Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lev Grossman reading

Just off winning the Campbell Award for Science Fiction's best new writer during the Hugo Awards ceremony recently, Lev Grossman took time to sign books and chat with fans last night at Flyleaf Books. Thanks to those who came to hear Lev read from The Magician King and answer readers' questions. It was a wonderful event and a great turn out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Q & A with Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman is the author of the bestselling novels The Magicians and Codex. A well-known cultural commentator, he is the book critic for TIME magazine and has written for numerous other publications, including the New York Times, The Believer, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, Salon and Wired. In 2011 Grossman won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer from the World Science Fiction Society. His latest novel, The Magician King, is out from Viking now.  

FB: Does your love of video games inform your writing?

LG: Oh sure. Games do magic very well, for example. The look and feel of magic in the Magicians books is definitely influenced by the way it looks in games -- those bright colored lights flaring around people's hands.

FB: How do you navigate the line between paying tribute to other authors and seeming derivative?

LG: My rule is, when you’re playing with something an earlier author did, you have to know why you’re doing it, and so does the reader, and it had better be a good reason. You have to be transforming it in some way, putting a new spin on it. You can’t just steal it, you have to earn it.
FB: Do you think genre fiction is reaching any new heights of cultural/critical acceptance? Do you think it’s even important that it does?

LG: I’m not going to pretend I don’t care if I got critical respect or not. Or I could, but it wouldn’t be very convincing. I think its happening incrementally, but Id like to see it happen faster. I think a great cultural rebalancing is in the offing, that really fully acknowledges the value and importance of genre fiction.

FB: Building a unique world is important for fantasy writers. George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien created elaborate maps and lore behind their worlds. What’s your world-building process?

LG: It’s a bit chaotic. I don’t start the way Tolkien did, by writing Elvish dictionaries and such. I think about the story I want to tell, and I build the world that the story needs. Then sometimes the world turns around and changes the story and so on. You push and pull from both sides till everything fits. Consistency is important. C.S. Lewis got away with being inconsistent, but we can't all be C.S. Lewis.

FB: Do you have any advice for young writers interested in writing genre fiction?

LG: Read everything. As much as with literary fiction, writing a fantasy novel (or whatever) places you within a tradition. You have to have read deep into the past of the tradition you're writing in if you want to extend it into the future.

FB: What did returning to the world of the Magicians feel like psychologically?

LG: I’m not totally sure I ever left it.

FB: Your books draw on many disparate elements from different worlds. Do you believe it is important to cross-pollinate in literature?

LG: I don't know. I think it's one of the strengths of my writing, at any rate. My parents were both English professors, before they retired, and I wound up spending time in literary academia, so I got the chance to read really extensively in the history of the novel. There's a lot of stuff that I can take from outside fantasy and bring into the genre and use there in ways that haven't necessarily been done before.

FB: What do you think of e-readers and the decline of brick and mortar bookstores?

LG: I think crotchety, skeptical thoughts. The novel was created as a medium that exists on paper. I think of it as software: books -- not phones or Kindles or whatever -- are the hardware that novels are optimized for, and that's where they're best experienced. I could go on. I tend to rant about this issue.

FB: Post-collegiate malaise is an important element of your books. How do you make such a static psychological condition interesting?

LG: Don’t knock post-collegiate malaise! It’s the stuff of great literature. Look at Ulysses. But it’s true, it’s not the most dynamic of states. There’s a reason why I only give the characters a chapter of slacking around New York City after they graduate before they get sent off to another world.

FB: How much do you outline your writing ahead of time?

LG: Oh, I outline the whole thing. But as the saying goes, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. And in this case the plan has many enemies in the form of my characters, who don’t always want to do what they’re told.

FB: What do you think of the state of genre fiction today?

LG: I'll tell you the truth, which is that I think that genre fiction is going through a great cultural renaissance, and that’s where the most exciting stuff in contemporary literature is happening. When people write the literary history of the 21st century, I think the explosion of creativity in genre literature is what they'll write about.

