Stephen Chats with Lev Grossman

We have with us today, Lev Grossman, in addition to writing book reviews for Time Magazine, Lev is also the internationally best-selling author of The Magicians, Warp, and Codex. His Nerd World blog has recently relaunched as Techland.com. But Lev promises that a) he is still a nerd; and b) he will still be blogging about nerd culture.

SB Frank: I was looking at your website and I saw that you’ve written on some fascinating topics.  One article in particular that caught my eye was a piece “Catalog This,” that talked about the bizarre things that are sometimes bequeathed to libraries as part of the estates of famous personas, such as Dante’s ashes, etc.  If you could pick one bizarre item to bequeath to a library after your death, what would it be and why?

Lev Grossman: When I was working at the Beinecke Library at Yale, I used to take my ease at break time in a shabby old armchair in a part of the stacks that we called The Vault. It was only towards the end of my tenure there that I noticed the label on the chair in The Vault, which explained that it was Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing chair. Which I had defiled with my unworthy buttocks.

I wouldn’t leave my writing chair to a library, because it’s a boring Aeron chair. But I might leave my writing desk, which is this gigantic metal-clad industrial work bench that somebody salvaged from a dead factory in Allentown. Since it’s basically indestructible, it wouldn’t be any trouble to curate. And if nothing else they might get some use out of it.

SB Frank: I know I’ve always wanted an indestructible desk.  So, other than Dante’s ashes, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve written about in your nerd world blog for Time Magazine?

Lev Grossman: According to the WordPress stats, the most objectively interesting thing I ever wrote on my blog is a review of Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. Which I found a little austerely Norse and Wagnerian for my taste.

For me personally it was probably an interview with Parry Gripp, lead singer of Nerf Herder, one of the founding bands of nerd-pop. He’s one of my culture heroes.

SB Frank: Nerf Herder’s excellent, but, no offense,  I’ve got to go with Tolkien. I’d imagine that being a professional book critic gives you a leg up when it comes time to writing your own novels. But does it ever get in the way?

Lev Grossman: It gets in the way all the time. Working at Time is a full time job, somy novel-writing happens in the early mornings, late at night, and in spare moments on weekends. Being a professional critic is an unbelievably great job, so much better than anything I ever thought I could get paid for. But when it comes to writing novels, there is no day job so great that a novelist won’t find a way, in his petty, miserly little heart, to bitterly resent it sometimes.

SB Frank: Well, we’re all grateful that you persevere. Your most recent novel, The Magicians is still on shelves. Any good or exciting news to share?

Lev Grossman: That it’s still on shelves! And it’s selling well, by the standards of a non-famous author anyway. According to IndieBound, it was the #2 bestselling hardcover in fantasy and science fiction for most of this fall, at least in independent booksellers. I am a really happy author these days.

SB Frank: That is happy news. Congratulations! The Magicians has a somewhat rare realism of character, by which I mean that, you allow the protagonist, Quentin, to be a self absorbed and error prone, typical teen. He differs significantly from a Harry Potter type hero whose virtues more than offset his few character flaws. Was this realism something you deliberately set out to accomplish before writing the novel or something that happened along the way?

Lev Grossman: It happened along the way, mostly. Though I don’t think any novelist ever sets out to write an unreal character. I always felt that Harry — much as I love him — was in the end a little too good of a person. I corrected Quentin accordingly. Some might say I over-corrected.

SB Frank: Speaking of Quentin, in book three, of The Magicians, he and his friends encounter Fillory. I understand that you are considering a future novel set in Fillory. Is this true? And would it be a straight sequel or more of a spin off?

[Author looks shifty and mumbles something unintelligible.]

SB Frank: Aha, I see. Well what other irons do you have in the fire? Any other projects or plans you’d like to share?

Lev Grossman: My most exciting, ambitious project at this point is keeping my day job and thereby paying my mortgage. But when I can I’m working full tilt on that sequel-like project I was trying not to discuss in question 6. There have been some conversations with Hollywood people, too. But you never know if those are going to go anywhere.

SB Frank: I’ve noticed that myself about people from Hollywood.  So, may I ask, what are the best books you’ve read in 2009?

Lev Grossman: Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walters, D-Day, by Antony Beevor, Cooking Dirty, by Jason Sheehan, and Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

SB Frank: Before we close, I’m hoping you could answer a few questions from the fans:

From Michele: What was your primary or favorite Dungeons & Dragons role/character growing up?

Lev Grossman: I mostly played fighter/thieves. I liked the hardware, and I was always too greedy and impatient to go through the work of leveling up a spellcaster. I went though a bard phase, too. I may have gotten overly attached to that guy. We bent a lot of rules to keep that bard alive.

