Writerly gatherings

I feel like I’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking incessantly – I did my first ever radio interview, and then chatted to high school students for Book Week. I buzzed around at Melbourne Writers Festival, and shot up to Queensland for a whirlwind two days at Brisbane Writers Festival.

I’ve been meaning to write a wrap-up of the festivals ­– some words on the awesome writers I met, and the great panel discussions of all things YA, and on signing books for some fabulous young fans, and the giant crushes I’ve developed on, like, half a dozen brilliant authors who I shared the stage with (Randa Abdel-Fattah, I’m looking at you), and the weirdness of sitting in the hotel restaurant while reading a copy of Avengers Assemble, before realizing that its author, Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, was sitting at the table next to me. I don’t know what the etiquette is for fangirling while someone is trying to eat their breakfast. Potentially not awkwardly shoving their book into your bag and hurrying away before they catch sight of you reading it.

But truth be told, I’m sort of tired of talking about myself. I’ve had a blast over the past few weeks, but I am also really looking forward to curling up in my jammies with my manuscript. I’ve missed my characters. I can’t wait to be in their world again.

Oh, and also, during MWF week, this happened:

 LIFE IN OUTER SPACE IS ON THE INKY AWARDS SHORTLIST!

Needless to say, I was gobsmacked. And speechless. And so completely chuffed to be part of a list selected by young readers themselves. If you’re aged between 12 and 20, you can cast your vote here. Make sure to check out the rest of the shortlist as well. I’m honoured to be among such wonderful writers.

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After a brief intermission…

Wonder Woman

I seemed to have blinked and lost a few months of my life. I am not totally sure what happened. I suspect it may have something to do with sending my first novel out into the universe, and then starting my second novel with barely a pause in between. Apart from my poor, neglected blog, it’s actually been a productive few months. Granted, I may have abandoned my family, any hint of a social life, and occasionally, personal hygiene – but book two is taking shape! In that weird, capricious way that first drafts often do. Getting to know a cast of characters is probably my favourite part of the process – reading the books they read and listening to the music they love, and the long hours of browsing the net for the perfect bits of junk that they would have in their bedrooms. Apart from being a more useful procrastination task than checking Buzzfeed, this kind of character mining is sometimes the only thing that can drag me out of a writing funk. Which explains why, after staring at my computer for hours on Saturday night, I was struck with the overwhelming need to rush out at 9.30 p.m. to buy this Wonder Woman bobble head I’d seen in the window of my local video shop. Strangely enough, having her on my desk did help the creative energy, just a little.

Since the launch of Life in Outer Space, a couple of randomly exciting things have happened in my world:

Life in Outer Space is on the Inky Awards longlist! I’m not sure if there are rules about being excited by awards. Maybe authors are supposed to be nonchalant or whatever, but, this is a particularly cool award as it’s judged by young readers themselves. Check out the rest of the awesome list here. I’m so honoured to be in such great company.

And – LiOS, the US edition, is a few days away from hitting the shelves. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the States. For a couple of amazing months when I was younger, I lived in a tiny town in northern Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior. This town was basically just a few streets and a handful of stores; but it did have a beautiful old bookstore which was my second home while I was there. I’m not sure if that bookstore still exists. I like to think that – if it hasn’t been turned into a donut shop or something – perhaps a copy or two of my book might make it onto its shelves. 

You can find the gorgeous full dust jacket, plus a sneaky look at the first chapter here.

If you’re in the vicinity of northern Minnesota – or indeed, anywhere else in North America or Canada – hello, and welcome! Feel free to swing past the comment button and say hello…

LiOS US cover

Welcome to the world, Life in Outer Space

421520_421771737911012_143146688_nThursday evening, a bunch of lovely people gathered in a very Melbourne laneway in front of the awesome Little Bookroom for the launch party of Life in Outer Space. There was Champaign! And cupcakes! And a badge-making machine with quotes from the book, possibly the most exciting thing I have seen since – well, let’s just say I was slightly over-excited by the badges.

I focused on not toppling over in my giant heels, and on not quaking in terror as I took to the mini stage to thank the many, many people who have helped make this book a reality. I won’t reiterate the list here – there are far too many of you to mention, and hopefully you all know who you are by now.

Thanks to everyone who came down, everyone who was there in spirit, and anyone I happened to have left out of my speech. Much love and hugs to you all.

Melissa

Yes, the amazing Hardie Grant Egmont even made 'Say Anything' badges!

Yes, the amazing Hardie Grant Egmont even made ‘Say Anything’ badges!

Launch party nail art, inspired by the beautiful Steph Spartels cover design

Launch party nail art, inspired by the beautiful Steph Spartels cover design

LiOS launch party

And thanks Melbourne sky for clearing just in time…

Ah, the Sharpie. No signing would be complete without one…

The housemates, being contemplative...

