cool of them.
(Note: I know from experience that a bunch of you are going to
write in saying how much you’d love a Company coffee cup
and you once had a Snoopy coffee cup but it got broken and through
some process I can’t quite follow only a Company cup will
make your life whole again so can I please just slip you one on the side.
But I’m sorry, I can’t: I only have five to give away.)
Update: To clarify, yes, naturally
everyone already on the list is automatically eligible.
I grew up in Stratford, a tiny town in Gippsland, Victoria, where there are ten cows
for every human being. Stratford is known primarily for being just ten miles away from
Sale, and Sale is known primarily for its maximum-security prison, so that was my youth:
trudging ten miles to school every morning while watching carefully in case murderers were
lurking behind cows, waiting to leap out and grab me.
I mention this because I was recently reminded of my lawnmower experience. In fact,
every time I see my mother or stepfather, I get reminded of my lawnmower experience,
because somehow a couple of tiny incidents in my teenage years have bloomed into legend.
I am most unfairly portrayed in this legend, so I’m setting the record straight
here, where members of my family are unable to respond.
Despite owning more acres of grass than Bob Marley, we didn’t have a ride-on mower.
We had a push mower, one so ancient and temperamental that it wouldn’t start with
less than ten minutes of gentle caresses and ego-stroking. Or, when that failed,
judicious application of a hammer. I frequently complained about this, but
my parents just thought I was whining. Which, clearly, I was. But with excellent
One time when I was about 16, I just could not start the thing. I’d tried whispering
sweet nothings, touching its most intimate places, the hammer—all the seduction techniques
popular in Gippsland—but couldn’t get a response. Finally, exhausted, I went inside
to declare the impossibility of completing my assigned lawn-mowing duties. But
rather than being sympathetically consoled as you might expect, my mother
responded: “I don’t care! I don’t want to hear about it, Max, just mow the lawn!”
Already, I’m sure you’ll agree, there was enough unfairness here to keep a regular
teenager moping for days. But being a dutiful son, I pondered upon my dilemma until
I came up with an ingenious solution: I got out a pair of hedge clippers and began to slowly
move across the vast expanse of our lawn, cutting approximately three blades of grass per snip.
My mother saw this out the window, but—inexplicably—rather than marveling at
what a plucky, dedicated lad she was raising, she interpreted the scene as some kind
of surly teenage rebellion and yelled at me to go borrow the neighbor’s mower, if I couldn’t
get ours started.
I was a little hurt at having my clever hedge-clipper idea rejected, but, being
always happy to help, was willing to give this mower-borrowing idea a run. And run I
did, because by now it was almost dark. I had to race over the neighbors—if I remember
right, this was several miles away, around several cows and an escaped serial murderer—then
race back and sprint around our lawn with the mower while the darkness closed in.
By now you, like me, no doubt have tears in your eyes at my incredible courage and
determination. But somehow my family don’t see it that way: oh no, to them,
me running around in the dark with the neighbor’s mower is
a classic example of how I would do anything to get out of mowing lawns.
I guess what they say is true: you never understand your family. But I know this:
as soon as I moved away to college, they bought a ride-on mower.
A few months before a book is published, Advanced Reader Copies,
otherwise known as ARCs, start floating around. These are slightly
shabby-looking versions of the final book, mailed out to
people in the media so they can get a review into print by the time
the book goes on sale.
ARCs have “NOT FOR SALE” printed on them, but of course there is
a bustling mini-market, fed by critics who don’t
particularly want to hang on to dozens, hundreds, or even
thousands of books. So the ARCs find there way onto ebay* or into second-hand
bookstores. If you’re dying to get your hands on a particular novel,
these ARCs can look very tempting. But should you buy one, or hold out?
Let Uncle Max be your guide.
Neither the author nor the publisher sees any money from sales of ARCs.
This may not bother you, and I sure don’t consider it a hanging crime—if
publishers didn’t think
ARCs were a net generator of sales, they wouldn’t produce them,
right?—but you should be aware of it. I
know a few readers who shelled out big bucks for ARCs thinking
some of that money was going to end up with me. In fact, it doesn’t even
count as a sale. Your cash goes only to the retailer and the critic who
originally bounced it along.
(I have to admit, there is something annoying about the idea that a
critic might get a free copy of my book, write a crap review of it, and then—because
they don’t like it, you see—sell it on ebay to someone
who otherwise would have bought a real copy. That’s like gouging my eyes
and then kicking me in the nuts.)
The other issue with ARCs is that they’re advanced—that is,
they’re printed before the final round of edits. In the case of Company,
you get 99.5% of the story, but you also get a sprinkling of typos and clumsy
sentences I only fixed at the last minute.
I made around 50 minor changes in final edits, and while you’d struggle to
spot most of them, I made those changes for a reason. A few are reasonably
significant; I also inserted a new joke that, while perhaps not a world-beater,
Then there’s looks: the ARC has low-grade artwork that I did on
my word processor, while the real thing features slick stuff from Doubleday’s
art department. The ARC is also missing
that jacket copy I sweated over,
and is a somewhat fragile paperback, having not been designed for long-term use.
This shouldn’t prevent you from buying an ARC, if that’s what you want.
They make good collectors’ items, since, relatively speaking,
there are so few of them. (Even I don’t have a Syrup ARC any more.)
But if you’re after the story, I think you should wait for the real thing.
Don’t pay ten or twenty or (dear God) thirty bucks for an ARC. For that kind
of money, you shouldn’t settle for a draft.
* (Some sellers on ebay don’t make it clear that they’re selling ARCs. There are
two right now that make no mention of this at all. But they are, because
the real things haven’t been printed yet.)
local delivery guy is very impressed with my parcels.
When he comes to deliver a box, he says,
“It’s from New York,” his eyes filled with awe,
as if New York is a magical, mythical place, floating above
the rest of the world on the back of a giant turtle
and inhabited by knights and princesses, none of whom
send packages. And this guy is an international
courier. He must be exhausted when he gets home at nights,
after reading all those thrilling exotic addresses.
But my latest box was exciting, because it had some
foreign editions of Jennifer Government
fresh off the presses from
The Spanish one was
especially cool, because I didn’t know it was being published
there. But, unless this is some kind of elaborate hoax, I guess it is.
Foreign editions usually come as a surprise to me, because the
chain of people required to pass along the news is longer than
two, which I’ve worked out tends to be the practical limit.
For example, I discovered that there’s a truly amazing
edition courtesy of site member Kalle, who posted
the details in the comments here. Kalle was even better than
my publisher would have been, supplying a translation
of the blurb:
Jennifer Staten is a hard and breathtakingly funny thriller.
The government agent Jennifer is struggling against baby-sitter
problems in the same time as she has too save the world from
aggressive marketing methods like torture, mass murder and
strategic nukes… A satire from the wonderful world of the
big companies, not too unlike from our own…
The 32-year old bestseller author Max Barry is probably the worst that has happened to the big companies since Michael Moore.
He is definitely the best that has happened too SF-satire since George Orwell.
They say “definitely,” so you know it’s true. Unlike the references to
torture and strategic nukes, which I’m pretty sure aren’t in any book
I ever wrote. That’s a pretty interesting way to entice readers: advertise
parts of it that don’t exist. I don’t know if that’s a sound way to
build repeat readers. I’m also curious about their apparent targeting
of people who are smart enough to know George Orwell, but gullible
enough to believe I’m the best writer in 50 years. And as for that cover…
well, at least that would seem to guarantee that very few people will
be getting to the end of Jennifer Staten only to wonder,
“Hey, where were
the tactical nukes?”
I also found out about a forthcoming Chinese version from the translator, a
guy called Wayne Fan. I (eventually) wrote back to thank him for letting
me know, and then, because I couldn’t resist, said:
I’ve always wanted my books to be translated by a Fan. (Boom boom.)
Wayne wrote back:
Thought you are too busy to return my Fan mails.
Nice. Should be a good edition, then.
Doubleday has nailed down my Company US book tour, so
if you’re interested in listening to me orally mangle my novel and
write amusing things on your copy, you’re in luck! Providing, of course,
you live in one of a very small number of cities:
- Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday January 25th, 2006
- San Francisco, CA
Thursday January 26th, 2006
- Seattle, WA
Saturday January 28th, 2006
- Portland, OR
Monday January 30th, 2006
- New York, NY
Wednesday February 1st, 2006
[ Tour Details Here ]
If you can’t make it, here’s the one-line summary: I’m taller and more Australian
than you expect.
I’d love to be a published author, but I never seem to finish any of my stories. I write about 20-60 pages and then just kinda let the story die, and it is not for lack of trying…I really would love to finish a story, but I feel my life gets in the way. Where do you get the energy, drive, and determination to write a full length novel?
handing out writing advice on this site, because it’s hard to do
without sounding like the world’s biggest blowhard. But I get this question
so often that I’m going to blow anyway. (Forgive me.)
Disclaimer: I don’t think there’s any advice that’s going to work for all
writers. Everyone does this thing differently; you need to find what works for
you. Don’t devoutly follow any rule about writing… except this one.
And the one about always relocating a few copies of my book to the front displays
any time you’re in a bookstore. Yeah. Just those two.
I guess the first thing to realize if you’re stuck a few chapters into a novel
is that this happens a lot. It doesn’t mean you’re untalented or undisciplined
or not cut out to be a writer. I started a novel in high school that I thought was
brilliant in Chapter 1, okay by Chapter 4, and after that didn’t want to think about.
It died a slow, lingering death on my hard drive, but because I knew it
was there, waiting for me, I didn’t want to write at all.
It was a couple more years before I resolved to leave it behind and
start something new: that one clicked for me in a way the other never had,
and I finished it.
So the important thing is not to let this one problem derail you from writing.
Maybe you can fix this story and maybe you can’t; either way,
you have to keep writing.
I think there are three reasons you can lose enthusiasm for a novel.
Let’s start with the ugly one: it was a weak idea to begin with.
Maybe your premise isn’t well-suited to a novel; maybe it’s better as a short
story or screenplay. Maybe it needs another key idea or two to
fill out the concept. Or maybe you just thought this was going to be better
than it turned out. In any of these cases,
it often won’t help to blindly forge ahead and hope everything gets better.
So let the novel sit for a while. Start writing something else. It
doesn’t matter what. You might end up coming back to this novel with new ideas
and a ton of motivation, but if you don’t, let it be because you’ve moved on
to something better.
The second possibility is that your story has good fundamentals but you took a wrong
turn. This can happen any time, but is more unsettling at the start because
you have less confidence. A trick I use when suddenly I go from powering along to a dead halt
is to delete the last sentence. Even if I think there’s nothing
wrong with it: backspace backspace backspace.
For some reason, this almost always immediately presents me with an idea for a
new way forward. Sometimes I have to delete a paragraph or two, or
(very rarely) even
a whole chapter. I don’t know why the physical act of cutting part of the
story away helps—I should be smart enough to work this out by just thinking
about it, shouldn’t I? But apparently I’m not, and it does.
