wrote another short story! I know, it’s crazy. It’s like I’m just pumping
these things out. Anyway, it’s in stores now in Australia as part of
Summer Reading Edition, in a super-cool layout complete
with creepy doll’s head pic. I tell you, there’s something about a
creepy doll’s head pic that just works with my
writing, you know? Maybe I can get them to print some in my
If you’re not in Australia, this would be the time when you
start to get annoyed. I mean, Australia was already pretty ace,
but now it’s also got new Max Barry short stories with creepy doll’s
head pics? That’s just too much. But I say would, because
The Bulletin said I can post their spread here
for your online enjoyment. Which is damn cool of them. So here it is:
This story is quite different to my usual groove,
and I’m interested in
what you think—whether you prefer this or
Springtide, for example.
Forbes is running
a special on “The Future,”
and a bunch of writers, including me, contributed fiction.
The deal was everyone’s story had to be based on this:
It’s the year 2027, and the world is undergoing a global financial crisis.
The scene is an American workplace.
I was intrigued by the idea of going head-to-head
against other writers. It sounded like a kind
of writers’ cage match. I found myself thinking, “All right,
Doctorow’s gonna lead with a world controlled by draconian IP law,
he won’t be able to resist. But maybe I can counter with
the entire American economy being purely about advertising. He’ll
never see it coming.”
Possibly no other writers saw it this way. They may have just been
concentrating on writing a good story. Suckers.
Anyway, my short story,
is up now. To read
the others, including shorts by Cory Doctorow and Warren Ellis,
visit the Forbes
Future page and scroll down to “Fiction.”
Forbes has a 90-day exclusive on this piece but after
that I’ll post it alongside my
other short stories, with formatting that doesn’t suck so much.
In other news, you can now search this site. Little box on the left
there. Thanks to Wyatt, who complained about this until I got
off my butt and added it.
Maybe you heard about
the arrest of Jose Luis Calva, who is described
as an “aspiring horror novelist.” Police found a draft of his manuscript
Cannibalistic Instincts, along with pieces of his girlfriend stashed in
various places around his apartment, including in the frypan. I know, I know, I had the same
reaction: it’s pretty unfair to call him “aspiring.” It sounds like that draft
was finished. And not just finished, but comprehensively researched.
Sure, some people say you’re not a novelist until
you’re published, but in this day of print-on-demand and internet
vanity presses, is that really a meaningful distinction? I say, if the
guy went to all the trouble of crafting a story arc, putting words
on the page day after day, and boiling his girlfriend’s flesh, he’s a
novelist. Give him that.
I’m sometimes asked how much research you should do when
working on a novel, so let me say: this is probably too much. It
wasn’t just the girlfriend, you see; there’s also a missing
ex-girlfriend and a chopped-up prostitute. That seems
excessive to me. One, I could understand. I mean, I wouldn’t
support it. You let horror novelists start cutting up hookers, and
the next thing you know Tom Clancy is commandeering nuclear
submarines off the coast of Florida. Or, I guess, appointing
ghost writers to do that for him. But the point is I can imagine
a frustrated Jose at his keyboard, a half-finished sentence
dangling from the screen, thinking: “How do you
sever a femur with a railway spike?”
Three corpses, though, that’s getting carried away. I haven’t read
Cannibalistic Instincts, but I bet it contains
long, tedious passages where Jose was unable to resist info-dumping
his hard-won knowledge onto the reader. That’s the problem when
you get to body number three: your research overshadows the
writing. At that point, Jose really needed to be cutting fewer limbs and
more adverbs. Fleshing out his story, not his apartment. Also,
having a supportive spouse or girlfriend can be really important,
especially to a first-time writer, so I can’t help but think it was
counter-productive to eat her.
