Archive for August, 2011
I’m writing this on a plane from Seattle to Atlanta, whither I am traveling in order to read, sign and blather at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead on Monday night at 7:00.
The reason I was in Seattle was PAX, the Penny Arcade convention, where I ran a couple of panels. If you’ve never been, PAX is kind of a special thing. It’s a convention for gamers, but it’s more than that too — there’s a real feeling of community at PAX, which you wouldn’t think would be possible with 40,000 strangers in airless corporate convention center, but there it is. It all flows from Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the two guys who make Penny Arcade. They are very smart and very not-into-bullshit, and you can be pretty sure that whoever you meet at PAX is going to be like that too. Mike and Jerry are real culture heroes, and you look around at PAX think, yeah, we’re all in Mike and Jerry’s culture.
One of the panels I did was on being a gamer and a parent – when I was a kid I used games to get away from my parents, but now that I’m a parent video games are part of the culture that I want to pass on to my kids, which is an interesting shift. About 150 people showed up, and I was initially unnerved when no other panelists did, but my friend Evan Narcisse fearlessly joined me on stage, and there was a lot of audience participation, and the whole thing came off very well.
Then on Saturday night I moderated a panel on books and games – what do gamers read, what do books do that games can’t and vice versa, what makes great writing in a game, and why so few novels do games well (Snow Crash and Ender’s Game were at the top of the list, but it wasn’t a long list). Basically I think the emotions that games stir up are a lot more complex than most novelists realize, and it turns out they’re really tough to describe, which is why so few writers get it right. The transmedia theory rapidly became very thorny indeed; I did my best to keep up. I didn’t want to do the panel at all unless Marc Laidlaw – a novelist who also wrote Half-Life 2, one of the most wildly atmospheric games I’ve ever played – could come out for it. He did. It was one of those panels where the audience jumped in, and the staff basically had to kick us out of the room to get us to stop talking.
I will close with a partial list of things people have given me since I’ve been on tour. You’re kind of like the tiny prince in Katamari Damacy on tours like this – by the end you’re rolling along a ball of stuff bigger than you are.
1. A fox costume. [Well, fox ears, and a surprisingly substantial fox tail. If they were white – i.e. belonging to an arctic fox – this would have been a mildly tasteless allusion to the infamous fox-sex scene in The Magicians. As it is they are reddish in color, which makes them a hugely tasteless allusion to the total-fox-horror scene in The Magician King. But I’m not saying I didn’t put them on. (There was a bear suit too. I didn’t put that on.)]
2. Four books. [One of them was not only by Terry Brooks, Terry Brooks himself handed it to me. With his own hand.]
3. Two novel manuscripts. [These were from close friends—I can’t take manuscripts from people I don’t know, because they’re such a big commitment.]
4. One dwagon [yellow]
5. One magnificent 10-foot knitted scarf in Brakebills colors
6. Three home-confected Brakebills (and one Brakebills South) t-shirts
7. A magic-button Neitherlands keychain
8. One tiara with ominous, reliquary-like tiara box
— Hark! A Vagrant
— The “Guardians of Sunshine” episode of Adventure Time. Also: all other episodes of Adventure Time, which I didn’t know existed until my friend Zack told me about it a couple of days ago
— Room service
— Twitter (note: Twitter is also driving me insane. Call it a wash.)
— “Raw Sugar” by Metric
— “The Calamity Song,” by The Decemberists
— Working out. Listen, I know, “working out” isn’t a very “me” thing. And it is appallingly painful. I don’t actually “enjoy” it. But Neil does it! And an engineer friend once told me, look, your brain runs off the rest of your body, and if you don’t exercise you’re just hosing your brain. That stayed with me. I know what a hosed brain looks like. My dad has Alzheimer’s. I ain’t going out like that. Well realistically there’s a fair chance that I am. But I’m going to put it off as long as possible.
— Scrabble for the iPhone
— Grim Jogger, ditto
— Not drinking. Have you heard about this? I’m trying to skip drinking one night in three. Well, four. OK let’s go one in five. I’ll get back to you.
— Q&A. When I do an event it happens in three parts. I talk. Then I read. Then you guys ask me questions. You would think this would get old, especially since I’m doing three or four interviews a day anyway on top of it, but it never does. It’s the best part. Like, by far.
— P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves! etc. 1930’s-era comic novels about an aristocrat who is always wrong and his butler who is always right. The BBC made it into a TV show starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and they nailed a lot of what was good about it, but you really can’t beat the novels, which are in their own way weirdly profound tributes to human indomitability. And drinking, he’s very good on drinking.
Portland tonight, Seattle tomorrow. Come by!
Our city today is quiet, wave-lapped La Jolla, CA. I am here because of its proximity to the great Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, where I’m reading tonight.
