New book! » Lexicon
New movie! » Syrup
New praise! » Time's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2013
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
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
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
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.
That row of numbers on a book’s copyright page is
and tells you whether you’re holding a first edition or fourth or what.
First editions look like this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
… and each time the publisher goes back to the presses for
a reprinting, they delete a number. So this:
5 6 7 8 9 10
… is a fifth printing of that edition.
This isn’t really a secret. I just thought that was a funny blog title. But reprintings are great, because they mean the book sold more than
the publisher’s worst fears. It’s a constant source of joy
to me that while the Syrup hardcover was
such a commercial disaster that you can more easily find
copies than real ones, the paperback keeps getting
reprinted, fourteen years on. Last month, I flipped to a Syrup
copyright page and saw this:
I don’t care if they are running off eight books at a time; that’s
awesome. It’s so sad when a book goes out of print. It’s like a little
death. I hope e-books will save authors from those.
Also, Syrup just got itself a movie tie-in edition!
As a reader, I’ve always disdained movie tie-in editions. I’m all,
“If I wanted to see the movie, I would, like, see it.”
But as an
author, it makes me stupidly happy. I mean, movie tie-in edition.
Who wouldn’t want one of those. And I’ve never really loved the existing
Syrup covers. I don’t hate them. But I don’t love them.
The US paperback
in particular looks to me like an ironic comment on
marketing, only without the ironic part.
Plus, these will make excellent gifts for people who have no intention of
reading the book but will be impressed by the fact that it’s a movie.
You know what I discovered on book tour: AMERICA HAS GONE TO THE
FUTURE. I was there two years ago but in the meantime America advanced
about a decade. Now you use your phone to carry boarding passes and movie
tickets. When you need a ride somewhere, you summon cars with an app. I tried to buy a
sandwich in New York and the store didn’t take cash. DIDN’T TAKE CASH.
I met two people who don’t carry wallets any more, just credit cards. In two more
years, I guess, they will just carry phones.
Now I’m home in Melbourne, Australia, I’m all, “Ugghhh, stores that only take
cash, how 2011.” I just bought some sushi and it seemed really stupid, handing
over a twenty and trusting the cashier to remember and figure out the right change.
That process is fraught with potential errors. If we didn’t already do it like that,
and somebody invented it, it would seem like a terrible idea.
Besides marveling at technological process, I was in the States to read and sign
books. During my New York event, a person asked, “What’s the worst thing
about being an author?” At first, I was overwhelmed by things to bitch about, like,
just that morning, I had really felt like some wheat-based cereal, but my fancy hotel
restaurant only did Granola. This is the kind of rough justice I’m expected to
put up with on book tour.
But beyond that, there was the whole thing about having a career that occasionally seems
like it’s about to dissolve into nothingness, which is sporadically terrifying,
and sometimes I write things nobody likes, which is disappointing, and working on
the same idea for years at a time can be challenging, too.
I didn’t catalog these pains, though, because they were hard to justify in the face of
a room full of people who had all come out to see me and buy my books so I
could keep writing stories for a living. That is just plain awesome. I think I’m getting more appreciative
in my old age, by which I mean less deluded about how rare and special this is,
getting to write books and have them published and people liking them. Thank you
so much to everyone who reads my stuff, and comes to see me, and tells other people
my books exist.
Speaking of which! I don’t know how you politely slip into conversation that you’ve
received a crapload of positive reviews, but CHECK THIS OUT:
a crapload of positive Lexicon reviews!
You have to admit, that’s a lot. Even I feel like buying a copy after reading that.
If you have bought a copy, and now you have questions, you might want to
@Penguinusa Twitter Book Club
and tweet questions at
me. The first session is Tuesday 7pm EST (US).
Another thing I’m doing is fielding outrage from librarians.
At the end of Lexicon are
Acknowledgments, which contain this:
And, hey. You. Thanks for being the kind of person who likes to pick up a book. That’s a genuinely
great thing. I met a librarian recently who said she doesn’t read because books are her job, and when
she goes home, she just wants to switch off. I think we can agree that that’s as creepy as hell. Thank you
for seeking out stories, the kind that take place in your brain.
This sparked some amount of LIBRARIAN RAGE, expressed via email
and Twitter. In retrospect, I should have seen coming, because I am
married to a librarian and know how they work. See, librarians come
in two flavors: Kick-Ass Librarians and Mundane Librarians. Kick-Ass Librarians love books with
a deep and fiery passion, and have firm opinions about censorship, and
will cross burning coals and defeat ravenous lions in order to deliver
an age-appropriate book into the hands of a willing reader. Mundane Librarians—of
which there are very few, compared to Kick-Ass Librarians—just do the job.
