Archive for June, 2010
It’s a question I get a lot. Not from people who actually want to know how I got published, but from people who want to know how they can get published.
I get that. It’s pretty understandable. If I were them I’d want to know how I could get published too.
Well do I remember how incomprehensible the whole New York publishing world looked when I was not “inside” it. It is a dark planet, emitting little detectable radiation on any wavelength. There isn’t much reliable information about its diabolical inhabitants. Accounts by travelers to that cursed orb rarely agree.
I can only give you mine. It’s not pretty.
Chapter 1. In which I don’t get published (1989-1993)
I saw short stories as the natural entry point. In college and shortly thereafter I wrote a lot of them. I would ballpark the number of my unpublished short stories at around 150. I stopped when I realized that a) I have no gift or real love for the short story as a form, and b) the market for short stories is a difficult and complicated and relatively conservative one. It helps to know people, and to have an MFA-type writing style. I didn’t.
Chapter 2. In which I write a novel (1993-1996)
It’s unlikely that, as a first-time novelist, you’ll be able to sell a project based on a partial manuscript. You will need a total manuscript. I wrote a novel in the early 1990’s, in the years right after I graduated college. I did this without an agent or connections or any particular encouragement. I was rejected from all the MFA programs, grant programs and writer’s colonies I applied to. But it’s the first thing I did right.
I’m in Scottsdale, AZ for a reading tonight at Changing Hands bookstore. Come if you can. I don’t know anybody here, so I’m hoping the fans will turn out!
The only other time I’ve ever been in Arizona was to meet Stephenie Meyer. This was when the Twilight thing was already mental, but had not yet gone completely bugfuck.
She lives in a town called Cave Creek, outside Phoenix, in a modern-looking house with a giant TV in it that was surrounded by saguaro cacti. I liked her. She was obviously smart, but otherwise almost aggressively normal and down-to-earth. The strangest thing about her was that she’s never seen an R-rated movie. I didn’t even have a marital online pharmacy for zithromax crisis while I was talking to her.
I’m back in New York City for like 10 seconds — long enough to do a reading at the Borders in Columbus Circle tonight. (See how I worked that in.)
While I’m traveling I’m basically an isolated, sentient point hanging unsupported in space. But now that I’m actually home it occurs to me that practically nobody reading this blog has any idea who the hell I am other than that I’m the guy who wrote the Harry Potter book that has sex in it.
(I’m still waiting for a newspaper to use the headline “Dirty Harry” for a review. Come on guys. it’s just sitting there.)
I don’t blog about my personal life that much, because it’s inherently creepy and anyway who cares. But! If you’re curious, here’s my character sheet.
I live in Brooklyn. I bought a too-big, too-old brownstone there last year. The neighborhood is called Clinton Hill, which nobody knows where that is, but just start in Fort Greene and walk towards the sound of small arms fire and you’ll get there.
I am 40. So I remember the world buy zithromax 2000mg before Harry Potter and the Internet. But I don’t remember when the Beatles were together. But I did have a bad haircut in the 80s.
I’m a dad. My daughter, Lily, is 6. The two words she would use to describe herself are ‘cute’ and ‘fierce.’ She looks like this:
That’s her with the wings. I don’t know who the hell that guy is. Watch the hands, buddy.
Lily’s mother and I split up when Lily was very small. But very recently, like a few weeks ago, I got married again(!) My wife’s name is Sophie Gee. She’s a novelist and a professor at Princeton in the English department. (The 18th century is her specialty. But don’t try her on Milton either because she will fuck you up.) I love her so much I can’t even write about it here.
Finally, a forward-looking statement: Sophie is pregnant. Very pregnant. Sometime toward the end of June, beginning of July, I will drop off the face of the Earth and then re-emerge a couple of weeks later covered in vomit.
You’ve been warned.
The other day the New Yorker announced its list of the twenty best writers under forty.
Lists like this are of course totally bogus. But I like them. They treat literature like it was some kind of damn dog race, which is demeaning to both literature and dog racing (which is pretty horrible to begin with). I think they’re a unique artifact of late-20th-century popular criticism — as crass and lame as earlier eras of human civilization were, I can’t imagine critics of an earlier era being crass and lame in quite this exact way. It’s like some horrible amalgamation of all our obsessions with youth and media and penis-length, given list form.
And yet: they get some basic information out there, albeit in a crude and distorted form. I think some writers are good and other writers less good. You think other writers are good or less good too. Here are their names. Now we know.
When the New Yorker announced their list, I read it and immediately was all, no way, this sucks. In fact I was all like that publicly, on Twitter. So I feel like I should add something to that. Mostly caveats.
I have a thing about popular/genre fiction and literary fiction. I think and write about the difference/non-difference between them, and the history of that difference, a lot. For reasons I’ve explained way better elsewhere (see those links above) I happen to think the collapse/confusion/obsolescence of that difference is the most interesting thing going on in contemporary fiction. It’s how we’re finally metabolizing/moving on from Modernism, which had a lot to do with inventing that difference in the first place, toward a kind of writing that is new and exciting and uniquely of its time. Which is the job of every culture ever. This is our avant-garde.
So I was disappointed but not surprised when there weren’t any genre writers on the New Yorker‘s list. It seemed typical of that institution’s blindness and ossified-ness, which is only matched by its breathtaking insight (honestly, who else would buy azithromycin 500mg have been smart/strong enough to start sticking Daniyal Mueenuddin’s stuff in front of a mass audience? That kicks ass.) (Being born in 1963, he was way too old and crumbly for the list.)
