morning Doubleday shocked the hell out of me by sending me
the book cover for Company.
I didn’t even know they’d
started work on it, which was crafty of them. If I had, I would
have been all over them, raising concerns and highlighting
issues. Because I’m helpful like that. Instead: bang! Here it is.
And I like it! The majority of novel covers, in my
humble opinion, blow like crazy, so I’m hugely relieved to get
one that’s clean and cool and kind of intriguing. The design is
by Michael Windsor, the same guy who did
Jennifer Government cover,
so if you noticed a certain similarity of style, well done you.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Well, Max, that looks all
right, I guess, but… I dunno, what’s the donut for?” To
which I am happy to tell you: oh, you’ll find out.
first put up this web site in early 1999, and oh, what a beauty it was.
It had a picture of the Syrup cover, and little blue bubbles,
and funny hand icons next to the links, and you could only get to it
via “maxxbarry.com,” with the two Xs. I wish I’d kept a copy somewhere,
but, alas, all that’s left is
carcass courtesy of the
Internet Archive project.
I was very proud of my site, because in 1999 not everyone had
one. It often received as many as 8 visitors a day, spiraling
up to a heady 13 visits per day in July when Syrup was released.
Thirteen! Just imagine, if 13 people visited me in person each day,
I’d be exhausted. Clearly this web site thing was a good idea.
I also started getting e-mails from people who liked my book—not many
e-mails, but a few—which was very exciting and made me feel famous in
a way that the watching my first novel sink
without a trace hadn’t. I decided that I would get more serious about
the web for my second novel, Jennifer Government.
In March 2002 I redesigned the site.
In September I added pages for
and got to work on an online game called
(which in late 2002 looked like
Thanks to NationStates and the US publication of Jennifer
Government, my web traffic took off: in January 2003 maxbarry.com
received almost 50,000 visitors. But over the next year, it steadily
dropped. If a new edition of Jennifer Government came out
somewhere I would see a little blip, but clearly people weren’t
visiting my site so much. And why should they? I didn’t post to it.
It was just the same old site, week after week.
I started to worry that by the time my next book came out, nobody
would remember who I was. It could be Syrup all over again:
a couple of weeks on the “New Releases” shelves, then gone before
anybody realized it was there. Then I would start getting e-mails from
my publisher saying things like “not as well as we hoped” and I would
have to crawl back to Hewlett-Packard for a real job.
I’d discovered weblogs via
Wil Wheaton and thought
they were a pretty cool idea. I wasn’t sure how exciting my blog
would be, since my day generally goes (1) Wake up (2) Type (3) Sleep,
but on the other hand I did have a lot of obnoxious opinions
and wasn’t afraid to share them. Surely that was enough.
Apparently the first rule of blogging is… wow, have you ever
first rule of blogging”? Seriously, there’s like a hundred different
first rules. So I guess the real first rule is: “Everybody’s got
an opinion.” Or maybe: “People post all kinds of crap on blogs
and nobody checks anything so you can’t trust a damn thing they say.”
But the one I had in mind when I started this
paragraph was: “You must blog every day.” This sounded like
a lot of work, though, so I decided I would just post whenever
I thought I had something worth saying. I would create a semi-blog.
In March 2004 I rewrote the site into the sleek, attractive,
you see before you, and started posting to it. At first I floundered
around, not really sure what to write about, but then I found
my groove and discovered Newlyweds and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
and I was away.
I think I get three things out of blogging. First, I get to
stay in touch with people who enjoy my writing, and tell them
when I have a new novel out that they must immediately purchase
because my cocaine habit doesn’t pay for itself, you know. (Since
I started blogging, site traffic has steadily risen and is now
back to where it was when Jennifer Government was first
published. Look, I even made
This is a two-way thing; via e-mail and comments, I also get to hear
back from people, which is just about the best thing ever.
Writing is a solitary business, and it’s continually thrilling to hear that
a novel I once printed out and mailed in a box to my publisher has
become a small part of someone else’s life. Without that,
publishing books would feel very odd—like having a child move out
of home and never hearing from him again.
Second, it’s good writing practice.
The more you write, the better you get at it, and when I’m working
on a novel it’s a nice break to write something different.
Third, it’s like a diary: I end up with a permanent record of
what was important at this time in my life. I can look back on
it in ten years time, or show it to my kids. Imagine their
sweet little voices: “lol omg dad u r so 1337”.
Have I been hanging around computers too much? I’m all excited
because today I’m 25.
Oh, man. I’ve done it. I’ve finished my new draft of
I think what I’m feeling now is relief. I’ve been editing this
thing for more than a year, on top of the year it took to write.
I actually had the initial idea in 2001, and took at least three
stabs at initial chapters in that year and the next. It has been
a very long road to here.
