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I'm writing a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!
I'm writing a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!
570 backers pledged $13,942 to help bring this project to life.

Going full-time with a sack full of gold coins

As I'm writing this, I have:
295 backers. 507 copies of the book spoken for. 46 days to finish the text.

Each one of those numbers is totally thrilling. (And okay, one is scary. Guess which one.)

A lot of you have joined in since the last update. So, first of all: welcome, and thanks for your support. Second: I want to remind you that you can choose not to get emails about these updates if they get to be too much for you. There's always an opt-out link in the email itself; one click and you're done.

But, to be honest, I hope you'll elect to keep them coming—because things are about to get good.
For the next 46 days, I am a full-time writer. Last week was my last at Current, the cable TV network and website that I've worked on for the past five years. It's what brought me out to San Francisco, actually. There would be no Mr. Penumbra without Current, and certainly—this is obvious, given the butterfly hurricane weirdness of life—no Kickstarter project.

Why go full-time? Because I'm not dumb. I know this is a special opportunity. I know this kind of support, for this kind of project, is exceptional, extraordinary, preternatural. (Frankly I blame both the digital and the occult.) So I'm going to take the hint and take a chance.

(Note to career-minded conservatives: the way I came to Current was no less weird than this, so really, following your heart has a great track record with me. Don't stress.)

This is big—I think I might not fully have absorbed how big yet. Here's what I mean: with so much more time, and so much more focus, my ambitions for the book can scale up a lot. I don't want to—I won't—lose sight of the central goal of a great story. But as I've said before, I'm really thinking about this in terms of engineering the whole experience. And suddenly I've got room for bigger blueprints.

Now, a word about "gold coins."

This idea has come up several times, in several different contexts, in the past week. It's a tip articulated by the writing coach Don Fry and passed on to me by Chip Scanlan and Roy Peter Clark at Poynter. Roy says it like this: "Place gold coins along the path. Don't load all your best stuff high in the story. Space special effects throughout the story, encouraging readers to find them and be delighted by them."

To get a sense of what this means, look at the Harry Potter books. I think J.K. Rowling is, like, the world's leading manufacturer of gold coins. Every one of her pages has some weird detail, some delightful aside about a fire-breathing candy bar or a painting that talks. They're not central to the narrative, but they provide pops and flashes of novelty that keep you reading. They're addictive, like potato chips. Or maybe addictive like a Twitter feed.

Anyway, I mention it because I spent this morning scattering gold coins—going through several sections of the story and adding or amplifying fun details. I'm a big believer in their power; I actually think they might do more to keep people reading than the narrative itself. At the very least, gold coins are an equal partner.

One of the things I've been wondering is: do gold coins all have to be words? Could some of them be images, photos, scraps from this fictional world? I think of the sketch of Mr. Tyndall in Mr. Penumbra; it seems like it worked really well. Maybe I should consider including more elements like that.

And finally, re: gold coins, that's what I'm trying to do with these updates, too. I want to drop gold coins as I make my way along this (dark, unmapped, slightly foreboding) path, in the hope that they'll entice you to follow along.
Next update: a dramatic reading.


    1. Creator Saheli on September 18, 2009

      @Matthew Katz and everyone--this is a good crowd to ask. Is House of LEaves really recommended? Has it stood up after the hype has mellowed out? Or has the moment passed? Was I missing out on a great crowd sync?

    2. Creator Dan Bouk on September 16, 2009

      Rowling definitely knows how to spruce up a world to fun effect, sprinkling fantastical gold coins all about. But her gold coins can also be emotional or social. When I read a novel for fun or watch TV, I often yearn to feel as if I am with the friends I love the most: the kind with whom I can be intimate, but simultaneously goofy, geeky, and expansive. My favorite moment in Penumbra is the boy-meets-girl-and-geeks-out-with-her scene. THAT is my kind of gold coin.

    3. Creator Elinor Mills on September 16, 2009

      If I am so inspired by these blog posts just think how I will feel reading the book. (No pressure!)
      Go crazy with them gold coins, Robin.

    4. Creator Cara Powers on September 16, 2009

      Love the sketch in Mr. Penumbra. Actually I stumbled on the link when doing a Google image search for "books." My blog really needs a better header.

    5. Creator Matthew Katz on September 16, 2009

      Depth in a book gets it read more than once, and that's a rare place to be!
      I love the working code in cryptonomicon, the smattering of "secret" knowledge in Palahniuk's books, the typographic hallucinations of House of Leaves.
      Stew them in, they can enhance and enrich a great story.

      They won't do shit for a shit story though.

    6. Creator Mike Shen on September 15, 2009

      PS - I think images, photos, etc. is an idea worth exploring... go get' em, Sloan.

    7. Creator Mike Shen on September 15, 2009

      I agree: scatter gold coins through the whole thing, not least to keep it fun for yourself until you complete the first draft. But I think you'll probably want to go back along the path and recollect a lot of those gold coins before you publish.

    8. Creator Rod Naber on September 15, 2009

      Those little details are exactly what I loved about Mr. Penumbra. So I say gold coin away, Sloan, in whatever format you find fit.

    9. Creator Jim Naughton on September 15, 2009

      Yo, Robin,, part of what I like about your project is how you are using concepts central to the best of non-fiction -- the gold coin, for instance -- to write fiction. I say sprinkle away, visually, verbally, even emoticonally if you wish. If you have fun writing chances are very good we'll have fun reading.

    10. Creator Jason Black on September 15, 2009

      D.M. Cornish (an envy-inspiringly gifted illustrator AND writer) used character and beastie illustrations to great effect in his Monster Blood Tattoo series (which, I feel compelled to add, is as masterful a piece of world-building as I've ever seen, and is worth reading for that alone).

    11. Creator Robin Sloan on September 15, 2009

      @Leah: TOTALLY AGREE. The poems/songs/whatever-they-were in the Lord of the Rings books -- oh man -- anytime I saw italics it was like "aha, that is my signal to skip this section entirely."

      @Saheli: Not all of them, but some of them, and yes, that's totally inspiration. I should dig mine out, too...

    12. Creator Micah Saul on September 15, 2009

      Would Breakfast of Champions have been as good a story without the sketches? Probably. Would it have been as fun of a book to read and re-read? Doubtful. Gold coins are awesome, and I say go for it without looking back.

      And congrats on the the jump to full-time. That is fantastically awesome.

    13. Creator Aaron Mcleran on September 15, 2009

      Of course, you can have too many gold coins... We've all read books that seemed to be nothing but a giant pile of Scrooge McDuck fortune.

      I so wanted to like Quicksilver...

      Don't get greedy!

    14. Creator CommunistPrime on September 15, 2009

      That was very true about Harry Potter. If you can sprinkle gold coins about like that then I'm sure you could have a great amount of satisfied readers. Good luck, and I hope for the best.

    15. Creator Lily Sloan on September 15, 2009

      I say yes to sketches! Maybe it's not a sketch of something crucial, like a character, but of a tool they use, what they have for breakfast, or some other visual snippet into their life.

    16. Creator Leah Culver on September 15, 2009

      Congratulations on going full-time! I admire your willingness to take that risk and I'm sure it will result in a stellar book.

      I'm really looking forward to the story and I love the concept of gold coins. Images and photos (especially if they're as funny as the one in Mr. Penumbra) are great! Although, I'm not so fond of poems and songs in books ... they kind of bore me. Anyways, best of luck!!

    17. Creator Saheli on September 15, 2009

      Have you read the Nick Bantock books? Griffin and Sabine?
      I can barely remember them, but you are making me want to go and find copies to re(read). There was a little bit of that feeling there---non textual gold coins sprinkled along the way.