I’m thrilled to be heading for Las Vegas in June to collect the Printz Award for Midwinterblood—it’s still sinking in what a wonderful thing this is—but I’m also delighted to be able to get out on the road in April and meet lots of readers in schools, libraries, and conventions in a ten-day book tour from New York to Houston and back up to Chicago. I’ll be mostly speaking about She Is Not Invisible, a book that I’d been trying to write for around eight years. The outward form of the book is an adventure story about a girl whose writer-father goes missing in the middle of his research for his latest book. When no one else seems interested in tracking him down, she decides to do it herself. What the book is actually about, however, is coincidence.
Everyone loves coincidences—that tingling sensation on your neck when something weird happens to you is really intriguing. But as the years of thinking about how to write about them ticked by, I came to a conclusion: writing about coincidence is hard. For one thing, you yourself can be greatly amused by some relatively low-key moment of synchronicity, but when you try and tell someone else about it, you’re usually met with feigned interest at best or at worst utter boredom. How to convey that sense of excitement that is so personal, so interior?
For another thing, and to be blunt, overly convenient moments in books are what bad writers use to cover up holes in their plot. And as readers we’re very, very good at spotting such things.
So writing about coincidence is hard. That might not seem like much of a statement, but it was enough to give me the key to writing this book: rather than write a book about coincidence, I chose to write a book about a writer writing a book about coincidence. That made my life much easier and meant I still got to discuss all the ideas that thinkers like Einstein, Jung, Koestler, and many others have had on the subject, and yet on the surface keep the form of a sensibly plotted novel, which, with one deliberate exception, I hope steers a safe course through the dangerous waters of the Sea of Overly Convenient Moments.
There’s one other thing about the book and coincidence—and this sounds a little weird—but throughout my life I feel that a particular number has been following me. It’s not a very sexy number; it’s 354, but I feel that I see this number way more often than you should see any given three-digit number. In the novel I discuss ways of understanding such things—ideas around informational bias and apophenia (pattern recognition in random data), but I’ll finish with just one example of what I mean; the kind of thing that inspired me to write She Is Not Invisible. My first trip to New York was about ten years ago. I’d been brought to the city by my publisher, who, this being a very special occasion (I’d been shortlisted for the Poe Awards), sent a limo out to JFK to pick me up. As I got into the car I saw it had a pool number painted on its side; I smiled as I saw “my” number again, 354. The limo drove me into Manhattan, to my hotel, where I checked in to find I had been put in room 354. I love stuff like that, so when I wrote the book, I thought it might be fun to “hide” 354 in the book in as many ways as I could, some of which are obvious, some of which I doubt will ever be seen.