Why make anything if you don’t believe it could be great?

Excerpt from Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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This is an excerpt from the book Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

When we first meet Ichigo in a cutscene at the beginning of Ichigo: A Child of the Sea, they—for Sadie and Sam conceived of Ichigo as having no gender—are a small child who knows few words and cannot read. Ichigo is sitting on the beach, by their parents’ modest seaside house, in what looks like a remote fishing village. They have a shiny black bowl haircut of the kind that an Asian child of any gender might have, and they are wearing only their favorite sports jersey (number 15), which goes to their knees like a dress, and wooden flip-flops. Ichigo is playing with a small bucket and a shovel when the tsunami hits.

Ichigo is swept out to sea, and that is where the game begins. With a limited vocabulary, their only tools that bucket and shovel, Ichigo must find their way home.

A bromide about the creative process is that an artist’s first idea is usually the best one. Ichigo was not Sam and Sadie’s first idea. It was, perhaps, their thousandth.

Herein, the difficulty. Sam and Sadie both knew what they liked in a game, and they could easily tell a good game from a bad game. For Sadie, that knowledge was not necessarily helpful. Her time with Dov and her years studying games in general had made her critical of everything. She could tell you exactly what was wrong with any game, but she didn’t necessarily know how to make a great game herself. There is a time for any fledgling artist where one’s taste exceeds one’s abilities. The only way to get through this period is to make things anyway. And it is possible that, without Sam (or someone like him) pushing her through this period, Sadie might not have become the game designer she became. She might not have become a designer at all.

Sadie knew she didn’t want to make a shooter, though, again, that was what tended to be popular. (She would never want to make a shooter—she, Dov’s student to her core, found them disgusting, immoral, and the disease of an immature society; Sam, for his part, enjoyed shooters.) And, in a summer, with only a team of two, there were limitations to what she felt they could accomplish. They weren’t trying to go for consoles, and they didn’t have the resources to make a fully 3D action game like an N64-era Zelda or a Mario anyway. The game would be for PC, and it would be 2D or 2½D, if she could swing it. For a long time, that was the extent of what she knew about their game.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the school year, Sadie and Sam brainstormed a long list of ideas on a whiteboard that Sam had stolen from the Science Center. Even with his bad foot, Sam was an accomplished thief, and he enjoyed a petty theft from time to time. He had walked into the Science Center for a goodbye meeting with Larsson. On the way out, he had seen the whiteboard unattended in a hallway, and he rolled it right out of the building, and then kept rolling it—across Harvard Yard, waving at a tour of prospective students as he passed, through Harvard Square, straight down Kennedy Street, and right up into the elevator of their building. The key to being a good thief, Sam always felt, was utter brazenness. Later in the week, he stole a pack of multicolor dry-erase markers from the Harvard Coop. He slipped them into the enormous pocket of the enormous coat that Marx had given him, and he walked right out the door.

For a long time, nothing they wrote on the whiteboard felt essential to them. They might have never made a game before. Their office might be in Sam’s rich roommate’s apartment, but they were young enough to believe that whatever they made, it could very well become a classic. As Sam often said to Sadie, “Why make anything if you don’t believe it could be great?”

It is worth noting that greatness for Sam and Sadie meant different things. To oversimplify: For Sam, greatness meant popular. For Sadie, art.

By May, with Sam’s purloined dry-erase markers already squeaky and parched, Sadie was worried that they would never settle on an idea, and that they’d run out of time to make the game. From her point of view, they were already on an incredibly, indeed impossibly, tight schedule.

They stood in front of the whiteboard, which was covered with their rainbow of brainstorms. “There’s something here, I know it,” Sam said.

“What if there’s not?” Sadie said.

“Then we’ll come up with something else,” Sam said. He grinned at Sadie.

“You have no right to be this happy,” Sadie said.

While Sadie experienced this period of indecision as stressful, Sam didn’t feel that way at all. The best part of this moment, he thought, is that everything is still possible. But then, Sam could feel that way. Sam was a decent artist and he would come to be a decent programmer and level designer, but remember, he had never made a single game before. It was Sadie who knew what it took to make a game—even a bad game—and it was Sadie who would do most of the heavy lifting when it came to the programming, the engine building, and everything else.

Sam was not a physically affectionate person—something to do with having been touched too much during his years in the hospital. But he took Sadie’s shoulders in his hands—she was a full inch taller than him—and he looked into her eyes. “Sadie,” he said. “Do you know why I want to make a game?”

“Of course. Because you foolishly think it will make you rich and famous.”

“No. It’s very simple. I want to make something that will make people happy.”

“That seems trite,” Sadie remarked.

“I don’t think it is. Do you remember when we were kids, and how much fun it used to be to spend the whole afternoon in some game world?”

“Of course,” Sadie said.

“Sometimes, I would be in so much pain. The only thing that kept me from wanting to die was the fact that I could leave my body and be in a body that worked perfectly for a while—better than perfectly, actually—with a set of problems that were not my own.”

“You couldn’t land at the top of a pole, but Mario could.”

“Exactly. I could save the princess, even when I could barely get out of bed. So, I do want to be rich and famous. I am, as you know, a bottomless pit of ambition and need. But I also want make something sweet. Something kids like us would have wanted to play to forget their troubles for a while.”

Sadie was moved by Sam’s words—in the years she had known him, he so rarely mentioned his own pain. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

“Good,” Sam said, as if they had settled something. “We should leave for the theater now.”

They were taking the night off to go see Marx in a student production of Twelfth Night at the mainstage of the American Repertory Theater. It was something of a big deal to be cast in the mainstage show. Since Marx was lending them the apartment for the summer, Sam had thought it would be a good idea for both of them to go.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Copyright © 2022 by Gabrielle Zevin.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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