How LA influenced Gabrielle Zevin’s novel ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ – Whittier Daily News

Can a work story also be a love story? Absolutely, according to best-selling author and screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin, and that’s what her latest book, out now from Penguinnot random houseis all about.

Spanning three decades, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” tells the fictional story of video game creators Sam Masur and Sadie Green. The two have different backgrounds – Korean American Sam is disabled and lives with his grandparents in Koreatown in Los Angeles; Sadie is Jewish and lives in Beverly Hills – but they strike up a deep but brief friendship over video games.

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As students, they reconnect with Cambridge (via a joke inside Oregon Trail, a popular educational game in the 80s and 90s and a cultural touchstone for young Gen Xers/millennials plus elderly) and embark on creating their own game, “Ichigo”, with the help of Sam’s roommate, Marx. Released in that brief window in history when games built by two or three people in a dorm room could explode in popularity, “Ichigo” catapults Sam, Sadie, and Marx to industry stardom. But it also raises questions of individual identity that Sam and Sadie must grapple with, and sets seemingly impossible expectations for what their partnership must accomplish next.

In “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, Zevin examines teamwork, online and offline identities, the intensity of friendships, and how work fueled by love can produce transcendent works of art. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. There’s something very alluring about a book about the work and potential of creative partnerships – can you talk about that?

There’s this idea that there’s only one kind of great love story, and usually, you know, that’s romantic love. Friendship is somehow seen as a lesser type of love; ditto for colleagues or work, that this kind of love is not worth discussing. But I think these days there’s also fatigue around the idea that romantic love is the only kind of love.

Sometimes people are the most loving and best versions of themselves at work, in games, or in friendships. I think a great love story can be a work story, and it can be a friend story, and I wanted to write about that. I’ve always loved books about creative partnerships, stories about working and creating art together.

Q. Were there any personalities in the game industry that you drew inspiration from for your characters and the story?

One of my early inspirations for the book was thinking of quasi-educational games like Sierra Entertainment’s King’s Quest series. These games were created by a married couple from Southern California, Ken and Roberta Williams.

There’s also John Carmack and John Romero, the guys behind Doom and Commander Keen. I thought of all of these people as the mix of the many personality types you need to be successful in any gaming business – any artistic business.

There was a time in the early 90s when you could make a really big game with relatively few people working on it. And I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily true anymore, with a few exceptions – the guy who created Stardew Valley was basically a one-man operation. But for the most part, great games are made by big companies with teams of hundreds now.

Q. Can you talk about crossed identities as a theme? Can you explain how you approached the interplay between Sam’s disability and his online identity?

Nowadays, people are used to having multiple identities, which a previous generation had no idea. Sam is the only character I’ve ever written who has the same racial background as me – I’m a half-Korean, half-Jewish person. When you are biracial, if you are in one place, you might be seen by others as one thing, and if you are somewhere else, you might be seen by others as something else. For biracial people, the sense of identity is constantly changing.

There are also our online identities. Today, people have more of a hand in creating their identity than they ever had before. I think for some people – Sam is one of those people – the online self can be more real than the real self. What interests me is that when you create a game character, you can be whatever you want to be, but you can also acceptable be what you want to be, to some extent. I also think having multiple selves changes how you’re going to be a human on the planet.

When I started writing the book, one of the questions I asked myself was “Why do people gamble?” And one of the reasons I found was that people play to escape the confines of a physical body. For Sam, gameplay is a lifeline and a place where he can feel more capable and more connected to the world. You might think of gambling as an isolating activity, something people do because they don’t want to connect with other people. But for Sam, it’s something he does because he really wants to connect with other people.

Q. From Happy Foot, Sad Foot in Silver Lake to Ballerina Clown in Venice, there’s so much LA in this book.

I lived in Los Angeles throughout the pandemic. I wrote much of this book during lockdown, and it reflects how much I felt a longing for the cities I had lived in. All the cities in the book are cities in which I have lived or worked intensively. I remember when I returned to Los Angeles in 2012, just overwhelmed by Koreatown. I remember thinking, “Would my books have been completely different if I had been raised here?

Another thing about Los Angeles is that it’s one of the least unspoilt cities on the planet, you know? So you end up giving the Happy Foot, Sad Foot sign historical significance for a pedicure.

I’ve always loved the clown ballerina building in Venice. I don’t know the answer to what this sculpture is supposed to represent – but I liked representing some of these places that I thought were a little more LA.

Q. The book also addresses some of the challenges and dangers of what we choose to do within online identities. Can you talk about that?

Going back to the subject of identity, I think sometimes there’s a weird disease caused by having an identity online, where people act like the things they do online don’t have no effect and had nothing to do with the real world. So even if they’re nice in their day-to-day lives, they feel like it’s okay to be horrible on a message board or play a game with headphones. They say, “Well, that’s not real.” One of the things I say in the book is that what you do online is real, it’s always part of you when you do those things.

I want to say that I don’t think games make people violent. I think that’s ridiculous.

Q. What do you want your readers to understand from the games and from this book?

Stories connect us. They determine how we tell the stories of our own lives. What I want people to understand about games is that they are really another form of storytelling, and this book can be understood as a book about people trying to make sense of their lives.

Some people might think, “What do games have to do with my life? Well, we can certainly argue that even people who don’t think they’re playing are actually playing. Everyone is playing; everyone who has ever joined Facebook has played.

And even though we have more and more ways to connect, it still seems very difficult. So it’s a book about the rarity of really connecting with someone, in a virtual world or in the real world.

Irene B. Bowles