But there’s something in this tale to make writers everywhere feel a little
better about themselves, because no matter how bad your own
work is, at least you wrote it without butchering anybody. That’s
a plus in anybody’s language. The corner
Jose has backed himself into is that even if his book is
published, when people read it they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, it’s good…
but is it three murdered innocents good?” It’s extra pressure he doesn’t
need. I mention this because I’m sure there are unpublished horror
writers out there thinking, “No wonder I can’t get an agent; all the
other horror writers are out there sawing limbs.” Sure,
that probably provides a certain amount of realism that could elevate
your fiction to a more visceral plane. I mean, I’m just guessing.
And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hollywood bible Variety
reported this story with the line,
“How soon before someone gobbles up the film rights to this?”
But still. Call me a purist, but I prefer to do things the old-fashioned
way: dismember people in my head.
And sorry to abuse your email inbox, but I’ve just signed on with
the good people at ChuckPalahniuk.net to run an online writing workshop
based around novel-writing. Places are limited, so if you want in,
Yes, they photoshopped me into a suit.
I heard back from Bill, my editor, about my new book. It wasn’t good news.
It wasn’t bad news, either. It was kind of inexplicable news. I’m still trying to
My fear, of course, has been that Bill would say, “Max, you know this book you’re
so excited about… well, it’s not so great.” Every time this has threatened to
overwhelm me the last couple of weeks, I shooed it away, because I knew in
my heart that surely that could not be true: this was a great book,
my best, even.
And it turns out that Bill does think it’s great. So too, apparently, do other people he’s shown it to.
I pushed him on this, in case he was doing that thing where you
say only nice things to the author because my God they’re
temperamental, but no: I really think he considers it quality.
That’s the good news. The bad news is he can’t publish it.
It’s hard for me to explain why. It’s hard for me to understand why.
I think it has a little to do with the nature of the story, and a lot to do with the nature of
the publishing business. I can’t relate the details here without being immensely
unprofessional, even for me, so that will have to do, sorry. But the situation
is incredibly bizarre, like something out of one of my books. (One of the
published ones, ha ha.)
Bill is a genius editor. When he says there’s a publishing problem, I
completely believe him. I know he’s looking out for me and my career.
He’s proven his skill and dedication over a couple of books.
There are options. I have to believe I can get this book out there somehow.
Surely we’ll figure out something.
This is a very weird feeling.
that I’m planning to talk a little about writing this year.
Today I carry that threat through.
To those of you who couldn’t care less about this topic: my God,
can you put aside your own selfish interests for five seconds? No, wait, I mean:
sorry. But there are people out there interested in this. I know because
whenever I post about it, I get emails of weeping gratitude. That’s hard
So to originality. I raise this because I think it’s reasonably common for
unpublished (and underpublished) writers to think: “Man, the only way to
make it as an author is to churn out predictable, formulaic crap. Nobody’s interested in
publishing really original books.” Well, when I say this is a common attitude,
I mean I used to hold it, and I assume everybody is like me. There I was in
1998, collecting rejection letters for Syrup, and the
underlying message seemed to be that it wasn’t mainstream enough.
And I couldn’t describe my own book; I couldn’t find the pithy
couple of sentences that people seemed to want, that would make them
say, “That sounds interesting,” instead of their eyes glazing over with
confusion. I needed something like: “Terrorists hijack a submarine
and ex-Special Forces agent Jack Fyre is the only man who can stop it.”
It’s tempting to believe that formulaic crap sells because there seems
to be so much of it. But I now think
you can look at a shelf full of Grisham novels or whatever and assume
they’re all the same until you read them. Then you find some common
elements, for sure, but much less than you thought. There is formula out
there, but not much of it.
I reacted to my Syrup rejections by writing a standard,
genre thriller. It was terrible. And I learned that you
never improve anything by making it less original. It’s the opposite:
the worst thing writing can be is not new.
I’m convinced this isn’t just me. I think everybody wants newness.
Editors, agents, readers: we all want new plots, new ideas, new ways of
looking at the world. Nobody wants to get twenty pages into a book and
know where it’s going, or even feel too much like they’ve seen all this before.
