On the Writing of Grok, a novel
Behind every work of fiction is a story onto itself. I thought I'd share something of the writing of this massive work with my readers.
Grok spilled out in fits and starts over a span of seventeen years and was written on four different continents, in about a hundred different cafes and probably as many airport lounges and train stations. The work began originally as a novel entitled 1937, which I had contracted to write by my editor at William Morrow, a brilliant man named Jim Landis who had published my first novel Studio. The book grew into a family saga, centering on a young computer prodigy Grok, whose quest to solve the elusive Turing Test takes him on a journey that spans the century. I was inspired by Heinlein's coinage of the word Grok and thought it made sense to name the main character, a kind of Tom Jones for the computer age, after him. Each slice of history in the book is written in the style of the period: Paris, 1922, is written as a kind of romance with James Joyce and Gertrude Stein making appearances; the Howard Hughes Affair, which takes place in Los Angeles of the 1930's, is written as a seamy, Raymond Chandler detective story; Berkeley in the 1960's during the Psychedelic Wars of that period is written in a somewhat hallucinatory style. And by the time we get to the 1980's and 1990's, everything in the story becomes added from, subtracted and multiplied by the computing world. Everybody is working, in one capacity or another, for a computer company, writing software code or pushing new products out the door. This is what happens to Grok.
I based a lot of this on my own experiences working for different software companies. But Grok and his quest are not the only the driving forces of the novel: in Book VII (about 500 pages into the story), we meet a woman named Maddy Fairchild, who steals the show. She's my one of my most inspired creations, and once she's introduced into the narrative, you're compelled to follow her story to its juicy conclusion. I wish she had appeared earlier, but in a book that, essentially, digests as many of the tasty servings of the 20th century as possible, you find not everybody can fit into the scheme of things right away.
Perhaps Maddy, a true child of the Computer Age, will come to life again in another work of fiction.