Why So Many Writers Are Focused On Time Travel

Renata and Michal Hornstein Pavillion at the Muse de Beaux Arts de Montreal
Renata and Michal Hornstein Pavillion at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has free entry to its permanent collection this week, so a friend and fellow writer set off for a visit. I love going to the museum for inspiration and a bit of calm reflection, especially during the holidays. You chat about life and look at beautiful paintings and sculptures, getting a history lesson in at the same time. It’s great brain candy and a lovely way to spend a cold dark winter afternoon.

My friend told me she was creating a new series about time-travel targeting young adults. So we discussed different modes of travel to help get the main character to where he needed to be in order for the story to take place. It was a fun conversation while we admired works by AJ Casson, Picasso and Monet.

I told her about a story I’m working on that takes a main character from the future to the past to solve a mystery that has remained unsolved. “Wow,” she said. “Two of us working on time-travel stories at the same time. That’s kind of weird.”

And then I remembered speaking with two other authors I know who are also working on the same time-travel theme. So, naturally, I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t coincidence, but rather a sign of the times we live in.

You know how when one successful novel with an underlying theme (like vampires), comes out, a slew of other stories in the same genre suddenly pop up? We all know that publishers are building on the trend set by the author.

But in this case, there hasn’t been a recent hit novel or movie about time travel. The last one I can think of is The Time Traveler’s Wife which debuted in 2003 (please correct me if I’m wrong).

I’m wondering if it’s more about an uncertain future and people going back to a time where life seemed simpler, but more importantly, the outcome was known. With all the animosity between nations and people, massive weather events related to climate change, wars forcing refugees into neighbouring countries and farther abroad, it feels like there’s a lot of negative stuff happening these days.

But how much simpler were those times, really? To us, yes, the problems seem surmountable because, in fact, some smart and sensible people found a way to solve problems like food shortages, lead poisoning, political issues, etc….The reality is that for the people living in each era you think about, the problems were equally dire as they are now. In the 1950s people built bomb shelters in their backyards while schools ran drills for getting students to safety in case of an attack. Things were pretty grim back then.

Let’s hope that the rational minds, geniuses and others prevail and can solve our current problems. We want to be able to look back to this time and realize that all was well and problems were solved with even tempers and level heads.

The Olympian in the Bathroom

Sometimes the unexpected happens – like yesterday when I was chatting with the business owner across the hall from our office. One of her clients was there and had just slipped off to use the facilities. She looked at me and then nodded towards her client’s bag that was resting on the chair. “There are two Olympic medals in there.”

“What do you mean?” It’s not every day you hear that phrase.

“There are two Olympic medals in that bag. Right now.”

“You mean, like, from PyeongChang?”

“Yup.”

“Does that mean there’s an Olympian in the bathroom?” I was still focused on the medals, but able to figure out that if there were two Olympic medals in that bag, that there must be an Olympian nearby.  She told me who it was – and since I didn’t ask the Olympian if I could write about her, I’ll respect her privacy. Sorry.

The Olympian appeared and I became star struck and said idiotic things like, “Do you think the gold medals are really made out of gold?” *  (This is why I should never meet important people – especially when I’m unprepared.) So, the business owner said to the Olympian, “Can we see your medals again? I was just telling Kate about them.” The Olympian pulls them out and puts them in my hands. They are as big as saucers and very heavy. Like 5 lbs heavy, maybe more. And I’m looking at them and I am in awe of what this woman has accomplished. And every other athlete who competes at an international level outside of big-league sports.

That night at dinner, I told my kids about my experience and what a thrill it was to hold these medals. My daughter said, “Why is it such a big deal? You didn’t win those medals.”

“Because I can appreciate the amount of training, effort, and sacrifices this woman made to get to where she is. Her medals are symbols of her achievements.”

“Well, what’s she doing with them in her bag, walking around the city?”

Yeesh. My kids and practical questions. I didn’t know the answer – I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to ask that question. Instead, I just took them in, asked the Olympian about the venue, the event, and life during the two weeks they were there and admired her tenacity and drive that led her to the top of her sport.

 

* This is quite possibly the dumbest question I could have asked. I was holding the medal and feeling its weight when I said it. At $1300/oz. a 5 lb medal would cost approximately C$104,000. -however, I did find out that  each gold medal contains 6 grams of gold.

