Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up near Boston, in the suburbs, but I live in Brooklyn. I have a day job -- I’m the book critic at Time magazine. I’m 40. I have a daughter Lily, who’s 5.
Talk a little about your book.
The Magicians came out of my love for classic young adult fantasy, like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books. But as a grownup reader, I somtimes feel like I want to know more about those stories. I want to know what life is really like in Narnia and what it would really like to go to a school for magic. I want to put in all the stuff that Rowling and Lewis had to leave out -- boredom, sadness, sex, alcohol, a sense of purposelessness -- all the things real people in the real world have to struggle with -- and then see how those stories work.
So I took a realistic kid, Quentin, who goes from a high school in Brooklyn to a college for magic called Brakebills, in upstate New York. Unlike Harry Potter, Quentin is a big fantasy reader -- he’s obsessed with a series of fantasy novels about a land called Fillory. But Quentin finds out that doing magic is nothing like what reading books led him to expect.
What sort of research was necessary to write The Magicians?
Not much, fortunately. I did spend a certain amount of time learning about stage magic, because that’s a hobby of Quentin’s. And I had to plot out some Antarctic geography, for a sequence that takes place near the South Pole.
Why did you become a writer?
I suppose it’s because I felt like there was something I wanted to say and I couldn’t find any other way to say it. Also, it’s the only thing I turned out to be any good at.
How did becoming a writer change your life?
At first, it made it a lot worse. For the first 10 years out of college, while everybody I knew was getting real jobs and buying houses and doing things they could write in to the alumni magazine about, I was temping and working odd jobs and living in studio apartments. But there’s no substitute for doing something you really love. And eventually things started to turn around. (Knocks on wood.)
Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?
That’s a tough one. I read a lot and as a result, I have a lot of influences. But if I had to pick one? T.H. White, The Once and Future King.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
I don’t know if this will make sense to you, but there’s something I heard from my twin brother, who’s also a writer. In college, he took a class with J.M. Coetzee, the Nobel-winning South African novelist. The thing about writing, he told my brother (I’m paraphrasing), is that you only have to play to your strengths. Don’t try to do the stuff you’re bad at. I think about that all the time. When I’m working too hard at a scene, when I’m straining and I’m getting lost, I stop and think, do I really have to do this part? And a lot of the time, it turns out I can give myself a break and leave it out.
What’s next for you?
With any luck, a sequel to "The Magicians!" I hope.
Thanks so much for being here today, Lev. Readers, you can see my review of the book below.