Prime Writing: Eric Griffith

December 19, 2011

Gardom Pond

Beta Test

I first met Eric Griffith at WorldCon in 2009, when he and a gaggle of alumni from a workshop I'd been to took me—fledgling Con attendee that I was—under their wings and showed me the ropes. As a fellow Viable Paradise graduate I'm especially pleased to be showcasing Eric's debut novel on Prime Writing. Here's Eric to tell you all about it.

How my book BETA TEST came to be is a mix of an idea that came to me in a flash, which I then tried to ignore for 14 years, and then finally made use of when I needed it (and not when the story needed me, thankfully, for stories should not have that kind of power outside of stories about stories).

The germ of the idea hit like a bullet as I stood on a Metro North train platform at some point in 1993. I was commuting every day for a ridiculously large amount of time into and out of Manhattan, to my job at a computer magazine where I had to write about Windows 3.1, of all horrors.

At the time, the term "beta test" was pretty new, or at least new to 23-year-old me. For those not technology product oriented, it refers to one of the stages of development software (and now Web sites) goes through. The "alpha" stage comes even earlier, when people get to use a product before it's finished; "beta" was generally for more thorough testing of a program that was feature complete, but unreleased.

(Since those days, the term "beta" has become almost meaningless, especially when a company like Google can keep a product in beta testing by the public for years and years. Grumble, cough, get off my lawn, you kids.)

The idea for BETA TEST just popped into my atheistic-but-maybe-more-agnostic-out-of-fear brain as the train pulled in: "What if there is a God and we're all just part of a program he's beta testing?"

Once I got over the initial adrenal rush (Ooh, new idea! Shiny!), it sounded derivative. Even back then. So I filed it away. But it stuck somewhere in my think-meat and never got lost like so many other ideas of brilliance I'm totally, absolutely positive happened even though I can't remember them.

The spring of 2007 arrived. I needed something new to write because I wanted a cool project that would get me into a week-long writing workshop to which I planned to apply that summer. I settled on that old idea as the one to work on, even though there wasn't much to it. Yet once I opened myself up to the possibility, there they came: the tumult of more and more ideas, all of which I allowed to percolate just long enough to see if they fit. For example:

  • Hey, what if the book were from God's point-of-view?
  • What if it involved a mass disappearance, a so-called "Rapture-like event"? (That term may be copyright Tom Perotta now, but I swear I wrote this years ago.)
  • What if that horrible event was just the beginning, a little preview of horror just before our so-called beta test of the universe was to be shut down?

Then I realized I wasn't going to take any of this very seriously. I can't do "end of the world" without some snark.

So I considered: What if I had the least heroic-seeming protagonist going—an over-weight, shy, computer programmer named Sam Terra, a man in love with one of those people who disappear?

Once I knew Sam, I knew everything I needed to get started. Which is how it goes sometimes.

I wrote a couple chapters. I got accepted to the workshop (thank you, Viable Paradise!). The critiquers hated the God POV. Absolutely hated it. But they loved Sam, who had become almost MacGuyver-esque in his focus on finding his lost love. That encouragement from pros and peers was the incentive I needed to keep going. I took out God's voiceover and put Sam front and center, surrounded by misfits who love him and offer questionable help on his quest to find out what happened and then, how to save the world (with God's eventual appearance). Because that is also how it goes sometimes. Big ideas need a lot of little ancillary ideas to get off the ground.

Eric Griffith lives in Ithaca, New York, with his girlfriend and anywhere from three to five dogs, depending on the day. He writes features for but refuses to do your tech support.


BETA TEST for sale:

Hadley Rille Books:
Barnes & Noble:

Look for BETA TEST on Amazon Kindle and BN Nook in mid December 2011!

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