Max Barry is a superb author. I haven’t read as much of his stuff as I would like, and I’m due a re-read of Jennifer Government at some point in the near future. His latest novel, Lexicon, is one of my favourite reads of 2013 so far, and will be reviewed tomorrow. He was kind enough to take some time out of a busy schedule to answer some questions for me…
Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Max Barry?
Max Barry is a Melbourne-based author who runs an online political simulation game in his spare time. Except by "spare time" I mean "time he should be spending writing novels."
I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, Lexicon, was recently published by Mulholland Books. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader?
I’d probably be all like, “I wrote this book about... stuff.” Because I’m terrible at describing my own work. But someone else said, “Modern-day sorcerers fight a war of words.” That’s not too bad. It’s a thriller.
Lexicon is about the power of language. What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The novel came from a lot of little ideas intersecting, one of which was privacy: the notion that so much of what we do is tracked now, and analyzed, and used to figure out what kind of person we are. So what used to be a very personal decision – how and when we reveal ourselves to other people – has been taken away.
How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?
I’m not sure kids need to be introduced to genre fiction. If you’re an eight-year-old boy and you see a picture of a book with a dragon on it, you want that book. I’ve always loved reading; my parents made sure I was never short of a book.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I have the best job in the world: I get to make up stories all day, I can work in my underwear, and people periodically email me to say, “Hey! Great job!” It’s like the opposite of a real job. Except for the part about making up stories all day. Because I used to work in sales.
I don’t have a formal routine. I do try to make sure I’m at the keyboard, ready to write creatively, every weekday. I don’t force myself to write if it’s not working. But I always give it a shot.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I don’t remember ever not wanting to be an author. I realized it wasn’t a very practical goal, but it was what I wanted. Pretty much all of my formal education was acquired with the aim of staving off homelessness while I wrote novels on the side.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t write to any particular genre. Which is kind of stupid, for both creative and commercial reasons. But I’ve never cared too much about genre. I am usually shelved in the sci-fi section, but I think you can read my books without really noticing their genre.
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I no longer talk about books I’m working on. I used to, in great detail, but then it was embarrassing when the book turned out to be unpublishable. So I stopped. Also, I feel authors need a long period of quiet discovery with their books. Talking about them early kills a little of the magic for me.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve just started Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The most recent non-fic I’ve read is The Signal And The Noise by Nate Silver, which was really good.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I can tell what’s wrong with your computer just by listening to it.
That’s not true. I have to SSH in and run some diagnostics. But that’s almost the same thing. I know more about Linux systems administration than is healthy.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Working on a good book.