The Twin Novelists

AG: I wrote Eisenhower as a sort of master magician, in the Nixon book. Nixon was a VP under Eisenhower, so Eisenhower was like a magician mentor to Nixon. But then in 1957, Eisenhower had a stroke, so in the novel I have parts of his memory collapse. That was my parallel to Dad. And in my first book, Baron Ether is definitely a stand-in for Pa.

What a perfect ending to your trilogy, Lev.

LG: I took an extra year to write it, to make sure I was satisfied with it.

AG: It was good. I haven’t read the final draft.

LG: I did fiddle with the ending. You may have read a version where Plum becomes a goddess in the end. There’s a question at the end: Who is going to become the new god of Fillory? And initially I thought, well, Plum’s not doing anything and she’s of the royal blood of the Chatwins. She could take over. But it didn’t seem quite right. It seemed too pat. So I went the other way.

What happens to Stoppard?

LG: You’re right to ask. He’s a dropped thread. I think he does well. Not bad things. He was going to sort himself out. I wanted to work him back in, but it didn’t seem plausible.

I love that the Cozy Horse appears for the first time at the end.

LG: I knew when I started writing that that’s where it was going. I always knew it had to end there.

I have to ask, what’s next for the two of you?

AG: I’m writing a YA novel next. I’m going back to superheroes. I’ve learned the value of building franchise from Lev, I have to say.

LG: I can’t be too specific. I haven’t talked to my agent about it yet. But I will say that I thought John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was really powerful, and I thought, wow, I had no idea you could do that in a YA novel. I also have a bunch of adult projects that I can’t seem to choose between. I need five fucking minutes to sit down uninterrupted. I need to go back to Maine. This time, it’s going to work. I need some uninterrupted time to figure it out.

That’s interesting—that you’ve come back to that. Did you feel it was different to write in the pre-smartphone age? When you were starting out, we didn’t even have cellphones.

LG: I think if our generation is remembered for anything, it’s for being the last generation to remember what it feels like to be disconnected. I also think there’s been a real surge of interest in fantasy in the last 10 years. Harry Potter became huge, then Lord of the Rings, then Twilight, Percy Jackson, Game of Thrones. For the first time in a long time, the reigning pop-culture franchises are fantasy. And I think that’s in part a reaction how totally transformed the world has been in the last couple of decades. Lewis and Tolkien, I think they were also responding to how totally changed their worlds were. They lived through the First World War, mechanized warfare, the arrival of the car, the electrification of cities. The world they lived in was nothing like the world they grew up in. And I feel to some extent that maybe we’re responding to something similar. We turn to fantasy to try to ask questions. Like, wait, what exactly is happening here? What exactly have we lost? And I feel as though people are thinking about the same questions.

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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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