The most requested books so far this month:
Interview with author Robin SloanRobin Sloan is an author and media inventor who has worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter. His first novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October 2012. Follow Robin on Twitter at @robinsloan.
The title of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore came from a tweet, right? Tell us where you got the idea, and how the book developed from the original short story into a full-length novel.
That's right: the germ of the idea was a tweet from my friend Rachel, way back in 2008, which read, "just misread '24hr bookdrop' as '24hr bookshop'. the disappointment is beyond words." I read it walking down the street in San Francisco, and it made me smile and wonder: what would a 24-hour bookstore be like, anyway? A few months later, when I sat down to start a new story, the question was still there, so I started to sketch it out. When it was finished, I published that story online, both in Amazon's Kindle Store and on my website, and it just took off like a rocket—somehow finding an audience much bigger and more vocal than any of my other stories before or since. So, that was a sign that maybe there was something there: some deeper potential, some larger story.
You describe yourself as a media inventor: what do you mean by the term, and if you could invent any media type at all (cost and other logistics being no object), what would it look/feel like?
It's pretty simple: a media inventor is somebody who's interested in both the contentâ€”the words, the pictures, the ideasâ€”and the container. A good example is my essay Fish, which began as a blog post but quickly grew into something else: a sort of simple tap-by-tap presentation that plays out on an iPhone screen. The format is a crucial part of the experience; the same words, laid out flat as a blog post, wouldn't have the same impact. It's a small thing, but indicative of what I'm talking about. These days, with all these amazing screens at our disposal, there's an opportunity to be creative about not only the words themselves but also the way they're presented.
What was your research process like as you wrote this book? Were there sources on the early years of printing that you found particularly useful?
I love Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance, a historian's look at the publishing business circa 1400-1600. Basically the takeaway is this: it was just as competitive and chaotic as the internet industry is today. Probably more so.
I enjoyed the New York Times story about your recent visit to the Grolier Club in New York. What was the most interesting (or surprising) thing you saw there?
I got a chance to see some books printed by Aldus Manutius up close. He was basically the first great printer; his company produced the first printed editions of the classics—Aristotle, Homer, Ovid, all those guys. I'd read a lot about Manutius (he plays a role in Penumbra) but had never seen any of his books in the flesh. They were amazing to behold: these 500-year-old objects, still perfectly legible, still quite beautiful.
That article also notes that you originally wanted to have the book printed in a custom typeface. Had this been possible, what would the typeface have looked like?
Well, I don't want to give too much away, but there's a fictional typeface that plays a role in Penumbra's plot, and it would have been fun—and sort of recursive, I suppose—to print the book in some simulation of that very typeface. As it happens, the real typeface we used has similar roots. It all goes back to Manutius!
Read the rest of our interview with Robin Sloan.
Interview with author Christine SneedChristine Sneed teaches creative writing for Northwestern University's graduate writing program and for Pacific University's MFA program. Her stories have been published in many literary journals, and her book of short stories, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, was awarded a 2010 Los Angeles Times book prize. Christine's first novel, Little Known Facts, will be published in early February by Bloomsbury.
For those who haven't yet had a chance to read it, give us the nutshell version of Little Known Facts, if you would.
This is a character-driven novel about a family in Hollywood; the person at the book's center is a successful film actor whose two adult children are struggling to step out from the large shadow he casts over their lives.
Do you recall what first gave you the idea to write a novel about Hollywood fame and its effects on both the famous person and those around him?
I remember wondering one day what it would be like to have a famous film actor as your father, especially if you are a young man—what sort of competition and envy would you feel? This is where the idea for the book began, but I'm not sure what triggered it.
You've written that Little Known Facts asks of its characters 'If you could have anything in the world, what would you choose?' How would you answer that question yourself?
Well, it will sound a little suspect, but it's nonetheless true: I would help friends and family pay debts, send their children to college, take fancy vacations in the sun. I'd want to be able to take fancy, sunny vacations too and spend more time in France, the country where I studied in college; it remains very close to my heart. I'd also like to see about four movies a week.
The first chapter of the novel was originally published as a standalone short story, I understand? Can you tell us a bit about the process of expanding that original story into a full book?
I wrote "Relations," the first chapter, in the fall of 2010, and in mid-March 2011, I realized that I was still very curious about Will, his father, his sister Anna, etc. and started to sketch out subsequent chapters. They seemed real to me, despite the rarefied plane on which they lived.
Tell us a bit about your writing process: how and when do you do much of your writing? Any particular hints or tips on writing that you'd like to share?
I usually write in the afternoons when I'm not teaching; I do sometimes write at night, but not as often. The writing advice I often give is that you can get a lot done in the interstices—even if you only have 30-45 minutes on a given day, sit down and at least make some notes. A book is written little by little, not in one marathon session.
Read the rest of our interview with Christine Sneed.