S. contains The Ship of Theseus, the supposed final novel by the invented genius V.M. Straka. But it’s also the tale of two students who discover each other through a library copy of the book. Did you know where both stories were going when you set out?
J.J. Abrams I think when you’re writing something and you are wondering, “God, what happens next?” that’s such a good sign, because that means you’re pretty close to guaranteed that’s what the reader is asking.
The students’ story plays out through scribbled marginalia — and through relics like postcards, which are wedged into the pages. At what point did those get introduced?
Abrams We discussed them early on as a notion of what this thing could be. But the truth is that you could look at the whole book as a sort of gimmick. The key was the novel part had to stand up on its own. It had to be a piece of actual literature.
Doug Dorst It’s endless fun to create stuff, but we didn’t want to be creating stuff for the sake of it.
The book has a lot to do with the nature of authorship. Where did that obsession come from?
Dorst I had been reading a lot about authorship mysteries, a lot of “Who really wrote this?” That’s just a thing I got hooked on.
Abrams In relationships, there’s issues of identity and acknowledging who someone really is. So to me, the beauty is as they’re debating who Straka is, they’re also understanding who each other is.
This was your first collaboration. Will you be doing it again?
Abrams It was as dreamy as collaborations get, and we’re in preliminary discussions about what we’re going to do together next.
Dorst It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m not going to turn my back on fun.
Doug, since you essentially wrote two books, did you get paid twice as much?
Dorst [Laughs] I should have held out!
Abrams What are you doing? You’re trying to destroy our next collaboration!