The housemates, being contemplative…

The lovely Marisa Pintado, editor extraordinaire

The lovely Marisa Pintado, editor extraordinaire

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The Barbara Stanwyck of nowhere at all

ava-gardner-femme-fatale

** this is not me

In a distant, or perhaps parallel universe, there is another me who is inexorably cool; I imagine her as being pretty suave – leggy, of course, coiffed in a sharp black bob, possibly perched on a bar stool in red stilettos while sipping a martini.

I think it’s pretty telling that my only reference for cool and sophisticated seems to come from bad Film Noir.

In this universe, there is a me who has been sneaking into book stores to surreptitiously photograph her book on the shelves, suppressing a little squee with every copy she manages to find.

But look. It’s so pretty.

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Cool can be next year’s New Years resolution.

Happy New Year!

My LiOS advances. They may have pride of place on my mantelpiece...

My LiOS advances. They may have pride of place on my mantelpiece…

So it’s been a busy couple of months. I had yet another birthday (which, as is typical, I did my best to ignore). I moved house (always a fun, and not at all stressful thing to do over Christmas). I made New Years resolutions, which I have promptly forgotten about three weeks later. And oh, I finished the final, final, final copy edits and tweaks and last second panics, and I sent my book to press. It’s in stores tomorrow, which is something I haven’t quite managed to get my head around yet. I’ve been chatting with lots of very cool people over the past few weeks, doing interview-type things and answering questions about my book – the sort of questions that are forcing me to think back to when Life in Outer Space was but a couple of random paragraphs on my laptop. Surprisingly, thinking about the book this way – the actual process of writing, of forming and developing a world – is a weirdly difficult thing to do. As I wade through the initial research and drafting stage of my new novel – battling the empty page and the difficult slog of a first draft – I’m finding that I need to constantly remind myself that Life in Outer Space, and these fictional people who I feel like I know so well, weren’t always fully formed. There were many, many moments where the only whiny words that my writing buddy and I could share, were, ‘writing a novel is really hard…’ It may be a naff thing for an author to admit, but two years later, these characters – Sam and Camilla and Mike and Allison and Adrian – feel like old friends to me. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I did.

Now, here are some links to a few of those very cool people I mentioned above:

Book Probe

Where the Writer Comes to Write

Vegan YA Nerds

‘Is the author’s name supposed to be spelt like that…?’

Working in a publishing house, there’s a particular sort of geek-fest that occurs with the arrival of the first copies of a book. Shipped straight from the printer, it’s the very first time that anyone gets to see a project – that’s typically been underway for over a year – as something other than flat sheets or a file on a screen. It’s a little hard to describe just how exciting cracking open that first box of books is. Finally being able to hold the finished, physical object in your hand; blurring your eyes a little over the cover, just in case you’ve spelt the authors name wrong (hasn’t happened yet, but there is always the sick-making fear). Typically, a bunch of people will be ooh-ing and ah-ing over it, while the editor peers through splayed fingers shrieking ‘I can’t look!’

So my novel is not quite at that stage yet. But a mini geek-fest was had nonetheless, as an advanced bound proof copy of Life in Outer Space has made its way to my house (bonus points to the postie who managed to throw it over my locked fence and land a direct hit on my doorstep, not in my trees or my next-door-neighbour’s yard, as periodically happens).

It has a cover, and a spine. It has my name on it (spelling a-ok). It’s going out into the world, to the hands of the sort of people who receive advanced proof copies – if you’re one of them, hello, welcome, would love to hear from you.

Next step: final proof read, then to press for real.
Michael approves.

Life in Outer Space

My debut novel, March 2013 from Hardie Grant Egmont

It has a cover! The awesome peeps at The Ampersand Project have been working hard for the past couple of months to create the jacket for my book. And I love it! The wonderful Steph has done a fabulous job of rendering the characters (authentic outfits and all). Very exciting, and a little surreal…

The most remarkable book ever to come out of the publishing corporations of Ursa Minor

Like many people this week, I was glued to my computer watching the amazingness of human ingenuity as NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. I cheered. I hearted mohawk-guy. I resisted the urge to run home and dig out my old star wheel, because as a grown-up, you’re really not supposed to own a star wheel.

I may have been a bit of a space nerd as a kid. I’m not sure if this was inspired by my love of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or if it was due to the fact that I had read and re-read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to the point where I could (and still can) recite the opening pages by heart. The Guide was given to me by one of my uncles when I was about ten years old, mainly to help me play the text-based Hitchhikers Guide computer game, one of a handful of games that my grandpa installed on his very first computer. I still remember the blank, black PC screen with a single line of orange text:

‘You wake up. The room is spinning very gently around your head. It dips and sways a little.’

I believe the appropriate response was to type:

‘Get out of bed.’

It was a lot more fun than it sounds.