I’m relieved that I can think about something else for the next
two or three weeks, while I wait for my editor to give me feedback.
And I’m relieved at finally being done. But mostly I’m relieved
that I think I finally managed to do justice to the idea that’s
been bouncing around in my head for the last four years.
I’ve always had a lot of faith in the central concept, but I
sometimes wondered if the characters were up to the job. I tried
all kinds of variations.
I threw people out and auditioned alternatives. In the last
draft (hello, number eight), the biggest rewrite of them all,
I gave the two main characters complete personality overhauls.
Brain surgery couldn’t be this messy. I had bits of people everywhere.
But ohhhh, it’s so much better now.
About a month ago Doubleday told me they were pushing Company
out to 2006, since I was taking so long on the edits.
I cringed. I have been trying to build up the courage to
announce this since then. I’m really sorry—I wish this book
could come out this year. But I’m really glad it’s not.
I hate the old version of Company now. I love my new book.
How are you? I know you get fan mails all the time so I’ll keep this short. I am currently doing an undergraduate thesis paper on blogs and I was wondering if I can ask you one question: Why have you decided to use the blog format for your website?
The short answer is because I thought it was good way to keep in touch
with people in the long, empty years between novels.
The long answer has graphs, and I’ll write that in the blog after this
one. Because you need some backstory: the fact is, I wouldn’t have even
known what a blog was if it hadn’t been for that little punk Wil Wheaton.
In March 2003 I started finding odd bits in people’s e-mails, like,
“By the way, congrats on the Wil Wheaton rave!” I had no idea what
this meant or who Wil Wheaton was. But after I got enough
of them, I decided to find out—because I’m very curious, if you
prod me repeatedly. I did an internet search and discovered
that Wil Wheaton had
a web site, and in
I just finished a great book called “Jennifer Government.” I bought it on a Saturday, and finished it by the following Tuesday. I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever read a book. It’s that good.
This was pretty great, but who was this guy? I clicked around a little
more and was struck numb with horror: Wil Wheaton was my high school
(Well, one of them. I had a few. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you,
See, one night in the late 1980s a bunch of us teenagers went
out to the movies and saw
Stand By Me.
It was a great movie, and I enjoyed it even though it was hard to
concentrate with Jen, the girl I was lusting after, sitting
so close by. We came out of the theater and started to talk
about the actors in it
and Jen said something like, “Ohhh, that Wil Wheaton, he’s so
Well, naturally enough, I was immediately struck with the urge to
hunt down Mr. Wheaton and beat him into a bloody mess.
I resisted, because that was illegal and I didn’t have the plane
fare to go to L.A. Instead I settled for less extreme but,
alas, no more successful methods of pursuing Jen for the next
few years, until one day she cracked under the unrelenting strain
and agreed to marry me.
Ten years of wedded bliss later (I speak for myself here), and
suddenly Wil Wheaton is on the scene trying to mess things up again.
I could feel my temples throb with the old rage, and hear the
voices whispering, “Now he’s not such a big-shot actor, his
house probably doesn’t even have that good security.”
But no! I was a grown man, now (I told myself). That stuff was
ancient history. And this site of Wil’s, called a “blog,”
was clearly something of a phenomenon: he would write about
whatever the hell he was up to that day, and an astounding number
of people would drop by to read it. It was an intriguing idea,
and Wil an excellent writer; I quickly became engrossed reading
about his trials and tribulations as an actor, writer, stepfather,
and human being.
I wrote to Wil to thank him:
Hey, you liked my novel! And then you told hundreds of thousands
of people about it. Boy do you rock. Thanks a lot.
Wil wrote right back:
Right on. :)
You rock for writing it. It’s the first novel I’ve read in years
that was so compelling I only put it down to sleep and drive. Yeah
I read it while I ate. Best 4 days in recent memory.
He also put
e-mail to him on his web site, which was an unexpected introduction
to the custom of bloggers to make just about anything public,
along with a complete fabrication about how he e-mailed me first.
But this was surely just a harmless mistake, and it was quite
thrilling to get a reply. “Hey, Jen!” I called.
“You’ll never guess who I just got an e-mail from. It’s
that guy, Wil Wheaton, who you —”
“Wil Wheaton!” Jen exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. “He’s
Damn you, Wil Wheaton. I’ll get you one of these days.
This is what they should do with all my radio interviews: take
the small number of clear, semi-intelligent things I say,
dump everything else, and mix them up with some boppy background
has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about
Jennifer Government, corporations,
and culture into a quick, breezy
you can download from
My least favorite part is when I read from the book.
I’m really bad at that. I should hire
that guy who
version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod
approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.