 

Crazy Rich Asians Book Review

I listened to Crazy Rich Asians with a friend while driving down to Florida a few weeks ago and it made the trip fly by. While it is definitely a fun read and light and fluffy, there are also really interesting aspects to it that I wasn’t expecting – in particular the insight into Singapore and Singaporean elite culture.
This book is a tongue in cheek look at the old money Singaporeans and contrasts it to “new wealth” Mainland Chinese, as well as to all the rest of us. The premise is simple: a history professor at NYU has to return to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend and asks his girlfriend of two years to go with him. He has kept his ultra-wealthy background a secret from her and has lived a fairly low-key life in New York. Nothing prepares her for her introduction to Singapore and the scrutiny she comes under from his family and the rest of his circle once she arrives. Mayhem ensues, competition for her beau’s affection abounds, and she is completely stunned by everything she sees and experiences.
Kwan is incredibly detailed in his descriptions of life among the uber-elite in Singapore. Their wealth goes back farther than the Europeans and certainly makes old-money North Americans look like nouveau riche. He has an excellent way of developing all his characters including his main character, Nick, who, having grown up with enormous amounts of wealth doesn’t understand what the big deal is. His naiveté gets him into a lot of trouble with his girlfriend (who provides the normalcy in the book). The other characters around them are well-developed and also fascinating.
It is a great story, really, it’s a family saga, and provides more depth and insight than you might be expecting from a book that is also fun and entertaining. It also makes me want to visit Singapore, a country I hadn’t really considered before. I am looking forward to reading China Rich Girlfriend.

Bellevue Square Book Review

The premise of this book is that the narrator, Jean Mason, has a doppleganger who is wandering around Bellevue Square. This drives her to distraction and she becomes obsessed with finding her and confronting her.
There are a series of events that take place, her narration is wonderful, and we figure out fairly quickly that she is not a reliable narrator. But she really has a dry sense of humour and is fun to read. The other characters she interacts with are equally funny and dry. I enjoyed this book although like many other reviewers was a little in the dark at the end of it…..But here is my theory.

You may not want to read the rest of my review if you are planning on reading the book as there are spoilers. 
Continue reading

When Should an Author Say Goodbye to a Series?

You know those fiction series where you finish the first one – which you loved  – and you’re so excited to discover that there are more to come? It’s kind of like eating the first Cheezie. All that addictive cheesy-salty taste and a texture like styrofoam that melts in your mouth. Yum! But by the twentieth book (or thousandth Cheezie), the characters are no longer as enjoyable as they once were and the suspense in the character’s personal life begins to wear on you. Maybe you’re tired of the main character with two competing loves, or the possessionless wanderer who never seems to settle down. You need closure.

Characters who genuinely grow and move forward in their lives – and in a series – are much easier to stick with than those who never seem to get it together. Even whacky characters can get stale after the 15th book and as readers, we lose interest. I think the worst, however, is when the author has lost interest in the characters and it shows in the writing. If you’re not sure, just go back and read the first in a series you love and compare it to the latest to see if the attention to plot and detail is the same. Are you reading it because it’s just the next in the series and you don’t know when to stop (just like Cheezies!), or are you enjoying each one because it’s authentic?

The problem, of course, is money. If the series is hugely successful, the publisher is going to be offering the author delicious, wonderful sums and royalties to continue the series. Eventually, however, the author may be out of ideas of how to progress the series or have fallen out of love with the main character and that’s when it shows in the writing.

One of my favourite series started to lose me after about the 10th book.  The main character responded to a question with “Don’t know, don’t care.” It was so out of character, I felt like the writer was actually talking about her own interest in the plot! But I still went out and bought the next book – just to confirm that the author hadn’t had a rebirth of enthusiasm (no such luck). Which is exactly why publishers write cheques for those series in the first place. You see? I’m part of the problem!

In another instance of a series I had been devoted to, the plot turned out to be so thin that 3/4 of the book was sub-plots – to the point where you almost forgot what the main plot was about and it was solved so quickly and easily with little intrigue, that there too, I thought the author had lost interest in the series.

I think it’s up to the author to recognize when a character’s series has reached its natural end and not wait until the publisher says, “Sales are down! We need to come up with a new, intricate plot twist!” That only usually makes things worse. As painstaking as it might be to say goodbye, there are likely other, wonderful stories pent up inside the writer just waiting to get out. Given a strong fanbase, any new story introduced by the same author will be just as much of a hit as the old one.

Memorable stories start with memorable characters. But if a character just keeps getting into the same scrapes and never moves forward, eventually, we readers will say goodbye – even if the author won’t.