Archive for July, 2008

Earthquake

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

LA had an earthquake today.

In a case of life imitating art, I was sitting at my desk when I felt the chair move.

It wasn’t just the chair.  Everything was shaking.

A coffee mug rattled on the desk.  Books toppled like dominoes on a shelf above me, knocking a baseball onto the floor.  A picture fell off the wall.

“Earthquake!” I thought aloud as I scrambled towards the doorjamb out of habit and instinct. I was a bit dazed but scared sober from the adrenaline rush of the quake.  People say I’m crazy, but I actually enjoy the thrill of a good California earthquake as long as nothing breaks and no one gets hurt.

When the tremors subsided I started to put my apartment back together.  Walking over to retrieve the baseball I stopped when I saw the signature on it.  David Ortiz.

It was then that I realized the significance of the moment, which was odd since it took something different for me to notice the similarities.

If you predict the future in a deleted scene, did it really happen at all?

Or perhaps my future self had something to do with it…

Commentary 26: Across 26 Winters

Friday, July 25th, 2008

And we’ve almost come to the end.  Generally speaking, endings are tough.  You need to tie up as many dangling threads as possible, leave the reader satisfied that reading the book was worthwhile, and try to go out on a memorable high note without it feeling abrupt or forced.  Let’s see how I did…

  • So, what happens here?  After the bowling alley meeting in the last chapter, the old man blinked forward to the hospital where the narrator was on the old time machine.  He injected him with the syringe (that he still had in his possession from a version of the experiment in the further future), then grabbed him tightly by the arms to cut off his circulation.  This traps him back in time much like Nelson, but also gives him a little more control over his predicament with the addition of the injection.
  • He wakes up back on his couch with his headphones on, exactly where he was before his second time travel trip back in Chapter 3.  The intent is to tease/suggest that it was all a dream, even though it definitely wasn’t.
  • Being able to switch to the second person after writing everything prior in the first person was very energizing.
  • The original ending used to be very different starting at the point immediately after the narrator hears “Won One” on the radio.
  • Having Nelson on a date with the redheaded girl in a new alternate timeline serves as a reminder that Nelson is still out there, as well as an illustration that the narrator was able to at least partly let go of both of his obsessions.
  • I like the “confident confidant” line, as well as “were my romantic misses actually my missus?”  Ah, wordplay.
  • Couldn’t resist the random “I am somewhere in the city, I am climbing up a fire escape” M. Ward lyric even though it had no bearing on the story.  In an earlier draft I had the entire “I Am” poem here, but realized that was overkill.
  • “Why do I end up in the car so much?” is specifically for Nate Pepper’s benefit.  As I said before, he once pointed out that every story I write has a scene in a car.
  • The “little sister got a boyfriend” line that the narrator remembers is a G. Love lyric from the future relative to when this scene takes place, with the implication being that his future self made him say it previously.
  • I love how the opening lines to the final little section form a neat little triangle/pyramid type shape.
  • The “big reveal” if you want to call it that is the fact that our “narrator” has been secretly writing the entire book to himself from inside his own head and hiding it on a computer.  There are a few hints to this scattered within the text of the earlier chapters.
  • The most interesting place to compare the alternate ending linked above to the actual ending is in the part about the characters not having names.  The first version felt too bitter and vindictive, as if the narrator hadn’t actually learned from his experience.  Here it is a little more subdued.  Yes, he still hates Nelson.  But he realizes that it’s not all that important in the scheme of things, and that it wasn’t all that rational to begin with.  “Maybe it doesn’t really matter in the long run.”  Once he’s learned to let go and not try to have everything both ways, he’s finally free to have a happy ending.
  • “Hate needs a name” is also a possible clue to unlocking the epilogue.
  • I am the walrus.
  • There are 36 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Six Online

Commentary 25: 25 Minutes To Go

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

One last blink to set things right, and our hero finally learns enough to know what has to be done.  I sort of knew from the beginning that the story would more or less start and end at the bowling alley, and that comes to fruition here.

