Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

The Year that Wasn’t

This is Steve Morris's amazing cover for the Magicians graphic novel, out next year
This is Steve Morris’s amazing cover for the Magicians graphic novel, out next year

I write slowly, and these days I mostly write long, basically because I suck at short stories and because I’ve (mostly, temporarily) stepped back from journalism. As a result it’s totally possible for me to do an entire year of really intense work and come to the end of it having published practically nothing.

2018 was such a year!

I wrote a book review in the New York Times with a very creepy 1970’s-style sci-fi illustration. An essay of mine appeared in a wonderful book about fantasy maps. I also gave a lecture or two. But apart from that (unless I’m forgetting something, which is totally possible) I just wrote and wrote and wrote and didn’t publish anything.

I spent a lot of this year working on a novel about King Arthur called The Bright Sword. I turned in a first draft of it in January and a second draft in September, but I figure it’s going to take one more major revision before I can really say I’m in the endgame. You wouldn’t think it would take this long but Arthur is just one of those many-layered multi-chambered subjects that it’s really hard to feel like you’ve come to grips with in any kind of a satisfying way. And it’s a very old story, and I want to feel like it’s getting traction on what feels like a very new world while still remaining true to its old-ness.

Plus people have been writing about Arthur for so long, literally more than a thousand years. You look back at that huge long line of brilliant writers behind you, and they’re all looking at you, and you think jeez this had better be good.

But surely my good man you can’t sit around writing about King Arthur all day every day!

You’re right! I really can’t. I frequently burn out on projects and have to put them down for  while and get some perspective. To be totally honest I haven’t even really touched The Bright Sword for a couple of months now because when I look at it all I can see is this kind of black-hole-sun thing where a manuscript should be and then I have to make a saving throw vs. madness.

So I’ve been working on other things instead. I read and commented on scripts for the Magicians show as they came in (the fourth season just wrapped a few weeks ago and will start airing in January). There’s also a deeply awesome Magicians graphic novel  coming out next summer, which I didn’t write (the brilliant Lilah Sturges did), but I did look over everybody’s shoulders and make them feel uncomfortable while they worked on it. 

And there are other other things too.

Up until two years ago I still had a day job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and when I left—and gave up the salary—I knew I would have to start up some non-novel projects, because it takes me so long to write novels that my family would probably run out of money in between them. And I felt burnt out on journalism. So I took up screenwriting instead.

Writing for Hollywood is one of those things novelists are not ever supposed to do ever, and I get that: it can be an incredible time- and soul-devourer. But at the same time when you’re in the business of storytelling it’s hard not to get interested in TV and movies, which are powerful and immediate in ways that are equal to — but very different from — novels. Plus scalewise they’re just incredibly dominant. I mean if you sell a million books you’re a massively successful author. If a million people watch your TV show, well, you’re 1/16th of Young Sheldon.

And kibitzing on the Magicians show, watching those guys work, made me wonder what it would feel like to tell stories that way. Writing is a lot about visualizing the book that you want to read but which hasn’t been written yet and then writing it. I started to realize there were un-made shows and movies I wanted to watch too.

(And there’s the money, right? True. Though for the time being at least I make much more from books than I do from screenwriting.)

So starting two years ago I began flying out to L.A. and talking to people. I did all the things. I lunched. I pitched. I was mentored. And slowly some projects have begun to materialize.

Annoyingly (and really there aren’t many things more annoying than when people say this) I can’t talk about them yet. They have developed to the point where I’m getting paid for them (which is a relief) but they haven’t quite developed to the point where they’ve been announced yet. But I’m super-excited about them, and hopefully it will all be out there soon. 

Meanwhile I just badly miss finishing things and putting them out in the world. In most ways this was an incredibly great year: my family’s healthy, my house isn’t falling down, and I’m writing! And I love writing, I love this business of pouring all your thoughts and feelings into words. But with no one reading them it does start to feel a bit like playing Scrabble with yourself. 

Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done enough of it to know! But enough is enough.

I’ll see you next year. 

15 comments on “The Year that Wasn’t

  1. Jen McCulley says:

    And we’ll be waiting.
    You’ve already given us a world to bask in, a world to softly land on from the crazyness of this reality, a world to escape to when we need to when we can no longer take our daily commutes because for some of us whether it’s illness or a job is getting the best of us; your books have given us more than you could ever imagine.
    But now I t’s your turn to go and do you for you. The Bright Sword isn’t going anywhere and neither are we, and there is more time than life so go do your thing, live out your dreams. This is your time to do the things you’re meant to do. You were meant to change the world and you’ve already started so don’t stop now!
    I’m not saying to stop writing your books. Alas! I’m dying here for TBS but I can wait. I’ll wait another 2 years-5 if I must. You have been so generous to all of us, this fandom understands and stands by you all of the way and will walk with you back and forth.
    So. Having said that. Go for it Lev, from here on out, embrace the destiny that awaits you. We could not be happier that this is happening to the coolest guy in the block!
    We love and cherish you, we admire you but above anything else,
    we support you and everything you do, so go get’em! We’ll be waiting when you get back and we’ll also be rooting for you all of the way through whatever projects you’ll be working on because our strength is yours and your setbacks, ours so we are with you. Working on other projects will only strengthen your writing as an author so we are super excited for this new facet of your life. New chapters, new stories, new adventures and this time around you are the protagonist bringing to life yet other stories for all of us to enjoy. How cool is that! Truly, it doesn’t get better than that.
    Break a leg!

