So I think this is the place to
finally write down the story I've told in person a hundred times--about the
origins of my new novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and the unexpected
inspirations that led me to it.
I got my first Kindle in late
2008. At the time, my writing was almost 100% for the web. I loved the way
ideas could spread and mutate there...but I was increasingly aware of the
tradeoffs, too. My browser had a minimum of twenty tabs open at any given time.
Very few things ever received my full attention --and so, I reasoned, very few
of my words ever got anyone else's.
When I got my first Kindle that
winter, the thing that really struck me was the screen. It didn't look like a
computer. It was matte and dun-colored, like paper; it didn't glow at all, not
one bit; and--most strikingly--there were no scrollbars, no tabs, no
toolbars. In short: no distractions. When I looked at text on this screen, it
seemed to exist in a realm apart from the web, a realm with different rules. It
required and received a different quality of attention.
Suddenly, I wanted to put text
of my own on that screen. So, the Kindle itself was my first inspiration.
One of the wonderful things
about the web is the culture of sharing your struggles. Very often, when
someone has wrestled with some problem or some process--making a soufflé!
reprogramming the router!--they'll write up what they learned and post it,
knowing that others will find it and perhaps save themselves some trouble.
Well, back in 2009, after the
screenwriter John August released a short story in the Kindle Store, he wrote up
a Kindle publishing tutorial to go with it. That tutorial was my second
inspiration, because it convinced me I could, in fact, put some words on that
screen myself. As soon as I finished August's tutorial, I opened a blank text
file and started to build my own e-book.
I spent all my spare moments in
the first few months of 2009 writing a short story and, at the same time,
coding it up for the Kindle. I would rewrite a section, tweak the formatting,
reload it on my Kindle... then make more tweaks and reload it again. And again.
And again. Finally, in June, it was done. There were even a couple of
illustrations. When I published it in the Kindle Store, I wasn't sure what to
expect, but regardless, I was happy. It was satisfying to see the story --called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore--on my own Kindle's little screen.
As it turned out, Penumbra found an audience. It was a story with one foot in the world of books and old
secrets, and the other in the world of technology and new possibilities... and
it turns out there are a lot of readers standing in pretty much the same place
these days. The story struck a nerve. I heard from people who were excited
about the premise. So I kept writing.
Today, a little over three years
later, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a full-length novel from Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, available in both physical and electronic editions. I love
the physical book deeply -- the jacket glows in the dark! -- but I will always
have a special fondness for the e-book, too. Because that's where this story
Now. The truth is, when it comes
to the web's culture of sharing, I haven't held up my end of the bargain; I
haven't posted my own tutorial yet. For now, this post will have to suffice.
And when some new writer goes searching for Kindle tips, maybe she'll find this
-- and at least she'll know it's possible to go from a blank text file to a
full-length novel that glows in the dark.