MaxBarry.com
not just a pretty face

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 30
Oct
2013

I Hate My Books

Writing I’m not sure if it’s like this for other writers, but I have trouble writing something new while I still like my last book. It hangs over me. It makes me feel like I should write that kind of thing again.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad. But imitating something you think is awesome doesn’t work. It’s much better to imitate something something you think is flawed. Flawed, you’re all, “I loved THIS PART but it would have been SO much better if THIS.” Then you make something new and interesting. Aping something you admire, though, you only get a photocopy.

Some people who discover me via Lexicon ask which of my books they should read next, and I’m never sure how to answer, because I think they all suck. I had to reach that belief in order to write the next one. A lot of what I do relies on delusion; I also have to convince myself that the new book is THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD, because how else would it make sense to spend a year or two on it. Despise the old, adore the new: I’m sure it’s the same in any relationship.

Lexicon has been doing well, which created a problem I hadn’t really faced before. Usually, when a book comes out, I’m deep into the early exploratory phase of the next one, and I take some time out to return to that little lost world and talk about it on radio or bookstores or whatever. And it’s always slightly fraudulent, because I’m also thinking, this book kind of sucked, you should see what I’m working on now. Again, this is more about delusion than truth. I have to believe that in order to work.

Now, promotion is good fun; people generally say nice things and make you feel like all the work was totally worth it. They even start to convince you, you know what, this book didn’t suck that much. It was kind of great. You used to love it, remember? Then before you know it, you’re flipping the pages, thinking, This was good. Why did I ever leave?

So the thing with Lexicon is this phase has lasted much longer than usual. It’s maybe not all about the book; it’s maybe social media, too, bringing everyone so close you even can hear their thoughts. And it’s wonderful, of course, everything you dream of when you’re lost in a third draft, trying to stitch plots back together. But after a while I started to feel like I was cheating on the new book. It’s one thing to stay friends with your ex. It’s another to still think about them, talk about them, and open their covers and run your fingers down their pages.

Anyway, this is why I haven’t been on Twitter et al lately. I’ll be back; it’s all good. This book I’m seeing now, wow. We just needed some time.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 2123 days ago

I love the imagery you use - "It’s another to still think about them, talk about them, and open their covers and run your fingers down their pages." - quite clever.

Machine Man subscriber Xavier Desroches (#1840)

Location: Brossard, Qc, Ca
Quote: "Smile, Tomorrow Will Be Worse... - Murphy"
Posted: 2123 days ago

@Mapuche: What? You like something Max wrote?!? Oh, wait, he does write great stuff and we're all here for that reason. Nothing to see, move along! (In case I wasn't explicit enough, I meant that as a joke, I'm not looking to start a flaming war.)

@Max: If it can help you anyhow, I hate Lexicon too. The reason I hate it though, is that it kept you from writing another book for more than a day. Yup, I think I would allow you a single day off every time you publish a book. Want to work for me? :-P

TotesEichhorn (#4757)

Location: Vienna - Austria
Quote: "marketing IS modern propaganda"
Posted: 2123 days ago

Well, been a while Max.
Good to see you are back on track, and not playing around anymore with your exes.
Though sometimes I think that if you have a great thing going on, why end it in the first place? I do like Terry Pretchett's work, and I see that he is loving that one flat place so much, he cannot leave it. Maybe that is something you can work out for yourself. I mean you stretched a bit into that direction, and your mind is analytical/cynical (as with most of the IT people) enough to be able to create a spot that you feel at home with. You know... it seems that you are wandering and still searching your "place".

Anyway, I tip my hat and wish you all the best!

Andrew Riley (#1970)

Location: Parker, Colorado, USA
Quote: "Predictions are difficult, especially about the future."
Posted: 2123 days ago

Maybe "suck" means something different where you live...

Machine Man subscriber SexCpotatoes (#2188)

Location: Navarre, Ohio
Quote: ""Democracy is the theory that the common man knows what he wants, and deserves to get it good and hard." - H. L. Mencken"
Posted: 2122 days ago

You know if you're still in love with your current book, I think that's how sequels happen. Of course I don't know how Lexicon ends yet, or if there's room for a sequel to the story.

Radiatia (#6360)

Location: Wellington, New Zealand
Quote: "Everything in life is about sex, except for sex - that's about power."
Posted: 2122 days ago

It feels like only yesterday you were telling us all how Machine Man was the best thing since sliced bread. (Admittedly, as it transpired, it WAS the best thing since sliced bread. I like sliced bread as much as the next man, but Machine Man was one damn fine book.)

As for Lexicon, well, funnily enough I bought the book but still haven't had time to read it. (I'm a slow reader, and it's still in the queue of all the other books I've bought myself that I haven't had time to read.)

jesse (#262)

Location: California
Posted: 2120 days ago

For what it's worth, I discovered your writing via Syrup in 2001 and have stuck with you since then. While I have enjoyed each book on its own merits (and keep experiencing creepy Jennifer Government-esque moments), I think your writing gets clearer and crisper and cleverer with each book. I hope you keep it up! You remain one of my top five writers for a reason.

Machine Man subscriber Roger (#1653)

Posted: 2117 days ago

"Some people who discover me via Lexicon ask which of my books they should read next, and I’m never sure how to answer, because I think they all suck."