So – I read The Guide. I understood about half of it. But regardless, up to this point, my childhood reading consisted of a steady diet of Enid Blyton, L.M. Montgomery and The Babysitters Club, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was the first grown-up book that opened my eyes to the fact that language itself could be as rich and absorbing and funny and clever as the story being told. It was the first book I remember that had a distinct and identifiable authorial voice, and it influenced my reading tastes to this day. 

I’ve gathered a few different versions over The Guide over the years, but my favourite is still my first copy; a small B-format paperback, battered and yellowed, spine cracked, pages dog-eared and some only tenuously attached. I know there is an ebook drinking game out there with my name on it; but one whiff of that musty smell of old paper, and I’m ensconced in front of my grandpa’s monochromatic PC with the book in hand, discovering a love of outer space, and cracking prose, and depressed yet lovable androids. 

I haven’t read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in years, but I feel like a revisit is in order now. As I wade through the pre-press, pre-publication phase of my novel, my brain is on uncertainty overload, churning through every failure scenario as only a proper neurotic writer can do (including one disturbing dream where my novel is jacketed with an awful cover that has, like, a comic sans title and an Instagram photo of my face on the front. Nice work, subconscious).**

A comfort book is a thing every true book nerd understands. My library has grown a bit since I was ten, and there is a giant pile of new, unread books teetering on my bedside table; but even glancing at those first few lines of the Guide – far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy – is as reassuring as a cup of tea and a fuzzy warm blanket. 

** I have not seen the cover of my novel as yet, but I am pretty confident that it will feature neither comic sans, nor a picture of my face.

‘Brainy is the New Sexy’

Yes, okay, I may have spent the majority of this weekend re-watching back-to-back episodes of BBC’s Sherlock. It’s not that I am being completely useless and lazy; just that I’m in that weird funk between sort-of-but-not-quite finishing one project (still waiting for sign-off on that final draft of my novel), and attempting to begin something new. I have an idea. I’ve started researching. I’ve gathered plenty of material and images and notes – but I also know that I’m standing at the bottom of the mountain, again, and I’m not quite ready to begin attempting the hike.

Also, for me, Sherlock is one of those rare TV series where – like a really great novel – the world created is so vivid and absorbing that sinking into any other world afterwards feels impossible. And besides, it’s Melbourne winter, the weather is gross and cold, and indulging in my penchant for brilliant writing and skinny geniuses is much more inviting that huddling in front of my laptop and waiting for the creative gods to bless my with coherent sentences.

I did however manage to not fall into a complete Sherlock blackout, alternating episodes with some of my (other) favourite things: YouTube videos and random internet browsing.

A few cool things I’ve found this week:

Chris Colfer’s speech at the 2012 Book Expo America (BEA) conference. Mostly because the phrase ‘John Green is the Justin Bieber of the literary world’ is used.

Delightfully geeky wedding invites via Mental Floss. I’m generally not super-interested in fancy weddings, but these nerd couples look like they’d have a lot of fun together (and I will be borrowing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy idea for something).

Old vlogbrothersvideos, especially this one. With my editor’s hat on, I’m always a little smitten with successful authors who can talk with such graciousness about the editorial process. And yes, I freely admit that there is a little John Green fan-ish pattern emerging here.

Episode 1 of Written by a Kid – because Geek and Sundry is all kinds of awesome, and because I did a double-take when ‘S.Q.U.A.T.’ team leader Gerald made an appearance.

(FYI – none of the above eases the pain of having to wait till next year for season 3 Sherlock. But they do help a little…)

 

Final drafts and ‘Star Wars’ fishbowls

It’s done! The final draft of my novel has been dispatched to the expert hands of my editor, and I have succumbed to my standard pattern of a couple of mental high-fives and a brief happy dance, followed by sleepless nights of crushing insecurity. I know that that the manuscript is in the best shape it could possibly be; but at this stage, I am pretty sure I could recite the entire 70-odd thousand words by heart, and it’s a little difficult to see them with anything approaching fresh eyes. But, it is one step closer to becoming a real book, and I will be keeping my fingers and toes and other crossable bits crossed that the thumbs-up from my editor will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, the things I’m most excited about are:

  • Getting designed first pages
  • Being able to officially announce the title
  • Seeing the cover
  • Cleaning my desk

Over the last year my desk has become a bit of a haven for character-related props and other novel-esque ephemera. My protagonist has a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll? I, too, must own a Freddy Krueger stuffed doll! I know that this was partly because a hasty trip to the shops was my way of assuaging writers block – after all, tracking down a DVD of a movie that the character watches or a book that he reads was sort of related to the writing – but suffice to say, my credit card and Minotaur have become good friends over the past year.

Yes, that is a fishbowl of Star Wars plushes. I doubt there was a Woolies in Melbourne left un-plundered in my quest for the complete set. And believe it or not, I wasn’t a horror movie fan before I started writing this book. Except for The Evil Dead. The Evil Dead was always awesome…