Writer Lev Grossman finished his first Narnia novel at 8 years old and didn’t look back. The TIME Magazine technology and books writer is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Magicians and The Magician King, a two-part fantasy series popular with both teens and adults that focuses on the adventures of high school senior Quentin Coldwater in the magical land of Fillory. This is Grossman’s YALLfest debut and his first visit to Charleston.
City Paper: What is your earliest writing-related memory?
Lev Grossman: Probably a short story I wrote in fourth grade. The teacher pointed out that I shouldn’t begin every sentence with “suddenly.”
CP: At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as a career?
LG: I think I consciously admitted it to myself when I was in college. But if I’m being honest, I’ve known since high school.
CP: How did you go from writing about technology and books to writing your own books?
LG: Oh, I always wrote my own books. Always. It worked out that my journalism got noticed first, but the order was actually the other way round.
CP: Do you consider yourself a young adult author? Why or why not?
LG: My books tend to get read by young adults and adults both. I wouldn’t necessarily identify myself as a YA author. But I wouldn’t deny it either.
CP: What do you hope teens will get from reading your books? What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
LG: I just want people to find out that they’re not the only ones who feel the way they feel. I want people to know they’re not alone.
CP: What five books have influenced you the most as an author?
LG: C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; Donna Tartt, The Secret History; Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.
CP: What do you love most about writing fantasy? What do you find most challenging about it?
LG: I love that when people are driven past the breaking point, when their emotions are beyond intense, you don’t have to just describe it, you can show it too. Because that’s when magic happens. And then the hard part is making that feel as real as when a character sits down at a table and drinks a glass of water.
CP: What were you like in high school?
LG: I was a very frightened person in high school. At one point one of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway thinks to himself, “The world has raised its whip; where will it descend?” That was me: always cringing. I wish I hadn’t worried so much.
CP: Any advice for aspiring young writers?
LG: Read everything you can. Then write the book you want to read but can never find.