The Magician’s Land

“This is a feeling that you had, Quentin, she said. Once, a very long time ago. A rare one. This is how you felt when you were eight years old, and you opened one of the Fillory books for the first time, and you felt awe and joy and hope and longing all at once. You felt them very strongly, Quentin. You dreamed of Fillory then, with a power and an innocence that not many people ever experience. That’s where all this began for you. You wanted the world to be better than it was.”

Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land

About a year ago, I sat down with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. The friend who described the first book to me called it “adult Harry Potter in college.” That is literally all it would take for me to read anything—and what would eventually burn me when reading Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind a few weeks later—so the next time I was at the used bookstore I picked up the first two books of the trilogy.

But while I guess that definition was technically true, it was the wrong one. And the actual synopsis would’ve sold me even faster. The Magicians, you see, is a dark and twisted love letter to Narnia. As you know, my entire identity as a writer is a love letter to Narnia. In Quentin Coldwater, I’d found a protagonist. Not the Samwise Gamgee figure, not the Lan Mandragoran figure, not Reepicheep, not Eddie Dean. The Hero. I’d found a hero I could see myself in.

And he’s mostly useless. But, oh man, as Margo (*ahem* Janet) says about him in the absolutely delightfully absurd television adaptation: “Q. I could start by saying something cruel yet totally hilarious about you. Let’s be real. You’re an easy target. But that’s because you’re honest about what you love and underneath it all, that’s inspiring.”

In Q, I found me. I am unabashedly loud about what and who I love. He was nerdy, intelligent—but nowhere near the best—and just wanted to do good. I say that matches me. He wanted to believe in magic so much, and then the emotional rollercoaster he goes through when he discovers it’s real—that the stories are real…well, you’ve read a book before. You know the feeling.

 “It was funny how just when you thought you knew yourself through and through, you stumbled on a new kind of strength, a fresh reserve of power inside you that you never knew you had, and all at once you found yourself burning a little brighter and hotter than you ever had before.”

Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land

So somewhere in the midst of that second wave of depression, my dad drove me to a mountain top. It was sunset, and we straddled the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. I’d begun blogging to try and find what to even say in the midst of the darkness. I shared my thesis, revisited it to show how grace moves forward—and I should probably revisit it again because the person I was when grace moved forward is not who I am today. The world is better. Relationships are better. Healing is a thing that happens.

But back to that mountaintop: “I’ve been reading what you put on the blog. Your mom sent me the link. Garrett, you got to write a book. I want to help you in any way I can so you can write a book.”

I don’t think he realized the time consuming nature of writing a book, or the even more convoluted and time consuming process it takes to get one published. But that’s okay. Most people don’t. Writing isn’t something you do for anything more than the love of the craft. You’re lucky if there’s money. Most of the time there’s not. Sometimes you just need a nudge to finally give it a go.

So just after midnight, I began to write my first novel. It was supposed to be a love letter to Italy, but it quickly abandoned that thread, and quite abruptly, got sad as shit real fast. It was heavy, hopeless, and quite frankly not very good. Only two of my betas read the thing to completion—one complimented my craft skill while not-so-thinly veiling her hatred of the actual story, and one said she just missed me.

September Instagram (7)
The last picture of me before I officially became a novelist.

The first one helped me identify the story I should be telling around these characters. That’s what good friends, good betas, good editors do. The same thing happened around my thesis, so I took it as a sign from God that maybe this is just the beginning learning curve of my writing process.

So, three years later in September of 2016, I finished the re-write. Less than 200 words of the original 72k made it into the new 77k draft. I’ve written two books trying to find the right story. Sadsolution—my joke name of the first novel—will remain hidden forever. I’m currently in the process of trying to find an agent to represent Absolution. See Dad? I’m trying to follow the dream you helped spark in me still. Thank you.

I’ve even dedicated my first book to Dad: “To Dad, it’s not the book you wanted me to write, but I hope you know it means the world you believed in me.” Still perfecting how I want it to come off, but this is the spirit of it right now.

But to be a writer is to keep writing. And, boy oh boy, does depression hate not being the focal point of your writing. It should come as zero surprise that once I finished the contemporary setting novel, my desire was to write a fantasy novel. It’s the main thing I’ve loved since childhood.

Depression wouldn’t let me write it on the laptop. I tried. I got around it by writing by hand. It’s a torturously slow process, writing by hand, but what I was writing is very good. I wasn’t repeating the mistakes of my past. And then, one day, depression won that battle, too. It doesn’t want me telling this story. It’s not a story about it.

September 2016 Instagram (5)
How I celebrated finishing the second draft.

I’m unemployed, single, living at home, driving an old car, struggling with faith, and have no real direction in life. I’m the least qualified person to be writing a blog. But these are the words that are coming, so these are the words I am writing. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll get me somewhere in the end. I try to be honest. I try to be vulnerable. Someone out there must need it, or else I wouldn’t be doing this. I’ve already received some surprise contact from acquaintances with that ever amazing, “Me too.”

And maybe one day I’ll be shelved in the same section as Tolkien, Lewis, Martin, Jordan, Sanderson, Grossman, Brooks, King, Weiss, Hickman, McCaffrey…maybe one day I’ll be telling the stories of my heart and dreams. But until then, I guess I can tell some stories about myself. Some stories about the parts of the world I’ve seen. Some stories about the darkness I’ve faced, wishing I had the light of Earendil in my hand.

If that’s what you want to see, here’s where I’ll be. Trying to be a wizard and seeing where the words take me.

“The world was fucking awful. It was a wretched, desolate place, a desert of meaninglessness, a heartless wasteland, where horrific things happened all the time for no reason and nothing good lasted for long.

He’d been right about the world, but he was wrong about himself. The world was a desert, but he was a magician, and to be a magician was to be a secret spring – a moving oasis. He wasn’t desolate, and he wasn’t empty. He was full of emotion, full of feelings, bursting with them, and when it came down to it, that’s what being a magician was. They weren’t ordinary feelings – they weren’t the tame, domesticated kind. Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things. There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.”

Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land

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