the magician’s land
I’m hitting the road.
This site has an events page which is pretty up-to-date, but for the sake of thoroughness here’s a brief user’s guide to the tour, or the first leg of it anyway. I’m sure I’ll be consulting it myself in the next month to figure out where I am. The events will be as fun as I know how to make them: very informal, lots of Q&A. Come hang out.
July 19: Brooklyn. I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, reading and talking and signing. This is like the pre-tour tour. I won’t have copies of The Magician’s Land yet—it’s not out till August 5—but I’ll be handing out booklets of the first chapter and the map.
July 24-26: San Diego. I’ll be at Comic-Con from Thursday to Saturday, doing events all three days, panels and signings. Saturday I’m on a real monster fantasy panel with George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie and Diana Gabaldon. Come find me if you’re there.
July 29-August 1: Orlando. When it comes to conventions I play favorites, and LeakyCon is my favorite. It’s chill, it’s authentic, it’s hilariously fun, John Green will be there, Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black … If you can get there, get there.
August 5: Brooklyn again. This is the official launch event, so if you’re going to one event in New York City, I’d say come to this one. There’ll be trivia, special guests, and a surprise or two. I’m not even making it sound as fun as it’s going to be. It’ll be funner. Come.
August 6: Manhattan. For the uptown crowd, I’ll be at the 82nd St. Barnes & Noble.
August 7: Boston. This is my hometown, and I used to live around the corner from the Brookline Booksmith, where I would read books and not buy them because I couldn’t afford to. Now I’m going to speak there.
August 11: Minneapolis. I’ll be at the Roseville Library.
August 12: Houston. Unless I’m mis-remembering, this is my first event here ever. It’s at Murder by the Book.
August 13: Los Angeles. I’m in the TV business now, so LA is now where my soul is stored. I have visitation rights. Afterwards I’ll be reading at Vroman’s in Pasadena.
August 14-15: San Francisco. I’m here for two nights, first at Rakestraw in Danville, then at Kepler’s in Menlo Park.
And then there’s a nice long break. Later this summer/fall I’ll be in Atlanta, Brooklyn several more times, Chapel Hill, Toronto, Austin, Nashville, and Santa Fe, all of which I will post about in good time. If I have failed to come to your town, it’s only because Viking didn’t send me there. I don’t get to choose! If I did I would have included Seattle and Portland. But I don’t.
See you on the other side.
Einstein said that the reason we have time is so that everything won’t happen at once. This last couple of weeks, I’ve felt like there wasn’t quite enough time to go round.
Two weeks ago I turned 45. The next day — June 27 — my younger daughter turned 4. That same morning, my father died. He was 82.
My father was a brilliant, charismatic, strange, intimidating, driven and sometimes very funny man. He may have been the best-read person I have ever met, and believe me I’ve met some well-read people. He was the son of a Chevrolet dealer in Minneapolis, and the first person in his family to go to college, and he grew up to be a major poet and an intellectual force of nature.
He and I had a complicated relationship. We both made our careers reading and writing, but he was an avatar of high culture whereas I dropped out of graduate school to write fantasy novels and glossy magazine articles. We chose different paths. There was some distance between us. It’s something I’m still thinking about and trying to understand, even after his death, and will be for a long time.
By rights that should be the end of this post. If you’ve lost a loved one then you know how incredible it is that life keeps going, but it just does. It won’t stop. Life is fucking callous that way.
The first copies of The Magician’s Land arrived. The Magician’s Land trailer, which we’ve been working on for a few months now, went up online:
I’m so happy with how it came out. It racked up 16,000 views on Buzzfeed in the first 24 hours, so something must have gone right. I only wish we could have used everybody’s videos, we left some fantastic readings on the cutting-room floor. I argued for releasing a whole slew of different trailers, remixed with different clips, but apparently Viking’s budget for video production isn’t infinite. Go figure.