(I don’t plan my novels out in advance. If you do,
this technique is less likely to help you. I hate planning novels;
I think they’re much more fun to write when they evolve on their own.
I tried planning a novel once and it was dull, dull, dull. (No,
it wasn’t one of my published ones. Shut up, you.))
The third possibility is you’re being too hard on yourself. For a lot of
writers, getting critical too early—and “too early” here probably
means “before you’ve finished the first draft”, or at least 30,000 words—is
a quick and effective way to kill your motivation. I’m lucky on this score,
because I am blessed with a kind of split author personality: I have
the writer guy and the editor. The writer guy is totally deluded about
his own ability: he thinks everything he writes is breathtakingly brilliant.
Which is very handy, because when I think
I’m working on God’s gift to the 21st Century, it’s easy to
stay motivated. But unless I snap out of that at some point, all
I have is a first draft, and that’s not nearly good enough. This is when
my editor personality comes in. He thinks everything I write is the purest
horse crap. He can’t believe that I would
consider inflicting such a grotesque parody of literature on live human
beings. So he makes me rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.
Getting those roles mixed up is a disaster. You don’t want a dose of cold,
hard reality while you’re writing. No, no: delusion is your friend.
Embrace the delusion. Save the critical analysis for later.
Okay. Enough blowing. Hope this helps someone.
something to try: spend the next day actually noticing every
ad that features a photo of someone looking at you. Magazine
ads, bus station posters, billboards: all these. Now think about
what kind of situation you’d have to be in for this person to
be looking at you like that in real life.
If where you live is anything like where I live, you’ll find
that for a very high number of these, the situation
would have to be one of:
- They want to have sex with you
- You just told them the funniest joke in the world ever
- You just told them the funniest joke in the world ever and now
they want to have sex with you
This is an entertaining exercise not just because it’s amusing
to think about Kate Moss wanting your body, but also because it
reminds you how far the arms race between advertising agencies and your
brain’s perceptual filters has advanced. The more ads there are, and
the more they try to get our attention, the better we get at not
noticing them, so marketers have to continually up the ante. Apparently
we’re now in a state where most ads are full of people looking at
us in a way that would heat us up down to our toes if it happened in
real life, and we don’t think anything of it.
(Wow, she’s an effective little time sucker. Sometime soon I am going
to have to get my life back.)
First reviews! Two are in for Company ahead of the
January ‘06 release, and they’re pretty great. Kirkus Reviews
gives me a starred review, which means they think the novel is
“of unusual merit,” which I’m assuming is a good thing. They didn’t
star up Syrup or Jennifer Government, so this is
my first one, and, clearly, a sign that certain dunderheads in the
editorial department have been fired. Kirkus says:
A raucous black comedy… enters some sublimely Kafkaesque territory
while Publisher’s Weekly says:
As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates modern management
I always wanted to eviscerate something. But, perhaps oddly,
even more important to me than these is an e-mail I got from a long-time
reader who somehow managed to get his hands on an advanced copy. Jason
Just wanted to drop you a line and say that I just finished reading Company.
I gotta say that at first, I was afraid you’d lost it. The spark that was
there in Syrup and Jennifer Government wasn’t there for me, but then, out
of nowhere, you did it again. I read the book over three days (only because
I had to sleep at some point). You were right, the plot isn’t there from the
beginning, and I think that’s what got me at the beginning. In the other two,
there was a hook, in this one, if you wanted to know it you have to wait.
Anyway, bravo. I loved it.
It means a lot to me that I delivered for this guy. Reviews are important,
and will do a lot to determine what sort of career I have, but they’re written
by people who read me as part of their job. The people I want to impress
are the ones who found me on their own, and saw a connection. When someone
thinks, “I liked his last book, I’ll hope this new one is good” and shells
out their hard-earned, I fervently want that person to be thrilled.
I have got it bad.
I think she’s cute when she’s screaming in my ear. I think her
poos are cute. I love her to death even when I’m getting
out of bed for the fourth time that night.
Yes, I think I’m about done as a contributing member of society.
It’s all about obsessing over my kids now.
Here’s what has surprised me so far about being a parent:
- The amount of time I spend staring at her butt. I mean, not
just from a distance. Up close and personal. Usually wiping things
off it. And I realize that my parents must have spent plenty of time
staring at my butt. That’s a little disconcerting.
- When I’m carrying her down the street, I expect everyone I pass
to drop to their knees and cry, “Dear God, that’s the most beautiful
child I’ve ever seen! Please, tell me how I can join the religion
that you must be founding to worship her!” If they don’t,
I get a little miffed.
- I’m suddenly saying things like, “No, I got a good sleep last
night, six hours all up.” Previously, six hours sleep would have
left me with barely enough energy to drool. Now I’m functional on four.
- How fast I got used to being called “Daddy.” I knew it was coming, of
course, but it felt completely weird. And then suddenly it didn’t.
- Her smell. Why are companies not duplicating this and selling
it as perfume or air freshener or something? It’s the most incredible
- The amazing frequency with which she waits until the split-second
when there’s no bib/nappy/diaper and then spits up/poos/wees/all
of the above. I mean, come on. This is way past coincidence. It
has to be some kind of baby in-joke.
- How scared I am that something might happen to her. Before she
was born, I saw ads for products like the electronic monitoring sheet
you put under baby’s mattress to sound an alarm if she seems to stop
breathing, and thought they were just nasty attempts to turn parental
fears into cash. I still think that, but now I also think I might buy
- How few photos I have of her when she’s awake. Because when she’s
awake, I’m doing something with her. So I have about a hundred photos
and they’re all of her sleeping.
Thanks so much for all your congratulations. I love being able to
share this. More photos to come! I’ll even try to get some
with her eyes open.
Update: Added one of my favorite
pics. And I thought of two more things:
- She didn’t look familiar. For some reason, I expected
her to look like someone I already knew… I guess because by the
time she was born I’d spent so much time talking to Jen’s belly
and imagining what she’d be like,
I felt I did know her. Instead
she just looked like a totally real but completely unfamiliar baby.
- How strong she is! If I had that kind of strength-to-body-weight
ratio, I’d be out solving crimes in a leotard.
from the hospital for a few minutes to do some vital jobs,
like announce that I am (at last) Daddy to a heartbreakingly
beautiful baby girl, Finlay Jo Barry.
Here are her vital statistics: she is
3.36kg (7lb 7oz), was born at 9:19AM on August 27th,
has the sweetest, most intoxicating smell ever, and likes
it when you stroke her hair.
I am, genuinely, the luckiest guy in the world. I get to go
back to her now.
Still nothing! It’s incredible. It’s like waiting for a
toaster to pop. Of course, the second I stop staring at Jen’s
belly, she’ll have the kid.
Of blurbs and blogs:
You’re right. You’re right! I shouldn’t give away
Company’s first plot twist on the back of the book.
I’ve written a new blurb that doesn’t, and I think it’s a big improvement.
If it gets through the publisher, I’ll post it here. Thanks for the feedback.
I think this is the first time I’ve altered a book based on what you
guys told me. So it’s an occasion! Soon I’ll be putting up polls to
choose between plots, and then it’s a short stop to accepting
anonymous contributions and stapling them together while I sip margaritas
on the deck of a Pacific cruise ship.
I finished my Syrup screenplay draft! I think it rocks. Not
that I’m biased or anything. I don’t
know what the producers think yet.
A Chat with Max:
with me up on
of interest if you’re a writer, or I take my eyes off Jen’s
belly and end up spending all my time feeding, bathing, and entertaining
a newborn instead of posting new blogs.
I have this novel, Company, due out in January,
and the author in me wants you to read it without knowing a thing
about it. Not who the characters are, not the theme, and definitely,
definitely not the big plot revelation that comes about a quarter
of the way through. The author wants you totally blind, so everything’s
a surprise, just as it should be.
The marketer in me, though, wants to tell you everything. Because
if you don’t know anything about it, you might not buy it, and
then where am I? Selling computer systems for Hewlett-Packard,
that’s where. The marketer will spoil the whole
plot if that’s what’s necessary to arouse your interest.
This wasn’t such an issue with Jennifer Government,
because the biggest plot development happened in the first few pages.
But Company starts with a mystery, and you don’t find
out what the book is really about until you’re a way
I’m resigned to the fact that practically every review of the book
will give this away. It would be too hard to describe it otherwise.
But here is my dilemma: do I put it on the back of the book?
(Yeah, and you always thought blurbs were written by someone else.
In truth the author usually writes it, or at least tweaks it.
For example, the current draft of the
US hardcover flap copy currently says Company is
“bitingly funny.” I didn’t add that bit, but I
bet I could delete it. And I’m not going to.)
It’s an odd transition when you go from trying to write the best
story you can to trying to sell it. But around this time is when
it happens. I think I need to give away my plot twist, although
I’ll be as vague as possible.
And hope that people who have
already decided they’re going to buy it will avert their eyes.
(P.S. No baby yet. But it’s a day-to-day proposition. Maybe next
Apparently I write like a girl. Someone from the
Workshop sent me a link to the
where you paste in a section of text and it uses an algorithm to detect
whether the author is male or female. Or, if you’re an author, you can
tell whether you’re really nailing your opposite-sex
characters. I mean, nailing their dialog. Portraying it accurately.
I was up for the challenge, so I pasted in a bunch of lines that
belonged to 6, my main female character from Syrup. Bing!
Female it was! So at this point I was feeling pretty clever. Then I
tried a collection of Scat’s lines. Female. I tried that
A Shade Less Perfect
short story. Female. More short pieces: female, female, female.
But maybe that was just my fiction voice. Surely, I thought, my
blogs would positively drip with manly essence. By which I mean machismo.
But no: female,
female—wait! Talking about
basketball, the business of film options,
and Mary-Kate Olsen’s stomach scored me my first “male”. My
drive-by Todd Bunker blogging: also
male. So too were
finding interesting things to do while
standing in the shower and
comparing Linux to Microsoft Windows.
That was a relief. I’m at least partly
in touch with my masculine side. I can live with that.
Ah, crap. I just tested this blog. Female.
So I’m almost finished writing the first draft of the Syrup
screenplay. I did mention I was working on that, right? No? Oh. That’s
weird. I thought I did. Maybe you just forgot I told you. Yeah, I bet
Actually what happened is I was waiting until there was a signed deal
before I announced it—since until there’s a bit of paper,
there’s always the chance that an agreement will fall apart. But that
took so long to get finalized that I just started writing. Now I
have 90% of a first draft, and the bit of paper is on its way from
Fortress to me.
Working on the script has
been an amazing experience. I wrote Syrup (the novel)
in 1997, and eight
years later I get to go back and fix the parts I wish I’d done
differently. I still feel very close to the two main characters, Scat
and 6, and I love being able to play with them again. Then there’s
the challenge of deciding which parts of the story should make it to
the screen and which should be left on paper. I’ve never had to confront
that before, and it’s been
I also have a hard deadline, in the shape of Jen’s ballooning belly.
