Snapshot 2007: Justine Larbalestier

Justine Larbalestier is the author of the Magic or Madness trilogy, editor of the anthology Daughters of Earth, and her website can be found here.

Q1. The Magic or Madness trilogy has, deservingly in my opinion, been nominated for a number of awards – and won one, congratulations! Do you get actual trophies for these awards, and if so do you use them as bookends? As well, what do you see as the value of being nominated for, and winning, such awards?

Yes, it [the award] was an actual thing: A big lump of lucite with a galaxy inside. But as there’s only one it’s failing me as a bookend.

Awards exist for readers not for writers. The purpose of most awards is to draw attention to a particular genre or country or whatever. Like the Miles Franklin Award was to encourage more people to take Australian literature seriously. Same for the National Book Award in the United States. In the US the big YA award is the Printz Award which was created with the purpose of helping librarians build their collections.

I think it’s a big mistake for writers to think that awards have anything to do with them. Being shortlisted or winning is a big old fluke. Be happy, but don’t be thinking it actually certifies you a genius or anything. Many many brilliant books get overlooked and crappy books have been known to win awards. Also I’ve been part of the award process and seen the best book be hated by other jurors, while I hated their fave books. And when an award is popularly voted it’s still a crap shoot.

Certain awards have a huge effect on a writer’s career. In Australia winning a Children’s Book of the Year Award means lots of guaranteed sales and the Premier’s awards mean a nice big cheque. In the USA winning a Newbery means HUGE guaranteed sales and your book never going out of print. However, there are very few awards with anything like that impact.

If I had to choose between winning lots of awards and having huge sales I’d take the sales any day of the week. I’d also take sales over critical acclaim.

Q2. You collected together eleven short stories written by women for Daughters of Earth. Did you choose stories you already liked, or have to go out hunting? And – as a bonus – what was the inspiration for the collection?

I did not choose any of the stories. I chose the scholars who wrote essays about the stories. I figured it would be a lot more fun for them to write about a story they were passionate about so I let them pick out which story to write about. I had the fun job of clearing copyright. The inspiration was Wesleyan University Press asking me if I would put together an anthology for them. Ah, the romance!

Q3. Magic or Madness is aimed at the young adult audience. Do you see yourself continuing to aim at this audience in the future, or changing focus? And why?

I’ll be writing YA for as long as they’ll publish me. I love reading the genre even more than I enjoy writing it. Because it’s a genre defined by audience more than subject matter I feel unconstrained writing it. I know that my editors will not freak if my next book is crime fiction or literary realism or a comic novel or an historical. They also have no problem with graphic novels. That’s a lot harder to get away with as an adult writer.

Q4. Looking further afield now: presuming that you’ve had time to read, in between award nominations and writing, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

I can never recommend just one. So far this year I’ve loved Dramarama by E. Lockhart, Helsing by Kohta Hirano (manga), Emma by Kaoru Mori (also manga), and The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee. Though I feel like pretty much every book I’ve read this year has been fabulous.

Q5. And finally, the all-important question: you’ve got the chance to get it on with any fictional character. Who would it be?

I must be a total weirdo but I have never thought about having sex with fictional characters. Sorry!

This interview was conducted as part of the 2007 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from Monday 13 August to Sunday 19 August and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read other interviews at:

If you’re involved in the Scene and have something to plug, then send us an email and we’ll see what we can do!

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