For years, I avoided technology in my work. Despite my poor research habits, I’d set stories in the decades before my own birth, or worse, I’d construct the literary equivalent of a black box, a setting devoid of temporal artifacts where eternal human struggles could play out without the interference of pesky cell phones. This impulse was born out of fear. I had seen other writers get our modern lives wrong. As a reader, I had cringed when text messages turned sharply written dialogue tinny and hollow. When it came to the Internet, I spent so much time online that I could hear every wrong note. But it was for the same reason that I ultimately decided I had to face my fears and write a book that would deal with contemporary issues head-on. Like it or not, this is how we live now—half-flesh and half-username. To avoid it entirely also rings false. I knew from the get-go that Rabbit Hole would feature Reddit’s true crime communities, and I worried about how I would translate pages and pages of nesting, nonsensical, vitriolic, funny, and bizarre comments into something fictionally cogent. Like with so many writing problems, the way in was through craft. Different elements of our online lives speak to different elements of craft. In my obsession with this topic, I have developed a theory of sorts, and I’ll lay it out using following texts as case studies: Berlin by Bea Setton, Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom, No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, and Hotels of North America by Rick Moody. To the write the Internet convincingly, you first need to pay close attention. Another way of thinking about this boils down to the old adage “make the familiar strange.” When I interviewed Bea Setton for Write or Die, I asked her how she wrote the section of Berlin where the narrator, Daphne, classifies her online dating suitors. As a reader, it had struck me as both true to life and fresh. Bea noted, right off the bat, that the specificity of each detail was born out […]

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