Even within a genre’s iron-clad conventions, we want twists, surprises,
Young writers in particular can sometimes try to
crawl inside a pre-conceived box labeled “novel” or “screenplay,” and
end up with something far less interesting than if they’d forged
their own path. I’m not saying you want to hit the other extreme, and
pursue a lone, bizarre vision with no regard for how it reads. But you
must nurture the things that make your story and your writing unique—that
make you unique, since writing is letting people crawl around inside
your head. Billions of people can write a sentence. Why should I
bother reading yours, unless they’re different?
Now I don’t want to go on and on about this new book. Well, I do. I really do.
But I realize that’s of limited interest when you can’t actually read it, and
probably won’t be able to for at least a year. And maybe it’s of limited interest
even then. Although why are you bothering to read my blogs? That’s
just weird, man.
Anyway. The fact is, the most exciting thing I did this week was email it
to my agent. From there it will go to Bill, my editor. Bill hasn’t read it yet,
so I will wait with thoughts like these: “He’s
going to love it. It’s by far my best book. Maybe he’ll hate it. It’s
probably all wrong for my demographic and the market has changed
and he’ll ask if I’ve written anything else lately. Oh, shit. I’ve wasted a
Now I know from responses to
a recent blog
that some of you find the idea of my career heading anywhere but upward
laughable. Or at least you were kind of enough to pretend that. But
you have to keep in mind, I’ve been dumped by a publisher once. If you
had heard nothing but positive things right up until the moment they
showed you the door, you’d have paranoia issues, too.
So even though I love this book, love it, I know that until I hear
back from Bill I will fret. I will regret posting this blog, for making the
humiliation when it gets rejected so much more public.
But today: damn. I just sent my best book to my publisher. I’m ecstatic.
So I’m almost finished the last pre-publisher draft of my new book, and
I’m watching the TV show Heroes. Where I live we’re about
three months behind the US. Well, a few weeks ago on Heroes
they introduced a minor character with a super power that’s very similar
to one of mine. Uh, I mean, similar to a particular talent that one of my
characters has. It’s not particularly original—it’s a form of mind control—but in
the show it’s described in an atypical way, the exact same
atypical way I’ve used.
Last episode, this character shot herself in the head. On the sofa, I said,
“Yes!” It was a terrific moment.
Hopefully by the time my book comes out, nobody will remember her.
I wake to the aroma of banana loaf. I’ve made barely a dent
in Katrina’s goodies, and my hotel room smells as if
Momma’s been a-bakin’. It’s quite delightful. Hotels should
consider leaving out banana loaf instead of chocolates, I think.
Take two for Google. This time I seem to have the right
day, and Ricky leads me through the campus to do my talk. And oh my God.
The stories are true. It is the most wonderful place
in the world. It’s like the company is saying,
“Just come in, hang out, and I’ll give you everything you could
possibly want. And if, you know, you have a minute free
and want to do some work for us, that’d be cool, too.”
There are endless
cafeterias; free, of course. Snack and drink machines everywhere.
Massage chairs. A laundromat. A beach volleyball court. A
wave pool. Grass, trees, open space. A full-scale model of
being attacked by a flock of pink flamingos. And geeks, geeks, as far as
the eye can see: young, free, happy geeks. I want to weep
for the years I spent at HP: why did I waste a single minute of
my life there when this exists? If I didn’t already have
my dream job, I swear I would throw myself on the Google doorstep and beg for
» Read the rest...
I can’t sleep. Part of the problem is that when I lie down,
all the blood in my body rushes to my sinuses. Actually, maybe
that’s rushing phlegm. Yeah. It’s phlegm. The other part of the
problem is that back home, it’s Round 1 of the football season,
and my team is playing.
It would be stupid to get up, turn on my laptop, and
check the scores online. The game won’t finish until 3am
my time, so I won’t get to find out the result tonight
I get up, turn on my laptop, and check the scores online.
It’s Richmond 44, Carlton 44.
I also discover that there’s a streaming radio broadcast
available. “Hmm…” I say.
