(photo courtesy of the Roving Typist himself, Mr. Christopher Hermelin)
Last night, at Housing Works Bookstore in Manhattan, a convergence occurred. A humorous, heartfelt, intelligent, and all-around awesome convergence. Three authors were brought together to talk about how… well, how “we’re all mad here.” Because they’re all a little crazy and hey, so are we, so it all works out.
A cool slideshow greeted the packed house of attendees while we waited for Lauren Beukes (Broken Monsters), Lev Grossman (The Magician’s Land), and Jeff VanderMeer (Acceptance) to take the stage. Jenn Northington, she of WORD Bookstores, hosted the night and intro’d our panel to the stage, where they began with three readings. Beukes wrestled hilariously with her mic for a moment before hopping off the stage to present a ChatRoulette excerpt from Broken Monsters. She called it the “naughty, bad words” part of the evening and it lived up to its billing – and also delivered a great “pale sausage” running joke that lasted the rest of the night. Then Grossman, who stayed standing but at the table, did a bit from The Magician’s Land and talked about how Fillory was “as close to Narnia as we can get without litigation”. Finally, VanderMeer – who noted, rightly, that the trend was towards his sitting – dropped a weird and hypnotic excerpt from Acceptance.
The ensuing conversation bopped around between the panelists and there was a sense that everybody was having a good time. Some of the topics were a little weird (“if your novel was a food, what food would it be” was a particularly rough audience query) but they also enjoyed the discussion of, well, the good-weird that runs through all three of their collective works. Jeff mentioned that much of Authority (the second book in the magnificent Southern Reach trilogy) is grounded in the real world – like one time, he started a job and found a dead mouse and a dead plant in his desk. The real world is much weirder than we think, folks.
And Lauren talked beautifully about the obligation she felt to Detroit to present it not as the ruin-porn everyone expects but a still-vibrant renewing place, where art and life are even flourishing. I noticed that very much in the novel, the reluctance to just make it what we expected about Detroit, and you can tell that she really cared – and mentioning that she’s seen it happen to her home of South Africa too made it that much stronger of a moment. Lev’s comments also really struck a chord when he talked about how especially The Magicians is about dealing with depression, feeling powerless to do even the simplest things… and how eventually you start to be able to do them and become, in that way, a sort of a magician. He also was rather honest, delightfully, adding notes like: “Ten years I spent with Quentin, I’m amazed I didn’t kill him off.”
They closed out the night (before the Q&A) talking about real world logic and dream logic and all three made the argument that you have to have your real world logic settled before you let the dream logic go nuts. And it’s true – the dream logic is fun, where you create the fantasy world or tear at the seams of the real world, but the real-world logic is crucial or an audience will never believe a word. An important lesson to any aspiring writers.
The night closed up with a signing (one of the longest and best lines I’ve seen for any authors at any events here in the city) and conversation. I was lucky enough to spend some time with them after the show and can happily report that they’re, all three, some of the nicest, smartest, and most interesting people in the biz today. Equally at home talking about politics as they are about bad movies, discussing the whole Amazon kerfluffle as they are swapping stories about attending conventions, they’re the best kind of authors: the sort who are just like you and your friends. It was a damned fine evening.