Once those contractions hit I don’t expect to touch a keyboard for
a couple of weeks, so my draft had better be finished by then. I’ve
been working pretty intensely for a while now, which is probably why
these blogs have been a little less frequent than usual. (You noticed,
right? Come on.)
I wish I could post some of my script here, because, well, I’m damn
excited about it. But I’m not allowed to. So I guess you’ll just have
to take my word for it: it’s going really well, and I’m loving it.
new Company cover!
And it’s… remarkably similar to
the old one.
In fact, all Doubleday did is go down to the
staff cafeteria, buy a donut, photograph it, and whack it
on the cover in place of the stock photo. Unless you look
closely, it’s the same cover. If you do look closely,
you might notice that Doubleday’s donut is a little soggier,
but that’s about it.
I am not quite clear on why changing one donut for another,
near-identical donut, helps anybody, but apparently it’s
something to do with image rights. Although that begs the
question why in the first place… no, no, that way lies madness.
I also have an on-sale date, at least for the US and Canada:
January 17, 2006! It’ll be a hardcover with a RRP of US$22.95,
although I see Amazon.com will already let you
for US$15.61. What nice people.
gave some people the idea that my life is all L.A. movie
premieres, shooting hoops with Adam Brody, and doing coke lines off
Mary-Kate Olsen’s bare stomach, but sadly it’s not. From
an author’s point of view, selling
film rights tends to be like this:
Agent: We’ve got a great offer from Legendary Director X!
Author: Oh, cool!
One Week Later.
Agent: Yeah, that didn’t come off.
Author: Oh, damn.
One Week Later.
Agent: We’ve got a great offer from Excellent Production
Company Y! Want to take it?
Author: Sure, okay!
so did you sell all of the rights to
Company over to Doubleday or do you get all of the rights? I’m curious
about how this whole process works…..do you get a cut of the film
While Nathan, more succinctly, says:
Paramount. Nice. You must be loaded now.
First I should point out that there is no Company movie deal
yet; there’s just people talking. That may or may not lead to a
deal, but even if it does, it’s unlikely I will be rolling around
naked in hundred-dollar bills. Well, I might be, but there wouldn’t
be that many of them.
Movie rights deals are structured so that
they have a front end and a back end. The front end is
the money the film studio pays now, which buys them an exclusive period
(usually a year or two) in which to develop the film. This is called
an option, and the amount paid is relatively small. Exactly how
relatively small depends on whether you are, say, Dan Brown, or, say, me.
The back end is the juicy part. This can include a percentage of profits,
but mainly it’s just a great big wad of cash, about an order of magnitude
larger than the front end, and payable when the film goes into
production—that is, when the cameras start rolling. Many,
many novels are optioned but never go into production, in which case
the option lapses and the author is never paid the back end. (I haven’t
seen one yet.) Some authors are more than
happy with this, because they get to sell the film rights all over
again. (Which has happened to me once.) But this is pretty anti-climactic.
I want to snuggle into a soft red movie seat and chew popcorn while
a story I once dreamed up is projected in 35mm. Then I’ll
shoot some hoops with Adam Brody and go see Mary-Kate about that coke.
Yesterday I got a mention in Publishers Weekly, because of the
possibility of a Company film deal. Here’s the snippet—although,
because this is a trade mag, they give away far too much of the plot.
So I’m blanking bits.
Satire may have a pretty dismal record at the box office, but at least one
studio won’t be dissuaded. Paramount has made an offer for Company (Doubleday,
Jan. 2006) the latest corporate satire from former ad man
Max Barry (ne Maxx Barry).
In the novel, a new employee at a faceless conglomerate can’t figure out what the
company actually produces. Since he has very little to do all day, he makes it his
mission to find out. He discovers that he and his co-workers are ___ ___ ____ in
an __________ _____ run by _______ company ______ human behavior __ _ corporate
environment—___ ______ ____ set in __ ______ park. Perhaps Paramount is mindful of
another send-up of cubicle culture, 1999’s Office Space. That cult favorite by
Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge flopped in its initial theatrical release,
but went on to become a huge earner in its DVD afterlife. It still ranks as one of
Fox’s bestselling DVD titles of all time. Luke Janklow of Janklow & Nesbit and
CAA’s Brian Siberell represent Barry.
Jason Anthony, Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005
Now I don’t do this very often, do I? That should count for something.
The thing is, the excellent Aussie comedian
is performing in New York (July
and if at all possible you should go see him. Then you should hang around
afterward and say, “Hey, Wil, I’m here because Max sent me, and boy am I
glad he did,” because you will be.
Wil’s a big name in Australia. He’s also one of the people I trust with
my early drafts, which is why you’ll see his name in the Jennifer
Government acknowledgments. If you like my stuff, you’ll like Wil.
Wil’s tour dates: Here.
There is something very special about the Brits. I’ve always
admired them, even though I can’t understand their decision to
live somewhere with such bad weather and warm beer.
Today I’m reminded why. After watching pictures of this
horrendous terrorist attack on TV, I jumped on the net to
get in touch with English people I know. And as I heard back
from them, I realized they seemed… a little miffed. Maybe
peeved. But even that might be too strong.
To all Brits: I’m thinking of you guys today. My heart
goes out to those personally affected. But it’s also filled
with admiration for this incredible British spirit that even a
bomb attack can’t dent.
Yes! It is only a month and a half until Baby Barry
is due. Which means it’s really time for Jen and me to come up with a name.
You’d think this would be right up my alley—I mean, I name characters
all the time. But is it really ethical to give a kid a name just because
I find it amusing? This is the dilemma I face as I consider such
favorites as “Binky,” “Fizz,” and “Alan.”
(Okay, that’s just a joke. The “Alan” doesn’t mean we’re having a boy.
I need to be clear about this because we’re keeping the sex a secret,
and we have a lot of relatives watching keenly for any slip-up.
That would spoil the betting pool—which,
incidentally, is currently running 2-to-1 in favor of a girl.)
I know some people say you should wait and see what they look like before
naming them (“We were going to call him Sam, but when we saw him we
just knew he was a Horatio!”), but I don’t know about this. I’ve
seen pictures of newborns, and they all look like aliens.
If I named our kid based on what he looked like after birth, I’d
probably call him, “Krxz’ll Ak Ak Hrgggggg.”
My other problem is that “Barry” really sucks as a surname. I never
realized this before; until now it’s been fine. But just try to put
a first name in front of that thing! For boys, anything unusual sounds
like we got the name backwards (my Dad went his whole life being called
“Barry Hamilton”). Girl names sound ridiculous if they’re two syllables
and end in an “ee” sound, and that’s practically all of them.
Also, anything that starts with “B” is definitely out.
I tell you, “Barry” makes it tough. And the clock is ticking.
Incidentally, Jen has started referring to herself as “we.” As
in, “We’re hungry,” or “We want to lie down now.” It’s little
unsettling. She’s become a hive mind.
I received the copyedited manuscript of Company.
This means someone at Doubleday has gone through it with a red pencil
and pointed out everything I did wrong: spelling, grammar, continuity,
the fact that someone takes their sunglasses off twice without
putting them back on in between, and so forth.
This is intimidating enough, but on top of that they
do it using arcane symbols that would look more at home if Gandalf
was reading them off a scroll.
Fortunately I know a little Elvish, so I can usually work out
what they’re saying. And they’re mostly right, so I tend to leave their
But if I want, I can overrule them, with the awesome power of STET.
“Stet,” I discovered while
editing my first novel, means, “Put everything back
just the way I had it.” (Accompanied, one suspects, by the subtext:
“Idiot!”) How good is that?
When I discovered this word, it was like a gnawing, hollow place in my
heart had finally been filled. Looking back, I can’t work out how I ever
made it through a day without it. “Max, I tidied up your desk for you.”
“No! Stet! STET, dammit!”
Copyediting also reminds you just how archaic the publishing process
is. When I write a novel, I use
a word processor,
nice, proportional fonts, curly/smart quotes, etc, so it looks more or
less like the final book. But for submission to my editor, I have to
strip all this out, double-space it, change the font to that butt-ugly
Courier, and, get this, convert the italics to
underlines. This manuscript then gets
scribbled on by various
people (that’s me in the green pencil), and finally some poor
types it all back in, thus creating a document that looks
near-identical to the one I had to start with.
You wondered why it takes 12 months for a book to get published, right?
I used to, too.
I was pretty sure that nobody gave a stuff about copyright, but my
got quite a big response, so either lots of people care about it,
or only a few do, but they all have internet access. There was much
challenging of my argument that copyright should last just ten
years, so, in the time-honored tradition of half-assed essayists
everywhere, I have decided to Q&A myself.
(And this is totally irrelevant, but I notice
it’s always more fun to write the questions than the answers. It
must be the same way evil characters are more enjoyable to write.)
“Since you think a 10-year copyright is such a good idea,
obviously in four years’ time you won’t mind if I sell my own print run
If you publish a reprint of Syrup in 2009, you won’t be
infringing my rights: you’ll be infringing Penguin Putnam’s. That’s what happens
when you sign with a publisher: you grant it the exclusive right to
sell copies. I no longer have the ability to put my novels into the
“Very convenient. When you sell your next book, then,
will you insist that your contract lasts only ten years, after which
your books enter the public domain?”
What am I, crazy? If I did that, my publisher would become confused
and frightened, I would get a lot of e-mails about “the way we always
do things”, and when it was all over I would probably be looking at either a much
smaller advance or none at all.
“Aha! Sir, you have been exposed! You say it would be a good thing
for copyright to be ten years, yet when given the option, you won’t do it
My argument is not that shorter copyright would be good for artists.
I’m pretty sure it would be bad: not terrible, but definitely worse, at least for
people like me who create (arguably) wholly original content. My argument
is that it would be good for society, and
that’s more important than what’s good for authors.
“Why, you greedy, self-centered hypocrite. You admit that you
refuse to do what’s best for society, then?”
Yes. I mean, sure, I’m nice: I recycle my glass and paper, I give
to charity, and I smile at my neighbors. But I’m not going to work for free,
or take a pay cut, just because I think society deserves to have
more of my work for less. It would be good for society for garbage-collectors
to take a pay cut, too, but I don’t think they toss and turn at
nights about the ethics of it.
When it comes to my career, I plan on doing what I think will help it best.
There is a reasonable argument that releasing your work for free helps
your career, and I partly agree with this, which is why my short stuff
is available for anyone to copy, print, and even sell. But I’m not
quite at the
level, which involves putting your entire
novel up for free download. If I thought it would be good for me, I’d
do it. But I don’t, and there’s no ethical reason why I should.
That’s why we need a change in the law: without it, artists and
companies will act in their own best interest, and generally that means grabbing
as many rights as possible and hanging onto them forever.
Incidentally, on a systemic level I think there’s something seriously
wrong with any plan that requires a lot of people to act against their
self-interest. It never works, and the people who benefit most are
usually those who don’t join in. The monster that copyright has become
can’t be killed
by a handful of authors valiantly giving up some of their income,
and nor should it be. The law has to be changed. Then everyone
can be left to pursue life, liberty, happiness, and profit in the
usual, capitalist way.