Well, because they do all suck. But that's okay. We still love ya.

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 2109 days ago

My review. Maybe it'll help you quit chasing the dragon.

There is a formula in a lot of popular books these days. I hate these books. I read them so I can talk to literate women who are probably too young for me; which means they probably aren't worldly enough to see through my assholishness and veiled alcoholism. It’s a ploy and a justification for a guilty pleasure. I travel every other week for work. Like the fat lazy American I am, I have someone read them to me, audiobook style. I’m not some 1950s man who needs to drag their eyes across a page to ingest my info; read it to me, I've got shit to do. This allows me to drive from Phoenix to LA all the while, yelling at my protagonist or stopping at a volcanic cliff in wind swept western New Mexico, listening to the suicide letter of a turn of the century dandy composer. I love it.

The formula I opened with has three parts. These parts not only reinforce the stereotypes that I like least about women, but glorify them. First, there is a woman who doesn’t know she’s pretty. She’s gorgeous. She’s the best looking person in the book, but it is impossible for her to believe. Even when told directly, she thinks there is something wrong with the person saying it. Standing in front of the world, beloved by all, it is because of the clothes or the makeup or the people are just crazy. Men bend to her will when she uses her looks to seduce them, but it’s their flaw, not her gift.

Second, she has a secret skill. She is the best at something. She has an ability, poorly understood, that no one else has. She can shield her thoughts. She can shoot a bow better than anyone. She is amazing in a specific and unique way that no one else has. She has no idea this ability is awesome and thinks anyone who points it out or highlights it is either stupid or has an alternative agenda.

Third, she is the worst decision maker in the world, in history, ever. When she does make a decision, it’s the wrong one; but most of the time, she makes no decision. Even when agreed upon in advance; if X happens then you do Y, she freezes, she doesn’t know X has happened. By the time she gets it, it’s too late. “Oh my god, he was silently mouthing the words SHOOT ME!, I should have figured that out considering he said to shoot him if he was ever captured and then when he was captured I did NOTHING!"

I hate this formula. I look down on those who love it and even more so, empathize with it. “That’s me!” means no desert for you.

I do, however, have one exception, Lexicon. Formulas like this sell books. Books are mostly read by women. You want to sell books, follow this formula and write a female protagonist. Make everything work out in the end, not because she grew out of this formula, but because everyone else in the book, acting together, overcame the obstacle. Things would have turned out the same no matter what decisions she made. This is reassuring. “I’m secretly hot and great at something and everything will work out no matter what decisions, if any, I make.” Max Barry’s new book Lexicon is the best book I’ve read in a long time and, like seeing a red Honda Civic everywhere the week after you get lucky enough to sleep with that hot blonde at the gym that drives one, I saw this formula in his work.

The difference is, he crushes the formula up, rails through a few lines, and then beats your ass with his pacing, prose and nuance. It’s there. "No dessert" will like it. I’ll hate her for it, but it’s the best version I could imagine. I’m excited that Max was able to take, even if unconsciously, this formula and incorporate it. It makes for a successful conversion to movies and television, which he deserves.


So basically I compared it to the hunger games and twilight.

ready to get back to work?

(grin)

cant wait till your next one!!!!!!!!!

Mari (#6512)

Location: Lexington KY
Quote: "~ darkness doesn'thave to be evil"
Posted: 2099 days ago

"i hate my books" -- i think this is fairly normal among us, yes. :)

by the way, are we ever going to get a jennifer government movie??

kaveh (#6513)

Location: Iran - tehran
Posted: 2095 days ago

Hi,
I tried to contact you with an email
I'm going to translate your books in persian
so plz contact me

kaveh.daneshvar@gmail.com

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 2063 days ago

maaaaaaax!!!!!!!! i love all your books. each one gets better than the last :-)

is Lexicon going to be translated into japanese? Machine Man was, and a Japanese friend loved it and wants more... please have it translated into japanese before she eats my brain!!!!!

Lindsay Edmunds (#6545)

Location: Southwestern Pennsylvania
Quote: ""The earth keeps some vibration going / There in your heart, and that is you." Edgar Lee Masters"
Posted: 2039 days ago

I am about 80% through LEXICON and it pulls like a train (it keeps me reading, in other words). It has tremendous forward momentum. I like it that you quote Emily Dickinson; I'm a fan.

I've written two books and don't like either of them. Why is this? It happens in all fields. Fred Astaire hated watching his movies because he thought his dancing was terrible. Hayao Miyazaki sees only the mistakes in his great movies. Is it that by the time a book comes out, that book is old news to its author? Lived that life, ready to move on?

Steve (#2499)

Location: Michigan
Quote: "Max Barry's writing rocks. And he didn't even pay me to write that."
Posted: 1975 days ago

FINALLY, Max. I'm not a hardcover guy. Love soft cover. So thank you for the update ... just pre-ordered Lexicon. I've been waiting, excited, for this one.

Steve (#2499)

Location: Michigan
Quote: "Max Barry's writing rocks. And he didn't even pay me to write that."
Posted: 1975 days ago

[Crow. How did I end up commenting on this instead of your latest Lexicon update??? Whoops.]

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