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Monday, August 21, 2006


There are a lot of great things about being an author. One of the biggest and greatest is that you get to meet and spend time other authors. I spent the other day with Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier.

If you know anything about YA, you already know Scott and Justine are pretty much a royal couple. Scott is the author of books like So Yesterday, Specials, and Midnighters, just to name a few. Justine is the author of the Magic of Madness trilogy. Scott has recently acquired the mantle of New York Times Bestselling Author, and the two have ever-expanding legions of fans.

Scott and Justine

I met the power duo at a swanky NYC restaurant and noon sharp. We had a selection of stinky cheeses, garlicy pizzas, and ice creams made of olive oil and corn (better than they sound). Somewhere in the middle of the meal, I managed to throw a knife across a long marble counter, where it slid off, bounced off a chair and landed on the floor, deafening all in a three block radius.

Over lunch, Scott and Justine noticed the fact that I have odd, stripy sunburn. (I am not so good with the sun. This is a long subject that merits its own blog. Three days ago I looked like a candy cane. Today I look like a slowly separating mochachokalatte.) I explained my tragic history of sunburns, and Justine told me I was not allowed to go out in the sun anymore.

“Enough about you,” you must be saying. “We don’t want to hear about your poor motor skills and your weird, multi-colored skin. Tell us more about Scott and Justine!”


The Westeralestiers are a very funny, astonishingly well-read, and gleeful couple. They believe strongly in justice, fair play, and dessert. (Though Justine does not like chocolate. There’s one you can put in your pocket.) You get the feeling that they spend a good part of their day thinking up things that will amuse the other.

You can learn a lot by spending time with them. Justine is an ex-academic scifi expert, and Scott is a science buff, overflowing with information about computers and the cosmos. Scott currently has a lot to say on the subject of Pluto—namely, that it is not a planet. I remember hearing a lot about gas giants and something called UB313.

Justine had to return home to finish revising the final book Magic or Madness III, Magic's Child. (As I’ve said before, finishing a book is a sad, madness-inducing experience.) So, for all of you waiting for it . . . it’s coming. Don’t pressure her.

After lunch, I went with Scott while he signed some books at a Barnes and Noble in Chelsea, where he charmed the entire staff with his sly Texan ways. Then, we went to a shop where I acted as a size-model for a lovely gift he got for his wife to encourage her to finish her book. (I can’t say what it was because I don’t think she’s seen it yet, but it was really nice.)

We paused a moment on the sidewalk, taking in the lovely mid-August afternoon, and then Scott looked at me in a strange way.

(From this point on, various points in this story become harder to verify.)

“Listen,” Scott said to me, watching Justine walk off in the direction of their apartment. “There’s something I have to do. I couldn’t say it in front of Justine—not today. Not when she has a book to finish. I need your help. I’ve got to get to the bottom of this Pluto thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Plutophants are winning their insane campaign to keep ice balls labeled as planets,” he said. “Pluto is an ice ball, and we need to tell the world. We need hard, clear evidence. And that means one thing . . .”

“Wikipedia?” I offered.

Instead of answering, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blueprint of some building, held it close to his face for a moment, then folded it away.

"You know what I've always wanted to do?" I rambled on, oblivious to this strange activity. "I want look up the Wikipedia entry on Wikipedia."

“We need to get to the Hubble Telescope,” he said. “We'll use that to get the evidence we need. The observatory is down in Baltimore. Come on.”

He spun on his heel and raised his arm to hail a cab.

Scott had a plan.

“Scott,” I said. “We can’t go down to Baltimore now. What about Justine? She’s all alone, revising her book . . .”

“It’ll be fine,” he assured me. “We have fast transport.”

“We do?”

“I’m a New York Times Bestselling author. They’ll let me use their helicopter. We’ll be there and back in no time.”

“They have a helicopter?” I asked.

“You bet! How do you think we New York Times Bestselling authors get around? Think we walk? Don’t be insane! Choppers, kiddo! Choppers!”

A cab stopped. He threw open the door.

“Sometimes we also take cabs,” he added quickly. “Get in.”

Soon we were speeding uptown towards the New York Times building. Scott was furiously adjusting his sunglasses. It seemed that he didn’t want to look at me directly.

