LevGrossman

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Transparency


I was thinking the other day how important it is for readers who care about a writer to know what the hell that writer is doing with his or her time when he or she hasn’t published a book for a while.

So I’m writing a note to let you know what I’m doing with my time. Some of you already know. But for those who don’t:

Since The Magician’s Land came out in August 2014 my one desire has been to get another book out there. To that end I wrote half of a young-adult book. I also wrote half of a middle-grade book, based on a story I’d been telling my kids at night. I also wrote a screenplay. Not very surprisingly, none of these things resulted in another book, by me, coming out.

But while I was doing these other things, a big idea for a novel came clunking down out of the vending machine of my head. It was an idea for an Arthurian novel that was not, at least on the face of it, primarily about King Arthur.

I’ve always loved Arthurian stories, but for a long time I felt like the last words had already been written on him, by, collectively, Malory, Tennyson, White, Sutcliff, Stewart, Zimmer Bradley, Cornwell and probably a few others I’m forgetting. Not much white space left on that particular map.

But in spite of that, just as a mental exercise, I sometimes thought about what sort of Arthurian novel I would write — what called to me from that world, what would feel relevant to what I and the rest of humanity are going through right now, in our lives and in our time.

It was, for a long time, a bootless errand. Until I blundered on something that felt interesting.

White’s brilliant stroke in The Once and Future King, or one of many of them, was to write the story of Arthur’s childhood. All that business about Wart as a kid in the Forest Sauvage, Merlin living backwards, changing him into animals and so on, that was all White’s invention. Nobody had ever really tried to tell that story before. I started to wonder if there was something interesting you could do with the other end of the story –the aftermath of Arthur’s death.

People had sketched in this part of the story, but not in any great detail. Almost the entire Round Table dies along with Arthur at the Battle of Camlann. A relative nobody, Sir Constantine, succeeds Arthur on the throne. Lancelot and Guinevere give themselves to God and then die. The few survivors — Lancelot’s gang — hunt down Mordred’s kids and then die or go on the Crusades and then die. Arthur either convalesces on Avalon or doesn’t. The End.

I felt like there had to be more.

What if you began the story with the death of King Arthur (kind of like A Song of Ice and Fire starts, more or less, with Robert Baratheon’s death). When the last battle has been fought, when Arthur has been spirited away to Avalon, what happens to the survivors? What transpires in the shattered, darkened chivalric world he left behind? An Arthurian world but post-apocalypse, where the center has failed to hold, and the central pillar has collapsed.

And while you’re sorting out those questions, what new light would those answers shed on what came before? Could they give us a new sense of why and how Camelot fell? Could you go back and re-interpret the story of Arthur’s life and death through that lens?

I got interested in the answers to these questions, interested enough that I wrote the first 80,000 words of a novel about them and started pitching it. Viking — the same good people who published the Magicians books — bought it. Working title is The Bright Sword.

That was in August of 2016. I’ve been writing hard ever since. I quit my job at Time to write even harder. (I was burned out at Time, after almost 20 years there, and the Magicians TV show was still bringing in money. New season starts January! Also, although I didn’t know it, Time was about to explode.)

It’s a very different challenge from the Magicians books. It’s not a series, it’s one big long thick book, significantly longer than anything I’ve written before. Most of the characters are older. It demands a huge amount of research. I’ve taken a few longsword lessons; I need to take more. I find a lot of historical fiction to be rather deadly, so I’ve been studying writers who bring a fresh, immediate, contemporary feel to it — Hilary Mantel, Neal Stephenson, Kate Atkinson. I’m also interested in what Lin-Manuel Miranda did with the Founding Fathers in Hamilton. A lot of 20th-century writers (like Cornwell and Stewart) have taken a hard-nosedly historical approach to Arthur, re-grounding him solidly in sub-Roman Britain. (Or as solidly as possible, considering how little we know about the Dark Ages.) I’m taking a more romantic, classically Arthurian approach to Arthur, more in the Malory/White/Sutcliff mode, retaining the shining armor and chivalry and medieval geopolitics and the Holy Grail. But I’m throwing some Dark-Ages historical grit into the mix too. Lots of Roman ruins. Since last fall I’ve bought a whole library of books about medieval history, arms and armor, longsword technique, medieval battle tactics, Roman Britain, Celtic paganism, medieval forestry and on and on.

