They’re showing the first episode of The Magicians tonight — it’s at 10pm on Syfy — and I thought I should post something ahead of time to kind of ease you through the transition. Because some things in the show are Not The Same.
For example: the characters are a few years older than in the books – they’re entering graduate school rather than college. Also in the books we don’t learn about Julia’s life and her world until the second book, but in the show she’s a major character from the start. And Janet’s name is Margo. Penny is way more badass than Penny in the books. Also there’s an extra Physical Kid whose name is Kady.
Some things from the books don’t happen, some things happen differently, and other things happen that are nowhere in the books. When you see this stuff you may find asking, why, great triple-horned god, why?
The answer to all of this is basically, because of TV. It’s a different medium, and you tell stories differently there. Not everything translates directly.
That may sound a little glib. And believe me, there were a few changes that I got hung up on along the way (I didn’t write a word of the show, but I saw and weighed in on each script, and on rough cuts of the episodes). But you know what? After a while I got over it. The people who made it are mega-fans of the books, and whatever changes they made, they did it to get as much as they could of the feel and spirit of the books on screen. They are in very, very good faith.
I’m a huge fan of the show. I get psyched every time they send me a new episode to watch. It’s dark, it’s smart, it’s weird, and it’s very funny. It’s cool to see the magic on screen. The actors are acting their hearts out.
So give it a shot. There’s really nothing else like it on TV. I’ll be watching too.
p.s. Many people have asked if the episode tonight will be online somewhere. As far as I can tell it will not, so if you don’t have cable you’re out of luck. Come to think of it I don’t have cable. Fortunately I have a copy of the show, so I’ll watch along anyway.
I’m on my way back from a quick trip to New Orleans to visit the set of the Magicians show.
This goes partway to explaining why I’m so hungover and underslept. There were other contributing factors. But we can definitely identify that as the root cause.
[BTW I wrote this yesterday, on the plane, when it was actually true, but I’ve only got around to posting it now. Just go with it.]
Visiting the set was a pretty flat-out amazing experience, even though there isn’t anything especially going on there yet. They’ve taken over a vast production facility in an industrial area outside New Orleans: a warren of offices attached to some huge empty factory spaces. One of them looks like this:
They’re not actually shooting anything yet, but most of the cast of the show is there, living in hotels and rehearsing and generally being really talented and good-looking. They’re doing camera tests (that’s what’s happening in the picture) and trying out costumes and scouting locations and talking about special effects and things like that. The actor playing Quentin (who is amazing but who I think is still a secret so I can’t use his name) was practicing card tricks. The director, Mike Cahill, was stalking around figuring out technical stuff. Sera Gamble was supervising everything.
While I was there the actors did the first full read-through of the pilot script, at night, over pizza. This is the sort of thing you’re supposed to say, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s true: they were amazing. (I performed the part of a Brakebills professor who hasn’t been cast yet. Crushed it.)
It was strange hanging out with people who are getting ready to tell these stories. I’m used to me doing that, and having that process take place inside my head. To have other people doing it, and to be outside it, on the periphery of it, is pretty surreal.
But surprisingly wonderfully so. I’m really impressed with the people who are doing it. They’re going to do some things with it that I cannot, cannot wait to see. More information about the show will leak out over the next few weeks, but it’s not supposed to leak from me, so I’m going to shut up now.
More news? There isn’t much more news. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work for Time and noodling with some new projects, as one does. On December 3 I’ll be onstage with, among others, Erin Morgenstern and Chuck Wendig at a celebration of Margaret Atwood’s 75th birthday at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Margaret Atwood will also be there. Come if you can, it’ll be a night to remember.
Also, if you’re thinking of buying a book by me as a holiday present, consider ordering it from Greenlight Bookstore. It’s my neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn, and I like to support them, and more to the point if you buy books there I can go by and sign and personalize them.
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.
And when I say the Syfy deal I mean this.
This is going to be a pretty short post, because I can’t say much about it. The important things to know are four in number.
1. This is a whole different deal from the Fox deal. The producer is the same, quality Vhealthportal.com drugstore, but everything else is different, including the writers, Sera Gamble and John McNamara. We started from scratch.
2. I’m involved in an advisory capacity. I’m not writing, but I see all the drafts.
3. I’m very, very psyched about it. We’ve been working on this since last August, and it’s just gotten better and better.
4. Most important: this is as yet a development deal, which because I’m now a Hollywood Insider I know means that Syfy is working with us on the script and generally figuring out what the show should look like, but they haven’t committed to making it yet. In fact I wasn’t going to say anything about it at all until it was greenlit, but since it’s out there I thought I should address it.
And now I have. I’ll answer questions in the comments, if I can.
Meanwhile keep sending in those videos for the trailer. They’re coming in, and they’re great, but I haven’t been deluged yet. I want to be deluged.
I have the script for the Magicians pilot. OK, I had it all weekend. I’ve just been told that I can talk about this.
First let me say: I can take zero credit for this thing. It’s by Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz: they did X-Men: First Class and Thor, as well as a ton of TV work on Fringe, the Sarah Connor Chronicles and Andromeda. Frankly I didn’t want to get too involved: it took me 40 years to figure out how novels work, I wasn’t going to understand screenplays or teleplays or whatever right they are right off the bat. I’m not a Scalzi or a Gaiman, leaping nimbly from medium to medium with the grace of a gazelle. We chatted back and forth quite a bit while they worked, but I’ve never met them in person. I didn’t know what to expect.
I certainly didn’t expect this: it is fantastic. Amazeballs would not be too strong a word to use about this script. I’m not even trying to be funny. If I didn’t think so I would have just kept mum, but I can’t keep mum. It’s just too good.
I also can’t tell you too much in the way of details yet. But I will say:
— I laughed my ass off, start to finish. It’s funny.
— It’s edgy. This isn’t HBO, so there’s a limit to what can happen and what can get said, but somehow the darkness is there, all of it. I don’t know how they did that.
— It’s TV. The big challenge was always going to be to reshape the bones of the story, to take it apart and put it back together so it fit into episodes instead of chapters, and seasons instead of books. The Magicians (book) is a slow burn, but in TV you can’t afford that. This first episode — it’s a monster. It’s this dense, intense mystery that sucks you right in. I was dying to know what happens next, and I already know!
— It’s moving. I’ve said elsewhere that what great fantasy does best, for me, is longing. When I read the script, I felt that — I felt the longing. I’ve never seen anything else like this on TV. These are just smart writers who know their medium and know fantasy. We got very, very lucky.
With a little more luck, you’ll get to see what I mean. It’s with the network now.
I love this Locus roundtable about the accessibility or lack thereof of fantasy and science fiction. I love much of what is said in it, but I also love the mere fact that it exists. It’s amazing how much more self-aware and just interested-in-the-state-of-their-genre science fiction and fantasy writers are than literary writers.
It’s hard for me to imagine a similar public conversation nosubhealth.com happening among literary writers. There is a dearth of frank talk in the literary world.
A dearth, I say.
The roundtable as a whole is, like, a cascading concatenation of interesting remarks, but I’ll pull out this exchange (massively butchered for length), which is about why more SF doesn’t break out into the mainstream.
Quoth James Patrick Kelly:
“I think that at least part of the sag in popular acceptance of sf and thus its failure to break out has to do with our perception of the future. It doesn’t look like an adventure anymore, or at least not the shiny adventure that we were hoping for…a literature that purports to live in the future is bound to have some falling-off because of this.”
Whereat N.K. Jemisin said:
“Jim: Only if that literature fails to keep pace with the realism that readers seem to want from it. Again, I point to YA — the dystopian subgenre in YA is selling like hotcakes because it’s harsh and depressing, and because it doesn’t pull any punches with respect to workable economics and the un-shinyness of the future if we don’t change things. Something in that grimness speaks to the teenagers and young people who are growing up in the increasingly craptastic society we’re creating for them. Is it surprising that they need some kind of literary catharsis to deal with this mess? They need a space in which to imagine revolutions and solutions and coping mechanisms. They do not need “welp, no biggie, it’ll all get fixed somehow and in five hundred years we’ll be in spaaace!” handwaving. That’s not sensawunda, that’s naivete and denial, and if SF has nothing more to offer its readers than that then it deserves to fail.”
Which dovetails interestingly with some of the comments on last week’s “What is Fantasy About” post. Is it possible that the zeitgeist is looking at fantasy right now simply because fantasy is the genre that is offering hope?
That’s a bit glib, but you see what I’m saying.
In any case, I think this stuff is important. Fantasy and SF should break out into the mainstream. We shouldn’t just talk to each other. We can’t sit around and blame the mainstream if it doesn’t read us, it is incumbent upon us to talk to the mainstream in a language it can understand. And I truly believe that we can say what needs to be said in that language.
Now a non-update about the Magicians TV show: it’s going really well. I can’t say much of anything about it, but I had a conference call with the writers yesterday and, you know, wow. It’s going really well. TV moves fast — it’s not like movies where things stay in turnaround for years and years. If things keep on going well, there will be more updates, even better than this one, in the months to come.
Last week it was announced — leaked really — that Fox has optioned the Magicians books to be an hour-long drama. You can read the details here.
I thought maybe I should answer some questions about that. Since it seems to raise a lot of them.
[Scene: the set of an imaginary talk show, w/ chairs and ferns.]
Lev Grossman: [clears throat, scooches forward in armchair] Tell me, Lev Grossman. We know the facts of the deal. But how do you feel about it?
Lev Grossman: Really great.
Lev Grossman: [scooches even further forward] How great?
Lev Grossman: Pretty amazingly great. I mean, look! TV deal! I’ve been talking to people in Hollywood for more than two years, ever since before The Magicians came out, and this is the culmination of all that. Hollywood works really differently from the books world, which I only barely understand as it is, and it took me a long time to get a feel for it. This is not the kind of deal where a book gets optioned right out of the gate. This was a lot of work. I went through three different agents. I talked to literally dozens of people — mostly producers, but also writers and directors. It never clicked. Either it didn’t feel right to them, or it didn’t feel right to me.
Not that I wasn’t eager to sell out. Believe me, I was. But it just wasn’t right.
Lev Grossman: [wipes away tear of fake pity] So what ended this horrible, horrible ordeal?
Lev Grossman: Mostly my last and best agent, who works at CAA, and a guy named Michael London. When I met with Michael this spring I instantly recognized him as a smart, good person, which he pretty much had to be given the cool stuff he’s done — Sideways, Milk, The Illusionist, etc. He’s also doing the show based on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I’d never met anybody else like him in the movie biz. What I did not know, but later found out, was that Michael is also the kind of person who gets shit done. Like he says he’s going to do things, then he goes away, and then later you find out that those things have actually been done. By him. This is a rare and amazing quality.
Lev Grossman: [chin in hand] Why do this as a TV show? Why not a movie? Why?
Lev Grossman: I actually think The Magicians would be a pretty excellent movie. But as it turns out most of the interest was from TV people, and I can see why. There’s a lot of plot in The Magicians, let alone The Magician King. There’s a lot of world to play around in. You kind of want to go slow, and explore all the nooks and crannies. Spread it out over a few seasons. In some ways it’s shaped more like a show than a movie.
Also I get the impression that a lot of movie people are crossing over into TV right now. Because TV is so good.
Lev Grossman: [waking up with a start] What? Leprechauns! Leprechauns! God, it was that dream again.
Lev Grossman: Are you … OK?
Lev Grossman: [pours glass of whisky from side table, slams it] Gimme a minute. Talk about that Michael London guy some more and how great he is or whatever.
Lev Grossman: OK, sure. So putting a TV show together turns out to be a bit like a scavenger hunt. You have to find a lot of different things: an agent, a producer, a writer to write the pilot, a studio to make it, and so on. So the television studio part of Fox (as distinct from the network) put up a hand and said, yeah, we’re into this, let’s do it. (They make House. They also made Firefly. Nuff said.) Then we talked to a few different writers, but the ones who really got it — who were really stoked and said, yeah, OK, we know how to take this book-shaped thing and make it into a TV-show-shaped thing — were Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz. They’re the guys who wrote Thor and X-Men: First Class. They’re also serious TV people — they worked on Fringe and Andromeda and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re smart, they get the genre, and they, like Michael London, get things done.
In short they’re the kind of people that Fox (Fox the network this time) listens to. I wasn’t in the room for the actual pitch. I didn’t have to be. I hear they blew the doors off the place.
Lev Grossman: So what happens next? Now that you’re all rich and stuff.
Lev Grossman: I’m not rich. No, but I mean, really not. I don’t know how it works in movies, but in TV the money starts very very small and then slowly escalates. You would be kind of disappointed and maybe even a little depressed at how little it costs to option a book for TV. I mean, it’s not nothing, but it’s very far from life-changing. If the show actually becomes a series and gets broadcast, then I start doing all right.
Lev Grossman: [frowning at his iPhone, on which he is playing Words with Friends] So is that going to happen? Is it going to be a real show or whatever?
Lev Grossman: It damn well ought to be. The kind of fantasy I write, and the kind that I like best — the Lewis/Rowling type, the clever character-driven stuff about people moving between mundane and magic worlds — has a huge audience that’s very well served by books, but there’s absoluetly nothing for that audience on TV. There’s epic fantasy, and there’s horror, but there’s nothing like Harry Potter or The Magicians. You’d think someone would have put it together and said, hey, people like to see other people cast spells, let’s do a TV show about it, and maybe put some sex in too. But it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s about to.
Lev Grossman: [pours another drink] I’ll drink to that.
Lev Grossman: I don’t even think that’s real whisky.
More questions? Ask in comments. Though I may not be able to answer all of them, either because I can’t talk about it, or more probably because I just don’t know.