Waking up from Neon Fever Dream

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Whenever a book comes out, I'm always filled with an odd mixture of conflicting emotions. I'm excited to share it and see it widely read, but I know that the work has to speak for itself. I'm thrilled to hear what readers think, but nervous that it might not resonate with them. I'm both anxious and relieved that a creative project I poured my heart into is finally out in the wild.

Neon Fever Dream came out two weeks ago. In addition to a number of blog reviews, Popular Science ran a review, TechCrunch ran an excerpt, La Soga ran an interview, Rocketship.fm ran a podcast, Don Houts ran a review, Product Hunt featured it, and Hugo and Nebula award-winner David Brin praised it in his reading roundup. You can even see a funny picture of me at Burning Man in this little photo-essay I wrote about the inspirations behind the book. Right now, we're frantically gearing up to head back to the desert at the end of the month.

But more than anything, I've been delighted to hear from you. You've shared your loves, hates, questions, comments, and detailed accounts of what the story made you think and feel. Even before the book came out, advance readers taught me about everything from the institutional dynamics within the LDS Church to the onset time for rigor mortis. With Cumulus, you refined the story's intelligence tradecraft, gear transmission mechanics, and so many other important factors. For The Uncommon Series, you helped me understand what it actually feels like for a CEO to go through an IPO and how expert money launderers manipulate the financial system. I'm lucky to have readers with sharp eyes and even sharper minds.

Any attention Neon Fever Dream earns is also thanks to you. Grassroots word-of-mouth helps art succeed by including it in our larger communal conversation. It's the cultural equivalent of compound interest. Things that might seem small or unimportant make a surprisingly large impact over the long run. So when you recommend it to a friend or leave a review, you're accomplishing far more than you might imagine.

After releasing a book, my next step is always to dive into a fresh manuscript. Last week, I started drafting a new story. Gene Wolfe once told Neil Gaiman, "You never learn how to write a novel, you just learn how to write the novel that you're writing." Time to see what's at the bottom of this rabbit hole. Wish me luck.

Neon Fever Dream is out today

I'm delighted to share that my new novel, Neon Fever Dream, is now available. You can get it right here in beautifully-designed digital or trade paperback formats.

Neon Fever Dream is about a dark secret hidden in the swirling dust and exultant revelry of Burning Man. It's a fast-paced thriller with a diverse cast that weaves together everything from the ripple effects of the Sri Lankan civil war to the impacts of new technology on international organized crime. The story required substantial research and I'm really excited about how it came together.

In 2013, my wife and I travelled through Asia and East Africa for nine months. We spent 33 days on a trek through Himalayan backcountry in Nepal, scrambled up crags in northern Ethiopia, and dove the colorful reefs off the northern tip of Sumatra. But perhaps the most otherworldly place we visited was Burning Man, where we went immediately after our wheels hit American tarmac.

Burning Man was powerful precisely because it was so hard to define. Rather than a wild narcotic-infused bonanza, we discovered that the atmosphere was far more diverse and creative. Lacking the formal structure of a large music festival with stages and schedules, each participant's experience was shaped by where they wandered when, and whom they happened to meet. It wasn't a party. It was a temporary community populated by artists, technologists, doers, makers, scientists, goofballs, geeks, and freaks united not by their interests, but by a proactive mandate to accept, support, and give.

Much like spending time in a foreign country, Burning Man made us question the things we took for granted in our everyday lives. Friendships formed quickly and spontaneously. We have since returned, and plan to do so regularly.

Burning Man was a wonderful port of reentry into the United States. At the same time, it reminded us of the impossible adversity people face every day in many of the countries we had just returned from. While we were playing on the playa, the Maldives was wracked by political upheaval, our favorite bookshop in Kathmandu went up in flames, and Sri Lankan dissidents disappeared without a trace.

That was the seed of Neon Fever Dream. International intrigue makes for a compelling page-turner, but in the real world such machinations tear people's lives apart. A few of those lives might collide against the incomparable backdrop of Burning Man. Stranger things have happened, particularly in Black Rock City.

From there the story grew and changed, taking on its particular shape. A friend-of-a-friend became involved in a federal investigation of Tongan Crips in Utah. My wife and I took some Krav Maga classes in Oakland. A refugee taxi driver told me about how his loved ones had been persecuted by the Karuna Faction. I met journalists and security experts following the evolving relationship between the expansion of technological surveillance capabilities and the role of international criminal organizations. The pieces fell into place.

We often read nonfiction to learn about the world around us. But fiction offers something else, a chance to explore our own subjective experience of living in that world. It gives us a glimpse into the minds and hearts of other human beings. It empowers us to escape and in escaping, reflect. The most powerful stories compel us, move us, and leave us with more questions than answers.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.