One of the great things about Arthur is that there is no real canon, and everybody chooses the elements and finds the balance that let them say what they want to say. I hope I’ll find my balance. It’s a long haul — I don’t even have a publication date yet — but I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far. My whole focus is on getting it finished and into your hands ASAP.

Excelsior.


37 comments on “Transparency

  1. We’re all rooting for you.

  2. I mean, 1000 pages of post-apocalyptic Arthurian literature with the style of T.H. White crossed with Neal Stephenson? Sign me up!

  3. Anything worth starting is worth finishing . . . well!

  4. Nancy Gandhi says:

    That’s terrific. And fascinating, your thoughts, and the excellent models for writing in the past. Looking forward!

  5. something tangential to the circular table sounds grand! Congrats Lev!

  6. Rita says:

    I have been excited about this for a long time, Lev. I am thrilled to see your magic worked on it, and I’m even more excited now, hearing how immersed you are in it.

  7. Jaimie Teekell says:

    0_0

    I’m in.

    This is inspired.

    I was wondering what you were up to, too, and this is so exciting. I can’t wait to read it. It sounds brilliant.

    Re: the process, I was working with a historical novel set in ancient Egypt for a year or so then abruptly retreated to present day (a month before visiting Egypt weirdly), working on something else, something that requires less legwork pre-writing. Mad respect to all the research you’ve done. I know it’s fun and enthralling but also so, so time-consuming. But everything is crisper for it.

    Ahh!! I’m smiling thinking about this.

  8. Jaimie Teekell says:

    Omg Merlin possibilities. 0_0

  9. Margaret Minton says:

    Yay! Really looking forward to this!

  10. Sara A Goegeline says:

    No! No! No! Say it isn’t so!

  11. […] героического фэнтези «Волшебники», трудится над новым материалом. На этот раз поклонников писателя ждет переосмысление […]

  12. John Bridges says:

    Wow, this just flew to the top of my “Can’t Wait to Read” list. As a longtime fan of the Matter of Britain, and someone who has read all of the authors you called out, I relish seeing your take on it.

  13. Kate Lechler says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Sounds like an interesting journey you’re on. Can’t wait to read the results and add your book to the Arthurian canon.

  14. kirala says:

    EXCELSIOR!! Thank you, so exciting.

  15. Nagol99 says:

    Be sure to add a few *Dilly, Dilly*’s in there…..love that you updated the blog…..2 years is a LONG time to give us “Lev Heads” some actual news (yes, yes i know TWITTER, but still I crave long updates that do not evolve into Politics & Trolls).

    HUZZAH! (see you @ the next Renaissance Festival for “reasearch”)

  16. Lynn says:

    Now I understand the desire to spend January in Scotland.

  17. Daryl says:

    I am really excited to read these details about what you have been working on, Lev. The Magicians became, arguably, my most beloved book series from the first time I read them, so it goes without saying that I will be very interested to see how you use your talents to build the story, world and vision of this new endeavor. Keep pressing on, and keep us posted!

  18. Kevin King-Hope says:

    Oh this is wonderful! Sounds like an interesting process. Hope it’s treating you well. Much anticipation

  19. NickMax says:

    So… no hope for a Magicians book 4?

  20. Mike from Lexington High School, Mr Murray's class says:

    Always impressed with how hard you work and how good you write.

  21. Sylvan says:

    I so wish I went to high school with you, so I could have had some nerd-out conversations about writing and the books we were both fascinated by.

    I am giddy that you are now exploring Arthurian legends (a personal fascination since seeing Disney’s cartoon Sword in the Stone) after exploding the mythology of Narnia (which I have always felt a literal religious fervor for) in the absolute most amazing way. THANK YOU for sharing your gifts with the world, including a peak behind the curtain of your process.

    Just imagine yourself having tea with Jack Lewis or Malory and you have an idea how wonderful it is for this fan of yours to read about what your next output will be.

