The Story Behind The Story

As I’ve said before, I’m a better writer than I am a marketer.  That’s not to say I’m necessarily a brilliant writer, just that one skill outshines the other.

On the Timely Persuasion website, I periodically play around with “The Story” section at the top in an attempt to get the best mix of marketing bang plus factual synopsis.  At one point a few months ago I had a late night inspiration and tried a long, rambly, semi in-character and semi as-author version.  Days later I took it down and revised in a simpler direction.

In the interest of a complete permanent record, here’s that longer aborted version:

One early reviewer hit the nail on the head when they said the story of Timely Persuasion has “a premise that is very difficult to summarize in a review.”  That said, I’ll give it a shot below:

Timely Persuasion follows an anonymous music critic on a quest to save his sister from the relationship that ended her life. After a chance encounter at a bowling alley leaves him with the ability to travel in time, our hero uses his musical knowledge to “blink” through the years attempting to keep the couple apart by any means necessary. But is her husband Nelson really to blame?

Along the way he accidentally restructures his family tree, kick-starts his sagging love life, launches a new rock star, and crosses paths with the likes of Huey Lewis, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel. Reliving past events through the eyes of his younger selves, he soon finds that correlation and causation are not always what they seem.

This story of death, life, love, and rock and roll defies genre conventions while paying tribute to the classic time travel tales that came before it. Fans of Quantum Leap or Back To The Future will love Timely Persuasion.

Another reviewer read a version of the above synopsis and had this to say:

“To be blunt, Timely Persuasion‘s misleading plot blurb makes a fun novel sound absolutely cheesy. Happily, Timely Persuasion absolutely does not go down this road [and] ends up being much more enjoyable than the the above description had led me to expect.”

So we’ve learned that I’m a better author than I am a marketer.  Let’s try this synopsis thing again:

Theorizing that his sister’s death was the fault of her husband, an anonymous music critic drank too much at a bowling alley….and vanished.

He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that omit him and driven by a guilty conscience to change history for the better.

His only guides on this journey are song lyrics, cryptic messages linking past and future that only he can see and hear.

And so our hero finds himself blinking from year to year, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next blink will find his sister safe at home.

Ok. That wasn’t much better since I just parodied the intro to Quantum Leap.  But it is a decent summary, and both QL and Back To the Future were heavy influences that the story pays respectful homage to.  One more try:

On the simplest level, this book is about music and bowling and beer and regrets and relationships and time travel.  It’s a love letter to a misspent youth, peppered with a soundtrack for the ages.  Contained in these pages you’ll find references and allusions to the music of (in rough order of appearance): Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Harry Chapin, The Beatles, Blur, Carter USM, Cast, Supergrass, Black Grape, Oasis, James, Kula Shaker, The Wonder Stuff, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Possum Dixon, Pearl Jam, The Offspring, Rodan, Hole, Beck, Reverend Horton Heat, Butthole Surfers, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, 311, Jonathan Edwards, Soul Coughing, Metallica, G. Love & Special Sauce, Paul McCartney, Anthrax, Mary’s Danish, The Mr. T Experience, Bryan Adams, John Waite, Dinosaur Jr., The Moody Blues, Billy Idol, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, Afghan Whigs, Guns N Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Don McLean, Pantera, Megadeth, Janice Joplin, Jim Morrison, Wilco and more.

Better?  Summarizing seems almost harder than writing the book was.  It’ll make a heck of a lot more sense once you’ve read it.  Let’s finish up by going back to something else that first reviewer said:

“Think Back to the Future.  Think The Butterfly Effect.  Think…oh just read the book already.  It’s pretty good.”

Sounds more like a blog post than a proper story synopsis, eh?

Original Ideas

When I made my little joking reference to Lost in the launch post on Friday, I hadn’t actually watched the most recent episode that had aired the night before.  (We time shift and are usually a couple days behind.)  So when I got around to watching it on launch night, I was surprised to see that it was such a heavy time travel episode. I was especially floored by one scene in particular, where two time traveling characters are screaming while a doctor asks questions and gives one of them an injection.  It seemed a little familiar…

Upon starting Timely Persuasion almost 5 years ago, I wanted to do some non-traditional things with the story and especially the genre.  I’ve loved time travel for as long as I can remember, but I’ll be the first to admit it gets a little cliched from time to time.  Not wanting to fall into that, I tried to alternate between paying tribute to my favorites while adding a new spin. This gave me the energy and drive I needed to get through the first draft in 6 weeks, then repeatedly gave me heart palpitations for the next several years when time to work on the book was non-existent and other stories kept stealing my thunder.

Below are some examples; I’ll try to be somewhat vague since I know most of you haven’t actually had time to receive your copy and read it as of yet.

  • In the film The Butterfly Effect, the protagonist time travels just by thinking about it and willing himself back there, which is something I’d never seen before. He also uses a diary as an impetus for these thoughts, which was something I considered before abandoning it early on.
  • Hiro Nakamura from the television series Heroes is another one able to will himself back in time via thought, though not quite as accurately as he would like. He also had an encounter with his future self, formerly a big time travel no-no.
  • Dan Vasser from the short lived series Journeyman also had a familiar self encounter where he gets into a knockdown-dragout fistfight with his past self. He also inadvertently changed his son into a daughter due to the butterfly effect of one of his time trips.
  • On Lost, not only did Desmond have his flashes last week, he also took possession of his past body in an episode during season 3.
  • Scariest of all was the original trailer for the Denzel Washington film Deja Vu. It had me in a panic that I’d have to heavily revise or even scrap TP altogether based on what I thought the underlying premise of the film was going to be. That fear proved unfounded when the actual film turned out to be nothing like the trailer was hinting at. (Random aside: I know I’m in a minority, but I really liked Deja Vu. More on that another time…)

On the other hand I still haven’t found a time traveler who has to adhere to laws of physics quite like my narrator, though I openly admit that some of these rules were inspired by Al the Hologram from Quantum Leap. I’ve always thought he had the sweetest time travel deal of any character ever created (all the glory and none of the danger), though they never really explored or even addressed that on the show.

Don’t misinterpret the above thoughts. I’m not bitter, and I don’t feel slighted or robbed or that I should go out and make a stink and sue over stolen ideas. It’s just not in me, and besides copyright law doesn’t really allow for it. I guess it just goes to show that given the same concepts and ingredients any idea is obtainable. It’s just a matter of how your mind works, how you assemble them, and what you use to get there.