Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was the “On the Same Page” selection in San Francisco for March and April . On the last day of that reign, its author Robin Sloan appeared at the San Francisco Public Library. Having enjoyed the book and its prequel, I was predisposed to like the author, and indeed found him charming, speaking without a lectern, casually dressed, and exerting himself to find the questions in what audience members said (some asked real questions, but…).
Sloan majored in economics at Michigan State and worked for Twitter while aspiring to be a writer, but not writing much except tweets. However, the book grew out of a tweet—not one of his but one from a friend who was in England and mistook “24-hour bookdrop” for “24-hour bookstore,” and liked the idea of the latter. As did Sloan, who thought about working in one.
Though its location on Columbus Avenue in North Beach is near City Lights, he said that its inspiration was more Green Apple on Clement in the Richmond district of San Francisco, where he lives (in the Richmond, maybe even on Clement, but not in Green Apple). It stays open until 10 PM, later than most bookstores (as we call them here!).
He wrote stories that he could finish over the course of a long weekend, developing “muscles” for more extended narration.
In 2008 he offered an Amazon (Kindle) Single story for $.99 and was delighted to make about a thousand sales. The next stage (of what he likened to Russian nesting dolls) was a Kickstart posting selling advanced copies of another book for $10 ($12 signed) that drew another thousand. Meanwhile, an agent saw and liked the Amazon Single, and sold an expansion to the literary house Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It has done well critically and commercially, especially in the Bay Area where most of it (and its prequel) are set. (Asked, he said he did not foresee a sequel. I wonder if he might go a generation further back in bookstore owners. What he is writing now is also set in the past and present of San Francisco. And he thinks quiet observers, writing “history in real time” are preferable to flamboyant ones.)
He was asked if the cover design (which glows in the dark) is a code. He said not as far as he knows, and that he made attempts to try to decode it.
He also said that writers are machines for transforming old books into new books.
No one asked about influences or favorite writers or books. I asked if there really are ships buried along what was the waterfront of The City during the Gold Rush. He confirmed that crews jumped ships and rushed off to find gold and that some of the ships were turned into stores, though none, as far as he knows, into a bookstore.
©Stephen O. Murray, 2008
Sloan has a novel titled Sourdough coming out sometime in 2017.