I’m truly grateful to everyone who submitted, and to my fellow authors, who allowed themselves to be turned into living advertisements for my book. I’m extra-grateful to Ian Dorsch, who volunteered out of the blue to do the soundtrack and delivered a brilliant one. I know the trailer’s not actually for me, it’s for getting attention for the book, but it had the knock-on effect of making me feel very loved and supported by the community at large, at a time when I really needed it.
And the week still wasn’t over. That was Tuesday. On Wednesday night I got a call from my producer and the two geniuses who’ve been working on the pilot script for the Magicians TV show since literally last August. They were standing around a speakerphone yelling. Word had come down: Syfy greenlit us. They’re making the pilot.
This is a big break for me. I’ve been talking to people in Hollywood about The Magicians for five years. I’ve seen writers and producers and directors and agents (four of them) and options come and go, but this is the first time anybody has doubled-down and is going to shoot something. People are going to dress up as Quentin and Alice and Eliot and Julia. Someone is going to build Brakebills (or more likely find some place that already looks like Brakebills). Big expensive computers are going to make it look like magic is happening.
My sole contribution to this has been to kibitz a bit and then cash some checks. The people who are actually making the show happen are Michael London, Sera Gamble and John McNamara, and it’s happening because they are extremely brilliant and surpassingly determined. What makes it even nicer is that I really like them personally.
Meanwhile as all this was going on I was having a professional crisis (can’t talk about it, but it’s over now) and writing and closing the cover story for this week’s issue of Time.
Also I’ve been giving interviews about The Magician’s Land. My promotional schedule is starting to rev up. I ought to be posting about where I’m going to be in the next few weeks, and I will do that, very soon, but right now I just cannot deal. There’s some detail on the Events page but basically in the next couple of months I’ll be doing a national tour, plus I’ll be making appearances at Readercon (that’s tomorrow), Comic-Con in San Diego, LeakyCon and Dragoncon, and a bunch of assorted book festivals.
I will post all the details, but I’ve got an early call tomorrow and really badly need to take a shower and stare at the walls for a while. But for now, two dates to remember. One is next week, July 16 at the Bell House in Brooklyn: I’ll be the VIP at a taping of NPR’s Ask Me Another quiz show. It will be very fun. If you need extra encouragement, John Flansburgh from They Might Be Giants will be there too. There. That should do it.
The other date is August 5, which is the official launch event for The Magician’s Land. Come if you can. It’s going to be a bit special.
A couple of weeks ago I put up a post about the Magician’s Land trailer and how that’s going to work.
(Which in case your clicking finger is tired is like this: it’s a reading of the first few paragraphs of the book, but crowdsourced. Anyone can send in a video of themselves reading a line. We’ll stitch together a collection of them into one big Frankentrailer. More details are in that post I just mentioned.)
I also mentioned that some of my favorite writers are going to make cameos in the trailer. But I didn’t say who. Now I’m saying who.
When I was cobbling together the initial idea for this trailer, I made—as part of the cobbling process—a list of great writers, people whose work I revere in a major way, who in my wildest dreams I could ask to be in the trailer. I then shaved down the list to include only the ones whom I had some reason, however tenuous/delusional, to believe had liked or read or at least heard of The Magicians. Then I shaved off the ones whom I’d already overtaxed with other favors.
Then I e-mailed them and asked them if they would read a line as part of the trailer. Then I thought about what I’d do when they said no. But they didn’t say no. Most of them said yes.
Here’s who’s reading lines in the Magician’s Land trailer. Ready?
J. Courtney Sullivan
I know right? I know. I still can’t believe it.
And — and — guess who else is reading: you are. With them. Read a sentence, send it to email@example.com before June 1, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up in the video. Especially if you have some fun with it. People have done some amazing things. There is puppetry. There is needlepoint. There is Minecraft.
But we’re not sated. We crave more.
I’m serious. This is not a theoretical question.
I’ve never done a book trailer before. A theme song, yes, but never a proper trailer. And I wasn’t going to do one this time either, except that I had an idea that I liked too much to leave it alone. But I need your help with it.
