Author Interview: Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan from

One of my aspirations for The Deckle Edge has been to feature interviews of the authors who’s books I’ve enjoyed and reviewed. I couldn’t be more excited to publish this first interview with Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore and Sourdough. Many thanks to Robin for his willingness to humor me. My previous reviews of Robin’s novels can be found here and here.

Please enjoy the interview and feel free to leave comments about what you think!

Did you have aspirations to be a writer as you were growing up?

Definitely. I was a public library kid, a huge reader, and pretty early on, I found myself wondering, you know: could MY name be on one of those shelves? I think that’s common for kids who read a lot. And even though I didn’t pursue writing immediately, that feeling, that attraction, never went away.

What books or movies influenced you growing up?

There are a few books from that period that are still among the most powerful reading experience of my life. They’re all from the fantasy shelf: The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper; The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, to which I pay homage in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Another all-time favorite is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I’d still love to write a book half that good one day.

Where did the concept for Mr. Penumbra come from?

That novel actually began as a short story. At that time, I worked in tech, so my head was full of tech metaphors, and I thought my short stories almost as “prototypes.” Of all the short stories I published in that period (all for free, all online), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore got the most enthusiastic response by far. So, in time, I decided to turn the prototype into something real.

What are some of your favorite libraries?

For me, it’s always the library where I started and the library I use today. That’s the Troy Public Library in Troy, Michigan, and the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, California.

Where did the concept for Sourdough come from?

I wanted to tell a story about the weird world of food in the San Francisco Bay Area that was fun and mysterious and maybe a little sci-fi — because Bay Area food is, in fact, all of those things.

What are some of your favorite farmer’s markets?

I don’t actually visit it that often, because it’s a boat ride away, but the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market in San Francisco on Sundays is one of the world’s all-time great scenes. It makes you feel lucky to be a human, alive in this time and place.

Tell me about the glow in the dark book covers.

All credit goes to the designer of both book covers, Rodrigo Corral! I do think that in the era of the e-book, a physical book has to do SOMETHING a little bit special. There’s a lot to choose from: luxe paper, interesting textures, cool use of illustration… or, of course, glow-in-the-dark ink. 

I see similarities between Mr. Penumbra and Sourdough. For example, they both deal with somewhat secret or fringe societies. Are these parallels intentional?

Yes, definitely—in part because both novels take place in the same fictional universe. The shared-ness is lightly held—this isn’t Marvel Comics-level continuity here—but observant readers will spot many clues that this is all the same world, and that happens to be a world thick with secret societies.

You seem to have both positive and negative views of farmer’s markets. What has your experience been?

Oh, I’d say my view of farmers markets is totally positive! My skepticism is reserved for fancy farm-to-table restaurants, and even then, it’s not because I don’t like them—I do—or because they’re not impressive—they are—but only because they’re so inaccessible to so many people. Farmers markets, on the other hand, are totally accessible. They are, for me, a source of great hope and happiness.

Sourdough seems to have an undercurrent of the importance of community and relationships. Is that intentional or am I reading too much into it?

I think that’s right, and I’d add the importance of people working together on shared projects. Some of my favorite stories aren’t about emotional angst or even daring adventure but rather… WORK. Movies like All The President’s Men; books like The Martian. I think “work stories” might be an underrated genre.

How did the coffee memes start?

To that, I have the simplest answer of all: I needed something to do while I waited for my coffee to brew!

Tell me about your olive oil business.

I don’t only write about the world of food in the San Francisco Bay Area; I also make some food! My partner Kathryn Tomajan and I run a micro-scale company producing California extra virgin olive oil. It’s called Fat Gold, and it’s been a hugely interesting and satisfying project.

What can you share about current or future projects?

I’m working on the manuscript for my next novel right now; it’s a sequel of sorts to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Tell me about the last book you read.

I recently read a terrific novel called Gideon the Ninth, just out from Tor, sort of a hybrid sci-fi/fantasy/horror situation that made me laugh out loud many times. It’s a strange one, very hard to classify, but I had such pure FUN reading it—a total romp.

Again, my sincerest thanks to Robin Sloan for his responses. I enjoyed getting to know a little more about him and look forward to reading and reviewing his future works.

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