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Dog Con IV, October 2015, Philadelphia

Recently, I attended Dog Con IV in Philadelphia. This event, celebrating releases from Raw Dog Screaming Press and its imprints, included a group tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary, readings from thirteen RDSP and Dog Star Books authors, and the transfer of the Readers’ Choice Award from last year’s winner Matt Betts to this year’s, Stephanie Wytovich. More fun-filled adventures took place on Sunday, but sadly I had to depart early that morning and missed more readings and signings. Pictures from the event are trickling out slowly over at my Instagram account, @kwtk, and Twitter, @kwtaylorwriter.

In addition to fangirling all over the authors I already knew and adored, I got to meet lots of new folks and heard some amazing bizarre fiction that made my brain hurt (in a good way). As always, Dog Star SF/F authors K. Ceres Wright (Cog), J.L. Gribble (Steel Victory and the just-announced sequel Steel Magic), Albert Wendland (The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes), and Matt Betts (Odd Men Out and Indelible Ink) brought their A game. I was delighted to also get to hear readings by new-to-me DS author Drew Conry-Murray (co-author of Wasteland Blues, with Scott Christian Carr) and was massively impressed by poet impresario B.E. Burkhead (The Underside of the Rainbow). Stephanie Wytovich is doing the amazing feat of turning one of her poetry collections (Hysteria) into a novel, and her reading featured both poetry and prose versions of the same scene; the effect of this was pretty fabulous and even gives me ideas for my creative writing pedagogy. Leland Pitts-Gonzalez (The Blood Poetry), D. Harlan Wilson (premiering his newest release, Battle without Honor or Humanity Volume 1), and Michael Arnzen (The Gorelets Omnibus among others) left the audience questioning the nature of reality, and horror authors Andy Deane (All the Darkness in the World) and Donna Lynch (Driving through the Desert among others) showed us the far pendulum swings of their subgenres from the darkly funny to the deeply affecting.

Prior to Saturday night’s readings was the aforementioned prison tour. Eastern State Penitentiary is a fascinating historical site, tragedy-filled not only for what went on there during its years of operation but for what it attempted to do yet couldn’t—rehabilitate inmates through solitary confinement. Our tour guide was a wellspring of both history and sociology about the prison system at the turn of the twentieth century as well as incarceration trends up to the present day. So while it was very cool on one hand to see decaying post-Victorian quasi-ruins and apply our observations to horror work or period pieces as fiction writers, it was also fascinating to think about the implications and relevancy to issues we still face in the US today regarding crime, race, and gender, and the oftentimes too dichotomous purposes of imprisonment (rehabilitation versus punishment). I’ve already discussed this tour with my women’s studies students, in fact, during a class session on women giving birth in prison.

Between the prison and the evening’s main event, attendees scattered to different museum sites around the city. K. Ceres Wright and I chose to stroll through the Rodin Museum, which proved a nice reprieve from considering heavy social issues. We spent a leisurely afternoon appreciating Auguste Rodin’s skills with the sculpture medium, primarily of faces and figures. This is the largest collection of Rodin pieces outside of Paris, and includes both originals and castings. Several versions of the iconic Thinker adorn the grounds, as does a copy of The Kiss. I was particularly taken with a portrait bust of playwright George Bernard Shaw, author of Pygmalian.

This whole weekend was well-attended, and it was amazing to connect with so many folks I’d never met, see old friends, and talk more deeply with people who have only heretofore been acquaintances. So much thanks to Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson for making such a great weekend possible. I couldn’t be more excited that my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, will join such great company when it’s released by Dog Star next spring.

And fish store comrades: let’s get to work on those 55 fiction pieces recounting our harrowing brush with death.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 6

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I’ve posted my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events. This is the last post in the series. You can find the earlier parts all linked at the end of this set of questions.

1. Who is your favorite author?

Because he’s the first popular fiction author who really got me reading voraciously, Stephen King. It isn’t so much that individual books of his stand out among my favorites, but he definitely taught me through all his work about character and dialogue and the fact that “horror” can mean a lot of different things and be just as subtle a genre as any other.

2. What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

I have several Sam Brody/Red Eye projects I’m working on as well as working on the sequel to The Curiosity Killers, tentatively titled The Girl with Mechanical Wings. I’m also putting out a new edition of my self-published short story collection Grinning Cracks and just released an audio version of my short story “Method Writing.”