Here’s the idea: I’m going to put together a video of the first few paragraphs of The Magician’s Land being read aloud. But I’m not going to read them. You’re going to read them.
It works like this. I’ve split the reading up into individual sentences. They’re at the bottom of this blog post. Each sentence needs a reader. If you’re up for it, pick a sentence and make a video of yourself reading it aloud and then send the video to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (I recommend using wetransfer.com for files over 25 MB). When we’ve got all the sentences covered, an actual video editor will stitch the videos together and make it all look pretty. The result: a crowdsourced book trailer.
Boom. Pretty simple, really. But there’s also a twist. And a catch.
The twist is that I’ve asked some of my writer-friends to read sentences too. There’s going to be some cameos. I’ll announce names in a couple of weeks, but I think it’s fair to say that these are writers whom you know and love. I certainly know and love them. They’re definitely the sort of people one wants to be in a trailer with.
The catch is that I’ve got a limited number of sentences to go round. I don’t know how many people are going to want to do this, but we’ll probably end up having to make some choices about which videos to use. So think about fun/creative ways to do your reading. You could read in a tree. Or in costume. Or underwater. You could act out your sentence, or sing it, or make an animated short out of it. Not that any of this is mandatory, but fair warning: if we get a lot of submissions we’ll probably use the funnest ones first.
If you’d like to be part of this, scroll down for a list of the sentences to choose from. We’re going to try to wrap up production by June 1, so send your videos in before then.
That e-mail address again: email@example.com.
And here are the sentences that need reading. The ones in brackets have already been claimed for a Celebrity Writer Cameo, so just choose from the non-bracketed ones:
[1. The letter had said to meet in a bookstore.]
2. It wasn’t much of a night for it: early March, drizzling and cold but not quite cold enough for snow.
3. It wasn’t much of a bookstore either.
4. Quentin spent fifteen minutes watching it from a bus shelter at the edge of the empty parking lot, rain drumming on the plastic roof and making the asphalt shine in the streetlights.
[5. Not one of your charming, quirky bookstores, with a ginger cat on the windowsill and an eccentric, bewhiskered proprietor behind the counter.]
6. This was just another strip-mall outpost of a struggling chain, squeezed in between a nail salon and a party City, twenty minutes outside Hackensack on the New Jersey turnpike.
7. The cashier didn’t look up from his phone when the door jingled.
[8. Inside you could still hear the noise of cars on the wet road, like long strips of paper tearing, one after another.]
[9. The only unexpected touch was a wire bird-cage in one corner, but where you would have expected a parrot or a cockatoo inside there was a fat blue- black bird instead.]
10. That’s how un-charming this store was: it had a crow in a cage.
[11. Quentin didn’t care.]
[12. It was a bookstore, and he felt at home in book-stores, and he hadn’t had that feeling much lately.]
13. He pushed his way back through the racks of greeting cards and cat calendars, back to where the actual books were, his glasses steaming up and his coat dripping on the thin carpet.
[14. It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.]
15. The store should have been empty, coming up on nine o’clock on a cold rainy Thursday night, but instead it was half full of people.
[16. They browsed the shelves silently, each one on his or her own, slowly wandering the aisles like sleepwalkers.]
[17. A jewel-faced girl with a pixie cut was reading Dante in Italian.]
[18. A tall boy with large curious eyes who couldn’t have been older than sixteen was absorbed in a tom Stoppard play.]
[19. A middle-aged black man with elfin cheekbones stood staring at the biographies through thick, iridescent glasses.]
[20. You would almost have thought they’d come there to buy books.]
[21. But Quentin knew better.]
p.s. By the way this whole idea was inspired by an amazing project called Star Wars Uncut which is really worth checking out, and might be useful if you’re looking for inspiration
Remember when I said the book was done and locked? A couple of weeks ago Viking surprised me with a second set of page proofs to review, to make sure the changes I made to the first proofs went through OK.