“Max, you fool. If there was a ten-year copyright, film studios would
never buy another book. They’d just wait until the copyright expired
and make their film while the author slept in gutters and juggled
kittens while begging for food.”
Studios can already
make film versions of old books without paying the author a cent,
and they’re still buying copyrighted books.
There are two reasons, I think. First, if a book-based movie
gets made for $25 million, the author pocketed maybe
$500,000. A 2% saving is not enough to get a studio worked up.
Second, public domain properties are less valuable, because there are
no exclusive rights: the studio can’t do merchandising tie-ins, or
make a spin-off TV series, or sequels… or, at least, they can’t do
so exclusively. The monopoly is what makes rights valuable, and
that’s true whether it lasts for ten years, or twenty, or a hundred.
There will still be a massive financial advantage in being the only
publisher allowed to produce the new Harry Potter book,
and the only studio allowed to make the film, even if that right expires in a decade.
“But the idea of a some sleazy publisher cranking out copies
while the author gets nothing… it disturbs me.”
Well, the author gets exposure, which is valuable if he’s unknown,
because it builds an audience that might buy his newer books.
(In fact, if the author is unknown ten years after his first book,
he may be the sleazy publisher: he may re-publish his own
If, on the other hand, he’s already well-known… well, he probably isn’t
But to me this is largely irrelevant.
I know a lot of people believe in the moral right of an artist to control
his or her work, but I don’t. If you invent the telephone, you get
a twenty-year monopoly; I don’t see what’s so extra-special about Mickey
Mouse that deserves an additional century. Besides, if we’re designing
a system to encourage the production of creative works, how
happy or rich particular individuals within that system get is of no
consequence: what’s important is how well the system works.
“I’ve spent ten years trying to flog my novel to publishers.
Under your half-baked scheme, it would have no copyright left!”
I’m pretty sure that the copyright clock starts ticking on the first
publication of a work, not on the date of its creation. Also, if
you substantially revise a work, you get all-new copyright.
Okay, that’s enough on copyright, I promise. We return to the real world
Last night I was re-reading that Bible of
Hollywood screenwriting, William Goldman’s
Adventures in the Screen Trade,
when I came across this:
(This) was, ultimately, responsible for the existence of Hollywood.
All the major studios paid a fee to Thomas Edison for the right to make
movies: The motion picture was his invention and he had to be reimbursed
for each and every film.
But there was such a need for material that pirate companies, which did
not pay the fee, sprang up. The major studios hired detectives to stop
this practice, driving many of the pirates as far from the New York area
as possible. Sure, Hollywood had all that great shooting weather. But
more than that, being three thousand miles west made it easier to steal.
This morning, I saw
article on how the British government is planning to extend
copyright protection from 50 to 100 years. This would bring it
more or less in line with the US, which grants copyright until 70 - 95 years
after the author’s death—a period extended in 1998 after lobbying from
media companies, primarily Disney.
I’m a writer and earn my entire living from copyright, but this
is nuts. Copyright has become a corrupt, bastardized version of itself.
Rather than serving as a way to encourage creative works, today it’s a
method of fencing off ideas and blocking creativity. And some of the companies
pushing hardest for new intellectual property laws are the same ones
that owe their existence to breaking them.
We invented copyright to encourage innovation: to make it
worthwhile for people to create their own artistic works, rather than
copy and sell someone else’s. The aim is not to bequeath eternal rights
to an idea, or to make artists fabulously wealthy; it’s to provide society
with new books, films, songs, and other art. Copyright provides
incentive, but the incentive itself is not the point of the law: the point
is to encourage creative behavior.
Having a few years of copyright protection is a good incentive. But
a hundred years? Or seventy years after my death? (If I live to 80,
it will become legal to print your own copy of Jennifer Government
in 2123.) There’s no additional incentive in that. There is nobody,
and no company, thinking,
“Well, this is a good song, but if I only get to keep all the money it makes
for the next 50 years… nah, not worth developing it.”
Copyright extensions, of the kind popping up
nothing to do with encouraging
more creative work, and everything to do with protecting the revenue streams
of media companies that, a few generations ago, had an executive
smart enough to sniff out a popular hit.
It’s a grab for cash at the public’s expense.
The fact that there is any posthumous copyright protection at all
proves that the law is intended to benefit people who are not
the original creator: that is, heirs and corporations. The fact that
copyright extensions retroactively apply to already-created
works proves they’re not meant to encourage innovation. The only
reason copyright extension laws keep getting passed is because the people
and companies that became fabulously rich through someone else’s idea are
using that wealth to lobby government for more of it.
I’d make copyright a flat ten years.
You come up with a novel, a song, a movie, whatever: you have ten years
to make a buck out of it. After that, anyone can make copies, or create
spin-offs, or produce the movie version, or whatever. Now that
would be an incentive. You’d see all kinds of new art,
both during the copyright period, as artists rush to make the most
of their creation, and after, when everybody else can build on
what they’ve done and make something new. You’d see much cheaper versions of
books and movies that were a decade old. You wouldn’t have
the descendants of some writer refusing to allow new media featuring
the Daleks, or Tintin, or whatever. And artists with massive hits would be
merely rich, not super-rich.
A century-long copyright (in the UK), or a lifetime plus seventy years
(in the US)
means books, songs, and films created before you were born will still be
locked up when you die. During your life, you will see no new versions, no
reworkings, reinterpretations, remixes, or indeed any copies at all,
unless they are approved by whoever happened to inherit the original
artist’s estate, or whichever company bought it.
Media companies are quick to throw around the word “thief” whenever a teenager
burns a CD or shares a file over the internet. But this is
theft, too, when an artist’s work is kept away from the public for a
century. Ten years is incentive. A hundred years is gluttony.
Speaking of covers (no word on what the new Company looks like
yet), apparently the
version of Jennifer Government
is soon to hit the shelves, and they’ve tweaked the design.
translates as something like, “Me, Inc.”, which I am hoping sounds much
less lame in the original Portuguese. They also made
look like a Windows XP error dialog box, although I don’t know why.
And if you squint, you can see business suit-clad legs behind it.
Update: Apparently a better translation is “U.S., Inc.”
That makes more sense.
And after I made all those little icons, too. I’ve just learned
that my gorgeous
has to change.
It all began with
Google News. A while ago
I discovered that Google lets you customize a News
page, so you get headlines on whatever topics interest you.
Naturally, I immediately created a “Max Barry” topic and stuck
it right at the top. This is how I discovered the
evil Todd Bunker article,
and about a week ago there was a new one: the shocking revelation
that Company has
exact same cover art as another book.
The other book is non-fiction, and British, but still.
And what’s worse, his is coming out
first. I e-mailed Bill, my editor—who, sadly lacking a
“Max Barry” Google News topic, had no idea. He was less than
thrilled. A few days went by while
what to do (and, presumably, tightened up their licensing
agreement with the stock photography people). Then this
morning, Bill e-mailed me:
While we haven’t been able to ascertain whether the American
edition of that other book will use the same donut, we’ve decided
to play it safe and shoot our own donut. Any preferences?
Chocolate frosted? Apple cinnamon?
This is the silliest e-mail I’ve ever sent, but in keeping with
the spirit of the book, eh?
It is. It’s spooky. The book opens with a donut-related
crisis, and now I have my own.
I’ve been contacting all my friends with babies, pumping them for
information on whether those three-wheeler strollers are really all
they’re cracked up to be, and do you want a bassinet that also converts
into a car seat or is it fine to have those things separate, and surely,
surely, when the baby book says they go to the toilet 10 times
that has to be some kind of misprint, right?
In the midst of all this, I had an idea for a short story. So I
wrote it. If you’re interested,
here it is. It’s 3,000 words
Thanks so much for all the congratulations and well wishes! You
Now, I know other people have had babies. I see them all the time. In
fact, I have it on good authority that, at one time, I was a baby myself.
So on the one hand, surely there should be nothing newsworthy about
the impending arrival of yet another one. But on the other, OH MY GOD
MY WIFE IS PREGNANT.
I know, I know. Deep breaths. Work through it. Okay. Here are the facts:
The due date is August 22. We know the baby’s sex (my theory is
the birth will be interesting enough without needing to build up any
additional suspense), but are not telling anybody (because we’re cruel).
It’s our first.
about my newest arch-nemesis (why stop at one?), Todd
Bunker, got quite a reaction. First a lot of people left comments supporting
me, which was really nice and quite touching. I did notice
a few said some pretty mean things about Todd… but no, you’re
right, he deserved it. Then I saw a bunch of people had
the site that hosted Todd’s article to rake him over
the coals. And some copied me in on e-mails to Todd, pointing out
(in some detail) glaring deficiencies in his character.
Now, I had been thinking about writing a blog about
The Worst Review I Ever Got—one that makes Todd Bunker’s seem like
drooling praise—but now I’m worried that if I do, people will hunt
the guy down, smash his car windows, and kidnap his pets.
So, moving on. For a while there I had a metablog: in late March, a guy called Adam
left the comment:
Max Barry has inspired me to start my own blog, and since I don’t have a website, I will start writing on the comments of max barry’s blogs.
It will pobably be really boring and have a lot of grammatical errors because I am not a professional writer.
But it wasn’t! I was enthralled with whether Adam would ask
Jennifer to the prom, and what would happen to his simmering rivalry with
Eric, even if this was all clearly fictional. And damn, he made some good
points: why isn’t 2% milk called 98% milk? Unfortunately, Adam
seemed to lose enthusiasm in April, and then he stopped posting. So my
metablog is no more: I’m back to just a regular blog.
Speaking of comments: a couple of people asked about the apparently
redundant “A Novel” that appears on
the cover of Company.
Well, here’s the answer, straight from my editor:
That’s so bookstore clerks don’t throw the book in with WHO MOVED MY
So there you go. Apparently Doubleday is also debating how exactly
to “glaze” the donut on the cover! Although:
the scratch n sniff idea was deemed too expensive
Oh well. You can probably get
the same effect by purchasing a real donut and smearing it all over
the book. If you really want to, I mean.
I’m happily browsing the web, minding my own business, when I stumble
across it: an article called
“Writers Who Blog,”
that totally trashes me out. I know! I was shocked too. Still, I was
prepared to file it away with all the other things that make
no sense, like fat-free chewing gum and Florida, until I discovered
something: the article was by the same guy who once wrote
one of the worst reviews
of Jennifer Government I’ve ever seen.
I believe there’s an old saying: diss me once, shame on you. Diss me twice,
I totally go you on my web site. So I’m pulling off my writing gloves
(a simple design to the eye, but they have hidden layers) and knuckling
First, the review. Now, I understand that people need to review books.
It’s a valid profession, even noble in its own way, and performs an
economically valuable function, like prostitution, and selling heroin
to teenagers. Maybe book criticism is even more valuable than those.
But there are certain Things
Critics Do That Piss Me Off, and Todd Bunker does three out of five.
