Archive for May, 2010
[Rejected titles for this post: No Maps for These Territories, Antarctica Starts Here]
My book tour starts at 8:15 tomorrow morning. A car is coming to take me to the airport. I’m flying to LA. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Not that I don’t feel lucky to be going on tour. I do feel lucky. Because I am lucky!
It’s just complicated. Writers are weird about book tours. Tell a writer you’re publishing a book and they’ll want to know if you’re doing a tour. And if you’re doing a tour, they’ll want to know how many cities?
They will compare this number to the number of cities they were sent to. If their number is smaller, they will feel bad.
I never have those thoughts myself. I only know about them because of my amazing writerly insight into human nature.
I started a very occasional (3X per year) informational newsletter about What’s Going on With Me and The Magicians. It’s called the Brakebills Alumni Association Newsletter. If you’d like to get it, you can sign up here.
This isn’t going where you think it is. It’s not like I turned up at J.K. Rowling’s house drunk and made a pass at her. Or broke down crying in the middle of our interview. Though the second one crossed my mind.
I did do a fair amount of drinking. Edinburgh: not a city to dry out in. And here’s a fine period detail: you could smoke in bars. I found a punk bar near my hotel and sat in it, wallowing in self-pity and Harry Potter, reading book after book and drinking pint after pint and burning cigarette after cigarette. I missed my daughter. I missed myself — the version of myself that had any idea what was going on.
And then the day came. Two high-ranking Scholastic executives came to my hotel in a limo, scraped me up off the curb, and drove me to Rowling’s house. It wasn’t even a very far drive. The block was nice but not insane. The house was big. It had an electric gate that slid open. We went inside.
I didn’t go up to the house. Instead I was led to a bungalow a few yards away. In the bungalow was a conference room with a big blonde wooden table. At the table was J.K. Rowling.
Here’s a little-known fact about me: I met J.K. Rowling once. I wish it were a littler-known fact, but what can you do.
“Not blog about it” would be one answer. But since it’s out there I feel an urge to explain it. And also apologize for it. “The time I met J.K. Rowling” sounds like a great story, but it isn’t.
Here’s how it went down.
The year was 2005. We’d just about gutted out the two-year gap between Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince (my coping mechanism was to start writing The Magicians in 2004). In the weeks before the new book came out, Rowling’s American publisher, Scholastic, let it be known that she would give exactly one interview to one U.S. print publication.
Everybody put their bids in. For whatever reason, Time won. They sent me.
It wasn’t a fait accompli. You wouldn’t think it, but Time has some major-league Harry Potter fans on staff. Senior staff. They can rattle off trivia like they were Newt Scamander or some shit. But I was the books guy, and the most visibly nerdy staff member. So I went.
And there was another reason they sent me, which was that my marriage was falling apart.
That is all.
We had a lot of trouble doing a cover for The Magicians. Not without good reason. I don’t think Viking’s art department had done a lot of fantasy before. And I have the visual sensibility of an eyeless cave creature. So together we made a great team.
As a result we went through five or six ideas that were interesting and cool and totally wrong for The Magicians. I wish I had a framed poster-size version of each one of them. They were great. But there was no way I wanted them on my book.
(By the way, unless you’ve done a book yourself, you may not realize that it’s inherently extremely cool that they even discussed options with me, as usually publishers just put a cover on a book and the author can like it or lump it. Except actually they can’t even lump it.)
Then Viking’s art director sent me a link. This link. It’s to the website of a French artist named Didier Massard. What Massard does is just insane.
Massard is a photographer. But not the regular kind. I’ve heard what he does called constructed photography or fabricated photography or tabletop photography. He actually builds models of things, in his studio, and then photographs them as if they were real. So what you get are hyper-real, hyper-detailed images that look strangely fantastical for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. You think you’re looking at a painting, but you’re not. You’re looking at a real thing.
I flicked through a few different images on his site. Then I saw this:
It’s called Arbre en Automne. I picked up the phone to call my girlfriend, to whom I’d forwarded the link. Except my phone was already ringing. It was my girlfriend. We both said at the same time: I found it.
The Vikings liked it too. I actually became a bit obsessed with the image. I kept it on my desktop while I did my final revisions to the book. It was like he’d said in that one image everything I’d been trying to put in a whole novel (about 148,000 words). I wrote him a fan letter. He replied warmly, in charmingly broken English.
Then I called his gallery and tried to buy Arbre en Automne. In response I heard only the cold, plastic sound of my credit cards laughing at me.
But here’s the thing: now I’m writing the sequel to The Magicians, and I want to use another of Massard’s images. Partly to keep the look and feel consistent book to book, but mostly because his images rock. So I’m going to have to start planning now, to fit the book to the right image, and to lobby Massard for permission to use it.