A few quick things:
— Watch me win the Campbell award! It’s technically not a Hugo award, but it happens at the Hugo awards! My bit starts at around 1:07.
— I realize now that I never announced the coordinates of my Seattle reading. That was lame of me. It’s at the U District branch of University Book Store, this Friday night (the 26th) at 7:00.
— My daughter Lily and I are on Pottermore. I left a digital recorder on during our first session and then later, because I thought it was funny, transcribed it and posted it on Time.com, where bizarrely it is currently the most-read story. (I gave her a fake name: Plum.) Now I worry that it reads too much like a negative review of the site. I was pretty impressed with Pottermore, I just thought it could have done a little better job of educating users about how it works and what it wants from them. I do however disagree with “Plum,” who believes that owls are “just a normal kind of animal.”
— If you’ve always wanted to see the Eschaton scene from Infinite Jest acted out over a Decembrists song, you may have to find a new life goal.
— The next three days are: Pasadena, Menlo Park, Portland. If you live in one of those places, come out! I will read to you. It’ll be just like an audiobook that you can’t turn off.
This morning I left Reno and flew to San Diego, where I’m signing tomorrow night (i.e. Monday night) at Mysterious Galaxy
WorldCon was … pretty amazing. I sometimes get alienated and loner-y at conventions, and wind up cowering in my hotel room, but this particular WorldCon sort of wouldn’t let me. Too many nice and interesting things kept happening. You’d go to a perfectly ordinary cocktail party and suddenly it’s why hello, Kim Stanley Robinson, wow, I am shaking your hand. And yes, I am very pleased to meet you, Robert Silverberg.
I watched George R.R. Martin and Parris McBride get married. I had dinner (separately) with Cory Doctorow and Bill Willingham and other genius-level humans. I did an extended Jeremy Paxman impression as the host of Magical University Challenge. (The Brakebills team was bounced in the first round. But they did, later, rush the stage and beat up Harry Potter, so … redemption?)
We threw not one but two highly canonical Magicians-themed parties, complete with drinks from the books. It has been pointed out to me that maybe I should have more delicious drinks in future books, and yes, fair point. But those parties were damn canonical.
I have to add that the parties happened partly because of the generosity of my publisher, Viking, who funded them, but mostly because of the energy and general kick-assery of Leigh Ann Hildenbrand, who is an extraordinary person and a force of nature. If she had been running the Roman empire we would be wearing a great many more togas nowadays. If you were there, you know what she and España Sheriff (and probably many others who deserve to be thanked) accomplished. For those who weren’t, I have no doubt pictures will emerge.
Leigh Ann’s hard work and support are not unrelated to what happened on Saturday night, which is that I won the John W. Campbell award for best new writer at the Hugos.
Greetings from Reno, Nevada. I’m here for WorldCon. It’s incredibly hot here. The kind of heat that kind of weighs on your head, like as if masses of photons are literally pounding down on you. The kind of heat that makes you think, I am not evolved for this shit.
OK, Google says it’s only 88. But I’m telling you, it feels hot.
I have been reminded of the tour name. It is Gimme Welters. All credit for this great name to commenter Austin Wilson. In honor of the greatness of the name, the infinitely great Amy Billingham has created this official tour graphic:
I know, right? I know!
(People have been asking me when the CafePress store is going to open. Soon. Seriously, I saw the final designs for it like five minutes ago.)
Now some things that need announcing:
— The Magician King will be number 8 on the New York Times bestseller list next week. As far as news goes, this goes in the good category
— Over at Largehearted Boy I wrote a (heavily annotated) playlist of the music I listened to while I wrote The Magician King. Topics covered include: Metric, Ravel, famous people who went to my high school, and the advertising jingle for Mercenaries 2.
— At Whatever — John Scalzi’s blog — I wrote a mini-essay about The Big Idea of The Magician King. Yes, I dragged my mother into it.
— Finally at the Huffington Post I wrote a list of the greatest cocktails in literature.
As Brett Ashley would say: bung-o. If you’re at WorldCon, I’m doing a literary beer at 3:00 today, and tomorrow at 2:00 I’m reading in room A-14. Then tomorrow night are the Hugo Awards. This is important because it’s an excuse for me to wear my tuxedo.
Finally — and I put this to the commenters — I’m trying to decide whether to take an hour off from WorldCon and play some poker in the casino. I’m an avid home-game poker player, but I’ve never taken it to the card room. Because I’m not James Bond. Or am I? The tuxedo could come into play here too.
This isn’t really the start of the tour. The tour already started. Last week I did a couple of readings in New York and another in Boston.
