Friday, May 17, 2013

It's About Time

My parents and I went to visit my older sister when she was in college, I was about 15. Shortly after my arrival, she noticed my preoccupation with my new wrist watch. It even had one of those outer timing dials you could turn for purposes that were never quite clear, but I was deeply enamored of it. It also had that cool little AM/PM window where the "3" was supposed to be (the date window didn't come along until later). (And, yes, this was even before LED and other digital watches, waaaayyy before portable phones.)
This is about the right age. (Cool shirt hunh?)

So, the first thing my sister did after my parents weren't in the room was grab my watch and set it some random amount ahead (or way behind). "There!" She handed it back to me, quite pleased with herself. "That's Matthew time. You aren't allowed to calibrate it to real time, or anyone else's. Or explain what's going on for the duration of your entire visit." I soon learned that every one of her suitemates had their watch set to a different time and there was no wall clock.

For the three days that I was hanging out and staying in her dorm, I lived in an alternate time zone of my very own. It had its awkwardnesses, such as when my parents would say we'll meet you at six for dinner and I had to ask how long that was from now and then remember to meet them at 3:46a.m (maybe that little outer dial ring had its uses). But there was also a freedom gained, a freedom of knowing that I was living in my personal, private, time bubble that was my very own reality. Maybe that's when I became a fiction writer, even if I didn't start scribing stories until two decades later. (I actually kept the watch on Matthew Time for several days after I got home.)

But time has always challenged me in stories. I once redrafted a novel... well, let's just say, "way more than three times," (it's too embarrassing to say "9 times"). I was trying to get control of the complex timeline of the novel, four major characters and three minor ones each with a past and a present that deeply interrelated and... I tried and tried to weave the time strands together, without success. My final solution, write a prequel, which had to be exciting in its own right, then the story I'd set out to tell in its own time. I finally declared my "Nara" story complete and at long last (that time thing again) moved on.

Then, just recently, I hit a major problem: my latest novel opened in the past. Much to my surprise. Honestly! It works like that sometimes. I sit down. I have a title (usually) and a character and maybe a scene, maybe not, and I just start writing. This one started 25 years in the past and my first reaction was to groan in pain. "Not again. Please, save me, not again." But Secret Service agent Frank Adams, the head of the Presidential Protection Detail in four consecutive novels in my Night Stalkers series, declared in no uncertain terms that his story started in the past.

There were many surprises for me. First, he was right, that is when his story began. (Characters have a nasty habit of being right about themselves, I find that rather irritating at times.) Second, rather than fighting and struggling with time as I had in that past novel (and when my sister had first changed my watch) I slid into it smooth and easy and had a great time writing the book.

Frank's Independence Day. A Night Stalkers July 4th romance is now available. I don't know the last time I had so much fun writing... wait, I do... it was on the prior book. What can I say, I love doing what I do. I'm sure proud of what I've written.

Hope you're immensely proud of something you did recently, it's a feeling that I'd wish on anybody.


  1. So the special undercover ops thing was literally "set" at a very young age with you.

    Congratulations on your continued success!

  2. LOVE that story. I'd love to live in Carolyn time for a little while. Congrat's on the new release. That cover screams action.

  3. I think that sounds like the worst kind of torture. The absolute hardest thing for me when my daughter was a baby was not having a schedule or any predictability. Hugs. I'm impressed you are not scarred for life ;-)

  4. Shana,
    Laughing! Who says I'm not scarred for life...I became a write! :)

  5. I think it is cool that your older sister was including you in something that she and her friends were doing. Generally, older siblings often leave younger ones out more often than not. Since I am disabled, I pretty much always live on my own time schedule, except for doctors appointments and such :)

  6. Ooh...a new Night Stalkers book! I look forward to reading it as I have greatly enjoyed the others.