The Twin Novelists

What about on your mom’s side?

LG: Well, the writing definitely started with their generation. Our dad’s dad sold cars for a living. His wife was a homemaker. On Ma’s side, Victor, her dad, was a career soldier, and her mom did some secretarial work. They were both the first of their family to go to college.

AG: They were both black sheep. And no one knows where our sister came from, either. She was a math prodigy.

LG: She always said she ran further than we did. She looked for any medium that didn’t have any words at all, starting with math and computer science. And then, she wound up in sculpture.

AG: I stuck with video games until I was 30—I purposefully set up to not become a writer. It would be nice to do something different. I worked at becoming a non-writer. I’m a failed non-writer. But I would never have done my first novel if Lev hadn’t looked at the first few chapters.

LG: And I never would have written The Magicians if I hadn’t read those early chapters. I scrapped what I was working on and started over. And what I started writing was The Magicians. So there’s a lot of influence going both ways.

AG: I think of it as a Lennon-McCartney thing. We both make each other better, in some ways. Complementary strengths. That’s the way it ought to be, ideally.

LG: I’m Lennon, though.

AG: What? No. I’m Lennon.

LG: Fine, it’s a Lennon-Lennon thing

AG: I don’t know. You might be George. We need to come back to this.

Ok, I’ll settle this. Which one of them is older?

LG: Lennon is older. McCartney is the kid.

AG: How do you know this?

LG: I’m obsessed with The Beatles and their history. I find their story immensely fascinating. They keep putting out books, and now this three volume definite work is being written. The first volume is fantastic. Actually, Eliot in The Magicians books is based on the young John Lennon.

AG: In a million years I would not have guessed that you cared about Beatles in the slightest. Our mother was in Liverpool in the 50s, actually. She managed never to see The Beatles.

LG: That’s the story of her life.

So did your parents meet in England?

AG: Our parents met at Brandeis. They were a professor-student couple.

LG: It was less scandalous in those days.

Would the two of you ever consider writing together?

LG: I once suggested that we do that, and Austin said no.

AG: It’s still no.

LG: I didn’t ask again. The offer is off the table.

AG: I learn from things you do. There’s a collaborative element there. But let’s draw a line somewhere. What we do do is give each other comments. When I’m at the end of what I know what to do with a project, and it’s really desperate, that’s when I send it on to Lev.

LG: We show each other outlines, sometimes. I saw an outline for Crooked.

AG: Yes, that’s the manuscript I just turned in, for a book about Richard Nixon. It’s first person point of view. It’s like a history of the Cold War; that background underlay some of his decisions. Nixon was doing what he had to do.

LG: What was the great logline about the Cold War? I have to do “Harry Potter for adults” all the time. But I don’t really have a problem with it. I was pretty obsessed with Harry Potter. But of course, it is incredibly different from what I write.

AG: I’m much less a Potter fan. Actually: This is my question for you. You flag yourself as a sort of genre writer, but you’re not. You think about language a lot. You have a literary background. Are you just frightened of being pinned as a snob?

LG: Who’s doing the interview? I self-identify as a fantasy novelist. What defines a fantasy novel? It has certain conventions. And The Magicians, you’re reading it and it’s letting you know what kind of novel it is. And I feel as though what it’s telling you is that it’s a fantasy novel. Here’s a guy, he discovers he has a power that he never knew he had. He finds his way into a secret, magical world. What kind of novel is that? It’s fantasy. As a fantasy novelist, I’ve read a lot outside of fantasy, more than your average fantasy novelists, and a lot of that gets imported across genres. But if I had to put it in a bin, I’d put it in the fantasy bin. Fortunately, it’s less and less necessary to do that.

AG: I don’t know if I think of myself as a genre writer. So far, my books have all been one-off experiments. I have a superhero novel, a novel about videogames, a novel about Nixon, kind of H.P. Lovecraft. There’s no question that there’s a certain amount of genre in my books. I’m not sure what I’m doing as I thread between them. But I love genre. When I wrote my first book, I set out by saying, I love superheroes, but I’m even more fascinated with them than the experience I get from the comics. I want a literary memory. I want that sensory experience. I want more than the comics are giving me. It lent itself to literary prose, and that’s how I handled it

Presented by

Maria Konnikova

Maria Konnikova is the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and the forthcoming book The Confidence Game. She is a contributing writer for The New Yorker, online.

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