To them, books are rectangular things that need to be scanned and filed.
When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad. But to Kick-Ass Librarians, a Mundane
is a new mother in a Birthing Ward who says, “Yeah, I just had a baby. He’s
around here somewhere.” It tears at the insides of Kick-Ass Librarians that
these people are entrusted with the care of books (and readers!). And it
burns them up to think that people believe all librarians are like that: Mundane.
So I am sorry for not being clearer about that, Kick-Ass Librarians.
Finally! Are you Australian? Do you want to win a copy of Lexicon?
Do you sometimes lie awake, regretting things you did in high school? If
you answered YES to at least two of these questions, and they were the
first two, post a comment
here on maxbarry.com
and/or arguing the merits of your case! The Australian publisher is kindly
letting me give away five copies. Entries close Friday 5pm!
Also! I just saw a minute ago that Syrup is opening in Canada this weekend in
Toronto and Calgary! That is literally all I know. I know this seems like
an incredibly stealthy way to release a movie, not telling anyone where
it’s playing, but that’s because you don’t understand marketing, and apparently neither do I.
OH WAIT I just sleuthed out some
info: Friday in Toronto at Carlton Cinemas. You can even
And that reminds me! Sorry, I have to mention this, too.
While I was in the US, I managed to collect two movie souvenirs.
One is a can of Fukk, which by rights belongs to Mat Coad, because he
won a competition to design a Fukk can
on this site six years ago. The other is the book “Lipstick Lesbians…
And Why Men LOVE Them! (A Girl’s Guide to Giving Straight Guys a Hard Time),”
which Scat discovers in 6’s apartment:
As it turns out, the designer of this prop, whose name I’m going to put
here as soon as I discover it, not only did an amazing job creating this
work of art, but also embedded jokes on the rear side:
Front Cover •
Which I just think is awesome.
Also, apparently he used The Scarlett Pimpernel as a template.
fifth novel, Lexicon, is out today in the US & Canada,
so I’m going
to spend some of today visiting New York bookstores, looking at it,
and feeling weird. The
on this book has been kind of shockingly good, like what you
dream about as an author but never actually happens, so I’m daring
to think that THIS COULD BE IT, the book that allows me to
use the word “bestselling” without abusing its definition. Poor
word. It has been so stretched.
But a few days ago I finally watched Syrup and I need to tell you
what that was like! I’ve been building this up for about
five years and then I did one tweet, so people have been
asking HEY WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FILM. But I was traveling
and not sleeping and didn’t get the opportunity. Now I’m writing
this from a New York hotel room at 3:30am, so I’m making
my own opportunity, like Tony Robbins.
had been holding out to see Syrup in a theater, since that was
what I’d always dreamed about. But then I realized I had a problem,
because I could only see it in a theater in the US, and my wife, Jen,
wouldn’t be there. Jen was a huge part of writing Syrup; she read the first
draft one chapter at a time and got all excited about it in a highly
motivating and sexy way that made me keep writing. Plus she’s an
awesome person to see a movie with. But we
could only get a DVD in Australia, not see a theater showing.
So I made an executive decision: The night before I hopped a plane
(Melbourne to Sydney to Los Angeles to Houston to Columbus all in one
Jen and I dragged the sofa up to the TV and closed the curtains,
so it would be like a real theater.
We were both nervous and held hands and said things like,
“Whatever it’s like, it doesn’t change the book.”
And! Then! We! Played! It!
I have trouble summarizing my reaction because I reacted
in pieces. I would see a scene and think, “Oh! I wrote this one!”
or “Wait that is different!” and I didn’t process it at all like
a normal person watching a movie. It was all about individual
scenes. But my first thoughts were:
“Oh no this is too confusing.” The first time I watched it,
I was a little shocked at how little setup there was, especially at the start,
and thought no-one would understand what was going on. Everything moved
so fast. But I’ve since seen it
again (in a theater in Columbus with an actual live audience, and ohhh,
how amazing to watch it like a proper movie), and I felt
this far less. I think my initial reaction was a novelist kind of thing;
films can move faster and the audience still picks up the gist
of what’s happening.
“This looks really good.” The visuals of the movie are really strong. I knew
the filmmakers were very big on this, and had an experienced and highly skilled cinematographer in
Julio Macat, but boy does that show. Every shot is beautiful and interesting.