Now two caveats to that: one, numerous people have argued that some of the writers on the list are in fact genre writers. Chris Adrian, for example, and Karen Russell. And Rivka Galchen. Those people are right. Or about Adrian and Galchen anyway. I’ve never read Karen Russell. #criticfail!
Two, nowhere here am I dissing the writers who happen to be on this list. There are some writers on there who I actually have read and, regardless of where they’re shelved, I think are not just excellent, but particularly excellent. They are: Gary Shteyngart, Rivka Galchen, Josh Ferris and Wells Tower (whose Viking story “Everything Ravaged Everything Burned” isn’t urban fantasy, but it’s cool in the same way that urban fantasy is cool).
Oh, and here’s another caveat: the New Yorker put your book, The Magicians, on their end-of-year best-of list last year. So where do you get off saying they don’t respect genre fiction?
Answer, I don’t know where I get off. How could I? I dine out on that whenever I can. The moral of this story being that magazines (and by extension people) are almost always smarter and more thoughtful than you (meaning me) initially think they are.
But I still think they should have had a few straight-ahead genre people on there. I don’t know how old Paolo Bacigalupi is, but he doesn’t look 40 to me.
p.s. I would never suggest that there should be a comparable 40-and-up writers list. But I do think there should be a list of writers who are exactly 40. I would have a shot at that one. Me and Kelly Link (b. 1969). And John Scalzi (also b. 1969). David Anthony Durham. David Mitchell. Huh. Actually it’s pretty competitive.
(This post was posted from the cafe at Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC, where I am reading in three short hours.)
I’m in Asheville, NC: my fifth city in five days.
When I’m in hyper-traveling mode like this I find that my sanity gets a bit fragile. You start creeping around feeling alienated from everyone. You become abnormally interested in the movie they’re showing on the plane, even (especially!) when that movie is The Chipmunks. The Doors’ “When You’re Strange” starts to make sense. You start saying ‘you’ when you mean ‘I.’ This is not a good development.
Remaining in touch with reality is a constant running battle. Fortunately I have help in this glorious struggle, from the following things:
— David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I’ve been reading Mitchell for a long time now. His books can be uneven — Number9Dream was a problem for me — but never boring. He’s committed to great storytelling, and he’s willing to try all kinds of extreme formal gambits that I could never pull off — he’s like the Roger Federer of the novel. I don’t know any writers who aren’t interested in Mitchell. It’s real litgeek stuff.
— My rotating cast of comforting nerdy t-shirts that have on them:
— a schematic of an Imperial Walker. It was meant to promote Star Wars Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike, but it has long outlived its game.
— the symbols of the various members of the Justice League. The shirt itself is also a tasteful cloudy blue. I basically can’t go on stage without this shirt.
— Roast Beef from Achewood
— a picture of Snape from Potter Puppet Pals. It says “Potions Master”
This morning I woke up like a character in a Mel Gibson movie:
What? Where am I? [Touches fingers to temple] Oh, my head …
Then I remembered.
Though if this were really a Mel Gibson movie there would be a beautiful woman sitting by my bed who says she’s sorry about that, but they couldn’t afford to take any chances. Then she’d explain that the secret criminal organization I was investigating was actually a noble resistance movement and that the government I work for is in fact corrupt and evil. Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
All arguably true. And yet.
I hit the hotel at one in the morning last night, four AM by my quaintly irrelevant internal New York time, prompting me to remark for the hidden cameras that follow my every move that I am “too old for this shit.”
Still: the event in L.A. last night was excellent. People came. They asked amazing questions. Borders had two stupendous piles of Magicianses right out front. They were like human pyramids, except instead of humans they were books, and the books were all The Magicians. I took a picture of it, but it came out too amateur and iPhone-y even by my standards.
Say what you like about chain stores vs. independents — say it, damn you, say it — but Borders has gone to the mat for this book. The mat. It’s hard to explain what that means to an author. But the short answer is, everything.
I’ll be in Oakland tonight at A Great Good Place for Books. Come if you can!
“Everything seemed to be going right. He was on top of the world.”
[Shot of writer on couch typing on laptop]
“But the pressure was mounting. His contract stated that he had to deliver a new book, even while he was still touring to promote the last one.”
[Shot of writer on couch typing on laptop]
“Something had to give.”
[Shot of writer on couch typing on laptop. Key grip’s hand in corner of frame, nudging beer toward writer.]
WRITER (annoyed): Jesus, what are you doing? It’s like 11 in the morning.
PRODUCER (out of shot): Oh forget it. Just make it look like he drank it.
“All day binges. Trashed hotel rooms.”
Camera goes all unsteady, starts dropping frames.
WRITER (looks up from typing): Jesus Christ, I folded those!
Shot is put through blue filter so everything looks freaky.
“He was losing his grip on reality.”
WRITER (punches back of couch): Fucking Twitter is down again.
PRODUCER (out of shot): Good. I like the anger.
WRITER: Hey, am I allowed to use the mini-bar?
“Coming up next: the greatest mind of his generation drinks a flavored espresso beverage … and gets a tummy ache.”
And scene. I want you to know I put a lot of thought into formatting that.
You might think going on tour would mean I spent less time on “social media.” How wrong you would be. Now that I’m traveling, zithromax no prescription canada away from my loved ones, social media are now my only friends.
Come here. Gimme a hug. That’s right. That’s the stuff.