Other tidbits:

  • My wife’s favorite excerpt is the  “sea of red liquid” paragraph.
  • The first part of this chapter is occurring simultaneously with Local Boy’s blink in the previous chapter.  As soon as Local Boy makes his change, the timeline ripples around the narrator.  This serves to illustrate and confirm what the old man had described about the timeline just changing around a displaced time traveler who is protected from paradox.
  • Have you figured out the meaning of the lottery numbers yet?  I’ll post the answer in the comments…
  • The paragraph regarding the building blocks of time travel is spooky since the underlying time travel theory in the book really does serve to explain psychic ability, conscience, reflex, love at first sight, impulse purchases, schizophrenia, instinct, déjà vu and alcohol induced blackouts when you think about it.
  • The tease here is that he’ll play the lottery and win, but that would be so cliche I couldn’t actually have him do it.
  • Yes, I know that Jack Daniel’s technically isn’t bourbon.
  • Turning the tables on the first meeting between the older and younger counterparts was fun.
  • There are 12 known musical references in this short chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Five Online

Commentary 24: 24 Hour Party People

Monday, July 14th, 2008

We get a little time travel heavy at the start of this chapter as far as “rules” go, but later move into some hands-on fun as Local Boy revisits his origins with an eye on trying to undo them.

Other tidbits:

  • I admit the cliffhanger in the previous chapter was a bit of a tease that’s quickly resolved here.  But I did find it interesting to explore what may be happening to alternate timelines that are “left behind” each time a character blinks.  These dangling threads are often ignored in most time travel tales.
  • When the old man extends his theory to say we saw the narrator die outside the bar when he passed out, he’s actually wrong.  What we really saw was the a time traveling mind controlling a drunken host, and when the sober mind vanishes he literally passes out.  It always drives me crazy that “theories” presented in fiction on a whim always turn out to be true, so I intentionally made the old man be wrong for the right reason here.
  • “I was wrong.  And I could be wrong again” is more music from the future spoken by the old man.  Fitting that it’s Paul Simon, showing that the same old favorites will continue to be followed.
  • “Infinite Perfection” was a title I considered for the book based on the line in this chapter.  Prior to that I was back and forth between “Timeless Persuasion” and “Timely Persuasion.” I actually Googled both at one point and decided to go with Timeless since there was a horse named Timely Persuasion, but I must have forgotten about it later and flip-flopped.  The inspiration for the “Persuasion” part comes from the song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
  • The Dad’s blink was tough to write about in the context of the book since everything else is in the first person.  It didn’t make sense to break convention for this, so it had to be told from the perspective of one of the versions of the narrator.  In the end I cheated a little with a third person telling followed by a first person caveat of “At least that’s the way part of my brain remembers the story now.”
  • Dad’s blink is inspired by how they revisit the first movie in Back to the Future Part II.
  • I’ve mentioned the possibility of a sequel previously.  I have a general idea of how it would work and how it could expand upon this first story, but in all honesty I don’t really know if I’ll ever get around to writing it.  However, I do know this:  If there is a sequel, the title will most likely be “Nelsonification” after the secret word provided by the Doctor.
  • There are 25 musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Four Online

Adventures in Customer Service

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Yesterday morning  I woke up to an email from Coverville’s Brian Ibbott pointing me to a blog post that referenced Timely Persuasion:

Customer Service – Compare and Contrast (Most of the relevant content is crossed out – a good thing I’ll get to in a minute…)

The owner of the blog had heard about the book on Coverville and purchased it.  But when the book arrived, it had the correct cover but the incorrect interior.  The pages were for a different book altogether!

The paperbacks are printed on demand via Lulu, so these things happen on occasion.  I’ve heard of one other instance where this happened with my book, and that time it was resolved quickly and painlessly by Lulu.

But not this time.  As the blog post details, Lulu demanded visual evidence of the defect by either scanning or photographing portions of the book.  They also promised a followup from someone and a week had passed with no further contact.  All the poor guy wants to do is read my $15 time travel novel and it suddenly turns into a huge ordeal.

Upon reading this I immediately jumped into customer service mode by posting a reply comment letting him know I’d file a complaint on his behalf and in the meantime I’d be happy to send him a free autographed copy for the trouble.  Although technically I know that as the author I shouldn’t need to dole out compensation for Lulu’s mistakes, my past (and likely future) work experience kicked in and said “Take care of the customer first, figure out what went wrong and prevent it from recurring second.” And although the error was Lulu’s and not mine, I feel I do bear some responsibility for selecting Lulu as a partner.  But above everything else for me at that moment was not losing a reader over the snafu, and I figured I could sort out my own reimbursement with Lulu if necessary.  Fortunately it didn’t come to that.