(Thank you everybody who came. So far they’ve been big, sweaty, standing-room-only readings with tons of questions, which is the kind I love. It especially meant a lot to me at Brookline Booksmith, a store I used to haunt in my awful lost post-college years, when buying a hardcover was enough to bust my food budget, but I would do it anyway. Now not only have I read at Brookline Booksmith, I’ve been in the back. I’ve seen the break room. Bookstores are their own kind of Narnia)
But today the tour starts in earnest. I fly to St. Louis, a city where I do not think I have ever been before. I’m reading tomorrow night at the public library. Come out! We’ll nerd it up.
And yes, there is an official tour name. Someone came up with it in comments, possibly on Facebook, and it was tremendously witty, and I’ve forgotten it completely. But it was awesome.
From St. Louis I go to Reno for WorldCon. I’m doing all the usual WorldConny things – it’s all on some celestial WorldCon schedule somewhere – but we’re also doing Magicians-themed parties Thursday night and Saturday night. If you’re at WorldCon, I require you to stop by and partake of free alcohol. I’m also hosting a nerded-up version of University Challenge on Thursday afternoon, order cipro online featuring teams from Hogwarts, Brakebills, Miskatonic and Unseen University. We still have a couple of openings, so if you want to play, drop me an e-mail.
The Magician King is out, and I am three events into the tour. Though it hasn’t really started in earnest because I haven’t gotten on a plane yet. Or consumed my first Ativan.
The reviews so far: really really good. NPR, the AV Club, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, Tor.com, SF Signal…I haven’t actually read them, because as pathetic as it sounds, I can’t read any of the media coverage at all, not one word, or I will be consumed with anxiety the way a niffin is consumed by magic. (See what I did there…)
(Actually I did read the Washington Post review. Sing along with Morrissey: “I’ll never make that mistake again … ”
If I were a responsible author without a day job I would aggregate all the interviews I’ve done — CNN, CBS, Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Wall Street Journal, etc. — into one handy guide. But I’m just not that guy. I do want to call out a few things though. One is a post I did on Tor.com that’s a guide to the semi-hidden allusions in The Magicians. I also wrote an essay about the process of writing The Magician King for Fantasy Matters — it’s here.
Also I wrote an introduction for a new deluxe edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a beautiful cover by Ivan Brunetti. Probably you’re not lacking for copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But if you are, I recommend this one.
The Magician King is officially out today.
I think “tumult of emotion” is the appropriate cliché for how I feel right now.
But that shall not distract us from the task at hand. A bunch of things are going to get announced here over the next few days, but of that bunch this is probably the thing I am most excited about. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN.
I’ll begin in 1997. That’s when I first got into Nerf Herder, the world’s premier power-pop nerd-rock outfit. Their specialty is setting the woes and joys of the nerdy life to melodies that are just pure pop bliss — “Mr. Spock” is a favorite of mine. They’re also famous for having done the theme song to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but let me tell you, their catalogue runs deep. These guys got me through some rough periods.
I’ve never met their frontman, Parry Gripp, but I’ve interviewed him a couple of times over the years, so I have his e-mail address, and I sent him a copy of The Magicians when it came out. A few months ago — it was in April — I e-mailed him and asked him if he’d do a theme song for The Magician King, which at that point I was almost done writing.
He said yes. I will never know exactly why, but he said yes.
I’ve spent most of the time between then and now just staring at my Gmail waiting for the song to arrive.
Parry sent through the rough mix last week. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but whatever I expected was completely blown away and destroyed by the real thing. It’s just so damn cool. I have listened to this song about 90,000 times since then.
Now you can listen to it too:
And unless I’ve scrod up the HTML, you should be able to download it here:
When I started this blog two years ago, I did it to increase mindshare and enhance my brand presence in the cultural marketspace.
Also I had this feeling that nobody knew who the hell I was. And that the people who did know had a somewhat distorted sense of what I was like. Like I was this snobby Harvard/Yale/Time guy who wore an ascot like Fred on Scooby-Doo, or something. Which fair enough, how could you not think that? But as you can see in the picture below, I much prefer a floppy ruff.
So in this obsessive way, that I wasn’t totally in control of, I did a series of posts that amount to a sort of mini-autobiography. It was almost compulsive. It was definitely confessional. Essentially I wrote a lot of posts about awful, embarrassing episodes in my life.
It probably served some therapeutic function that I don’t fully understand. Some of this stuff I had never really talked about with anyone. But I’m actually pretty proud of the writing. It’s bloggy and messy, but I kept it very honest, possibly too honest. In places I think it’s even funny, in a self-immolating kind of way.
So since there’s been an uptick in blog traffic recently, I thought I’d aggregate those early posts for recent arrivals. With appropriate parental warnings. See below.
How Not to Become a Writer, or, Why I Have Not Been to Maine in 20 Years
Parental warnings: depression, extreme boredom, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
How I Got Published; or, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Parental warnings: whining
The Flight of the Halcyon
Parental warnings: cuteness