things what I wrote
More and more often these days I find myself fielding questions about my first novel, so I thought I’d do a quick post here to clear up any mysteries about it, if any there be.
To the extent that I can. I myself am not a 100% reliable witness on this painful topic.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about: the ALSO BY LEV GROSSMAN pages in the Magicians books list my first novel as Codex, but as people somehow keep noticing, that’s not strictly true. There was in fact one before that. It was called Warp, and it was published in (I think) 1997 by St. Martin’s Press. It wasn’t so much my first novel as my zeroth novel.
Every day should be random fan fiction day! And in some cosmic sense, it is.
I’ve been working pretty consistently for the past month, to the point where I haven’t wanted to break the flow long enough to write a blog post. And I don’t even want to break it now. So I’m just throwing this up hastily.
First: I’ve got a couple of events coming up next week. On October 29th I’ll be appearing in conversation with the incredible Catherynne Valente, author of some of the greatest novels published this millennium, including The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. That’s at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. Then on October 30 I’ll be taking part in a humiliating public spelling bee along with a bunch of literary celebrities to benefit the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
Second: the fan fiction part. Return visitors to this blog may remember the last time I did this. This time the fandom in question is How to Train Your Dragon, a movie that my daughter Lily has devoted eight hours of her short life to watching four times. And maybe more, without my knowledge. Plus numberless viewings of that Christmas-themed short.
Hence this story. I know the series was originally a book, but Lily prefers the movie, so this is set in the movie-continuity (it’s significantly different). It deals with the early life of Toothless the Night Fury, before he met Hiccup.
I cannot stress enough that this is middle-grade stuff. If you cannot draw two intersecting circles on a piece of paper, and label one “8-year-olds” and the other “insane How to Train Your Dragon fans,” and place a dot in the intersection that represents you or someone you love, you will almost certainly have no interest in this story.
That said, here it is, in the universally beloved Microsoft Word format: “Toothless and the Missing Nightmare.”
My daughter Lily is a big Harry Potter fan. She’s read through the entire series three times, and she’s only eight. Lately I’ve taken to writing short-short stories set in the Potterverse for her, as a way of preserving some slender channel of human contact with my offspring.
As an experiment in utter self-indulgence, I’m going to post one of the stories here, which I wrote when Lily asked me for something about Buckbeak. Buckbeak is a major figure in Lily’s imagination — I think in her mind he ranks somewhere around Ron and Hermione in terms of his importance as a character in the series. This is definitely not adult stuff, or even YA — Lily was 7 when I wrote it, so it’s a middle-grade joint, a level below the Harry Potter books.
But I’m happy with it. For reasons best left to psychoanalysis, I framed the story as what is known in the jargon as a hurt-comfort scenario, with Buckbeak being hurt, and my daughter — whom I recognize is not generally considered to be a “canonical” Harry Potter character — doing the comforting.
Probably there are massive canon-breaking errors in it too. I had to extrapolate a bit about what Buckbeak does in the off-season. What can I say: it’s fan fiction. Here it is (as a Word file): Buckbeak and the Three Potions.
I’m back in Brooklyn after a week in England, specifically Oxford and the Cotswolds (which are some leafy hills near Oxford).
I’m not going to lie to you: I like England. It has taken me a long time to admit this fact. That’s partly because I didn’t want to be one-of-those-American-Anglophiles who is always pretending to be vaguely English, and partly because my mom actually is English, and she kind of hates England.
She went to Oxford in the fifties and was given so much shit there for being a) really poor and b) a really clever woman that she left England forever right after college. We went back a couple of times, to see relatives, but my mom’s antipathy toward the place of her birth was shall we say pretty pervasive. And she had some pretty good reasons.
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.
I’m just back from Oxford, where I watched my genius sister-in-law get her doctorate in curing cancer.
I love Oxford. My mom went there, and she hated it, and it’s always fun to love the things your parents hate. (In fairness to my mom, as a scholarship student and a woman she ran into a lot of really toxic class and gender prejudice at Oxford. Sorry mom.)
But come on! Tolkien and Lewis taught there. It’s like the Trinity test site for modern fantasy. I made a pilgrimage to the original lamppost that inspired the one in Narnia:
You can’t see the overflowing dumpsters to my left. It’s just as well.
Meanwhile I have shifted modes. My current mode is definitely not my favorite mode, or a mode that I’m any good at it. It is my promotional mode. When you stop writing your book, you have to start forcing everybody to look at it, know about it, and think about it, until their brains are empty of all else.