So I marked those proofs up too and sent them back. I forgot that finishing a book has a bit of a Zeno’s paradox feeling about it: the book is the arrow that can never reach its target.
But I think now it really is done. Or at least it’s asymptotically approaching done-ness.
It’s even getting reviewed, though so far only in what we call “the trades,” meaning book-industry magazines like Publishers Weekly that cover books a couple of months before they come out. The feeling is unnerving—The Magician’s Land still seems like an intimate part of me that I can’t believe people are actually looking at. Reviews so far have been really great, which makes me happy. But still.
Meanwhile it’s time to get the promotional apparatus up and shambling. (For some reason I picture it looking something like the giant steampunk spider in Wild Wild West.) A lot of people kind of lament the promotional part of being a novelist, but I don’t really mind it. I’ve got a product to sell, I’m not going to pretend it’s special just because it happens to be a novel.
I’m not very good at selling it. But I don’t mind trying. Most of the time I actually enjoy it.
So my summer’s filling up with events, most of which haven’t been announced yet, and I’m probably not supposed to announce them here, so I won’t. But I’ll be popping up all over the place and then touring properly in August. For now I’ll just mention something that’s happening at Rutgers on May 1 that involves Catherynne Valente, so you know it’s going to be quality.
And on May 31 I’ll do a public conversation with Deborah Harkness in New York as part of BookCon. Again: quality.
And if you’re anywhere near Brooklyn, scrawl August 5th on your calendar. That’s the official pub date of The Magician’s Land, and I’m planning an event that night that should be be a bit special.
On Monday I turned in The Magician’s Land, well and truly and for good. After they copy-edit your book you get one last shot at it: they print out the typeset pages, and you can mark them up in red pencil. It’s like your last vacation with somebody you really like but who you know is about to break up with you.
I had two weeks of that, and by the end those pages were reduced to a tattered bundle of raggy, crumpled paper covered in red. But I made my last marks and handed them over, almost 10 years after I started the original Word doc in which I wrote The Magicians. I still have the file — it’s called “The demon in the mirror was smo.” (It’s supposed to go on: “-king a cigarette” but for some reason the Finder cuts it off; the name refers to a scene that ended up going nowhere.) It shows a creation date of June 19, 2004.
It’s a pretty emotional moment for me. Like most big moments in life it had no soundtrack. There wasn’t much drama. I handed a plastic envelope with the pages in it to my editor’s assistant, in the lobby of the Penguin building, then hit the subway because I was late for an event. But in my head it was a big moment.
And that’s my news. Oh, and I have an event Monday night in Manhattan. I’ll be reading something autobiographical and embarrassing. So there’s that.
And if you’re currently enrolled in a creative writing graduate program, think about submitting your work to this. I’m judging this year.
On the schedule it looks like nothing. You send the publisher the book; a copy-editor fixes grammar and typos and whatnot and sends it back; you have a week to look over the changes and OK them or not; the end.
But in practice when you’re dealing with a novel-in-progress, no contact is ever minor. Any time you can make changes to the book means you’re going to end up rereading the whole thing, rethinking it, staying up late agonizing over a line, the whole agony-of-creation business. That’s been my last week.
Fortunately it’s now over. The text I handed in yesterday morning is the text that will be bound in Advance Readers Copies, when they get printed. It’s not final, but a lot of reviewers work off those advance copies, so it has to be pretty good.
The best part about this phase is that once your book has been copy-edited, they send you the “style sheet.” I’ve never known exactly what a style sheet is for, but it seems to be a list of all the slightly eccentric non-standard words you use in your book, in alphabetical order. Just that. It’s sort of a linguistic fingerprint—it reads like somebody took your book and reduced it in a sauté pan to just its sticky essence.
