Jennifer Egan, on the Collective Conscious device in The Candy House.
I gleaned this device and its various properties more from first-draft material that I started writing in those early years, from 2010 to 2013. So, for example, in “Lulu the Spy,” the chapter that you published as “Black Box,” Lulu is spying for the U.S. government and transmitting a record of her mission via a device implanted in her brain. So there’s already this possibility of mental content being shared technologically. Little by little, I began to get a sense that in the twenty-thirties, which I was writing into, there’s the possibility of thought sharing. And that was how I began to have a sense of what this machine was. And the device I eventually came up with allowed me to do a lot of things. It allowed me to write both from the perspective of looking back at the past and from the perspective of the future. It allowed time travel within the book. It allowed me to do certain narrative things that I knew I wanted to do. One of those, for example, was to write a story in which people can find other people whom they’ve glimpsed only once, whose names they don’t know.
Here’s the original “Black Box” story; I blogged about it back in 2012.