Friday, January 20, 2012

Timeless Travails with Guest Blogger: Pauline B. Jones

Win a $15 Gift Card &
meet author Pauline B. Jones
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She's here to discuss her journey into research of a fictional science and here's what she had to say...

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan

Research. Authors either love it or hate—and sometimes they love and hate it at the same time.

When I wrote Out of Time, I did an incredible amount of research on World War II, B-17 Bombers, life in England during WWII, the Navy SEALS, I talked to veterans of the war both on the ground and those who flew—well, the list was long and the data to sort through ended up more than hip deep. It was fascinating, wonderful and exhausting.

And I did not expect to need to research the fictional science of time travel. Cause it's fictional, right? Or is it?

There are those who believe time travel is possible. In fact, Stephen Hawking wrote an article on how to build a time machine. It wasn’t written when I wrote Out of Time, but I read it later with great interest (because my characters persist in traveling through time).

But back when Out of Time was an idea, I did need to figure out how my character would travel into the past. I wanted it to be scientifically based, so it would involve a machine or invented device of some sort.

I did a basic web search on time travel and found there were many who believed actual time travel is possible (there were several interesting plans for building time machines for sale on eBay, for instance). I also found that the fictional ways characters travel through time are as varied as the authors who pen the novels. Everything from portals and machines, to paranormal jewelry and portraits.

What I learned from writing Out of Time, and several other novels that involve time travel is that your fictional science can be “hard” (i.e. rooted in “known” science) or “soft” (which I suppose means rooted in imagined science). Imagined science sounds less dubious perhaps than “made-up,” but that’s pretty much what soft science is, or what I think it is. Your mileage may vary (and in Sci-Fi, there is a lot of varied mileage!) Where time travel fits in, well, I couldn’t say. I know my time travel is totally made-up (i.e. unapologetically soft).

So how does a writer take the known, and the unknown, and combine it in a mix that allows the reader to suspend disbelief and travel through time with your characters? Or stay with any plot to the end?

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said, “research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what no one else has thought.”

Isn’t that basically what writers of all genres do? They start readers with the familiar, the “known” if you will, then they take them on a journey that tries to feel fresh into a new “unknown.” You can be wildly successful at it (think JK Rowling’s Harry Potter) or not. (I’ll let you fill in this blank with your personal failures because reading is personal. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another.)

One of the dangers of research—even the fictional sort—is getting too tied to what you’re learning. It was very easy to get caught up in “what really happened” in World War II, so easy that it tied my characters hands and actions. I pulled back from my research a bit and realized that like life, each soldier and pilot had a personal story—and point of view—within the wider story of the war. So even “the way it was” wasn’t the way it was for everyone. That allowed me some latitude to let my story happen—that and the fact that it was and is a story.

Out of Time is fiction, not non-fiction.

So that would be my next research (and writing) lesson: your fiction needs to feel real, but it isn’t real. It should feel “true,” but it isn’t actually “true.” (Small humor moment here: Chinese Ban Time Travel in books and movies because some of it is “totally made up.” Yeah.)

So, don’t ever forget that you’re writing a story, you’re telling a tale, not a treatise on whatever research item has caught your attention. If you’ve never read a book and thought, wow, that author did a lot of research, feel lucky.

Because I am not a scientist (or even the first cousin of one), I was thrilled to my toes when an Amazon reader wrote about another of my novels (Steamrolled): “This book is really quite amazing to me. The synoptic blurb is entirely accurate but only begins to touch the lovely mix of weird and romantic with reasonably credible soft Sci-Fi." (Did you see that high school science teachers? Reasonably credible soft Sci-Fi. Feel free to feel guilty for misjudging me.)

Contrast that with this Amazon reader review about Out of Time: “So many writers have problems with time travel, leaving large gaps and holes in the plot. Readers finish the stories saying, "But what about...?" These issues have been avoided in this case by not explaining in detail how the process works. And that leaves the reader with the joy of simply becoming immersed in an interesting and suspenseful story.”

I don’t post these to toot my own horn but to show that for at least two readers, the differing approaches that I used in both books succeeded. Both readers were able to suspend disbelief and become immersed in the story.

This was the gift that authors gave to me when I was a young reader, a gift my favorites still give me as a reader. And this is the gift, the goal of my writing.

Good, solid research—even when it involves made-up science—is just one of the tools we use to tell our tales. Don’t under—or over—estimate its importance and you’ll be on your way. I’ll finish with one last quote, from JRR Tolkien: “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but is not always quite the something you were after.”

Happy research hunting and Happy New Year!

A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for sharing your travails of research with us, Pauline. I love to read about time travel and have penned one novella with a little backward visit through time myself (re: The Mystical Kilt). Your book and research sound great and thanks for joining us today! Please tell us more about your book.


What happens when a twenty-first century woman on a mission to change the past meets a thoroughly 1940s man trying to stay alive in the hellish skies over war-torn Europe?

Melanie “Mel” Morton is an adventure reporter, who lost her grandfather in World War II. With no family left, she’s all about doing her job and finishing her grandfather’s biography.