3. Where else can we find you online?

Blog: kwtaylorwriter.com, Twitter: @kwtaylorwriter, Facebook: facebook.com/kwtaylorwriter, Instagram: @kwtk, and Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/K.W.-Taylor/e/B005Y183PE

The rest of my Confessions of a Writer series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 5

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

1. What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

I usually turn to books on the craft of writing for those things. Some of my favorites I’ve gone to multiple times include Plot vs. Character, by Jeff Gerke, and Architectures of Possibility, by Lance Olsen. Both books are useful for very different things. Gerke’s book is helpful for constructing plot for fairly straightforward, mainstream work aimed at a popular audience or genre. I’ve gone to some of his charts, graphs, and plotting methods time and again to outline both stories and novels. Olsen’s book is wonderful for idea generation, with lots of fun exercises at the end of each chapter. It’s also great for entirely different fiction than the kind Gerke guides one toward writing; Olsen inspires me to try crazy, experimental stuff that I can make great use of in short stories, especially.

2. Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

I love to read, which I think is a pre-requisite for being a competent writer, but I also love film and television and especially devour anything in the SF/F/H areas. I’m a huge podcast nerd and love finding new ones to listen to on my commute. I also jog extremely slowly and enjoy losing to my friends and family at board games. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a musician, and even though I don’t play anymore, I still have a great affinity for music.

3. What is the best book you’ve read this year?

I was still finishing up both my MFA and a graduate certificate in instructional design this year, and as a result much of what I had time to read all the way through were textbooks on writing, teaching, technology, and e-learning. But I managed to sneakily read the first few books in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series and absolutely adored the first book, Pines, for its pacing and suspense. I just finished Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and thought it was quite good. I’m currently reading J.L. Gribble’s Steel Victory and listening to Shelley Adina’s Lady of Devices on audiobook, both of which are wonderful so far and speak to the types of genre fiction I tend to enjoy the most.

4. What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?

I started hearing good things about The Gift as a strange little sleeper hit and was really glad I made it a point to not read any reviews before seeing it. I loved Joel Edgerton’s use of atmosphere and place. Thrillers with beautiful cinematography are worth repeat viewings to catch extra nuances each time.

5. What is your favorite book or series of all time?

In adulthood, my favorite is definitely Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, despite the fact that I got busy around the time book 12 came out and haven’t had a chance to get back to it. In childhood, my favorite series was the Wrinkle in Time books by Madeleine L’Engle. My favorite standalone novel is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I owe a lot to Butler in examining time travel fiction for paradoxes and structure and seamless integration of historical narratives, which I then put to good use in The Curiosity Killers.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 4

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

1. What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

One of my thesis advisors told me once to focus on one thing at a time, as I’m a habitual multitasker and overextend myself in all areas of my life. As a result, it was hard to get anything done with too many works in progress and too many obligations generally. I’ve learned to better zero in on what’s most important and try hard to get that completed before moving on to the next thing. I now have a color-coded priority list of my writing projects and am doing better with putting some pieces on the back burner. I’ve also learned to say “no” in other areas of my life and understand that to really master your craft, sometimes you have to let go of being the best at absolutely everything in your life. I can be a fabulous writer, but I probably shouldn’t also take up the trombone and expect to be great at that as well. I also probably shouldn’t volunteer to add extra things to my plate unless I’m sure I can devote reasonable time to them. A lot of a writer’s life is time management and prioritizing. When I was finishing the first draft of The Curiosity Killers, I was working full-time, teaching two college classes, and taking three graduate classes. I never sacrificed sleep, but I sacrificed a lot of leisure time. For the overscheduled writer, learn to take tiny breaks and soak up as much joy as you can from them, because they may be few and far between.