FB: Do you enjoy the huge successes of nerd culture or does a part of you think your once-obscure interests are being violated?

LG: Can I say both? Both.

I'd like to offer a special thank you to Hank Stephenson who helped me with the above questions. Please come to Flyleaf where Lev will be reading and signing books at 7:00 on Tuesday, 30 August. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Magic in the Air

I’ve been waiting to write about Lev Grossman’s new book The Magician King.  Now that it is available at Flyleaf Books I can tell you what I think of it. I was curious about how Grossman would follow up on the success of The Magicians.  If you haven’t read the first book, Grossman creates a world where magic happens at a school secluded from the rest of the world that goes on without the knowledge that real magic exists.  Sound familiar?  The book was inevitably dubbed Harry Potter for grown ups when it came out in 2009.  The world Grossman creates is for adults; his young adult magicians face adult problems and have to find ways to overcome them.  Grossman provides a number of nods to previously published books in the genre.  In fact, The Magicians is a kind of examination of and appreciation for fantasy readers.  If you like finding the Easter eggs in movies and you’re a fan of fantasy, look at what Grossman wrote about the illusions to previous works of fantasy for

The Magician King is darker than the first book and focuses on Julia’s story in great depth.  It also describes what happens when Quentin becomes bored with being a King in Fillory, the land of magical beings and the magicians who find themselves there.  Quentin seeks an adventure, one that will make him a hero, but realizes the costs too late.
Lev Grossman is reading at Flyleaf on Tuesday, 20 August at 7:00pm.  Stay tuned for an online interview coming soon.

And while I’m on the topic of magic, there is another book about magic that you will want to read called The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  It comes out in a month (13 September).  This book is going to get a lot of attention.  It has already been optioned for a movie.

The Night Circus is the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other by their malevolent mentors.  But Celia and Marco are not the most interesting characters in the book.  The night circus has a life of its own and is by far the most enchanting character.  The circus is created using magic and is the field of the challenge for Celia and Marco.  The two magicians enhance the circus and test one another’s magic skills through the circus.  Performers and visitors are largely innocent bystanders. My vision of the circus while reading was a cross between steampunk and Victorian architecture with magic woven in.  Morgenstern does a masterful job describing the intricate beauty and frightening aspects of the circus.  There is an undercurrent of danger throughout the book due to the contest between Celia and Marco and the mystery of the circus itself.

Monday, August 1, 2011

And now for something completely different

I’m on vacation this week and what that means for me is lots of time to read.  Are you missing Lisbeth Salander?  Me, too.  Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole won’t fill that void in your reading, but he may make room in your heart for the love of another Scandinavian crime solver.  Nesbo has a knack for vivid description and intricate plotting.  Although Nesbo is Norwegian and Larsson was Swedish, they share a love of their respective countries.  Both writers describe the settings of their novels in great detail; enough to make you want to take a trip to each using their books as tour guides.  

Nesbo’s books have been published slowly in the US and slightly out-of-order. The translations are very well done. I expect Nesbo’s US publisher, Knopf, will work hard to secure rights to the titles below not yet published in the US and get them into waiting American hands.  (The linked titles below are available at Flyleaf Books just click on the link to order your copy.)

Bibliography, Jo Nesbo (adult fiction)
  • The Bat Man (Flagger­mus­mannen - 1997)* NT
  • The Cockroaches - (Kaker­lakkene - 1998)* NT
  • The Redbreast - 2006 (Rødstrupe - 2000)*
  • (Karusellmusikk - 2001, short stories) NT
  • Nemesis - 2008 (Sorgenfri - 2002)*
  • The Devil's Star - 2005 (Marekors - 2003)*
  • The Redeemer - 2009 (Frelseren - 2005)*
  • The Snowman- 2010 (Snømannen - 2007)*
  • Headhunters (Hode­jegerne - 2008) NT
  • The Leopard- 2011 (Panser­hjerte - 2009)*
  • Gjensyn - 2011 *

English title and year of publication, Norwegian title and year of publication in parentheses.
*means it is a Harry Hole novel
NT is not yet translated
- With thanks to