SCBWI Bologna 2006 Author Interview: Justine Larbalestier

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Justine Larbalestier will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo, Doug Cushman. Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil of Hodder UK, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola, and others. See registration information.

Justine Larbalestier was born in Sydney, Australia, and has spent the majority of her life there, though she and her husband, Scott Westerfeld, travel whenever possible. Her first book was the Hugo-nominated Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Wesleyan University Press, 2002). She has published two novels, Magic or Madness (Penguin/Razorbill, 2005), and its sequel Magic Lessons (Penguin/Razorbill, 2006). The final book in the trilogy will be available in March 2007. Magic or Madness has been nominated for an Aurealis Award for best YA book of the year and was a best book of the year selection for School Library Journal, Tayshas (the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Libary Association), and the Australian children’s literature magazine, Magpies. Lawrence Schimel interviewed her in December 2005.

Lawrence Schimel: How and why did you begin writing YA?

Justine Larbalestier: The idea for the Magic or Madness trilogy had been brewing for a long time, but the opportunity to write it didn’t come until Eloise Flood was offered her own imprint, Razorbill, at Penguin USA. She was looking for inventory, so I pitched her my trilogy idea. She was interested but needed to see a proposal and first three chapters pronto. I put everything else aside and went to work writing and rewriting them over and over. Luckily, she liked the partial enough to buy the whole trilogy. A very lucky break for a first-time novelist.

I’ve been reading YA for a long time. Obsessively, when I was a kid, but I stopped when I considered myself too grown-up for them (at age thirteen!). I took them up again in my twenties when a friend, Lawrence Schimel, introduced me to Philip Ridley’s In the Eyes of Mr. Fury and the many books of M. E. Kerr. I was hooked. The idea of writing one of my own occurred to me pretty early on.

LS: Not having kids of your own and no longer an adolescent yourself, what do you do to find or recreate an authentic teenage voice in your fiction?

JL: Like many people, my teenage years weren’t exactly fabulous. They are etched deep in my memory, accessing them is dead easy. It’s being an adult that’s hard.

LS: Name one book (adult or YA) you wish you had written.

JL: Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen.

LS: What is your favorite book from your childhood?

JL: The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

LS: As an adult now, what is your favorite children’s book (as a reader)?

JL: Can I name a YA book? If so, Black Juice by Margo Lanagan (HarperCollins, 2005). If not, Slugs by David Greenberg and illustrated by Victoria Chess.

LS: Any advice for new writers?

JL: Write, write, write! And then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!

LS: Any advice for more-experienced writers?

JL: I think that’d be a bit presumptious, given that I’m right at the beginning of my career with only two novels published and one of them just this month. There’s still so much I need to learn about writing, about the publishing industry. But really the write, write, write advice holds for everyone at all stages of their career. Most especially for me!

LS: Something you wish you hadn’t done?

JL: Worn pretty much any of the clothes I wore in the eighties. In paricular I’m thinking the bronze slippers teamed with a blue satin puffy sleeved jacket over a torn white T-shirt and bright red ski pants. Shudder.

LS: You spend part of the year in New York and part of the year in Sydney. Do you write differently on the “other” side of the world?

JL: Actually, I seem to write best in Mexico! Too many distractions in my hometown of Sydney and in New York City. I definitely think that travelling, and writing in different places (so far we’ve done writing holidays in New Zealand, Mexico and Argentina), has made me a better writer. It pulls me out of my everyday and when I go home I see Sydney and Australia with fresh eyes. That’s part of where Magic or Madness, which is half set in Sydney, came from. Living overseas made me see my country and compatriots much more clearly.

LS: What are some of the differences in children’s publishing, and/or being a writer, in Australia as opposed to the US?

JL: I’m still learning what they are. Because my publishing career began in the US I know more about the New York publishing scene than the Australian one.

LS: What is it like living with another writer? Are you competetive with one another? Supportive? Are you each other’s first-reader?

JL: Living with Scott is a blast. I adore it. We’re competitive about stupid things, like, who can spit the farthest, bounce the highest, predict cricket scores, stuff like that, but never about writing. Scott’s amazingly supportive of my writing, as I am of his. We’re not only each other’s first readers, we’re each other’s biggest fans.

LS: Have you thought about collaborating on a book together? (Or would that be a bad thing for your relationship?)

JL: Oh, sure, we have endless plans for lots of books we’d like to do together, but so far there just hasn’t been time. Scott’s been writing books back to back for several years and I’ve been tied up as well. Who knows maybe this will be the year we finally do it!

LS: What is different about writing a multi-volume work versus a stand-alone novel?

JL: With the trilogy (which is the only multi-volume work I’ve tried my hand at thus far) I had to think about how the three volumes would fit together and how to make them stand alone as well. It’s very tricky. I asked several people to read Magic Lesson (book 2 of the trilogy) who hadn’t read book 1 to see if they could follow the story. Arrogantly, I was expecting them to tell me it worked just fine on its own. Nope. I had to do several major rewrites after I got their comments. Very humbling.

But stand-alones, too, have their challenges. Basically, every book is different and tricky in its own way.

LS: Which format do you prefer?

JL: At the moment, still caught up in rewriting the third book of the Magic or Madness trilogy, I definitely prefer stand-alones. But I imagine that when I’m in the midst of my next book, which will probably be a standalone, I’ll start pining for trilogies. I’m always enamoured by whatever my next idea is, rarely by the book I’m in the middle of.

LS: Having written a synopsis and sample chapters as a proposal, how closely do you stick to it when actually writing the book once it has sold?

JL: Pretty closely for the first few chapters, after that I don’t look at the proposal again until I get stuck, at which point it’s of no use because I’ve gone off in a different direction.

LS: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

JL: I can’t believe SCBWI has invited me to come to Bologna, one of my favourite cities in the world. Thank you!

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Philip Yates (author interview) on the sale of A Pirate’s Christmas to Sterling Publishing! Cheers also to Betty X. Davis, whose story, “The Magic Needle” was published in the December issue of Spider! Both Phil and Betty are Austinites.