Enter Jack Hamilton, sexy octogenarian, genius/scientist and former WWII bomber pilot.
What he tells Mel sends her on her craziest adventure yet—straight into the past to save her grandfather’s life—and change Jack’s future, if she doesn't accidentally end it.

All Mel has to do is outmaneuver the entire German army--and not fall in love with Jack.

Unfortunately, eluding the German army is the easy part....


“Can we talk while you pack?” Jack asked. “We really are almost out of time. Your SEAL gig ran long.”

He wouldn’t get an argument out of her on that point. Her producer had been hiding from her since she got back. He smiled and she found herself smiling back. What was she doing? Her smile faded.

“What am I supposed to be packing?”

“Some of your grandmother’s clothes from the late thirties, and some of your own stuff. Enough to last until you jump.”

“Jump?” Her brain latched on that word like glue. “The one thing the SEAL gig taught me is that I don’t like jumping. It’s too much like falling.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Mel’s eyes widened. “You want me to go on that last mission, the one where you got shot down! You want me to jump into Occupied France with you?”

“Yes.” He looked sorry, but there was also an “and” hanging in the air between them.

“What?” she asked with suspicion. What could be worse than jumping into Occupied France?

“You also have to jump out of a plane at high altitude again. Into the vortex my machine will create. Time travel requires velocity, you see.”

She didn’t see, and yet, in an awful way, she did. “Velocity? And how do I achieve this velocity?”

“By jumping into the vortex without a parachute.”

Mel felt her jaw drop and heard something rather whimper-like come out the opening, as her thoughts spun into one clear certainty. When her head was down, she should have kissed her tush goodbye.

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Heidi Ruby Miller said...

Pauline, I always appreciate when an author takes the time to do research. The authority it provides to the story always makes it feel more real, more vibrant in details.

For me, it's always a challenge in the beginning to decide which of those details will make it into the story and which are best left as background in my own mind. My critique partners are often the ones who help me decide.

Great post!

:) Heidi

Pauline said...

Thanks for stopping by, Heidi! Yeah, those details truly do make a huge difference. I had an amazing time traveling to WWII. And taking to the veterans. Thanks!

Lea Nolan said...

This is a great post! I'm working on my own MG steampunk that's features time travel and I've come to the same conclusion - you can't describe it too precisely because it'll never be believable, yet it's got to make enough sense for the reader to go with it. All I can say is thank goodness for neutrinos!

Kaye Manro said...

Wonderful post, Pauline!

I love researching time travel. There actually are a lot of real scientific theories to pull from. I believe research in general on whatever the subject you are writing is important. But as SFR authors, we may need even more research to make our stories seem realistic in a fictional setting.

Thanks for sharing!

Pauline said...

Thanks for reading Lea and Kaye! It is true there is much to learn about time travel, even if it is just theory for now. Or so THEY say. (grin) I would so buy the book on how to build a time machine if it wasn't $300+ LOL!

I am also grateful for readers who are willing to take the time travel trip with us. :-)

Debby said...

I hate to see science twisted too much. It is very hard for me to suspend belief when they do that.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Bart said...

What most ticks me off is misuse of weapons. Revolvers don't have safeties, Glocks do, but they don't go 'click.' Shotguns use shells, rifles, revolvers and pistols use cartridges, unless they're muzzle loaders.

Swords have quillions, which serve a real purpose, a dagger designed for use with a sword is called a Main Gauche or a kidney dagger, from where you carry it, not where you stick it.

OK, no more rant, but I'll be happy to help anyone who needs info about weapons from almost any era.

Pauline said...

@ Debby - I agree...but then I think of how magic used to be science to our forebears. Even in my time, the moon was mysterious and life there was possible until we made it. I interviewed this ex-CIA agent for a book once he told me, if you can imagine it, someone is probably trying to do it somewhere. So I agree...but... LOL!

@ Bart - my brother is a cop and yeah, there is no reason not to get facts right with all resources we have to find out about known stuff. One thing that almost drove me crazy during Out of Time, I had read about blackout and stuff, but it took me a while to find out how public places managed blackout with people going in and out. And that led me to wondering what it would feel like to live when the world goes so dark at night. It was very interesting. Thanks for kind offer!

And thank you to you both for stopping by!

Heather Massey said...

Great post! I for one appreciate all the informative details in your stories. When an author strikes a good balance between plot and worldbuilding, it's awesome.

(no need to enter me in the contest--I'm just dropping by to enjoy the post!)

Pauline said...

Many thanks for stopping by, Heather and for the kind words. I've sure learned a lot about world building from reading The Galaxy Express. Great blog!

Rebecca said...

Hi Pauline. Your book sounds great, and I always appreciate a well-researched book!

My pet peeve regarding the misuse of research is when they've "researched" using TV (police shows or CSI-type shows) and introduced the same misinformation. (Crime scene contamination is a big one!) It doesn't work that way in the real world. ;-)

Pauline said...

Hi, Rebecca! You make great points! that drives me nuts, too! Thanks so much for stopping by!