Thursday, March 20, 2014

Explaining the NW Passage

The questions almost always start with "why." "Why time travel?" "Why the Northwest?" "Why male protagonists in some books and females in others?" Or, as my 19-year-old daughter likes to ask, "Why do you have to marry off all of your characters before they're twenty?!"

(She exaggerates but only slightly.)

I've tried to answer these questions and others in nearly fifty interviews and personal e-mails since February 2012 -- when I published The Mine -- but still the questions come. Some readers ask things I've been asked many times. Others request fresh takes on old matters. Almost all simply want to better understand books they've read and, in most cases, enjoyed.

So I decided this week that before I officially put the Northwest Passage series to bed, I should make an attempt to explain why I did what I did in writing five books that have been my passion for more than two years. In no particular order are the subjects representing frequent questions.

Time travel: As I've noted in many interviews, I outlined The Mine minutes after watching The Time Traveler's Wife in 2011. Though I enjoyed both the book and the movie, I was more interested in twentieth-century time travel than that particular story. I wanted to see how a modern time traveler fared when suddenly thrust in the world of his or her not-so-distant ancestors. In three years, that interest has not waned.

Time portals: I decided to treat time travel as fantasy, rather than science fiction, because fantasy offered more opportunities to be creative. When the only limits are the limits you place on yourself, you can have a lot of fun.

Time streams: I knew from the outset I could not write the NWP series and adhere to the theory that time is a single, unchangeable stream. When you meet your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents in their time, history changes -- and when history changes, so do you. Using multiple timelines became a must.

Settings: Writing about the Pacific Northwest was never a question. When you live and work in places like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, writing about those places is easy and appealing. I should note, however, that the settings in the series were not strictly limited to the Northwest. Hawaii and Nevada made guest appearances.

Protagonists: Writers are advised to write what they know. But as novelist James Rollins once asked, "What's the fun in that?" Beginning with The Journey, I decided that the books in this series would not be told strictly from a male perspective. I would do what authors have always done when they wrote outside their realm of experience. I would learn.

Relationships: My daughter is not far off. There are no fewer than eight engagements involving college-age characters, including three involving Grace Vandenberg Smith alone. My objective in the series was to show how young people in love reacted to circumstances and events that could change on a dime and often put their commitment to each other to a serious test.

Sequence: I wrote the NWP series out of order because, at the start, I did not plan to write a series at all. When I finally committed to writing five books, I decided that the best way to go was to alternate between two time-traveling families. Though I will probably not repeat this approach in the future, I like how this series turned out.

Common threads: Though the NWP books are, for the most part, distinctive works, they share many themes, venues, and even characters. Joel Smith and his mother Cindy appear and speak in all five books. Grace provides a point of view in three.

Frequent flyers: Kevin Johnson travels through time on eight occasions in The Fire. Grace Smith travels only three times but is the only character in the series to experience two distinct eras she was never meant to see.

Readers and bloggers occasionally ask me to cite my favorites in the series. I admit I don't have a favorite book, but I do have favorite characters (Ginny Smith, Sadie Hawkins), settings (Seaside, Wallace), and scenes (the drag race in The Journey, the wedding in The Show, the Beatles concert in The Mirror).

I also have a favorite ending, which many of my readers share. If I can ever again catch lightning in a bottle, like I apparently did in Chapter 70 of The Mine, I'll be sure to share it.

Readers now, of course, seem more interested in what's coming up. They want to know if the next series will be anything like the last. The short answer is yes. I have enjoyed writing novels that blend history, humor, romance, and serious themes and fully intend to write more. I hope to publish the first novel in the American Journey series by this fall.

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