“This scene I wrote is awesome!” My favorite parts, for completely selfish
reasons, were scenes that played out just like I’d written them in some
screenplay draft or other. And then they were on the screen! Some I loved
because they were just like I’d imagined (6 making Scat breakfast,
Scat shaking a dummy), and seeing them come to life was thrilling; some were
awesome because they took my material in unexpected directions,
elevating the scene beyond what I’d expected (the monologues,
ZephCo’s corporate goons—which Josh Pais and Christopher Evan
Welch play hilariously well).
I thought this must mean that I am an amazing screenwriter, but
later the director showed me some deleted scenes, which included lots
of stuff that played out just like I’d written and was really horrible,
so I realized the truth was they just kept my good parts. The rest,
which turned out to suck when filmed, were quietly executed. So
that’s lucky for me.
“Amber Heard is amazing.” Holy crap. Amber Heard is amazing. I was always
worried about how 6 would turn out, but Amber annihilated that character. In a good way. My
favorite part of the whole movie is her monologue about marketing love;
I think that’s perfect. I love Shiloh, too, and many many others, but Amber is
amazing. You should make a note so that when everyone else catches on
you can be all like, “I actually preferred her earlier work in Syrup.”
“How did they do all this?” I’ve thought this before, when I was on set, but I
keep re-thinking it. Novels are easy compared to films. Novels, I just sit
there and type and things happen. Films require people to painstakingly create every
detail that winds up on screen. It’s so practical. They have to wrestle
the real world into submission. They have to make decisions based on trade-offs and
logistics. And it’s so easy to forget because the end result looks effortless.
“OMG ending.” I’d heard they changed the ending. I’m not going to
say how, because, you know, spoilers. But I had written a particular
kind of ending in pretty much every screenplay draft, and then the film
went and did something completely different. And it’s better!
I saw my original ending as a deleted scene and boy did it suck. It sucked a lot.
The new one is actually thought-provoking and makes you want
to go back and rewrite some screenplays. That may just be me. But I love
Overall, I think the film is very true to the book, not just in its
tone and characters but in how they are both kind of raw and and messy but
steam ahead powered by earnest, youthful enthusiasm, never worrying about
whether they’re being too ridiculous. The film is an indie and if that was
a thing for books, the book would be, too. They are a good match. As
an author, that’s what you want your film adaptation to be.
Well, also super successful. But most of all, you want it to be true.
This film is true.
“Tour” may be an exaggeration. I’m going to a few places. If you want to see me,
come along, and I’ll be all like, “Thanks for coming,” and you can be like,
“That’s cool, man, no problem.”
Columbus, OH •
Chicago, IL •
New York, NY •
Los Angeles, CA •
Saturday June 15, 7:00pm ***UPDATED***
Gateway Film Center 8
Film screening! Syrup is playing here and I’ll be doing a Q&A
afterward about what it’s like to have a book turn into a movie. I land in Columbus on
the night of the 14th direct from Australia so I can’t
make any guarantees about how I’ll smell. Because of the long flight, I mean. Not because of
Australia. Australia smells fine.
By the way, Syrup is simultaneously screening not too far away at the
Waterfront Film Festival
in South Haven, Michigan, with a Q&A with the
director Aram Rappaport and editor Robert Hoffman. If you
think those guys are better.
Sunday June 16, 4pm ***UPDATED***
Hang With Max @ Emporium Arcade Bar
I’ll be in Chicago two days before my book comes out. I can’t do a bookstore
event, but I figured I could meet people at a bar or something. I did this in London
once and didn’t get stabbed at all so I think it’s a good idea. There might be some
Syrup film people there too. So you could come along and talk
about books and films or whatever. Very casual. If you bring a book, I will sign it.
Details to come: I will update this post. And if you know a good venue, please let me know
in the comments.
All good book stores, US & Canada
Tuesday June 18
comes out. I mention this because you probably
want to schedule some time to head to your local bookstore and elbow aside
New York, NY
Wednesday June 19, 7:00pm
Barnes & Noble (Upper East Side)
86th & Lexington Ave.
Book launch! I will read from Lexicon and answer questions
and stuff. You know. It’s a reading. Actually, it’s more of a talking. I talk about things.
I figure you can read the book yourself. I mean, that’s why we had it printed.
I will read for a little while, because that’s expected, and because sometimes people
come to bookstore readings for no particular reason and hear some of the book
and think, “That sounds good.” Then they buy it and I get to continue being an author.
Los Angeles, CA
Thursday June 20, 7:00pm-8:00pm sharp ***UPDATED***
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (Redondo Beach)
2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach
Bookstore event! I read, I answer questions, I sign things. I haven’t been to
Mysterious Galaxy before, but it was LA Weekly’s
Geek Bookstore of 2012. So that’s promising. I only have a few hours in LA, flying
in that day and flying out that night, so this will be the kind of visit
that’s brief and passionate and leaves both of us wanting more, like that time
in high school.