Plus one I keep meaning to add to that list: he gives away some of the
ending. In fact,
he blabs about something that happens on page 325—which,
given it’s a 335-page book, should surely be punishable by public flogging.
I’m sure most authors would agree with me.
That review was written under a cowardly pseudonym—the only reason I
know “Johnny Yuma” is “Todd Bunker” is this new article,
in which he fesses up even while dumping more buckets of cold,
smelly editorial down my back. It goes like this: Todd, who is a
novelist, is thinking about adding a blog to
his own site. Curious
as to whether this would be a good or bad thing for his career,
he checks out Neal Pollack, Wil Wheaton, and me. Neal and Wil come out
of it with minor wounds, but me: whoo. First he blasts me
for being on the receiving end of some kind of publishing
promotion. Then he says the only reason I sell books is because I created
NationStates. He disses my
“Ride the Walrus” blog, saying it
proves I have nothing to write about, then he suggests I lie about how
many people visit my site. He calls my readers sycophants (!!) and
finishes up by rating my blogs as 2/10, because they’re: “Beside the point.
[Max] blogs for hits.”
Being interested in site traffic is a pretty brave accusation to make in an
article that contains three hyperlinks to Todd’s own site, an Amazon
link to his novel, and an image that when you hover over it pops up:
“Todd Bunker Todd Bunker Todd Bunker Todd Bunker Todd Bunker Todd Bunker”.
And that crack about “Ride the Walrus” is totally undeserved. I tell you,
it’s the sensation that’s sweeping the nation. It’s clear to me
Todd hasn’t tried it at all.
After finding so many faults with other people’s blogs,
Todd decides against creating one of his own. The “constant interaction”
would be “too much of a good thing,” he says. Instead, he prefers to
retain “a bit of mystique”.
Well, I don’t know, Todd. If “mystique” means concealing that
you’re a tosser, it might already be too late. I say, have the courage
to put up a blog. Look, it is tough to get noticed as a new novelist; there are
way too many of us. I tried the
thing, too, and it didn’t work out: I had a good book, good publishing support,
and great reviews, and it just sunk. If you want to write books
and tuck them into your desk drawer, then great. But if you want
to make a living out of writing stories, you have to do something more
than sit back and wait for success to land in your lap. You have to
do everything you can.
So don’t be scared, Todd. Show us what you’ve got.
Today I got some orthotic inserts for my sneakers, because I’d like to be able
to keep running without having my feet collapse, or my knees implode, or
whatever else is meant to happen to long-time runners.
My podiatrist was an energetic young woman named Allison, and pretty soon
she had my feet wrapped up in warm, wet bandages—which was really pleasant,
although it was hard to relax due to the threat of tickling. Apparently
Allison was making
a mold, from which a plaster cast of my feet
could be formed, and used to shape the orthotics.
“What happens to the casts afterward?” I asked.
“Oh, we keep them,” Allison said. “We have to. They’re considered medical
I found the idea of a big warehouse somewhere full of white plaster feet
a bit disconcerting. But Allison was enthusiastic. She was, in fact,
remarkably perky for someone who had to smell other people’s feet all day.
I quizzed her about this: “Don’t you get sick of dealing with feet
all the time?”
“Oh no,” Allison said, as if I had said something deeply
shocking. “Two people walk
in, and they’ll be totally different. With feet, you never know what
you’re going to get.”
Occasionally I wonder how social values will change over the next
several decades. I’m pretty sure they will change, and our
descendants will look back on the early years of the 21st century and find
some of our ideals bizarre—as repugnant as we find slavery, sexism, and
repression. But which ones? Here are some guesses.
As a race, we’ve shown a pretty clear trend toward abolishing arbitrary divisions
between people. We no longer consider some races to be sub-human, for example, or one
gender to be undeserving of the vote.
Ethical vegetarianism, practically unheard of a century ago, is increasingly common,
and animal cruelty is now widely considered to be a terrible thing.
To me this suggests we’re on the way to overthrowing
the belief that animals have no feelings worth considering, and that we have the
right to eat them. I don’t think we’ll ever consider animals to be our equals, but we
won’t think their feelings are worthless, either.
Prediction: First we’ll outlaw agricultural practices
that cause animals pain, and eventually we’ll stop eating them.
When you’re under threat, patriotism makes a lot of sense:
your chances of survival go up if you band together with similar people.
But as globalization brings people of all nations closer together,
making international travel and communication astonishingly easy,
national boundaries mean less. The more we learn about foreigners,
the more we find we have in common with them; and not only that,
as the world undergoes a slow, inevitable cultural homogenization,
we do have more in common with them.
At the same time, a consistent pattern shows up every time
citizens of a large Western nation go to the ballot box: city-dwellers vote
liberal and country people vote conservative. How long before
residents from Manhattan, London, Sydney, Paris, and Berlin have more in
common with each other than they do with rural residents of their own country?
Do they already?
Patriotism is a pretty crappy ideal in the first place.
It’s clearly untrue that people who happen to have been born in your country
are more special or worthy of your support than people who happen to have
been born somewhere else. In fact, patriotism is even less defensible than
racism, because at least there you have a biological basis on which to
discriminate. When you’re patriotic, you’re using an imaginary line.
Prediction: Eventually people won’t identify themselves
primarily by their nationality, but rather by their belief system.
Recent events in certain Western countries notwithstanding, the influence of
religion on people’s lives has been falling for as long as recorded human
history. So I don’t see why it should stop now.
Prediction: Few people will believe in a literal God or
identify themselves as followers of a religion.
There’s more concern about privacy in democratic countries today, but there is less actual
privacy. It’s increasingly difficult to interact with government departments and
corporations without supplying personal details, and, thanks to improving technology,
it’s increasingly easy for those bodies to amass, analyze, and use that
information. Governments have strong incentives to invade people’s privacy, since
it increases their ability to control the populace, and they have very little
incentive to protect privacy.
As technology creates more powerful and more easily accessible weapons,
a single rogue person will be capable of inflicting greater harm on other people.
The best defense against this is probably surveillance. Since human beings are more
interested in safety than privacy, I don’t think we’ll fight hard enough against
loss of privacy to stop it happening.
Prediction: People will no longer believe in a basic
entitlement to privacy from government.
Selflessness. Regulated capitalism harnesses the power of
self-interest to make societies more productive. It generates enormous amounts of
wealth that, more or less, benefits society as a whole. Thus, capitalism is here to
stay for the foreseeable future.
However, capitalism rewards selfishness. People who act only in their own best
interests tend to accumulate more money than those who don’t.
For evidence of this, you don’t need to look any further than the types of personalities who
end up running major corporations—or corporations themselves, which are by definition
the purest embodiment of selfishness, and society’s biggest wealth-generators.
In capitalist societies, money means success: power, influence, and status.
And since the wealthy are society’s winners, they are its role models. To succeed,
others will emulate their behavior.
Prediction: People will believe less strongly in the moral duty to help others,
and more strongly in the morality of self-interest.
That’s my best guess (for now): a society that looks back on mass-farming
with horror, shakes it head at our obsession with flags, pledges, and anthems,
sees little difference between religion and superstition, finds bemusement in
our worries about privacy, and sees altruism as naive, even childish.
Utopia? Well, not exactly. But then, I’m not predicting what I’d like
I’m always looking for new things to do in the shower, because I’m
male and have no hair. There’s very little you can do in a
shower when you have no hair; it’s basically “wash face, soap underarms,
sing a little song.” I can’t get out after that; standing naked
under running warm water is too nice. I want to stay there, but
need entertainment—and yet, at this very moment, I have no pockets.
Sometimes I fill my mouth with water and spray it everywhere.
The key is not to just blurt it out: you want to generate a fine
mist, accompanied by a satisfyingly whale-like PFFFFFFF. That’s good fun.
When I’m lacking in inspiration, I just stand there, swing my
arms, and watch the water spray off my fingertips.
But now I’ve discovered a thrilling new activity. (No, not
that.) It’s terrific fun, and I’m sharing it so you can try it at
Now this may require some adjustment of your bathroom
facilities—last week I was traveling around
and it didn’t work in all the hotel room showers I tried.
What you want is a medium-sized shower rose (not a horrible little
needly one) with strong pressure (which, unfortunately, counts out
all of you living in England). Position it as close to the top of your
head as possible.
Then close your eyes and throw your head right back.
If you’ve got it right, the shower jets water directly on
your closed eyelids. This sensation may be accompanied by a flaring
white kaleidoscope or visions of God. And not only that: water
streams directly into your ears, making an adrenalin-pumping roar,
like you’re standing under a waterfall, or, now that I think about it,
hearing the voice of God. Maybe they should choose the Pope this
way. But anyway, it’s pure excitement! I’m telling you, you have
to try this yourself, before it becomes a Disney ride.
I just got home from a week’s vacation to find that my
web host decided that was a good time to kill my site.
Mmm, helpful. This
is a periodic thing: once every few months, they go, “Hmm,
this site seems to be generating load on our server,
let’s disable it.” They don’t notify me; they
just go ahead and do it. When I notice my site is down,
I fix it and send them an abusive e-mail. They apologize profusely,
say the tech didn’t follow proper processes,
and promise it’ll never happen again. A few months later, it happens again.
This is the fourth time. I’m an idiot for staying with them,
right? It’s just that they’re a great host in all other respects.
They give me everything I need. They’re practically
perfect. It’s just, from time to time, they get violent.
But it’s not their fault. They don’t know what they’re doing.
They just lose control sometimes. I shouldn’t provoke them with
all that traffic. It’s really my fault. I know they really love me.
I’m an idiot, right?
I did an interview with
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Today is an important day of celebration in Australia; it’s
National Dirt is Good Day.
No, really, it is. Now, I know, if you live in New Zealand, you’re wrinkling
your forehead and going, “Wait a minute, Max, Dirt is Good Day was
a few weeks ago,”
and if you’re Turkish or Pakistani it was
but that’s not important; those are just funny little international
differences, like how it’s currently Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere
and New Zealanders celebrate Christmas on the last Tuesday of February.
National Dirt is Good Day is sponsored by OMO, a washing detergent made
and by “sponsored” I mean “invented.” Apparently you don’t have to be
a government to go around inventing national days of celebration; anybody
can do it. So Unilever has decided we need one in celebration of dirt.
Years of scientific study by child health experts shows that playing outdoors is an essential part of a child’s learning and development.
Getting dirty through constructive play is how children learn and express their creativity. It also helps them to stay healthy by encouraging them to exercise and bolstering their immune systems.
it seems like this makes just as much sense without the phrase
“Getting dirty through”. It seems like they inserted that fairly arbitrarily.
But no, no, I’m not one to argue with unsourced “years of scientific study.”
I should just be grateful that private enterprise has stepped in to deliver this
crucial health message.
I clicked through the web site to find out how I could
celebrate Dirt is Good
Day at home—I don’t have any kids, but since it’s such a significant
maybe I could pinch somebody else’s. The first couple of recommended
activities seem interesting enough, but the further you go down the list, the
more they seem to be basically, “Take one child, roll him around in the mud,
and wash his clothes with OMO.”