  22. Physical Kid says:

    Can’t wait! B.t.w. I wouldn’t mind if the magician’s book series went forever… in case you ran out of ideas. Just saying…

  23. […] a blog post Lev wrote about experimenting with format and trying to write something new. I highly recommend reading it if you want some insight into his creative process. Sometimes you need to start something big in […]

  24. Zander Quinn says:

    This sounds like it might actually be even more in my wheelhouse than The Magicians Trilogy and I want to cry the happiest tears possible.

  25. Glen says:

    Have only just seen this whilst browsing goodreads. Love The Magicians and the rest of that series and I’ve just finished The Once and Future King by White (adored it). THIS SOUNDS AMAZING. Can’t wait for it be released.

  26. Reid Begg says:

    Love the idea of Post Arthur novel…I’m an Authurian novel fan and would love to go down that road of thought.

    Just read Magicians and love your style of the gritty, realistic POV that feels more in touch with how humanity would deal with magic and interact with the world. I’ve love to see your style applied to the Arthurian world.

  27. Ted Carmichael says:

    This sounds really good, and I truly liked The Magicians (and the show!) I was kind of on the fence until the Stan Lee homage. Nice touch. Congratulations on your success, and on finding an idea worth pursuing hard. I look forward to reading it.

  28. Arthur Pearson says:

    This one is for your dad, so get it right. Don’t be Ken Follett. Sure, he writes well-researched bestsellers. But nobody will ever accuse him of writing literature. Portland home town girl Jean Auel spent five years on research while continuing to work as a technical writer before she started writing Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels. Really did her homework. I was able to peruse the galleys of the first one when she was GoH at Orycon, didn’t have the heart to tell her what I thought. Literature? No. Your dad is sitting in your head, judging. Don’t disappoint him.

  29. Greg says:

    More Magicians please, your stories are amazing, I’m watching the TV show and it blew me away. More More More please.

  30. Christine Wichman says:

    Love, love, love your idea. I studied Arthurian Legend at Oxford and feel no one has done that period true justice in modern books or films, it is a rich tapestry ripe with possibility. I cannot wait to read your book!!

  31. Bub says:

    I love the Arthurian segue, but honestly, I don’t care what topic you tackle. I’ll read anything you write so long as you include your signature “stomache-dropping, oh no he didn’t … yes he did!” moments. Keep blowing us away with gripping scenes we never saw coming.

  32. Daniel Lilley says:

    This sounds brilliant! In my opinion, anybody who is interested in magic has an instinctual love for all things Arthurian. It makes perfect sense that you would choose Arthur as inspiration for a new novel. I await your Arthurian saga with bated breath!

  33. John Henning says:

    That is a terrific idea. Throughout history, myths have dealt with that and one of the oldest is the Mahabharata (of which the Bhagavad Gita is only a part) where the entire human race is wiped out by the end… but somehow survives anyway.

    An interesting point that you might consider is that it could be a good thing that Camelot fell. For example, people call the Middle Ages the “Dark Ages” with the entirely erroneous idea that the Roman Empire was some zenith of civilization when for the vast majority of its subjects who were not Roman, it was a hellish, brutal and totalitarian regime. It’s telling that the so-called “Barbarians” who sacked Rome and put an end to the Empire also put an end to the gladiatorial games and other brutal customs of the Romans because they were horrible and immoral things to do – certainly not entertaining to the supposedly uncivilized Visigoths and Germanic tribes.
    Cultures and civilizations often fall because of some innate corruption that finally makes them insufferable. Only centuries later do people look back and think that something valuable was lost and forget all the terrible things that also ended when the previous civilization fell.

  34. Nick says:

    Kazuo Ishiguro already did an Arthur-Aftermath story with “Buried Giant.” I want to read another story in the Magicians’ universe 😛

  35. Etheror says:

    Your dedication is awe inspiring. I feel that together with the insight into character you brought to Warp and Magicians, this book will be extraordinary. Can’t wait to purchase.

  36. Tatyana Sabitova says:

    Lev, this blog is the answer to my fruitless searches for your new books in the last few years. Magicians blew me away with the quality of writing and the bewildering worlds you have created. Eagerly awaiting many more pages from you!

  37. Reading the trilogy again. It feels weak and lazy but winter is looming and I need the pure swooning pleasure of your stories and your charming clever witty insightful sentences right now. Thanks.

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