Archive for May, 2011
Today my office is closed. My wife has gone to Princeton (to hand out prizes at graduation, because she does it so exceptionally well) and taken the baby. My book is done.
That means that from now until 6:00 (when Sophie comes back) I have literally nothing to do. My time is my own. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s been at least two years.
It’s amazing. I feel sort of floaty.
I mean, subtract five hours for Minecraft and that’s still a ton of time to fill.
[There’s a code in our house for this level of total self-indulgence: “lobster parts.” The story goes, a friend of ours’ wife went away for a couple of days, taking their two kids. Said friend — who teaches economics at an ancient, storied university — spent the entire two days sitting on a couch watching action movies and eating lobster. Later that week the lobster parts were discovered under the couch. He hadn’t even gotten up to throw them away.]
So far I’ve mostly lain on my bed.
Pretty soon I’m going to get back to blogging about my life and opinions about books and also that one time when I drank too much. For now let me just remind you that I’m talking to China Miéville on stage on Wednesday night in Williamsburg. China is, of course, one of today’s great literary border-crossers (one who, interestingly, writes obsessively about literal border-crossing), which is something I have a consuming interest in. And he’s one of those writers — not at all common — who’s also a great theorist of and talker-about his own work and the context wherein it lies.
Also the ladies like his looks. I’m really looking forward to this. Come hang out!
If you’ve got questions for China, stick’em in comments. And before you ask, we will definitely be covering Could They Beat Up China Miéville?
When I was in first grade something weird started happening. Kids were getting taken out of class in groups of three or four, and when they returned they were … altered. I was pretty sure that the time had come, and we were finally being replaced by our replicant doubles, and I just hoped that when it was my turn I would meet my fate proudly and not beg.
Instead when it was my turn we were taken down the hall and down the stairs into our school’s fallout shelter (yeah, yeah, I’m old. Saw me in half and count the rings, why don’t you) and ushered into the presence of this:
This was a Commodore PET computer. (PET stood for Personal Electronic Transactor!) As a replicant double it wasn’t a great likeness. But it did play games. Specifically it played Hunt the Wumpus. As a result of this electronic transaction, I became a gamer.
(This is only partly true. We got Pong around that time too. But anyway somewhere in there I became a gamer, which is my point.)
I often get a surprised reaction to the fact that I’m both a books guy and a games guy. They’re supposed to be mortal enemies, fighting it out for a slice of the unexpanding pie of our entertainment hours/dollars. But then I’m surprised at their surprise. I mean, come on, you were introverted and socially anxious when you were a kid, right? Right? What else did you do besides read books and play video games? Where does this schism come from?
What, were you out there playing kickball? Jock.
Long live the king. Just a quick note to say that at 9:30 this morning, my editor dropped by my house on her bicycle, and I handed her this:
It’s the last chapter of The Magician King. No more drafts, no more revisions. It’s done.
I was supposed to have it to her by noon yesterday, but the night before I decided I wanted to read the whole book straight through, front to back, one more time. I wanted to make triple-sure the book read exactly how it should read, and said exactly what I wanted it to say.
That meant staying up all night and then spending the next day at Viking in a windowless conference room handing pages off to the production editor as I finished them.
Even at this late date there were changes. There are certain words I use way too much: just, even, actually, seemed, looked. Also if you’re in the basement of a house, and it’s summer, the furnace probably isn’t running. And I noticed that the copy editor had changed a C.S. Lewis allusion to read “Farther up and farther in.”
I wanted to do it all in one day, but I had to relieve the nanny, so I kept the last chapter till this morning.
It’s an emotional thing for me. A lot has happened buy antibiotics during the two years I spent writing this book. Major things. I got married (to Sophie) and had a baby (Halcyon). We bought a house in Brooklyn, and we renovated it. (Still doing that actually.)
And I wrote a book. I’m not going to say it’s a better book than The Magicians, but I poured a hell of a lot into it. I used every trick I used in the last book, and I made up a whole set of new ones.
And now it’s done. Now on to more important things. Lily turns 7 today, and I’ve got a child to spoil.
I remember when I used to write about things other than My Book and How It’s Coming Out. Thank God that dark time is past! Now look at this:
This is a design for a run of temporary tattoos that will be released when The Magician King comes out. Blue seven-pointed stars. They turn out to be important. If you see someone wearing one, think twice before messing with them.
— I’ve been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I’m really happy about this. It’s something I was really really hoping for, and it’s my last year of eligibility, so this was my last shot. If you win you get a tiara!