From Mike: What music would we find in your iPod or CD player?  And what video games, if you game?

Lev Grossman: I’m in a big nerdcore phase right now. I’m working my way through MC Lars at the moment. As for gaming — “if I game.” Please! I just finished Halo: ODST, and now I’m about a quarter through Borderlands. I picked up Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dragon Age: Origins in between, but they didn’t take.

From Shellie: What is the nerdiest thing that you have done in the past 24 hours?

Lev Grossman: On the way to work I was listening to MC Lars and playing Geo-Defense Swarm on my iPhone, while walking down the street. Yeah, I’m that guy.

Very nerdy, Lev. Thanks for the interview and thanks to all of you for stopping by. One commenter on this post will win a copy of Mr. Grossman’s The Magicians.  Comment directly on the interview or on the topic: Why I am a fantasy nerd. Er,  um, that’s why you’re a fantasy nerd. Winner will be announced on Monday!


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STEPHEN (S.B.) FRANK, one of our guest contributors, earned a Ph.D. at Duke University and works in the field of education reform. When he needs a break from real life, he likes to indulge in urban fantasy. He has a particular love for humor, so some of his favorite authors are Dakota Cassidy, Mary Janice Davidson, Mark Henry, Julie Kenner, Katie MacAlister, Richelle Mead and Christopher Moore.

View all posts by Stephen B. Frank

17 comments

  1. I’m going to try to use this phrase in conversation today: ” Which I found a little austerely Norse and Wagnerian for my taste. ”
    Oh, and the “unworthy buttocks” one, too. That one will probably be easier for me…

  2. I would like to play D&D with Lev Grossman’s Bard. ;D Great interview! And I look forward to reading the book, even if I don’t win!

  3. I have to agree that Catching Fire was phenominal. I can’t wait for book three. Winning The Magicians would be a great way to pass the time :)

  4. I’m a big fan of Lev Grossman…ever since I heard him talking about his books at LeakyCon. Great interview! :)

  5. Great interview! I love the questions! I’ve been wanting to read the Magicians for a while now, but I didn’t realize the author was so cool (maybe cool’s not the word; but I think nerdy’s cool). :-)
    I’m always psyched when I hear about author’s listening to music that I find good, since it happens so very rarely. I ADORE Nerf Herder!!!! And nerd-rock in general.

  6. Probably because I have a vivid imagination and a brand new world with magic and other things foreign to the real world just gets it going.

  7. I really enjoyed this interview. It’s nice to see another side to some of my favorite authors. Lev Grossman–you rock! I’m a fantasy nerd too, and I love D&D. I don’t get to play it as much now that I’ve “grown up,” but I anticipate making more time after I’m done with school.

  8. Oooh, an indestructible writing desk? yes, please! And I’m so looking forward to reading this book – if there’s a sequel based on Fillory, can I put my hand up for that one too?! Anthing thats based on Narnia is bound to float my boat.

    Great interview – entirely nerdalicious.

    -Aimee :)
    http://myflutteringheart.blogspot.com

  9. Hi :)
    Thank you very much for introducing Lev Grossman to me. THE MAGICIANS sounds like an excellent read. I enjoyed learning about Lev and his writing. Thank you for sharing here Lev!
    All the best,
    RKCharron
    :)

  10. I had to go listen to some MC Lars. Cute. Not Metallica or Nine Inch Nails … but fun.

  11. I loved this interview. I really need to pick up The Magicians.

  12. Great Interview! You get the best guest interviews here! :)
    I have been quoting Lev’s article from Time mag (2005) “The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth” for years – yes, I am that Geek. I was surprised you didn’t ask him about it. Let me know if you’ve never seen it & I’ll get it for you.
    I definitely want this book but don’t enter me this time since I won earlier this week, so I’ll wait a bit before entering again. ;)
    Cheers,
    Heather

  13. I can’t live without fantasy. I simply can’t. Those alternative worlds are all I need to run away from the always alike reality, even if only for a few hours. That’s why I need to read (and to write) fantasy: because I really really can’t leave it.

  14. Great interview, I didn’t know Grossman was also a book reviewer. I wonder if that leads to awkwardness if he meets a writer he reviewed.
    Its hard to explain why I have always liked fantasy. I think one part is that there is something new in a fantasy novel. It could be what creatures exist, the world, or the presence of magic. Having that world opened up is always so exciting.

  15. Forgot to mention that this contest will run through the weekend. And the winner will be announced on Monday AM’s post. Best SB Frank

  16. I’m a fantasy nerd because sometimes I love reading about mystical creatures, magic and super-powers.

  17. I like fantasy because I haven’t stopped loving mystical creatures, and the slogan: The good always beats the evil. :) I think I stayed child in a way…

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