Ten years ago, Lev Grossman began a quest to find his place in the world.
The New York Times best-selling novelist and Time magazine senior writer and book critic became a father and within months embarked on the journey that brought his fantasy fiction trilogy, "The Magicians" (2009), "The "Magician King" (2011) and "The Magician's Land" (2014), to the top of best-sellers' lists and earned him favorable comparisons to industry icons like J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Grossman will tell his nonfiction backstory and read and sign the new release and final book of his fictional series during a visit to Danville's Rakestraw Books (7 p.m. Aug. 14) and Kepler's Books in Menlo Park (7:30 p.m. Aug. 15).
The trilogy's ground floor is a simple fantasy construct about 17-year-old Quentin Coldwater, who discovers and hones his mysterious powers at Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic in the utopian land of Fillory. If the architecture is easily understood, the view from the books' balcony reveals savage, unexpected vistas. Unlike the Harry Potter series, Grossman's protagonist travels a coming-of-age-plus trajectory, as readers follow him deep into the often-dark, treacherous path of adulthood.
" 'The Magicians' was a standalone book," Grossman says in a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. "After it was published, I started to think of a sequel."
Grossman, with two previous nonfantasy novels under his belt, says writing in the fantasy genre requires revealing personal, primal longings and "tearing yourself open" to expose raw emotion. Unabashedly
embracing reviewers' "Harry Potter for adults" definition, he says the books are about the experiences he had in his 20s: a lost, washed-out, homeless time.
"I couldn't find my place or the work I was meant to do," he says.
Perhaps the struggle stemmed from the weight of his family. It's a hefty package: his father, Dave Grossman, a renowned poet who passed away in April, mother and novelist, Judith; sister, sculptor Bathsheba Grossman; and Austin, video game creator, fantasy novelist and Grossman's identical twin brother.
"I found it challenging being a twin. I had a lot of trouble figuring out who I was. I was constantly being mistaken for somebody else," he recalls.
His inner disorientation matched other people not recognizing who he was and the accumulative energy, a gritty swirl of self-alienation within a boy/man searching for peace, is at the center of the Magician series. Grossman says the final book "put up a fight" and one-third of the way through he had to ditch his work and start over.
Along the way to "birthing" his trilogy, Grossman and his wife became the parents of three children, adding a second daughter, now age 4, and a now-1-year-old son to their family.
"Having kids changed my writing completely," he says. "Having all these emotions raging around inside of me and letting them out was great. You have to figure out who you are, or you'll pass (those emotions) on to your child."
Instead, it was through Quentin that Grossman figured out how to survive in what he calls "a splintered, chaotic world, where we're exposed to fragments of information." He says he's barraged by technology he doesn't understand well and the origins of which he doesn't know -- all he knows is that it demands his attention and money.
"I long for a world that is more comprehensible," he says, leaving a long pause to think, then saying, "Stories are a way of organizing experience and giving it meaning. We need that now, more than ever."
Having found "a way home" -- having discovered his place in the world -- Grossman says there'll be no fourth Magician book.
"I told the story I had to tell. Quentin has become who he was meant to be. I'm done," he says.
But it's not quite over, fans of the series will be glad to know. The Syfy channel has recently greenlit a pilot based on the trilogy. Grossman is a creative consultant and a post on his blog says producers, directors and writers have "doubled-down" and soon, "expensive computers are going to make it look like magic is happening."
Lev Grossman will tell his nonfiction backstory and read and sign "The Magician's Land," the new release and final book of his fantasy fiction series.