I posted the problem to the Lulu support forum here.  90 minutes later I had an email from Angela Hooper, an assistant manager saying this was certainly not the policy and assuring me it was an isolated incident that she’d address after making things right for the customer.  She kept me in the loop during her contacts with him, compensated me for the trouble as well, and later in the day the blogger struck-through his first post and added this new entry:

Way to Go Lulu.com!!! – Making Things Right

I find it most interesting how the resolution was a team effort all around.  Thanks to Brian for the heads up that got the ball rolling, Angela for stepping up to the plate to set everything right (with both the customer and myself), and Scott for being such a good sport about the whole mishap.

All’s well that ends well.

Commentary 23: 23:59 End Of The World

Monday, July 7th, 2008

I’m stuck on an introduction for this chapter, so let’s just dive straight in:

  • Nelson had served his purpose in the story, so putting him on the machine and making him go comatose was mostly just to get him out of the way.  His fate is intentionally left ambiguous just in case he needs to be resurrected for a sequel.  It also served to foreshadow the ultimate ending a little bit, though at the time this wasn’t the plan.  I guess you could say it both foreshadowed and inspired the eventual ending.
  • The adult version of Local Boy has inherited his son’s penchant for quoting song lyrics, though he only quotes Local Boy songs.
  • I actually hadn’t realized that the “in head” travel as described was a lot like Being John Malkovich until I wrote that sentence, but decided that it was a description the audience would relate to and left it in as a tribute.
  • In the beginning I really didn’t want to resort to alternate dimensions as part of the time travel theory, but it seems that in the end every story has to end up there to a certain degree.  This world’s alternatives are much like the BTTF equivalents.  Once you’ve branched the timeline, that new branch is “real” to you and you can never get back to the original one.  So time is both linear and malleable at the same time.  Then again, this is all theoretical. 🙂
  • The narrator realizes that if/when he sets everything right, once his future self returns to his “present” he’ll essentially be replaced.  Thus far many of the problems have been caused by his being well intentioned but wanting to have it both ways (set up his sister and fix his own love life; eliminate Nelson and make Dad a rock star).  He needs to accept that “winning” for the greater good may involve a “loss” for himself.  A turning point for his character begins here.
  • In the first draft there were forty something chapters and almost every one ended with a cliffhanger, mainly to keep me amused and motivated at the end of each writing session.  Around the third or fourth draft I started to realize that the chapters were a little too short and the cliffhangers were often unnecessary.  I combined a lot of chapters to eliminate these false ends and be more consistent in lengths, but then the later chapters lacked a little bit of punch.  The father’s death twist was added to infuse some surprise into the final section.
  • There are 27 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Three Online

Commentary 22: 22 Days

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

The path to resolution begins here, and the narrator finally has his long awaited confrontation with Nelson.

Other tidbits:

  • We learn that the only reason a paradox hasn’t occurred is because the old man is still “displaced” in time.  Since the old man and the young narrator are the same person, time allows both of them to be protected so long as one is displaced.  In the simplest terms, if the old man was in his “present” when the narrator returned to this new body that would be the end.  The old man’s reluctance to go home is the only thing that allowed our hero to retain his consciousness despite his obvious genetic changes.  (I wish I had a clearer way to explain this.  Readers seem to be a little iffy on it except for hard core time travel geeks like me…)
  • There used to be a terrible scene with a lie detector test and a tape recording of a one way conversation just after the doctor shows up.  Read it at your own risk here.
  • The best thing to come from that aborted scene is the doctor’s “Thoughtful/Angry/Crazy man” speech, which I really like and salvaged in the final draft.
  • I also really like the soliloquy on hate the narrator gives in this chapter.  It’s one of his stronger rants exploring how hatred in general is often silly or baseless, much like his hatred of Nelson.  Fun fact:  My friend BoRyan found this scene to be fascinating, mainly because he has never felt hatred for anyone in his entire life.
  • Originally the time travel project started several years later as explained previously by the old man.  Here we learn the flipside of it from the doctor, who was visited by his future self and advised to start laying the groundwork earlier.  This is why the narrator is drawn into the project at a younger age.
  • The other thing that can be teased out of the doctor’s explanation of the earlier start is why there was a syringe during the narrator’s first brief hospital trip but not this time.  Using a similar strategy to that of the protagonist, first the doctor brought the full time travel technology back early.  Something went wrong, so he went further back and only gave hints and watched future travelers.  We’ve seen both timelines in the book.  The old man alludes to this when he says “Unless he did originally and has since undone it.”
  • “Revelity” is a word invented by a former colleague named Craig Bowers.  I may owe him a small royalty for using it…
  • There are 31 musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Two Online