At 3am, I’ve got the laptop in bed with me, piping
out commentary. We lose. I turn it off and fall asleep.
» Read the rest...
On the plane from Austin to Phoenix, I finish my advance copy of
new Chuck Palahniuk novel. Somehow I have ended up reading incredibly
explicit books on every flight. I flew from Melbourne to LA with
Mortem, by Ben Elton, and unexpectedly found
myself in the middle of the filthiest sex scene I’ve ever encountered.
Seriously, it was very educational. Only a Brit could
could produce a book that’s essentially a comedy of manners, but
I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a mother traveling with her
two young children, and had to tilt the book away from her during
The danger then was that the man across the aisle would
think I was trying to show it to him. It was a delicate
Next up was Craig Clevenger’s
Dermaphoria, and a sex
scene involving a dripping tap. By the time I got to Palahniuk,
I decided that if people didn’t want to know about olfactory
cunnilingus, they shouldn’t be reading over my shoulder.
» Read the rest...
I love my breakfasts. But when I’m at home, I don’t usually get to
them until late—11
or 12, if I’m writing. (Some writers drink. Some do drugs.
I find creativity via coffee on an empty stomach.) And I eat
cereal. Or oatmeal/porridge. Milk should always be somehow involved with
breakfast, I feel.
The hearty, American-style breakfast of egg and bacon and sausage and
hash browns is a little too much for me, especially early. If you
ask me, there’s something a little immoral about cooking anything before noon but toast.
This is why I’m having a little difficulty with the hordes of people
in line for pizza at 8am at the airport. And “breakfast tacos!” You
can’t just put the word “breakfast” in front of something as if that
makes it okay! No! There are no breakfast pot roasts, are there? Breakfast
buffalo burgers? Breakfast prime rib steak?
» Read the rest...
What happens to the soap? Every day I check into a new hotel and
unwrap at least one small, packaged, and apparently pristine
bar of soap. I use a tiny amount
before I leave. What happens to the
rest? I can’t believe they’re throwing all that out. I haven’t seen
any big soap collection trucks backing up to hotels, and that’s
what they’d need to haul away all the leftovers.
They must collect the used bars, mold
them into new ones somehow, and repackage them. So when I’m in the shower, I’m actually
rubbing myself with soap that has passed over hundreds, maybe even
thousands, of bodies before mine. Maybe the way to look at hotel soap
is as a hundred million invisible skin particles from everyone who
stayed there before you, compressed into a sweet-smelling bar.
Feeling more connected to humanity, I head down for some breakfast.
There’s a TV running FOX News, and on screen people are agreeing that
the only way to deal with Iran’s seizure of British soldiers is to
“make them feel some pain.” Anything less, like diplomacy, would
cause the UK to become “a laughing stock.” It’s amazing
how similar all this is to the last time I was here, and the time
before that, and that. The names of the countries change (Iraq, Iran),
and the precise issue everyone’s agitated about, but
the solution is always the same: send in the military. And I understand
that mindset. But I don’t understand how they can still be talking
as if it’s February 2003.
» Read the rest...
“I smell worms,” says Mary.
Mary is my media escort for the day. We’ve just stepped out of her
car at FOX-6, ahead of my first TV interview in eight years, and
Mary can smell worms.
“Ewww,” she says. I look down and see that what I initially took
for sticks strewn across the sidewalk are indeed long
worms: dozens of them, hundreds. We have to pick our way carefully
toward the studio doors, and wipe our shoes of any collateral damage
when we get there. On the one hand, it seems a little disgusting
to be leaving a bunch of worms on the doorstep of FOX. On the other,
it feels a little appropriate.
I still can’t actually smell them, though. That’s got to be
some kind of super power: the ability to smell worms.
» Read the rest...
It’s here. The scratchiness in the throat. The sweating.
There are a million multiplying bio-agents in my head and they’re
all manufacturing phlegm.
I get up in the middle of the night to gargle antiseptic
mouthwash and discover that this stuff is much stronger
than back home. I think it actually dissolves my teeth a little.