Given the caliber of the other nominees, it is also a very long shot. But it’s one of those situations where it really is an honor just to be nominated. I mean, forget winning. Just look at the people who’ve lost the Campbell. It’s a good group.
— I’m also up for a Prix Imaginale. C’est French!
— My brother and I are appearing at an event Tuesday night at the great Word Bookstore in Brooklyn, along with Peter and Emma Straub. The theme — obvs — is family members who are also writers. Austin and I have never appeared together in an event before. We’ve influenced each other in a lot of ways — we really play off each other in our work — so it should be interesting. Come if you can.
The other day Viking asked me if I wanted to use my same author photo from The Magicians.
Now, I like that photo. It looks like this:
I had a professional photographer take it, because, hey, professional photographer, right? If I told you how much it cost you would reach through your computer screen and punch me in the face. But it was the cheapest professional option I could find.
It’s actually an outtake from the regular posed photo session — this is me laughing from the incredible pain of undergoing a posed photo session. I think my teeth got a little over-brightened in Photoshop — I look kind of like Ross in that episode of Friends where he has his teeth whitened. But I like it.
[I also like the photo on the bio page of this site (it’s from my “stubble” phase!). I didn’t use it on the jacket because I can’t afford the rights to it.]
But some media outlets and foreign publishers balked at that photo. They wanted color photos, or they wanted something more conventional, where I was actually “looking” at the “camera.” My German publishers, for example, went a whole nother way. That’s a shot from the real posed photo session.
So when Viking asked me if I wanted to try something different for The Magician King, I said, what do you think of this:
This is me in Rome last spring, for a last hurrah before this happened. It’s just a snapshot. I’m standing on a bridge over the Tiber. The light is nice because it’s like 6:00 in the morning, and Sophie and I were both awake from jet lag. Plus it’s Rome, where the light is always nice.
Obviously it’s not a professional photograph. My face is in shadow, and the trees are kind of distracting, and there’s probably other things wrong with it that my amateur eye isn’t detecting. But the Vikings liked it. So I think we’re using it.
I’m making eye contact, at any rate. And it’s in color. And you can’t see my teeth.
See what I did there?
A moment of silence, please, for my epigraph for The Magician King. It has suffered the same fate that has brought low many buy klonopin a mighty hero: it has been Dinged by Legal. I knew that the book it came from (it was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) wasn’t in the public domain, but I figgered epigraphs were protected by Fair Use … nah. Apparently they’re a special case.
Now I’m in search of another one, but it’s not coming to me. I don’t absolutely need one. (I definitely don’t need two. I think more than one epigraph for a book is kind of de trop.) But The Magicians had one, and it would be nice to keep things parallel.
My brother suggested an excellent quote from Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare lifted it from Ovid): “Terras Astraea reliquit.” Which means: The goddess of justice has left the earth.
Good, right? My Latin is terrible (I learned it in three months to pass the requirement in grad school, then immediately forgot it), but I still like it. And it fits. Because she has.
On Monday I turned in what in the publishing world are called “first pass pages” of The Magician King. That’s when they take your semi-final draft, copy edit it, lay it out like it’s a book — with proper typography and headings and colophon and everything — export it as a PDF, print it out, and give it back to you for a few days. Then you — meaning me — take a red pencil and scribble on it.
This is a “special time” in the life of a book. You’re seeing it fresh, with new eyes, the way readers are going to see it. You see things you never saw before. Sometimes they are terrible, terrible things. Pacing is one thing in a Word doc, but it feels a lot different when you’re actually looking at words on a typeset page.
When that happens the red pencil strikes. I worked on a travel guide for a few months after college. Not an edifying experience, especially, but it made me fluent in proofreader’s marks — triple-underline to capitalize a letter, etc. etc. Handy.
Oftentimes you realize things are missing, or off somehow. There’s whole pages in there that are crossed out and rewritten on the verso. (Hey, what if that horse were a talking horse? What would it say?) I’ve been reading Kate Atkinson and Jennifer Egan. They’re a good influence on me. There’s a contractual limit on what percentage of the book you can change in first pass pages. I’m pretty sure I hit it.
(By the way, if any of you out there are — unlike me — lucky enough to have a galley of The Magician King, you should know that it’s based on the copy-edited manuscript, not the corrected first pass pages. That’s a really rough draft. You’re not getting the full Sensurround experience. You’re watching in about 1.5D. There are serious problems in there that are fixed in the finished book. Read away, but please don’t review the book based on the galley. If you do I will find you and go all Candyman on you.)
I reread/rewrote the book three times in two weeks. It’s a relief to take a break now, and by taking a break I mean showing up for my day job.
After that: second pass pages!