Author Q&A: Robin Sloan
I’ve had so much fun with my featured author week! It’s been so great to give you a little view into Robin Sloan and his book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Be sure to check out Sloan’s book, as well as his story. In addition, he’s got a companion e-book, titled Ajax Penumbra 1969. I haven’t read that yet, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that one too.
To wrap up the Mr. Penumbra package, I’m excited to offer a Q&A with Robin himself. Many thanks to him for his willingness to answer these questions (and to his publicist for setting this all up).
Q: You write that you studied economics and that many of your jobs dealt with “figuring out the future of media.” How did you move from economics to working with media and then to writing fiction?
A: For me, the internet was the bridge. All throughout college, I was tinkering with web pages; by the time graduation rolled around, I wanted to do internet journalism. The internet led to blogging, and then writing longer things, and that led me back to fiction, which was an interest I’d long neglected. There were a lot of other things along the way, too. I worked at a TV network, and at Twitter here in San Francisco. My path definitely wasn’t a straight line.
Q: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” began as a short story. What made you want to turn it into a novel? How was the process for writing the novel different than writing the short story?
A: Of all the short stories I’ve yet published on the internet, Penumbra generated the strongest response by far. It was just on a whole different level. I think of it now almost as a prototype; I put it out there, and it succeeded in a way that the others didn’t, so it was clear that there was more to explore some way to develop the prototype into a complete product.
Q: I get the feeling you have a passion for things that stand the test of time, not only from the story (which I won’t give away), but also from your bio. What do you think influenced this?
A: There’s an old Buddhist line that goes: “Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?” I think it’s a pretty compelling question, and I think the answer–I mean, there are plenty of good answers, but the answer for me–is “Try to make things that last.” Durability is about honoring the past all the things, mostly art and culture, created centuries ago or more, that we still enjoy today and also about trying (hoping) to send something forward into the future of our own.
Q: Your short story is so whimsical, and I loved the description of the bookstore. Was there anything that inspired you to create the bookstore in this way?
A: The original inspiration actually came from a tweet and not even my own! Years ago, my friend Rachel tweeted:
Just misread ’24hr bookdrop’ as ’24hr bookshop’. The disappointment is beyond words.
It made me laugh, and I wrote it down. Later, when I was starting a new short story, it was waiting there in my notes, and it seemed obvious to me that something interesting must happen in a 24-hour bookstore …
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Is there a resource you found helpful in writing this book?
A: My advice is pretty simple: start small and finish things. Before I wrote a novel, I wrote a novella; before that, I wrote short stories; before that, I wrote blog posts. I think it’s hugely helpful to take that step-by-step approach, winning small victories along the way.
Q: What is your favorite book (or favorite few books). What are you reading right now?
A: I can’t pick a single favorite, but I will say that I love science fiction, and right now I’m reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. It’s fantastic; a really stunning feat of imagination. It relates to your question about durability, too: I think if you spent any time imagining the future, the year 2312 and beyond, you can’t help but get interested in making something that might have a chance–a slim one, but still, a chance–to last that long.
That’s it for featured author week this month! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’m working hard at getting an author lined up for November, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to do this once again.
Again, be sure to check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, as well as the companion e-book, Ajax Penumbra 1969.