So do me a favor. Head over to Massard’s site. Tell me what looks like a great cover to you. The cover of a book you’d want to read. I have a few ideas, but I want to know what you think.
[p.s. if you find Massard’s work interesting, check out the amazing making-of video under “Backstage.” Unfortunately featuring the worst video client ever.]
This is one of those questions that if I were an old Infocom text adventure game like Zork I would say I DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT.
And the cursor would just sit there blinking, and you (meaning me) would have to think of some other question. But we don’t all have the luxury of being old Infocom text adventure games do we?
Unfortunately to answer this question — which admittedly nobody has actually asked me — I will first have to go through all that David Copperfield kind of crap.
I come from literary stock. My parents are both English professors. My father taught at Brandeis and then Johns Hopkins, my mom taught at Smith and UC Irvine and a bunch of other places.
It’s easy to say that, but it’s hard to explain what that actually meant to a small person being raised by those parents. We were a very literary household. My father in particular is pretty much the most literary person you can imagine. He won a MacArthur Fellowship. He won a Bollingen Prize. He didn’t win them for curing leprosy. He won them for reading, writing and talking about books, mostly poetry, all day every day.
Books were what you talked about in our house (or mostly you listened to your parents talk about them). All the time. Literature was what was important in life. Even more important than crushing your enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women. Although that was right up there.
It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but one day you’ll run into one of my dad’s former students or colleagues and I promise you they’ll back me up on this, to the hilt.
The children of the household, while embracing (to various degrees) the ideology of the ruling class, maintained an underground resistance movement as well. The activities of the resistance consisted of consuming massive amounts of science fiction and fantasy in book, comic book, movie and video game form. We were occasionally exposed, and then we were beaten about the head and neck with heavy sighs and then drowned in our own shame.
But we persevered. Vive la resistance.
So How Do You Feel About Not Winning, or Even Being Nominated for, a Hugo, Nebula, Locus or Campbell Award?
Fine! Just fine! Why wouldn’t I feel fine?!?!?
Anyway I still have an Alex Award. Let’s run that photo again:
How do you like that Mr. Bacigalupi? Mine looks like a penny.
p.s. it’s not too late for the World Fantasy Awards
[The title of this post is supposed to be read in the voice of Henchman 21 from The Venture Brothers. But it’s fine the regular way too.]
I used to have a Google alert on myself. You know, because of all the reviews and blogs and whatnot. Then I got rid of my Google alert. Because of all the reviews and blogs and whatnot.
Given the practically infinite size of the Internet, it is statistically a near certainty that at any given moment someone somewhere on it is calling me a dick. Which is totally fine. It may even be true. But the weird thing about it is that when people talk smack about me they do it as if I can’t hear them. I feel like if someone’s going to call me a douchebag, they’re going to do it anyway, but they would at least do it in a different way if I were in the room with them.
Which owing to the nature of the Internet I am. Except it doesn’t seem like that to them — it seems like I’m off in some other universe somewhere where I can’t hear them. I think this is partly because I write for Time, and I publish books through a big fat entrenched New York publisher, which means that my words tend to appear in glossy packages that were obviously designed and printed by massive soulless corporations. That has the effect of making me seem like some bloated plutocrat who looks like the Monopoly guy.
Which is totally wrong. I don’t have a mustache.
And I don’t want people to think of me that way. I want to be in the room. Being a writer without a blog is like being a ghost at your own funeral. You’re there, and yet you’re not. And then you overhear your best friend say, ‘sure, he was a decent guy, but it’s not like it’s a national tragedy or anything. ooh, look, mini-pizzas!’ Which—cool ghost powers aside—who wants that?
So here I am.
The whole idea that you can’t write good fiction on medication is of course complete bollocks. David Foster Wallace wrote most of what he wrote on Nardil, which is a way harder-core med than anything I ever got near. (This argument is or is not effective depending on whether or not you like DFW’s stuff.)
It’s not like writers haven’t been self-medicating phentermine with alcohol since forever anyway. But we tend to be fussy about anything clinical or medical, i.e. anything that isn’t sufficiently self-destructive. It’s like Rilke refusing psychoanalysis because he thought it would kill his muse:
“Psychoanalysis is too fundamental a help for me, it helps you once and for all, it clears you up, and to find myself finally cleared up one day might be even more hopeless than this chaos.”
Spoken like a man who was sleeping w/ his shrink. (Which he was.)
But that’s how I felt myself after I went off SSRI’s. And I did not even have sex w/ my shrink.
After my Palm Beach adventure I stayed away from anything pharmaceutical for a year. As far as I was concerned writing required raw unaltered brain chemistry. If I was going to get anywhere with The Magicians, nothing else would do.