The second-last one is
“Mud Splatters”: its ingredients are (a) water balloons (b) mud
and (c) paper. You’re meant to insert (b) into (a) and throw it at (c),
marveling at “the amazing effects on the paper as the mud splatters.”
There is no mention of the possibility of kids turning their attention
to the amazing effects of mud splattering on other objects, including
each other. Which seems like the logical progression to me, but
apparently to Unilever it would be a surprising and unexpected development.
The final recommended activity is “Mud Pie.” The description is quite detailed,
but I’ll summarize it for you: get a big pile of mud and try to make
your parents eat it.
At the very bottom of that web page, in black text on a blue background,
I noticed this:
Safety Note: Ensure children do not play with dirt that may have been contaminated by animals. Ensure that children do not put dirt or dirty hands in their mouths. Potting mix is dangerous as it contains a potentially harmful bacteria, do not use. Ensure any cuts are covered. Wash hands afterwards.
Wow! I always get a warm, fuzzy feeling when corporations take an interest
in my personal wellbeing, but
tucking away a safety warning where nobody will see it as part of a campaign
to make children play in dirt
is extra special.
Maybe they should call it National Dirt is Good So Long as It Isn’t
Contaminated by Animals and You Don’t Put it in Your Mouth and Wash
Afterwards and Cover any Cuts and For God’s Sake Don’t Go Near the
Potting Mix Day.
But it’s been a big success for Unilever, with consumers apparently
embracing the message of: “No Stains. No Learning.” (An earlier draft,
I’m guessing, is, “No Stains? Bad parent! Bad!”) So surely it’s just
a matter of time before other companies jump on the bandwagon.
There could be ExxonMobil National Go For a Long, Aimless Drive Day,
or AT&T National Just Check Your Relatives Are Still Okay Day.
Because they care about us, you know?
morning Doubleday shocked the hell out of me by sending me
the book cover for Company.
I didn’t even know they’d
started work on it, which was crafty of them. If I had, I would
have been all over them, raising concerns and highlighting
issues. Because I’m helpful like that. Instead: bang! Here it is.
And I like it! The majority of novel covers, in my
humble opinion, blow like crazy, so I’m hugely relieved to get
one that’s clean and cool and kind of intriguing. The design is
by Michael Windsor, the same guy who did
Jennifer Government cover,
so if you noticed a certain similarity of style, well done you.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Well, Max, that looks all
right, I guess, but… I dunno, what’s the donut for?” To
which I am happy to tell you: oh, you’ll find out.
first put up this web site in early 1999, and oh, what a beauty it was.
It had a picture of the Syrup cover, and little blue bubbles,
and funny hand icons next to the links, and you could only get to it
via “maxxbarry.com,” with the two Xs. I wish I’d kept a copy somewhere,
but, alas, all that’s left is
carcass courtesy of the
Internet Archive project.
I was very proud of my site, because in 1999 not everyone had
one. It often received as many as 8 visitors a day, spiraling
up to a heady 13 visits per day in July when Syrup was released.
Thirteen! Just imagine, if 13 people visited me in person each day,
I’d be exhausted. Clearly this web site thing was a good idea.
I also started getting e-mails from people who liked my book—not many
e-mails, but a few—which was very exciting and made me feel famous in
a way that the watching my first novel sink
without a trace hadn’t. I decided that I would get more serious about
the web for my second novel, Jennifer Government.
In March 2002 I redesigned the site.
In September I added pages for
and got to work on an online game called
(which in late 2002 looked like
Thanks to NationStates and the US publication of Jennifer
Government, my web traffic took off: in January 2003 maxbarry.com
received almost 50,000 visitors. But over the next year, it steadily
dropped. If a new edition of Jennifer Government came out
somewhere I would see a little blip, but clearly people weren’t
visiting my site so much. And why should they? I didn’t post to it.
It was just the same old site, week after week.
I started to worry that by the time my next book came out, nobody
would remember who I was. It could be Syrup all over again:
a couple of weeks on the “New Releases” shelves, then gone before
anybody realized it was there. Then I would start getting e-mails from
my publisher saying things like “not as well as we hoped” and I would
have to crawl back to Hewlett-Packard for a real job.
I’d discovered weblogs via
Wil Wheaton and thought
they were a pretty cool idea. I wasn’t sure how exciting my blog
would be, since my day generally goes (1) Wake up (2) Type (3) Sleep,
but on the other hand I did have a lot of obnoxious opinions
and wasn’t afraid to share them. Surely that was enough.
Apparently the first rule of blogging is… wow, have you ever
first rule of blogging”? Seriously, there’s like a hundred different
first rules. So I guess the real first rule is: “Everybody’s got
an opinion.” Or maybe: “People post all kinds of crap on blogs
and nobody checks anything so you can’t trust a damn thing they say.”
But the one I had in mind when I started this
paragraph was: “You must blog every day.” This sounded like
a lot of work, though, so I decided I would just post whenever
I thought I had something worth saying. I would create a semi-blog.
In March 2004 I rewrote the site into the sleek, attractive,
you see before you, and started posting to it. At first I floundered
around, not really sure what to write about, but then I found
my groove and discovered Newlyweds and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
and I was away.
I think I get three things out of blogging. First, I get to
stay in touch with people who enjoy my writing, and tell them
when I have a new novel out that they must immediately purchase
because my cocaine habit doesn’t pay for itself, you know. (Since
I started blogging, site traffic has steadily risen and is now
back to where it was when Jennifer Government was first
published. Look, I even made
This is a two-way thing; via e-mail and comments, I also get to hear
back from people, which is just about the best thing ever.
Writing is a solitary business, and it’s continually thrilling to hear that
a novel I once printed out and mailed in a box to my publisher has
become a small part of someone else’s life. Without that,
publishing books would feel very odd—like having a child move out
of home and never hearing from him again.
Second, it’s good writing practice.
The more you write, the better you get at it, and when I’m working
on a novel it’s a nice break to write something different.
Third, it’s like a diary: I end up with a permanent record of
what was important at this time in my life. I can look back on
it in ten years time, or show it to my kids. Imagine their
sweet little voices: “lol omg dad u r so 1337”.
Have I been hanging around computers too much? I’m all excited
because today I’m 25.
Oh, man. I’ve done it. I’ve finished my new draft of
I think what I’m feeling now is relief. I’ve been editing this
thing for more than a year, on top of the year it took to write.
I actually had the initial idea in 2001, and took at least three
stabs at initial chapters in that year and the next. It has been
a very long road to here.
I’m relieved that I can think about something else for the next
two or three weeks, while I wait for my editor to give me feedback.
And I’m relieved at finally being done. But mostly I’m relieved
that I think I finally managed to do justice to the idea that’s
been bouncing around in my head for the last four years.
I’ve always had a lot of faith in the central concept, but I
sometimes wondered if the characters were up to the job. I tried
all kinds of variations.
I threw people out and auditioned alternatives. In the last
draft (hello, number eight), the biggest rewrite of them all,
I gave the two main characters complete personality overhauls.
Brain surgery couldn’t be this messy. I had bits of people everywhere.
But ohhhh, it’s so much better now.
About a month ago Doubleday told me they were pushing Company
out to 2006, since I was taking so long on the edits.
I cringed. I have been trying to build up the courage to
announce this since then. I’m really sorry—I wish this book
could come out this year. But I’m really glad it’s not.
I hate the old version of Company now. I love my new book.
How are you? I know you get fan mails all the time so I’ll keep this short. I am currently doing an undergraduate thesis paper on blogs and I was wondering if I can ask you one question: Why have you decided to use the blog format for your website?
The short answer is because I thought it was good way to keep in touch
with people in the long, empty years between novels.
The long answer has graphs, and I’ll write that in the blog after this
one. Because you need some backstory: the fact is, I wouldn’t have even
known what a blog was if it hadn’t been for that little punk Wil Wheaton.
In March 2003 I started finding odd bits in people’s e-mails, like,
“By the way, congrats on the Wil Wheaton rave!” I had no idea what
this meant or who Wil Wheaton was. But after I got enough
of them, I decided to find out—because I’m very curious, if you
prod me repeatedly. I did an internet search and discovered
that Wil Wheaton had
a web site, and in
I just finished a great book called “Jennifer Government.” I bought it on a Saturday, and finished it by the following Tuesday. I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever read a book. It’s that good.
This was pretty great, but who was this guy? I clicked around a little
more and was struck numb with horror: Wil Wheaton was my high school
(Well, one of them. I had a few. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you,
See, one night in the late 1980s a bunch of us teenagers went
out to the movies and saw
Stand By Me.
It was a great movie, and I enjoyed it even though it was hard to
concentrate with Jen, the girl I was lusting after, sitting
so close by. We came out of the theater and started to talk
about the actors in it
and Jen said something like, “Ohhh, that Wil Wheaton, he’s so
Well, naturally enough, I was immediately struck with the urge to
hunt down Mr. Wheaton and beat him into a bloody mess.
I resisted, because that was illegal and I didn’t have the plane
fare to go to L.A. Instead I settled for less extreme but,
alas, no more successful methods of pursuing Jen for the next
few years, until one day she cracked under the unrelenting strain
and agreed to marry me.
Ten years of wedded bliss later (I speak for myself here), and
suddenly Wil Wheaton is on the scene trying to mess things up again.
I could feel my temples throb with the old rage, and hear the
voices whispering, “Now he’s not such a big-shot actor, his
house probably doesn’t even have that good security.”
But no! I was a grown man, now (I told myself). That stuff was
ancient history. And this site of Wil’s, called a “blog,”
was clearly something of a phenomenon: he would write about
whatever the hell he was up to that day, and an astounding number
of people would drop by to read it. It was an intriguing idea,
and Wil an excellent writer; I quickly became engrossed reading
about his trials and tribulations as an actor, writer, stepfather,
and human being.
I wrote to Wil to thank him:
Hey, you liked my novel! And then you told hundreds of thousands
of people about it. Boy do you rock. Thanks a lot.
Wil wrote right back:
Right on. :)
You rock for writing it. It’s the first novel I’ve read in years
that was so compelling I only put it down to sleep and drive. Yeah
I read it while I ate. Best 4 days in recent memory.
He also put
e-mail to him on his web site, which was an unexpected introduction
to the custom of bloggers to make just about anything public,
along with a complete fabrication about how he e-mailed me first.
But this was surely just a harmless mistake, and it was quite
thrilling to get a reply. “Hey, Jen!” I called.
“You’ll never guess who I just got an e-mail from. It’s
that guy, Wil Wheaton, who you —”
“Wil Wheaton!” Jen exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. “He’s
Damn you, Wil Wheaton. I’ll get you one of these days.
This is what they should do with all my radio interviews: take
the small number of clear, semi-intelligent things I say,
dump everything else, and mix them up with some boppy background
has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about
Jennifer Government, corporations,
and culture into a quick, breezy
you can download from
My least favorite part is when I read from the book.