All good book stores, UK
Thursday June 20
comes out in the UK. Sadly, I don’t get to be there. My in-laws moved out of Bedford, did
I mention? They did. I will probably never go to Bedford again in my life. What am I saying,
probably. There is no way I am ever going to Bedford again.
Tuesday June 25, 6:30pm
197-203 Little Lonsdale Street
On the day of Lexicon’s Australian / New Zealand / South African release
I’ll be launching it here.
Embiggen is awesome. They stock about ten books but they’re all really good. They stock more
than ten books. That was an exaggeration. But you could seriously just wander into Embiggen
with your eyes closed and buy whatever your hands fall on and walk out happy. It’s that kind of place.
By the way, the following day (Wednesday June 26 @ 6:30pm) the Embiggen Book
Club is doing Machine Man.
You know I’d come if I could. It’s not you; it’s me. Me, not being near you.
Sometimes people pirate my stuff. Then sometimes they write to tell me they
pirated my stuff, because they feel kind of bad about it, and wonder if they
can pay me somehow. (Except one time when a guy said he’d pirated a compilation
of “100 Great E-Books” and he just wanted to let me know I was in it, as a compliment.
A kind of compliment.)
Now I had read your latest blog post about the movie the other day saying it had
been released on iTunes and some cable websites, so <pirate pirate pirate>,
so right now Syrup is 42% completed, and with my guilt (and procrastination,
as I’m still typing this email) growing with every percentage, I thought to ask your
I’ve been looking forward to the Syrup movie since I read the book and thought
“This would make a damn good movie!”, and then came the first rumours or it
actually becoming one, so of course I want to support the production company
and in turn future movies/series (I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Jennifer
Government), but I can’t wait.
Would there be a PayPal donation link I can use to throw you the cost of a movie
ticket? Or should I watch it now and when it eventually hits theatres and see you
as a waiter on the big screen? Buy the DVD?
What, as the writer of the source material for a movie, do you think is the most
beneficial method (to whoever you think deserves it. I of course, thought you)
of paying for my viewing pleasure?
The general answer is that you should tell people you watched it. Or that you read it,
if it’s a book. You should tweet, “Just finished <whatever>,
highly recommended,” assuming you liked it, or “Just finished <whatever>”
if you didn’t. Or post on Facebook. Or write a nice review somewhere.
If you do this, you are all square in my eyes. In fact, I’d bet most artists
and content creators feel the same way. Because the major problem they face isn’t
that people pirate their work; it’s that nobody knows they exist.
Getting people talking is massive. Enormous amounts of time and energy
are poured into getting people talking about every single book and film and song
ever released. You, talking about a book/film/song, is really valuable. I
can’t emphasize that enough. It can galvanize all kinds of great outcomes.
A Pirate Tip Jar (Jaarrrrr), on the other hand, would be a bad move.
Lots of people work on books and films, not just me; even on a novel, I’m
due no more than 15% of what you pay. I don’t want anyone thinking they can cut
those people out and pay me directly. Also, I suspect the number of
people who say they’d love to pay for X if only there were a more convenient
way of doing so is far greater than the number of people who would actually
pay. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment. But we generally pay for things because
we have to. That’s just how it works.
So instead of wishing you could tip an artist for something you pirated,
talk about it. That’s good for everyone involved. If you have nothing good to
say, even a simple mention is helpful. Not a bad mention. That’s not helpful.
But the difference between pirating something and saying nothing vs. pirating
something and mentioning it to other people is really, really huge.
Of course, piracy is kind of wrong. I feel I need to say that explicitly.
It’s kind of wrong because people who create something like a
book or movie or song should be able to decide if and how they’ll sell it.
Just because it’s more than you’d like to pay doesn’t mean it’s fair to pirate;
everything is more than you’d like to pay. If Justin Timberlake made a CD and
priced it at a thousand dollars a copy, such would be his right.
But it would be pretty silly of Justin to think people wouldn’t pirate that.
Especially fans, and especially if that CD was only released in one country
at a time and didn’t work on everyone’s players. I would be surprised if Justin
wasn’t fully aware that this situation would provoke quite a lot
of piracy. I have no idea why I’m using Justin Timberlake as an example.
That just happened. But what I’m saying is that while piracy is generally
bad for artists, and we want you to buy real books/tickets/MP3s/downloads,
I recognize that piracy happens sometimes anyway. And if it happened to you,
and you want to say thanks, you can do a lot of good by spreading the word.