NYCC 2015: Dexter Palmer Discusses Version Control
This year at New York Comic Con, there were several booths set up for publishing houses you don’t normally see at a comic conventions but instead at book festivals. The traditional novel was definitely present this year, with some well-loved sci-fi and fantasy novels in addition to new and upcoming releases. We got a chance to sit down with Dexter Palmer, author of the upcoming Version Control, being released in February 2016 by Pantheon Publishing.
Version Control is described as “The compelling story of a couple living in the wake of a personal tragedy. She is a star employee of an online dating company, while he is a physicist, performing experiments that, if ever successful, may have unintended consequences, altering the nature of their lives-and perhaps of reality itself.”
Graphic Policy: So, this is your second novel, correct?
Dexter Palmer: Yes it is.
GP: And this one is now, 5 years after your first novel, if I’m remembering correctly?
DP: My first one came out in 2010, so this one will have been close to 6 years.
GP: Close to 6 years. Did it take you the whole time to write it? Obviously you have a very busy day job.
DP: Yeah. But it did take me, between research and thinking about it and doing revisions, I was working on it pretty much every day.
GP: Ok. So what kind of research did you do for this one?
DP: Well, one of my characters is a physicist and part of his work relates to gravitational wave research. So I realized that in order to write that character, I myself would need to know something about gravitational wave research.
GP: This is not basic physics. This is some pretty intense…
GP: … physics that you had to get into to study this.
GP: That probably explains some of the 6 years.
I did have a physicist, sort of, vet the manuscript to make sure that I hadn’t made any major errors or anything.
GP: That’s good. Everything is actually logical, it can flow…
GP: … could, in theory, happen.
DP: I guess. Yeah. I didn’t want to have anything like, say, “We need to tweak the Heisenberg compensator in order to…” I wanted the science to at least bear a striking resemblance to actual science.
GP: That makes very good sense. Did you do the same thing for your first novel?
DP: My first novel was set in an alternate history of the 20th Century, so for that I went to circa 1900 texts that made predictions of what the 20th Century would be like. There was a lot of research involved, and it had science, but the book ended up having science in it that was deliberately false.
DP: So, say, there were no transistors in that novel, nothing that could be powered by transistors, but there were, for instance, mechanical men and things like that.
GP: So very much a steampunk kind of aesthetic for the first one?
GP: Whereas this one is a lot more grounded in our current understanding of physics, as we know it right now.
DP: Right. This one is set in the time period of the mid-1990s to the mid-2020s.
GP: Ok. As you were writing this one, was there anything about either one of your main characters that surprised you? Like as you were writing it, you kind of took it in a different direction that you thought it was initially going to go?
DP: Well, let’s see…
GP: I mean, it could be hard to do without spoiling the book. I understand.
DP: It is hard to do without spoiling.
DP: I will say for this one I did have to have, because of the structure of the book, I had to have a very detailed outline. And then the characters did kind of do things to break that outline. Like a little bit here and there.
GP: Was it a fun experience for you do that? To have to adjust as you went along, writing it?
DP: For certain values of fun, yes.
GP: I know, you were like “I had this outline! Why did you do this to me? I had a plan!”
DP: Yeah, exactly.
GP: Were there any lessons you learned in writing your first book that you brought into the second one? Things that you found useful?
DP: Well, I guess this goes back to the outline. My first book, part of the reason my first novel took 14 years was because I made it up as I went along. And then when I had a completed draft I realized that I needed to re-write the entire thing. So that was the… so measure twice, cut once – that’s what I learned.
GP: That’s a good lesson!
GP: Did you learn anything while writing this book that you would take into future works?
DP: Yes. Writing a novel that’s set in the near future is hard, especially if you take a long time. Because I was writing things that seemed futuristic when I started writing them in 2008 and then things started happening.
And then suddenly my futuristic predictions became either false or just boring. So I needed to keep revising things to stay ahead of the curve.
GP: That makes sense.
DP: I find myself being worried that some massive historical event is going to happen in the next four months that will completely invalidate the entire book.
GP: In which case it will still be a fantastic work of fiction and I’m sure we can all enjoy it for that.
DP: Yeah, I hope so.
GP: Is there anything that you want readers to know going into the book? Or anything that you would like to tell people?
DP: I would like them to know as little as possible.
DP: I would just like them to pick up the book based on faith that it will be an entertaining experience.
GP: That sounds fantastic. Anything else you wanted to cover?
DP: No, I think that’s it.
GP: Well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
DP: Thank you.
I enjoyed speaking with Dexter Palmer at the convention and this has me even more excited to read the book. It definitely sounds like something that is my type of story so I’ll take his advice, steer clear of any more information, and go into it expecting nothing but the joys of a good book.
Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University, where he completed his dissertation on the work of James Joyce, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon. He also staged the first academic conference ever held at an Ivy League university on the subject of video games. Palmer’s first book, The Dream of Perpetual Motion, was released in 2010 and was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best fiction debuts for 2010.
Big thanks to Dexter Palmer for sitting down with us and to Random House Publishing for the interview.