A year ago, two important things happened to Adam Sternbergh. His daughter was born and eight days later, his debut novel, Shovel Ready was launched at BookCourt. He returned to the Brooklyn bookstore to celebrate the launch of the sequel, Near Enemy.
Sternbergh has created a dystopian world where New York City has been dirty bombed and most of the population spends their time living out fantasies in a virtual reality. The hero of the novels is Spademan, a trash collector turned assassin. In the follow up novel, Spademan sets out to discover why people in the virtual world are ending up dead in the real one.
If it seems as though this sequel has appeared rather quickly, its because Sternbergh wrote the first draft before Shovel Ready went to print.
“I knew this was a world I wasn’t done with,” he says as if to explain why he embarked on writing a follow up to an untested title. He says that for a long time he thought it was the “corniest bullshit” when writers spoke of their desire to spend more time with their characters, and yet that’s exactly what happened.
He also thought it was better to have the first draft of Near Enemy written before the first novel came out because he understood that the release would inevitably influence him. Ultimately he says this novel feels more like a continuation than a sequel.
It took Sternbergh time to find the voice of his fiction writing. The first novel he attempted writing was centered in the New York City media world. As a journalist, he writes all the time, and believes that good journalism has a voice. But, he adds, his journalistic voice was impeding him from writing fiction.
In journalism, he explains, there are facts and details that writers impose a framework on top of. In fiction, the writer is responsible for everything.
“I don’t think its possible for me to write fiction without finding a different voice,” he says.
To help him to this end, he changed fonts. He started writing the novel in Rockwell, in the hopes that it would inspire a grittier narrative. He claims it worked.
“I feel like it would have been a different book if it was a different font,” he says. He was so grateful, he even named a character Rockwell–and then promptly killed him.
Sternbergh is also interested in place. Specifically, he says he wanted to imagine a city down and out on its luck.
“I’m really obsessed with the idea of New York as a mythological city,” he says.
“New York to me–it was like the land of Oz,” he says about his years growing up. He is not from the city originally.
For the novels, Sternbergh wanted to return the city to its dirtier, less polished state. That’s why he sets off a dirty bomb in Times Square–a catalyst leading to the slow drainage of the city’s population.
The fascinating part of writing the novels, he says, is that he explores iconic New York City locations in a derelict state. In Shovel Ready, he tapped the most famous. For the new novel, he found himself exploring lesser known locations.
There is a movie in the works. Sternbergh is working on the screen play. “Its not like they call it development heaven,” he says.
Though Sternbergh adds that comic books have been hugely influential to him, don’t expect a graphic novel version of the Spademan story anytime soon. He’s sticking to writing books: “I love how words look.”
Other Spademan books are likely to follow. Sternbergh says he feels as though he has only just become exploring the world he has created. Near Enemy was about pushing the limits of the virtual reality worlds he created within the text, so there is plenty more left for him to poke around with. If nothing else, he promises he’ll write a story and tweet it out over a several months. He can be followed on Twitter here.