2. What advice would you give to another writer?

Perseverance is half the battle. If you really want to be good and successful, don’t give up. Things will happen that discourage you, but if you put your focus on your own work, try to make it high quality, and don’t compare yourself to others, you will likely find a lot of satisfaction. Also, don’t go into this thinking you’re getting a six-figure, 1970s-style multi-book deal. Money shouldn’t be your endgame, nor should quitting your day job. That era is gone, if it ever existed. Carve out a niche for yourself among your peers, among people who like the kind of stories you tell, and with publishers who believe in your work, and keep at it. Keep making it better. Keep taking the advice of people who’ve been doing it longer and whose work you admire on artistic merits. The saying used to be “Do what you love; the money will follow.” I think in the current state of the industry, it should instead be “Do what you love, get better, don’t stop, and you will achieve something with your work that will bring you satisfaction.” For some people, that satisfaction might come in the form of money, but for others, it might come solely from critical acclaim or respect from peers or students. And if you’re writing what you really believe in, that will be more than enough.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 3

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

1. How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I don’t get to write every day, but I try to, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. I write either on my lunch hour or for a few hours in the early evening. Weekends are tough while the weather’s still good, because I like to get outside and gather inspiration. When I do NaNoWriMo, I sometimes do a bootcamp weekend day of writing for up to eight hours with just a few breaks. When I start to get in the “zone,” I try not to stop! The last few chapters of The Curiosity Killers were written on weekend-long writing binges, and I distinctly remember working for hours on my laptop at my dining room table one fall evening, beaming with excitement when I could finally type “The End.”

2. Did you go to college for writing?

I did my undergrad in communication, focusing on radio and TV broadcasting. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a disc jockey (instead, I used that experience as inspiration for Sam Brody’s career and workplace in The Red Eye). As I took more classes in literature and writing, however, I considered changing my major to English but was too far invested in finishing within four years. I went to grad school, first getting an MA in literature with a little creative writing coursework and then in June of ’15, I finished an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. Even my com major had a lot of writing in it, however, including a course in TV screenwriting, which is something I’d like to do more of in the future.

3. What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?

None of these are awesome. Spelling errors bother me the most, because in this age of spellcheck, we should all know better. I am a comma perfectionist and realize not everyone else can be, so punctuation errors don’t bother me quite so much. Grammar errors get fuzzy once we’re talking about creative writing or style choices, and grammatical rules evolve over time. I’m becoming less of a prescriptivist the older I get.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 2

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

  1. What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

The first concrete piece I remember writing that I think would qualify as a real piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in high school called “The Conspiracy to Catch Dierdre Long.” It was a romantic comedy about two teachers set up by their students. I also remember writing a horror romance in early college—the title now escapes me—about a rock star who quits performing to lead a quite life out of the spotlight but is then found out by a stalker.

  1. What’s the best part about writing?

The best part about writing is shutting out the real world for a bit and envisioning my scene. I try to engage all five senses and truly feel as if I’m my point-of-view character, then just allow the scene to play out, seeing how it would unfold both adhering to my outline and perhaps deviating from it, and experiencing moments for their greatest emotional and thematic impact. I like being able to slow moments down and speed them up and experiment with them until I’m happy with how they look and feel in my mind’s eye as I get that first draft down on paper. Revision is somewhat painful and tedious, though necessary of course, and pre-writing activities (outlining, character creation, getting the essential elements decided) is also sometimes tedious. The idea generation stage doesn’t bother me, as I tend to have strange concepts occur to me at odd times, which I then just file away in a notepad document on my phone to comb through later when it’s time for the next project. But it’s that golden time of the actual hands on the keyboard, first draft where everything just flows out and gets filtered through my brain that is the most creative, zen-like time of my day. I can imagine and create and first draft for several hours at a time and feel like barely a second has passed. That is when I truly feel like my best self, like I’m engaged in what I was always meant to do.

  1. What’s the worst part about writing?

Even worse than revision is proofreading copy prior to going to press. By that point, I’ve read and re-read the material so much that I’m blind to the tiniest of errors. I usually read aloud, very slowly, or enlist a second reader to help so that I can actually catch any final typos that even my editor missed.

  1. What’s the name of your favorite character and why?

In everything I write, I tend to get a favorite character and enjoy working on their scenes quite a bit. In my Red Eye series, it’s Sam Brody, a damaged, snarky guy who’s flippant to a fault. With Sam, I tried to design a character around the premise “What if the ‘breakout character,’ the audience favorite, the comic relief, the ‘Fonzie,’ if you will, was the protagonist?” The thing about a comic relief character is that you don’t necessarily want them foregrounded all the time, as their attitude can often be their downfall. It definitely is with Sam, which is why he’s kind of an almost anti-hero in a way, suffering from a need to entertain himself and others even when the fate of the world is at stake. In my upcoming science fiction novel The Curiosity Killers, I’m quite fond of Eddy Vere, the “mad scientist” character, as well as Rupert Cob, the playboy adventurer. Both are complex creatures, but Vere is more damaged and full of gravitas, while Cob is more a mixture of two types of hero: comedic and tragic.