To that end you give interviews. You write snappy little mini-essays. You go to Comic-Con and sit on panels. (Mine is Thursday at 3. We got the death slot opposite the Game of Thrones panel, but come on! You’ll never get into that one.) It takes up a lot of one’s time that would be better spent blogging. But I will try to keep up better than I have been.
One housekeeping note: I have a story in a new anthology called The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. I don’t often write short fiction, but I was really proud of the piece. The way the book works is, they gave writers pieces of art to riff of; mine was a lovely sketch by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame. And there are other, better pieces in the book by the likes of China Mieville and Alan Moore. An excerpt from my story is here.
I was working on a headline with “link-unabula” but it just got really arcane really fast.
All right, if I posted at a reasonable rate I wouldn’t have to cram all this stuff into one post, but I don’t, do I? I’ll start doing so soon.
— I’m on the cover of Locus this month, along with the incredible Ted Chiang, whom I have long admired from afar.
— I wrote an essay in Time about fan fiction, which I’ve been thinking about for a long time. My first draft was 8,000 words, and that didn’t seem like enough, and it’s running at 3,500 words, so I’m really proud of it, but some caveats apply.
— The first trade review of The Magician King (a bit spoilery, so reader discretion advised) in Kirkus
— Jennifer Weiner recommended The Magician King on The Today Show. She referred to The Magicians as “Dirty Harry,” which I’ve been wanting somebody to do for literally years.
— A propos of nothing (or I guess a bit of that fan fiction essay) I was reminded the other day of my great love for A Very Potter Musical, a fan production that pastiches and parodies the original. (The guy who plays Harry, Darren Criss, has now surfaced as a regular on Glee.) They make a lot of edgy choices, like for example Cho Chang’s entrance at 0:25 in Act 1, Part 2. (I could get into a long discussion of the live YouTube version vs. the vastly inferior studio soundtrack recording … but no.)
I try to take it easy on the baby pictures on this blog. I feel like I’ve held myself to a pretty high standard. But you have to admit these are quality. This is Halcyon having a look at her father’s work:
And immediately passing judgment:
Yes. That is vomit. She is vomiting.
I couldn’t say before, because it was secret secret secret, but for the past six weeks I’ve been busy writing a long story about how Mark Zuckerberg is Person of the Year.
The editors talked to me about writing this piece all the way back in August, and I figured subsequent events — like the midterm elections, maybe — might change their minds, but they didn’t, which led to a lot of secretive flying back and forth between New York and Palo Alto at odd hours to interview Zuckerberg and people who know him.
(In the process I lied about what I was doing to lots of people, including readers of this blog, and I feel bad about that. But I couldn’t think of another way to make it work.)
It was stressful but not unenjoyable. As a writer I’m really not a sprinter, I prefer the long haul, and I rarely get to do long-haul New Yorker-style features in Time. The magazine just isn’t built around them, and when it is they’re usually about war or politics or business, which the editors wisely do not let me write about. But Person of the Year (or P.O.Y. as they call it here) has a special aura around it. When you mention it the bar goes silent, a glass breaks, the editors cross themselves, and an old gypsy woman looks up from the corner and tells them they’d better give you extra pages, if they know what’s good for them.
And plus it was a good story. Zuckerberg is interesting, and Facebook is interesting.
But now I’m thoroughly burned out on my day job and ready for another crack at my night job. I haven’t looked at The Magician King in 6 weeks. I figure it’s probably let its down its guard by now.
It’s coming. It’s long and bone-chillingly confessional. It’s almost here. But not yet.
The reason it’s not here yet is that I’m working frantically on The Magician King. Some fun facts about this as-yet-unfinished book:
— It was due at the publisher six (6) days ago
— It is currently 105,850 words long. I would guess I’ve got somewhere between 35 and 40,000 words to go.
— I expect I’ll have a decent draft by the end of October.
— I have suspended any attempts to control my caffeine intake during the month of October
— These days it is mostly getting written in this armchair:
— On a good day work goes from about 10 in the morning to about 8 at night. That’s a good day. What happens on a bad day? There are no bad days! Who are you? Get out of my office!
— Bands I’m listening to while I work on it include Metric, The Beta Band and Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
— There is a small creature who lives in my house who actively sabotages work on my book. She looks like this: