Thursday, July 25th, 2013

A Requiem for My First Novel

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.

Captain! Gene Roddenberry's lawyers are hailing us! About our book cover!

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.

It was a very small novel. I was paid (I think) $6,000 for it. They printed maybe 1,500 copies. As low as that number is it was still, from an overall sales perspective, much too high.

I’m really not being deliberately vague when I say that I don’t remember very much about Warp. I haven’t reread it since it came out. I do remember that it was a very first-novel-y first novel, in that it was an autobiographical story about an aimless young man who was mildly depressed for no particular reason. It was based on my lost years in my 20s, and modeled on Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and the Richard Linklater film Slacker, and maybe also on Flann O’Brien’s amazing At Swim-Two-Birds.

My added twist was that my characters would do even less than those characters did, and have even less fun doing it. Yes. That’s what I brought to the table.

The other innovation was that the main zithromax online cheap character was obsessed with pop culture, especially Star Trek, and the narrative was broken up by the various snippets and stories that floated through the narrator’s head while he was doing what ever he was (or, usually, wasn’t) doing.

The book was not what you’d call a blockbuster debut. It actually got some decent reviews, but it never caught on with booksellers or readers. The truth is I wasn’t ready to write a novel then, but I wanted to so desperately that I just kind of forced it to happen. I made the mistake, which I think a lot of young writers make, of trying to write about myself, on the theory that that’s what I knew best. But what I didn’t get was that at that time in my life I knew next to nothing about myself at all. I knew hardly anything about anything, but if there’s one thing I was really and truly totally ignorant of, it was me.

Fortunately at the time I was also pretty naive about the book business. I didn’t even know enough to see what a flop Warp was, so I wasn’t as crushed as I probably should have been, and I just went right on to the next project. If you’re curious about Warp, copies are certainly findable. I personally am sitting, almost literally, on a cache of several hundred of them.

But before you read it, ask yourself this simple question: have I read Moby-Dick? Have I read Madame Bovary? Mrs. Dalloway? Because those books are much, much better than Warp. If you haven’t, I’d read those first.

21 comments on “A Requiem for My First Novel

  1. Church says:

    Well, Moby Dick sold about as well. So there’s that.

  2. Little My says:

    Are you reading the comments? Or are you creating something beautiful?

    I thought so.

  3. Cerulean says:

    I’d love to read about a slightly melancholic trekkie! Hunting it down as we speak…

  4. Jaimie says:

    Wow, so I have 1 of 1,600 copies? This is going to be worth something someday. Monetarily speaking not literarilly. OKAY I’M SORRY. I had to make that joke. It was there and I took it OKAY. I love you and your books.

    I actually didn’t really finish it. It was first-novelly. It had moments of promise, mostly in the dialogue, I thought. The dialogue sparked.

    Despite your warnings, I picked it up because I’m an enormous trekkie. But there wasn’t really much of that. That’s not a criticism, but seeing as how I read (and write) Star Trek fan fiction, it might be part of the reason I stopped. See? Totally a personal decision. Nothing that could have been prevented.

  5. Charles says:

    It’d make my life if you mailed me a copy. I’d even pay you for it.

  6. JJS says:

    I remember reading that book. My local library actually has a copy. I must agree, it was NOT Mr. Grossman’s finest moment. But I have read worse novels, not all of them by beginners.

  7. M says:

    Warp costs a lot more than your other books

  8. Paul Anthony says:

    I’ve been looking for a copy too…

  9. Narameh says:

    I’m with Jaimie. Happy and proud I managed to dig one up some years ago :).

    In case you’re interested: I had mine flown to me from the USA, as I live in the Netherlands. You’re book is thus at least intercontinental. I have this quirck of collecting the entire euvre of writers I like. Very impractical in student housing, but luckily my parent have a big attic :P.

  10. so I am apparently one of the few who both own and have read all the way through Warp. yay!

    yes, it was a little unsatisfying and the end felt anti-climatic… but then again that felt a bit like the point of it all. so… SUCCESS!!! (maybe?)

    I am of the opinion that your work has gotten better and better (which by definition makes Warp the, uh, least good) but I found it an interesting read. I think I had read both Codex and The Magicians before I sought out Warp, so I liked seeing how your writing had evolved (I say that as a non-writer and hope it doesn’t sound condescending). it was anthropological. it seemed to me like the pop-culture-y asides featured in Warp eventually sort of merged with the rest of the narrative to become the sparkling prose that we all know and love today. : )

  11. Heather Head says:

    Too awesome for words. I have read all three of the books you’ve listed, thus qualifying me to read Warp.

    And wow, yes, $30 is a lot to pay for an even-the-author-thinks-it’s-crappy book. Which suggests that this is already a much-coveted item regardless of its literary or non-literary merits or lack therof.

    Before I throw $30 at it however, may I suggest you use this opportunity to run a contest? I’m willing to bet your fans would jump through fun and embarrassing hoops to get a SIGNED copy of Warp… just saying. Me first.

  12. Me says:

    Your Amazon rating would agree with you. Although much skill is required to write about nothing. If you truly succeeded, that is admirable. Very rarely can writers write about nothing.

  13. Rita says:

    I love it that you have something you consider your zeroeth novel. Keep in mind that you’re zeroeth novel was still published where most aren’t.

  14. Amir says:

    Warp as the first of your books that I read. I was given a copy by a friend of my father – it is one of the few gift from a family friend books that I enjoyed. And I liked it enough to track down Codex and then spot your name on a new release table when The Magicians was published. I now I read you blog every couple months.

  15. csrster says:

    I haven’t read Warp, but this discussion reminds me of the discomfort I felt reading an interview ith James P. Blaylock where he was very negative about one of his early books which I thought was one of his best – “Land of Dreams”.

    I suppose an author is entitled to have an opinion on his own work 🙂 but should we _necessarily_ accept a negative opinion any more than we have to accept a positive one?

  16. Eric Balingit says:

    Hells yeah, man. I’d be happy if I could write and do nothing else for a summer and get $6000.

    Why are you hoarding all those old copies, dude?

    Is that on top of the $6000 or did you have to give some of it back? 🙂

  17. Anasuya says:

    I liked the thinly veiled Indian character in it. Pretty funny.

  18. Leverus says:

    Not very thinly veiled …

  19. Leverus says:

    @Eric they don’t make you give it back! that’s the good part. But if you figure it took me 2 years to write the book … it’s not much of a salary.

  20. teh lex says:

    I adore Warp. I’m sorry. I can’t properly explain it. It’s something about the particular way Mr. Grossman uses words, even if he’s writing about nothing (cue gaming buddy: “like the way Tolkien spends half a page describing a bucket?” — not like that). He just does great -scenes-.

    The story doesn’t go anywhere or do anything, not really, but phrases float through my brain even when I haven’t opened the bookcase in months.

    So props.

  21. Chris says:

    I read The Magicians like once a year (me and my wife once bought each other the same box set for Christmas), and I really liked Codex too. That said, Warp was not my cup of tea, for all the reasons that have been pointed out (even though I myself was an aimless post grad in Boston in the 90’s, and there was some nostalgia there).

    My main question is really, was Xanthe real or just in Hollis’ imagination? From what I can recall, he’s the only one that ever sees her, her attraction to him and their hookup seemed extremely implausible, and there’s literally no way that she could have known they’d be at the house at the end, where it was, or how to get there (he didn’t even know, to have told her).

    Was the title of the novel, and the Xanthe character, reflective of Hollis’ perception and how the line was blurring between reality and imagination for him? Or am I overthinking this?

    I think that this may be the most ink ever spilled on Warp. But The Magicians is awesome.

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