This for instance is what’s under “d” in the Magician’s Land style sheet:
Dodgson, Charles (Lewis Carroll)
DoubleTree (hotel chain)
Drowned Garden, the
Or here’s an excerpt from “c”:
Cunard–White Star Line
I think I cut “cosm” from the finished book—it was de trop even for me—but still, it’s a weirdly evocative list. As a last example, here’s the oddly poignant entry under “j,” in its entirety:
Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
The Magician’s Land is currently at Viking for copy-editing, which means I get a breather. It’s not done, but it’s very done-ish. Done-esque. Meaning that my editor has ruled the current draft final enough that it won’t need any more major surgery, and has given it to a clever person who knows about dangling participles.
That person will go through and fix the grammar and spelling and catch the bits where I say “all six of them” when there are actually seven characters in the room. (Hopefully. To this day there’s still one of those in The Magicians. A No-Prize to whoever spots it.) The process is always a little painful, because I like to mix colloquial constructions in with the shmancy literary ones, and they get flagged as incorrect, and then we have a big fight about it.
Also I repeat words slightly more often than most writers, because I think the clunkiness of it is funny, and I hate the artificiality of when you’re writing a paragraph about horses and you keep having to come up with ever-more-elaborate synonyms for “horse” (“steed,” “mount,” “equine beast,” etc.) to avoid repetitions. Just say horse again already! But no. Against the rules.
This is why my manuscripts come back with a lot of “repetition intentional?” in the margins.
For now it’s a relief to spend some time not-writing, or rather just writing journalism. I love writing fiction, it’s the greatest kind of work I know, but even I get tired of constantly watching the clock, figuring out when I’ll next have a sliver of free time (meaning time with no children, and no work, when I am reasonably well-rested and also not drunk) in which to move the chains on my book. My family is definitely tired of it. Enough living a double life. I’m sticking with a single one for a while.
At least till the copy edits come back.
This is a hasty post. The last couple of months have been really really intense with work. As is the present month. Also this one coming up is going to be pretty hardcore too.
A lot of the work has been for Time: there’s been a lot of book reviewing, and some serious interviewing, and I wrote some quickie posts about things like the Nobel Prize and the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death. I also edited a special section (in the process reminding myself why I must never be placed in a management position, ever).
Though really the thing I’ve written this fall that I’m most proud of is my pep talk for NaNoWriMo, which sums up a lot of my thinking about why novels are hard to write, and why you should write them anyway.
There’s another reason this post is late and hasty, which is that I’ve been waiting to write it because there’s a couple of things I want to announce, and I keep thinking I’ll get the green light … but I haven’t got it yet. So I’m posting now, and I’ll post again when I can share. At least I can show you the cover of The Magician’s Land, if you haven’t seen it already:
What do you think? I have limited control over what goes on the covers of my books, but I can honestly say that personally I adore this image. I just get lost in it.
Like the other Magicians covers it’s a work of constructed photography by Didier Massard. We talked about using it for the cover of The Magician King, but I’m glad we saved it. It circles back to the cover of The Magicians—those trees have a strong family resemblance—but at the same time it pulls back the frame, like we’re catching the last chopper out of Fillory, as some kind of apocalyptic Fimbulwinter sets in…
On sale August 5, 2014. Assuming I get it done. I need to turn in a draft for copy-editing on December 18. See you then.
Well, here we are at a funny in-between moment.
I finished a complete draft of The Magician’s Land. Then I revised it till my eyes bled and I lost all understanding of what it was I was trying to write about in the first place. At that point it seemed like time to turn the draft in to my editor. It was also a good moment because it was a week after my contract said it was due.
But you don’t want to hit these deadlines right on the nose. Creates the wrong impression. I’m not a trained monkey here. I am an artist monkey!
Now all I have to do is go as long as I can without looking at the manuscript. This is the stage of novel-writing that Zadie Smith calls “step away from the vehicle”:
When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.
So here I go. I will fill up the upcoming weeks, months maybe, with going to work and seeing my family and working on other projects, all the while vigorously trying to forget whatever it was I spent the last two years writing. When next I see The Magician’s Land, we shall meet as strangers.