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 levgrossman.com, 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, so my 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!