Ask the Author: Robin Sloan

“Super excited to answer any questions you have about MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE, other work, or just books & writing in general.” Robin Sloan

Answered Questions (20)

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Robin Sloan You never know! In all seriousness: I have no plans for further Scheme stories at this time, BUT, I am still enchanted with her world -- that strange upside-down San Francisco. I'll almost certainly return to it at some point.
Robin Sloan Haha, glad to hear you remember the Escape Pod episode! That was a terrific moment for 'Penumbra'; when I agreed -- gratefully -- to have the short story adapted for that podcast, I had **no idea** how large & enthusiastic the audience was. I still get emails about that episode!
Robin Sloan Ahh, great question! I think there is in fact a lot of demand for the consultancy that Clay describes at the end of the book. I imagine them connecting with startups working in the writing/reading space; they'd do a big typography review project for the company Medium here in San Francisco, for example. I also think they'd have some good ideas for established publishers. Maybe the novel's publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, would hire them to take a look at their e-book production workflow! That would be pretty meta ;-)
Robin Sloan Haha, it's not exactly that; but I do think that the process of losing a job -- whether by chance or by choice -- is a time when adventures tend to happen. I guess it's like any big life change; it shoves you into that liminal zone for a while, and who knows what (or who) you'll find there. As for Moffat: no, I didn't really know about Stephen Moffat at the time I was writing the book. And, I'm somewhat afraid to confess: I still haven't seen any Dr. Who, old or new!
Robin Sloan Ahem, that's CLARK Moffat! :-) No, I think they're probably better off imaginary. But as real-life (real-shelf?) substitutes, I highly recommend 'The Dragonlance Chronicles' by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.
Robin Sloan Madeleine: Ah, I hadn't seen that you'd posted it! That's fabulous. I'm going to track down the link & share it right now. Very happy that this really wonderful piece of work is public.
Robin Sloan Hey Kam: That is a great question! For me, it's definitely the case that setting precedes story… so, it's not that I think, "Hmm, I need a place to put this battle with cyber-alligators, where should that be…" but rather that I visit a weird town in Florida, see some cyber-alligators, and make a note: "Include cyber-alligators in future story." So yes, you've got it exactly right: New York wouldn't be a part of this story if I hadn't wandered the streets of Manhattan myself, sort of marveling at the density and chaos of the place.
Robin Sloan I went back in time and filled in some backstory with the short prequel 'Ajax Penumbra 1969.' As of this moment, I have no plans to expand the Penumbra-verse… but, you never know! When I wrote the original 'Penumbra' short story, I never imagined it would be a full-length novel. Anything can happen.
Robin Sloan Haha, always a good question! Well, past performance is not a predictor of future results, BUT, I have to say that it seems like many book clubs have enjoyed the conversations that 'Penumbra' prompts, even (or perhaps especially) if everyone didn't love the book. So there's that. Additionally: assuming we can find a day and time that works, I'm always game to join book clubs via videochat for 10-15 minutes to say hello and answer questions. If you do settle on 'Penumbra,' drop me a line:
Robin Sloan That's a good question! Now you've got me imagining Clay in his 40s, still working the night shift, still working his way through the shelves… Mr. Penumbra has passed on, of course, and maybe he's left Clay in charge… it's a sadder story, isn't it? A quiet tale of succession, wreathed in fog.
Robin Sloan Penumbra's bookstore doesn't have a direct inspiration, but it definitely reflects elements of two of my Bay Area favorites: City Lights Bookstore, in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, and Green Apple, out in the Richmond. Both truly wonderful places.

I think the key to using technology effectively is to have some real affection for it. It can't just be scary; it can't just be "other." It's part of our lives now, and sometimes it's destructive, sure, but it's also hugely generative and nourishing—I mean, look, we're using technology to have this conversation! So I think it's important to go beyond good and bad, beyond killer robots and mind-control serums, into the real lived experience of technology.
Robin Sloan I'm very glad to know you enjoyed it! There are no other adventures in the works at this time, but AJAX PENUMBRA 1969 itself emerged quite by surprise, so truly, you never know.
Robin Sloan This is always a good question. I really only made progress as a writer when I started publishing short stories—some of them very short indeed, just a couple thousand words. (And keep in mind these were self-published: on my website, in Amazon's Kindle Store.)

I think the feeling of *finishing* something is very healthy and productive. It's also addictive. It's very very difficult to finish an entire novel when you're an inexperienced writer. (It's difficult even when you're an experienced writer.) A 2,000-word story is a lot more tractable. And if you can write a 2,000-word story, you can certainly write a 4,000-word story… and if you can write a 4,000-word story, you can write 6,000… and you just keep going, until suddenly you're writing novels.
Robin Sloan Unfortunately, this isn't my decision—it's entirely up to my publishers. I prefer "naked" e-books myself, and I find it heartening that Tor (corporate sibling to my American publisher) seems to have been successful with its experiments in DRM-free publishing. I'd love the see the whole industry move away from DRM.

Rest assured that whenever I publish something myself—i.e. like ANNABEL SCHEME—it will be DRM-free, easy to move around and share.
Robin Sloan Ha, that's a good problem to have! I have no plans to expand Penumbra's universe at this time, but keep in mind that when I wrote the short story, I had no plans to make it a novel, and when I wrote the novel, I had no plans to write the prequel. So, anything can happen!
Robin Sloan I do like short stories! Here are a few favorites, off the top of my head:

* All of Jorge Luis Borges

* Shaenon K. Garrity's "Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel" =>

* Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain" =>
Robin Sloan Yes, I'm working on another novel right now! There are more digital experiments in the works, too, but first: a book.
Robin Sloan You would see two relatively small bookcases both packed to overflowing. After letting my library get out of control -- you really feel it when you move, and two-thirds of your boxes are books, and they're the heaviest boxes, too -- I've settled on a system that's roughly "one in, one out." So, the books will pile up and spill out from the shelves, and then I know it's time to do a purge. I like the idea of books in motion; I think a book is happiest when it's being passed from one person to another.
Robin Sloan You know, I think the secret is actually in not adapting *too* much -- not chasing the latest trends, the freshest apocalypse -- but rather doubling down on what makes a physical space stocked with books special. There is an element of zigging where everyone else is zagging that I see in many of my personal favorite stores here in the Bay Area -- City Lights Books, Green Apple, Copperfields, etc. -- all of which continue to be quite successful.
Robin Sloan Well, this isn't quite what you're asking, but I always smile when I look at my copy of LIGHT by M. John Harrison because it has this hugely enthusiastic blurb from Neil Gaiman on the cover that *absolutely sold me on the book*. I'd never heard of Harrison, never heard of LIGHT, but Gaiman's praise was so solid that I thought, "Okay, I need to give this a shot." And it's since become one of my favorite books of all time, and Harrison one of my favorite authors. I always think about this when I hear people talking about blurbs, maybe questioning their effectiveness; they really *do* sell books sometimes, and sometimes they form a bridge to an important reading experience indeed.

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