But I’m prepared to take a little friendly fire. This throat
needs to be liberated.
The key to getting out of a hotel room on time is to corral all
your gear into one small area and not let it escape. It tries, of course.
When you’re not looking, your shoes sneak under the desk and your
wallet climbs onto the bedside table. Then when you’re chasing
them down, your underpants run giggling into the bathroom. You
have to be vigilant.
» Read the rest...
I wake at 7am and don’t feel like heaving. This is a big improvement
over this stage of my last book tour. I’m pretty pleased with how I’ve
adapted to the 17-hour time difference so far. The only issue I have is
appetite: it’s coming up on 24 hours since my last meal
and I’m not hungry yet. That’s just not right.
I pack up my stuff and leave my hotel, pausing only to try to check
my reflection in the TV. Honestly, this thing is the size of a surfboard;
I keep thinking it’s a mirror. I also swipe a hotel pen, because back
home I’m running low, having by now lost most of the pens I stole from hotels
on my 2006 tour.
I board my flight to Denver and settle in to my seat. The woman to my
left dabs at her nose, and with dawning horror I realize:
she has a cold. Over the next 90 minutes,
she sneezes, hacks, coughs, and wipes, while I try to breathe through
a pillow. I wish the check-in screen had mentioned that
during seat selection. I would definitely have chosen the “non-virus
bearing” area of the airplane. In fact, when choosing my seat I’d
ideally like to see little pictures of who’s going to be seated where.
That would be interesting. I would choose to sit near small but
» Read the rest...
Wow, I probably shouldn’t write blogs at 3AM. When I began typing
up yesterday’s post, I intended
to describe the rest of my day, which involved meeting
NationStates admins for dinner and enjoying some ice cream that was like
sex in a bowl, only creamier.
But it was the middle of the night (I’d woken and couldn’t find sleep
and after typing for a while, I
started to feel like the only person on the planet. Then thinking
about Fin saying “Neena, neena” tipped me over the edge, and
it all abruptly ended in a very melancholic place.
On Sunday, however, I am reminded that I am actually
incredibly privileged to be here, because today
is my first reading. And before that, I get to do the LA thing: take
meetings with movie people. First it’s the Syrup producers,
to discuss the next draft, then Steve Pink, who’s writing
the Company screenplay. Steve throws questions at me like,
“Okay, my problem with Eve is this: in the third act does she redeem
herself with Jones or should I have her sink deeper?” And I have
absolutely no idea. I can’t even remember the book properly any more;
I get confused between what’s in the final draft and what
I threw out several years ago. I wish I could give
Steve the kind of great story insights that only the
original author can provide, but I’ve got nothing.
While being completely useless to Steve, I have breakfast, or lunch,
or something. My body is still suspicious about what time it really
is, and doesn’t want to commit to full-blooded meals: it wants to
eat lots of small things, spaced about an hour apart. I order a bowl of oatmeal and
an orange juice, which unexpectedly shatters
my previous record for most
overpriced book tour meal:
it’s $53, excluding tip. Even the waitress is
a little embarrassed, and this is Beverly Hills. It may be difficult
to explain this one to my publisher.
» Read the rest...
“Daddy!” Fin shrieks, and begins to run toward me across the airport
hall floor. There are a million people around but no-one between
her and me, and she runs/staggers/falls toward me with a huge grin
on her face. I crouch down and she leaps into my arms. Her little
fists bunch the material of my sweater, trapping it in her miniature iron
grip. It’s so good to hold her again. It’s so good to smell her.
I haven’t seen my daughter since she got bored in the check-in
line, about an hour ago, and Jen took her off to play near the
fire engine that moves if you put in a dollar.
My quest was to avoid seat 48G. I was booked on seat 48G, but
I didn’t want it: thanks to SeatGuru.com I knew it was the row behind
the babies in bassinets, two rows behind the toilets, had
reduced leg room, and was in the middle section. Melbourne to LA is
a fifteen hour flight; you want a good seat. The only way to change
it, the travel agent told me, was to turn up early at check-in.