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Confessions of a Writer, Part 1

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

 I first began writing in early elementary school, spending my summers on short stories that, in retrospect, were obviously terrible. By high school, I had better figured out that character and plot were vital to storytelling. I used to want to be an actor, actually, until I figured out that writers are actually actors, directors, art directors, cinematographers, and producers of their own movies in a way. Writing a book, therefore, is more creatively fulfilling than just doing one of those jobs.

What genre do you write?

I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, experimental fiction, and have lately been trying some romance, YA, and mystery, though just in the planning stages so far. I don’t want to be constrained to a specific genre but want to tell the best stories I can that continue to challenge me. With my short fiction, I tend to be more offbeat and try things out that I might not do in a full-length novel, making my short pieces much more surreal as a result.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

I have two main works-in-progress going right now: finalizing things with my forthcoming novel The Curiosity Killers, to be released in 2016 from Dog Star Books, and The Skittering, the next work in my Red Eye series (the first two volumes of which were released by Alliteration Ink in 2014). The Curiosity Killers began life as a short story back in 2011. I fleshed out the idea into a full novel and used it as my MFA thesis at Seton Hill University from 2013 to 2015. It’s my first science fiction novel—I’ve written a lot of short SF before but never anything this long or this ambitious—and it required lots of historical research due to its time travel plot. I began The Skittering in late 2014 but haven’t been able to prioritize it until the first draft of The Curiosity Killers was done. My Red Eye series as a whole has been a long time in the works—the first book was originally a NaNoWriMo project several years before its eventual release. After The Skittering, I have at least one more book planned in the series.

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We need space…

In the romantic comedy television shows, movies, and even the romance novels I admit to occasionally reading in my youth, one common thread united that now-cliché of institutions: the unspoken love. Also known as couples with “UST,” sometimes unrequited love, or (more wordily) “will they/won’t they” pairings, these include such hallmark couples as Sam and Diane from Cheers, Maddie and Dave from Moonlighting, and Mulder and Scully from The X-Files. On the page, couples were allowed to stare longingly at each other, the point-of-view character’s thoughts drifting over the object of desire and telling the reader what was so great about this person. On the screen, lips quivered, eyes locked, souls kissed. Actors got to bust out all their fun acting skills to convey longing, desire, words left unsaid with just a single glance.

In my overly romanticized memories of ‘80s and ‘90s TV, we had lots of these moments–the accidental declaration of love under anesthesia, the forced sharing of a sleeping bag on a stakeout, the soft play of careful lighting across Cybill Shepherd’s perfect face as she gazes at Bruce Willis. We got string sections. We got rainstorms and being trapped underground together and Angel turning evil from a moment of perfect happiness with Buffy. We got moments. And we got the pacing to pause and drink them in.

Now, though? We don’t.

Sure, you’re saying, we have romcoms and favorite OTPs and all that good stuff. We ship like nobody’s business. We ship people who don’t even appear in the same book together. We ship people from storylines that never intersect, we ship people who never appear in a scene together, we ship people based on a single funny look that passes between them. But the sad thing is, a single funny look is sometimes all that gets to pass between even the show’s golden couple, the canonical pairing, the pairing we’re meant to root for. I barely even remember Pam and Jim having more than one good romantic moment in nearly ten years of The Office.

Some folks still do it right. There was a kiss between Leslie and Ben on Parks and Recreation that was immediately .gif-worthy and amazing. Mostly, I think, because of its rarity. The scene was allowed to linger, to expand, to play itself out. We got time, as viewers, to let this big change in their relationship sink in and register it.

On Brooklyn Nine Nine, we’re meant to root for Jake and Amy, but while the actors are intensely appealing and banter well, there’s no “there” there. No moments of chemistry allowed space and breathing room and slightly-darkened sets and a pause from the rapid-fire comedic moments. We aren’t even allowed those things in films, which should be all about beautiful shots and Moments with a capital M but too often just aren’t anymore. The most romantic conversation I’ve seen in a recent film is in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, not in an actually romantic comedy. In books, unless it’s a full-on romance novel rather than a novel-of-another-genre with romantic elements, we have to keep the A plot moving, moving, moving at such a breakneck pace that sometimes we lose those pages of silence and stares and longing for the brush of a knuckle on a cheek or someone smelling a letter, eyes closed, in memory and rapture. If romance isn’t the main thing your book is about, you’re too often asked to cut for pacing.

