Fantasy NYC: Lev Grossman signing at Borders at Columbus Circle

From the start, Lev Grossman, the author of The Magicians was disarmingly awkward.

Well, not from the start. He eased into it, if such a thing is even possible. But still, it was disarming. I’d spent the previous night absorbing the first 100 pages of Grossman’s first fantasy novel and feeling dwarfed by it’s prose. It was real, familiar, and bold, and it almost immediately made me think that I should’ve written something as sharp of wit. A look at his website didn’t improve matters;  it was a clean, grey slab of modern design, solidly professional. So I expected someone stark. Someone completely calculated.
And that’s not at all what I got. Clean cut and fashionable in his blazer / Justice League T-shirt combo, Grossman walked onto the stage and gave us a quick outline of the night that included a 30 second awkward pause after his reading.

It made me feel better. A lot better. This was my first venture in my initiative to hear as many fantasy authors speak as I could, and I hadn’t been excited to find a group of peers who weren’t peers at all. Instead I found someone I could talk to.

Even though, again, I was completely awkward when the chance arose.
“Awesome shirt. Where’d you get it?”

“Online.” I offered no more than that. Aside from an intimidated smile. This is the problem with meeting celebrities I actually admire; I’m sure I’d be comfortable talking to Tori Spelling for hours. Well… not really. But you understand. It was depressing.

But I still got a lot out of the night. If unintentionally, Lev Grossman’s talk about his struggles with his career after college, a major theme in The Magicians, was incredibly inspiring. I told him as much in one of the fleeting moments of lucidity I had when I was directly in front of him. It’s harder than people think, being a writer. Especially an aspiring one. You spend so much time on your own, working on a project that you know might fail, despite how incredibly confident you are about it. You miss events, cancel hanging out with friends, forfeit job opportunities. You watch those friends advance their careers just by going to work. And all the while, you convince yourself that it’s probably easier for other writers. Perhaps others graduated from Columbia, landed a job in publishing, and pumped out their first novels at the same time.

But then you find out that maybe they didn’t. It took Lev Grossman four years to get The Magicians published. And this was after trying to figure out what to do with a degree in Literature for a long time. He’s 35 now. I’m 28. Suddenly, getting published wasn’t something I was struggling to achieve. It became something I’m doing.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians marries fantasy and reality in a way that shows us the absurd beauty and horror of both. If you haven’t read The Magicians, definitely do so. It will not disappoint, especially after the story repeatedly veers away from being what you expect.

2 thoughts on “Fantasy NYC: Lev Grossman signing at Borders at Columbus Circle

  1. very awesome post, man.

    I felt exactly the same about seeing him: I was expecting, from the expert prose of his work, to meet this charming, witty, sharp looking man, and I saw a mirror of myself.

    In a sense, I felt like he was one of us because he didn’t seem like some typical bestselling author, someone beyond the normal realm of us “grunt level retail workers”, as I like to call a lot of us.

    Instead, he was this awkward, funny guy (who for some reason couldn’t get people to laugh, possibly because we were still in awe of our separate ideas of who he’d be) who had struggled with finding his niche, and, more than a decade later, had finally released this bestselling novel that even he couldn’t believe was doing so well.

    And, despite all of that, as soon as I went up to him I was gushing like a school girl. Immediately I started talking about how much I loved the book, and he looked at me like I was a groupie waiting for him to sign my breasts. It didn’t help when I told him I worked there and that I was one of the first people to pick up his book on a whim, buy it, love it, and then put it as my staff pick for 3 months.

    At that moment, I’ll hope he looked less taken aback by my level of fanaticism and more impressed by the level of his own work. He sincerely looked at me with a “Really?” kind of look, as if he’d never believe his work would be good enough for a grown man to swoon over. He thanked me, awed at the moment, and perhaps awkward at the exchange between us, and then I went along, wishing secretly I could stand there even longer and ask him about writing, about the business, about his ideas, about the little universe he created, about the magic system he created, and overall the actual magic he created within all of us, his readers.

    Dork? Yes, I’ll admit it.

    But, I’m glad to say that his book both entertained me, and equally challenged me to become a better writer and craft a better tale. So to anyone else who may read this, you need to read that book. And please ignore my fanatical encouragement and the foam dripping from my mouth, the doctor says my new prescription will take care of it all just fine.

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