Which I did, to find that the line is already so long that it
snakes through several
other dimensions. Whenever I make some progress, an airline
employee wanders through the line and calls passengers on flights
ahead of mine to come to the front. This continues until finally
I am one of those passengers who needs to be called to the front,
which occurs exactly six places before I would have gotten there
anyway. By that stage, I don’t want their help. It’s like ascending
Mt. Everest and then with a hundred yards to go and the summit in
sight, my Sherpa offers to carry me.
The woman at check-in can’t change my seat. She says,
“If you want to do that, you have to get here early.”
So it’s time for goodbyes. I kiss my beautiful wife and daughter.
Fin says, “Bye-bye.” Last time, 14 months ago, she couldn’t talk.
She didn’t even have teeth. Nowadays she’s smart enough to come
to the bottom of the stairs, rattle the stair-gate, and yell,
“Daddy! Daddy!” until I appear.
I don’t even want to think about how much I’m going to miss her.
» Read the rest...
So I’m going to do another travel diary. That was fun
last time, and what else
am I going to do in my downtime, dance around my hotel room
naked and get drunk from the mini-bar? I mean, apart from that?
This will mean an increase in the number of emails you’ll get
from here (daily-ish instead of weekly-ish), if you’re
subscribed that way. If that will bother you, you might want to
change your preferences now.
(Unfortunately, no, there is no “Un-hear that sentence about
Max dancing naked” option.)
[ US Tour Details Here ] <— (note change of venue in Milwaukee)
For 2007 I have resolved to make every single blog about writing.
Okay, no, not really. That would be boring as all get-out. But I
am still a little giddy from my
staggeringly disaster-free latest
effort, so I might do a few more than usual. I mean, it’s not
like anyone’s forced to read them, right? If you’re here for the
cutesy Finlay pics, you can
skip on by, can’t you? Right. And where possible
I will try to relate them to non-writing areas, in order to avoid
disappearing up my own butt.
So. To discipline. I have come to suspect that discipline is a myth.
These elite athletes who train at four in the morning until their
toes bleed; the child violinists who stay locked in their rooms
practicing while all their friends are out doing fun stuff like
drugs and unprotected sex;
we’re supposed to think they’re disciplined.
We’re meant to shake our heads in admiration and say, “Wow, she
really earned it.” But I reckon what they’ve actually been doing
is having a good time and calling it work.
I’ve reached this conclusion because I have no discipline, and I
assume my character flaws are shared by the rest of the world. (The
good parts are just me.) I work from home. There’s nobody stopping
me spending my days browsing girls-with-glasses-having-mudfights.com
instead of writing novels.
The fact that I do manage to squeeze out a new book now and again
is often interpreted as evidence that I must have great discipline.
But I write books because I love it. That’s not discipline, is it?
Isn’t that just being fortunate enough to get paid for recreation?
When I first decided to give full-time writing a shot—before
I was published, by the way, which should tell you how very stupid I
was—I was extremely disciplined. I had daily word targets. I graphed
my progress. If I fell behind, I would berate myself about wasting
precious time. And I did write many words. But I didn’t enjoy it
much, and my output fell off, and the book I was writing turned out to
be a steaming pile of crap, which I never finished.
I bet the same thing happens if you’re trying to become a professional
violinist, or swimmer, or even something more mundane like trying to
get into shape.
Unless you enjoy the process and take pleasure from practicing, you
Hmm. When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be
kind of inspirational.
You know, about how there’s not that much separating us normal
people from world-class achievers. But now I think about it,
you can also read it as a depressing indictment on how people are
pathetic they can’t achieve anything unless they get lots of
little rewards along the way.
Well, either way.
Note: I didn’t really mean to
skip a whole month of blogs there. Sorry about that. I did get a ton
of writing done, though, and played with my daughter. So, really, can
you complain? I mean, and still sleep at night?