Happy debut day to Victor Manibo and The Sleepless. If you’ve ever been in the depths of toxic productivity and wondered, “what if I just stopped sleeping,” well, this twisty science fiction mystery presents several arguments as to why that’s a terrible idea. Add in a layer of biohacking, and Jamie, our intrepid journalist protagonist, is in for a bad time when his boss turns up dead, and it looks like he might be the culprit.
I’m thrilled to have Victor on the blog today to talk about putting together a compelling mystery as a mystery lover, adding the speculative elements, what he’s working on now, and what he’s reading next.
Crafting a World Without Sleep
Which element of the narrative came to you first? Jamie? The mystery? Or something else altogether?
Definitely the premise. On a train ride home after a weekend out of town, I was hit with a bad case of the Sunday scaries because I had such a busy week ahead. I started to wonder what it would be like if I had more hours in a day, if I didn’t need to sleep. Then I started to wonder what the world would be like if everyone had no need of sleep. One what-if led to another and a couple of days later, I started typing the opening lines to The Sleepless.
How did you come up with the idea of the Sleepless condition?
From the outset, I knew that I wanted Sleeplessness to be a global condition, one that affected a lot of people, and I wanted it to have some inherent cost or unintended consequence, at least as to the main character. That cost—and how it created problems for Jamie—evolved as I revised, but eventually I knew I wanted the condition to say something pertinent to the way we live now. I also wanted to relate it to Jamie being Filipino, and our culture’s relationship with grief, mental health, and memory.
You participated in Pitch Wars in 2019. How did the story evolve throughout the mentorship program?
Pitch Wars helped me clarify what I wanted this book to be. It’s science fiction, it’s noir, it has literary aspirations, and when it was a draft, it wasn’t using the best parts of those genres. My mentor, Rob Hart, asked me the questions that I should have been asking myself when I was drafting. He helped me find the right tone, set the right pace, take the best genre elements and conventions and apply it to the story. The last half of the book was totally revamped during Pitch Wars, and though it was an arduous process, we were so pleased at how it turned out.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I had a lot of fun writing the scene set in the US Naval Observatory, where Jamie meets Sid and decides to join her mission. For that one, I had to do some research about the location, which I always enjoy. The scene also featured some reveals, meaningful plot progression, and a bit of push and pull between the characters through snappy dialogue. I wouldn’t call it a monumental scene, but it definitely required me to use different writing muscles at the same time.
What scene or moment are you looking forward to readers experiencing the most?
The solution to Simon’s murder. I think that’s what every mystery reader looks forward to, and what every mystery writer writes toward. I hope I did my job well!
Is The Sleepless your first novel?
The Sleepless is the first novel I ever wrote, and it started out as a 2017 NaNoWriMo project. I drafted it without any dreams of publishing; I just wanted to see if I had it in me to finish 50k. When I did, I found myself motivated to set new goals–to revise the draft, then maybe find an agent and get the book out there. Took a few years, but here we are now.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you could tell past!Victor?
One of my early doubts about the book was whether I should center the story around someone Filipino and queer, someone like me. I had all these notions about what a sci-fi story should look like, what a noir detective should be, what kind of character a Writer should write. I eventually overcame those doubts, but if I could, I’d want to reassure my past self to just go for it and write what feels fun.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently revising my next standalone book, Upward, which is also a near-future science fiction thriller. It features a cast of devious characters attending their high school reunion on a luxury orbital station. Think Knives Out, but in space. Shenanigans (and murders!) ensue. As with The Sleepless, Upward also features Filipino characters, a queer cast, and it also critiques a particular aspect of the capitalist hellscape. If all goes according to plan, the book will be out in the middle of next year.
Which book or books that are upcoming (either published or on your own TBR list) that are you most excited about?
Liberation Day by George Saunders is coming out in October and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. He’s one of my favorite authors, and Tenth of December is one of the books that inspired me to become a writer. I’m sure this new collection is going to be just as inspiring.
Victor Manibo is a Filipino speculative fiction writer living in New York. As a queer immigrant and a person of color, he writes about people who live these identities and how they navigate imaginary worlds. He is a 2022 Lambda Literary Emerging Voices Fellow, and his debut science fiction noir novel, The Sleepless, is out August 2022 from Erewhon Books. Find him online at victormanibo.com or on Twitter @victormanibo.