In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Salute to A WRINKLE IN TIME -- and a New Voice in This Year's Fiction

It's hard to believe it, but 50 years have passed since the publication of Madeleine L'Engle's book A WRINKLE IN TIME. "Young adult" fiction before the genre really existed, and providing a powerful journey of spiritual seeking as well as a new definition of courage, this novel is one I've returned to at least every five years or so, to see "how the author did it" -- and why it means to much to me.

Now I'm honored to present a guest post from Ellen Larson, whose November 2013 book, IN RETROSPECT, connected right away for me to the L'Engle classic. Make sure to connect at the end of this post, too -- there's a role for you in what's ahead for Ellen Larson.


A L’Ove L’Etter to Madeleine L’Engle

The Happy Medium. Tesseract. Sport. Magic words to kids like me who read A Wrinkle in Time when it was published in 1962. Such a mysterious, heartrending, and above all inspiring book. My first science fiction read, though I didn’t make that connection at the time. Books were just books to kid me. But I was aware that this book by Madeleine L’Engle was grounded in science, and thus it seemed more real to me than other books I’d read that had a fantasy element, like The Princess and Curdie, or were simply mainstream books like The Lord of the Flies. That bears repeating: More real. Science fiction; more real. What a paradoxical reaction! I was hooked.

In the years that followed, I read Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov with increasing fervor and preferences. I was never too fond of Heinlein’s big metaphysical hit, Stranger in a Strange Land (didn’t like the sexual politics—though again, I was too young to give my uneasiness a name), but I absolutely loved his lesser known The Door Into Summer, a whimsical love story that hooked me on time travel for life because of its elegant pair of time travel devices. First Heinlein uses have simple cryonics, which allows the hero to go forward in time without aging (hey, it counts!). And second, upon finding himself thirty years in the future, when such things just might be possible, Heinlein introduces a mad genius scientist who has invented a time-travel machine.

What I found compelling about the book—what I find compelling about the best time-travel stories—was that I could literally feel my mind bending as I tried to follow reality as it twisted and seemingly changed. I like that a lot.

As both a writer and a reader I am a fan in intricate plotting, a preference that led me to mystery reading and writing as well, but there is no plotting more complex than a well-told time-travel tale. I crave that moment in the story when reality shifts and appears to rewrite itself, exposing the power of the writer as the plot at last unfolds and the perceived complexity is revealed to be elegant simplicity. And that is only one model of time-travel structure.

In addition to plots like that in The Door Into Summer, in which events remain constant and only perception changes, there are equally mind-boggling tales of parallel universes, altered timelines and epic crossroads in history. This structure generally involves the inevitable happening even though history has indeed been changed by the time-traveling characters. The delight comes from watching the efforts of protagonist or antagonist to cause or prevent the inevitable, in ways we never expect. The iconic Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, written by the great science-fiction author Harlan Ellison, is a prime example of this structure. Though she has earned Kirk’s love and our respect, Edith Keeler must die; Kirk must choose between saving her and upending history, or letting her die. All that needs to be answered is the question of how—and how the moral question will be answered.
The Prioress from IN RETROSPECT

When I came to write my own time-travel story, In Retrospect, I started by choosing the structure that would best suit the idea (the conflict) that was bubbling in my head. The Infinite-Number-of-Parallel-Universes approach works great to explore characters. The Door-Into-Summer approach lends itself to deliciously evil plotting. The Edith-Keeler approach leads to great moral conflict for the characters. I excluded parallel universes first, because while tremendous fun in its way (my first run in with parallel universes came with the iconic Dark Shadows in the 1960s, btw) it doesn’t include the mind-bending aspect I crave.

With apologies for skipping Kurt Vonnegut, this left me with a choice that can best be summed up by the question: In my futuristic world, can history be changed via time travel (Edith-Keeler) or not (Door-Into-Summer)?

I made my choice—but I’m not gong to elaborate here, because in fact the answer to the question is germane to the plot itself. It is also the topic under discussion when my protagonist, Retrospector Merit Rafi, first meets Eric Torre, a wave-aspect physicist with whom her life will be forever entwined:
The boy with the wavy yellow hair gave an argumentative snort. “But you haven’t addressed the question! Why can’t you change history?”
“Because you just can’t. Trust me. I’ve been there.” Having settled that issue, Merit raised a paper cup to her lips. Damn, the Rasakans made good wine. She breathed in the sweet summer air and let her gaze roam across the rolling meadows of Bergama. It never ceased to amaze her. Though half the Earth had been destroyed eight hundred years ago by the insanity of their forebears; though the coasts had been redrawn and the climate changed, this land called by the ancients Anatolia, then Asia Minor, then Turkey, had survived, flourished, and—eventually—regained its plenitude. It was a fine day to be sitting on the grass beneath an almond tree drenched in blossoms, a fine day for shooting the metaphysical breeze with new colleagues over a bottle or two between seminars. A damned fine day to be alive.
But the boy didn’t seem to have noticed that the debate was over. “That’s pretense, not proof,” he insisted.
Merit’s attention snapped back into place. “I beg your pardon?” She peered more closely at his freckled face. It looked mighty stubborn, in a cheerful sort of way. “If somebody asks you why she can’t walk on water, don’t you simply roll your eyes and say, ‘Trust me, you just can’t?’ ”
“No.” He shook his finger back and forth—shook it at her, Merit Rafi, graduate of the Oku Science Conservatory, officer of the Civil Protection Force with a full nineteen months’ experience, Select. “I tell her that water molecules are not cohesive enough to support the mass of a human body, nor is the surface tension high enough to resist the static shear—but that if she were a waterbug she could do it.”
It’s been a long journey from the day I first cracked open A Wrinkle In Time—the day that set me on the road to writing a time-travel book of my own. I think a thank-you is long overdue. So thank you, Madeleine L’Engle, and Happy Fiftieth Anniversary!

Beth adds: Ellen Larson is currently running a Kickstarter project to fund the making of the book trailer for IN RETROSPECT. Take a look at this exciting project -- the art is amazing, thanks to concept artist Mike Sissons (that's his painting of the Prioress, earlier), the video is close to completion, and there's a role for supporters right now ... and to salute this author and her work, which in my office will go on the same shelf where  A Wrinkle in Time now stands.


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