“So,” I said. “We’re going to fly down to Baltimore in the New York Times helicopter and talk to the people at the Hubble. That’s pretty cool. But I wouldn’t expect less from the author of books such as Specials and Peeps.”

“Why are you listing off the names of some of my books?” he asked.

“I had to work them in again somehow.”

He pulled the drawing out of his pocket again and smoothed it out over his knee.

“They keep the helicopter on the roof, obviously,” he said. “We shouldn’t have much trouble getting to it. If you cause a minor distraction here by, say, setting fire to the wedding announcements desk. Don’t worry about the arson charges. You’ll be a hero to a lot of people after that. From there, we should be able to . . .”

“Wait . . . are you saying we’re going to steal it? I thought you said they let you use it?”

“Commandeer is a much better word. We’ll be bringing it back. And I never said they let me use it. I just said choppers. Pay attention, kiddo. The devil is in the details. Anyway, we’re just using it for a while, and we have a good reason. The best reason.”

“Except that we’re also going to be kidnapping the pilot,” I said. “Is the New York Times okay with that, too?”

“What pilot?”

We turned a sharp left on to Sixth Avenue that sent us both sliding across the back of the cab. I noticed the cab driver watching us through the rear view mirror.

“There is a pilot,” I said. “Right?”

He didn’t answer for a moment. He just adjusted his glasses and watched as we narrowly missed taking out a messenger on a bicycle.

“How hard can it be?” he finally said. “Up. Down. Nothing to it. It’s just like a Volkswagen with a ceiling fan stuck on top. No problem. I’ve been reading up on airships recently.”

At this point, I was honestly wondering if all was well with Scott.

“Scott,” I said. “Why do you care so much about Pluto? Who cares if they call it a planet?”

“It’s personal,” he said simply.

“How can Pluto be personal? It’s a cold and dark lump of ice in the backwater of the solar system. It’s not like you’re going to go there. Just let it go.”

He sighed heavily. Then he slipped off his glasses and faced me. That’s when I saw the eyes. Yellow. Thin-pupiled. Not human.

The eye of Westerfeld was upon me.

“Two things I don’t do,” he said, his pupils narrowing to a sliver. “One, wear jeans. Two, tolerate false planets. You with me?”

I was backed up against the door, actually.

His phone rang. I could hear Justine’s voice on the other end—clear, Australian, and slightly under duress. In that moment, his eyes slipped back to their normal appearance.

Scott clicked his phone shut.

“We have to abort,” he said. “My wife needs me. Can I safely assume you’ll tell no one about what you’ve seen or heard this afternoon?”

“Who would I tell?” I said.

“Glad to hear it.” He signaled for the cab to stop, tossed a handful of bills into the front seat, and threw open the door while the cab was still moving.

“Next time,” he said. “Be ready. You’re in my gang now. I could come for you at any time.”

The last time I saw him, he was running down 42nd Street, weaving through the tourists and the hucksters. I followed for a little while, but he was moving with unnatural speed. Somewhere between the Hershey Store and the Crowne Plaza Hotel I lost sight of him. In one instant, he was gone.

One thing they always say about New Yorkers is that we never look up at the buildings around us. Maybe it was because I was thinking of Pluto or the helicopter that I wasn’t forced into stealing . . .

I can’t be certain, but I think I saw a figure scaling the giant chocolate bar on top of the Hershey Store. Maybe it was a trick of the eye, a fault in the circuits, a ripple in the choco-static continuum . . . but somehow, I don’t think so.

The last known sighting of Westerfeld.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I myself have scaled the giant Hershey's bar many a time, and the truth of the matter is that vampire powers are not necessary. An overwhelming aura of amazingness enveloping one's body does help, however, and I suspect Scott Westerfeld has such an aura around him every second of his life.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reading Scott Westerfelds' blog and saw that he had a link to the interview he did with you when he was writing Extras. I read your 'interview', and found it quite amusing, and followed the reference in another of your blogs relating to Scott, and found this story. I quite like how you can make a short story out of a trip to New York and an afternoon out with friends and discussing planets. Admittedly, I haven't read any of your books, but after reading an entry on Scott's page about Devilish, I need to track down a copy :) Keep writing, and enjoy life.

- Ash

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy your stories like these very much. They're hysterical.

8:21 AM  

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