    Much love!
    (Excuse The grammar horrors if there are any. I’ve been on seizure mode so I’m half blind as I type this.)

  2. Rita says:

    Thanks for this, Lev. I know that I love the updates. As a big fan of your work, I don’t need an explanation for a year without a finished product from you. I know it’ll be worth the wait! I just like to hear from you, the periodic check-ins with your fans. It’s so much fun watching you rocket into the kind of success and recognition your work warrants. These blog posts always feel like you pulling your friends aside at a crowded party to give us the lowdown behind the scenes. Have a great string of winter holidays and I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!

  3. Vanessa Kaneshiro Garber says:

    Ok, that actually seems like an incredibly busy, exciting, and progress-making year! I’m exhausted just reading about everything you did. But I hear you on not being able to hold a finished project (prize!) in your hands. That 1950s dad-saying, “the work IS the reward,” is true, but annoying. Ha! Keep going, keep going! You’re amazing!

  4. Trisha says:

    You’re living the dream, man. Keep at it.

  5. I get every bit of what you’ve done, not done, the time that goes by in between 8 projects at a time (Hollywood and pitching in itself is yet another kind of project . You’ve done more than you realize, more than you give yourself credit for. You just feel like you havnt done as much as you expect of yourself or what you think others expect of you; especially coming from a day job witch set schedules and expectations. I’ve always been amazed at how you can focus & start a project all the way to the end game, no matter how long it takes. I told you once going from fantasy book to tv is a natural progression & sometimes being patient on that rollercoaster you get it on the screen with more control & flexibility. You have done all of it and more. I have a historical project 80% done and never told on the big or little screen, I put it down years ago & I can’t focus enough to see it thru to the end game. You may put a project down for awhile, but you are still always working on something and many things & in the long run you will go back to those unfinished projects and you’ll see them thru to the end game & we will get the benefit of enjoying your talent at writing & producing on your own instinctive time frame. Try to remember that you are a human & even you need time to breath. Your work & everything you do is worth waiting for, that’s the beauty of being creatively gifted . Taking time out and coming to LA, talking to & mentoring people, all of it, ALL OF IT SERVES A PURPOSE that will come full circle in time to each project as you go back to them & bringing them full term to thier birth . For a fan that’s what we wait for, the birth of a continuing adventure. Even the wait is exciting.. I don’t know how you do so many things with so much pressure, but you do! That’s talent, we know it, we love that you share it with us, the rollercoaster ride & the journey to the end game of each ride and each world you create, is well worth the wait.

  6. Danny says:

    Finally, an update! Glad to hear you are working on all these cool things and making good progress on the bright sword. Look forward to all your awesome projects coming to fruition.

    Happy belated hanukkah and have a good new year.

  7. Thomas says:

    I can’t wait to read and watch the results! Hopefully in 2019 🙂

  8. Damien Mikelson says:

    I’ll start this off by saying- I can’t wait! I loved the Magicians trilogy, Warp and Codex – and I’m eagerly awaiting news of your show(s?)! I’ll be honest in saying that this is the best news I’ve had this month.

    Also, be true to yourself. If you want to screenwrite, then screenwrite. I, as an admirer of your work, will watch/read it in any form.

    Good luck,

    Damien Mikelson

  9. Jaimie says:

    As always, you are to be commended for your dedication to putting out a quality product. I’m so excited to read it.

  10. Marian says:

    So terribly happy to hear that you’re alive, well, working and that The Bright Sword will someday see the light of day. No rush. You are always worth the wait!

  11. Scott Smith says:

    The best thing about your books is sadly missing from the show. Mature dialog. Characters with depth. A real arc for Quinten.

    You and GRRM are an antidote to the noise that fills the fantasy section of book stores. That fills too many sections of book stores. Except unlike GRRM you can see through your darkness enough to finish the stories.

    Please make more of that. And don’t let the next tv people deflate it into the college YouTube video like they have your first trilogy.

  12. jon says:

    hey still waiting for an update? 🙂

  13. Drew says:

    Can’t wait to check out that new Magicians graphic novel! I’ve never really been super interested in manga/graphic novels…but that illustration alone on this post is amazing.

    Thank you for writing one of the best book series I’ve ever read :]

  14. Scott says:

    Good luck. I’ve been worried you’d lost your way somehow with no posts for over 12 months until EOY18. Looking forward to the new & obviously very different book. Enjoy the way you write. I’ve reread the Magicians ‘trilogy’ several times since first published & surprised myself by seeing more texture & aspects unnoticed each time. Perhaps it’s true that as we change, grow, age, evolve our perspective on what is an unchanging work of art changes.
    Enjoy your gift & “May the (writers) force be with you” 🙂

  15. F Scott Johnson says:

    Lev – I will definitely read Bright Sword.
    You are my favorite living author.
    I identify with Quentin.
    Played D&D when there were only three slim volumes from TSR. Around 1976. The year it came out. Even published a magazine with stories and new character classes and new spells and so forth.
    So I enjoy many many of your references to that world and similar worlds. Your take is special, mixing real people with magic and depression and uplift.

    I’ve read that depressed people see the truth more clearly than not-depressed people. I agree with that.

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