I’m really bad at that. I should hire
that guy who
version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod
approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.
Dear Max Barry,
after visiting Nationstates.net i decided to read your book, Jennifer Government. While reading, I read something which made me think: “What would you get if you scanned the barcode?” Is it simply a random arrangement of numbers, or does it have meaning?
~A Jennifer Government Fan
Well, A Jennifer Government Fan, that’s a good question. The answer is long,
convoluted, and filled with heartbreak. Well, no, not really. It’s just long
First, the barcode on the book’s cover doesn’t match the one in the story.
That is, while Jennifer Government in the novel has a barcode tattoo for a particular
product—which nobody is going to give away in the comments here,
lest I smite their account—the barcode under Jen’s eye on the cover
is for the book itself.
More specifically, it’s for the US hardcover edition.
Or so I was told at the time.
The truth, I was to discover, ran deeper.
During cover design, I didn’t care much whether the barcode matched up to what
was in the book, partly because I had very little say in it,
partly because I was so grateful to get a cover that didn’t suck balls I
was weeping with joy, and partly because who the hell would ever know?
But upon hearing what Doubleday wanted to do, I thought,
“That’s cool. You could take the book up to the counter and buy it by
scanning the front.”
I went around telling people this, until about a year later
a guy with more
knowledge of barcodes than is really healthy,
exposé on the Jennifer
Government cover. It’s a very interesting piece, if you’re me or
unhealthily fascinated by barcodes. Here’s a taste:
“But wait!”, I hear you cry, “You said it’s an EAN-13, not an ISBN, and
as everyone knows they have incompatible checksum digits!”
Todd uncovered the non-match between the story and the cover, and that
was just his warm-up. He also discovered that while the barcode digits on the
covers of many editions of Jennifer Government
are for the US hardback, one of the few that doesn’t match is…
the US hardback.
For some reason, in a last-minute change, the barcode number on its
front cover was altered: instead of ending in a 2 (like
here), it ends
in a 3 (like
This means it matches the book’s ISBN, but not its barcode.
Why? It’s a mystery. I can only presume that somebody thought
they were catching a typo just before the print run.
Todd Larason wasn’t done there. His final observation was that
according to the official EAN-13 standard, the
barcode’s bars don’t match its numbers—nor the ISBN, nor anything
else. It’s not actually a valid
barcode. It’s just funky-looking black lines.
(P.S. If you’re interested in seeing how the cover evolved,
take a look at the
A riot outside a shoe store as customers
fight each other
for limited-edition Nike sneakers worth $1,000 a pair? Who’d a
About nine months ago I switched from
I wasn’t unhappy with Windows, but Linux is very handy
designing a web site,
and I got sick of rebooting all the time to switch from one to the other.
So I decided to suck it up and go all the way.
This turned out to be a lot like moving to another country, both in the
sense that I didn’t know where anything was or understand the local
language, and because I realized things about the
place I’d left. So here’s what I learned.
(Note: There are several different types of Linux, and
they each do some things better than the others. Not all my comments
apply to all Linux distributions. But I’m still going to just
- Linux is a religion.
When you first hear about Linux, it’s from slightly creepy people
whose eyes shine with a born-again fervor while they rattle on about
all kinds of things you don’t understand. I have become one of those
people. There really needs to be some kind of warning sticker on the
CD: “May cause you to blog about the philosophies of operating systems.”
I mention this up front because it helps to explain everything else.
- Windows thinks you’re an idiot;
Linux thinks you’re a genius.
What I love about Windows is that no matter what it asks you to do,
you can choose the default and it works. You can
actually install software by inserting the CD, closing your eyes, and
hitting ENTER over and over again. You have no idea what you’re doing,
but you don’t care.
Linux, on the other hand, wouldn’t dare to assume it knows what
you want. There’s hardly a default setting on anything, anywhere.
Naturally you will want to do some in-depth reading
about horizontal frequency rates before leaping into anything as advanced
as displaying a picture on the screen, right? The first time you do
anything in Linux, you come away with an education.
Each approach is handy at different times. It’s very handy being
treated as an idiot, until you want to do something smart. Then it’s
- Windows plays soccer; Linux plays rugby.
(sorry, to me
is football), whenever
one player makes the slightest contact with another, he collapses to
ground, writhing in agony and clutching at his ankle. Everyone
gathers around and looks very worried until the referee holds up
a yellow card and then—amazing!—the player springs up again,
completely cured. So too Windows: as soon as anything
goes wrong with any program, the whole thing collapses in a
screaming heap, and requires a reboot. Linux, on the other
hand, shrugs off application failures like a rugby player
ignores broken fingers. Programs crash, but Linux keeps
- Linux marketing sucks.
Microsoft is a corporation with an overriding
financial interest in persuading people to buy Windows. The people
who make Linux, on the other hand, are mostly volunteers who simply
love building good code. So while there are plenty of Microsoft
advertisements and salespeople and lobbyists to tell the government
that you can’t trust Linux, there is practically nobody on the other side.
It’s always a bit creepy when you have
a big corporation up against a non-profit or non-entity; you end
up being told that sugared drinks are better for you than water,
you wouldn’t dare breast-feed your baby when good old manufactured
formula is available, and there’s no such thing as global warming.
Linux people don’t merely lack the funding
to match Microsoft’s marketing; they also don’t really want to.
attitude is that they have built a magnificent operating system
and if you can’t see that, well, that’s your problem.
So Microsoft’s aim is to sell operating systems while Linux people
focus on building them.
- Windows lets you, Linux unleashes you.
Occasionally I see the phrase “lets you” in discussions of Windows
software—as in, “This software lets you press C to get a preview.”
The idea that you are not allowed to do anything
to your computer unless it “lets you” is, I realized, very
Microsoftian. Because in Linux, you can do whatever the hell you want to
pretty much any piece of code: improve it, change it, or break it.
Not that you need to, because everything is incredibly customizable
already, but you can. If you complain about any piece of software
in Linux, you stand a good chance of being told, “Well go make
it better, then.” By comparison, Microsoft asks,
“Where do you want to go today?” but then strongly recommends
you select: “Default.”
- Windows gets in your face.
Like an annoying four-year-old, Windows
can’t go two minutes without attention. You boot, start
to do something, and suddenly there windows are flying at your face.
Everything is checking for updates or activating or deactivating
or switching channels and IT HAS TO TELL YOU THIS RIGHT NOW.
Linux puts its messages in the log, and you read
them when and if you feel like it.
- Windows fails silently.
Oh my God. Before, I never even noticed this.
But now every time I have to use Windows I end up bug-eyed and yelling
at the screen, “Just tell me what’s wrong!” When something
goes wrong in Linux, it spews messages into the system log,
which you can read through to see what it was doing. Then you copy a
phrase or two into Google, click Search, and choose from a list of
pages competing to tell you exactly what the problem is and how to fix it.
Windows doesn’t do this. Windows doesn’t even have a system log, as far
as I know. When things go wrong, they do so mysteriously and
without complaint: you click buttons and nothing happens, or you try to
run a program and it just vanishes. There’s no way to discover what
the actual problem is. If you Google for the symptoms, you find endless pages
complaining about the same thing, but no solutions. Or
you do find solutions, but they all come down to the same thing:
(1) Reboot (2) Reinstall. They should issue a Microsoft
Support Manual that contains nothing except these two words,
because that’s the solution to every single Windows problem. Even if
you manage to fix it, you never find out what exactly the problem is; you
just grope around blindly reinstalling things until suddenly and
just as mysteriously things start working again. The other
day I e-mailed a company’s tech support and their semi-automated advice
was to reinstall their program and Windows XP. If that didn’t
work, I was to e-mail again to get help from a human.
That’s right, wiping my hard drive was the first step in their diagnoses
process. This is like having to get a heart transplant before the doctor will
see you about your hiccups.
The end result is that even though Windows is simpler to get to grips
with, I never felt really confident with it, because I couldn’t
tell what it’s doing. Linux requires more understanding, but when
you’ve got that, you’re more assured.
- Linux people rock.
One day my Windows PC choked on an automatic security
update, and thereafter every time it tried to update itself, it
failed. Having an unpatched Windows computer connected to the internet
is like walking through a bad neighborhood tossing your BMW
car keys from hand to hand, so I wanted to do something about this.
There was no error message, of course, aside from the gloriously
unhelpful, “The update failed to install.”
I ended up going through the maze of Microsoft’s
technical support to send in a problem report.
I received an automated e-mail back saying my report had
been received, then nothing. Weeks went by. I tried again. Same thing.
Then one day, it just started working again.
Of course, this is not specific to Microsoft. Pretty much every
company treats a support customer like something they just stepped in:
their aim is to get rid of you with as little touching as possible. I can’t
remember the last time I e-mailed a company for support and it
didn’t go like this:
By which time I figure out the problem myself.
- Receive automated response suggesting I look in FAQs
- Receive response from alleged human being that
consists of copy-and-pasted text from FAQ
- I write back thanking them for the information and expressing regret
that none of it is remotely relevant to the problem I described
- Human being actually reads my e-mail starts being helpful.
The other day I had some trouble getting a piece of hardware working
on my Linux machine, and found a web site by
a guy who had written
Linux drivers for it. Not because it was his job;
he just felt like it. The hardware was Australian-specific and Google
wasn’t helping much, so I e-mailed him a question, not really
expecting a reply—because it’s a bit like e-mailing Bill Gates to
ask what that DOS command is that displays all the directories.
(Or would be if Gates actually wrote DOS. Bada boom! Sorry. I’m sorry.
See point #1.) He wrote right back with the answer.
This is the bit when I look back at—ah, forget it, I can’t hand-hold
you new people forever.
No sooner had I posted
about getting the Syrup
screenwriting gig when I received an e-mail back. “Ah!” I thought.
“Already the congratulations are rolling in!” This is what it said:
you only write about your scripts, and that too few and far between.
youre ignoring your loyal website readers such as me.
you stopped writing funny stuff long ago. im upset. :(
you need to get back to the old days when you wrote a post every other
day, and incredibly funny ones too.
This evoked several competing thoughts. First was, “Kiss my
butt, Arjun!” Second was, “Maybe he’s got a point. I haven’t
done so many comedy blogs lately. And he is quite flattering
about my older stuff.” The third was, “Kiss my butt, Arjun!
What do you want, a refund?”
I know artists have to put up with people saying,
“I like your old albums/books/films better than your new ones,”
but geez, I didn’t think I’d get that about my web site.
I searched through my e-mail and discovered that Arjun had written
to me a couple of times before.
If I were petty enough, I might observe that his earlier e-mails
were much more entertaining than this one. And I am, so I have.
I finally changed
my e-mail page
to announce that I can no longer reply to all letters. I cringed as I did
it, because I knew some people would take this as proof that I am
an out-of-touch egomaniac with no time for his fans, and I’d prefer
to keep that a secret.
I also worried I would get fewer e-mails, since people might not
bother writing if there wasn’t much chance of a reply.