So, authors, showrunners, directors, listen up. Even if it’s an action movie, even if it’s a science fiction novel, in those romantic subplots?

Give me space.

Give me space to see and feel and soak up as many senses as the medium will allow. Just for a moment, let these two crazy kids calm down from the hectic pace of Modern Hurried Plot long enough to really see each other, and let us in long enough to recognize the moment their feelings awaken.

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Time Travel Media March: 10 Greatest Time Travel Movies

TTMM_blog

We’re now at the end of my blog series about time travel media (TV, film, and literature). For the past two years, I’ve been working steadily on a time travel novel, The Curiosity Killers, as my thesis project for Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. As I inch closer and closer to graduation this June, I want to celebrate some things that inspired the writing of that book.

For today, I offer my favorite time travel movies. What are yours? What have I missed?

1. The Back to the Future trilogy: Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989), and Back to the Future Part III (1990)

The first Back to the Future film is basically flawless, especially for mid-‘80s cinema. You have comedy, you have Michael J. Fox, and you have 1950s nostalgia. Teenager Marty McFly is accidentally sent back in time to 1955 by his mad scientist mentor, Doc Brown (I kind of want to know the deeper backstory of how Marty and Doc met. Somebody get on that prequel!). In the ‘50s, he meets his parents when they were his age and inadvertently prevents their courtship. In order to ensure his own existence, Marty has to make them fall in love. This is a near-classic example of the grandfather paradox.

The second two films were less perfect but still fun. In Part II, Marty and his girlfriend travel forward to the year 2015 to see how their children’s lives have turned out. In the process, Doc’s time machine is stolen and an alternate—and terrifying—future is created.

In Part III, Marty goes back to rescue Doc in 1885. This final chapter is underrated. Viewed today in the post-steampunk explosion (at least in literature), so many tropes we now see in this genre were established, cemented by the fabulous closing image of a time travel locomotive.

2. Somewhere in Time (1980)

Schmaltzy, soft-focus weepie. Christopher Reeve is a playwright who gets approached by an elderly woman at one of his shows. She gives him a pocket watch and tells him to “Come back” to her. Reeve’s character later discovers she was an actress whose heyday was sixty years earlier. He finds a professor who teaches him how to time travel via self-hypnosis and sends himself back to meet the actress in her youth.

3. Looper (2012)

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same character at different ages, with the younger version contracted to kill the older one. There are tons of illogical paradox issues here, but so many sequences are just plain cool or downright gruesome—a famous scene involves a man being destroyed, bit by bit, when he’s being tortured in the past. For this one, just go along for the ride and try not to reason it out too much.

4. Groundhog Day (1993)

A weatherman, played by Bill Murray, begins reliving the same day over and over again. Cute and fun, but there’s also a slightly better, more logical film with the same concept from the same year (12:01, starring Jonathan Silverman and Helen Slater) that gets overlooked during the deluge of repeating-day time travel media that began coming out around the same time. Both are worth a look for different takes on the phenomenon. I like 12:01’s attempt at a scientific explanation, but Groundhog Day’s mystical gotta-live-the-day-over-until-you-get-it-right concept works better as an allegory for living a better, more present life.

5. Happy Accidents (2000)

Marisa Tomei is unlucky in love until she meets Vincent D’Onofrio. The only problem is he tells her he’s from the future. The fun thing about this film is that it plays with genre: is it a quirky indie romantic comedy, a science fiction film, or a film about unreliable narrators and mental illness? We’re left wondering about reality and fantasy and whether, in the context of love, if the dichotomy between truth and delusion is essential to trusting and believing in one’s partner.

6. Primer (2004)

This film was shot for only $7,000, and yet it’s one of the most complex studies of a highly technical and speculative subject I have ever seen. A pair of engineers working on inventions in their garage inadvertently devise a means of time travel. They begin using it to their financial gain through the stock market, but the effects of travel begin to wear on them emotionally and physically. The intersecting timelines have generated a lot of online fan work to attempt to graph or document the travels logically, though these resulting diagrams and charts are themselves highly complex.

7. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

And herein we swing wildly from one pendulum of thoughtchewy intellectualism to its exact opposite. Bill and Ted are high school students who pay little attention in history class. When they find a phone booth time machine, they bring historical figures to the present to help them with their presentation assignment. This movie does not age well, but it’s still amusing and of course features a very young Keanu Reeves as Ted. The sequel—Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, 1991—is less time travel and more nonsensical farce.

8. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

13-year-old Jenna makes a birthday wish in 1987 and is transported into her 30-year-old self in 2004. This is mostly pretty standard body swap/suddenly-an-adult comedy, but the fact that Jenna still perceives it as 1987 is where the time travel element comes in. Jennifer Garner, as the grown-up Jenna, is adorably innocent and lends the material a great deal of charm.

9. Donnie Darko (2001)

The time travel in Donnie Darko is only hinted at, explained almost solely through expanded media in its Director’s Cut DVD material. Viewers could interpret the film as a meditation on schizophrenia, with its onset typically occurring in one’s late teens and early twenties. The titular character begins experiencing odd shifts of time and perception, leading up to several neighborhood and familial catastrophes. Interpreted more literally, Donnie’s sudden abilities of perception and strength speak to the possibility of multiverses and time loops.

10. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

I’ll let you stumble upon the trailer for this gem yourself, as most are red band. Hot Tub Time Machine is an incredibly crass (yet, honestly, pretty darn funny) tale of a group of social outcasts who go back to the year 1986 via a, um, yes. Hot tub time machine.

Look, I’m not saying this is a great film (John Cusack is notably absent from the sequel, as if finally admitting his embarrassment at this project), but it sort of comes full circle from Back to the Future insofar as the heroes’ main goal in the past is the ensure that their present day will be better…since it can’t get much worse.

You can find my celebration of time travel television and literature earlier this month. For more time travel fun, check out the Facebook fan page Time Travel Book, TV, and Movie Club!

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Time Travel Media March: 10 Greatest Time Travel Novels

TTMM_blog

All this month, I’ll be blogging about time travel media (TV, film, and literature). For the past two years, I’ve been working steadily on a time travel novel, The Curiosity Killers, as my thesis project for Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. As I inch closer and closer to graduation this June, I want to celebrate some things that inspired the writing of that book.

For today, I offer my favorite time travel books. What are yours? What have I missed?

1. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

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I read this when I had the flu, and all I could do was cry and sneeze, becoming a snotty, snobby messy. Clare and Henry are like any other couple—except that Henry randomly time travels without control or warning. This results in twisted interconnected existences, with the two crossing paths from childhood to old age at different stages of each other’s lifetimes. There is also a broader metaphor at work here of genetic disorders—if you knew your child would suffer from something dangerous and heartbreaking, would you still try to become a parent? Clare and Henry have to decide all this and more in this twenty hanky tearjerker.

2. The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers, 1983

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The Anubis Gates is sometimes cited as one of the first steampunk novels, though it contains no actual steam-powered technology; it is, however, steeped in Victorian atmosphere. Professor Brendan Doyle goes on a time travel trip with an eccentric millionaire and winds up stuck in 19th century London. Forced to assume a false identity and scratch together a living, he falls in with a group of pickpockets, is kidnapped by magicians, finds love, and causes a paradox. This novel is especially appealing for literature nerds, as Doyle has a very special connection with one of his favorite poets.

3. Kindred, Octavia E. Butler, 1979

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I’ve been teaching Kindred in my college literature course for several years, and students tend to respond well to it. This is a study not just in paradox (although it’s a great tool for discussing this concept, as well as questions of logic in literature) but also historical fiction, African American literature, and feminist literature. Dana is a 20th century African American woman married to a white man. She begins time traveling abruptly to the pre-Civil War South, where she meets her ancestor, the son of a plantation owner, and cannot return to her own time until she saves him from some dangerous situation that threatens his life. If she’s physically connected to her husband, she can bring him back to the past with her as well, which leads to the couple having to pretend to be master and slave. Stark, upsetting questions about identity and privilege are raised, and Butler is unflinching in her portrayal of plantations as sites of unspeakable violence. This is a time travel novel about so much more than just the science fiction/fantasy elements; it’s about the human element and trauma reprocessing, both on a personal and cultural level.

4. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895

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When we think of time travel fiction, we think of The Time Machine. H.G. Wells may not have invented the concept but he certainly popularized it in this story of an inventor who hits upon a way to travel through time. He goes far into the future and encounters post-human creatures engaged in class warfare and suffering grave societal ills. Much of the Time Traveler’s observations of the Eloi and Morlock factions of beings exemplify Wells’ own social and political leanings. This isn’t a mere surface novel of adventure but rather a castigation of the stratification of elite and working classes in the Victorian era.

5. 11/22/63, Stephen King, 2011

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This book is 880 pages long—not the weightiest tome Stephen King has ever penned, but longer than I normally have time to devote to a single novel these days. However, I devoured this in less than a month, binging on it whenever I had a free second. I distinctly recall reading it while walking to meetings, even, reading the ebook version on my phone as if my life depended on it. High school English teacher Jake Epping discovers a portal connecting the back room of a diner in 2011 to September 9, 1958 at 11:58 a.m. Jake eventually decides to use the portal to live in the past for five years and try to save John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. As Jake learns, preventing a tragedy on this magnitude is no easy task. The main reason I love this book so much is the clear attention to detail and research King took with it. He began work on it as far back as the early 1970s, and then later worked with a researcher to make every detail period appropriate and accurate, down the price of a pint of root beer. My own research for The Curiosity Killers took a long time, particularly for my Jack the Ripper, Black Dahlia, and Mothman storylines. Readers appreciate it when time travel stories exhibit as much painstaking historical accuracy as possible.

6. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, 1991

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This series is making a big splash these days via its TV series adaptation on Starz. A World War II British Army nurse is pulled backward in time to mid-18th century Scotland. There, she falls in love with a highlander and marries him, despite being married in the 1940s. This is a tale of culture clashes as well as a love story with enough ambiguity to keep it from simply being a standard romance.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

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A work of tremendous experimentation, Vonnegut’s novel is less a plot-driven story and more an examination of how fiction works. Books are referenced within the text. Events are told non-linearly, both through time travel devices, flashbacks, and a jigsaw puzzle order of scenes. The gist of the work is that it describes the aftermath of the WWII bombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut himself witnessed. When taken as an allegory for war experiences, it can read as a study in PTSD (protagonist Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” as a result of what he went through in the war), decades prior to its formalization as a psychiatric diagnosis.

8. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962

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To be clear, the characters in A Wrinkle in Time do not travel to different times. Thus, this isn’t often classified as a time travel novel per se. However, the method by which the Murry children travel to other planets and dimensions is through a concept called a “tesseract,” which the novel defines as folding the fabric of space and time (very Doctor Who’s TARDIS, in fact, which is a device that can travel in both space and time). If one folds this fabric, after a fashion, they’re able to use it to shorten great distances and reach places otherwise inaccessible to one another. Though “tesseract” is a real term in mathematics and geometry, the concept as described in this and L’Engle’s other Murry novels is akin to a wormhole, which is often put to great use in other SF works dealing with space and time travel.

9. Lightning, Dean Koontz, 1988

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Lightning was probably one of the first contemporary novels about time travel I ever read. A mysterious stranger named Stefan rescues author Laura Shane at several pivotal points in her life, culminating in the reveal that he’s actually part of a World War II time travel experiment. Unlike some of the other books on this list, Koontz employs a mechanism whereby paradoxes are impossible, although I would argue that Stefan’s repeated rescuing of Laura by itself represents the creation of a paradox. But hey, paradoxes are fun to dissect and untangle, and I’m a big believer in readers cultivating a willing suspension of disbelief.

10. The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein, 1957

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This is the brand of time travel that doesn’t only involve machines and wormholes but also sustained sleep. Dan goes into suspended animation in the year 1970 and awakens in 2000. Through using time travel, he is able to witness alternate versions of himself and work out his best possible future. Here, paradox is used to its fullest effect to manufacture personal and professional change—a fantasy very relatable to audiences of the mid-1950s, struggling with the aftermath of WWII and the beginnings of the Cold War.

Watch this space for my top ten time travel movies, coming later this month! You can see my top ten time travel TV shows here.

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