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.