Instead, my e-mail inflow practically doubled. It’s like everyone
was looking at that pathetic line, “I will try to reply in 19 weeks,”
and thought, “Poor bastard, I’ll leave him be.”
Or maybe it was because of my
interview with Ellis. This
blog clearly encouraged a lot of people to e-mail me crazy comments
in the hope that I would interview them for the site, too. Either that
or a lot of genuinely crazy people suddenly all wrote to me at once.
Hmm. That’s a more disturbing idea. But anyway, Ellis has his own
now, which promises to reveal more of the enigma wrapped inside a
riddle that is Ellis. Compulsory reading.
In December I added the ability for site members to post comments in
response to my blogs, which, to my surprise, turned out great.
If I post a funny blog, people post a bunch of funny follow-ups; if I
post a serious blog, people post lots of thought-provoking comments.
I have to admit, the reason it took me so long to add this was
because I was sure it would get spammed into the ground by idiots.
And I guess this will happen sooner or later, since this is
the internet. But so far, so good!
I received many long, thoughtful e-mails in reply to my
“On Capitalism and Corporatism”
blog. I took the time to read them and mull them over and think
how lucky it was I didn’t have to write equally thoughtful replies.
Amongst them was a one-sentence letter that,
possibly inadvertently, made the most persuasive argument for
the ascendancy of capitalism of all. After digesting my opinions
on political economics, globalization, and corporatism, Joseph
had this to say:
you play world of warcraft? Cool lets play sometime
It’s a good-news-bad-news kind of situation, except the good news is all for
me and the bad news is all for you. That’s the best kind of good-news-bad-news,
so long as you’re me. Which I am. So that’s great.
Here’s the good news. I got this e-mail from Fortress:
I am trying to talk to Siberell about hiring you. We want to give you a
shot and want to make sure that Brian is open to making a creative deal.
Brian Siberell is my film agent. So I’m pretty sure this translates as:
“Dear Max, Without wanting to invite you to pull down our pants and steal
our wallets, we intend to hire you to write the Syrup screenplay.”
My reaction is: “Ohhhhhhh yeah!” I am so fired up to write this
thing, I tell you. And now I don’t have to fly to L.A. and kneecap
The bad news is
the sample script
I posted on this site, then pulled down at Fortress’s request, is going
to stay down. Sorry if you would have liked a look at that. But the
idea now is not to expose my naked raw drafts to the world, but to
keep things under
wraps until I have a script that’s cool and
polished and gleaming with edgy goodness. (Which it so will.
I often get asked what’s happening with the Jennifer Government
film, because—well, you know, movies are cool. And it’s been about three years
since Steven Soderbergh & George Clooney optioned my book, and
so far not much has happened. On the one hand this isn’t so
surprising, because making a movie is a major logistical challenge:
you have to get the right people interested, and all available at the
same time, and happy to work with each other, and then you need to pay
them all stupid amounts of money. There are
plenty of films that took ten or more years to make it to the screen.
I really hope mine isn’t one of those, but I’ve held off
getting measured for the tuxedo I’ll wear to the premiere.
What’s mainly happened so far, I think—and bear
in mind that I am not involved in this process, because no
film-maker or studio exec wants an author hanging around,
wringing his hands over changes to his masterpiece—is that Section
8 has talked to writers. At first I
thought they were actually hiring writers, then not
liking what they produced, but I have since discovered they were
just having meetings. Lunches, mostly, I believe.
Until now! Writers have been actually
they are, I’m assured, typing words out and everything.
They are Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who wrote the extremely
(Seriously, it’s great. And Ben Kingsley will give you
You should see it.)
Obviously the idea of having a bound screenplay I’ll be able to rub my hands
over and say, “Ahhh, it’s not as good as the book,” is very
exciting. Also exciting is that Section 8 and Warner Bros. have
asked to renew the option, to tie up the rights for another two years.
This, coincidentally or not, would take us up to the point where
Clooney & Soderbergh’s contract with Warner Bros. expires. What does
this mean? I don’t know. But the next 24 months should be interesting.
I am occasionally accused of being anti-things: anti-capitalist, anti-corporate,
and anti-globalization, mainly. If you’ve read Jennifer Government,
you may have an inkling why. But that’s a novel, not an essay. So I am
going to settle the burning issue: What Max is Anti-.
Let’s start with anti-corporate. People say this just because I wrote a book
in which Nike commits mass murder as a promotion for sneakers. The truth is,
I consider myself fairly pro-corporation. After all, I believe they should
be allowed to exist. I’m happy for them to manufacture things, and offer those
things to me in exchange for money. So long as they don’t externalize the true
costs of such manufacture—by, for example, dumping their waste in a
river—that’s totally fine. My only beef with corporations
is that they would clearly kill any one of us if there was a clean profit
in it, and they seem to be getting themselves into a
position to do just that.
Now apparently that makes me anti-corporate. Which I think is totally unfair;
after all, I can be pro-lawnmower even though I don’t want them running over
my feet. I don’t believe that corporations are evil. I don’t think they’re immoral.
They’re simply amoral: they have no capacity for ethical judgment.
Like a lawnmower,
they do what they’ve been designed for.
My attitude toward corporations doesn’t depend on whether they’re large
or small, chain or independent, foreign or local. It’s certainly true
that companies that serve the general public (like McDonald’s and Apple)
act nicer than companies that don’t (like Monsanto and Halliburton),
but this is no anomaly: it’s just further proof that corporations are only
interested in public opinion when it affects their bottom-line. Fundamentally,
all public companies are cast from the same mold. They are all machines,
running different programs on the same operating system.
This is not a particularly common view in these days when corporations appear
to us as grinning clowns and energetic bunnies. We are generally encouraged to view
them as real people, complete with emotions and personalities and quirky
senses of humor. To me this is the purest horseshit, and why I am never
surprised by scandals of companies caught behaving badly. They are not people,
and it isn’t cynicism to say so: it’s the plain truth.
(By the way, I suspect that the increasing personification of corporations
might turn out to be their Achilles’ heel. The more society buys into the
myth that companies are real people, the more we expect them to adhere
to human-like standards of ethical behavior. People like me would allow
corporations to get away with murder, because we expect nothing better.
It’s the people who get shocked when they discover that designer-label
clothing is manufactured for ten cents an hour by children in China who
cause trouble for a brand’s image and force companies to improve their
As for capitalism, I’m definitely pro- that. At least, I’m in favor of
the kind of regulated capitalism that clearly beats the pants off
any other economic system the world has come up with so far.
Capitalism has its pointy bits,
but it’s hard to argue with life-saving medicines, mobile phones, and
being able to buy a vintage Chewbacca figurine over the internet.
Now, I don’t think it’s
a smart idea to privatize water, or the government, or any other essential
service that isn’t subject to natural competition, but that doesn’t mean
I’m anti-capitalist. That means I’m not a zealot.
Somehow, the words “corporation” and “capitalism” have gotten mixed up:
the prevailing view is that corporations are champions of capitalism,
while anybody prone to waving a placard outside a Gap store must be against it
(and maybe even against *cough* *cough* freedom.) I don’t know how
anyone who’s actually worked for a corporation can believe this.
Companies are like the Soviet Union pre-1989: they’re centrally-managed,
they’re always trying to establish a monopoly, and there’s nothing they love more than a
little price-fixing. Sometimes they send people to lobby government,
but not for more competition: no, they want subsidies, special favors,
tax breaks, and
government assistance. So who’s the pinko? It’s corporations that are
anti-capitalist, not people like me.
Finally, globalization: I’m pro- that, too.
Its great potential benefit
is that as it erodes national boundaries, the privileges of rich nations
leak out to the poor. Today, the single greatest determinant of your
health, wealth, and general standard of living is which part of the Earth
you happened to be born in—something you had no say in, and can take no
credit for. There is currently some consternation in Western
about jobs flowing offshore, to people who will work for less pay
(although this has been the case ever since I can remember, just
in different industries), but as far as I’m concerned, this is terrific.
As much as
it would suck to be made redundant from your call center because the work
is moving to India, that job is going to someone poorer than you, who
needs the work more than you, and who in unemployment faces more
serious consequences than having to cancel his World of Warcraft
We are gradually coming to grips with the concept that people
shouldn’t be discriminated against for things they can’t control, and
thanks to globalization, this will eventually apply to people outside our
own national borders. It is an outrage that Western nations preach
free trade while blocking poorer countries from selling us their goods;
it perpetuates Third World poverty in order to protect First World jobs.
I’ll suck up a lot of lost Aussie culture and Planet Hollywood stores to get
rid of that.
But first, an update on the Syrup film situation. Here’s where we’re
at: Fortress liked my draft script, but wanted to hear more about my vision for the
last two thirds of the film. I said, “That sounds a bit like you want me to
sketch out the whole screenplay for no money,” and they said, “Well…” and
proceeded to flatter me until I agreed to do it. So right now I’m putting
the finishing touches on a draft structure for the film, on the understanding
that they’ll then decide (Donald Trump-style) whether I’m hired
or not. If they turn me down, we have agreed that I get to fly over to LA and
beat them to death.
But back to the headline story: finally, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston are
splitting up! I was thrilled to hear this, because finally that bit in Syrup
where Cindy’s goal is to marry Brad Pitt will make sense again. This has been
bugging me for years, and I’m really glad Brad (or I guess it was Jen) had the
decency to make things right.
Maybe everyone knew this already, but I just found out that those two originally
met on a blind date. I tell you what,
if a friend sets you up on a blind date with Brad Pitt or Jennifer Anniston,
you’d be fairly happy, wouldn’t you? I keep hearing these
dating horror stories; how come nobody ever tells the ones where their blind
date turned out to be one of the most desirable human beings on the planet?
Which, I reckon, was Brad and Jennifer’s problem. I mean, imagine you’re Brad
Pitt. Okay, I’ll give you a few moments. Now imagine waking up one
morning, perhaps after a particularly big night, and wandering to the bathroom.
You’re halfway there and you realize that Jen is looking at you from the bed.
You’re standing there, your hair all flat and stupid-looking, your eyes bloodshot,
caught in the middle of scratching yourself in that place where men scratch when nobody’s
around, and you can totally read Jen’s expression. It’s: “So this is the
world’s sexiest man.”
Okay, look, yes: I realize
has auctioned his forehead for advertising space, and January is a slow month for the media
so they’re all
about it. And yes, of course, some idiotic company is going to pay some idiotic amount
of money for it, and that’ll make news all over again. (If you haven’t
heard about this, here’s all you need to know: his mother is proud of him because
he’s “thinking outside the box.”) Haven’t we already established that the world is
engaged in a slow, hapless slide into corpocracy? Do we really need to celebrate
Update (12-Jan-05): For a full listing of idiots, check
or so people currently offering various parts of their anatomy for
sale as billboards (thanks to M. Burns for the link).
Two items are worth a look, though: first, the
“Forehead Ad Blocker” (screens out ads on idiots’ foreheads), and
me bitch slap everyone selling their forehead”. Now that’s