Lev Grossman is one of my favorite writers. I don’t remember exactly where I’d read it (it may have been on his blog?), but Grossman once recommended a way of writing long-form fiction that has really stuck with me: Create two new Word documents. In the first document, list all of the mechanical events that you want/need to happen in your story. For example: Alice meets Bob, Alice wins the World Cup, Bob’s dog dies, etc. And then in the second Word document, list all of the feelings that you wish for your reader to experience when reading your story. For example, a feeling may be “grief and loss” or “victory and triumph.” After you have finished both Word documents, now see how many events you can pair from Document A with feelings from Document B. Eg. “Alice wins the World Cup” could be paired with “victory and triumph” and “Bob’s dog dies” could be paired with “grief and loss.” Also, multiple feelings can be associated with the same event. It’s a fun and informative exercise which also then serves as a good kinda roadmap for your long-fiction writing!
Grossman also occupies a special place in my brain because he is one of the few authors I have actually ever met in person. I have two signed books! The first was when I met him in 2011 at the Barnes & Noble on 86th and Broadway when he was promoting The Magician King (at that signing, a fan had asked, “Mr. Grossman– did you ever think about titling TMK another name? To which LG had replied: “Well, I actually felt like calling it, The Magician Queen. But that was only after seeing an advert for TMK in the Times.”) The second was at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2015 when he once did an event. I still vividly remember these two encounters. When I’d met him at B&N, I’d asked what advice he had for an aspiring writer. And his response was: “Read as much as you humanly can. Always be reading.” and “Never, never, ever give up.” He mentioned that it took him 17 years of writing other stuff before he finally wrote The Magicians at the age of 40. (And at the BHS, he signed my tattered copy of Warp!)
Oh! One more memory: No signed book at this one, but I also once saw the leverus in Portland at Leakycon in 2013. I don’t remember the exact details, but for some reason, he (and several other authors) were in heated competition and his task was to extract as many red-colored balls from a source basket full of yellow-colored balls to put into a target basket in 60 seconds. Haha, until the end of my days, I will always remember the MC (Maureen Johnson, I think?) in the background commentating, “And now here’s Mr. Grossman– demonstrating the Harvard vs Yale technique for colored-ball extraction.” I’m probably misremembering at least part of that but in the final ten seconds, Grossman just took the source basket and dumped the entirety of its contents into the target basket. Clever! All that Ivy League education turned out useful after all!
My final thought on LG appreciation –aside from just the way I love how he writes and speaks (an unholy concoction of “highbrow meets lowbrow” is really the only way I know how to describe it)– is how open he’s been in print and online with his struggles against depression, especially after his divorce from his first marriage. I just saw him at Muskogee MiniCon this afternoon (go, Thunder! ⚡✊) where he was virtua-touring The Silver Arrow and the man looked, more than anything else, content. He’s married again now with two smaller children in his new marriage and happily living in Brooklyn. Good for you, Mr. Grossman, and truly, thank you. I’m so happy to see you make it to the other side.
“I don’t believe in magic, [but] books are very, very close. They’re the closest thing we have.”Lev Grossman (August 5, 2014)