Idyll Chatter, Part 1

IDYLL_Cover4c_1200Releasing this week, a new book! Yeee!

IDYLL is the end result of a long strange trip that started in February of 2006. Since then, I’ve married, had two kids, began and released another novel, took a writing hiatus, and went through a short-story phase.

Before all that, IDYLL started with an image in my head of two horseman in a big woolly field surrounded by mountains. I knew that I was having was a sci-fi daydream, but the riders were dressed like Stone Age hunters, replete with slings and polished spears. How did they get to this desolate place? Why were they carrying prehistoric weaponry? Why were they riding alone?

With these questions in mind I formed the backbone of a big story. These future riders were dressed like prehistoric hunters because they believed that cavemen live purer, more ‘human’ lives than spacemen. (Ah, that old cavemen versus astronauts debate lives on!) They were alone because their world had been ravaged by a plague. And yes, in early drafts, that plague was of the zombie variety. They were riding to a towering spaceship, which was stuck like a thumb emerging from the ancient landscape. A retro-ancient quest to find a technological cure for an apocalyptic disease. That was the start of the premise anyway.

Over ten years, lot of the important details changed. Very early on I saw the movie I Capture the Castle. Then I read the book by Dodie Smith. That’s when I knew that my two lonesome brothers were going to meet two isolated sisters. An extra complication. To make my book more relatable, or possibly more marketable, I decided to shift from a Stone Age setting to a Western. (After all, if you lived in the future, and you turn back the clock to live in any time period, would you choose to live in an era before plumbing, before beer, before some form of dentistry?)

Making the book possibly less marketable (but hopefully less cliched) I got rid of the zombie idea.

This manuscript has been through seven significant overhauls. Most of those ,thankfully, were not start-to-finish rewrites. Usually a quarter or halfway through my new status quo I would realize that it was seriously flawed in some way, and would have to start over. The final manuscript of IDYLL was titled ‘7th Round5f.’ But hey, who’s counting?!

But finally it’s ready (I hope). A nearly-ten-year process coming to a close, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And there’s a whole new vista beyond. IDYLL is the first in a trilogy, after all.

The journey ends. The journey continues…



I Just Read: The Magician’s Land

The Magician's LandWait. Is that “The Magician Lands” or “The Magician’s Lands?” Ah, the perils of adding an S (possessive or pluralizing) to a word in of your title. You risk turning your book into the literary equivalent of Kroger/Kroger’s or Longhorn/Longhorns. Mothers Day/Mother’s Day. Daylight Saving/Savings. I could go on and on. But seriously, the title of Lev Grossman’s third Magicians novel makes good sense about halfway through the story. Yes, there is literally a ‘Magician’s Land.’ And it’s not the land you’d think it is.

Grossman’s main character, Quentin Coldwater, has obviously evolved as a character (and matured into a man) as the series has progressed. He’s no longer a binge-drinking dill-hole, and he’s not quite as self-centered and self-delusional as he once was. Quentin’s character arc perfectly reflects the author’s focus on two themes: The idea of a boy awkwardly maturing to manhood, and the conflict of fantasy vs. reality.

Throughout the Magicians trilogy, Quentin has phased through these dichotomies like a trauma victim passing through the stages of grief. Quentin’s stages of development have gone something like this:
1) Wishful thinking
2) Wish fulfillment
3) Disillusionment with said wishes
4) A renewed appreciation in the ‘mundane’
5) Nostalgia for his days of childish wishing

I can’t remember reading a series of genre books that are so dedicated to their themes—to fleshing them out, to adding nuance to the ideas and to progressing them. Just for fun, pretend that you’re back in your high school Literature class and see how many references you find to these two variations of Grossman’s overarching theme:
– Separation from father figures (and deity figures)
– The transforming/transporting power of literature (both the reading and the writing of it)

Another aspect of Grossman’s writing that really stands out is his ability to write a truly memorable villain. Grossman introduces his worst monsters with scenes that make you feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare, moving in slow-motion. These scenes are like David Lynch creepy, and I can’t think of any horror writer that can match them.

Unfortunately, the third book’s creepiest character is not the Big Bad. And the conflict at the heart of the book’s fantasy-world storyline is as weak as day-old Coor’s Light. Even during the strum-und-drang finale, the main characters don’t have much to do. But along the way there are plenty of great scenes and character moments. Grossman does open the door (literally) to more adventures in the future, so this is one grown man who’s childishly wishing that this trilogy has a fourth installment.

In the meantime, at least we have a potential TV series to look forward to.