Ten Things I Learned from Markus Zusak

At the end of my two-day novel workshop, where I met the fantastic editor Jessica Garrison from Dial (she happens to be Jandy Nelson’s [The Sky is Everywhere] new editor) and heard Ann Dee Ellis give a fantastic talk about revision and learned a bit about plot from Kristen Landon (The Limit)–we all piled into cars and headed for the Provo City Library where Courtney Lowe (amazing woman that she is) was getting ready to kick off the evening with Markus Zusak  (yes, The Book Thief author was going to be speaking). Here are ten things that I learned from him and the event.

! He has a great Australian accent.

@ Australian accents make people far more attractive. I say this without having ever seen  Markus’ face clearly. Yes, he told us to call him by his first name. I think, though, had his face been completely smudged out with an eraser, I would have thought he was cuter than someone like, say, Brad Pitt with no accent (and no terrific books to his credit).

# Being funny and tender makes for a good presentation.

$ Knowing how to work an audience–like by being both funny and tender– is a good thing. What made him both funny and tender? Zusak spoke about his life and about his parents’ lives. He connected to us through his books, first, and then he made the books even more real by connecting himself to them.

% He said writing is in the little details.

^ He made us feel his talk was just to us, a group of readers, librarians, teachers, authors, students, parents etc. He traveled 30-something hours to come to see US.

& He was humble. There’s something to be said for a good looking, Australian accented, humble guy who is pretty well-known for writing a marvelous book. So there. That’s a big hint to you writers out there.  It’s a-okay to think you’re kinda like your audience and not just better than ‘one of these people.’ (Yes, I had an author once say to me, “I not like these people. I’m a head-lining novelist.” And he didn’t have an accent to help him any, either.)

* Markus spoke to everyone who came to him to have their books signed. Now, I’m not sure about those people after the letter ‘D’ (the library divided the groups by the alphabet), but I’m guessing by ‘Zed’ he might have still been making each signature important. I left right after the speech, but Cheri Pearlie Early was in line from 7-9 and she was a late letter ‘C’.

( I don’t think he’s too nervous about flying. MZ never said anything like that, but he did fly here from Australia (and brought that accent), after all.

) Someone asked Zusak about writing the icky middles of a novel. She said she had a beginning and an ending and no middle (we can all safely assume that she has not been reading this blog or else she’d know the middle of a book–that really big part–can be tough). But Zusak said something I found pretty darn interesting. He said (and this isn’t an exact quote), “You have to make writing your first or second priority. If it’s not number one or number two to you, you’re not a writer yet.”

Where is writing to you?

It’s not number one or number two to me. But it might be number three in my most important list.


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18 responses to “Ten Things I Learned from Markus Zusak

  1. I wanted to put Jessica Garrison in my pocket and take her home with me. She’s so wonderful. I need to read Jandy’s book.

    You and Ann Dee have the funny and tender thing down, so much so that even without an australian accent, I could listen to you both all day. And even late into the night, even with a headache and sickness from tiredness.

    p.s. I need to make it a priority to figure out my priorities.

  2. Kyra

    He woulda been way better looking with a different haircut.
    But his accent was pretty hot 😉

  3. I was there too! I loved this recap. And I’m glad to have found your blog – I’ll be back in the future!

  4. Courtney Lowe

    Carol, I am SO GLAD that you were able to make it to see Markus. He was incredibly humble and remarkably gracious throughout the (long) evening!

    And for the record. . . he was signing until almost 2:00 am. And you can bet that every reader had a pointed, positive interaction. Every reader had a meaningful inscription written in their book. I couldn’t even get the man to EAT or DRINK something, for crying out loud, even when his wonderful friend Laura McNeal brought pizza!! He’s an absolutely wonderful man and delightful author, and I hope we have the pleasure of hosting him again, and soon!


    • Carol

      Thank you for making that event possible. You are amazing and so is the work you do for the community.

      Everyone–Courtney is one of the people working on WIFYR with me. She is amazing.

      Anyone who will be with Holly Black and Courtney Lowe this summer? Well, all I have to say is–you are in for a treat!!!!

  5. jen

    I’m so glad you posted the highlights, because I could not go and see lovely, humble Austrialian writer. so thank you. And yes, good question about the priorities. Although, I do know that after the conference this weekend I was so excited to write, and completley irritiated with anything or one who got in may way. Grrr…I’m a grump. Sometimes.

    • Carol

      Jen, you are amazing.
      And I heard the sternum story.
      So wish I’d been in your Sacrament meeting that day!

      • jen

        Actually Adam heard it, but relayed the story to me. Hilarious. Yes? You know, my scrotum…I mean my sternum is feeling a little odd too.

  6. I agree with all you say! It was a wonderful night. I had front and center seats and let me just say having seen his face VERY clearly, he is attractive, very, and I’d go as far as to say that he would be EVEN without the accent, though that sure doesn’t hinder matters any.

  7. Aw, Carol, it’s wonderful that you’re so enthusiastic about the Australian accent! I have the accent myself, and whilst it’s amusing, it unfortunately isn’t as awesome as other countries’ accent…though we still beat USA’s, bless you 😉

  8. Amelia M.

    I was there too! What a great experience, he was so nice to stay that late!! (I was in group “G” so I left around 11)

  9. Carol, it was awesome to see you at the workshop! I always like seeing you.

    Writing is #1 for me some days of the week. Like Wednesday.
    Thursday, my comic is #1.

    My day job and Aaron and art fit in there somewhere. I think sleep is like… #28 on my priority list…


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